Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 4
The Aftermath

Sweet she is in words and deeds,
 Fair and white as the white rose.

La Mystère du Siège d’Orléans.

There was anguish in the eyes of Isabeau Romée as she crossed the drawbridge from the castle, and went slowly with her children to the ruined village. Other women about her wept, or gave vent to their despair in loud outcries; hers was the deeper grief that knows not tears.

And in what a state of desolation was the hamlet and its surroundings! The men-at-arms had plundered, ravaged, and burnt. Unable to exact ransom from the inhabitants, because of their timely arrival at the castle, it was evidently the design of the marauders to destroy what they could not carry off. The newly sown fields were trampled; the blossoming orchards blasted; those houses that had been rescued from the flames were badly damaged, and the entire village and its neighbour, Greux, had been sacked and pillaged. Upon what were the people to live? That was the question that confronted them. Jacques D’Arc came to his wife as she stood in front of their cottage.

“The house still remains to us, Isabeau,” he said comfortingly. “The roof can be thatched so that we can soon be in it again. We will send to our market town of Neufchâteau for bread and grain. Did you look well to the money?”

“Yes, Jacques.” Isabeau took a bag from the folds of her gown, and handed it to him. It contained a small sum of money hoarded against just such an emergency as the present. Her husband took it with brightening countenance.

“Come now, ’tis not so bad,” he said. “We will send at once for the grain, that the fields may be resown without delay; and for bread that we may live. We shall do well.”

“Yes,” agreed his wife, but she looked at her children. And then, as though with that look her woe must forth, she turned upon him in a passionate outburst: “In all your life, Jacques, in all my life we have known naught but war. Must my children too live always in the midst of strife? Must they too sow for soldiers to reap? Build, for men-at-arms to burn? Be hunted like wild beasts, and killed if they cannot pay ransom? Must they too count on nothing; neither their goods, nor their lives? Oh, Jacques, must France always be torn by war?”

“You are beside yourself with sorrow, Isabeau,” chided Jacques but the gentleness of his tone took away the sting of the words. “’Tis no time to give way now. There is much to be done. We can but take up our burden, and do the best we can. With God lies the issue.”

“True, Jacques, true.” Isabeau pulled herself together sharply. “You are right; ’tis no time for grief. There is indeed much to be done. Jeanne, do you take your little sister, and care for her while I see if aught of our stores has been overlooked. Many will there be for whom provision must be made.”

With this the brave woman gave the little Catherine into Jeanne’s keeping, while she went into the cottage. Resolutely winking back her own tears Jeanne took the weeping little girl to a tree, and sat down under it, drawing the child into her lap. Pierre followed her, Jacquemin and Jean going with their father to help him. Soon Mengette and Hauviette joined the D’Arc children, and presently all the boys and girls of the village found their way there, comforting each other and the little ones in their charge in whispers. Childhood is elastic, and soon under the familiar companionship fright wore away, and the young folks began to relate their experiences in subdued but excited tones.

“I saw a black Burgundian as big as a giant,” declared Colin. “Had I had a crossbow and bolt I would have killed him.”

“Pouf! You were afraid just as the rest of us were,” uttered Pierre scornfully. “Why, even the men did not try to fight, so many were the enemy. And if they could do naught neither could you.”

“The men could not fight without weapons, Pierre,” spoke Jeanne quickly. “They had none in the fields.”

“Myself, I shall be a man-at-arms,” went on Colin boastingly. “I shall wear armour, and ride a horse; and I shall go into France to help drive the Godons[4] out of it.”

Jeanne looked at him with sparkling eyes.

“Yes,” she cried eagerly. “’Tis what should be done. Oh! I would like to go too. Why do they not stay in their own country?”

“You?” Colin began to laugh. “You are a girl, Jeanne D’Arc, and girls go not to war. They can not fight.”

“I could.” A resolute light came into the little maid’s eyes, and her lips set in a firm line. “I know I could.” At this the others joined Colin in his laughter, and the boy cried gaily:

“I should like to see you. Oh, wouldn’t the Godons run when they saw you?”

Jeanne opened her lips to reply, but just then she heard the voice of her mother calling to her. So, shaking her finger at Colin, she rose obediently and went toward the cottage. Near the door stood her father gazing intently at a long rod that he held in his hand. So absorbed was he that he did not heed her approach. The little girl touched him lightly on the arm.

“What is it, father?” she asked gently. “Are you grieving over the cattle and the goods?”

Her father looked up with a start.

“I grieve, yes, my little one. But ’tis not so much about present ills as a future burden which we must bear. I know not how it is to be met. This rod, as you know, is the taille stick, and in July comes the tax which I must collect from Domremy and Greux. I like not to think about it, so heavy will it seem after the misfortune that has come upon these two villages.”

There were many duties that fell to the village elder (doyen), especially in troubled times. It was for him to summon the mayor and the aldermen to the council meetings, to cry the 47 decrees, to command the watch day and night, to guard the prisoners. It was for him also to collect taxes, rents, and feudal dues. An ungrateful office at any time, but one that would be doubly so in a ruined country. Jeanne knew that it was her father’s duty to collect the taxes, but she had not known that it might be a distasteful task. Now she looked curiously at the stick.

“Why does it have the notches upon it, father?” she asked.

“’Tis to show the amount due, my little one. There are two tailles:[5] la taille seigneuriale, which is paid serfs to their lord; and la taille royale, which is paid to the King. We, being directly subject to the King, pay la taille royale. The gentle Dauphin has much need of money, Sire Robert de Baudricourt of Vaucouleurs has told me. But the impost will be hard to meet after what has befallen us.” He sighed.

At this moment Jacques D’Arc was not a prepossessing sight. His clothes were dusty and begrimed with soot; his face and hands were black; but through the soot and grime shone the light of compassion for the burden which the people would have to bear. Jeanne saw naught of the soiled clothing or the blackened face and hands; she saw only that her father was troubled beyond the loss of his goods and cattle. Quickly she threw her arms about his neck, and drew his face down to hers.

“I would there were no tax, father,” she said wistfully.

“I would so too, my little one,” sighed he. “But there! wishing will not make it so. You have comforted me, Jeanne. But your mother is calling. Let us go to her.”

With her hand in his they went into the house, where Jacques deposited the stick in a corner. Isabeau met them, a pleased expression illuminating her countenance.

“See,” she cried, holding up a great loaf of black bread. “’Twas in the back part of the oven where it was not seen. Take it to your playmates, Jeanne, and give to each of them a piece of it. Children bear fasting but ill, and it will be long ere we have bread from Neufchâteau!”

Jeanne took the loaf gladly and hastened to her playmates. She knew that they were hungry, for none of them had eaten since early morning. Her appearance with the bread was greeted with cries of joy. Bread was a commonplace the day before; now it had become something precious. So little are blessings prized until they are gone.

The loaf was large, but even a large loaf divided into many pieces makes small portions. These were eaten eagerly by the children, and the youngest began to cry for more. Jeanne had foreseen that this would be the case, so had not eaten her share.

Quietly now she divided it among the smallest tots, giving each a morsel. Shamefacedly Pierre plucked her by the sleeve.

“You have had none,” he remonstrated. “And I––I have eaten all that you gave to me.”

“That is well, Pierrelot.” His sister smiled at him reassuringly. “I shall eat when the bread comes from the market town. We must go to the castle now. Mother said that we were to go there after we had eaten. Every one is to sleep there to-night.”

“But there are no beds,” broke in Colin in an aggrieved tone.

“No, Colin; there are no beds, but even so floors are better than the fields. There would be no safety outside the walls on account of the wolves.”

“Wolves?” Colin whitened perceptibly, and the children huddled closer together. “I did not think of wolves. Is there in truth danger?”

“The men fear so, because some of the cattle and sheep were trampled to death by the others, and their carcasses may draw them. We are to use the castle until the houses are thatched.”

The arrangements were as Jeanne had said. The nights were to be spent in the safety of the castle’s confines, while the days were to be devoted to the rebuilding of the village, and the resowing of the fields. Thus did the peasants with brave resignation once more take up their lives. For, no matter how adverse Fate may be, life must be lived; misfortune must be met and overcome.

And the times that followed were such as to try the endurance of the unfortunate inhabitants of Domremy to the utmost. It was the season of the year when there was a scarcity of provisions everywhere. From early Spring until the reaping of the new crops the stock of food in a rural community is at its lowest; so, though many villages of the valley shared their stores with their unfortunate neighbors their own needs had to be taken into consideration, therefore it came about that Famine reared his ugly head in the linked villages of Greux and Domremy. Many of the cruelly despoiled peasants died of hunger.

One day Jacques D’Arc gathered his family about him. They were in their own home by this time, but its furnishings were of the rudest. Before Jacques on the table lay a single loaf of bread, and by it stood a pail of water. He looked at them sadly.

“’Tis our last loaf,” he said, “and, of provision we have naught else. So this is our last meal, for I know not where another can be forthcoming. We will eat to-day; to-morrow we must do as we can. Take in thankfulness, therefore, what lies before us.”

With this he cut the loaf into seven parts, giving a portion to his wife first, then one to each of his children except Jeanne. Hers he kept beside his own. When all had been served he turned to her.

“Come here, my little one,” he said.

Timidly, for there was something in his tone that she did not understand, the little maid went to his side. Jacques encircled her with his arm.

“Have you broken your fast to-day, my child?”

Jeanne blushed, and hung her head as though guilty of wrong doing, but did not reply.

“You have not,” he asserted. “Yesterday Pierre saw you give all of your portion to your sister. The day before you kept but a small part for yourself, giving Catherine the rest. Is it not so?”

“Yes, father; but I go to the church and pray; then I do not need food.” Jeanne took courage as she told this, and raising her head looked at him bravely. “I do not feel very hungry.”

“Fasting is good for the soul, my child, but too much of it is ill for the body. Stay, therefore, beside me that your father may see you eat your share.”

“But, father,” she began protestingly. He interrupted her:

“Eat,” he commanded. When Jacques spoke in that tone his children knew that resistance was useless, so silently Jeanne ate her portion. Nor would he permit her to leave his side until every crumb was swallowed. She did not sit again at table, but went to the open door and gazed down the highroad through tear-blinded eyes. Her heart was very full. Father and child were in close accordance, and she knew that he suffered because of his family’s misery. So down the valley she gazed wishing that she might do something to help him.

The valley had regained much of its loveliness. The trees had leaved again; the fields were green with the new crops, and the gardens gave promise of later abundance. There were still black gaps among the dwellings, however; significant reminders of the visit of the marauders. Suddenly as the little maid stood leaning against the door, something down the road caused her to start violently, and lean forward eagerly.

“Father,” she cried shrilly.

“Yes, Jeanne,” he answered apathetically.

“There are cattle and sheep coming down the highroad. They look like ours. What does it mean?”

Instantly Jacques sprang to his feet and hastened to the door. One look and he gave a great shout.

“They are ours,” he cried in ringing tones. “Friends, neighbours, come and see! The cattle have come back.”

From out of the cottages ran the people, incredulity turning to joy as their sight verified Jacques’ cry. The wildest excitement prevailed as the flocks and herds in charge of a number of soldiers commanded by a young man-at-arms drew near. From him they learned what had happened.

When the lady of the castle, she who had gone to live with her spouse at the ducal court of Nancy, heard of the raid that had been made upon the villages, she protested to her kinsman, the Count of Vaudemont, against the wrong done to her, as she was the lady of Domremy and Greux.

Now the place to which the chief of the marauding band, Henri d’Orley, had taken the cattle and plunder was the Château of Doulevant, which was under the immediate suzerainty of the lady’s kinsman. As soon, therefore, as he received her message he sent a man-at-arms with soldiers to recapture the animals and the booty. This was done; not, however, without a fight, in which the young commander was victorious; and so he had brought the cattle home.

With tears and cries of joy the husbandmen welcomed them. There was food in plenty, too, so the village rejoiced, and life bade fair to be bright once more. Only the wise ones shook their heads ominously. For were they not likely to lose the beasts forever on the morrow?

Thus the days passed in the valley; nights of terror; dreams of horror; with war everywhere around; but Jeanne grew and blossomed as the lily grows from the muck of a swamp.

[4] Godons––A term applied to the English.
[5] From this word we have the English term “tally.”

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 5 Warrior Maid

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