Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 3
The Waves of War Reach Domremy

Bright shone the sun, the birds sang cheerfully,
And all the fields seemed joyous in the Spring:
But to Domremy wretched was that day;
For there was lamentation, and the voice
Of anguish, and the deeper agony
That spake not.

SOUTHEY. “Joan of Arc.Book I.

The condition of France in this year of grace, 1424, was deplorable in the extreme. For more than one hundred years war had raged between England and France. The kingdom which had been strong and splendid under the great Charlemagne had fallen into disintegration. Unity had no existence. By the treaty of Troyes, signed by the mad King, Charles VI, influenced by his unscrupulous queen, Isabella of Bavaria, Henry Fifth of England was made Regent of France during the lifetime of Charles, and assured of the full possession of the French throne after the mad King’s death, thus disinheriting the Dauphin. Of the fourteen provinces left by Charles Fifth to his successor only three remained in the power of the French crown.

It was Henry Fifth’s fond hope that by this treaty and by his marriage with a French princess the war would cease, and France would lie forever at the foot of England. For a time it seemed as though these hopes were to be justified. Then, in 1422 both he and the French king died, and the war broke out again.

The Duke of Bedford, Henry Fifth’s brother, assumed the regency of France until the young son of Henry Fifth, Henry Sixth, was old enough to be crowned. Charles, the Dauphin, meantime declared himself king and rightful heir, and many upheld his claim. But there were some, among them the Duke of Burgundy, the most powerful of the princes of France, who because of private injuries suffered at the hands of the Dauphin, sustained the claim of the English. Thus the country presented the sad spectacle of French princes warring against each other and the king more furiously than they did against the invader. Frenchmen were not Frenchmen; they were Burgundians, Armagnacs, Bretons, or Provencaux. The country was torn in pieces with different causes and cries. Bands of mercenaries and freebooters ravaged and pillaged the people with a cheerful disregard of the political party to which they belonged.

Under such conditions the distress of the country was great. Many regions were depopulated; in many the wild wood had over run the cultivated soil; in others agriculture could be practised only near castles and walled towns. Under the sound of the warning horn or church bell the cattle would run of themselves to places of refuge. When the country was so harried and devastated it behooved the villages and towns to keep a watchman ever on the lookout for the glitter of lances that the inhabitants might have time to gather their cattle and retreat to a place of safety.

Nor had the march of Lorraine and Champagne, as the valley of the river was called, been exempt from the common woe. It was long an object of contention between monarch and duke, but had finally passed into the hands of the crown, so that its people were directly subject to the King. The march was not only the highroad to Germany, but it was, too, the frontier between the two great parties: near Domremy was one of the last villages that held to the Burgundians; all the rest were for Charles, the Dauphin. In all ages the valley had suffered cruelly from war: first, the war between duke and monarch for its possession; and now, the war between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs. At a time when the whole of Christendom was given up to pillage the men-at-arms of the Lorraine-Marches were renowned as the greatest plunderers in the world. Therefore, life at Domremy was one perpetual alarm. All day and all night a watchman was stationed on the square tower of the monastery, and the inhabitants held themselves ready to fly at a moment’s warning. And yet men sowed and reaped; women spun and wove; children romped and sang; and all the occupations of a rural people went on.

In the midst of these anxieties life at the house of Jacques D’Arc seemed calm and serene. March passed, and dewy April too had been gathered into the Book of Months. It was May. The trees were masses of foliage, the meadows starry with wild flowers, and the greenish water of the winding river was almost hidden by the dense clumps of rushes that grew upon its banks. Vallis Colorum, the Valley of Colors, the Romans had called it, and truly in this fair May it was so radiant, and fragrant, and flowery that it well deserved the designation.

“Jeanne,” said Jacques D’Arc one morning as the little girl rose from the breakfast table and took her place before the spinning wheel, “you can not spin to-day. I need Pierrelot in the field, so that you must mind the sheep. Seedtime is short, and if we do not get the sowing done soon we can not reap a harvest.”

“Very well, father,” said Jeanne, rising. Taking her distaff, for the time spent in watching the flock was not to be passed in idleness, she went at once to the fold to lead out the sheep. Usually the stock of the villagers was kept in sheds attached to the houses, but the D’Arc family kept their animals in a separate building. It was still early, but the sheep were to be taken to the uplands, which lay beyond the common that could not now be used for pasturing because of the growing hay, so an early start was necessary.

There were already several little shepherdesses on the upland, and Jeanne waved her hand to Hauviette and Mengette, who were nearest. They too had their distaffs, and soon the three friends were seated together near the oak wood pulling the threads for spinning, chatting gaily, and ever and anon casting watchful glances at the browsing sheep. They were careful little maids, knowing well the value of the flocks they tended.

It seemed as though all of the inhabitants of the village were out in the open, so many men, and boys, and women were there engaged in sowing the fields, or busied in the vineyards on the hill slopes. The morning was almost past when the quiet of the peaceful scene was broken by a hoarse shout from the watchman on the square tower of the monastery:

“The Burgundians! The Burgundians are coming! To the fortress for your lives.”

As his voice died away the bells of the church sounded the alarm. Noisily they pealed in a harsh and terrifying clamor, those bells which in turn celebrated the births, tolled for the dead, and summoned the people to prayer. Instantly the fields and vineyards became scenes of commotion and confusion. Hoarse shouts and cries rent the air. Men, women, and children ran frantically toward the village, carrying their farm tools, and driving the cattle pell-mell before them. From the cottages there poured forth the aged, the old men and women who could no longer work in the fields and who therefore cared for the young children and the houses while their juniors did the outside work. Both the old people and the children bore whatever of value they could carry from the cottages, and thus burdened all ran toward the castle.

As the watchman gave his cry Jeanne, Mengette, and Hauviette sprang excitedly to their feet. Dropping their distaffs the two latter girls, leaving their flocks, ran toward the fields where their elders were, forgetful of everything but their own safety. But Jeanne stood still, a little line of perplexity wrinkling her forehead. Sheep are nervous animals, and these had lifted their heads as though startled, and were beginning to bleat piteously. Once among the plunging, bellowing cattle nothing could be done with them. Should they break and run into the forest they would be devoured by wolves. If they scattered in the meadows they would become the booty of the attacking party. In either case her father would be the loser. Only a second did she remain inactive, and then, clear and sweet, she sounded the shepherd’s call:

“Cudday! Cudday! Cudday!”

Bell-like her voice rose above the confusion. The old bell-wether of the flock recognized the tones of his shepherd, and started toward her. Jeanne turned, and started toward the village, stopping frequently to sound the call:

“Cudday! Cudday! Cudday!”

And quietly, confidently the old bell-wether followed her, bringing the flock with him. Half way to the village she met Pierre, who came running back to her. The lad was breathless and panting, but he managed to gasp:

“Father says, father says to leave the sheep, Jeanne.”

“Nenni, nenni,” returned Jeanne. “I can bring them in safely.”

At this moment there came a ringing shout from Jacques D’Arc:

“Leave the cattle and sheep, friends! Make for the castle! The foe is upon us.”

The terrified people glanced down the highroad along which the raiding party was approaching. There was but scant time to reach the fortress, and, as Jacques D’Arc had seen, it could only be done without encumbrance. Leaving the animals forthwith the villagers broke into a run, while Jacques hastened to his children.

“Father, I know that I could––” began Jeanne, but her father interrupted her vehemently,

“Talk not, but run, my little one. There is no time to lose.”

The castle stood on an island formed by two arms of the Meuse. Belonging to it was a courtyard provided with means of defense, and a large garden surrounded by a moat wide and deep. It was commonly called the Fortress of the Island. It had been the abode of those fair ladies and brave lords who were wont in the olden time to dance about the Fairy Tree. The last of the lords having died without children the property passed to his niece. The lady married a baron of Lorraine with whom she went to reside at the ducal court of Nancy, thus leaving it uninhabited. Wishing to have a place of retreat from attacks of marauding parties Jacques D’Arc and another man, on behalf of the villagers, leased the castle from the lady for a term of nine years.

The precaution had been useful on many occasions, but upon this bright, May morning it proved futile so far as the property of the villagers was concerned. The approach of the marauders was too rapid to permit the poor people to do more than to reach the castle in safety. Jacques D’Arc and his two children were the last to cross the drawbridge, which was instantly drawn up, and the gate was closed. They were safe, for it was a place that ten could hold against ten hundred.

Through the loop-holes the villagers beheld the scene that followed. With terrifying cries the raiders rode into the hamlet. Some rounded up the cattle and sheep preparatory to driving them off; others hitched oxen to carts and drove them to the middle of the village, where still others piled the furniture from the cottages into the carts. Silent and tearless the hapless inhabitants watched while the hearths of their homes were torn up, and mantels demolished in the search for hidden treasure. Even the church was not exempt from the pillage. And then, that no part of misery might be spared to Domremy, the plunderers applied the torch to the houses.

Women wrung their hands, some dry-eyed, others with sobs and cries at sight of their blazing homes, while men gnashed their teeth, enraged that they were powerless to prevent the disaster. At length the ruffian band departed, carrying their booty with them.

Scarcely had they passed from view before the men were out and across the drawbridge, and on to fight the flames. Some of the cottages were too far consumed to be saved, but after the flames were extinguished a few were found that could be used with some thatching.

Among these was the house of Jacques D’Arc.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 4 Warrior Maid

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