Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 12
A Worsted Suitor

Whatsoever thing confronted her, whatsoever problem
encountered her, whatsoever manners became her in
novel situations, she understood in a moment. She solved
the problem, she assumed the manners, she spoke and
acted as the need of the moment required.

Andrew Lang, “The Maid of France.

So the days sped. Presently rumours of another and more startling nature ran through the valley. Interest in Jeanne D’Arc, her mission, and Colin’s wooing paled before the news. It was noised that Antoine de Vergy, Governor of Champagne, had received a commission from the Duke of Bedford, Regent of France for Henry VI, to furnish forth men-at-arms for the purpose of bringing the castellany of Vaucouleurs into subjection to the English. The greatest alarm prevailed when the report was confirmed, that the Governor had in truth set forth. On the march, as was his custom, Antoine de Vergy laid waste all the villages of the loyal little wedge of territory with fire and sword. Domremy with its adjoining village of Greux lay in the southern part of the castellany, between Bar and Champagne, and was therefore directly in the line of attack. Threatened again with a disaster with which they were only too well acquainted the folk of the two villages met in solemn conclave to determine what was to be done.

Men, women and children were in the assembly that had gathered before the little church to discuss the situation; their pale faces showing plainly that they realized to the full the calamity that menaced them. Life, liberty and property were all at stake, for everything would be swept away by the ravaging Antoine. The very imminence of the danger rendered them calm, but it was the calmness of despair. Resistance to the force that was with Antoine was out of the question, so what could they do?

“And why not retire to the Castle of the Island, my children?” queried Messire Guillaume Frontey, Curé of Domremy. “Surely, it hath proved a good refuge in other times of need. Is it not a secure stronghold?”

“We fear not, father,” responded a peasant. “Sire Antoine boasts that we can not hold it against him, as he knows of a secret passage whereby he can obtain entrance when he so chooses. We have made search for the passageway, but we cannot find it; though it is known to exist, for there be some in the village who have heard of it. Against others we can hold the castle; against him we fear to try.”

“Then may Our Lady preserve ye, my children,” exclaimed the priest solemnly. “What can be done?”

“This,” cried Jacques D’Arc, suddenly elbowing his way through the people until he stood by the Curé’s side in full view of every one. “This, father, and friends: let us, as we fear to try the castle, gather our furniture in carts; then, driving our cattle and sheep before us, go to Neufchâteau which, being a town of Lorraine, will not be attacked. As you know, though it be a Burgundian belonging, its sympathies are with the Armagnacs.”

“That’s it, Jacques!” “Well said!” came from the villagers in a chorus of approval. “When shall we go?”

“Better to-day than to-morrow, friends,” shouted Jacques. “Better now than later. We know not when they will be upon us.”

There were cries of, “Right, Jacques!” followed by a hasty dispersal of the people to gather up their goods and cattle. A scene of disorder and confusion ensued as men and boys ran to the fields for the flocks and herds, which were quickly driven into the highroad, and women and girls stripped their linen chests and cupboards, and hurriedly piled their furnishings into ox carts.

Isabeau was weeping as she worked, for she might find the cottage burned and the village devastated upon her return. She had always known war. Her mother and her mother’s mother had known it. For ninety-one years it had raged, and the end was not yet. France was a wreck, a ruin, a desolation. Throughout the land there was nothing but pillage, robbery, murder, cruel tyranny, the burning of churches and abbeys, and the perpetration of horrible crimes. Seeing her grief Jeanne went to her mother, and put her arms about her.

“Be not so sorrowful, mother,” she said. “Before many years are sped the war will have come to an end. And this is the last time that you will have to flee from the cottage.”

Isabeau brushed away her tears and looked at her daughter steadily. “Why do you speak so, Jeanne?” she asked. “It is as though you knew.”

“Yes, mother; I know. It will be as I say. And now let’s get the rest of the furniture in the cart. Father grows impatient.”

Curiously enough, Isabeau was comforted. She dried her eyes and gave way to grief no more. Jacques came in and seeing Jeanne so helpful, bringing order out of the chaos about her, spoke gently to her in quite his old tender manner. So that Jeanne’s heart was lighter than it had been since her return from Bury le Petit. The animals were in the highroad, the ox carts were drawn up behind them laden with the belongings of the villagers, the women and children stood ready, waiting for the word of departure to be given, to take up the line of march to Neufchâteau, when they were thrown into the greatest confusion by the advent of a man-at-arms who rode among them at speed, crying:

“March! March while there is time. Vaucouleurs is attacked, and Sire Antoine hath started a body of men this way.”

He was gone before the startled villagers had time to question him. For a time the greatest excitement prevailed, but something like order was restored at length, and with lingering, despairing looks at the homes they were abandoning the village folk started toward Neufchâteau, their market town, lying five miles to the southward of Domremy. The day was excessively warm, and wearily the village folk followed the road through fields of wheat and rye, up the vine clad hills to the town. There were many of them, and their chattels were numerous, but the citizens received them cordially and lodged them as best they could.

Jacques conducted his family at once to the inn kept by a worthy woman, La Rousse by name, whom he knew. The move from Domremy had been made none too soon, for Antoine de Vergy’s men swept into the village but a few hours after the departure of its inhabitants, and both Domremy and Greux were laid waste.

To Jeanne the days that followed were tranquil and the happiest that she had known for a long time. As in Domremy she drove her father’s beasts to the fields, and kept his flocks. She also helped La Rousse about the household duties, greatly to the good dame’s satisfaction, and when she was not helping her hostess, or tending the cattle she passed all her time in church.

During the first few days of the stay in the market town Jeanne saw Colin frequently, but greatly to her relief he forbore to press his attentions upon her. Then she saw him no longer, and rejoiced thereat. Her thanksgiving was of short duration.

Dinner was over in the common room of the inn one day, and the guests––not numerous as it chanced––had broken up into groups; some lingering at the board where they had eaten, others clustering at small tables scattered about the rush strewn room. The great chamber, with its dusky walls and blackened beams would have looked gloomy enough on a dark day, but the heat and bright sunshine of midsummer made it seem cool and restful.

In the nook formed by the outer angle of the huge projecting chimney, and so somewhat in the shadow, sat Jeanne waiting for the guests to leave the board that she might clear away the dinner. Her father and a man with whom he was conversing were the last ones to rise, and at once the girl came forward to begin her task. As she did so there came the sound of a dagger hilt beating upon the outside door at the further end of the room. Before Jeanne could reach it to open it the heavy door swung open quickly as though thrust inward by a strong hasty hand, and there entered a man garbed in priest’s raiment. Reverent always in her attitude toward priests the maiden bowed low before him.

“Is it your pleasure to have dinner, messire?” she asked when she had risen from her obeisance.

“In due time, my child,” he replied. “But first, I would speak with a pucelle who is here. One Jeanne, daughter of Jacques D’Arc.”

“I am she,” spoke the maiden in astonishment. “What would you of me, messire?”

At this juncture Isabeau, accompanied by La Rousse, entered the room. The latter hastened forward to welcome the newcomer when she paused, arrested by his words:

“I come from the Bishop of Toul, Judge of the Ecclesiastical Court having jurisdiction over Domremy and Greux. He cites thee, Jeanne, daughter of Jacques D’Arc, to appear before him to show cause why thou dost not fulfill thy plighted troth to Colin de Greux.”

Throughout the long chamber there was a stir and murmur at the words, for Jeanne had become liked and esteemed by the guests, who had heard something of Colin’s wooing. La Rousse went to her in quick sympathy, for the girl stood dumbfounded.

So this was what Colin had been about in his absence? And her parents? Were they too concerned in the matter? She turned and looked at them searchingly. Isabeau could not meet her daughter’s eyes, but Jacques met her glance steadily. Long father and daughter gazed into each other’s eyes; Jeanne, with sorrowful reproach; Jacques with grim determination. Then slowly the girl turned again to the priest.

“When does messire, the bishop, wish to see me?” she asked.

“The second day from now, pucelle. If upon that day cause is not shown why thy pledge to Colin should not be kept the judge will deem that the troth stands, and that thy faith will be redeemed at once.”

Jeanne inclined her head deeply in acknowledgment, and started to leave the room. Isabeau ran to her.

“It is for thy good, little one. Now will you be ever near us. And Colin will make a kind husband.”

So spake Isabeau, but Jeanne made no reply. As she passed through the door she heard her mother say:

“She is as good as married, Jacques. She is too shy, too gentle to protest against it. She will do whatever the bishop decides without question.”

“Be not too sure of that,” spoke La Rousse before Jacques could reply. “These gentle maids have a way of turning at times, and Jeanne doth not lack spirit.”

“She hath ever been obedient, and will be now,” said Jacques confidently. “Save for this wild fancy of going to the Dauphin she hath ever been most dutiful.”

“Sometimes the gentlest maid will turn if pressed too hard,” repeated La Rousse.

And this was exactly what was happening. Jeanne was filled with sorrow that her parents should uphold Colin in trying to force her into an unwelcome marriage. For a brief time despair gripped her, for it was foreign to her nature and training to protest against those in authority over her, and should the judge sustain Colin it would mean the end of her mission. And then her soul rose up against it.

“I will not be forced into this marriage,” she decided suddenly. “I will go to Toul, and tell messire, the bishop, the truth of the matter. I will go.”

“Go, Daughter of God, and fear naught,” came the sweet tones of “Her Voices.” “Fear naught, for we will aid thee.”

Before the morning broke Jeanne rose to prepare for her journey. She knew that at this time the great gates of the archway leading into the courtyard of the inn would be closed, but there was a door, a small one used privately by La Rousse, that opened directly into the street. It was at the back of the inn, and unobserved Jeanne reached it, and passed out. It was ten leagues from Neufchâteau to Toul, and thirty miles was a long journey for a young girl to undertake alone and on foot. Also the distance lay back through the district over which Antoine de Vergy’s men had swept with fire and sword. Roving bands of armed men might be encountered, but Jeanne’s gentle nature had attained the courage of desperation. She feared the marriage more than aught else, and were the action not protested there would be no evading it. So, upheld by the knowledge that her saints were with her, and an innocence that was heroic, she made the journey. In perfect safety she came at last in the dusk of the evening to Toul in Lorraine, footsore and weary, but with a heart serene and peaceful.

There were many churches in the old town, and, as was her custom, she at once sought a chapel and prostrated herself before the image of the Virgin Mother. Her orisons ended, she went forth in search of food and lodging. Jeanne being a peasant girl had not the wherewithal to pay her way, and so could not go to an inn. But when the condition of the land was such that townspeople themselves might become refugees should their towns be overcome by an enemy its denizens welcomed wayfarers warmly. So Jeanne soon found shelter with humble folk, and, as she was never idle wherever she might be, she gladdened the heart of the dame by helping about the house and spinning. And the next morning she went to the law courts.

Colin was already in the chapel, where the bishop was sitting. His self-satisfied expression gave place to one of surprise at sight of Jeanne, for he had supposed that she would not appear to contest the action. There were many of the Domremy people present also, brought hither as Colin’s witnesses.

Colin declared that Jeanne had been betrothed to him since childhood, and the maiden was much amazed when the villagers affirmed after him that they knew such an engagement existed. After they had spoken the bishop turned to the girl kindly and said:

“And where is thy counsel, my child?”

“I have none, messire.” Jeanne raised her grave eyes to the kind ones bent upon her. Eyes that were alight with purity and truthfulness. “I need none. I have but to speak the truth; have I not?”

“That is all; but––” The judge paused and regarded the slender maiden attentively. She was unlike a peasant maid, both in bearing and appearance. Winning and beautiful in the fresh bloom of young maidenhood, she had not the manner of a maiden who would plight her word, and then disregard it. “Proceed, advocate,” he said suddenly. “Let her take the oath. Swear, my child, with both hands upon the Gospels, that you will answer true to the questions that will be asked you.”

And kneeling before him Jeanne laid her small hands upon the missal, and said simply:

“I swear, messire.”

Then she answered concerning her name, her country, her parents, her godfathers and godmothers.

“And now, my child, tell me about this promise of marriage to Colin de Greux,” spoke the bishop.

“Messire, I never promised to marry him,” she answered earnestly. “I have plighted my faith to no man.”

“Have you witnesses to prove this?”

“There are my friends and neighbors, messire. They will answer for this.”

The judge leaned forward quickly.

“They have spoken against you, child. Didst not hear them say that they knew of your engagement to Colin?”

“Yes, messire; but I would question them.”

“Say on,” he said. “It is your right.”

So, one by one, they were recalled to the stand while Jeanne asked of each three questions:

Had he seen her at any of the dances or merry-makings with Colin?

Had he seen her at church, or any public place with Colin?

Had he ever heard her, Jeanne, speak of being engaged to Colin?

To these questions the witnesses were obliged to answer in the negative.

“Messire, would I not, were I betrothed to this man, go abroad with him to church, to dances, or to other public places?”

“It would seem so, my child; but, unless there were cause why should he take this action?”

“I have ever, messire, found my greatest happiness in going to church, and in prayer. For this reason I have received a command from my Lord, the King of Heaven, to perform a certain task. In pursuance of that command I went to Sire Robert de Baudricourt of Vaucouleurs to deliver to him a message. Because of this journey my parents, who do not believe in my mission, thought that my senses were wandering, and conceived the idea that to cure my fancies a marriage would be a good thing.

“Therefore, with their encouragement Colin came. Messire, the first time that he did so I told him that it was of no use, for marry him I would not. Neither him nor another. Did I not, Colin?”

She turned to the youth so quickly, asking the question with such abruptness, gazing steadily at him the while, that Colin, taken unawares, nodded affirmation unthinkingly. The bishop spoke instantly:

“Colin de Greux,” said he with sternness, “this maiden speaks with the sound of truth. It is our opinion that she hath given no promise. Therefore, do you make oath again, and say whether it was from this maiden, or from her parents that you received her faith.”

“It was from her parents,” confessed the youth sullenly.

“And not from the maid at all?”

“No, messire.”

“The girl hath then plighted no faith to you, and action against her is dismissed. You, young man, and her parents also would do well to let the marvellous child alone. The damsel is simple, good and pious. Nor do I find that her wits wander, for without advocate, or witnesses she hath established her case. Go in peace.”

Jeanne thanked him with tears, and with full heart returned to her abiding place. She had worsted Colin, and set at naught her parents’ wishes by so doing. How would they receive her?

Filled with this thought she trudged the thirty miles back to Neufchâteau.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 13 Warrior Maid

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