Jeanne D'Arc: her life and death/Chapter V
CHAPTER V — THE CAMPAIGN OF THE LOIRE. JUNE, JULY, 1429.
The rescue of Orleans and the defeat of the invincible English were news to move France from one end to the other, and especially to raise the spirits and restore the courage of that part of France which had no sympathy with the invaders and to which the English yoke was unaccustomed and disgraceful. The news flew up and down the Loire from point to point, arousing every village, and breathing new heart and encouragement everywhere; while in the meantime Jeanne, partially healed of her wound (on May 9th she rode out in a maillet, a light coat of chain-mail), after a few days' rest in the joyful city which she had saved with all its treasures, set out on her return to Chinon. She found the King at Loches, another of the strong places on the Loire where there was room for a Court, and means of defence for a siege should such be necessary, as is the case with so many of these wonderful castles upon the great French river. Hot with eagerness to follow up her first great success and accomplish her mission, Jeanne's object was to march on at once with the young Prince, with or without his immense retinue, to Rheims where he should be crowned and anointed King as she had promised. Her instinctive sense of the necessities of the position, if we use that language—more justly, her boundless faith in the orders which she believed had been give her from Heaven, to accomplish this great act without delay, urged her on. She was straitened, if we may quote the most divine of words, till it should be accomplished.
But the Maid, flushed with victory, with the shouts of Orleans still ringing in her ears, the applause of her fellow-soldiers, the sound of the triumphant bells, was plunged all at once into the indolence, the intrigues, the busy nothingness of the Court, in which whispering favourites surrounded a foolish young prince, beguiling him into foolish amusements, alarming him with coward fears. Wise men and buffoons alike dragged him down into that paltry abyss, the one always counselling caution, the other inventing amusements. "Let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die." Was it worth while to lose everything that was enjoyable in the present moment, to subject a young sovereign to toils and excitement, and probable loss, for the uncertain advantage of a vain ceremony, when he might be enjoying himself safely and at his ease, throughout the summer months, on the cheerful banks of the Loire? On the other hand, the Chancellor, the Chamberlains, the Church, all his graver advisers (with the exception of Gerson, the great theologian to whom has been ascribed the authorship of the Imitation of Christ, who is reported to have said, "If France deserts her, and she fails, she is none the less inspired") shook their hands and advised that the way should be quite safe and free of danger before the King risked himself upon it. It was thus that Jeanne was received when, newly alighted from her charger, her shoulder still but half healed, her eyes scarcely clear of the dust and smoke, she found herself once more in the ante-chamber, wasting the days, waiting in vain behind closed doors, tormented by the lutes and madrigals, the light women and lighter men, useless and contemptible, of a foolish Court. The Maid, in all the energy and impulse of a success which had proved all her claims, had also a premonition that her own time was short, if not a direct intimation, as some believe, to that effect: and mingled her remonstrances and appeals with the cry of warning: "I shall only last a year: take the good of me as long as it is possible."
No doubt she was a very great entertainment to the idle seigneurs and ladies who would try to persuade her to tell them what was to happen to them, she who had prophesied the death of Glasdale and her own wound and so many other things. The Duke of Lorraine on her first setting out had attempted to discover from Jeanne what course his illness would take, and whether he should get better; and all the demoiselles and demoiseaux, the flutterers of the ante-chamber, would be still more likely to surround with their foolish questions the stout-hearted, impatient girl who had acquired a little of the roughness of her soldier comrades, and had never been slow at any time in answering a fool according to his folly; for Jeanne was no meek or sentimental maiden, but a robust and vigorous young woman, ready with a quick response, as well as with a ready blow did any one touch her unadvisedly, or use any inappropriate freedom. At last, one day while she waited vainly outside the cabinet in which the King was retired with a few of his councillors, Jeanne's patience failed her altogether. She knocked at the door, and being admitted threw herself at the feet of the King. To Jeanne he was no king till he had received the consecration necessary for every sovereign of France. "Noble Dauphin," she cried, "why should you hold such long and tedious councils? Rather come to Rheims and receive your worthy crown."
The Bishop of Castres, Christopher de Harcourt, who was present, asked her if she would not now in the presence of the King describe to them the manner in which her council instructed her, when they talked with her. Jeanne reddened and replied: "I understand that you would like to know, and I would gladly satisfy you." "Jeanne," said the King in his turn, "it would be very good if you could do what they ask, in the presence of those here." She answered at once and with great feeling: "When I am vexed to find myself disbelieved in the things I say from God, I retire by myself and pray to God, complaining and asking of Him why I am not listened to. And when I have prayed I hear a voice which says, 'Daughter of God, go, go, go! I will help thee, go!' And when I hear that voice I feel a great joy." Her face shone as she spoke, "lifting her eyes to heaven," like the face of Moses while still it bore the reflection of the glory of God, so that the men were dazzled who sat, speechless, looking on.
The result was that Charles kindly promised to set out as soon as the road between him and Rheims should be free of the English, especially the towns on the Loire in which a great part of the army dispersed from Orleans had taken refuge, with the addition of the auxiliary forces of Sir John Fastolfe, a name so much feared by the French, but at which the English reader can scarcely forbear a smile. That the young King did not think of putting himself at the head of the troops or of taking part in the campaign shows sufficiently that he was indeed a pauvre sire, unworthy his gallant people. Jeanne, however, nothing better being possible, seems to have accepted this mission with readiness, and instantly began her preparations to carry it out. It is here that the young Seigneur Guy de Laval comes in with his description of her already quoted. He was no humble squire but a great personage to whom the King was civil and pleased to show courtesy. The young man writes to ses mères, that is, it seems, his mother and grandmother, to whom, in their distant château, anxiously awaiting news of the two youths gone to the wars, their faithful son makes his report of himself and his brother. The King, he says, sent for the Maid, in order, Sir Guy believes, that he might see her. And afterwards the young man went to Selles where she was just setting out on the campaign.
From Selles, he writes on the 8th June, exactly a month after the deliverance of Orleans:
"I went to her lodging to see her, and she sent for wine and told me we should soon drink wine in Paris. It was a miraculous thing (toute divine) to see her and hear her. She left Selles on Monday at the hour of vespers for Romorantin, the Marshal de Boussac and a great many armed men with her. I saw her mount her horse, all in white armour excepting the head, a little axe in her hand. The great black charger was very restive at her door and would not let her mount. 'Lead him,' she said, 'to the cross which is in front of the church,' and there she mounted, the horse standing still as if he had been bound. Then turning towards the church which was close by she said in a womanly voice (assez voix de femme), 'You priests and people of the Church, make processions and prayers to God for us'; then turning to the road, 'Forward,' she said. Her unfolded standard was carried by a page; she had her little axe in her hand, and by her side rode a brother who had joined her eight days before. The Maid told me in her lodging that she had sent you, grandmother, a small gold ring, which was indeed a very small affair, and that she would fain have sent you something better, considering your recommendation. To-day M. d'Alençon, the Bastard of Orleans, and Gaucourt were to leave Selles, following the Maid. And men are arriving from all parts every day, all with good hope in God who I believe will help us. But money there is none at the Court, so that for the present I have no hope of any help or assistance. Therefore I desire you, Madame ma mère, who have my seal, spare not the land neither in sale nor mortgage . . . . My much honoured ladies and mothers, I pray the blessed Son of God that you have a good life and long; and both of us recommend ourselves to our brother Louis. And we send our greetings to the reader of this letter. Written from Selles, Wednesday, 8th June, 1429. This afternoon are arrived M. de Vendôme, M. de Boussac, and others, and La Hire has joined the army, and we shall soon be at work (on besognera bientôt)—May God grant that it should be according to your desire."
It was with difficulty that the Duc d'Alençon had been got to start, his wife consenting with great reluctance. He had been long a prisoner in England, and had lately been ransomed for a great sum of money; "Was not that a sufficient sacrifice?" the Duchess asked indignantly. To risk once more a husband so costly was naturally a painful thing to do, and why could not Jeanne be content and stay where she was? Jeanne comforted the lady, perhaps with a little good-humoured contempt. "Fear nothing, Madame," she said; "I will bring him back to you safe and sound." Probably Alençon himself had no great desire to be second in command to this country lass, even though she had delivered Orleans; and if he set out at all he would have preferred to take another direction and to protect his own property and province. The gathering of the army thus becomes visible to us; parties are continually coming in; and no doubt, as they marched along, many a little château—and they abound through the country each with its attendant hamlet—gave forth its master or heir, poor but noble, followed by as many men-at-arms, perhaps only two or three, as the little property could raise, to swell the forces with the best and surest of material, the trained gentlemen with hearts full of chivalry and pride, but with the same hardy, self-denying habits as the sturdy peasants who followed them, ready for any privation; with a proud delight to hear that on besognera bientôt—with that St. Michael at their head, and no longer any fear of the English in their hearts.
The first besogne on which this army entered was the siege of Jargeau, June 11th, into which town Suffolk had thrown himself and his troops when the siege of Orleans was raised. The town was strong and so was the garrison, experienced too in all the arts of war, and already aware of the wild enthusiasm by which Jeanne was surrounded. She passed through Orleans on the 10th of June, and had there been joined by various new detachments. The number of her army was now raised, we are told, to twelve hundred lances, which means, as each "lance" was a separate party, about three thousand six hundred men, though the Journal du Siège gives a much larger number; at all events it was a small army with which to decide a quarrel between the two greatest nations of Christendom. Her associates in command were here once more seized by the prevailing sin of hesitation, and many arguments were used to induce her to postpone the assault. It would seem that this hesitation continued until the very moment of attack, and was only put an end to when Jeanne herself impatiently seized her banner from the hand of her squire, and planting herself at the foot of the walls let loose the fervour of the troops and cheered them on to the irresistible rush in which lay their strength. For it was with the commanders, not with the followers, that the weakness lay. The Maid herself was struck on the head by a stone from the battlements which threw her down; but she sprang up again in a moment unhurt. "Sus! Sus! Our Lord has condemned the English—all is yours!" she cried. She would seem to have stood there in her place with her banner, a rallying-point and centre in the midst of all the confusion of the fight, taking this for her part in it, and though she is always in the thick of the combat, never, so far as we are told, striking a blow, exposed to all the instruments of war, but injured by none. The effect of her mere attitude, the steadiness of her stand, under the terrible rain of stone bullets and dreadful arrows, must of itself have been indescribable.
In the midst of the fiery struggle, there is almost a comic point in her watch over Alençon, for whose safety she had pledged herself, now dragging him from a dangerous spot with a cry of warning, now pushing him forward with an encouraging word. On the first of these occasions a gentleman of Anjou, M. de Lude, who took his place in the front was killed, which seems hard upon the poor gentleman, who was probably quite as well worth caring for as Alençon. "Avant, gentil duc," she cried at another moment, "forward! Are you afraid? you know I promised your wife to bring you safe home." Thus her voice keeps ringing through the din, her white armour gleams. "Sus! Sus!" the bold cry is almost audible, sibilant, whistling amid the whistling of the arrows.
Suffolk, the English Bayard, the most chivalrous of knights, was at last forced to yield. One story tells us that he would give up his sword only to Jeanne herself, but there is a more authentic description of his selection of one youth among his assailants whom the quick perceptions of the leader had singled out. "Are you noble?" Suffolk asks in the brevity of such a crisis. "Yes; Guillame Regnault, gentleman of Auvergne." "Are you a knight?" "Not yet." The victor put a knee to the ground before his captive, the vanquished touched him lightly on the shoulder with the sword which he then gave over to him. Suffolk was always the finest gentleman, the most perfect gentle knight of his time.
"Now let us go and see the English of Meung," cried Jeanne, unwearying, as soon as this victory was assured. That place fell easily; it is called the bridge of Meung, in the Chronicle, without further description, therefore presumably the fortress was not attacked—and they proceeded onward to Beaugency. These towns still shine over the plain, along the line of the Loire, visible as far as the eye will carry over the long levels, the great stream linking one to another like pearls on a thread. There is nothing in the landscape now to give even a moment's shelter to the progress of a marching army which must have been seen from afar, wherever it moved; or to veil the shining battlements, and piled up citadels rising here and there, concentrated points and centres of life. The great white Castle of Blois, the darker tower of Beaugency, still stand where they stood when Jeanne and her men drew near, as conspicuous in their elevation of walls and towers as if they had been planted on a mountain top. On more than one occasion during this wonderful progress from victory to victory, the triumphant leaders returned for a day or two to Orleans to tell their good tidings, and to celebrate their success.
And there is but one voice as to the military skill which she displayed in these repeated operations. The reader sees her, with her banner, posted in the middle of the fight, guiding her men with a sort of infallible instinct which adds force to her absolute quick perception of every difficulty and advantage, the unhesitating promptitude, attending like so many servants upon the inspiration which is the soul of all. These are things to which a writer ignorant of war is quite unable to do justice. What was almost more wonderful still was the manner in which the Maid held her place among the captains, most of whom would have thwarted her if they could, with a consciousness of her own superior place, in which there is never the slightest token of presumption or self-esteem. She guarded and guided Alençon with a good-natured and affectionate disdain; and when there was risk of a great quarrel and a splitting of forces she held the balance like an old and experienced guide of men.
This latter crisis occurred before Beaugency on the 15th of June, when the Comte de Richemont, Constable of France, the brother of the Duc de Bretagne, a great nobleman and famous leader, but in disgrace with the King and exiled from the Court, suddenly appeared with a considerable army to join himself to the royalist forces, probably with the hope of securing the leading place. Richemont was no friend to Jeanne; though he apparently asked her help and influence to reconcile him with the King. He seems indeed to have thought it a disgrace to France that her troops should be led, and victories gained by no properly appointed general, but by a woman, probably a witch, a creature unworthy to stand before armed men. It must not be forgotten that even now this was the general opinion of her out of the range of her immediate influence. The English held it like a religion. Bedford, in his description of the siege of Orleans and its total failure, reports to England that the discomfiture of the hitherto always triumphant army was "caused in great part by the fatal faith and vain fear that the French had, of a disciple and servant of the enemy of man, called the Maid, who uses many false enchantments, and witchcraft, by which not only is the number of our soldiers diminished but their courage marvellously beaten down, and the boldness of our enemies increased." Richemont was a sworn enemy of all such. "Never man hated more, all heresies, sorcerers, and sorceresses, than he; for he burned more in France, in Poitou, and Bretagne, than any other of his time." The French generals were divided as to the merits of Richemont and the advantages to be derived from his support. Alençon, the nominal commander, declared that he would leave the army if Richemont were permitted to join it. The letters of the King were equally hostile to him; but on the other hand there were some who held that the accession of the Constable was of more importance than all the Maids in France. It was a moment which demanded very wary guidance. Jeanne, it would seem, did not regard his arrival with much pleasure; probably even the increase of her forces did not please her as it would have pleased most commanders, holding so strongly as she did, to the miraculous character of her own mission and that it was not so much the strength of her troops as the help of God that got her the victory. But it was not her part to reject or alienate any champion of France. We have an account of their meeting given by a retainer of Richemont, which is picturesque enough. "The Maid alighted from her horse, and the Constable also. 'Jeanne,' he said, 'they tell me that you are against me. I know not if you are from God (de la part de Dieu) or not. If you are from God I do not fear you; if you are of the devil, I fear you still less.' 'Brave Constable,' said Jeanne, 'you have not come here by any will of mine; but since you are here you are welcome.'"
Armed neutrality but suspicion on one side, dignified indifference but acceptance on the other, could not be better shown.
These successes, however, had been attended by various escarmouches going on behind. The English, who had been driven out of one town after another, had now drawn together under the command of Talbot, and a party of troops under Fastolfe, who came to relieve them, had turned back as Jeanne proceeded, making various unsuccessful attempts to recover what had been lost. Failing in all their efforts they returned across the country to Genville, and were continuing their retreat to Paris when the two enemies came within reach of each other. An encounter in open field was a new experience of which Jeanne as yet had known nothing. She had been successful in assault, in the operations of the siege, but to meet the enemy hand to hand in battle was what she had never been required to do; and every tradition, every experience, was in favour of the English. From Agincourt to the Battle of the Herrings at Rouvray near Orleans, which had taken place in the beginning of the year (a fight so named because the field of battle had been covered with herrings, the conquerors in this case being merely the convoy in charge of provisions for the English, which Fastolfe commanded), such a thing had not been known as that the French should hold their own, much less attain any victory over the invaders. In these circumstances there was much talk of falling back upon the camp near Beaugency and of retreating or avoiding an engagement; anything rather than hazard one of those encounters which had infallibly ended in disaster. But Jeanne was of the same mind as always, to go forward and fear nothing. "Fall upon them! Go at them boldly," she cried. "If they were in the clouds we should have them. The gentle King will now gain the greatest victory he has ever had."
It is curious to hear that in that great plain of the Beauce, so flat, so fertile, with nothing but vines and cornfields now against the horizon, the two armies at last almost stumbled upon each other by accident, in the midst of the brushwood by which the country was wildly overgrown. The story is that a stag roused by the French scouts rushed into the midst of the English, who were advantageously placed among the brushwood to arrest the enemy on their march; the wild creature terrified and flying before an army blundered into the midst of the others, was fired at and thus betrayed the vicinity of the foe. The English had no time to form or set up their usual defences. They were so taken by surprise that the rush of the French came without warning, with a suddenness which gave it double force. La Hire made the first attack as leader of the van, and there was thus emulation between the two parties, which should be first upon the enemy. When Alençon asked Jeanne what was to be the issue of the fight, she said calmly, "Have you good spurs?" "What! You mean we shall turn our backs on our enemies?" cried her questioner. "Not so," she replied. "The English will not fight, they will fly, and you will want good spurs to pursue them." Even this somewhat fantastic prophecy put heart into the men, who up to this time had been wont to fly and not to fight.
And this was what happened, strange as it may seem. Talbot himself was with the English forces, and many a gallant captain beside: but the men and their leaders were alike broken in spirit and filled with superstitious terrors. Whether these were the forces of hell or those of heaven that came against them no one could be sure; but it was a power beyond that of earth. The dazzled eyes which seemed to see flights of white butterflies fluttering about the standard of the Maid, could scarcely belong to one who thought her a servant of the enemy of men. But she was a pernicious witch to Talbot, and strangely enough to Richemont also, who was on her own side. The English force was thrown into confusion, partly, we may suppose, from the broken ground on which they were discovered, the undergrowth of the wood which hid both armies from each other. But soon that disorder turned into the wildest panic and flight. It would almost seem as if between these two hereditary opponents one must always be forced into this miserable part. Not all the chivalry of France had been able to prevent it at the long string of battles in which they were, before the revelation of the Maid; and not the desperate and furious valour of Talbot could preserve his English force from the infection now. Fastolfe, with the philosophy of an old soldier, deciding that it was vain to risk his men when the field was already lost, rode off with all his band. Talbot fought with desperation, half mad with rage to be thus a second time overcome by so unlikely an adversary, and finally was taken prisoner; while the whole force behind him fled and were killed in their flight, the plain being scattered with their dead bodies.
Jeanne herself made use of those spurs concerning which she had enquired, and carried away by the passion of battle, followed in the pursuit, we are told, until she met a Frenchman brutally ill-using a prisoner whom he had taken, upon which the Maid, indignant, flung herself from her horse, and, seating herself on the ground beside the unfortunate Englishman, took his bleeding head upon her lap and, sending for a priest, made his departure from life at least as easy as pity and spiritual consolation could make it on such a disastrous field. In all the records there is no mention of any actual fighting on her part. She stands in the thick of the flying arrows with her banner, exposing herself to every danger; in moments of alarm, when her forces seem flagging, she seizes and places a ladder against the wall for an assault, and climbs the first as some say; but we never see her strike a blow. On the banks of the Loire the fate of the mail-clad Glasdale, hopeless in the strong stream underneath the ruined bridge, brought tears to her eyes, and now all the excitement of the pursuit vanished in an instant from her mind, when she saw the English man-at-arms dying without the succour of the Church. Pity was always in her heart; she was ever on the side of the angels, though an angel of war and not of peace.
It is perhaps because the numbers engaged were so few that this flight or "Chasse de Patay," has not taken a more important place in the records of French historians. In general it is only by means of Fontenoy that the amour propre of the French nation defends itself against the overwhelming list of battles in which the English have had the better of it. But this was probably the most complete victory that has ever been gained over the stubborn enemy whom French tactics are so seldom able to touch; and the conquerors were purely French without any alloy of alien arms, except a few Scots, to help them. The entire campaign on the Loire was one of triumph for the French arms, and of disaster for the English. They—it is perhaps a point of national pride to admit it frankly—were as well beaten as heart of Frenchman could desire, beaten not only in the result, but in the conduct of the campaign, in heart and in courage, in skill and in genius. There is no reason in the world why it should not be admitted. But it was not the French generals, not even Dunois, who secured these victories. It was the young peasant woman, the dauntless Maid, who underneath the white mantle of her inspiration, miraculous indeed, but not so miraculous as this, had already developed the genius of a soldier, and who in her simplicity, thinking nothing but of her "voices" and the counsel they gave her, was already the best general of them all.
When Talbot stood before the French generals, no less a person than Alençon himself is reported to have made a remark to him, of that ungenerous kind which we call in feminine language "spiteful," and which is not foreign to the habit of that great nation. "You did not think this morning what would have happened to you before sunset," said the Duc d'Alençon to the prisoner. "It is the fortune of war," replied the English chief.
Once more, however it is like a sudden fall from the open air and sunshine when the victorious army and its chiefs turned back to the Court where the King and his councillors sat idle, waiting for news of what was being done for them. A battle-field is no fine sight; the excitement of the conflict, the great end to be served by it, the sense of God's special protection, even the tremendous uproar of the fight, the intoxication of personal action, danger, and success have, we do not doubt a rapture and passion in them for the moment, which carry the mind away; but the bravest soldier holds his breath when he remembers the after scene, the dead and dying, the horrible injuries inflicted, the loss and misery. However, not even the miserable scene of the Chasse de Patay is so painful as the reverse of the dismal picture, the halls of the royal habitation where, while men died for him almost within hearing of the fiddling and the dances, the young King trifled away his useless days among his idle favourites, and the musicians played, the assemblies were held, and all went on as in the Tuileries. We feel as if we had fallen fathoms deep into the meannesses of mankind when we come back from the bloodshed and the horror outside, to the King's presence within. The troops which had gone out in uncertainty, on an enterprise which might well have proved too great for them, had returned in full flush of triumph, having at last fully broken the spell of the English superiority—which was the greatest victory that could have been achieved: besides gaining the substantial advantage of three important towns brought back to the King's allegiance—only to find themselves as little advanced as before, coming back to the self-same struggle with indolent complaining, indifference, and ingratitude.
Jeanne had given the signs that had been demanded from her. She had delivered Orleans, she cleared the King's road toward the north. She had filled the French forces with an enthusiasm and transport of valour which swept away all the traditions of ill fortune. From every point of view the instant march upon Rheims and the accomplishment of the great object of her mission had not only become practicable, but was the wisest and most prudent thing to do.
But this was not the opinion of the Chancellor of France, the Archbishop of Rheims, and La Tremouille, or of the indolent young King himself, who was very willing to rejoice in the relief from all immediate danger, the restoration of the surrounding country, and even the victory itself, if only they would have left him in quiet where he was, sufficiently comfortable, amused, and happy, without forcing necessary dangers. Jeanne's successes and her unseasonable zeal and the commotion that she and her train of captains made, pouring in, in all the excitement of their triumph, into the midst of the madrigals—seem to have been anything but welcome. Go to Rheims to be crowned? yes, some time when it was convenient, when it was safe. But in the meantime what was more important was to forbid Richemont, whom the Chancellor hated and the King did not love, to come into the presence or to have any share either in warfare or in pageant. This was not only in itself an extremely foolish thing to do, which is always a recommendation, but it was at the same time an excuse for wasting a little precious time. When this was at last accomplished, and Richemont, though deeply wounded and offended, proved himself so much a man of honour and a patriot, that though dismissed by the King he still upheld, if languidly, his cause—there was yet a great deal of resistance to be overcome. Paris though so far off was thrown into great excitement and alarm by the flight at Patay, and the whole city was in commotion fearing an immediate advance and attack. But in Loches, or wherever Charles may have been, it was all taken very easily. Fastolfe, the fugitive, had his Garter taken from him as the greatest disgrace that could be inflicted, for his shameful flight, about the time when Richemont, one of the victors, was being sent off and disgraced on the other side for the crime of having helped to inflict, without the consent of the King, the greatest blow which had yet been given to the English domination! So the Court held on its ridiculous and fatal course.
However the force of public feeling which must have been very frankly expressed by many important voices was too much for Charles and he was at length compelled to put himself in motion. The army had assembled at Gien, where he joined it, and the great wave of enthusiasm awakened by Jeanne, and on which he now moved forth as on the top of the wave, was for the time triumphant. No one dared say now that the Maid was a sorceress, or that it was by the aid of Beelzebub that she cast out devils; but a hundred jealousies and hatreds worked against her behind backs, among the courtiers, among the clergy, strange as that may sound, in sight of the absolute devotion of her mind, and the saintly life she led. So much was this the case still, notwithstanding the practical proofs she had given of her claims, that even persons of kindred mind, partially sharing her inspirations, such as the famous Brother Richard of Troyes, looked upon her with suspicion and alarm—fearing a delusion of Satan. It is more easy perhaps to understand why the archbishops and bishops should have been inclined against her, since, though perfectly orthodox and a good Catholic, Jeanne had been independent of all priestly guidance and had sought no sanction from the Church to her commission, which she believed to be given by Heaven. "Give God the praise; but we know that this woman is a sinner." This was the best they could find to say of her in the moment of her greatest victories; but indeed it is no disparagement to Jeanne or to any saint that she should share with her Master the opprobrium of such words as these.
At last however a reluctant start was made. Jeanne with her "people," her little staff, in which, now, were two of her brothers, a second having joined her after Orleans, left Gien on the 28th of June; and the next day the King very unwillingly set out. There is given a long list of generals who surrounded and accompanied him, three or four princes of the blood, the Bastard of Orleans, the Archbishop of Rheims, marshals, admirals, and innumerable seigneurs, among whom was our young Guy de Laval who wrote the letter to his "mothers" which we have already quoted and whose faith in the Maid we thus know; and our ever faithful La Hire, the big-voiced Gascon who had permission to swear by his bâton, the d'Artagnan of this history. We reckon these names as those of friends: Dunois the ever-brave, Alençon the gentil Duc for whom Jeanne had a special and protecting kindness, La Hire the rough captain of Free Lances, and the graceful young seigneur, Sir Guy as we should have called him had he been English, who was so ready to sell or mortgage his land that he might convey his troop befittingly to the wars. This little group brightens the march for us with their friendly faces. We know that they have but one thought of the warrior maiden in whose genius they had begun to have a wondering confidence as well as in her divine mission. While they were there we feel that she had at least so many who understood her, and who bore her the affection of brothers. We are told that in the progress of the army Jeanne had no definite place. She rode where she pleased, sometimes in the front, sometimes in the rear. One imagines with pleasure that wherever her charger passed along the lines it would be accompanied by one or other of those valiant and faithful companions.
The first place at which a halt was made was Auxerre, a town occupied chiefly by Burgundians, which closed its gates, but by means of bribes, partly of provisions to be supplied, partly of gifts to La Tremouille, secured itself from the attack which Jeanne longed to lead. Other smaller strongholds on the road yielded without hesitation. At last they came to Troyes, a large and strong place, well garrisoned and confident in its strength, the town distinguished in the history of the time by the treaty made there, by which the young King had been disinherited—and by the marriage of Henry of England with the Princess Catherine of France, in whose right he was to succeed to the throne. It was an ill-omened place for a French king and the camp was torn with dissensions. Should the army march by, taking no notice of it and so get all the sooner to Rheims? or should they pause first, to try their fortune against those solid walls? But indeed it was not the camp that debated this question. The camp was of Jeanne's mind whichever side she took, and her side was always that of the promptest action. The garrison made a bold sortie, the very day of the arrival of Charles and his forces, but had been beaten back: and the King encamped under the walls, wavering and uncertain whether he might not still depart on the morrow, but sending a repeated summons to surrender, to which no attention was paid.
Once more there was a pause of indecision; the King was not bold enough either to push on and leave the city, or to attack it. Again councils of war succeeded each other day after day, discussing the matter over and over, leaving the King each time more doubtful, more timid than before. From these debates Jeanne was anxiously held back, while every silken fool gave his opinion. At last, one of the councillors was stirred by this strange anomaly. He declared among them all, that as it was by the advice of the Maid that the expedition had been undertaken, without her acquiescence it ought not to be abandoned. "When the King set out it was not because of the great puissance of the army he then had with him, or the great treasure he had to provide for them, nor yet because it seemed to him a probable thing to be accomplished; but the said expedition was undertaken solely at the suit of the said Jeanne, who urged him constantly to go forward, to be crowned at Rheims, and that he should find little resistance, for it was the pleasure and will of God. If the said Jeanne is not to be allowed to give her advice now, it is my opinion that we should turn back," said the Seigneur de Treves, who had never been a partisan of or believer in Jeanne. We are told that at this fortunate moment when one of her opponents had thus pronounced in her favour, Jeanne, impatient and restless, knocked at the door of the council chamber as she had done before in her rustic boldness; and then there occurred a brief and characteristic dialogue.
"Jeanne," said the Archbishop of Rheims, taking the first word, probably with the ready instinct of a conspirator to excuse himself from having helped to shut her out, "the King and his council are in great perplexity to know what they should do."
"Shall I be believed if I speak?" said the Maid.
"I cannot tell," replied the King, interposing; "though if you say things that are reasonable and profitable, I shall certainly believe you."
"Shall I be believed?" she repeated.
"Yes," said the King, "according as you speak."
"Noble Dauphin," she exclaimed, "order your people to assault the city of Troyes, to hold no more councils; for, by my God, in three days I will introduce you into the town of Troyes, by love or by force, and false Burgundy shall be dismayed."
"Jeanne," said the Chancellor, "if you could do that in six days, we might well wait."
"You shall be master of the place," said the Maid, addressing herself steadily to the King, "not in six days, but to-morrow."
And then there occurred once more the now habitual scene. It was no longer the miracle it had been to see her dash forward to her post under the walls with her standard which was the signal for battle, to which the impatient troops responded, confident in her, as she in herself. But for the first time we hear how the young general, learning her trade of war day by day, made her preparations for the siege. She was a gunner born, according to all we hear, and was quick to perceive the advantage of her rude artillery though she had never seen one of these bouches de feu till she encountered them at Orleans. The whole army was set to work during the night, knights and men-at-arms alike, to raise—with any kind of handy material, palings faggots, tables, even doors and windows, taken it must be feared from some neighbouring village or faubourg—a mound on which to place the guns. The country as we have said is as flat as the palm of one's hand. They worked all night under cover of the darkness with incredible devotion, while the alarmed townsfolk not knowing what was being done, but no doubt divining something from the unusual commotion, betook themselves to the churches to pray, and began to ponder whether after all it might not be better to join the King whose armies were led by St. Michael himself in the person of his representative, than to risk a siege. Once more the spell of the Maid fell on the defenders of the place. It was witchcraft, it was some vile art. They had no heart to man the battlements, to fight like their brothers at Orleans and Jargeau in face of all the powers of the evil one: the cry of "Sus! Sus!" was like the death-knell in their ears.
While the soldiers within the walls were thus trembling and drawing back, the bishop and his clergy took the matter in hand; they sallied forth, a long procession attended by half the city, to parley with the King. It was in the earliest dawn, while yet the peaceful world was scarcely awake; but the town had been in commotion all night, every visionary person in it seeing visions and dreaming dreams, and a panic of superstition and spiritual terror taking the strength out of every arm. Jeanne was already at her post, a glimmering white figure in the faint and visionary twilight of the morning, when the gates of the city swung back before this tremulous procession. The King, however, received the envoys graciously, and readily promised to guarantee all the rights of Troyes, and to permit the garrison to depart in peace, if the town was given up to him. We are not told whether the Maid acquiesced in this arrangement, though it at once secured the fulfilment of her prophecy; but in any case she would seem to have been suspicious of the good faith of the departing garrison. Instead of retiring to her tent she took her place at the gate, watchful, to see the enemy march forth. And her suspicion was not without reason. The allied troops, English and Burgundian, poured forth from the city gates, crestfallen, unwilling to look the way of the white witch, who might for aught they knew lay them under some dreadful spell, even in the moment of passing. But in the midst of them came a darker band, the French prisoners whom they had previously taken, who were as a sort of funded capital in their hands, each man worth so much money as a ransom, It was for this that Jeanne had prepared herself. "En nom Dieu," she cried, "they shall not be carried away." The march was stopped, the alarm given, the King unwillingly aroused once more from his slumbers. Charles must have been disturbed at the most untimely hour by the ambassadors from the town, and it mattered little to his supreme indolence and indifference what might happen to his unfortunate lieges; but he was forced to bestir himself, and even to give something from his impoverished exchequer for the ransom of the prisoners, which must have been more disagreeable still. The feelings of these men who would have been dragged away in captivity under the eyes of their victorious countrymen, but for the vigilance of the Maid, may easily be imagined.
Jeanne seems to have entered the town at once, to prepare for the reception of the King, and to take instant possession of the place, forestalling all further impediment. The people in the streets, however, received her in a very different way from those of Orleans, with trouble and alarm, staring at her as at a dangerous and malignant visitor. The Brother Richard, before mentioned, the great preacher and reformer, was the oracle of Troyes, and held the conscience of the city in his hands. When he suddenly appeared to confront her, every eye was turned upon them. But the friar himself was in no less doubt than his disciples; he approached her dubiously, crossing himself, making the sacred sign in the air, and sprinkling a shower of holy water before him to drive away the demon, if demon there was. Jeanne was not unused to support the rudest accost, and her frank voice, still assez femme, made itself heard over every clamour. "Come on, I shall not fly away," she cried, with, one hopes, a laugh of confident innocence and good-humour, in face of those significant gestures and the terrified looks of all about her. French art has been unkind to Jeanne, occupying itself very little about her till recently; but her short career is full of pictures. Here the simple page grows bright with the ancient houses and highly coloured crowd: the frightened and eager faces at every window, the white warrior in the midst, sending forth a thousand rays from the polished steel and silver of breastplate and helmet: and the brown Franciscan monk advancing amid a shower of water drops, a mysterious repetition of signs. It gives us an extraordinary epitome of the history of France at that period to turn from this scene to the wild enthusiasm of Orleans, its crowd of people thronging about her, its shouts rending the air; while Troyes was full of terror, doubt, and ill-will, though its nearest neighbour, so to speak, the next town, and so short a distance away.
A little later in the same day, the next after the surrender, Jeanne, riding with her standard by the side of the King, conducted him to the cathedral where he confirmed his previous promises and received the homage of the town. It was a beautiful sight, the chronicle tells us, to see all these magnificent people, so well dressed and well mounted; "il feroit très beau voir."
The fate of Troyes decided that of Chalons, the only other important town on the way, the gates of which were thrown open as Charles and his army, which grew and increased every day, proceeded on its road. Every promise of the Maid had been so far accomplished, both in the greater object and in the details: and now there was nothing between Charles the disinherited and almost ruined Dauphin of three months ago, trying to forget himself in the seclusion and the sports of Chinon—and the sacred ceremonial which drew with it every tradition and every assurance of an ancient and lawful throne.
Jeanne had her little adventure, personal to herself on the way. Though there were neither posts nor telegraphs in those days, there has always been a strange swift current in the air or soil which has conveyed news, in a great national crisis, from one end of the country to the other. It was not so great a distance to Domremy on the Meuse from Troyes on the Loire, and it appears that a little group of peasants, bolder than the rest, had come forth to hang about the road when the army passed and see what was so fine a sight, and perhaps to catch a glimpse of their payse, their little neighbour, the commère who was godmother to Gerard d'Epinal's child, the youthful gossip of his young wife—but who was now, if all tales were true, a great person, and rode by the side of the King. They went as far as Chalons to see if perhaps all this were true and not a fable; and no doubt stood astonished to see her ride by, to hear all the marvellous tales that were told of her, and to assure themselves that it was truly Jeanne upon whom, more than upon the King, every eye was bent. This small scene in the midst of so many great ones would probably have been the most interesting of all had it been told us at any length. The peasant travellers surrounded her with wistful questions, with wonder and admiration. Was she never afraid among all those risks of war, when the arrows hailed about her and the bouches de feu, the mouths of fire, bellowed and flung forth great stones and bullets upon her? "I fear nothing but treason," said the victorious Maid. She knew, though her humble visitors did not, how that base thing skulked at her heels, and infested every path. It must not be forgotten that this wonderful and victorious campaign, with all its lists of towns taken and armies discomfited, lasted six weeks only, almost every day of which was distinguished by some victory.
- The former story was written in 1429, by the Greffier of Rochelle. "I will yield me only to her, the most valiant woman in the world." The Greffier was writing at the moment, but not, of course, as an eyewitness.—A. L.