O NE warm and bright morning in June, about the mid-day hour, Joan was sitting in the garden of her father's house, busily sewing on her needlework. She paused a moment to listen to the ever-beautiful chimes of the Angelus bell, sounding from the nearby church steeple. Sometimes the young bell-ringer was lazy. Whenever he was slow, little Joan was sure to notice it. She scolded him sweetly and promised the boy a large basketful of the fleecy white wool from her father's sheep, if he would be more prompt in ringing the chimes. How Joan loved the song of the bells!
The carols of the birds chirping merrily in the branches overhead now mingled with the melody of the bells and sounded like a harmonious song to the little girl.
Suddenly a bright gleam of light shone upon Joan and a sweet mysterious Voice sent down from Heaven spoke to the frightened little maid. None of Joan's playmates were near the place from which the sound came; therefore the little girl was seized with terror.
The Voice was sweet and tender and spoke but a few simple words. It said to her, "Joan, to be a wise and good child, go often to church." She heard the Voice three times, and she knew it was the Voice of an Angel. Joan's fear grew less and less as she listened. The Angel also told Joan to prepare herself to go to the aid of France, for she had been chosen by God to save her country.
Joan heard other Voices and the air was filled with fragrance. She soon understood their meaning more clearly. The Voices were those of Saint Michael the Archangel, who was the protector of France, and of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, under whose statues in the little church Joan always placed wreaths of flowers.
These Voices of the Saints spoke to Joan until she was sixteen years old, when they became more urgent. They told her that her native land, the beautiful country of France, was in grave danger. They told Joan that she must go to help her King and save her nation.
"I am but a poor girl," said Joan, "who cannot ride or be a leader in war."
But the Voices reassured the little peasant girl, and when another year had passed, the clear Voices were heard again, accompanied by divine apparitions which appeared before the enraptured eyes of the Maid. They were figures of a supernatural beauty, wearing crowns of gold.
St. Michael the Archangel and the Young Maid of France
Upon their arrival, Joan bowed humbly to them; she drew near to hear their words. The sweet Voices murmured:
"Most happy little maiden,
You have nought to fear.
The Heavenly Father up above
Sends us to tell you of His love.
He wishes us to comfort you
Who are to Him so dear."
The Voices told Joan that it was the wish of God that she seek out the Sire of Baudricourt, captain of a town called Vaucouleurs, and ask his aid. He would give her a group of armed soldiers to escort her to the Dauphin, as the Prince of France was called.
Indeed, there was good cause for Joan to come to the aid of her country at this time. England, a powerful nation, was waging war with France. There was great distress in the kingdom; the English were destroying fields; and even churches were left in ruins. The terror was so great in Domremy that the farmers were afraid to leave their cattle in the fields to graze, and at the slightest alarm, they led their animals to the "Castle of the Island" and took refuge there. While these smaller villages were being ravaged and plundered, the larger cities were as yet untouched. The Lords and Ladies were still arrayed in satins and laces and were living in great luxury. The Ladies also wore extravagant headdresses and were bedecked in jewels, all unmindful of their native land. As if that were not enough, there was also civil strife in France. Many of the French, under the Duke of Burgundy, had allied themselves to the English, and were warring against their own people.
Gayly Dressed, Despite the Sorrows of Their Native Land
This group was trying to prevent the young Prince, called the Dauphin, from occupying the throne of France. He was the rightful King, but the English and their wicked allies, the Burgundians, hoped to conquer him.
The town of Vaucouleurs was about twelve miles away and Joan wondered how she would be able to reach her destination. This was arranged more easily than the Maid expected, for she soon visited her uncle, Durand Laxart, who lived quite near this town. Joan told him her mission and begged him to take her to the Sire of Baudricourt. How astonished he was at her request! At first he did not want to grant it.
"Uncle," said Joan, "don't you remember the old saying that France shall be made desolate by a woman and restored by a maiden from the Marches of Lorraine?"
Uncle Laxart was thoughtful, for the saying was indeed well-known to all the countryside. Joan quickly added, "I am that maiden." Then her uncle protested no longer but promised to speak to the Sire of Baudricourt in her behalf.
The jovial Robert de Baudricourt listened tolerantly to the request of Uncle Laxart. Nevertheless he refused to supply men and horses for a little peasant girl whom he knew nothing about.
Joan then decided to see Robert de Baudricourt on her own behalf, and on Ascension Day, May 13th, of the year 1428, she appeared before the nobleman to ask his aid. There were crowds of knights, archers, and soldiers gathered in the castle to catch a glimpse of this strange girl.
Everyone who saw Joan was pleased by the bright and happy expression on her countenance, and by her courteous behavior. Wearing a simple frock of red wool, she arrived at the castle, her head held high, and an expression of great earnestness on her fair young face.
Joan told Baudricourt how she had been sent by God to advise him that he should send word to the young Dauphin to stand firm. God had given His word that He would send help to the Dauphin before the middle of Lent. She also added that it was the will of God that the Dauphin should be crowned in spite of his enemies, and that she herself was appointed to lead him to his coronation.
Baudricourt listened to the Maid with scorn. And because her uncle was listening, he added, "As for the one who brought you here, box his ears soundly when you get home again."
With high hopes, Joan left Vaucouleurs.
Joan returned home, but she was not disheartened by the rebuff of Baudricourt and resolved to reach the young Dauphin with the help of God. Her own little village of Domremy had already been wrecked and plundered by the enemy, the roofs were ripped off, the walls blackened by fire, and the church where Joan had spent so many pleasant hours was now a sad ruin.
As she left Domremy again, with the hope of another interview with Baudricourt in the nearby town of Vaucouleurs, Joan said farewell to her playmates for the last time. It was a sad parting, for Joan was loved by everyone in the friendly little village.
"Good-bye, Mengette," she called to one of her companions. "May the Lord bless you!" But to her bosom friend, little Hauviette, Joan could not bear to say farewell. When Hauviette heard of Joan's departure, she wept bitterly because she loved her so much for her goodness, and because Joan was her dearest friend.
And so Joan of Arc looked for the last time with loving eyes on the village of Domremy and the little brook of Three-Fountains, the big Meuse River, the "Castle of the Island" with its grey old garden, the familiar meadows where she had run races and led her cows to pasture, the giant trees in the gloomy Oak Wood, and the dear home of her childhood.