Joan Sees the Dauphin
These simple lines were once written in an old Mystery Play called The Siege of Orleans, to describe the maid Jeanne d'Arc, or, as we call her in our language, Joan Darc.
We know, too, that "her face was glad and smiling,"until her work was done and she was thrown into prison. There, among the rough soldiers who guarded her, the light faded from her eyes, and deep lines of pain were engraved on the face of the fearless maid.
Joan Darc was born in the little village of Domremy, on January 6, 1412. Domremy is in the valley of the river Meuse, on the outskirts of France. The villages in this district were loyal to the Dauphin Charles, for so they called Charles vii., seeing that he had not yet been crowned at Rheims, where the holy oil was kept with which it was "the custom to anoint the kings of France. They hated the Burgundians too, because they had joined the English, and were fighting against their country and their king.
Joan, the little maid, who lived in Domremy, was a simple, joyous child, playing merrily with the boys and girls of the village; learning, as did her friends, to spin, to sew, to cook, to hoe.
Near the village was a forest, and Joan, in spite of her love of play, would sometimes steal away from her companions, and sit quietly under the shade of the great oak trees, dreaming her childish dreams. The birds came and perched on her head, on her arms, or fed from her hands, so quiet she sat, so still.
At other times her little friends would be with her as she went into the wood to sing and eat cakes under a beech tree which was known as the "Ladies' Tree" or the "Fairies' Tree," and close to which was a beautiful well of clear, cold water, out of which the children would drink.
Before she was nine years old Joan became a simple little shepherdess, guarding her father's sheep on the common, which lay close to the village.
Sometimes the quiet life of the little maid was disturbed. Roving bands of English and Burgundians would come to the neighbourhood of Domremy.
Then Joan's father, with five or six of his friends, would hire a strong castle that was uninhabited, and use it as a fortress for themselves and their cattle.
To this refuge they would hasten at the approach of their enemies, driving before them their pigs, their sheep, their cows.
In the castle they were safe, but once at least, when they ventured back to their homes, the villagers found that their houses had been plundered, their church burned to the ground.
The lads of Domremy, too, would fight miniature battles with the lads of the Burgundian villages, and sometimes they would come home bruised and bleeding from the fight.
Then Joan, seeing them wounded, would weep, and at the same time set herself to wash and bind up the bruises of her comrades.
Moreover, when, as would happen at times, fugitives from the English sought shelter at Domremy, Joan, the little maid, who was ever pitiful to suffering, would give her bed to a soldier and herself sleep in the barn.
From these passing guests Joan would hear of the sorrows of Charles the Dauphin, of the misery of the French people. Little by little a great pity for France welled up in the heart of the child.
As she grew older Joan would often go to church while her companions went to dance; she was even to be found there when her parents thought that she was in the fields tending the sheep.
The altar of the church she would ofttimes deck with the wild flowers she had plucked in the wood, while the sound of the church bells grew ever sweeter in her ears.
Like many another child Joan loved the saints, of whom she had heard from the village pastor. St. Catherine and St. Margaret were those she loved the best, along with St. Michael, the patron or guardian of a castle in Normandy which was called by his name.
But from thinking of the saints, Joan's thoughts would wander to the dauphin. She would muse on his troubles, and on how the false queen, his mother, had forsaken him and joined his enemies, the Burgundians. And an old saying she had often heard would steal into her mind, "France, lost by a woman, shall be saved by a woman."
Moreover, the woman who was to save France was to come, so said the ancient prophecy, from her own countryside.
"Ah, blessed maid," thought Joan, "who shall deliver France from her enemies."
In 1425, when Joan was thirteen years old, a strange thing happened.
As the maid walked at noontide in her father's garden, under the glow of the summer skies, suddenly a light, brighter than that of the sun, shone upon her, and at the same time she heard a voice saying, "Joan, the Lord God hath chosen thee to save"France, to go to the aid of the King of France, and thou shalt restore to him his kingdom." At first Joan, seeing the light, hearing the voice, was afraid. But her fear soon passed away, for "it was a worthy voice" to which she listened.
When the voice spoke a second time Joan saw that there were angels in the midst of the dazzling light. The great St. Michael was looking down upon the maid, and the saints whom she loved, St. Catherine and St. Margaret, were there, "crowned with fair crowns."
They also spoke to her, and their voices were ever kind and gentle.
"When they departed from me," said Joan, "I wept, and would fain have had them take me with them." Again and again during the next five years her "voices," as Joan called them, spoke to her, and always they said, "Be a good child and wise, and thou shalt save France."
And when she pleaded, "I am a poor girl who cannot ride or be a leader in war," the heavenly voices answered ever, "Be a good girl, Joan, and wise, and thou shalt save France."
At length, when she was seventeen years old, her voices told the maid plainly that the time was come that she should go to France.
It was hard for Joan to leave her father and mother, and the quiet shepherd life to which she was used. But at least she knew just what she was to do, for her voices spoke quite clearly. She was to dress as a boy and go to deliver Orleans, which town was in danger of being taken by the English. Then, when the siege of Orleans was raised, the maid was to lead the dauphin to Rheims, that there he might be anointed with holy oil, and be crowned King of France. To do this great work, the voices told Joan that she would have no longer than a year.
Until now Joan had spoken to no one of her voices. If she was to leave her home, however, it was necessary to tell her father everything.
But he, when he had heard her tale, was both angry and dismayed. He vowed that he would rather drown his daughter in the Meuse than see her leave her home and journey through the country with rough soldiers as her companions.
Nevertheless Joan, still hearing her voices bid her go into France, left her home, not daring to say good-bye even to her little friend Hauvrette, lest she should falter in her plan.
The maid went first to Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the town of Vaucouleurs, which was loyal to the dauphin she hoped that when the captain heard her story he would send her to Charles.
But when in July 1428 she reached Vaucouleurs, and told Baudricourt that she had come to succour France the rough captain laughed at her words. A simple peasant girl succour France ! It was a foolish thought
"I come on behalf of my Lord," cried the maid fearlessly, "to bid you send word to the dauphin to keep himself well in hand and not give battle to his foes, for my Lord will presently give him succour."
"Who is thy lord?" asked Baudricourt.
"The King of Heaven," answered Joan.
But again the rough captain laughed, and bade the maid go home to watch her sheep.
So Joan went home, but in October she heard how Orleans was not only besieged, but in danger of falling into the hands of the English.
The maid waited until the new year dawned, then early in January 1429 she went again to Vaucouleurs to speak with Robert de Baudricourt.
"I must go to Orleans to raise the siege," she said. "I will go, should I have to wear off my legs to the knee." Yet still Baudricourt would have nothing to do with the maid.
For three weeks Joan lodged in Vaucouleurs, in the house of a wheelwright, spinning with his wife, and often going to church to pray.
Then one day a knight, named John of Metz, who knew Joan's father and mother, met the maid.
"What do you here, my dear?" he asked.
"I am come hither," answered Joan, "to speak to Robert de Baudricourt that he may take me, or be pleased to have me taken, to the dauphin, but he pays no heed to me or my words. Assuredly I had rather be spinning beside my poor mother . . . but I must go and do the work, because my Lord wills it."
"Who is your lord?" asked John of Metz, even as Baudricourt had done.
"The Lord God," answered Joan.
"By my faith," said the knight, overcome by the maid's quiet words and seizing her hands—"by my faith I will take you to the king. God helping. When will you set out?"
"Rather now than to-morrow," said Joan quickly, "rather to-morrow than later."
Not long after this Baudricourt also was won. For on February 12, 1429, Joan went again to the captain and said, "In God's name you are too slow in sending me; for this day, near Orleans, a great disaster has befallen the gentle dauphin, and worse he will have unless you send me to him."
Now a few days later Baudricourt heard that on the very day that Joan spoke these words the French had been defeated at the battle of the Herrings. Then the rough captain began to think that perhaps after all Joan Darc was sent by God to succour France. He was soon as eager as John of Metz to send her to the king.
As her voices had bidden her, Joan now laid aside her rough red peasant garments to dress as a boy.
Two knights and the good folk of Vaucouleurs willingly supplied the maid with all she needed for the journey to the king-a grey tunic, black hose, a horse. Then cutting her long black hair short, Joan set out on February 25, 1429, with an escort for Chinon, where the Dauphin was holding his court.
Robert de Baudricourt, as he bade the maid farewell, gave her a sword, saying, "Away then, Joan, and come what may."
Rumours of the maid had, you remember, reached Orleans. When it was known that Joan was really on her way to Chinon, the garrison plucked up courage. Strange as it may seem, the French soldiers had already faith in the maid, and believed that she would raise the siege of Orleans.