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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor




[216] JOAN DARC had raised the siege of Orleans. Her next task was to bring the dauphin to Rheims to be crowned.

The maid wasted no time in setting out for Tours, where Charles was spending his days in idle pleasures. His favourites, of whom La Trémouille was the chief, hated Joan, and did all they could to thwart her influence over the dauphin.

On May 13th, three days after she left Orleans, Joan rode into Tours, her banner in her hand, and met the dauphin, for whom she had already done so much.

He, when he saw the maid, "took off his cap and held out his hand to her, and, as it seemed to many, he would fain have kissed her for the joy he felt."

But when Joan begged Charles to go with her to Rheims, he hesitated, saying it would be dangerous to pass through the country, where the English still held many towns. La Trémouille, too, did all in his power to keep the king at Tours.

A month passed, and still Joan had not persuaded the king to start. As the precious days of her single year passed away unused, the brave heart of the maid grew sad. For ever she remembered that her voices had said she had but a year in which to accomplish her tasks.

In June Joan made up her mind to wait no longer for the dauphin. She herself, with her brave captains and soldiers, would clear the way to Rheims.

Jargeau, a town in which the English had sought refuge, [217] was besieged and taken, as well as other fortresses in the neighbourhood held by the English. At Patay, too. soon after, a battle was fought, when the English were utterly beaten, and their commander Talbot was taken prisoner.

After these victories the maid went once more to the dauphin, bidding him come to Rheims, for all the cities on the way were ready to fling open their gates to the true heir to the throne.

And at length Charles yielded, and set out with Joanand her army for Rheims, which they reached in safety on July 16, 1429.

On the following day Charles went in great pomp to the cathedral, where he was crowned King of France, after being anointed with the holy oil by the archbishop. During the ceremony Joan stood close to the dauphin, holding the royal standard in her hands.

When all was over the maid turned to Dunois, who was at her side, and said, "I have accomplished that which my Lord commanded me, to raise the siege of Orleans and have the king crowned. I should like it well if it should please Him to send me back to my father and mother to keep their sheep and their cattle, and to do that which was my wont."

But that, alas! was not to be.

Now that he was a king indeed, Charles wished to reward the Maid of Orleans with royal gifts.

For herself, however, Joan would have nothing, but for her village she was eager to accept the king's bounty, begging him that, for her sake, Domremy might pay no taxes for three hundred years.

The king was pleased to agree to Joan's wish, and from this time, until the reign of Louis XV., the village, not only of Domremy, but also of Greux, which was close to it, paid no taxes "for the sake of the maid."

Until now, save that Charles had greatly tried her [218] patience, all had gone well with Joan, but from the time of the coronation a cloud began to shadow her "glad and smiling face."

She urged the king to march at once to Pans, but he, influenced again by La Trémouille, refused, and spent his days, as of old, in idleness, or in trying to make terms with the Duke of Burgundy.

Joan had no trust in the duke, and boldly said, "There is no peace possible with him, save at the point of the lance." This, however, Charles did not believe.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Bedford was sending all his soldiers to Paris, lest the king should determine to advance on the city.

Then the maid left Charles, who was loitering now in one town and then in another, and before he had reached St. Denis she had already attacked the walls of Paris, and believed that the city could be taken by storm.

But in one of the assaults Joan was wounded, and although she never flinched and continued to fight in the trenches until midnight, a knight then forced her to retire.

Joan was indignant, but she still believed that on the following day Paris would be in her hands.

By her orders a bridge had been thrown across the Seine, and across this bridge she meant to lead her men to attack the city from another point.

But on the morrow Joan found that by the kings order the bridge had been destroyed, for he was still treating with the Duke of Burgundy, and hoped that the city would be given into his hands without the help of the maid.

Joan was heart-broken when she saw what Charles had done. But no words can tell of her despair when the king, listening to his favourite and longing for peace, forbade the maid to fight any more for six long months.

Poor Joan! slowly and sadly the year that had been hers passed away.

[219] As May 1430 drew near Joan's voices, which had been silent for a time, spoke to her again, but their words were solemn and sad. Before midsummer she would be in the hands of her enemies, so her voices told her. Little wonder was it if the brave heart of the maid quailed at the thought. For well she knew that if the English captured her, they would tie her to a stake and burn her as a witch, for such indeed they deemed her. It was thus that witches were treated in the days when Joan lived.

The truce was over by the month of May 1430, and Joan, eager as ever, was in the field once more.

Compiègne, a town that was faithful to Charles, was at this time besieged by a large army of English and Burgundians.

You may wonder that the Burgundians were there, for Charles, as you know, had for some time been making terms with their leader. But the Duke of Burgundy had been false to the King of France, as Joan, and every one save Charles himself, had foreseen that he would be.

The maid determined to go to the help of the besieged city. One night, under cover of the dark, she stole into Compiègne to the great joy of the people, who were sure she would raise the siege, as she had done that of Orleans.

On May 23rd, at dawn, she led out her men, hoping to surprise the enemy. Twice she drove back the Burgundians, but the English came hastening to the help of their allies, and little by little Joan was forced to retreat toward the city.

But before she could reach the drawbridge, the governor of the town, seeing that the enemy was rushing toward it, ordered the bridge to be raised. And, alas, that it must be told, the maid was left among her enemies.

On a grey horse, clad in a scarlet coat, Joan was seen by all. The Burgundians, shouting in triumph, surrounded the maid, and dragged her from her horse.

[220] They asked her to surrender, but she refused, thinking and hoping that they would kill her on the spot.

But the Maid of Orleans was too great a prize to be slain, and erelong the Burgundians sold her to the English, her mortal enemies. Charles VII., to his shame be it told, made no effort to save the maid from her foes.

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