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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

JOAN RELIEVES ORLEANS

[210] EARLY in March 1429 Joan had reached Chinon, and Charles, in spite of the remonstrances of his favourites, had determined to receive the peasant girl from Domremy.

It was evening, and the great hall of the palace was bright with candle light when Joan appeared.

The dauphin had laid aside his royal robes, and stood among three hundred of his knights, each clad more richly than was he.

But Joan, without a sign of bewilderment, walked straight to Charles, knelt at his feet. and spoke to him "humbly and simply like a poor little shepherdess." "Gentle dauphin. God grant you a good life," she said.

Charles at first denied that he was the dauphin, but the maid was not to be deceived. "In God's name," she cried, "it is you and none other."

Then as Charles was silent, Joan said, "Gentle dauphin, my name is Joan the Maid; the King of Heaven sendeth you word by me that you shall be anointed and crowned in the city of Rheims before the year is ended."

Gladly would Charles have believed that what the maid said would really come to pass, yet he hesitated, and wondered how it could be.

Joan, seeing that Charles was afraid to trust her, begged to speak with him alone, saying that she would give him a sign which would make it impossible for him to doubt her words.

[211] A few days later Charles saw Joan alone, but what she then said to the dauphin the maid would never tell. Even when in days to come her judge threatened her with torture, trying thus to wring her secret from her, Joan never faltered. She had promised her saints not to tell, and she was silent to the end.

But in after-years Charles VII. told the secret to a friend, so that now we know the sign the maid brought to the dauphin.

You remember that Charles was sometimes so unhappy that he could not believe that he was the true heir to the throne of France. One day, in his misery, he had entered a chapel, and prayed silently to God to give him his kingdom if he were in truth the dead king's eldest son.

This prayer, of which none could know save God alone Joan recalled to the dauphin's memory. She said that God had answered this prayer by sending her, the maid, to assure him that he was the true heir to the throne; and after raising the siege of Orleans, to lead him to Rheims to be crowned.

Then the dauphin no longer doubted Joan, yet still he was not ready to send her to raise the siege, which was the first task given her to do.

Instead, the dauphin sent the eager maid to Poitiers to be examined by the bishops and priests.

For six weary weeks Joan was questioned by the learned men. But they could find no fault with her answers, and so at length they sent her back to Charles, telling him that they could find "naught but goodness in her."

I am come on behalf of the King of Heaven to cause the siege of Orleans to be raised," Joan had said again and again, and now neither Charles nor the bishops hesitated. The maid should go to Orleans.

It was indeed time that something should be done for the besieged city. Already more than once Dunois had sent to Charles to beg for help which had never come,

[212] But now the maid was to march to Orleans, and hearts beat fast, hopes rose high in the city.

It was easy to raise an army. The French soldiers were eager to follow the maid, never doubting that she would lead them to victory.

At Chinon Joan had already won the friendship of the Duke of Alenšon. He and the rough and reckless La Hire had pledged themselves to follow wherever she should lead.

Clad in white armour, which Charles had ordered to be made for her, and seated on a great black horse, Joan was at length ready to set out with her army.

Charles wished to give his girl-captain a sword, but there was only one sword that Joan cared to wear. She begged the king to send for it to a chapel dedicated to St. Catherine. There, near the altar, it lay buried, an old and rusty sword, on which were carved five crosses, as her voices had said. The sword was found and brought to the maid, who wore it in battle but used it little. For her heart was tender even on the battlefield, and never did she slay any.

But it was her banner that Joan loved. It was made of white linen, and on it were embroidered the Lilies of France, and across the front were inscribed the simple words, JÚsus Maria.

Mounted on her black horse, Joan and her army marched toward Orleans. She was a strict captain, allowing no drinking, no swearing among the soldiers or their leaders. Even the rough La Hire, though with difficulty, ceased to use the ugly words that came so easily to his lips.

Before the army marched a band of priests, who sang hymns in which the soldiers joined as they drew nearer and nearer to the besieged city.

Close to Orleans Joan ordered the army to halt while she sent a message to the English, bidding them to raise the siege or she would come and force them to do so.

As the English took no notice of her message, Joan marched on, whereupon the English fled before the maid, [213] whom already they called a witch, leaving one of their forts deserted.

Joan, with part of her army, passed safely into the city, the citizens wild with joy coming out to meet their deliverer. Straight on through the happy crowd rode the maid, until she reached the cathedral, where she dismounted, and entering gave thanks to God for bringing her to Orleans.

When night came the maid, being tired with the excitement of the day, went to bed and slept. But erelong the tramp of horses, the roar of guns, awoke her. Quickly she arose, dressed and armed herself; then hastening down to her page she chided him, saying, "Ah, naughty boy, not to come and tell me that the blood of France was being shed. Come, quick, my horse!"

It was brought and, mounting, Joan galloped along the paved streets so fiercely that sparks darted from the hoofs of her horse. To the amazement of all she rode straight to the place where the skirmish was taking place, as though she had all her life known the way.

Joan entered Orleans on April 29, 1429. Five days later she led her soldiers out to attack one of the English forts, and took it. Two days passed, and again she led her men to attack another fort. But this time the struggle was more fierce, the English forcing the French to withdraw, mocking the while at the maid as she slowly retired.

Joan, hearing their words, grew angry, rallied her men, and once again made a determined attack upon the fort. With the maid was La Hire, the bravest and roughest of her captains.

The English, who a few moments before had been sure of victory, were seized with panic at the fresh onslaught, and fled, leaving the fortress in the hands of the French. In this assault Joan was wounded, but she paid no heed to her pain.

Many other forts were taken, until at length there [214] remained only the Tournelles, the strongest of all the English defences, and, as I told you, the key to the city.

Early on Saturday morning. May 7, 1429, the whole French army crossed the river Loire in boats and joined in the attack on the Toumelles.

The English fought desperately, and the French began to falter. Joan, seeing her soldiers fall back, jumped into a ditch, seized a ladder, placed it against the wall of the fort, and began to mount.

At that moment an arrow wounded her in the shoulder. Joan's tears fell and the pain made her feel faint, but almost at once she dashed away her tears and herself pulled the arrow out of her shoulder.

Dunois, seeing that the French were again faltering, ordered the retreat to be sounded. Joan meanwhile having gone aside to pray. Now, however, she came back, and Dunois begged to attack the enemy once more.

Then she mounted her black horse, her banner in her hand, and the English, who had believed she was too badly wounded to fight, saw her again encouraging their enemies.

As for her own followers, when they saw the maids banner waving in the air, they quickly gathered around it, forgetful of their fears.

Then Joan handed the banner to one of her soldiers, bidding him carry it forward until it touched the walls of the Toumelles.

"Joan, it touches now," cried the soldier.

"Enter, then, for the city is yours," cried the maid. At her words the men scaled the walls, leaped into the fort, and the English were forced to flee.


[Illustration]

"ENTER, THEN, FOR THE CITY IS YOURS," CRIED THE MAID.

They rushed to the drawbridge only to find that it had been set on fire by the citizens of Orleans.

Yet they dashed forward, Glansdale and his knights defending the retreat as best they could. But when they too turned to cross through the fire and smoke, the bridge [215] gave way, and they and many of their men were thrown into the river and drowned.

To add to the dismay of the English, the citizens of Orleans now flung a plank across the river and swarmed across to join in the attack.

The Tournelles, the last fortress held by the English, was taken.

On the following day, Sunday, May 8th, the English drew themselves up in battle array. The French also mustered their whole army, and for an hour the two forces faced each other, but not a blow was struck.

The French army, by Joan's wish, heard mass in the open air while they faced the foe.

Then the maid, who was eagerly watching the enemy, cried, "See, are the English still waiting to attack us?" The French looked, and could scarcely believe their eyes. For the English had turned and were marching away, their banners flying in the air. The siege of Orleans, begun on October 12, 1428. was raised on May 8, 1429, eight days after the maid had entered the city.

Long and loud pealed the bells as Joan and her army came in triumph into the city. In an ecstasy of joy the citizens crowded around their deliverer, and followed her into the cathedral, where the Te Deum was sung in thankfulness that the siege was ended. From that day Joan was known as the Maid of Orleans.


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