Children dream long dreams
Thus far the picture has seemed peaceful enough, but a very different one lay just behind it. Almost the first word these children had heard spoken was "war." They had known through their childhood that not far away beyond the hills, to the west, France was torn by fierce struggles; that bloodshed and famine were there; that their hereditary king was not really a king, never having been crowned, but was little more than a penniless fugitive, secluded in some still unconquered corner of his kingdom below the river Loire.
Crushed by a hundred years' warfare with England, France was not even a nation, but a medley of warring factions, each, under whatever flag or pretense, striving only for personal gain. Great captains had become bandits; soldiers had become mere marauders; even the peasants had deserted their fields and formed themselves into cruel bands that laid waste far and wide.
Domremy, on the main road from the south, had plenty of news of these things, brought by traveling merchants, peddlers,
begging friars, straggling soldiers. Eager-eyed and open-mouthed, the children gathered round to hear their tales. Then there were the fugitives--hungry and bedraggled refugees—it was to such that Joan offered her bed. Dwellers in the quieter lands along the Meuse knew that the world was stricken; they prepared for the worst.
Governed by that grim soldier, Robert de Baudricourt, at Vaucouleurs, their little province had for the most part escaped hostilities. Cattle had been driven off, but this was mere thievery, and once at least the cattle had been recovered. Joan's father and his neighbors leased the abandoned castle—on an island facing the village and connecting with it—as protection for their flocks. Joan herself told of having helped drive the herds to this stronghold. At any alarm the village bells were rung, and the cattle were driven there more than once. The old castle also made a fine playground, especially for the game of war.
The children were familiar with the politics of their country. They knew that as a boy their young King, Charles VII, had been driven from Paris, and was jestingly called the "King of Bourges" because he had taken refuge in that city. They knew that the King's uncle, the Duke of Orleans, had been basely murdered by John, Duke of Burgundy, and that the present Duke of Orleans, captured at the great French defeat of Agincourt, was still held a prisoner in England. They knew that in his turn John of Burgundy had been assassinated and that
his son, Philip, with vast domain and wealth and armies, had allied himself with England. They knew that their King's unworthy mother, called Isabeau of Bavaria, had disowned her son, married her daughter to King Henry of England, and joined in a treaty that would make the son of this marriage ruler of both England and France. They knew that the party of their King was called "Armagnac," after the Gascon noble who had led it, and that everywhere Armagnac and Burgundian, at each other's throats, were desolating France.
Stout partisans of their fugitive King, the children were fiercely Armagnac, while Maxey across the river was Burgundian. The boys of Domremy would occasionally invade Maxey, and Joan saw them return with bruised and scratched faces. Thus in a way she was already a part of the struggle for the "Dauphin," as Charles VII was then known to her. To a sensitive imagination like hers the Dauphin was a romantic figure—the wandering prince of legendary tale.
"I had a great and warm zeal that the King should recover his kingdom," are her own words. Children dream long dreams; even before her summons she may have pictured herself offering humble service. We cannot know what she thought, but only that her child heart was heavy with the sorrows of her people and the ill fortune of her King.
When Joan was well into her thirteenth year, news came of the Battle of Verneuil (August 17, 1424), another defeat for the French army, leaving Charles VII almost without hope.
His soldiers, such as were still loyal, were more than ever broken in spirit. The saying was common that two hundred of the English could put to flight a thousand of the French.
It was within the year following Verneuil, probably within the month, that Joan received the first word of the work she was to do. On a summer day at the hour of noon, in her father's garden, she saw toward the church a great light, and heard a Voice. At that hour she would hardly be spinning or sewing. It would be when dinner had been prepared, and she was waiting a little in the shade for her father and brothers to come from the fields. The Voice came from the direction of the light, "a worthy Voice," full of dignity.
The little girl was greatly frightened and very likely did not remember later just what it was she had seen and heard. But either then, or soon after, for the light and the Voice came often, she was told to be a good child, that God would help her, and that she would go to the rescue of the King. And the angel spoke to her of "the pity [the sorrow] that was of the kingdom of France."
Telling of this, long after, Joan said that on hearing the Voice the third time she knew it to be that of a celestial being-
Saint Michael, as she learned – though at first she had great doubts. She also saw a figure, one of stateliness and beauty, accompanied by angels.
At the time she told no one, not even her priest or her pious mother, of these marvelous things. She may have felt that they were for herself alone. She may have feared censure and ridicule. Many strange happening remain locked in the heart of a sensitive child.
All that we know of Joan’s visions is from herself. What ever their nature – and they have been much discussed – to Joan they were realities that brought her comfort and revealed to her the future. Two or three times a week the light came to her, and the Voice she had accepted as that of Saint Michael told her she must go to France.
The little girl may have had dreams of being useful to the King, but she was now filled with fear. The Voice promised her soldiers, and told her that Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret would come to her, to comfort and counsel her in all that she had to do. They would be good spirits, and she must believe what they would say to her; this was "by commandment of the Lord." At such times Joan prostrated herself before the saint and his angels, and after their departure kissed the earth where they had stood, making reverence. It was only a little while later that Joan’s other "Voices," Saints Catherine and Margaret, came to her. She once spoke of their appearance at the spring below the Fairy Tree, so it may have been in that quiet place that they first revealed themselves, or the chapel of Bermont. "If I was in the wood I was certain to hear the Voices come."
She did not separate them at first, but later knew them very well and could easily tell one from the other; also they told her their names and seemed to salute her. They were richly crowned and of sweet and gentle speech. They assured her that the King would come into his own and promised to conduct her at last to paradise. She saw their faces, their hair; they exhaled sweet incense. They were so real that at one time or another they confessed her. She embraced their knees at parting, weeping that they would not take her with them.
In time, her visitants became less distinct, and she was not sure of their individual faces; but their voices remained clear, their message always the same. She had been chosen to restore France, to crown the King and give him back his kingdom. To the saints, Joan pledged her maidenhood "for so long that it pleased God;" that is, until her mission should be ended.
Joan was no pale visionary, of delicate health and nerves. She was a hardy country girl, of great endurance; capable, and with plenty of temper and determination, as we shall see later one; but being also deeply devout, she was moved to accept whatever came as by divine command.
Keeping the great secret
During four years and more the visions and Voices continued to come, before Joan was ready for her work. How did a girl in the interval from thirteen to seventeen manage to keep that great secret shut up in her heart?
Our story of those years is rather meager. We know that she was less often at play with her companions, after knowing that she must "go to France." When she was with them it was in a quieter fashion.
"Come and dance with us, Joan; one would think you were a saint!"
But though she gladly sang with them, she joined less and less in their gay dancing. One of those who knew her testified:
"She was not a dancer; many times while the others danced and, sang she went to pray." This would be after she had begun to hear the Voices; she had slipped away to commune with them. "Consoled the sick, gave alms to the poor," are the words of another. "I experienced her goodness, for as a child I was ill and Jeannette attended me."
Yet she seemed to remain much as she had always been, except that as the years passed and she grew taller, stronger, handsomer, she became also more earnest, more grave.
To this day, life in Domremy is primitive; girls still spin with the distaff as they follow their flocks to the field. Yet 'it
was far more simple in Joan's time. In that day there was no such thing as a book or paper, to pick up at a leisure moment. Printing was still unknown; hardly anybody could read, or needed to. The humble life of the village was varied only by the, arrival of a mendicant priest, a peddler, or straggling wanderers bringing word of some new raid by the Burgundians, and always of the declining fortunes of the King. For leisure one could gossip with a neighbor, walk by the river, or go to the church for prayer. During these years Joan was often at the secluded chapel of Bermont. In the quiet places she was being instructed for the great days ahead, trained for a mission such as has never been assigned to another in all the world's history.
She no longer shared the labor of the fields or tended the flocks, and with three brothers for such work there was little need. She had been taught to sew and to spin, and at such things became very skillful. There was enough for her to do in the home, and when one thinks of the long days spent with her devout mother, Isabelle Romee, the wonder grows that she did not reveal something of the story of her celestial visitors. We have her own word that she did not do this.
Yet she may have let fall something of what was in her mind, for one night her father dreamed that she would "go with the soldiers." Joan's mother told her of this dream, adding that Jacques d'Arc had said to his sons:
"If I believed that the thing I dreamed of her would happen,
I would wish that you might drown her, and if you did not do it I would drown her myself." The Voices had been coming to her more than two years at this time, so she would be then about fifteen.
It is certain that Joan longed for a confidant and was often on the point of trusting in some friend. To Michel Lebuin, a playmate from childhood, she said:
"There is between Coussey and Vaucouleurs a young girl who before another year will cause to be crowned the King of France."
This happened on the eve of Saint John the Baptist, June 23, 1428. Domremy was between Coussey and Vaucouleurs, and the year would only need to stretch into another month to bring fulfillment. A generation earlier a woman known as Marie of Avignon had predicted that France, ruined by a woman, would be saved by a maid from the borders of Lorraine. Joan had heard this prophecy; Domremy was on the borders of Lorraine; France had been ruined by the King's unworthy mother, Isabeau of Bavaria; Joan's Voices had told her that she herself was the maid who would lift up the fallen kingdom.
"Comrade, if you were not a Burgundian, I would tell you something," she one day said to another friend, a man considerably older than herself. Her friend imagined that she wished to tell him of some offer of marriage that had been made to her. She had called him "Burgundian," but he could
not have been very fiercely of that party. At a later day Joan said that there had been in Domremy but one Burgundian, whose head she wished might have been cut off—quickly adding, "providing it was pleasing to God." This could hardly have been her comrade.
Joan was now sixteen, a marriageable age for a girl of that day, so that her friend's conclusion was fair enough. As to her appearance, we know little more than that she was strong, of good height and carriage, and we have the words of one who was nearest her during her days of battle that she was "beautiful and well formed." (Belle et bien formee." Testimony of Jean d’Aulon, chief of Joan’s personal staff.) We may picture her as wearing the bodice and red wool skirt of the peasant girl of her day, her hair loose or braided, her feet in sabots, in summer bare. She wore no ornaments except two small, cheap rings, given her by her parents and one of her brothers. One of the rings had on it three crosses and the words "JESUS MARIA." Such rings were not uncommon, but hers she held as very sacred, for they had been on her hands when she embraced the saints, and so were consecrated.