I went the next afternoon, and took an obscure lodging; the next day I called at the castle and paid my respects to the governor, who invited me to dine with him at noon of the following day. He was an ideal soldier of the time; tall, brawny, gray-headed, rough, full of strange oaths acquired here and there and yonder in the wars and treasured as if they were decorations. He had been used to the camp all his life, and to his notion war was God's best gift to man. He had his steel cuirass on, and wore boots that came above his knees, and was equipped with a huge sword; and when I looked at this martial figure, and heard the marvelous oaths, and guessed how little of poetry and sentiment might be looked for in this quarter, I hoped the little peasant-girl would not get the privilege of confronting this battery, but would have to content herself with the dictated letter.
I came again to the castle the next day at noon, and was conducted to the great dining-hall and seated by the side of the governor at a small table which was raised a couple of steps higher than the general table. At the small table sat several other guests besides myself, and at the general table sat the chief officers of the garrison. At the entrance door stood a guard of halberdiers, in morion and breastplate.
As for talk, there was but one topic, of course--the desperate situation of France. There was a rumor, some one said, that Salisbury was making preparations to march against Orleans. It raised a turmoil of excited conversation, and opinions fell thick and fast. Some believed he would march at once, others that he could not accomplish the investment before fall, others that the siege would be long, and bravely contested; but upon one thing all voices agreed: that Orleans must eventually fall, and with it France. With that, the prolonged discussion ended, and there was silence. Every man seemed to sink himself in his own thoughts, and to forget where he was. This sudden and profound stillness, where before had been so much animation, was impressive and solemn. Now came a servant and whispered something to the governor, who said:
"Would talk with me?"
"Yes, your Excellency."
"H'm! A strange idea, certainly. Bring them in."
It was Joan and her uncle Laxart. At the spectacle of the great people the courage oozed out of the poor old peasant and he stopped midway and would come no further, but remained there with his red nightcap crushed in his hands and bowing humbly here, there, and everywhere, stupefied with embarrassment and fear. But Joan came steadily forward, erect and self-possessed, and stood before the governor. She recognized me, but in no way indicated it. There was a buzz of admiration, even the governor contributing to it, for I heard him mutter, "By God's grace, it is a beautiful creature!" He inspected her critically a moment or two, then said:
"Well, what is your errand, my child?"
"My message is to you, Robert de Baudricourt, governor of Vaucouleurs, and it is this: that you will send and tell the Dauphin to wait and not give battle to his enemies, for God will presently send him help."
This strange speech amazed the company, and many murmured, "The poor young thing is demented." The governor scowled, and said:
"What nonsense is this? The King--or the Dauphin, as you call him--needs no message of that sort. He will wait, give yourself no uneasiness as to that. What further do you desire to say to me?"
"This. To beg that you will give me an escort of men-at-arms and send me to the Dauphin."
"That he may make me his general, for it is appointed that I shall drive the English out of France, and set the crown upon his head."
"What--you? Why, you are but a child!"
"Yet am I appointed to do it, nevertheless."
"Indeed! And when will all this happen?"
"Next year he will be crowned, and after that will remain master of France."
There was a great and general burst of laughter, and when it had subsided the governor said:
"Who has sent you with these extravagant messages?"
"The King of Heaven."
Many murmured, "Ah, poor thing, poor thing!" and others, "Ah, her mind is but a wreck!" The governor hailed Laxart, and said:
"Harkye!--take this mad child home and whip her soundly.