If it shall turn out as you say, I will give you the letter and send you to the King, and not otherwise."
Joan said with fervor:
"Now God be thanked, these waiting days are almost done. In nine days you will fetch me the letter."
Already the people of Vaucouleurs had given her a horse and had armed and equipped her as a soldier. She got no chance to try the horse and see if she could ride it, for her great first duty was to abide at her post and lift up the hopes and spirits of all who would come to talk with her, and prepare them to help in the rescue and regeneration of the kingdom. This occupied every waking moment she had. But it was no matter. There was nothing she could not learn--and in the briefest time, too. Her horse would find this out in the first hour. Meantime the brothers and I took the horse in turn and began to learn to ride. And we had teaching in the use of the sword and other arms also.
On the 20th Joan called her small army together--the two knights and her two brothers and me--for a private council of war. No, it was not a council, that is not the right name, for she did not consult with us, she merely gave us orders. She mapped out the course she would travel toward the King, and did it like a person perfectly versed in geography; and this itinerary of daily marches was so arranged as to avoid here and there peculiarly dangerous regions by flank movements--which showed that she knew her political geography as intimately as she knew her physical geography; yet she had never had a day's schooling, of course, and was without education. I was astonished, butg thought her Voices must have taught her. But upon reflection I saw that this was not so. By her references to what this and that and the other per4son had told her, I perceived that she had been diligently questioning those crowds of visiting strangers, and that out of them she had patiently dug all this mass of invaluable knowledge. The two knights were filled with wonder at her good sense and sagacity.
She commanded us to make preparations to travel by night and sleep by day in concealment, as almost the whole of our long journey would be through the enemy's country.
Also, she commanded that we should keep the date of our departure a secret, since she meant to get away unobserved. Otherwise we should be sent off with a grand demonstration which would advertise us to the enemy, and we should be ambushed and captured somewhere. Finally she said:
"Nothing remains, now, but that I confide to you the date of our departure, so that you may make all needful preparation in time, leaving nothing to be done in haste and badly at the last moment. We march the 23d, at eleven of the clock at night."
Then we were dismissed. The two knights were startled--yes, and troubled; and the Sieur Bertrand said:
"Even if the governor shall really furnish the letter and the escort, he still may not do it in time to meet the date she has chosen. Then how can she venture to name that date? It is a great risk--a great risk to select and decide upon the date, in this state of uncertainty.
"Since she has named the 23d, we may trust her. The Voices have told her, I think. We shall do best to obey."
We did obey. Joan's parents were notified to come before the 23d, but prudence forbade that they be told why this limit was named.
All day, the 23d, she glanced up wistfully whenever new bodies of strangers entered the house, but her parents did not appear. Still she was not discouraged, but hoped on. But when night fell at last, her hopes perished, and the tears came; however, she dashed them away, and said:
"It was to be so, no doubt; no doubt it was so ordered; I must bear it, and will."
De Metz tried to comfort her by saying:
"The governor sends no word; it may be that they will come to-morrow, and--"
He got no further, for she interrupted him, saying:
"To what good end? We start at eleven to-night."
And it was so. At ten the governor came, with his guard and arms, with horses and equipment for me and for the brothers, and gave Joan a letter to the King.