Though Gloucester soon returned to England, the ruinous struggle went on for three years, during which Bedford was forced to remain simply on the defensive, till the cessation of war again restored to him the aid of Burgundy. Strife at home between Gloucester and Beaufort had been even more fatal in diverting the supplies of men and money needed for the war in France, but with temporary quiet in England and peace in Holland Bedford was once more able to push forward to the conquest of the South. The delay, however, brought little help to France, and Charles saw Orleans invested by ten thousand of the allies without power to march to its relief. The war had long since reached the borders of Lorraine. The north of France, indeed, was being fast reduced to a desert. The husbandmen fled for refuge to the towns, till these in fear of famine shut their gates against them. Then in their despair they threw themselves into the woods and became brigands in their turn. So terrible was the devastation, that two hostile bodies of troops at one time failed even to find one another in the desolate Beauce. The towns were in hardly better case, for misery and disease killed a hundred thousand people in Paris alone.
As the outcasts and wounded passed by Domrémy the young peasant girl gave them her bed and nursed them in their sickness. Her whole nature summed itself up in one absorbing passion: she "had pity," to use the phrase for ever on her lip, "on the fair realm of France." As her passion grew she recalled old prophecies that a maid from the Lorraine border should save the land; she saw visions; St. Michael appeared to her in a flood of blinding light, and bade her go to the help of the King and restore to him his realm. "Messire," answered the girl, "I am but a poor maiden; I know not how to ride to the wars, or to lead men-at-arms." The archangel returned to give her courage, and to tell her of "the pity" that there was in heaven for the fair realm of France. The girl wept, and longed that the angels who appeared to her would carry her away, but her mission was clear. It was in vain that her father when he heard her purpose swore to drown her ere she should go to the field with men-at-arms. It was in vain that the priest, the wise people of the village, the captain of Vaucouleurs, doubted and refused to aid her. " I must go to the King," persisted the peasant girl, "even if I wear my limbs to the very knees." "I had far rather rest and spin by my mother's side," she pleaded with a touching pathos, "for this is no work of my choosing, but I must go and do it, for my Lord wills it.' " And who," they asked, " is your Lord?" " He is God." Words such as these touched the rough captain at last: he took Jeanne by the hand and swore to lead her to the King. When she reached Chinon she found hesitation and doubt.
The theologians proved from their books that they ought not to believe her. * There is more in God's book than in yours," Jeanne answered simply. At last Charles received her in the midst of a throng of nobles and soldiers. " Gentle Dauphin," said the girl, "my name is Jeanne the Maid. The Heavenly King sends me to tell you that you shall be anointed and crowned in the town of Rheims, and you shall be lieutenant of the Heavenly King who is the King of France".
Orleans had already been driven by famine to offers of surrender when Jeanne appeared in the French Court. Charles had done nothing for its aid but shut himself up at Chinon and weep helplessly. The long series of English victories had in fact so demoralized the French soldiery that a mere detachment of archers under Sir John Fastolfe had repulsed an army, in what was called the " Battle of the Herrings," and conducted the convoy of provisions to which it owed its name in triumph into the camp before Orleans. Only three thousand Englishmen remained there in the trenches after a new withdrawal of their Burgundian allies, but though the town swarmed with men-at-arms not a single sally had been ventured upon during the six months' siege. The success however of the handful of English besiegers depended wholly on the spell of terror which they had cast over France, and the appearance of Jeanne at once broke the spell. The girl was in her eighteenth year, tall, finely formed, with all the vigour and activity of her peasant rearing, able to stay from dawn to nightfall on horseback without meat or drink.
As she mounted her charger, clad in white armour from head to foot, with the great white banner studded with fleur-de-lys waving over her head, she seemed " a thing wholly divine, whether to see or hear." The ten thousand men-at-arms who followed her from Blois, rough plunderers whose only prayer was that of La Hire, "Sire Dieu, I pray you to do for La Hire what La Hire would do for you, were you captain-at-arms and he God," left off their oaths and foul living at her word and gathered round the altars on their march. Her shrewd peasant humour helped her to manage the wild soldiery, and her followers laughed over their camp-fires at the old warrior who had been so puzzled by her prohibition of oaths that she suffered him still to swear by his bâton. In the midst of her enthusiasm her good sense never left her. The people crowded round her as she rode along, praying her to work miracles, and bringing crosses and chaplets to be blest by her touch. "Touch them yourself," she said to an old Dame Margaret; "your touch will be just as good as mine." But her faith in her mission remained as firm as ever. " The Maid prays and requires you," she wrote to Bedford, " to work no more distraction in France, but to come in her company to rescue the Holy Sepulchre from the Turk." " I bring you," she told Dunois when he sallied out of Orleans to meet her, "the best aid ever sent to any one, the aid of the King of Heaven." The besiegers looked on overawed as she entered Orleans, and, riding round the walls, bade the people look fearlessly on the dreaded forts which surrounded them.