Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 4

    ALL CHILDREN have nicknames, and we had ours. We got one apiece early, and they stuck to us; but Joan was richer in this matter, for, as time went on, she earned a second, and then a third, and so on, and we gave them to her. First and last she had as many as half a dozen. Several of these she never lost. Peasant-girls are bashful naturally; but she surpassed the rule so far, and colored so easily, and was so easily embarrassed in the presence of strangers, that we nicknamed her the Bashful. We were all patriots, but she was called the Patriot, because our warmest feeling for our country was cold beside hers. Also she was called the Beautiful; and this was not merely because of the extraordinary beauty of her face and form, but because of the loveliness of her character. These names she kept, and one other--the Brave.
    We grew along up, in that plodding and peaceful region, and got to be good-sized boys and girls--big enough, in fact, to begin to know as much about the wars raging perpetually to the west and north of us as our elders, and also to feel as stirred up over the occasional news from these red fields as they did. I remember certain of these days very clearly. One Tuesday a crowd of us were romping and singing around the Fairy Tree, and hanging garlands on it in memory of our lost little fairy friends, when Little Mengette cried out:
    "Look! What is that?"
    When one exclaims like that in a way that shows astonishment and apprehension, he gets attention. All the panting breasts and flushed faces flocked together, and all the eager eyes were turned in one direction--down the slope, toward the village.
    "It's a black flag."
    "A black flag! No--is it?"
    "You can see for yourself that it is nothing else."
    "It is a black flag, sure! Now, has any ever seen the like of that before?"
    "What can it mean?"
    "Mean? It means something dreadful--what else?"
    "That is nothing to the point; anybody knows that without the telling. But what?--that is the question."
    "It is a chance that he that bears it can answer as well as any that are here, if you contain yourself till he comes."
    "He runs well. Who is it?"
    Some named one, some another; but presently all saw that it was Etienne Roze, called the Sunflower, because he had yellow hair and a round pock-marked face. His ancestors had been Germans some centuries ago. He came straining up the slope, now and then projecting his flag-stick aloft and giving his black symbol of woe a wave in the air, whilst all eyes watched him, all tongues discussed him, and every heart beat faster and faster with impatience to know his news. At last he sprang among us, and struck his flag-stick into the ground, saying:
    "There! Stand there and represent France while I get my breath. She needs no other flag now."
    All the giddy chatter stopped. It was as if one had announced a death. In that chilly hush there was no sound audible but the panting of the breath-blown boy. When he was presently able to speak, he said:
    "Black news is come. A treaty has been made at Troyes between France and the English and Burgundians. By it France is betrayed and delivered over, tied hand and foot, to the enemy. It is the work of the Duke of Burgundy and that she-devil, the Queen of France. It marries Henry of England to Catharine of France--"
    "Is not this a lie? Marries the daughter of France to the Butcher of Agincourt? It is not to be believed. You have not heard aright."
    "If you cannot believe that, Jacques d'Arc, then you have a difficult task indeed before you, for worse is to come. Any child that is born of that marriage--if even a girl--is to inherit the thrones of both England and France, and this double ownership is to remain with its posterity forever!"
    "Now that is certainly a lie, for it runs counter to our Salic law, and so is not legal and cannot have effect," said Edmond Aubrey, called the Paladin, because of the armies he was always going to eat up some day. He would have said more, but he was drowned out by the clamors of the others, who all burst into a fury over this feature of the treaty, all talking at once and nobody hearing anybody, until presently Haumette persuaded them to be still, saying:
    "It is not fair to break him up so in his tale; pray let him go on. You find fault with his history because it seems to be lies. That were reason for satisfaction--that kind of lies--not discontent. Tell the rest, Etienne."
    "There is but this to tell: Our King, Charles VI., is to reign until he dies, then Henry V. of England is to be Regent of France until a child of his shall be old enough to--"
    "That man is to reign over us--the Butcher? It is lies! all lies!" cried the Paladin. "Besides, look you--what becomes of our Dauphin? What says the treaty about him?"
    "Nothing. It takes away his throne and makes him an outcast."
    Then everybody shouted at once and said the news was a lie; and all began to get cheerful again, saying, "Our King would have to sign the treaty to make it good; and that he would not do, seeing how it serves his own son."
    But the Sunflower said: "I will ask you this: Would the Queen sign a treaty disinheriting her son?"
    "That viper? Certainly. Nobody is talking of her. Nobody expects better of her. There is no villainy she will stick at, if it feed her spite; and she hates her son. Her signing it is of no consequence. The King must sign."
    "I will ask you another thing. What is the King's condition? Mad, isn't he?"
    "Yes, and his people love him all the more for it. It brings him near to them by his sufferings; and pitying him makes them love him."
    "You say right, Jacques d'Arc. Well, what would you of one that is mad? Does he know what he does? No. Does he do what others make him do? Yes. Now, then, I tell you he has signed the treaty."
    "Who made him do it?"
    "You know, without my telling. The Queen."
    Then there was another uproar--everybody talking at once, and all heaping execrations upon the Queen's head. Finally Jacques d'Arc said:
    "But many reports come that are not true. Nothing so shameful as this has ever come before, nothing that cuts so deep, nothing that has dragged France so low; therefore there is hope that this tale is but another idle rumor. Where did you get it?"
    The color went out of his sister Joan's face. She dreaded the answer; and her instinct was right.
    "The curé of Maxey brought it."
    There was a general gasp. We knew him, you see, for a trusty man.
    "Did he believe it?"
    The hearts almost stopped beating. Then came the answer:
    "He did. And that is not all. He said he knew it to be true."
    Some of the girls began to sob; the boys were struck silent. The distress in Joan's face was like that which one sees in the face of a dumb animal that has received a mortal hurt. The animal bears it, making no complaint; she bore it also, saying no word. Her brother Jacques put his hand on her head and caressed her hair to indicate his sympathy, and she gathered the hand to her lips and kissed it for thanks, not saying anything. Presently the reaction came, and the boys began to talk. Noel Rainguesson said:
    "Oh, are we never going to be men! We do grow along so slowly, and France never needed soldiers as she needs them now, to wipe out this black insult."
    "I hate youth!" said Pierre Morel, called the Dragon-fly because his eyes stuck out so. "You've always got to wait, and wait, and wait--and here are the great wars wasting away for a hundred years, and you never get a chance. If I could only be a soldier now!"
    "As for me, I'm not going to wait much longer," said the Paladin; "and when I do start you'll hear from me, I promise you that. There are some who, in storming a castle, prefer to be in the rear; but as for me, give me the front or none; I will have none in front of me but the officers."
    Even the girls got the war spirit, and Marie Dupont said:
    "I would I were a man; I would start this minute!" and looked very proud of herself, and glanced about for applause.
    "So would I," said Cecile Letellier, sniffing the air like a war-horse that smells the battle; "I warrant you I would not turn back from the field though all England were in front of me."
    "Pooh!" said the Paladin; "girls can brag, but that's all they are good for. Let a thousand of them come face to face with a handful of soldiers once, if you want to see what running is like. Here's little Joan--next she'll be threatening to go for a soldier!"
    The idea was so funny, and got such a good laugh, that the Paladin gave it another trial, and said: "Why you can just see her!--see her plunge into battle like any old veteran. Yes, indeed; and not a poor shabby common soldier like us, but an officer--an officer, mind you, with armor on, and the bars of a steel helmet to blush behind and hide her embarrassment when she finds an army in front of her that she hasn't been introduced to. An officer? Why, she'll be a captain! A captain, I tell you, with a hundred men at her back--or maybe girls. Oh, no common-soldier business for her! And, dear me, when she starts for that other army, you'll think there's a hurricane blowing it away!"
    Well, he kept it up like that till he made their sides ache with laughing; which was quite natural, for certainly it was a very funny idea--at that time--I mean, the idea of that gentle little creature, that wouldn't hurt a fly, and couldn't bear the sight of blood, and was so girlish and shrinking in all ways, rushing into battle with a gang of soldiers at her back. Poor thing, she sat there confused and ashamed to be so laughed at; and yet at that very minute there was something about to happen which would change the aspect of things, and make those young people see that when it comes to laughing, the person that laughs last has the best chance. For just then a face which we all knew and all feared projected itself from behind the Fairy Tree, and the thought that shot through us all was, crazy Benoist has gotten loose from his cage, and we are as good as dead! This ragged and hairy and horrible creature glided out from behind the tree, and raised an ax as he came. We all broke and fled, this way and that, the girls screaming and crying. No, not all; all but Joan. She stood up and faced the man, and remained so. As we reached the wood that borders the grassy clearing and jumped into its shelter, two or three of us glanced back to see if Benoist was gaining on us, and that is what we saw--Joan standing, and the maniac gliding stealthily toward her with his ax lifted. The sight was sickening. We stood where we were, trembling and not able to move. I did not want to see the murder done, and yet I could not take my eyes away. Now I saw Joan step forward to meet the man, though I believed my eyes must be deceiving me. Then I saw him stop. He threatened her with his ax, as if to warn her not to come further, but she paid no heed, but went steadily on, until she was right in front of him--right under his ax. Then she stopped, and seemed to begin to talk with him. It made me sick, yes, giddy, and everything swam around me, and I could not see anything for a time--whether long or brief I do not know. When this passed and I looked again, Joan was walking by the man's side toward the village, holding him by his hand. The ax was in her other hand.
    One by one the boys and girls crept out, and we stood there gazing, open-mouthed, till those two entered the village and were hid from sight. It was then that we named her the Brave.
    We left the black flag there to continue its mournful office, for we had other matter to think of now. We started for the village on a run, to give warning, and get Joan out of her peril; though for one, after seeing what I had seen, it seemed to me that while Joan had the ax the man's chance was not the best of the two. When we arrived the danger was past, the madman was in custody. All the people were flocking to the little square in front of the church to talk and exclaim and wonder over the event, and it even made the town forget the black news of the treaty for two or three hours.
    All the women kept hugging and kissing Joan, and praising her, and crying, and the men patted her on the head and said they wished she was a man, they would send her to the wars and never doubt but that she would strike some blows that would be heard of. She had to tear herself away and go and hide, this glory was so trying to her diffidence.
    Of course the people began to ask us for the particulars. I was so ashamed that I made an excuse to the first comer, and got privately away and went back to the Fairy Tree, to get relief from the embarrassment of those questionings. There I found Joan, but she was there to get relief from the embarrassment of glory. One by one the others shirked the inquirers and joined us in our refuge. Then we gathered around Joan, and asked her how she had dared to do that thing. She was very modest about it, and said:
    "You make a great thing of it, but you mistake; it was not a great matter. It was not as if I had been a stranger to the man. I know him, and have known him long; and he knows me, and likes me. I have fed him through the bars of his cage many times; and last December, when they chopped off two of his fingers to remind him to stop seizing and wounding people passing by, I dressed his hand every day till it was well again."
    "That is all well enough," said Little Mengette, "but he is a madman, dear, and so his likings and his gratitude and friendliness go for nothing when his rage is up. You did a perilous thing."
    "Of course you did," said the Sunflower. "Didn't he threaten to kill you with the ax?"
    "Didn't he threaten you more than once?"
    "Didn't you feel afraid?"
    "No--at least not much--very little."
    "Why didn't you?"
    She thought a moment, then said, quite simply:
    "I don't know."
    It made everybody laugh. Then the Sunflower said it was like a lamb trying to think out how it had come to eat a wolf, but had to give it up.
    Cecile Letellier asked, "Why didn't you run when we did?"
    "Because it was necessary to get him to his cage; else he would kill some one. Then he would come to the like harm himself."
    It is noticeable that this remark, which implies that Joan was entirely forgetful of herself and her own danger, and had thought and wrought for the preservation of other people alone, was not challenged, or criticized, or commented upon by anybody there, but was taken by all as matter of course and true. It shows how clearly her character was defined, and how well it was known and established.
    There was silence for a time, and perhaps we were all thinking of the same thing--namely, what a poor figure we had cut in that adventure as contrasted with Joan's performance. I tried to think up some good way of explaining why I had run away and left a little girl at the mercy of a maniac armed with an ax, but all of the explanations that offered themselves to me seemed so cheap and shabby that I gave the matter up and remained still. But others were less wise. Noel Rainguesson fidgeted awhile, then broke out with a remark which showed what his mind had been running on:
    "The fact is, I was taken by surprise. That is the reason. If I had had a moment to think, I would no more have thought of running that I would think of running from a baby. For, after all, what is Theophile Benoist, that I should seem to be afraid of him? Pooh! the idea of being afraid of that poor thing! I only wish he would come along now--I'd show you!"
    "So do I!" cried Pierre Morel. "If I wouldn't make him climb this tree quicker than--well, you'd see what I would do! Taking a person by surprise, that way--why, I never meant to run; not in earnest, I mean. I never thought of running in earnest; I only wanted to have some fun, and when I saw Joan standing there, and him threatening her, it was all I could do to restrain myself from going there and just tearing the livers and lights out of him. I wanted to do it bad enough, and if it was to do over again, I would! If ever he comes fooling around me again, I'll--"
    "Oh, hush!" said the Paladin, breaking in with an air of disdain; "the way you people talk, a person would think there's something heroic about standing up and facing down that poor remnant of a man. Why, it's nothing! There's small glory to be got in facing him down, I should say. Why, I wouldn't want any better fun than to face down a hundred like him. If he was to come along here now, I would walk up to him just as I am now--I wouldn't care if he had a thousand axes--and say--"
    And so he went on and on, telling the brave things he would say and the wonders he would do; and the others put in a word from time to time, describing over again the gory marvels they would do if ever that madman ventured to cross their path again, for next time they would be ready for him, and would soon teach him that if he thought he could surprise them twice because he had surprised them once, he would find himself very seriously mistaken, that's all.
    And so, in the end, they all got back their self-respect; yes, and even added somewhat to it; indeed when the sitting broke up they had a finer opinion of themselves than they had ever had before.

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