Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
WE WERE at Blois three days. Oh, that camp, it is one of the treasures of
my memory! Order? There was no more order among those brigands than there
is among the wolves and the hyenas. They went roaring and drinking about,
whooping, shouting, swearing, and entertaining themselves with all manner
of rude and riotous horse-play; and the place was full of loud and lewd
women, and they were no whit behind the men for romps and noise and
It was in the midst of this wild mob that Noel and I had our first
glimpse of La Hire. He answered to our dearest dreams. He was of great
size and of martial bearing, he was cased in mail from head to heel, with
a bushel of swishing plumes on his helmet, and at his side the vast sword
of the time.
He was on his way to pay his respects in state to Joan, and as he passed
through the camp he was restoring order, and proclaiming that the Maid
had come, and he would have no such spectacle as this exposed to the head
of the army. His way of creating order was his own, not borrowed. He did
it with his great fists. As he moved along swearing and admonishing, he
let drive this way, that way, and the other, and wherever his blow
landed, a man went down.
"Damn you!" he said, "staggering and cursing around like this, and the
Commander-in-Chief in the camp! Straighten up!" and he laid the man flat.
What his idea of straightening up was, was his own secret.
We followed the veteran to headquarters, listening, observing,
admiring--yes, devouring, you may say, the pet hero of the boys of France
from our cradles up to that happy day, and their idol and ours. I called
to mind how Joan had once rebuked the Paladin, there in the pastures of
Domremy, for uttering lightly those mighty names, La Hire and the Bastard
of Orleans, and how she said that if she could but be permitted to stand
afar off and let her eyes rest once upon those great men, she would hold
it a privilege. They were to her and the other girls just what they were
to the boys. Well, here was one of them at last--and what was his errand?
It was hard to realize it, and yet it was true; he was coming to uncover
his head before her and take her orders.
While he was quieting a considerable group of his brigands in his
soothing way, near headquarters, we stepped on ahead and got a glimpse of
Joan's military family, the great chiefs of the army, for they had all
arrived now. There they were, six officers of wide renown, handsome men
in beautiful armor, but the Lord High Admiral of France was the
handsomest of them all and had the most gallant bearing.
When La Hire entered, one could see the surprise in his face at Joan's
beauty and extreme youth, and one could see, too, by Joan's glad smile,
that it made her happy to get sight of this hero of her childhood at
last. La Hire bowed low, with his helmet in his gauntleted hand, and made
a bluff but handsome little speech with hardly an oath in it, and one
could see that those two took to each other on the spot.
The visit of ceremony was soon over, and the others went away; but La
Hire stayed, and he and Joan sat there, and he sipped her wine, and they
talked and laughed together like old friends. And presently she gave him
some instructions, in his quality as master of the camp, which made his
breath stand still. For, to begin with, she said that all those loose
women must pack out of the place at once, she wouldn't allow one of them
to remain. Next, the rough carousing must stop, drinking must be brought
within proper and strictly defined limits, and discipline must take the
place of disorder. And finally she climaxed the list of surprises with
this--which nearly lifted him out of his armor:
"Every man who joins my standard must confess before the priest and
absolve himself from sin; and all accepted recruits must be present at
divine service twice a day."
La Hire could not say a word for a good part of a minute, then he said,
in deep dejection:
"Oh, sweet child, they were littered in hell, these poor darlings of
mine! Attend mass? Why, dear heart, they'll see us both damned first!"
And he went on, pouring out a most pathetic stream of arguments and
blasphemy, which broke Joan all up, and made her laugh as she had not
laughed since she played in the Domremy pastures. It was good to hear.
But she stuck to her point; so the soldier yielded, and said all right,
if such were the orders he must obey, and would do the best that was in
him; then he refreshed himself with a lurid explosion of oaths, and said
that if any man in the camp refused to renounce sin and lead a pious
life, he would knock his head off. That started Joan off again; she was
really having a good time, you see. But she would not consent to that
form of conversions. She said they must be voluntary.
La Hire said that that was all right, he wasn't going to kill the
voluntary ones, but only the others.
No matter, none of them must be killed--Joan couldn't have it. She said
that to give a man a chance to volunteer, on pain of death if he didn't,
left him more or less trammeled, and she wanted him to be entirely free.
So the soldier sighed and said he would advertise the mass, but said he
doubted if there was a man in camp that was any more likely to go to it
than he was himself. Then there was another surprise for him, for Joan
"But, dear man, you are going!"
"I? Impossible! Oh, this is lunacy!"
"Oh, no, it isn't. You are going to the service--twice a day."
"Oh, am I dreaming? Am I drunk--or is my hearing playing me false? Why, I
would rather go to--"
"Never mind where. In the morning you are going to begin, and after that
it will come easy. Now don't look downhearted like that. Soon you won't
La Hire tried to cheer up, but he was not able to do it. He sighed like a
zephyr, and presently said:
"Well, I'll do it for you, but before I would do it for another, I swear
"But don't swear. Break it off."
"Break it off? It is impossible! I beg you to--to-- Why--oh, my General,
it is my native speech!"
He begged so hard for grace for his impediment, that Joan left him one
fragment of it; she said he might swear by his bāton, the symbol of his
He promised that he would swear only by his bāton when in her presence,
and would try to modify himself elsewhere, but doubted he could manage
it, now that it was so old and stubborn a habit, and such a solace and
support to his declining years.
That tough old lion went away from there a good deal tamed and
civilized--not to say softened and sweetened, for perhaps those
expressions would hardly fit him. Noel and I believed that when he was
away from Joan's influence his old aversions would come up so strong in
him that he could not master them, and so wouldn't go to mass. But we got
up early in the morning to see.
Satan was converted, you see. Well, the rest followed. Joan rode up and
down that camp, and wherever that fair young form appeared in its shining
armor, with that sweet face to grace the vision and perfect it, the rude
host seemed to think they saw the god of war in person, descended out of
the clouds; and first they wondered, then they worshiped. After that, she
could do with them what she would.
In three days it was a clean camp and orderly, and those barbarians were
herding to divine service twice a day like good children. The women were
gone. La Hire was stunned by these marvels; he could not understand them.
He went outside the camp when he wanted to swear. He was that sort of a
man--sinful by nature and habit, but full of superstitious respect for
The enthusiasm of the reformed army for Joan, its devotion to her, and
the hot desire had aroused in it to be led against the enemy, exceeded
any manifestations of this sort which La Hire had ever seen before in his
long career. His admiration of it all, and his wonder over the mystery
and miracle of it, were beyond his power to put into words. He had held
this army cheap before, but his pride and confidence in it knew no limits
now. He said:
"Two or three days ago it was afraid of a hen-roost; one could storm the
gates of hell with it now."
Joan and he were inseparable, and a quaint and pleasant contrast they
made. He was so big, she so little; he was so gray and so far along in
his pilgrimage of life, she so youthful; his face was so bronzed and
scarred, hers so fair and pink, so fresh and smooth; she was so gracious,
and he so stern; she was so pure, so innocent, he such a cyclopedia of
sin. In her eye was stored all charity and compassion, in his lightnings;
when her glance fell upon you it seemed to bring benediction and the
peace of God, but with his it was different, generally.
They rode through the camp a dozen times a day, visiting every corner of
it, observing, inspecting, perfecting; and wherever they appeared the
enthusiasm broke forth. They rode side by side, he a great figure of
brawn and muscle, she a little masterwork of roundness and grace; he a
fortress of rusty iron, she a shining statuette of silver; and when the
reformed raiders and bandits caught sight of them they spoke out, with
affection and welcome in their voices, and said:
"There they come--Satan and the Page of Christ!"
All the three days that we were in Blois, Joan worked earnestly and
tirelessly to bring La Hire to God--to rescue him from the bondage of
sin--to breathe into his stormy hear the serenity and peace of religion.
She urged, she begged, she implored him to pray. He stood out, three days
of our stay, begging about piteously to be let off--to be let off from
just that one thing, that impossible thing; he would do anything
else--anything--command, and he would obey--he would go through the fire
for her if she said the word--but spare him this, only this, for he
couldn't pray, had never prayed, he was ignorant of how to frame a
prayer, he had no words to put it in.
And yet--can any believe it?--she carried even that point, she won that
incredible victory. She made La Hire pray. It shows, I think, that
nothing was impossible to Joan of Arc. Yes, he stood there before her and
put up his mailed hands and made a prayer. And it was not borrowed, but
was his very own; he had none to help him frame it, he made it out of his
"Fair Sir God, I pray you to do by La Hire as he would do by you if you
were La Hire and he were God."1
Then he put on his helmet and marched out of Joan's tent as satisfied
with himself as any one might be who had arranged a perplexed and
difficult business to the content and admiration of all the parties
concerned in the matter.
If I had know that he had been praying, I could have understood why he
was feeling so superior, but of course I could not know that.
I was coming to the tent at that moment, and saw him come out, and saw
him march away in that large fashion, and indeed it was fine and
beautiful to see. But when I got to the tent door I stopped and stepped
back, grieved and shocked, for I heard Joan crying, as I mistakenly
thought--crying as if she could not contain nor endure the anguish of her
soul, crying as if she would die. But it was not so, she was
laughing--laughing at La Hire's prayer.
It was not until six-and-thirty years afterward that I found that out,
and then--oh, then I only cried when that picture of young care-free
mirth rose before me out of the blur and mists of that long-vanished
time; for there had come a day between, when God's good gift of laughter
had gone out from me to come again no more in this life.
1. This prayer has been stolen many times and by many nations in the
past four hundred and sixty years, but it originated with La Hire, and
the fact is of official record in the National Archives of France. We
have the authority of Michelet for this. --TRANSLATOR
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