Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 13

    WE MARCHED out in great strength and splendor, and took the road toward Orleans. The initial part of Joan's great dream was realizing itself at last. It was the first time that any of us youngsters had ever seen an army, and it was a most stately and imposing spectacle to us. It was indeed an inspiring sight, that interminable column, stretching away into the fading distances, and curving itself in and out of the crookedness of the road like a mighty serpent. Joan rode at the head of it with her personal staff; then came a body of priests singing the Veni Creator, the banner of the Cross rising out of their midst; after these the glinting forest of spears. The several divisions were commanded by the great Armagnac generals, La Hire, and Marshal de Boussac, the Sire de Retz, Florent d'Illiers, and Poton de Saintrailles.
    Each in his degree was tough, and there were three degrees--tough, tougher, toughest--and La Hire was the last by a shade, but only a shade. They were just illustrious official brigands, the whole party; and by long habits of lawlessness they had lost all acquaintanceship with obedience, if they had ever had any.
    But what was the good of saying that? These independent birds knew no law. They seldom obeyed the King; they never obeyed him when it didn't suit them to do it. Would they obey the Maid? In the first place they wouldn't know how to obey her or anybody else, and in the second place it was of course not possible for them to take her military character seriously--that country-girl of seventeen who had been trained for the complex and terrible business of war--how? By tending sheep.
    They had no idea of obeying her except in cases where their veteran military knowledge and experience showed them that the thing she required was sound and right when gauged by the regular military standards. Were they to blame for this attitude? I should think not. Old war-worn captains are hard-headed, practical men. They do not easily believe in the ability of ignorant children to plan campaigns and command armies. No general that ever lived could have taken Joan seriously (militarily) before she raised the siege of Orleans and followed it with the great campaign of the Loire.
    Did they consider Joan valueless? Far from it. They valued her as the fruitful earth values the sun--they fully believed she could produce the crop, but that it was in their line of business, not hers, to take it off. They had a deep and superstitious reverence for her as being endowed with a mysterious supernatural something that was able to do a mighty thing which they were powerless to do--blow the breath of life and valor into the dead corpses of cowed armies and turn them into heroes.
    To their minds they were everything with her, but nothing without her. She could inspire the soldiers and fit them for battle--but fight the battle herself? Oh, nonsense--that was their function. They, the generals, would fight the battles, Joan would give the victory. That was their idea--an unconscious paraphrase of Joan's reply to the Dominican.
    So they began by playing a deception upon her. She had a clear idea of how she meant to proceed. It was her purpose to march boldly upon Orleans by the north bank of the Loire. She gave that order to her generals. They said to themselves, "The idea is insane--it is blunder No. 1; it is what might have been expected of this child who is ignorant of war." They privately sent the word to the Bastard of Orleans. He also recognized the insanity of it--at least he though he did--and privately advised the generals to get around the order in some way.
    They did it by deceiving Joan. She trusted those people, she was not expecting this sort of treatment, and was not on the lookout for it. It was a lesson to her; she saw to it that the game was not played a second time.
    Why was Joan's idea insane, from the generals' point of view, but not from hers? Because her plan was to raise the siege immediately, by fighting, while theirs was to besiege the besiegers and starve them out by closing their communications--a plan which would require months in the consummation.
    The English had built a fence of strong fortresses called bastilles around Orleans--fortresses which closed all the gates of the city but one. To the French generals the idea of trying to fight their way past those fortresses and lead the army into Orleans was preposterous; they believed that the result would be the army's destruction. One may not doubt that their opinion was militarily sound--no, would have been, but for one circumstance which they overlooked. That was this: the English soldiers were in a demoralized condition of superstitious terror; they had become satisfied that the Maid was in league with Satan. By reason of this a good deal of their courage had oozed out and vanished. On the other hand, the Maid'' soldiers were full of courage, enthusiasm, and zeal.
    Joan could have marched by the English forts. However, it was not to be. She had been cheated out of her first chance to strike a heavy blow for her country.
    In camp that night she slept in her armor on the ground. It was a cold night, and she was nearly as stiff as her armor itself when we resumed the march in the morning, for iron is not good material for a blanket. However, her joy in being now so far on her way to the theater of her mission was fire enough to warm her, and it soon did it.
    Her enthusiasm and impatience rose higher and higher with every mile of progress; but at last we reached Olivet, and down it went, and indignation took its place. For she saw the trick that had been played upon her--the river lay between us and Orleans.
    She was for attacking one of the three bastilles that were on our side of the river and forcing access to the bridge which it guarded (a project which, if successful, would raise the siege instantly), but the long-ingrained fear of the English came upon her generals and they implored her not to make the attempt. The soldiers wanted to attack, but had to suffer disappointment. So we moved on and came to a halt at a point opposite Checy, six miles above Orleans.
    Dunois, Bastard of Orleans, with a body of knights and citizens, came up from the city to welcome Joan. Joan was still burning with resentment over the trick that had been put upon her, and was not in the mood for soft speeches, even to reversed military idols of her childhood. She said:
    "Are you the bastard?"
    "Yes, I am he, and am right glad of your coming."
    "And did you advise that I be brought by this side of the river instead of straight to Talbot and the English?"
    Her high manner abashed him, and he was not able to answer with anything like a confident promptness, but with many hesitations and partial excuses he managed to get out the confession that for what he and the council had regarded as imperative military reasons they so advised.
    "In God's name," said Joan, "my Lord's counsel is safer and wiser than yours. You thought to deceive me, but you have deceived yourselves, for I bring you the best help that ever knight or city had; for it is God's help, not sent for love of me, but by God's pleasure. At the prayer of St. Louis and St. Charlemagne He has had pity on Orleans, and will not suffer the enemy to have both the Duke of Orleans and his city. The provisions to save the starving people are here, the boats are below the city, the wind is contrary, they cannot come up hither. Now then, tell me, in God's name, you who are so wise, what that council of yours was thinking about, to invent this foolish difficulty."
    Dunois and the rest fumbled around the matter a moment, then gave in and conceded that a blunder had been made.
    "Yes, a blunder has been made," said Joan, "and except God take your proper work upon Himself and change the wind and correct your blunder for you, there is none else that can devise a remedy."
    Some of these people began to perceive that with all her technical ignorance she had practical good sense, and that with all her native sweetness and charm she was not the right kind of a person to play with.
    Presently God did take the blunder in hand, and by His grace the wind did change. So the fleet of boats came up and went away loaded with provisions and cattle, and conveyed that welcome succor to the hungry city, managing the matter successfully under protection of a sortie from the walls against the bastille of St. Loup. Then Joan began on the Bastard again:
    "You see here the army?"
    "It is here on this side by advice of your council?"
    "Now, in God's name, can that wise council explain why it is better to have it here than it would be to have it in the bottom of the sea?"
    Dunois made some wandering attempts to explain the inexplicable and excuse the inexcusable, but Joan cut him short and said:
    "Answer me this, good sir--has the army any value on this side of the river?"
    The Bastard confessed that it hadn't--that is, in view of the plan of campaign which she had devised and decreed.
    "And yet, knowing this, you had the hardihood to disobey my orders. Since the army's place is on the other side, will you explain to me how it is to get there?"
    The whole size of the needless muddle was apparent. Evasions were of no use; therefore Dunois admitted that there was no way to correct the blunder but to send the army all the way back to Blois, and let it begin over again and come up on the other side this time, according to Joan's original plan.
    Any other girl, after winning such a triumph as this over a veteran soldier of old renown, might have exulted a little and been excusable for it, but Joan showed no disposition of this sort. She dropped a word or two of grief over the precious time that must be lost, then began at once to issue commands for the march back. She sorrowed to see her army go; for she said its heart was great and its enthusiasm high, and that with it at her back she did not fear to face all the might of England.
    All arrangements having been completed for the return of the main body of the army, she took the Bastard and La Hire and a thousand men and went down to Orleans, where all the town was in a fever of impatience to have sight of her face. It was eight in the evening when she and the troops rode in at the Burgundy gate, with the Paladin preceding her with her standard. She was riding a white horse, and she carried in her hand the sacred sword of Fierbois. You should have seen Orleans then. What a picture it was! Such black seas of people, such a starry firmament of torches, such roaring whirlwinds of welcome, such booming of bells and thundering of cannon! It was as if the world was come to an end. Everywhere in the glare of the torches one saw rank upon rank of upturned white faces, the mouths wide open, shouting, and the unchecked tears running down; Joan forged her slow way through the solid masses, her mailed form projecting above the pavement of heads like a silver statue. The people about her struggled along, gazing up at her through their tears with the rapt look of men and women who believe they are seeing one who is divine; and always her feet were being kissed by grateful folk, and such as failed of that privilege touched her horse and then kissed their fingers.
    Nothing that Joan did escaped notice; everything she did was commented upon and applauded. You could hear the remarks going all the time.
    "There--she's smiling--see!"
    "Now she's taking her little plumed cap off to somebody--ah, it's fine and graceful!"
    "She's patting that woman on the head with her gauntlet."
    "Oh, she was born on a horse--see her turn in her saddle, and kiss the hilt of her sword to the ladies in the window that threw the flowers down."
    "Now there's a poor woman lifting up a child--she's kissed it--oh, she's divine!"
    "What a dainty little figure it is, and what a lovely face--and such color and animation!"
    Joan's slender long banner streaming backward had an accident--the fringe caught fire from a torch. She leaned forward and crushed the flame in her hand.
    "She's not afraid of fire nor anything!" they shouted, and delivered a storm of admiring applause that made everything quake.
    She rode to the cathedral and gave thanks to God, and the people crammed the place and added their devotions to hers; then she took up her march again and picked her slow way through the crowds and the wilderness of torches to the house of Jacques Boucher, treasurer of the Duke of Orleans, where she was to be the guest of his wife as long as she stayed in the city, and have his young daughter for comrade and room-mate. The delirium of the people went on the rest of the night, and with it the clamor of the joy-bells and the welcoming cannon.
    Joan of Arc had stepped upon her stage at last, and was ready to begin.

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