Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 21

    TO GET away from the usual crowd of visitors and have a rest, Joan went with Catherine straight to the apartment which the two occupied together, and there they took their supper and there the wound was dressed. But then, instead of going to bed, Joan, weary as she was, sent the Dwarf for me, in spite of Catherine's protests and persuasions. She said she had something on her mind, and must send a courier to Domremy with a letter for our old Pere Fronte to read to her mother. I came, and she began to dictate. After some loving words and greetings to her mother and family, came this:
    "But the thing which moves me to write now, is to say that when you presently hear that I am wounded, you shall give yourself no concern about it, and refuse faith to any that shall try to make you believe it is serious."
    She was going on, when Catherine spoke up and said:
    "Ah, but it will fright her so to read these words. Strike them out, Joan, strike them out, and wait only one day--two days at most--then write and say your foot was wounded but is well again--for it surely be well then, or very near it. Don't distress her, Joan; do as I say."
    A laugh like the laugh of the old days, the impulsive free laugh of an untroubled spirit, a laugh like a chime of bells, was Joan's answer; then she said:
    "My foot? Why should I write about such a scratch as that? I was not thinking of it, dear heart."
    "Child, have you another wound and a worse, and have not spoken of it? What have you been dreaming about, that you--"
    She had jumped up, full of vague fears, to have the leech called back at once, but Joan laid her hand upon her arm and made her sit down again, saying:
    "There, now, be tranquil, there is no other wound, as yet; I am writing about one which I shall get when we storm that bastille tomorrow."
    Catherine had the look of one who is trying to understand a puzzling proposition but cannot quite do it. She said, in a distraught fashion:
    "A wound which you are going to get? But--but why grieve your mother when it--when it may not happen?"
    "May not? Why, it will."
    The puzzle was a puzzle still. Catherine said in that same abstracted way as before:
    "Will. It is a strong word. I cannot seem to--my mind is not able to take hold of this. Oh, Joan, such a presentiment is a dreadful thing--it takes one's peace and courage all away. Cast it from you!--drive it out! It will make your whole night miserable, and to no good; for we will hope--"
    "But it isn't a presentiment--it is a fact. And it will not make me miserable. It is uncertainties that do that, but this is not an uncertainty."
    "Joan, do you know it is going to happen?"
    "Yes, I know it. My Voices told me."
    "Ah," said Catherine, resignedly, "if they told you-- But are you sure it was they?--quite sure?"
    "Yes, quite. It will happen--there is no doubt."
    "It is dreadful! Since when have you know it?"
    "Since--I think it is several weeks." Joan turned to me. "Louis, you will remember. How long is it?"
    "Your Excellency spoke of it first to the King, in Chinon," I answered; "that was as much as seven weeks ago. You spoke of it again the 20th of April, and also the 22d, two weeks ago, as I see by my record here."
    These marvels disturbed Catherine profoundly, but I had long ceased to be surprised at them. One can get used to anything in this world. Catherine said:
    "And it is to happen to-morrow?--always to-morrow? Is it the same date always? There has been no mistake, and no confusion?"
    "No," Joan said, "the 7th of May is the date--there is no other."
    "Then you shall not go a step out of this house till that awful day is gone by! You will not dream of it, Joan, will you?--promise that you will stay with us."
    But Joan was not persuaded. She said:
    "It would not help the matter, dear good friend. The wound is to come, and come to-morrow. If I do not seek it, it will seek me. My duty calls me to that place to-morrow; I should have to go if my death were waiting for me there; shall I stay away for only a wound? Oh, no, we must try to do better than that."
    "Then you are determined to go?"
    "Of a certainty, yes. There is only one thing that I can do for France--hearten her soldiers for battle and victory." She thought a moment, then added, "However, one should not be unreasonable, and I would do much to please you, who are so good to me. Do you love France?"
    I wondered what she might be contriving now, but I saw no clue. Catherine said, reproachfully:
    "Ah, what have I done to deserve this question?"
    "Then you do love France. I had not doubted it, dear. Do not be hurt, but answer me--have you ever told a lie?"
    "In my life I have not wilfully told a lie--fibs, but no lies."
    "That is sufficient. You love France and do not tell lies; therefore I will trust you. I will go or I will stay, as you shall decide."
    "Oh, I thank you from my heart, Joan! How good and dear it is of you to do this for me! Oh, you shall stay, and not go!"
    In her delight she flung her arms about Joan's neck and squandered endearments upon her the least of which would have made me rich, but, as it was, they only made me realize how poor I was--how miserably poor in what I would most have prized in this world. Joan said:
    "Then you will send word to my headquarters that I am not going?"
    "Oh, gladly. Leave that to me."
    "It is good of you. And how will you word it?--for it must have proper official form. Shall I word it for you?"
    "Oh, do--for you know about these solemn procedures and stately proprieties, and I have had no experience."
    "Then word it like this: 'The chief of staff is commanded to make known to the King's forces in garrison and in the field, that the General-in-Chief of the Armies of France will not face the English on the morrow, she being afraid she may get hurt. Signed, JOAN OF ARC, by the hand of CATHERINE BOUCHER, who loves France.'"     There was a pause--a silence of the sort that tortures one into stealing a glance to see how the situation looks, and I did that. There was a loving smile on Joan's face, but the color was mounting in crimson waves into Catherine's, and her lips were quivering and the tears gathering; then she said:
    "Oh, I am so ashamed of myself!--and you are so noble and brave and wise, and I am so paltry--so paltry and such a fool!" and she broke down and began to cry, and I did so want to take her in my arms and comfort her, but Joan did it, and of course I said nothing. Joan did it well, and most sweetly and tenderly, but I could have done it as well, though I knew it would be foolish and out of place to suggest such a thing, and might make an awkwardness, too, and be embarrassing to us all, so I did not offer, and I hope I did right and for the best, though I could not know, and was many times tortured with doubts afterward as having perhaps let a chance pass which might have changed all my life and made it happier and more beautiful than, alas, it turned out to be. For this reason I grieve yet, when I think of that scene, and do not like to call it up out of the deeps of my memory because of the pangs it brings.
    Well, well, a good and wholesome thing is a little harmless fun in this world; it tones a body up and keeps him human and prevents him from souring. To set that little trap for Catherine was as good and effective a way as any to show her what a grotesque thing she was asking of Joan. It was a funny idea now, wasn't it, when you look at it all around? Even Catherine dried up her tears and laughed when she thought of the English getting hold of the French Commander-in-Chief's reason for staying out of a battle. She granted that they could have a good time over a thing like that.
    We got to work on the letter again, and of course did not have to strike out the passage about the wound. Joan was in fine spirits; but when she got to sending messages to this, that, and the other playmate and friend, it brought our village and the Fairy Tree and the flowery plain and the browsing sheep and all the peaceful beauty of our old humble home-place back, and the familiar names began to tremble on her lips; and when she got to Haumette and Little Mengette it was no use, her voice broke and she couldn't go on. She waited a moment, then said:
    "Give them my love--my warm love--my deep love--oh, out of my heart of hearts! I shall never see our home any more."
    Now came Pasquerel, Joan's confessor, and introduced a gallant knight, the Sire de Rais, who had been sent with a message. He said he was instructed to say that the council had decided that enough had been done for the present; that it would be safest and best to be content with what God had already done; that the city was now well victualed and able to stand a long siege; that the wise course must necessarily be to withdraw the troops from the other side of the river and resume the defensive--therefore they had decided accordingly.
    "The incurable cowards!" exclaimed Joan. "So it was to get me away from my men that they pretended so much solicitude about my fatigue. Take this message back, not to the council--I have no speeches for those disguised ladies' maids--but to the Bastard and La Hire, who are men. Tell them the army is to remain where it is, and I hold them responsible if this command miscarries. And say the offensive will be resumed in the morning. You may go, good sir."
    Then she said to her priest:
    "Rise early, and be by me all the day. There will be much work on my hands, and I shall be hurt between my neck and my shoulder."

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