Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
IT WAS vexatious to see what a to-do the whole town, and next the whole
country, made over the news. Joan of Arc ennobled by the King! People
went dizzy with wonder and delight over it. You cannot imagine how she
was gaped at, stared at, envied. Why, one would have supposed that some
great and fortunate thing had happened to her. But we did not think any
great things of it. To our minds no mere human hand could add a glory to
Joan of Arc. To us she was the sun soaring in the heavens, and her new
nobility a candle atop of it; to us it was swallowed up and lost in her
own light. And she was as indifferent to it and as unconscious of it as
the other sun would have been.
But it was different with her brothers. They were proud and happy in
their new dignity, which was quite natural. And Joan was glad it had been
conferred, when she saw how pleased they were. It was a clever thought in
the King to outflank her scruples by marching on them under shelter of
her love for her family and her kin.
Jean and Pierre sported their coats-of-arms right away; and their society
was courted by everybody, the nobles and commons alike. The
Standard-Bearer said, with some touch of bitterness, that he could see
that they just felt good to be alive, they were so soaked with the
comfort of their glory; and didn't like to sleep at all, because when
they were asleep they didn't know they were noble, and so sleep was a
clean loss of time. And then he said:
"They can't take precedence of me in military functions and state
ceremonies, but when it comes to civil ones and society affairs I judge
they'll cuddle coolly in behind you and the knights, and Noel and I will
have to walk behind them--hey?"
"Yes," I said, "I think you are right."
"I was just afraid of it--just afraid of it," said the Standard-Bearer,
with a sigh. "Afraid of it? I'm talking like a fool; of course I knew it.
Yes, I was talking like a fool."
Noel Rainguesson said, musingly:
"Yes, I noticed something natural about the tone of it."
We others laughed.
"Oh, you did, did you? You think you are very clever, don't you? I'll
take and wring your neck for you one of these days, Noel Rainguesson."
The Sieur de Metz said:
"Paladin, your fears haven't reached the top notch. They are away below
the grand possibilities. Didn't it occur to you that in civil and society
functions they will take precedence of all the rest of the personal
staff--every one of us?"
"You'll find it's so. Look at their escutcheon. Its chiefest feature is
the lilies of France. It's royal, man, royal--do you understand the size
of that? The lilies are there by authority of the King--do you understand
the size of that? Though not in detail and in entirety, they do
nevertheless substantially quarter the arms of France in their coat.
Imagine it! consider it! measure the magnitude of it! We walk in front of
those boys? Bless you, we've done that for the last time. In my opinion
there isn't a lay lord in this whole region that can walk in front of
them, except the Duke d'Alencon, prince of the blood."
You could have knocked the Paladin down with a feather. He seemed to
actually turn pale. He worked his lips a moment without getting anything
out; then it came:
"I didn't know that, nor the half of it; how could I? I've been an idiot.
I see it now--I've been an idiot. I met them this morning, and sung out
hello to them just as I would to anybody. I didn't mean to be
ill-mannered, but I didn't know the half of this that you've been
telling. I've been an ass. Yes, that is all there is to it--I've been an
Noel Rainguesson said, in a kind of weary way:
"Yes, that is likely enough; but I don't see why you should seem
surprised at it."
"You don't, don't you? Well, why don't you?"
"Because I don't see any novelty about it. With some people it is a
condition which is present all the time. Now you take a condition which
is present all the time, and the results of that condition will be
uniform; this uniformity of result will in time become monotonous;
monotonousness, by the law of its being, is fatiguing. If you had
manifested fatigue upon noticing that you had been an ass, that would
have been logical, that would have been rational; whereas it seems to me
that to manifest surprise was to be again an ass, because the condition
of intellect that can enable a person to be surprised and stirred by
inert monotonousness is a--"
"Now that is enough, Noel Rainguesson; stop where you are, before you get
yourself into trouble. And don't bother me any more for some days or a
week an it please you, for I cannot abide your clack."
"Come, I like that! I didn't want to talk. I tried to get out of talking.
If you didn't want to hear my clack, what did you keep intruding your
conversation on me for?"
"I? I never dreamed of such a thing."
"Well, you did it, anyway. And I have a right to feel hurt, and I do feel
hurt, to have you treat me so. It seems to me that when a person goads,
and crowds, and in a manner forces another person to talk, it is neither
very fair nor very good-mannered to call what he says clack."
"Oh, snuffle--do! and break your heart, you poor thing. Somebody fetch
this sick doll a sugar-rag. Look you, Sir Jean de Metz, do you feel
absolutely certain about that thing?"
"Why, that Jean and Pierre are going to take precedence of all the lay
noblesse hereabouts except the Duke d'Alencon?"
"I think there is not a doubt of it."
The Standard-Bearer was deep in thoughts and dreams a few moments, then
the silk-and-velvet expanse of his vast breast rose and fell with a sigh,
and he said:
"Dear, dear, what a lift it is! It just shows what luck can do. Well, I
don't care. I shouldn't care to be a painted accident--I shouldn't value
it. I am prouder to have climbed up to where I am just by sheer natural
merit than I would be to ride the very sun in the zenith and have to
reflect that I was nothing but a poor little accident, and got shot up
there out of somebody else's catapult. To me, merit is everything--in
fact, the only thing. All else is dross."
Just then the bugles blew the assembly, and that cut our talk short.
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