Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 25

    THE DAYS began to waste away--and nothing decided, nothing done. The army was full of zeal, but it was also hungry. It got no pay, the treasury was getting empty, it was becoming impossible to feed it; under pressure of privation it began to fall apart and disperse--which pleased the trifling court exceedingly. Joan's distress was pitiful to see. She was obliged to stand helpless while her victorious army dissolved away until hardly the skeleton of it was left.
    At last one day she went to the Castle of Loches, where the King was idling. She found him consulting with three of his councilors, Robert le Ma‡on, a former Chancellor of France, Christophe d'Harcourt, and Gerard Machet. The Bastard of Orleans was present also, and it is through him that we know what happened. Joan threw herself at the King's feet and embraced his knees, saying:
    "Noble Dauphin, prithee hold no more of these long and numerous councils, but come, and come quickly, to Rheims and receive your crown."
    Christophe d'Harcourt asked:
    "Is it your Voices that command you to say that to the King?"
    "Yes, and urgently."
    "Then will you not tell us in the King's presence in what way the Voices communicate with you?"
    It was another sly attempt to trap Joan into indiscreet admissions and dangerous pretensions. But nothing came of it. Joan's answer was simple and straightforward, and the smooth Bishop was not able to find any fault with it. She said that when she met with people who doubted the truth of her mission she went aside and prayed, complaining of the distrust of these, and then the comforting Voices were heard at her ear saying, soft and low, "Go forward, Daughter of God, and I will help thee." Then she added, "When I hear that, the joy in my heart, oh, it is insupportable!"
    The Bastard said that when she said these words her face lit up as with a flame, and she was like one in an ecstasy.
    Joan pleaded, persuaded, reasoned; gaining ground little by little, but opposed step by step by the council. She begged, she implored, leave to march. When they could answer nothing further, they granted that perhaps it had been a mistake to let the army waste away, but how could we help it now? how could we march without an army?
    "Raise one!" said Joan.
    "But it will take six weeks."
    "No matter--begin! let us begin!"
    "It is too late. Without doubt the Duke of Bedford has been gathering troops to push to the succor of his strongholds on the Loire."
    "Yes, while we have been disbanding ours--and pity 'tis. But we must throw away no more time; we must bestir ourselves."
    The King objected that he could not venture toward Rheims with those strong places on the Loire in his path. But Joan said:
    "We will break them up. Then you can march."
    With that plan the King was willing to venture assent. He could sit around out of danger while the road was being cleared.
    Joan came back in great spirits. Straightway everything was stirring. Proclamations were issued calling for men, a recruiting-camp was established at Selles in Berry, and the commons and the nobles began to flock to it with enthusiasm.
    A deal of the month of May had been wasted; and yet by the 6th of June Joan had swept together a new army and was ready to march. She had eight thousand men. Think of that. Think of gathering together such a body as that in that little region. And these were veteran soldiers, too. In fact, most of the men in France were soldiers, when you came to that; for the wars had lasted generations now. Yes, most Frenchmen were soldiers; and admirable runners, too, both by practice and inheritance; they had done next to nothing but run for near a century. But that was not their fault. They had had no fair and proper leadership--at least leaders with a fair and proper chance. Away back, King and Court got the habit of being treacherous to the leaders; then the leaders easily got the habit of disobeying the King and going their own way, each for himself and nobody for the lot. Nobody could win victories that way. Hence, running became the habit of the French troops, and no wonder. Yet all that those troops needed in order to be good fighters was a leader who would attend strictly to business--a leader with all authority in his hands in place of a tenth of it along with nine other generals equipped with an equal tenth apiece. They had a leader rightly clothed with authority now, and with a head and heart bent on war of the most intensely businesslike and earnest sort--and there would be results. No doubt of that. They had Joan of Arc; and under that leadership their legs would lose the art and mystery of running.
    Yes, Joan was in great spirits. She was here and there and everywhere, all over the camp, by day and by night, pushing things. And wherever she came charging down the lines, reviewing the troops, it was good to hear them break out and cheer. And nobody could help cheering, she was such a vision of young bloom and beauty and grace, and such an incarnation of pluck and life and go! she was growing more and more ideally beautiful every day, as was plain to be seen--and these were days of development; for she was well past seventeen now--in fact, she was getting close upon seventeen and a half--indeed, just a little woman, as you may say.
    The two young Counts de Laval arrived one day--fine young fellows allied to the greatest and most illustrious houses of France; and they could not rest till they had seen Joan of Arc. So the King sent for them and presented them to her, and you may believe she filled the bill of their expectations. When they heard that rich voice of hers they must have thought it was a flute; and when they saw her deep eyes and her face, and the soul that looked out of that face, you could see that the sight of her stirred them like a poem, like lofty eloquence, like martial music. One of them wrote home to his people, and in his letter he said, "It seemed something divine to see her and hear her." Ah, yes, and it was a true word. Truer word was never spoken.
    He saw her when she was ready to begin her march and open the campaign, and this is what he said about it:
    "She was clothed all in white armor save her head, and in her hand she carried a little battle-ax; and when she was ready to mount her great black horse he reared and plunged and would not let her. Then she said, 'Lead him to the cross.' This cross was in front of the church close by. So they led him there. Then she mounted, and he never budged, any more than if he had been tied. Then she turned toward the door of the church and said, in her soft womanly voice, 'You, priests and people of the Church, make processions and pray to God for us!' Then she spurred away, under her standard, with her little ax in her hand, crying 'Forward--march!' One of her brothers, who came eight days ago, departed with her; and he also was clad all in white armor."
    I was there, and I saw it, too; saw it all, just as he pictures it. And I see it yet--the little battle-ax, the dainty plumed cap, the white armor--all in the soft June afternoon; I see it just as if it were yesterday. And I rode with the staff--the personal staff--the staff of Joan of Arc.
    That young count was dying to go, too, but the King held him back for the present. But Joan had made him a promise. In his letter he said:
    "She told me that when the King starts for Rheims I shall go with him. But God grant I may not have to wait till then, but may have a part in the battles!"
    She made him that promise when she was taking leave of my lady the Duchess d'Alencon. The duchess was exacting a promise, so it seemed a proper time for others to do the like. The duchess was troubled for her husband, for she foresaw desperate fighting; and she held Joan to her breast, and stroked her hair lovingly, and said:
    "You must watch over him, dear, and take care of him, and send him back to me safe. I require it of you; I will not let you go till you promise."
    Joan said:
    "I give you the promise with all my heart; and it is not just words, it is a promise; you shall have him back without a hurt. Do you believe? And are you satisfied with me now?"
    The duchess could not speak, but she kissed Joan on the forehead; and so they parted.
    We left on the 6th and stopped over at Romorantin; then on the 9th Joan entered Orleans in state, under triumphal arches, with the welcoming cannon thundering and seas of welcoming flags fluttering in the breeze. The Grand Staff rode with her, clothed in shining splendors of costume and decorations: the Duke d'Alencon; the Bastard of Orleans; the Sire de Boussac, Marshal of France; the Lord de Granville, Master of the Crossbowmen; the Sire de Culan, Admiral of France; Ambroise de Lor; Etienne de Vignoles, called La Hire; Gautier de Brusac, and other illustrious captains.
    It was grand times; the usual shoutings and packed multitudes, the usual crush to get sight of Joan; but at last we crowded through to our old lodgings, and I saw old Boucher and the wife and that dear Catherine gather Joan to their hearts and smother her with kisses--and my heart ached for her so! for I could have kissed Catherine better than anybody, and more and longer; yet was not thought of for that office, and I so famished for it. Ah, she was so beautiful, and oh, so sweet! I had loved her the first day I ever saw her, and from that day forth she was sacred to me. I have carried her image in my heart for sixty-three years--all lonely thee, yes, solitary, for it never has had company--and I am grown so old, so old; but it, oh, it is as fresh and young and merry and mischievous and lovely and sweet and pure and witching and divine as it was when it crept in there, bringing benediction and peace to its habitation so long ago, so long ago--for it has not aged a day!

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