Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 27

    WE MADE a gallant show next day when we filed out through the frowning gates of Orleans, with banners flying and Joan and the Grand Staff in the van of the long column. Those two young De Lavals were come now, and were joined to the Grand Staff. Which was well; war being their proper trade, for they were grandsons of that illustrious fighter Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France in earlier days. Louis de Bourbon, the Marshal de Rais, and the Vidame de Chartres were added also. We had a right to feel a little uneasy, for we knew that a force of five thousand men was on its way under Sir John Fastolfe to reinforce Jargeau, but I think we were not uneasy, nevertheless. In truth, that force was not yet in our neighborhood. Sir John was loitering; for some reason or other he was not hurrying. He was losing precious time--four days at Etampes, and four more at Janville.
    We reached Jargeau and began business at once. Joan sent forward a heavy force which hurled itself against the outworks in handsome style, and gained a footing and fought hard to keep it; but it presently began to fall back before a sortie from the city. Seeing this, Joan raised her battle-cry and led a new assault herself under a furious artillery fire. The Paladin was struck down at her side wounded, but she snatched her standard from his failing hand and plunged on through the ruck of flying missiles, cheering her men with encouraging cries; and then for a good time one had turmoil, and clash of steel, and collision and confusion of struggling multitudes, and the hoarse bellowing of the guns; and then the hiding of it all under a rolling firmament of smoke--a firmament through which veiled vacancies appeared for a moment now and then, giving fitful dim glimpses of the wild tragedy enacting beyond; and always at these times one caught sight of that slight figure in white mail which was the center and soul of our hope and trust, and whenever we saw that, with its back to us and its face to the fight, we knew that all was well. At last a great shout went up--a joyous roar of shoutings, in fact--and that was sign sufficient that the faubourgs were ours.
    Yes, they were ours; the enemy had been driven back within the walls. On the ground which Joan had won we camped; for night was coming on.
    Joan sent a summons to the English, promising that if they surrendered she would allow them to go in peace and take their horses with them. Nobody knew that she could take that strong place, but she knew it --knew it well; yet she offered that grace--offered it in a time when such a thing was unknown in war; in a time when it was custom and usage to massacre the garrison and the inhabitants of captured cities without pity or compunction--yes, even to the harmless women and children sometimes. There are neighbors all about you who well remember the unspeakable atrocities which Charles the Bold inflicted upon the men and women and children of Dinant when he took that place some years ago. It was a unique and kindly grace which Joan offered that garrison; but that was her way, that was her loving and merciful nature--she always did her best to save her enemy's life and his soldierly pride when she had the mastery of him.
    The English asked fifteen days' armistice to consider the proposal in. And Fastolfe coming with five thousand men! Joan said no. But she offered another grace: they might take both their horses and their side-arms--but they must go within the hour.
    Well, those bronzed English veterans were pretty hard-headed folk. They declined again. Then Joan gave command that her army be made ready to move to the assault at nine in the morning. Considering the deal of marching and fighting which the men had done that day, D'Alencon thought the hour rather early; but Joan said it was best so, and so must be obeyed. Then she burst out with one of those enthusiasms which were always burning in her when battle was imminent, and said:
    "Work! work! and God will work with us!"
    Yes, one might say that her motto was "Work! stick to it; keep on working!" for in war she never knew what indolence was. And whoever will take that motto and live by it will likely to succeed. There's many a way to win in this world, but none of them is worth much without good hard work back out of it.
    I think we should have lost our big Standard-Bearer that day, if our bigger Dwarf had not been at hand to bring him out of the melee when he was wounded. He was unconscious, and would have been trampled to death by our own horse, if the Dwarf had not promptly rescued him and haled him to the rear and safety. He recovered, and was himself again after two or three hours; and then he was happy and proud, and made the most of his wound, and went swaggering around in his bandages showing off like an innocent big-child--which was just what he was. He was prouder of being wounded than a really modest person would be of being killed. But there was no harm in his vanity, and nobody minded it. He said he was hit by a stone from a catapult--a stone the size of a man's head. But the stone grew, of course. Before he got through with it he was claiming that the enemy had flung a building at him.
    "Let him alone," said Noel Rainguesson. "Don't interrupt his processes. To-morrow it will be a cathedral."
    He said that privately. And, sure enough, to-morrow it was a cathedral. I never saw anybody with such an abandoned imagination.
    Joan was abroad at the crack of dawn, galloping here and there and yonder, examining the situation minutely, and choosing what she considered the most effective positions for her artillery; and with such accurate judgment did she place her guns that her Lieutenant-General's admiration of it still survived in his memory when his testimony was taken at the Rehabilitation, a quarter of a century later.
    In this testimony the Duke d'Alencon said that at Jargeau that morning of the 12th of June she made her dispositions not like a novice, but "with the sure and clear judgment of a trained general of twenty or thirty years' experience."
    The veteran captains of the armies of France said she was great in war in all ways, but greatest of all in her genius for posting and handling artillery.
    Who taught the shepherd-girl to do these marvels--she who could not read, and had had no opportunity to study the complex arts of war? I do not know any way to solve such a baffling riddle as that, there being no precedent for it, nothing in history to compare it with and examine it by. For in history there is no great general, however gifted, who arrived at success otherwise than through able teaching and hard study and some experience. It is a riddle which will never be guessed. I think these vast powers and capacities were born in her, and that she applied them by an intuition which could not err.
    At eight o'clock all movement ceased, and with it all sounds, all noise. A mute expectancy reigned. The stillness was something awful --because it meant so much. There was no air stirring. The flags on the towers and ramparts hung straight down like tassels. Wherever one saw a person, that person had stopped what he was doing, and was in a waiting attitude, a listening attitude. We were on a commanding spot, clustered around Joan. Not far from us, on every hand, were the lanes and humble dwellings of these outlying suburbs. Many people were visible--all were listening, not one was moving. A man had placed a nail; he was about to fasten something with it to the door-post of his shop--but he had stopped. There was his hand reaching up holding the nail; and there was his other hand n the act of striking with the hammer; but he had forgotten everything--his head was turned aside listening. Even children unconsciously stopped in their play; I saw a little boy with his hoop-stick pointed slanting toward the ground in the act of steering the hoop around the corner; and so he had stopped and was listening--the hoop was rolling away, doing its own steering. I saw a young girl prettily framed in an open window, a watering-pot in her hand and window-boxes of red flowers under its spout--but the water had ceased to flow; the girl was listening. Everywhere were these impressive petrified forms; and everywhere was suspended movement and that awful stillness.
    Joan of Arc raised her sword in the air. At the signal, the silence was torn to rags; cannon after cannon vomited flames and smoke and delivered its quaking thunders; and we saw answering tongues of fire dart from the towers and walls of the city, accompanied by answering deep thunders, and in a minute the walls and the towers disappeared, and in their place stood vast banks and pyramids of snowy smoke, motionless in the dead air. The startled girl dropped her watering-pot and clasped her hands together, and at that moment a stone cannon-ball crashed through her fair body.
    The great artillery duel went on, each side hammering away with all its might; and it was splendid for smoke and noise, and most exalting to one's spirits. The poor little town around about us suffered cruelly. The cannon-balls tore through its slight buildings, wrecking them as if they had been built of cards; and every moment or two one would see a huge rock come curving through the upper air above the smoke-clouds and go plunging down through the roofs. Fire broke out, and columns of flame and smoke rose toward the sky.
    Presently the artillery concussions changed the weather. The sky became overcast, and a strong wind rose and blew away the smoke that hid the English fortresses. Then the spectacle was fine; turreted gray walls and towers, and streaming bright flags, and jets of red fire and gushes of white smoke in long rows, all standing out with sharp vividness against the deep leaden background of the sky; and then the whizzing missiles began to knock up the dirt all around us, and I felt no more interest in the scenery. There was one English gun that was getting our position down finer and finer all the time. Presently Joan pointed to it and said:
    "Fair duke, step out of your tracks, or that machine will kill you."
    The Duke d'Alencon did as he was bid; but Monsieur du Lude rashly took his place, and that cannon tore his head off in a moment.
    Joan was watching all along for the right time to order the assault. At last, about nine o'clock, she cried out:
    "Now--to the assault!" and the buglers blew the charge.
    Instantly we saw the body of men that had been appointed to this service move forward toward a point where the concentrated fire of our guns had crumbled the upper half of a broad stretch of wall to ruins; we saw this force descend into the ditch and begin to plant the scaling-ladders. We were soon with them. The Lieutenant-General thought the assault premature. But Joan said:
    "Ah, gentle duke, are you afraid? Do you not know that I have promised to send you home safe?"
    It was warm work in the ditches. The walls were crowded with men, and they poured avalanches of stones down upon us. There was one gigantic Englishman who did us more hurt than any dozen of his brethren. He always dominated the places easiest of assault, and flung down exceedingly troublesome big stones which smashed men and ladders both --then he would near burst himself with laughing over what he had done. But the duke settled accounts with him. He went and found the famous cannoneer, Jean le Lorrain, and said:
    "Train your gun--kill me this demon."
    He did it with the first shot. He hit the Englishman fair in the breast and knocked him backward into the city.
    The enemy's resistance was so effective and so stubborn that our people began to show signs of doubt and dismay. Seeing this, Joan raised her inspiring battle-cry and descended into the fosse herself, the Dwarf helping her and the Paladin sticking bravely at her side with the standard. She started up a scaling-ladder, but a great stone flung from above came crashing down upon her helmet and stretched her, wounded and stunned, upon the ground. But only for a moment. The Dwarf stood her upon her feet, and straightway she started up the ladder again, crying:
    "To the assault, friends, to the assault--the English are ours! It is the appointed hour!"
    There was a grand rush, and a fierce roar of war-cries, and we swarmed over the ramparts like ants. The garrison fled, we pursued; Jargeau was ours!
    The Earl of Suffolk was hemmed in and surrounded, and the Duke d'Alencon and the Bastard of Orleans demanded that he surrender himself. But he was a proud nobleman and came of a proud race. He refused to yield his sword to subordinates, saying:
    "I will die rather. I will surrender to the Maid of Orleans alone, and to no other."
    And so he did; and was courteously and honorably used by her.
    His two brothers retreated, fighting step by step, toward the bridge, we pressing their despairing forces and cutting them down by scores. Arrived on the bridge, the slaughter still continued. Alexander de la Pole was pushed overboard or fell over, and was drowned. Eleven hundred men had fallen; John de la Pole decided to give up the struggle. But he was nearly as proud and particular as his brother of Suffolk as to whom he would surrender to. The French officer nearest at hand was Guillaume Renault, who was pressing him closely. Sir John said to him:
    "Are you a gentleman?"
    "And a knight?"
    Then Sir John knighted him himself there on the bridge, giving him the accolade with English coolness and tranquillity in the midst of that storm of slaughter and mutilation; and then bowing with high courtesy took the sword by the blade and laid the hilt of it in the man's hand in token of surrender. Ah, yes, a proud tribe, those De la Poles.
    It was a grand day, a memorable day, a most splendid victory. We had a crowd of prisoners, but Joan would not allow them to be hurt. We took them with us and marched into Orleans next day through the usual tempest of welcome and joy.
    And this time there was a new tribute to our leader. From everywhere in the packed streets the new recruits squeezed their way to her side to touch the sword of Joan of Arc and draw from it somewhat of that mysterious quality which made it invincible.

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