Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 39

    IT WAS away past midnight, and had been a tremendous day in the matter of excitement and fatigue, but that was no matter to Joan when there was business on hand. She did not think of bed. The generals followed her to her official quarters, and she delivered her orders to them as fast as she could talk, and they sent them off to their different commands as fast as delivered; wherefore the messengers galloping hither and thither raised a world of clatter and racket in the still streets; and soon were added to this the music of distant bugles and the roll of drums--notes of preparation; for the vanguard would break camp at dawn.
    The generals were soon dismissed, but I wasn't; nor Joan; for it was my turn to work, now. Joan walked the floor and dictated a summons to the Duke of Burgundy to lay down his arms and make peace and exchange pardons with the King; or, if he must fight, go fight the Saracens. "Pardonnez-vous l'un ... l'autre de bon coeligeur, entierement, ainsi que doivent faire loyaux chretiens, et, s'il vous plait de guerroyer, allez contre les Sarrasins." It was long, but it was good, and had the sterling ring to it. It is my opinion that it was as fine and simple and straightforward and eloquent a state paper as she ever uttered.
    It was delivered into the hands of a courier, and he galloped away with it. The Joan dismissed me, and told me to go to the inn and stay, and in the morning give to her father the parcel which she had left there. It contained presents for the Domremy relatives and friends and a peasant dress which she had bought for herself. She said she would say good-by to her father and uncle in the morning if it should still be their purpose to go, instead of tarrying awhile to see the city.
    I didn't say anything, of course, but I could have said that wild horses couldn't keep those men in that town half a day. They waste the glory of being the first to carry the great news to Domremy--the taxes remitted forever!--and hear the bells clang and clatter, and the people cheer and shout? Oh, not they. Patay and Orleans and the Coronation were events which in a vague way these men understood to be colossal; but they were colossal mists, films, abstractions; this was a gigantic reality!
    When I got there, do you suppose they were abed! Quite the reverse. They and the rest were as mellow as mellow could be; and the Paladin was doing his battles in great style, and the old peasants were endangering the building with their applause. He was doing Patay now; and was bending his big frame forward and laying out the positions and movements with a rake here and a rake there of his formidable sword on the floor, and the peasants were stooped over with their hands on their spread knees observing with excited eyes and ripping out ejaculations of wonder and admiration all along:
    "Yes, here we were, waiting--waiting for the word; our horses fidgeting and snorting and dancing to get away, we lying back on the bridles till our bodies fairly slanted to the rear; the word rang out at last--'Go!' and we went!
    "Went? There was nothing like it ever seen! Where we swept by squads of scampering English, the mere wind of our passage laid them flat in piles and rows! Then we plunged into the ruck of Fastolfe's frantic battle-corps and tore through it like a hurricane, leaving a causeway of the dead stretching far behind; no tarrying, no slacking rein, but on! on! on! far yonder in the distance lay our prey--Talbot and his host looming vast and dark like a storm-cloud brooding on the sea! Down we swooped upon them, glooming all the air with a quivering pall of dead leaves flung up by the whirlwind of our flight. In another moment we should have struck them as world strikes world when disorbited constellations crash into the Milky way, but by misfortune and the inscrutable dispensation of God I was recognized! Talbot turned white, and shouting, 'Save yourselves, it is the Standard-Bearer of Joan of Arc!' drove his spurs home till they met in the middle of his horse's entrails, and fled the field with his billowing multitudes at his back! I could have cursed myself for not putting on a disguise. I saw reproach in the eyes of her Excellency, and was bitterly ashamed. I had caused what seemed an irreparable disaster. Another might have gone aside to grieve, as not seeing any way to mend it; but I thank God I am not of those. Great occasions only summon as with a trumpet-call the slumbering reserves of my intellect. I saw my opportunity in an instant--in the next I was away! Through the woods I vanished--fst!--like an extinguished light! Away around through the curtaining forest I sped, as if on wings, none knowing what was become of me, none suspecting my design. Minute after minute passed, on and on I flew; on, and still on; and at last with a great cheer I flung my Banner to the breeze and burst out in front of Talbot! Oh, it was a mighty thought! That weltering chaos of distracted men whirled and surged backward like a tidal wave which has struck a continent, and the day was ours! Poor helpless creatures, they were in a trap; they were surrounded; they could not escape to the rear, for there was our army; they could not escape to the front, for there was I. Their hearts shriveled in their bodies, their hands fell listless at their sides. They stood still, and at our leisure we slaughtered them to a man; all except Talbot and Fastolfe, whom I saved and brought away, one under each arm."
    Well, there is no denying it, the Paladin was in great form that night. Such style! such noble grace of gesture, such grandeur of attitude, such energy when he got going! such steady rise, on such sure wing, such nicely graduated expenditures of voice according to the weight of the matter, such skilfully calculated approaches to his surprises and explosions, such belief-compelling sincerity of tone and manner, such a climaxing peal from his brazen lungs, and such a lightning-vivid picture of his mailed form and flaunting banner when he burst out before that despairing army! And oh, the gentle art of the last half of his last sentence--delivered in the careless and indolent tone of one who has finished his real story, and only adds a colorless and inconsequential detail because it has happened to occur to him in a lazy way.
    It was a marvel to see those innocent peasants. Why, they went all to pieces with enthusiasm, and roared out applauses fit to raise the roof and wake the dead. When they had cooled down at last and there was silence but for the heaving and panting, old Laxart said, admiringly:
    "As it seems to me, you are an army in your single person."
    "Yes, that is what he is," said Noel Rainguesson, convincingly. "He is a terror; and not just in this vicinity. His mere name carries a shudder with it to distant lands--just he mere name; and when he frowns, the shadow of it falls as far as Rome, and the chickens go to roost an hour before schedule time. Yes; and some say--"
    "Noel Rainguesson, you are preparing yourself for trouble. I will say just one word to you, and it will be to your advantage to--"
    I saw that the usual thing had got a start. No man could prophesy when it would end. So I delivered Joan's message and went off to bed.
    Joan made her good-byes to those old fellows in the morning, with loving embraces and many tears, and with a packed multitude for sympathizers, and they rode proudly away on their precious horses to carry their great news home. I had seen better riders, some will say that; for horsemanship was a new art to them.
    The vanguard moved out at dawn and took the road, with bands braying and banners flying; the second division followed at eight. Then came the Burgundian ambassadors, and lost us the rest of that day and the whole of the next. But Joan was on hand, and so they had their journey for their pains. The rest of us took the road at dawn, next morning, July 20th. And got how far? Six leagues. Tremouille was getting in his sly work with the vacillating King, you see. The King stopped at St. Marcoul and prayed three days. Precious time lost--for us; precious time gained for Bedford. He would know how to use it.
    We could not go on without the King; that would be to leave him in the conspirators' camp. Joan argued, reasoned, implored; and at last we got under way again.
    Joan's prediction was verified. It was not a campaign, it was only another holiday excursion. English strongholds lined our route; they surrendered without a blow; we garrisoned them with Frenchmen and passed on. Bedford was on the march against us with his new army by this time, and on the 25th of July the hostile forces faced each other and made preparation for battle; but Bedford's good judgment prevailed, and he turned and retreated toward Paris. Now was our chance. Our men were in great spirits.
    Will you believe it? Our poor stick of a King allowed his worthless advisers to persuade him to start back for Gien, whence he had set out when we first marched for Rheims and the Coronation! And we actually did start back. The fifteen-day truce had just been concluded with the Duke of Burgundy, and we would go and tarry at Gien until he should deliver Paris to us without a fight.
    We marched to Bray; then the King changed his mind once more, and with it his face toward Paris. Joan dictated a letter to the citizens of Rheims to encourage them to keep heart in spite of the truce, and promising to stand by them. She furnished them the news herself that the Kin had made this truce; and in speaking of it she was her usual frank self. She said she was not satisfied with it, and didn't know whether she would keep it or not; that if she kept it, it would be solely out of tenderness for the King's honor. All French children know those famous words. How naive they are! "De cette treve qui a ete faite, je ne suis pas contente, et je ne sais si je la tiendrai. Si je la tiens, ce sera seulement pour garder l'honneur du roi." But in any case, she said, she would not allow the blood royal to be abused, and would keep the army in good order and ready for work at the end of the truce.
    Poor child, to have to fight England, Burgundy, and a French conspiracy all at the same time--it was too bad. She was a match for the others, but a conspiracy--ah, nobody is a match for that, when the victim that is to be injured is weak and willing. It grieved her, these troubled days, to be so hindered and delayed and baffled, and at times she was sad and the tears lay near the surface. Once, talking with her good old faithful friend and servant, the Bastard of Orleans, she said:
    "Ah, if it might but please God to let me put off this steel raiment and go back to my father and my mother, and tend my sheep again with my sister and my brothers, who would be so glad to see me!"
    By the 12th of August we were camped near Dampmartin. Later we had a brush with Bedford's rear-guard, and had hopes of a big battle on the morrow, but Bedford and all his force got away in the night and went on toward Paris.
    Charles sent heralds and received the submission of Beauvais. The Bishop Pierre Cauchon, that faithful friend and slave of the English, was not able to prevent it, though he did his best. He was obscure then, but his name was to travel round the globe presently, and live forever in the curses of France! Bear with me now, while I spit in fancy upon his grave.
    Compiegne surrendered, and hauled down the English flag. On the 14th we camped two leagues from Senlis. Bedford turned and approached, and took up a strong position. We went against him, but all our efforts to beguile him out from his intrenchments failed, though he had promised us a duel in the open field. Night shut down. Let him look our for the morning! But in the morning he was gone again.
    We entered Compiegne the 18th of August, turning out the English garrison and hoisting our own flag.
    On the 23d Joan gave command to move upon Paris. The King and the clique were not satisfied with this, and retired sulking to Senlis, which had just surrendered. Within a few days many strong places submitted--Creil, Pont-Saint-Maxence, Choisy, Gournay-sur-Aronde, Remy, Le Neufville-en-Hez, Moguay, Chantilly, Saintines. The English power was tumbling, crash after crash! And still the King sulked and disapproved, and was afraid of our movement against the capital.
    On the 26th of August, 1429, Joan camped at St. Denis; in effect, under the walls of Paris.
    And still the King hung back and was afraid. If we could but have had him there to back us with his authority! Bedford had lost heart and decided to waive resistance and go an concentrate his strength in the best and loyalest province remaining to him--Normandy. Ah, if we could only have persuaded the King to come and countenance us with his presence and approval at this supreme moment!

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