Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
YES, IT was as I have said: Joan had Paris and France in her grip, and
the Hundred Years' War under her heel, and the King made her open her
fist and take away her foot.
Now followed about eight months of drifting about with the King and his
council, and his gay and showy and dancing and flirting and hawking and
frolicking and serenading and dissipating court--drifting from town to
town and from castle to castle--a life which was pleasant to us of the
personal staff, but not to Joan. However, she only saw it, she didn't
live it. The King did his sincerest best to make her happy, and showed a
most kind and constant anxiety in this matter.
All others had to go loaded with the chains of an exacting court
etiquette, but she was free, she was privileged. So that she paid her
duty to the King once a day and passed the pleasant word, nothing further
was required of her. Naturally, then, she made herself a hermit, and
grieved the weary days through in her own apartments, with her thoughts
and devotions for company, and the planning of now forever unrealizable
military combinations for entertainment. In fancy she moved bodies of men
from this and that and the other point, so calculating the distances to
be covered, the time required for each body, and the nature of the
country to be traversed, as to have them appear in sight of each other on
a given day or at a given hour and concentrate for battle. It was her
only game, her only relief from her burden of sorrow and inaction. She
played it hour after hour, as others play chess; and lost herself in it,
and so got repose for her mind and healing for her heart.
She never complained, of course. It was not her way. She was the sort
that endure in silence.
But--she was a caged eagle just the same, and pined for the free air and
the alpine heights and the fierce joys of the storm.
France was full of rovers--disbanded soldiers ready for anything that
might turn up. Several times, at intervals, when Joan's dull captivity
grew too heavy to bear, she was allowed to gather a troop of cavalry and
make a health-restoring dash against the enemy. These things were a bath
to her spirits.
It was like old times, there at Saint-Pierre-le-Moutier, to see her lead
assault after assault, be driven back again and again, but always rally
and charge anew, all in a blaze of eagerness and delight; till at last
the tempest of missiles rained so intolerably thick that old D'Aulon, who
was wounded, sounded the retreat (for the King had charged him on his
head to let no harm come to Joan); and away everybody rushed after
him--as he supposed; but when he turned and looked, there were we of the
staff still hammering away; wherefore he rode back and urged her to come,
saying she was mad to stay there with only a dozen men. Her eye danced
merrily, and she turned upon him crying out:
"A dozen men! name of God, I have fifty-thousand, and will never budge
till this place is taken!
"Sound the charge!"
Which he did, and over the walls we went, and the fortress was ours. Old
D'Aulon thought her mind was wandering; but all she meant was, that she
felt the might of fifty thousand men surging in her heart. It was a
fanciful expression; but, to my thinking, truer word was never said.
Then there was the affair near Lagny, where we charged the intrenched
Burgundians through the open field four times, the last time
victoriously; the best prize of it Franquet d'Arras, the free-booter and
pitiless scourge of the region roundabout.
Now and then
other such affairs; and at last, away toward the end of May,
1430, we were in the neighborhood of Compiegne, and Joan resolved to go
to the help of that place, which was being besieged by the Duke of
I had been wounded lately, and was not able to ride without help; but the
good Dwarf took me on behind him, and I held on to him and was safe
enough. We started at midnight, in a sullen downpour of warm rain, and
went slowly and softly and in dead silence, for we had to slip through
the enemy's lines. We were challenged only once; we made no answer, but
held our breath and crept steadily and stealthily along, and got through
without any accident. About three or half past we reached Compiegne, just
as the gray dawn was breaking in the east.
Joan set to work at once, and concerted a plan with Guillaume de Flavy,
captain of the city--a plan for a sortie toward evening against the
enemy, who was posted in three bodies on the other side of the Oise, in
the level plain. From our side one of the city gates communicated with a
bridge. The end of this bridge was defended on the other side of the
river by one of those fortresses called a boulevard; and this boulevard
also commanded a raised road, which stretched from its front across the
plain to the village of Marguy. A force of Burgundians occupied Marguy;
another was camped at Clairoix, a couple of miles above the raised road;
and a body of English was holding Venette, a mile and a half below it. A
kind of bow-and-arrow arrangement, you see; the causeway the arrow, the
boulevard at the feather-end of it, Marguy at the barb, Venette at one
end of the bow, Clairoix at the other.
Joan's plan was to go straight per causeway against Marguy, carry it by
assault, then turn swiftly upon Clairoix, up to the right, and capture
that camp in the same way, then face to the rear and be ready for heavy
work, for the Duke of Burgundy lay behind Clairoix with a reserve.
Flavy's lieutenant, with archers and the artillery of the boulevard, was
to keep the English troops from coming up from below and seizing the
causeway and cutting off Joan's retreat in case she should have to make
one. Also, a fleet of covered boats was to be stationed near the
boulevard as an additional help in case a retreat should become
It was the 24th of May. At four in the afternoon Joan moved out at the
head of six hundred cavalry--on her last march in this life!
It breaks my heart. I had got myself helped up onto the walls, and from
there I saw much that happened, the rest was told me long afterward by
our two knights and other eye-witnesses. Joan crossed the bridge, and
soon left the boulevard behind her and went skimming away over the raised
road with her horsemen clattering at her heels. She had on a brilliant
silver-gilt cape over her armor, and I could see it flap and flare and
rise and fall like a little patch of white flame.
It was a bright day, and one could see far and wide over that plain. Soon
we saw the English force advancing, swiftly and in handsome order, the
sunlight flashing from its arms.
Joan crashed into the Burgundians at Marguy and was repulsed. Then she
saw the other Burgundians moving down from Clairoix. Joan rallied her men
and charged again, and was again rolled back. Two assaults occupy a good
deal of time--and time was precious here. The English were approaching
the road now from Venette, but the boulevard opened fire on them and they
were checked. Joan heartened her men with inspiring words and led them to
the charge again in great style. This time she carried Marguy with a
hurrah. Then she turned at once to the right and plunged into the plan
and struck the Clairoix force, which was just arriving; then there was
heavy work, and plenty of it, the two armies hurling each other backward
turn about and about, and victory inclining first to the one, then to the
other. Now all of a sudden thee was a panic on our side. Some say one
thing caused it, some another. Some say the cannonade made our front
ranks think retreat was being cut off by the English, some say the rear
ranks got the idea that Joan was killed. Anyway our men broke, and went
flying in a wild rout for the causeway. Joan tried to rally them and face
them around, crying to them that victory was sure, but it did no good,
they divided and swept by her like a wave. Old D'Aulon begged her to
retreat while there was yet a chance for safety, but she refused; so he
seized her horse's bridle and bore her along with the wreck and ruin in
spite of herself. And so along the causeway they came swarming, that wild
confusion of frenzied men and horses--and the artillery had to stop
firing, of course; consequently the English and Burgundians closed in in
safety, the former in front, the latter behind their prey. Clear to the
boulevard the French were washed in this enveloping inundation; and
there, cornered in an angle formed by the flank of the boulevard and the
slope of the causeway, they bravely fought a hopeless fight, and sank
down one by one.
Flavy, watching from the city wall, ordered the gate to be closed and the
drawbridge raised. This shut Joan out.
The little personal guard around her thinned swiftly. Both of our good
knights went down disabled; Joan's two brothers fell wounded; then Noel
Rainguesson--all wounded while loyally sheltering Joan from blows aimed
at her. When only the Dwarf and the Paladin were left, they would not
give up, but stood their ground stoutly, a pair of steel towers streaked
and splashed with blood; and where the ax of one fell, and the sword of
the other, an enemy gasped and died.
And so fighting, and loyal to their duty to the last, good simple souls,
they came to their honorable end. Peace to their memories! they were very
dear to me.
Then there was a cheer and a rush, and Joan, still defiant, still laying
about her with her sword, was seized by her cape and dragged from her
horse. She was borne away a prisoner to the Duke of Burgundy's camp, and
after her followed the victorious army roaring its joy.
The awful news started instantly on its round; from lip to lip it flew;
and wherever it came it struck the people as with a sort of paralysis;
and they murmured over and over again, as if they were talking to
themselves, or in their sleep, "The Maid of Orleans taken! . . . Joan of
Arc a prisoner! . . . the savior of France lost to us!"--and would keep
saying that over, as if they couldn't understand how it could be, or how
God could permit it, poor creatures!
You know what a city is like when it is hung from eaves to pavement with
rustling black? Then you know what Rouse was like, and some other cities.
But can any man tell you what the mourning in the hearts of the peasantry
of France was like? No, nobody can tell you that, and, poor dumb things,
they could not have told you themselves, but it was there--indeed, yes.
Why, it was the spirit of a whole nation hung with crape!
The 24th of May. We will draw down the curtain now upon the most strange,
and pathetic, and wonderful military drama that has been played upon the
stage of the world. Joan of Arc will march no more.
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