Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 12

    NOW, as a next move, this small secret court of holy assassins did a thing so base that even at this day, in my old age, it is hard to speak of it with patience.
    In the beginning of her commerce with her Voices there at Domremy, the child Joan solemnly devoted her life to God, vowing her pure body and her pure soul to His service. You will remember that her parents tried to stop her from going to the wars by haling her to the court at Toul to compel her to make a marriage which she had never promised to make--a marriage with our poor, good, windy, big, hard-fighting, and most dear and lamented comrade, the Standard-Bearer, who fell in honorable battle and sleeps with God these sixty years, peace to his ashes! And you will remember how Joan, sixteen years old, stood up in that venerable court and conducted her case all by herself, and tore the poor Paladin's case to rags and blew it away with a breath; and how the astonished old judge on the bench spoke of her as "this marvelous child."
    You remember all that. Then think what I felt, to see these false priests, here in the tribunal wherein Joan had fought a fourth lone fight in three years, deliberately twist that matter entirely around and try to make out that Joan haled the Paladin into court and pretended that he had promised to marry her, and was bent on making him do it.
    Certainly there was no baseness that those people were ashamed to stoop to in their hunt for that friendless girl's life. What they wanted to show was this--that she had committed the sin of relapsing from her vow and trying to violate it.
    Joan detailed the true history of the case, but lost her temper as she went along, and finished with some words for Cauchon which he remembers yet, whether he is fanning himself in the world he belongs in or has swindled his way into the other.
    The rest of this day and part of the next the court labored upon the old theme--the male attire. It was shabby work for those grave men to be engaged in; for they well knew one of Joan's reasons for clinging to the male dress was, that soldiers of the guard were always present in her room whether she was asleep or awake, and that the male dress was a better protection for her modesty than the other.
    The court knew that one of Joan's purposes had been the deliverance of the exiled Duke of Orleans, and they were curious to know how she had intended to manage it. Her plan was characteristically businesslike, and her statement of it as characteristically simple and straightforward:
    "I would have taken English prisoners enough in France for his ransom; and failing that, I would have invaded England and brought him out by force."
    That was just her way. If a thing was to be done, it was love first, and hammer and tongs to follow; but no shilly-shallying between. She added with a little sigh:
    "If I had had my freedom three years, I would have delivered him."
    "Have you the permission of your Voices to break out of prison whenever you can?" "I have asked their leave several times, but they have not given it."
    I think it is as I have said, she expected the deliverance of death, and within the prison walls, before the three months should expire.
    "Would you escape if you saw the doors open?"
    She spoke up frankly and said:
    "Yes--for I should see in that the permission of Our Lord. God helps who help themselves, the proverb says. But except I thought I had permission, I would not go."
    Now, then, at this point, something occurred which convinces me, every time I think of it--and it struck me so at the time--that for a moment, at least, her hopes wandered to the King, and put into her mind the same notion about her deliverance which Noel and I had settled upon--a rescue by her old soldiers. I think the idea of the rescue did occur to her, but only as a passing thought, and that it quickly passed away.
    Some remark of the Bishop of Beauvais moved her to remind him once more that he was an unfair judge, and had no right to preside there, and that he was putting himself in great danger.
    "What danger?" he asked.
    "I do not know. St. Catherine has promised me help, but I do not know the form of it. I do not know whether I am to be delivered from this prison or whether when you sent me to the scaffold there will happen a trouble by which I shall be set free. Without much thought as to this matter, I am of the opinion that it may be one or the other." After a pause she added these words, memorable forever--words whose meaning she may have miscaught, misunderstood; as to that we can never know; words which she may have rightly understood, as to that, also, we can never know; but words whose mystery fell away from them many a year ago and revealed their meaning to all the world:
    "But what my Voices have said clearest is, that I shall be delivered by a great victory." She paused, my heart was beating fast, for to me that great victory meant the sudden bursting in of our old soldiers with the war-cry and clash of steel at the last moment and the carrying off of Joan of Arc in triumph. But, oh, that thought had such a short life! For now she raised her head and finished, with those solemn words which men still so often quote and dwell upon--words which filled me with fear, they sounded so like a prediction. "And always they say 'Submit to whatever comes; do not grieve for your martyrdom; from it you will ascend into the Kingdom of Paradise."
    Was she thinking of fire and the stake? I think not. I thought of it myself, but I believe she was only thinking of this slow and cruel martyrdom of chains and captivity and insult. Surely, martyrdom was the right name for it.
    It was Jean de la Fontaine who was asking the questions. He was willing to make the most he could out of what she had said:
    "As the Voices have told you you are going to Paradise, you feel certain that that will happen and that you will not be damned in hell. Is that so?"
    "I believe what they told me. I know that I shall be saved."
    "It is a weighty answer."
    "To me the knowledge that I shall be saved is a great treasure."
    "Do you think that after that revelation you could be able to commit mortal sin?"
    "As to that, I do not know. My hope for salvation is in holding fast to my oath to keep by body and my soul pure."
    "Since you know you are to be saved, do you think it necessary to go to confession?"
    The snare was ingeniously devised, but Joan's simple and humble answer left it empty:
    "One cannot keep his conscience too clean."
    We were now arriving at the last day of this new trial. Joan had come through the ordeal well. It had been a long and wearisome struggle for all concerned. All ways had been tried to convict the accused, and all had failed, thus far. The inquisitors were thoroughly vexed and dissatisfied.
    However, they resolved to make one more effort, put in one more day's work. This was done--March 17th. Early in the sitting a notable trap was set for Joan:
    "Will you submit to the determination of the Church all your words and deeds, whether good or bad?"
    That was well planned. Joan was in imminent peril now. If she should heedlessly say yes, it would put her mission itself upon trial, and one would know how to decide its source and character promptly. If she should say no, she would render herself chargeable with the crime of heresy.
    But she was equal to the occasion. She drew a distinct line of separation between the Church's authority over her as a subject member, and the matter of her mission. She said she loved the Church and was ready to support the Christian faith with all her strength; but as to the works done under her mission, those must be judged by God alone, who had commanded them to be done.
    The judge still insisted that she submit them to the decision of the Church. She said:
    "I will submit them to Our Lord who sent me. It would seem to me that He and His Church are one, and that there should be no difficulty about this matter." Then she turned upon the judge and said, "Why do you make a difficulty when there is no room for any?"
    Then Jean de la Fontaine corrected her notion that there was but one Church. There were two--the Church Triumphant, which is God, the saints, the angels, and the redeemed, and has its seat in heave; and the Church Militant, which is our Holy Father the Pope, Vicar of God, the prelates, the clergy and all good Christians and Catholics, the which Church has its seat in the earth, is governed by the Holy Spirit, and cannot err. "Will you not submit those matters to the Church Militant?"
    "I am come to the King of France from the Church Triumphant on high by its commandant, and to that Church I will submit all those things which I have done. For the Church Militant I have no other answer now."
    The court took note of this straitly worded refusal, and would hope to get profit out of it; but the matter was dropped for the present, and a long chase was then made over the old hunting-ground--the fairies, the visions, the male attire, and all that.
    In the afternoon the satanic Bishop himself took the chair and presided over the closing scenes of the trial. Along toward the finish, this question was asked by one of the judges:
    "You have said to my lord the Bishop that you would answer him as you would answer before our Holy Father the Pope, and yet there are several questions which you continually refuse to answer. Would you not answer the Pope more fully than you have answered before my lord of Beauvais? Would you not feel obliged to answer the Pope, who is the Vicar of God, more fully?"
    Now a thunder-clap fell out of a clear sky:
    "Take me to the Pope. I will answer to everything that I ought to."
    It made the Bishop's purple face fairly blanch with consternation. If Joan had only known, if she had only know! She had lodged a mine under this black conspiracy able to blow the Bishop's schemes to the four winds of heaven, and she didn't know it. She had made that speech by mere instinct, not suspecting what tremendous forces were hidden in it, and there was none to tell her what she had done. I knew, and Manchon knew; and if she had known how to read writing we could have hoped to get the knowledge to her somehow; but speech was the only way, and none was allowed to approach her near enough for that. So there she sat, once more Joan of Arc the Victorious, but all unconscious of it. She was miserably worn and tired, by the long day's struggle and by illness, or she must have noticed the effect of that speech and divined the reason of it.
    She had made many master-strokes, but this was the master-stroke. It was an appeal to Rome. It was her clear right; and if she had persisted in it Cauchon's plot would have tumbled about his ears like a house of cards, and he would have gone from that place the worst-beaten man of the century. He was daring, but he was not daring enough to stand up against that demand if Joan had urged it. But no, she was ignorant, poor thing, and did not know what a blow she had struck for life and liberty.
    France was not the Church. Rome had no interest in the destruction of this messenger of God.
    Rome would have given her a fair trial, and that was all that her cause needed. From that trial she would have gone forth free, and honored, and blessed.
    But it was not so fated. Cauchon at once diverted the questions to other matters and hurried the trial quickly to an end.
    As Joan moved feebly away, dragging her chains, I felt stunned and dazed, and kept saying to myself, "Such a little while ago she said the saving word and could have gone free; and now, there she goes to her death; yes, it is to her death, I know it, I feel it. They will double the guards; they will never let any come near her now between this and her condemnation, lest she get a hint and speak that word again. This is the bitterest day that has come to me in all this miserable time."

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