Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 22

    FRIDAY AND Saturday were happy days for Noel and me. Our minds were full of our splendid dream of France aroused--France shaking her mane--France on the march--France at the gates--Rouen in ashes, and Joan free! Our imagination was on fire; we were delirious with pride and joy. For we were very young, as I have said.
    We knew nothing about what had been happening in the dungeon in the yester-afternoon. We supposed that as Joan had abjured and been taken back into the forgiving bosom of the Church, she was being gently used now, and her captivity made as pleasant and comfortable for her as the circumstances would allow. So, in high contentment, we planned out our share in the great rescue, and fought our part of the fight over and over again during those two happy days--as happy days as ever I have known.
    Sunday morning came. I was awake, enjoying the balmy, lazy weather, and thinking. Thinking of the rescue--what else? I had no other thought now. I was absorbed in that, drunk with the happiness of it.
    I heard a voice shouting far down the street, and soon it came nearer, and I caught the words:
    "Joan of Arc has relapsed! The witch's time has come!"
    It stopped my heart, it turned my blood to ice. That was more than sixty years ago, but that triumphant note rings as clear in my memory to-day as it rang in my ear that long-vanished summer morning. We are so strangely made; the memories that could make us happy pass away; it is the memories that break our hearts that abide.
    Soon other voices took up that cry--tens, scores, hundreds of voices; all the world seemed filled with the brutal joy of it. And there were other clamors--the clatter of rushing feet, merry congratulations, bursts of coarse laughter, the rolling of drums, the boom and crash of distant bands profaning the sacred day with the music of victory and thanksgiving.
    About the middle of the afternoon came a summons for Manchon and me to go to Joan's dungeon--a summons from Cauchon. But by that time distrust had already taken possession of the English and their soldiery again, and all Rouen was in an angry and threatening mood. We could see plenty of evidences of this from our own windows--fist-shaking, black looks, tumultuous tides of furious men billowing by along the street.
    And we learned that up at the castle things were going very badly, indeed; that there was a great mob gathered there who considered the relapse a lie and a priestly trick, and among them many half-drunk English soldiers. Moreover, these people had gone beyond words. They had laid hands upon a number of churchmen who were trying to enter the castle, and it had been difficult work to rescue them and save their lives.
    And so Manchon refused to go. He said he would not go a step without a safeguard from Warwick. So next morning Warwick sent an escort of soldiers, and then we went. Matters had not grown peacefuler meantime, but worse. The soldiers protected us from bodily damage, but as we passed through the great mob at the castle we were assailed with insults and shameful epithets. I bore it well enough, though, and said to myself, with secret satisfaction, "In three or four short days, my lads, you will be employing your tongues in a different sort from this--and I shall be there to hear."
    To my mind these were as good as dead men. How many of them would still be alive after the rescue that was coming? Not more than enough to amuse the executioner a short half-hour, certainly.
    It turned out that the report was true. Joan had relapsed. She was sitting there in her chains, clothed again in her male attire.
    She accused nobody. That was her way. It was not in her character to hold a servant to account for what his master had made him do, and her mind had cleared now, and she knew that the advantage which had been taken of her the previous morning had its origin, not in the subordinate but in the master--Cauchon.
    Here is what had happened. While Joan slept, in the early morning of Sunday, one of the guards stole her female apparel and put her male attire in its place. When she woke she asked for the other dress, but the guards refused to give it back. She protested, and said she was forbidden to wear the male dress. But they continued to refuse. She had to have clothing, for modesty's sake; moreover, she saw that she could not save her life if she must fight for it against treacheries like this; so she put on the forbidden garments, knowing what the end would be. She was weary of the struggle, poor thing.
    We had followed in the wake of Cauchon, the Vice-Inquisitor, and the others--six or eight--and when I saw Joan sitting there, despondent, forlorn, and still in chains, when I was expecting to find her situation so different, I did not know what to make of it. The shock was very great. I had doubted the relapse perhaps; possibly I had believed in it, but had not realized it.
    Cauchon's victory was complete. He had had a harassed and irritated and disgusted look for a long time, but that was all gone now, and contentment and serenity had taken its place. His purple face was full of tranquil and malicious happiness. He went trailing his robes and stood grandly in front of Joan, with his legs apart, and remained so more than a minute, gloating over her and enjoying the sight of this poor ruined creature, who had won so lofty a place for him in the service of the meek and merciful Jesus, Saviour of the World, Lord of the Universe--in case England kept her promise to him, who kept no promises himself.
    Presently the judges began to question Joan. One of them, named Marguerie, who was a man with more insight than prudence, remarked upon Joan's change of clothing, and said:
    "There is something suspicious about this. How could it have come about without connivance on the part of others? Perhaps even something worse?"
    "Thousand devils!" screamed Cauchon, in a fury. "Will you shut your mouth?"
    "Armagnac! Traitor!" shouted the soldiers on guard, and made a rush for Marguerie with their lances leveled. It was with the greatest difficulty that he was saved from being run through the body. He made no more attempts to help the inquiry, poor man. The other judges proceeded with the questionings.
    "Why have you resumed this male habit?"
    I did not quite catch her answer, for just then a soldier's halberd slipped from his fingers and fell on the stone floor with a crash; but I thought I understood Joan to say that she had resumed it of her own motion.
    "But you have promised and sworn that you would not go back to it."
    I was full of anxiety to hear her answer to that question; and when it came it was just what I was expecting. She said--quiet quietly:
    "I have never intended and never understood myself to swear I would not resume it."
    There--I had been sure, all along, that she did not know what she was doing and saying on the platform Thursday, and this answer of hers was proof that I had not been mistaken. Then she went on to add this:
    "But I had a right to resume it, because the promises made to me have not been kept--promises that I should be allowed to go to mass and receive the communion, and that I should be freed from the bondage of these chains--but they are still upon me, as you see."
    "Nevertheless, you have abjured, and have especially promised to return no more to the dress of a man."
    Then Joan held out her fettered hands sorrowfully toward these unfeeling men and said:
    "I would rather die than continue so. But if they may be taken off, and if I may hear mass, and be removed to a penitential prison, and have a woman about me, I will be good, and will do what shall seem good to you that I do."     Cauchon sniffed scoffingly at that. Honor the compact which he and his had made with her?
    Fulfil its conditions? What need of that? Conditions had been a good thing to concede, temporarily, and for advantage; but they have served their turn--let something of a fresher sort and of more consequence be considered. The resumption of the male dress was sufficient for all practical purposes, but perhaps Joan could be led to add something to that fatal crime. So Cauchon asked her if her Voices had spoken to her since Thursday--and he reminded her of her abjuration.
    "Yes," she answered; and then it came out that the Voices had talked with her about the abjuration--told her about it, I suppose. She guilelessly reasserted the heavenly origin of her mission, and did it with the untroubled mien of one who was not conscious that she had ever knowingly repudiated it. So I was convinced once more that she had had no notion of what she was doing that Thursday morning on the platform. Finally she said, "My Voices told me I did very wrong to confess that what I had done was not well." Then she sighed, and said with simplicity, "But it was the fear of the fire that made me do so."
    That is, fear of the fire had made her sign a paper whose contents she had not understood then, but understood now by revelation of her Voices and by testimony of her persecutors.
    She was sane now and not exhausted; her courage had come back, and with it her inborn loyalty to the truth. She was bravely and serenely speaking it again, knowing that it would deliver her body up to that very fire which had such terrors for her.
    That answer of hers was quite long, quite frank, wholly free from concealments or palliations. It made me shudder; I knew she was pronouncing sentence of death upon herself. So did poor Manchon. And he wrote in the margin abreast of it:
    Fatal answer. Yes, all present knew that it was, indeed, a fatal answer. Then there fell a silence such as falls in a sick-room when the watchers of the dying draw a deep breath and say softly one to another, "All is over."
    Here, likewise, all was over; but after some moments Cauchon, wishing to clinch this matter and make it final, put this question:
    "Do you still believe that your Voices are St. Marguerite and St. Catherine?"
    "Yes--and that they come from God."
    "Yet you denied them on the scaffold?"
    Then she made direct and clear affirmation that she had never had any intention to deny them; and that if--I noted the if--"if she had made some retractions and revocations on the scaffold it was from fear of the fire, and it was a violation of the truth."
    There it is again, you see. She certainly never knew what it was she had done on the scaffold until she was told of it afterward by these people and by her Voices.
    And now she closed this most painful scene with these words; and there was a weary note in them that was pathetic:
    "I would rather do my penance all at once; let me die. I cannot endure captivity any longer."
    The spirit born for sunshine and liberty so longed for release that it would take it in any form, even that.
    Several among the company of judges went from the place troubled and sorrowful, the others in another mood. In the court of the castle we found the Earl of Warwick and fifty English waiting, impatient for news. As soon as Cauchon saw them he shouted--laughing--think of a man destroying a friendless poor girl and then having the heart to laugh at it:
    "Make yourselves comfortable--it's all over with her!"

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