Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Chapter 5

    I GIVE you my honor now that I am not going to distort or discolor the facts of this miserable trial. No, I will give them to you honestly, detail by detail, just as Manchon and I set them down daily in the official record of the court, and just as one may read them in the printed histories.
    There will be only this difference: that in talking familiarly with you shall use my right to comment upon the proceedings and explain them as I go along, so that you can understand them better; also, I shall throw in trifles which came under our eyes and have a certain interest for you and me, but were not important enough to go into the official record. 1
    To take up my story now where I left off. We heard the clanking of Joan's chains down the corridors; she was approaching.
    Presently she appeared; a thrill swept the house, and one heard deep breaths drawn. Two guardsmen followed her at a short distance to the rear. Her head was bowed a little, and she moved slowly, she being weak and her irons heavy. She had on men's attire--all black; a soft woolen stuff, intensely black, funereally black, not a speck of relieving color in it from her throat to the floor. A wide collar of this same black stuff lay in radiating folds upon her shoulders and breast; the sleeves of her doublet were full, down to the elbows, and tight thence to her manacled wrists; below the doublet, tight black hose down to the chains on her ankles.
    Half-way to her bench she stopped, just where a wide shaft of light fell slanting from a window, and slowly lifted her face. Another thrill!--it was totally colorless, white as snow; a face of gleaming snow set in vivid contrast upon that slender statue of somber unmitigated black. It was smooth and pure and girlish, beautiful beyond belief, infinitely sad and sweet. But, dear, dear! when the challenge of those untamed eyes fell upon that judge, and the droop vanished from her form and it straightened up soldierly and noble, my heart leaped for joy; and I said, all is well, all is well--they have not broken her, they have not conquered her, she is Joan of Arc still! Yes, it was plain to me now that there was one spirit there which this dreaded judge could not quell nor make afraid.
    She moved to her place and mounted the dais and seated herself upon her bench, gathering her chains into her lap and nestling her little white hands there. Then she waited in tranquil dignity, the only person there who seemed unmoved and unexcited. A bronzed and brawny English soldier, standing at martial ease in the front rank of the citizen spectators, did now most gallantly and respectfully put up his great hand and give her the military salute; and she, smiling friendly, put up hers and returned it; whereat there was a sympathetic little break of applause, which the judge sternly silence.
    Now the memorable inquisition called in history the Great Trial began. Fifty experts against a novice, and no one to help the novice!
    The judge summarized the circumstances of the case and the public reports and suspicions upon which it was based; then he required Joan to kneel and make oath that she would answer with exact truthfulness to all questions asked her.
    Joan's mind was not asleep. It suspected that dangerous possibilities might lie hidden under this apparently fair and reasonable demand. She answered with the simplicity which so often spoiled the enemy's best-laid plans in the trial at Poitiers, and said:
    "No; for I do not know what you are going to ask me; you might ask of me things which I would not tell you."
    This incensed the Court, and brought out a brisk flurry of angry exclamations. Joan was not disturbed. Cauchon raised his voice and began to speak in the midst of this noise, but he was so angry that he could hardly get his words out. He said:
    "With the divine assistance of our Lord we require you to expedite these proceedings for the welfare of your conscience. Swear, with your hands upon the Gospels, that you will answer true to the questions which shall be asked you!" and he brought down his fat hand with a crash upon his official table.
    Joan said, with composure:
    "As concerning my father and mother, and the faith, and what things I have done since my coming into France, I will gladly answer; but as regards the revelations which I have received from God, my Voices have forbidden me to confide them to any save my King--"
    Here there was another angry outburst of threats and expletives, and much movement and confusion; so she had to stop, and wait for the noise to subside; then her waxen face flushed a little and she straightened up and fixed her eye on the judge, and finished her sentence in a voice that had the old ring to it:
    --"and I will never reveal these things though you cut my head off!"
    Well, maybe you know what a deliberative body of Frenchmen is like. The judge and half the court were on their feet in a moment, and all shaking their fists at the prisoner, and all storming and vituperating at once, so that you could hardly hear yourself think. They kept this up several minutes; and because Joan sat untroubled and indifferent they grew madder and noisier all the time. Once she said, with a fleeting trace of the old-time mischief in her eye and manner:
    "Prithee, speak one at a time, fair lords, then I will answer all of you."
    At the end of three whole hours of furious debating over the oath, the situation had not changed a jot. The Bishop was still requiring an unmodified oath, Joan was refusing for the twentieth time to take any except the one which she had herself proposed. There was a physical change apparent, but it was confined to the court and judge; they were hoarse, droopy, exhausted by their long frenzy, and had a sort of haggard look in their faces, poor men, whereas Joan was still placid and reposeful and did not seem noticeably tired.
    The noise quieted down; there was a waiting pause of some moments' duration. Then the judge surrendered to the prisoner, and with bitterness in his voice told her to take the oath after her own fashion. Joan sunk at once to her knees; and as she laid her hands upon the Gospels, that big English soldier set free his mind:
    "By God, if she were but English, she were not in this place another half a second!"
    It was the soldier in him responding to the soldier in her. But what a stinging rebuke it was, what an arraignment of French character and French royalty! Would that he could have uttered just that one phrase in the hearing of Orleans! I know that that grateful city, that adoring city, would have risen to the last man and the last woman, and marched upon Rouen. Some speeches--speeches that shame a man and humble him--burn themselves into the memory and remain there. That one is burned into mine.
    After Joan had made oath, Cauchon asked her her name, and where she was born, and some questions about her family; also what her age was. She answered these. Then he asked her how much education she had.
    "I have learned from my mother the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, and the Belief. All that I know was taught me by my mother."
    Questions of this unessential sort dribbled on for a considerable time. Everybody was tired out by now, except Joan. The tribunal prepared to rise. At this point Cauchon forbade Joan to try to escape from prison, upon pain of being held guilty of the crime of heresy--singular logic! She answered simply:
    "I am not bound by this proposition. If I could escape I would not reproach myself, for I have given no promise, and I shall not."
    Then she complained of the burden of her chains, and asked that they might be removed, for she was strongly guarded in that dungeon and there was no need of them. But the Bishop refused, and reminded her that she had broken out of prison twice before. Joan of Arc was too proud to insist. She only said, as she rose to go with the guard:
    "It is true, I have wanted to escape, and I do want to escape." Then she added, in a way that would touch the pity of anybody, I think, "It is the right of every prisoner."
    And so she went from the place in the midst of an impressive stillness, which made the sharper and more distressful to me the clank of those pathetic chains.
    What presence of mind she had! One could never surprise her out of it. She saw Noel and me there when she first took her seat on the bench, and we flushed to the forehead with excitement and emotion, but her face showed nothing, betrayed nothing. Her eyes sought us fifty times that day, but they passed on and there was never any ray of recognition in them. Another would have started upon seeing us, and then--why, then there could have been trouble for us, of course.
    We walked slowly home together, each busy with his own grief and saying not a word.

1. He kept his word. His account of the Great Trial will be found to be in strict and detailed accordance with the sworn facts of history. --TRANSLATOR.

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