Joan mounted her horse now, with her staff about her, and when our people saw us coming they raised a great shout, and were at once eager for another assault on the boulevard. Joan rode straight to the fosse where she had received her wound, and standing there in the rain of bolts and arrows, she ordered the Paladin to let her long standard blow free, and to note when its fringes should touch the fortress. Presently he said:
"Now, then," said Joan to the waiting battalions, "the place is yours—enter in! Bugles, sound the assault! Now, then—all together—go!"
And go it was. You never saw anything like it. We swarmed up the ladders and over the battlements like a wave—and the place was our property. Why, one might live a thousand years and never see so gorgeous a thing as that again. There, hand to hand, we fought like wild beasts, for there was no give-up to those English—there was no way to convince one of those people but to kill him, and even then he doubted. At least so it was thought, in those days, and maintained by many.
We were busy and never heard the five cannon-shots fired, but they were fired a moment after Joan had ordered the assault; and so, while we were hammering and being hammered in the smaller fortress, the reserve on the Orleans side poured across the bridge and attacked the Tourelles from that side. A fire-boat was brought down and moored under the drawbridge which connected the Tourelles with our boulevard; wherefore, when at last we drove our English ahead of us and they tried to cross that drawbridge and join their friends in the Tourelles, the burning timbers gave way under them and emptied them in a mass into the river in their heavy armor—and a pitiful sight it was to see brave men die such a death as that.
"Ah, God pity them!" said Joan, and wept to see that sorrowful spectacle. She said those gentle words and wept those compassionate tears although one of those perishing men had grossly insulted her with a coarse name three days before, when she had sent him a message asking him to surrender. That was their leader, Sir Williams Glasdale, a most valorous knight. He was clothed all in steel; so he plunged under water like a lance, and of course came up no more.
We soon patched a sort of bridge together and threw ourselves against the last stronghold of the English power that barred Orleans from friends and supplies. Before the sun was quite down, Joan's forever memorable day's work was finished, her banner floated from the fortress of the Tourelles, her promise was fulfilled, she had raised the siege of Orleans!
The seven months' beleaguerment was ended, the thing which the first generals of France had called impossible was accomplished; in spite of all that the King's ministers and war-councils could do to prevent it, this little country-maid at seventeen had carried her immortal task through, and had done it in four days!
Good news travels fast, sometimes, as well as bad. By the time we were ready to start homeward by the bridge the whole city of Orleans was one red flame of bonfires, and the heavens blushed with satisfaction to see it; and the booming and bellowing of cannon and the banging of bells surpassed by great odds anything that even Orleans had attempted before in the way of noise.
When we arrived—well, there is no describing that. Why, those acres of people that we plowed through shed tears enough to raise the river; there was not a face in the glare of those fires that hadn't tears streaming down it; and if Joan's feet had not been protected by iron they would have kissed them off of her. "Welcome! welcome to the Maid of Orleans!" That was the cry; I heard it a hundred thousand times. "Welcome to our Maid!" some of them worded it.
No other girl in all history has ever reached such a summit of glory as Joan of Arc reached that day. And do you think it turned her head, and that she sat up to enjoy that delicious music of homage and applause? No; another girl would have done that, but not this one. That was the greatest heart and the simplest that ever beat. She went straight to bed and to sleep, like any tired child; and when the people found she was wounded and would rest, they shut off all passage and traffic in that region and stood guard themselves the whole night through, to see that he slumbers were not disturbed. They said, "She has given us peace, she shall have peace herself."
All knew that that region would be empty of English next day, and all said that neither the present citizens nor their posterity would ever cease to hold that day sacred to the memory of Joan of Arc. That word has been true for more than sixty years; it will continue so always. Orleans will never forget the 8th of May, nor ever fail to celebrate it. It is Joan of Arc's day—and holy. (1)
(1)It is still celebrated every year with civic and military pomps and solemnities.—TRANSLATOR.
Chapter 23 Joan Inspires the Tawdry King
IN THE earliest dawn of morning, Talbot and his English forces evacuated their bastilles and marched away, not stopping to burn, destroy, or carry off anything, but leaving their fortresses just as they were, provisioned, armed, and equipped for a long siege. It was difficult for the people to believe that this great thing had really happened; that they were actually free once more, and might go and come through any gate they pleased, with none to molest or forbid; that the terrible Talbot, that scourge of the French, that man whose mere name had been able to annul the effectiveness of French armies, was gone, vanished, retreating—driven away by a girl.
The city emptied itself. Out of every gate the crowds poured. They swarmed about the English bastilles like an invasion of ants, but noisier than those creatures, and carried off the artillery and stores, then turned all those dozen fortresses into monster bonfires, imitation volcanoes whose lofty columns of thick smoke seemed supporting the arch of the sky.
The delight of the children took another form. To some of the younger ones seven months was a sort of lifetime. They had forgotten what grass was like, and the velvety green meadows seemed paradise to their surprised and happy eyes after the long habit of seeing nothing but dirty lanes and streets. It was a wonder to them—those spacious reaches of open country to run and dance and tumble and frolic in, after their dull and joyless captivity; so they scampered far and wide over the fair regions on both sides of the river, and came back at eventide weary, but laden with flowers and flushed with new health drawn from the fresh country air and the vigorous exercise.
After the burnings, the grown folk followed Joan from church to church and put in the day in thanksgivings for the city's deliverance, and at night they feted her and her generals and illuminated the town, and high and low gave themselves up to festivities and rejoicings. By the time the populace were fairly in bed, toward dawn, we were in the saddle and away toward Tours to report to the King.
That was a march which would have turned any one's head but Joan's. We moved between emotional ranks of grateful country-people all the way. They crowded about Joan to touch her feet, her horse, her armor, and they even knelt in the road and kissed her horse's hoof-prints.
The land was full of her praises. The most illustrious chiefs of the church wrote to the King extolling the Maid, comparing her to the saints and heroes of the Bible, and warning him not to let "unbelief, ingratitude, or other injustice" hinder or impair the divine help sent through her. One might think there was a touch of prophecy in that, and we will let it go at that; but to my mind it had its inspiration in those great men's accurate knowledge of the King's trivial and treacherous character.
The King had come to Tours to meet Joan. At the present day this poor thing is called Charles the Victorious, on account of victories which other people won for him, but in our time we had a private name for him which described him better, and was sanctified to him by personal deserving—Charles the Base. When we entered the presence he sat throned, with his tinseled snobs and dandies around him. He looked like a forked carrot, so tightly did his clothing fit him from his waist down; he wore shoes with a rope-like pliant toe a foot long that had to be hitched up to the knee to keep it out of the way; he had on a crimson velvet cape that came no lower than his elbows; on his head he had a tall felt thing like a thimble, with a feather it its jeweled band that stuck up like a pen from an inkhorn, and from under that thimble his bush of stiff hair stuck down to his shoulders, curving outward at the bottom, so that the cap and the hair together made the head like a shuttlecock. All the materials of his dress were rich, and all the colors brilliant. In his lap he cuddled a miniature greyhound that snarled, lifting its lip and showing its white teeth whenever any slight movement disturbed it. The King's dandies were dressed in about the same fashion as himself, and when I remembered that Joan had called the war-council of Orleans "disguised ladies' maids," it reminded me of people who squander all their money on a trifle and then haven't anything to invest when they come across a better chance; that name ought to have been saved for these creatures.
Joan fell on her knees before the majesty of France, and the other frivolous animal in his lap—a sight which it pained me to see. What had that man done for his country or for anybody in it, that she or any other person should kneel to him? But she—she had just done the only great deed that had been done for France in fifty years, and had consecrated it with the libation of her blood. The positions should have been reversed.
However, to be fair, one must grant that Charles acquitted himself very well for the most part, on that occasion—very much better than he was in the habit of doing. He passed his pup to a courtier, and took off his cap to Joan as if she had been a queen. Then he stepped from his throne and raised her, and showed quite a spirited and manly joy and gratitude in welcoming her and thanking her for her extraordinary achievement in his service. My prejudices are of a later date than that. If he had continued as he was at that moment, I should not have acquired them.
He acted handsomely. He said:
"You shall not kneel to me, my matchless General; you have wrought royally, and royal courtesies are your due." Noticing that she was pale, he said, "But you must not stand; you have lost blood for France, and your wound is yet green—come." He led her to a seat and sat down by her. "Now, then, speak out frankly, as to one who owes you much and freely confesses it before all this courtly assemblage. What shall be your reward? Name it."
I was ashamed of him. And yet that was not fair, for how could he be expected to know this marvelous child in these few weeks, when we who thought we had known her all her life were daily seeing the clouds uncover some new altitudes of her character whose existence was not suspected by us before? But we are all that way: when we know a thing we have only scorn for other people who don't happen to know it. And I was ashamed of these courtiers, too, for the way they licked their chops, so to speak, as envying Joan her great chance, they not knowing her any better than the King did. A blush began to rise in Joan's cheeks at the thought that she was working for her country for pay, and she dropped her head and tried to hide her face, as girls always do when they find themselves blushing; no one knows why they do, but they do, and the more they blush the more they fail to get reconciled to it, and the more they can't bear to have people look at them when they are doing it. The King made it a great deal worse by calling attention to it, which is the unkindest thing a person can do when a girl is blushing; sometimes, when there is a big crowd of strangers, it is even likely to make her cry if she is as young as Joan was. God knows the reason for this, it is hidden from men. As for me, I would as soon blush as sneeze; in fact, I would rather. However, these meditations are not of consequence: I will go on with what I was saying. The King rallied her for blushing, and this brought up the rest of the blood and turned her face to fire. Then he was sorry, seeing what he had done, and tried to make her comfortable by saying the blush was exceeding becoming to her and not to mind it—which caused even the dog to notice it now, so of course the red in Joan's face turned to purple, and the tears overflowed and ran down—I could have told anybody that that would happen. The King was distressed, and saw that the best thing to do would be to get away from this subject, so he began to say the finest kind of things about Joan's capture of the Tourelles, and presently when she was more composed he mentioned the reward again and pressed her to name it. Everybody listened with anxious interest to hear what her claim was going to be, but when her answer came their faces showed that the thing she asked for was not what they had been expecting.
"Oh, dear and gracious Dauphin, I have but one desire—only one. If—"
"Do not be afraid, my child—name it."
"That you will not delay a day. My army is strong and valiant, and eager to finish its work—march with me to Rheims and receive your crown." You could see the indolent King shrink, in his butterfly clothes.
"To Rheims—oh, impossible, my General! We march through the heart of England's power?"
Could those be French faces there? Not one of them lighted in response to the girl's brave proposition, but all promptly showed satisfaction in the King's objection. Leave this silken idleness for the rude contact of war? None of these butterflies desired that. They passed their jeweled comfit-boxes one to another and whispered their content in the head butterfly's practical prudence. Joan pleaded with the King, saying:
"Ah, I pray you do not throw away this perfect opportunity. Everything is favorable—everything. It is as if the circumstances were specially made for it. The spirits of our army are exalted with victory, those of the English forces depressed by defeat. Delay will change this. Seeing us hesitate to follow up our advantage, our men will wonder, doubt, lose confidence, and the English will wonder, gather courage, and be bold again. Now is the time—pritheee let us march!"
The King shook his head, and La Tremouille, being asked for an opinion, eagerly furnished it:
"Sire, all prudence is against it. Think of the English strongholds along the Loire; think of those that lie between us and Rheims!"
He was going on, but Joan cut him short, and said, turning to him:
"If we wait, they will all be strengthened, reinforced. Will that advantage us?"
"Then what is your suggestion?—what is it that you would propose to do?"
"My judgment is to wait."
"Wait for what?"
The minister was obliged to hesitate, for he knew of no explanation that would sound well. Moreover, he was not used to being catechized in this fashion, with the eyes of a crowd of people on him, so he was irritated, and said:
"Matters of state are not proper matters for public discussion."
Joan said placidly:
"I have to beg your pardon. My trespass came of ignorance. I did not know that matters connected with your department of the government were matters of state."
The minister lifted his brows in amused surprise, and said, with a touch of sarcasm:
"I am the King's chief minister, and yet you had the impression that matters connected with my department are not matters of state? Pray, how is that?"
Joan replied, indifferently:
"Because there is no state."
"No, sir, there is no state, and no use for a minister. France is shrunk to a couple of acres of ground; a sheriff's constable could take care of it; its affairs are not matters of state. The term is too large."
The King did not blush, but burst into a hearty, careless laugh, and the court laughed too, but prudently turned its head and did it silently. La Tremouille was angry, and opened his mouth to speak, but the King put up his hand, and said:
"There—I take her under the royal protection. She has spoken the truth, the ungilded truth—how seldom I hear it! With all this tinsel on me and all this tinsel about me, I am but a sheriff after all—a poor shabby two-acre sheriff—and you are but a constable," and he laughed his cordial laugh again. "Joan, my frank, honest General, will you name your reward? I would ennoble you. You shall quarter the crown and the lilies of France for blazon, and with them your victorious sword to defend them—speak the word."
It made an eager buzz of surprise and envy in the assemblage, but Joan shook her head and said:
"Ah, I cannot, dear and noble Dauphin. To be allowed to work for France, to spend one's self for France, is itself so supreme a reward that nothing can add to it—nothing. Give me the one reward I ask, the dearest of all rewards, the highest in your gift—march with me to Rheims and receive your crown. I will beg it on my knees."
But the King put his hand on her arm, and there was a really brave awakening in his voice and a manly fire in his eye when he said:
"No, sit. You have conquered me—it shall be as you—"
But a warning sign from his minister halted him, and he added, to the relief of the court:
"Well, well, we will think of it, we will think it over and see. Does that content you, impulsive little soldier?"
The first part of the speech sent a glow of delight to Joan's face, but the end of it quenched it and she looked sad, and the tears gathered in her eyes. After a moment she spoke out with what seemed a sort of terrified impulse, and said:
"Oh, use me; I beseech you, use me—there is but little time!"
"But little time?"
"Only a year—I shall last only a year."
"Why, child, there are fifty good years in that compact little body yet."
"Oh, you err, indeed you do. In one little year the end will come. Ah, the time is so short, so short; the moments are flying, and so much to be done. Oh, use me, and quickly—it is life or death for France."
Even those insects were sobered by her impassioned words. The King looked very grave—grave, and strongly impressed. His eyes lit suddenly with an eloquent fire, and he rose and drew his sword and raised it aloft; then he brought it slowly down upon Joan's shoulder and said:
"Ah, thou art so simple, so true, so great, so noble—and by this accolade I join thee to the nobility of France, thy fitting place! And for thy sake I do hereby ennoble all thy family and all thy kin; and all their descendants born in wedlock, not only in the male but also in the female line. And more!—more! To distinguish thy house and honor it above all others, we add a privilege never accorded to any before in the history of these dominions: the females of thy line shall have and hold the right to ennoble their husbands when these shall be of inferior degree." [Astonishment and envy flared up in every countenance when the words were uttered which conferred this extraordinary grace. The King paused and looked around upon these signs with quite evident satisfaction.] "Rise, Joan of Arc, now and henceforth surnamed Du Lis, in grateful acknowledgment of the good blow which you have struck for the lilies of France; and they, and the royal crown, and your own victorious sword, fit and fair company for each other, shall be grouped in you escutcheon and be and remain the symbol of your high nobility forever."
As my Lady Du Lis rose, the gilded children of privilege pressed forward to welcome her to their sacred ranks and call her by her new name; but she was troubled, and said these honors were not meet for one of her lowly birth and station, and by their kind grace she would remain simple Joan of Arc, nothing more—and so be called.
Nothing more! As if there could be anything more, anything higher, anything greater. My Lady Du Lis—why, it was tinsel, petty, perishable. But, JOAN OF ARC! The mere sound of it sets one's pulses leaping.
Chapter 24 Tinsel Trappings of Nobility
IT WAS vexatious to see what a to-do the whole town, and next the whole country, made over the news. Joan of Arc ennobled by the King! People went dizzy with wonder and delight over it. You cannot imagine how she was gaped at, stared at, envied. Why, one would have supposed that some great and fortunate thing had happened to her. But we did not think any great things of it. To our minds no mere human hand could add a glory to Joan of Arc. To us she was the sun soaring in the heavens, and her new nobility a candle atop of it; to us it was swallowed up and lost in her own light. And she was as indifferent to it and as unconscious of it as the other sun would have been.
But it was different with her brothers. They were proud and happy in their new dignity, which was quite natural. And Joan was glad it had been conferred, when she saw how pleased they were. It was a clever thought in the King to outflank her scruples by marching on them under shelter of her love for her family and her kin.
Jean and Pierre sported their coats-of-arms right away; and their society was courted by everybody, the nobles and commons alike. The Standard-Bearer said, with some touch of bitterness, that he could see that they just felt good to be alive, they were so soaked with the comfort of their glory; and didn't like to sleep at all, because when they were asleep they didn't know they were noble, and so sleep was a clean loss of time. And then he said:
"They can't take precedence of me in military functions and state ceremonies, but when it comes to civil ones and society affairs I judge they'll cuddle coolly in behind you and the knights, and Noel and I will have to walk behind them—hey?"
"Yes," I said, "I think you are right."
"I was just afraid of it—just afraid of it," said the Standard-Bearer, with a sigh. "Afraid of it? I'm talking like a fool; of course I knew it. Yes, I was talking like a fool."
Noel Rainguesson said, musingly:
"Yes, I noticed something natural about the tone of it."
We others laughed.
"Oh, you did, did you? You think you are very clever, don't you? I'll take and wring your neck for you one of these days, Noel Rainguesson."
The Sieur de Metz said:
"Paladin, your fears haven't reached the top notch. They are away below the grand possibilities. Didn't it occur to you that in civil and society functions they will take precedence of all the rest of the personal staff—every one of us?"
"You'll find it's so. Look at their escutcheon. Its chiefest feature is the lilies of France. It's royal, man, royal—do you understand the size of that? The lilies are there by authority of the King—do you understand the size of that? Though not in detail and in entirety, they do nevertheless substantially quarter the arms of France in their coat. Imagine it! consider it! measure the magnitude of it! We walk in front of those boys? Bless you, we've done that for the last time. In my opinion there isn't a lay lord in this whole region that can walk in front of them, except the Duke d'Alencon, prince of the blood."
You could have knocked the Paladin down with a feather. He seemed to actually turn pale. He worked his lips a moment without getting anything out; then it came:
"I didn't know that, nor the half of it; how could I? I've been an idiot. I see it now—I've been an idiot. I met them this morning, and sung out hello to them just as I would to anybody. I didn't mean to be ill-mannered, but I didn't know the half of this that you've been telling. I've been an ass. Yes, that is all there is to it—I've been an ass."
Noel Rainguesson said, in a kind of weary way:
"Yes, that is likely enough; but I don't see why you should seem surprised at it."
"You don't, don't you? Well, why don't you?"
"Because I don't see any novelty about it. With some people it is a condition which is present all the time. Now you take a condition which is present all the time, and the results of that condition will be uniform; this uniformity of result will in time become monotonous; monotonousness, by the law of its being, is fatiguing. If you had manifested fatigue upon noticing that you had been an ass, that would have been logical, that would have been rational; whereas it seems to me that to manifest surprise was to be again an ass, because the condition of intellect that can enable a person to be surprised and stirred by inert monotonousness is a—"
"Now that is enough, Noel Rainguesson; stop where you are, before you get yourself into trouble. And don't bother me any more for some days or a week an it please you, for I cannot abide your clack."
"Come, I like that! I didn't want to talk. I tried to get out of talking. If you didn't want to hear my clack, what did you keep intruding your conversation on me for?"
"I? I never dreamed of such a thing."
"Well, you did it, anyway. And I have a right to feel hurt, and I do feel hurt, to have you treat me so. It seems to me that when a person goads, and crowds, and in a manner forces another person to talk, it is neither very fair nor very good-mannered to call what he says clack."
"Oh, snuffle—do! and break your heart, you poor thing. Somebody fetch this sick doll a sugar-rag. Look you, Sir Jean de Metz, do you feel absolutely certain about that thing?"
"Why, that Jean and Pierre are going to take precedence of all the lay noblesse hereabouts except the Duke d'Alencon?"
"I think there is not a doubt of it."
The Standard-Bearer was deep in thoughts and dreams a few moments, then the silk-and-velvet expanse of his vast breast rose and fell with a sigh, and he said:
"Dear, dear, what a lift it is! It just shows what luck can do. Well, I don't care. I shouldn't care to be a painted accident—I shouldn't value it. I am prouder to have climbed up to where I am just by sheer natural merit than I would be to ride the very sun in the zenith and have to reflect that I was nothing but a poor little accident, and got shot up there out of somebody else's catapult. To me, merit is everything—in fact, the only thing. All else is dross."
Just then the bugles blew the assembly, and that cut our talk short.
Chapter 25 At Last—Forward!
THE DAYS began to waste away—and nothing decided, nothing done. The army was full of zeal, but it was also hungry. It got no pay, the treasury was getting empty, it was becoming impossible to feed it; under pressure of privation it began to fall apart and disperse—which pleased the trifling court exceedingly. Joan's distress was pitiful to see. She was obliged to stand helpless while her victorious army dissolved away until hardly the skeleton of it was left.
At last one day she went to the Castle of Loches, where the King was idling. She found him consulting with three of his councilors, Robert le Maton, a former Chancellor of France, Christophe d'Harcourt, and Gerard Machet. The Bastard of Orleans was present also, and it is through him that we know what happened. Joan threw herself at the King's feet and embraced his knees, saying:
"Noble Dauphin, prithee hold no more of these long and numerous councils, but come, and come quickly, to Rheims and receive your crown."
Christophe d'Harcourt asked:
"Is it your Voices that command you to say that to the King?"
"Yes, and urgently."
"Then will you not tell us in the King's presence in what way the Voices communicate with you?"
It was another sly attempt to trap Joan into indiscreet admissions and dangerous pretensions. But nothing came of it. Joan's answer was simple and straightforward, and the smooth Bishop was not able to find any fault with it. She said that when she met with people who doubted the truth of her mission she went aside and prayed, complaining of the distrust of these, and then the comforting Voices were heard at her ear saying, soft and low, "Go forward, Daughter of God, and I will help thee." Then she added, "When I hear that, the joy in my heart, oh, it is insupportable!"
The Bastard said that when she said these words her face lit up as with a flame, and she was like one in an ecstasy.
Joan pleaded, persuaded, reasoned; gaining ground little by little, but opposed step by step by the council. She begged, she implored, leave to march. When they could answer nothing further, they granted that perhaps it had been a mistake to let the army waste away, but how could we help it now? how could we march without an army?
"Raise one!" said Joan.
"But it will take six weeks."
"No matter—begin! let us begin!"
"It is too late. Without doubt the Duke of Bedford has been gathering troops to push to the succor of his strongholds on the Loire."
"Yes, while we have been disbanding ours—and pity 'tis. But we must throw away no more time; we must bestir ourselves."
The King objected that he could not venture toward Rheims with those strong places on the Loire in his path. But Joan said:
"We will break them up. Then you can march."
With that plan the King was willing to venture assent. He could sit around out of danger while the road was being cleared.
Joan came back in great spirits. Straightway everything was stirring. Proclamations were issued calling for men, a recruiting-camp was established at Selles in Berry, and the commons and the nobles began to flock to it with enthusiasm.
A deal of the month of May had been wasted; and yet by the 6th of June Joan had swept together a new army and was ready to march. She had eight thousand men. Think of that. Think of gathering together such a body as that in that little region. And these were veteran soldiers, too. In fact, most of the men in France were soldiers, when you came to that; for the wars had lasted generations now. Yes, most Frenchmen were soldiers; and admirable runners, too, both by practice and inheritance; they had done next to nothing but run for near a century. But that was not their fault. They had had no fair and proper leadership—at least leaders with a fair and proper chance. Away back, King and Court got the habit of being treacherous to the leaders; then the leaders easily got the habit of disobeying the King and going their own way, each for himself and nobody for the lot. Nobody could win victories that way. Hence, running became the habit of the French troops, and no wonder. Yet all that those troops needed in order to be good fighters was a leader who would attend strictly to business—a leader with all authority in his hands in place of a tenth of it along with nine other generals equipped with an equal tenth apiece. They had a leader rightly clothed with authority now, and with a head and heart bent on war of the most intensely businesslike and earnest sort—and there would be results. No doubt of that. They had Joan of Arc; and under that leadership their legs would lose the art and mystery of running.
Yes, Joan was in great spirits. She was here and there and everywhere, all over the camp, by day and by night, pushing things. And wherever she came charging down the lines, reviewing the troops, it was good to hear them break out and cheer. And nobody could help cheering, she was such a vision of young bloom and beauty and grace, and such an incarnation of pluck and life and go! she was growing more and more ideally beautiful every day, as was plain to be seen—and these were days of development; for she was well past seventeen now—in fact, she was getting close upon seventeen and a half—indeed, just a little woman, as you may say.
The two young Counts de Laval arrived one day—fine young fellows allied to the greatest and most illustrious houses of France; and they could not rest till they had seen Joan of Arc. So the King sent for them and presented them to her, and you may believe she filled the bill of their expectations. When they heard that rich voice of hers they must have thought it was a flute; and when they saw her deep eyes and her face, and the soul that looked out of that face, you could see that the sight of her stirred them like a poem, like lofty eloquence, like martial music. One of them wrote home to his people, and in his letter he said, "It seemed something divine to see her and hear her." Ah, yes, and it was a true word. Truer word was never spoken.
He saw her when she was ready to begin her march and open the campaign, and this is what he said about it:
"She was clothed all in white armor save her head, and in her hand she carried a little battle-ax; and when she was ready to mount her great black horse he reared and plunged and would not let her. Then she said, 'Lead him to the cross.' This cross was in front of the church close by. So they led him there. Then she mounted, and he never budged, any more than if he had been tied. Then she turned toward the door of the church and said, in her soft womanly voice, 'You, priests and people of the Church, make processions and pray to God for us!' Then she spurred away, under her standard, with her little ax in her hand, crying 'Forward—march!' One of her brothers, who came eight days ago, departed with her; and he also was clad all in white armor."
I was there, and I saw it, too; saw it all, just as he pictures it. And I see it yet—the little battle-ax, the dainty plumed cap, the white armor—all in the soft June afternoon; I see it just as if it were yesterday. And I rode with the staff—the personal staff—the staff of Joan of Arc.
That young count was dying to go, too, but the King held him back for the present. But Joan had made him a promise. In his letter he said:
"She told me that when the King starts for Rheims I shall go with him. But God grant I may not have to wait till then, but may have a part in the battles!"
She made him that promise when she was taking leave of my lady the Duchess d'Alencon. The duchess was exacting a promise, so it seemed a proper time for others to do the like. The duchess was troubled for her husband, for she foresaw desperate fighting; and she held Joan to her breast, and stroked her hair lovingly, and said:
"You must watch over him, dear, and take care of him, and send him back to me safe. I require it of you; I will not let you go till you promise."
"I give you the promise with all my heart; and it is not just words, it is a promise; you shall have him back without a hurt. Do you believe? And are you satisfied with me now?"
The duchess could not speak, but she kissed Joan on the forehead; and so they parted.
We left on the 6th and stopped over at Romorantin; then on the 9th Joan entered Orleans in state, under triumphal arches, with the welcoming cannon thundering and seas of welcoming flags fluttering in the breeze. The Grand Staff rode with her, clothed in shining splendors of costume and decorations: the Duke d'Alencon; the Bastard of Orleans; the Sire de Boussac, Marshal of France; the Lord de Granville, Master of the Crossbowmen; the Sire de Culan, Admiral of France; Ambroise de Lor; Etienne de Vignoles, called La Hire; Gautier de Brusac, and other illustrious captains.
It was grand times; the usual shoutings and packed multitudes, the usual crush to get sight of Joan; but at last we crowded through to our old lodgings, and I saw old Boucher and the wife and that dear Catherine gather Joan to their hearts and smother her with kisses—and my heart ached for her so! for I could have kissed Catherine better than anybody, and more and longer; yet was not thought of for that office, and I so famished for it. Ah, she was so beautiful, and oh, so sweet! I had loved her the first day I ever saw her, and from that day forth she was sacred to me. I have carried her image in my heart for sixty-three years—all lonely thee, yes, solitary, for it never has had company—and I am grown so old, so old; but it, oh, it is as fresh and young and merry and mischievous and lovely and sweet and pure and witching and divine as it was when it crept in there, bringing benediction and peace to its habitation so long ago, so long ago—for it has not aged a day!
Chapter 26 The Last Doubts Scattered
THIS TIME, as before, the King's last command to the generals was this: "See to it that you do nothing without the sanction of the Maid." And this time the command was obeyed; and would continue to be obeyed all through the coming great days of the Loire campaign.
That was a change! That was new! It broke the traditions. It shows you what sort of a reputation as a commander-in-chief the child had made for herself in ten days in the field. It was a conquering of men's doubts and suspicions and a capturing and solidifying of men's belief and confidence such as the grayest veteran on the Grand Staff had not been able to achieve in thirty years. Don't you remember that when at sixteen Joan conducted her own case in a grim court of law and won it, the old judge spoke of her as "this marvelous child"? It was the right name, you see.
These veterans were not going to branch out and do things without the sanction of the Maid—that is true; and it was a great gain. But at the same time there were some among them who still trembled at her new and dashing war tactics and earnestly desired to modify them. And so, during the 10th, while Joan was slaving away at her plans and issuing order after order with tireless industry, the old-time consultations and arguings and speechifyings were going on among certain of the generals.
In the afternoon of that day they came in a body to hold one of these councils of war; and while they waited for Joan to join them they discussed the situation. Now this discussion is not set down in the histories; but I was there, and I will speak of it, as knowing you will trust me, I not being given to beguiling you with lies.
Gautier de Brusac was spokesman for the timid ones; Joan's side was resolutely upheld by d'Alencon, the Bastard, La Hire, the Admiral of France, the Marshal de Boussac, and all the other really important chiefs.
De Brusac argued that the situation was very grave; that Jargeau, the first point of attack, was formidably strong; its imposing walls bristling with artillery; with seven thousand picked English veterans behind them, and at their head the great Earl of Suffolk and his two redoubtable brothers, the De la Poles. It seemed to him that the proposal of Joan of Arc to try to take such a place by storm was a most rash and over-daring idea, and she ought to be persuaded to relinquish it in favor of the soberer and safer procedure of investment by regular siege. It seemed to him that this fiery and furious new fashion of hurling masses of men against impregnable walls of stone, in defiance of the established laws and usages of war, was—
But he got no further. La Hire gave his plumed helm an impatient toss and burst out with:
"By God, she knows her trade, and none can teach it her!"
And before he could get out anything more, D'Alencon was on his feet, and the Bastard of Orleans, and a half a dozen others, all thundering at once, and pouring out their indignant displeasure upon any and all that might hold, secretly or publicly, distrust of the wisdom of the Commander-in-Chief. And when they had said their say, La Hire took a chance again, and said:
"There are some that never know how to change. Circumstances may change, but those people are never able to see that they have got to change too, to meet those circumstances. All that they know is the one beaten track that their fathers and grandfathers have followed and that they themselves have followed in their turn. If an earthquake come and rip the land to chaos, and that beaten track now lead over precipices and into morasses, those people can't learn that they must strike out a new road—no; they will march stupidly along and follow the old one, to death and perdition. Men, there's a new state of things; and a surpassing military genius has perceived it with her clear eye. And a new road is required, and that same clear eye has noted where it must go, and has marked it out for us. The man does not live, never has lived, never will live, that can improve upon it! The old state of things was defeat, defeat, defeat—and by consequence we had troops with no dash, no heart, no hope. Would you assault stone walls with such? No—there was but one way with that kind: sit down before a place and wait, wait—starve it out, if you could. The new case is the very opposite; it is this: men all on fire with pluck and dash and vim and fury and energy—a restrained conflagration! What would you do with it? Hold it down and let it smolder and perish and go out? What would Joan of Arc do with it? Turn it loose, by the Lord God of heaven and earth, and let it swallow up the foe in the whirlwind of its fires! Nothing shows the splendor and wisdom of her military genius like her instant comprehension of the size of the change which has come about, and her instant perception of the right and only right way to take advantage of it. With her is no sitting down and starving out; no dilly-dallying and fooling around; no lazying, loafing, and going to sleep; no, it is storm! storm! storm! and still storm! storm! storm! and forever storm! storm! storm! hunt the enemy to his hole, then turn her French hurricanes loose and carry him by storm! And that is my sort! Jargeau? What of Jargeau, with its battlements and towers, its devastating artillery, its seven thousand picked veterans? Joan of Arc is to the fore, and by the splendor of God its fate is sealed!"
Oh, he carried them. There was not another word said about persuading Joan to change her tactics. They sat talking comfortably enough after that.
By and by Joan entered, and they rose and saluted with their swords, and she asked what their pleasure might be. La Hire said:
"It is settled, my General. The matter concerned Jargeau. There were some who thought we could not take the place."
Joan laughed her pleasant laugh, her merry, carefree laugh; the laugh that rippled so buoyantly from her lips and made old people feel young again to hear it; and she said to the company:
"Have no fears—indeed, there is no need nor any occasion for them. We will strike the English boldly by assault, and you will see." Then a faraway look came into her eyes, and I think that a picture of her home drifted across the vision of her mind; for she said very gently, and as one who muses, "But that I know God guides us and will give us success, I had liefer keep sheep than endure these perils."
We had a homelike farewell supper that evening—just the personal staff and the family. Joan had to miss it; for the city had given a banquet in her honor, and she had gone there in state with the Grand Staff, through a riot of joy-bells and a sparkling Milky Way of illuminations.
After supper some lively young folk whom we knew came in, and we presently forgot that we were soldiers, and only remembered that we were boys and girls and full of animal spirits and long-pent fun; and so there was dancing, and games, and romps, and screams of laughter—just as extravagant and innocent and noisy a good time as ever I had in my life. Dear, dear, how long ago it was!—and I was young then. And outside, all the while, was the measured tramp of marching battalions, belated odds and ends of the French power gathering for the morrow's tragedy on the grim stage of war. Yes, in those days we had those contrasts side by side. And as I passed along to bed there was another one: the big Dwarf, in brave new armor, sat sentry at Joan's door—the stern Spirit of War made flesh, as it were—and on his ample shoulder was curled a kitten asleep.
Chapter 27 How Joan Took Jargeau
WE MADE a gallant show next day when we filed out through the frowning gates of Orleans, with banners flying and Joan and the Grand Staff in the van of the long column. Those two young De Lavals were come now, and were joined to the Grand Staff. Which was well; war being their proper trade, for they were grandsons of that illustrious fighter Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France in earlier days. Louis de Bourbon, the Marshal de Rais, and the Vidame de Chartres were added also. We had a right to feel a little uneasy, for we knew that a force of five thousand men was on its way under Sir John Fastolfe to reinforce Jargeau, but I think we were not uneasy, nevertheless. In truth, that force was not yet in our neighborhood. Sir John was loitering; for some reason or other he was not hurrying. He was losing precious time—four days at Etampes, and four more at Janville.
We reached Jargeau and began business at once. Joan sent forward a heavy force which hurled itself against the outworks in handsome style, and gained a footing and fought hard to keep it; but it presently began to fall back before a sortie from the city. Seeing this, Joan raised her battle-cry and led a new assault herself under a furious artillery fire. The Paladin was struck down at her side wounded, but she snatched her standard from his failing hand and plunged on through the ruck of flying missiles, cheering her men with encouraging cries; and then for a good time one had turmoil, and clash of steel, and collision and confusion of struggling multitudes, and the hoarse bellowing of the guns; and then the hiding of it all under a rolling firmament of smoke—a firmament through which veiled vacancies appeared for a moment now and then, giving fitful dim glimpses of the wild tragedy enacting beyond; and always at these times one caught sight of that slight figure in white mail which was the center and soul of our hope and trust, and whenever we saw that, with its back to us and its face to the fight, we knew that all was well. At last a great shout went up—a joyous roar of shoutings, in fact—and that was sign sufficient that the faubourgs were ours.
Yes, they were ours; the enemy had been driven back within the walls. On the ground which Joan had won we camped; for night was coming on.
Joan sent a summons to the English, promising that if they surrendered she would allow them to go in peace and take their horses with them. Nobody knew that she could take that strong place, but she knew it—knew it well; yet she offered that grace—offered it in a time when such a thing was unknown in war; in a time when it was custom and usage to massacre the garrison and the inhabitants of captured cities without pity or compunction—yes, even to the harmless women and children sometimes. There are neighbors all about you who well remember the unspeakable atrocities which Charles the Bold inflicted upon the men and women and children of Dinant when he took that place some years ago. It was a unique and kindly grace which Joan offered that garrison; but that was her way, that was her loving and merciful nature—she always did her best to save her enemy's life and his soldierly pride when she had the mastery of him.
The English asked fifteen days' armistice to consider the proposal in. And Fastolfe coming with five thousand men! Joan said no. But she offered another grace: they might take both their horses and their side-arms—but they must go within the hour.
Well, those bronzed English veterans were pretty hard-headed folk. They declined again. Then Joan gave command that her army be made ready to move to the assault at nine in the morning. Considering the deal of marching and fighting which the men had done that day, D'Alencon thought the hour rather early; but Joan said it was best so, and so must be obeyed. Then she burst out with one of those enthusiasms which were always burning in her when battle was imminent, and said:
"Work! work! and God will work with us!"
Yes, one might say that her motto was "Work! stick to it; keep on working!" for in war she never knew what indolence was. And whoever will take that motto and live by it will likely to succeed. There's many a way to win in this world, but none of them is worth much without good hard work back out of it.
I think we should have lost our big Standard-Bearer that day, if our bigger Dwarf had not been at hand to bring him out of the melee when he was wounded. He was unconscious, and would have been trampled to death by our own horse, if the Dwarf had not promptly rescued him and haled him to the rear and safety. He recovered, and was himself again after two or three hours; and then he was happy and proud, and made the most of his wound, and went swaggering around in his bandages showing off like an innocent big-child—which was just what he was. He was prouder of being wounded than a really modest person would be of being killed. But there was no harm in his vanity, and nobody minded it. He said he was hit by a stone from a catapult—a stone the size of a man's head. But the stone grew, of course. Before he got through with it he was claiming that the enemy had flung a building at him.
"Let him alone," said Noel Rainguesson. "Don't interrupt his processes. To-morrow it will be a cathedral."
He said that privately. And, sure enough, to-morrow it was a cathedral. I never saw anybody with such an abandoned imagination.
Joan was abroad at the crack of dawn, galloping here and there and yonder, examining the situation minutely, and choosing what she considered the most effective positions for her artillery; and with such accurate judgment did she place her guns that her Lieutenant-General's admiration of it still survived in his memory when his testimony was taken at the Rehabilitation, a quarter of a century later.
In this testimony the Duke d'Alencon said that at Jargeau that morning of the 12th of June she made her dispositions not like a novice, but "with the sure and clear judgment of a trained general of twenty or thirty years' experience."
The veteran captains of the armies of France said she was great in war in all ways, but greatest of all in her genius for posting and handling artillery.
Who taught the shepherd-girl to do these marvels—she who could not read, and had had no opportunity to study the complex arts of war? I do not know any way to solve such a baffling riddle as that, there being no precedent for it, nothing in history to compare it with and examine it by. For in history there is no great general, however gifted, who arrived at success otherwise than through able teaching and hard study and some experience. It is a riddle which will never be guessed. I think these vast powers and capacities were born in her, and that she applied them by an intuition which could not err.
At eight o'clock all movement ceased, and with it all sounds, all noise. A mute expectancy reigned. The stillness was something awful—because it meant so much. There was no air stirring. The flags on the towers and ramparts hung straight down like tassels. Wherever one saw a person, that person had stopped what he was doing, and was in a waiting attitude, a listening attitude. We were on a commanding spot, clustered around Joan. Not far from us, on every hand, were the lanes and humble dwellings of these outlying suburbs. Many people were visible—all were listening, not one was moving. A man had placed a nail; he was about to fasten something with it to the door-post of his shop—but he had stopped. There was his hand reaching up holding the nail; and there was his other hand in the act of striking with the hammer; but he had forgotten everything—his head was turned aside listening. Even children unconsciously stopped in their play; I saw a little boy with his hoop-stick pointed slanting toward the ground in the act of steering the hoop around the corner; and so he had stopped and was listening—the hoop was rolling away, doing its own steering. I saw a young girl prettily framed in an open window, a watering-pot in her hand and window-boxes of red flowers under its spout—but the water had ceased to flow; the girl was listening. Everywhere were these impressive petrified forms; and everywhere was suspended movement and that awful stillness.
Joan of Arc raised her sword in the air. At the signal, the silence was torn to rags; cannon after cannon vomited flames and smoke and delivered its quaking thunders; and we saw answering tongues of fire dart from the towers and walls of the city, accompanied by answering deep thunders, and in a minute the walls and the towers disappeared, and in their place stood vast banks and pyramids of snowy smoke, motionless in the dead air. The startled girl dropped her watering-pot and clasped her hands together, and at that moment a stone cannon-ball crashed through her fair body.
The great artillery duel went on, each side hammering away with all its might; and it was splendid for smoke and noise, and most exalting to one's spirits. The poor little town around about us suffered cruelly. The cannon-balls tore through its slight buildings, wrecking them as if they had been built of cards; and every moment or two one would see a huge rock come curving through the upper air above the smoke-clouds and go plunging down through the roofs. Fire broke out, and columns of flame and smoke rose toward the sky.
Presently the artillery concussions changed the weather. The sky became overcast, and a strong wind rose and blew away the smoke that hid the English fortresses.
Then the spectacle was fine; turreted gray walls and towers, and streaming bright flags, and jets of red fire and gushes of white smoke in long rows, all standing out with sharp vividness against the deep leaden background of the sky; and then the whizzing missiles began to knock up the dirt all around us, and I felt no more interest in the scenery. There was one English gun that was getting our position down finer and finer all the time. Presently Joan pointed to it and said:
"Fair duke, step out of your tracks, or that machine will kill you."
The Duke d'Alencon did as he was bid; but Monsieur du Lude rashly took his place, and that cannon tore his head off in a moment.
Joan was watching all along for the right time to order the assault. At last, about nine o'clock, she cried out:
"Now—to the assault!" and the buglers blew the charge.
Instantly we saw the body of men that had been appointed to this service move forward toward a point where the concentrated fire of our guns had crumbled the upper half of a broad stretch of wall to ruins; we saw this force descend into the ditch and begin to plant the scaling-ladders. We were soon with them. The Lieutenant-General thought the assault premature. But Joan said:
"Ah, gentle duke, are you afraid? Do you not know that I have promised to send you home safe?"
It was warm work in the ditches. The walls were crowded with men, and they poured avalanches of stones down upon us. There was one gigantic Englishman who did us more hurt than any dozen of his brethren. He always dominated the places easiest of assault, and flung down exceedingly troublesome big stones which smashed men and ladders both—then he would near burst himself with laughing over what he had done. But the duke settled accounts with him. He went and found the famous cannoneer, Jean le Lorrain, and said:
"Train your gun—kill me this demon."
He did it with the first shot. He hit the Englishman fair in the breast and knocked him backward into the city.
The enemy's resistance was so effective and so stubborn that our people began to show signs of doubt and dismay. Seeing this, Joan raised her inspiring battle-cry and descended into the fosse herself, the Dwarf helping her and the Paladin sticking bravely at her side with the standard. She started up a scaling-ladder, but a great stone flung from above came crashing down upon her helmet and stretched her, wounded and stunned, upon the ground. But only for a moment. The Dwarf stood her upon her feet, and straightway she started up the ladder again, crying:
"To the assault, friends, to the assault—the English are ours! It is the appointed hour!"
There was a grand rush, and a fierce roar of war-cries, and we swarmed over the ramparts like ants. The garrison fled, we pursued; Jargeau was ours!
The Earl of Suffolk was hemmed in and surrounded, and the Duke d'Alencon and the Bastard of Orleans demanded that he surrender himself. But he was a proud nobleman and came of a proud race. He refused to yield his sword to subordinates, saying:
"I will die rather. I will surrender to the Maid of Orleans alone, and to no other."
And so he did; and was courteously and honorably used by her.
His two brothers retreated, fighting step by step, toward the bridge, we pressing their despairing forces and cutting them down by scores. Arrived on the bridge, the slaughter still continued. Alexander de la Pole was pushed overboard or fell over, and was drowned. Eleven hundred men had fallen; John de la Pole decided to give up the struggle. But he was nearly as proud and particular as his brother of Suffolk as to whom he would surrender to. The French officer nearest at hand was Guillaume Renault, who was pressing him closely. Sir John said to him:
"Are you a gentleman?"
"And a knight?"
Then Sir John knighted him himself there on the bridge, giving him the accolade with English coolness and tranquillity in the midst of that storm of slaughter and mutilation; and then bowing with high courtesy took the sword by the blade and laid the hilt of it in the man's hand in token of surrender. Ah, yes, a proud tribe, those De la Poles.
It was a grand day, a memorable day, a most splendid victory. We had a crowd of prisoners, but Joan would not allow them to be hurt. We took them with us and marched into Orleans next day through the usual tempest of welcome and joy.
And this time there was a new tribute to our leader. From everywhere in the packed streets the new recruits squeezed their way to her side to touch the sword of Joan of Arc, and draw from it somewhat of that mysterious quality which made it invincible.