Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 11

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Chapter XI

Noël and I went back together—silent at first, and impressed. Finally Noël came up out of his thinkings and said—

"The first shall be last and the last first—there's authority for this surprise. But at the same time wasn't it a lofty hoist for our big bull!"

"It truly was; I am not over being stunned yet. It was the greatest place in her gift."

"Yes, it was. There are many generals, and she can create more; but there is only one Standard-Bearer."

"True. It is the most conspicuous place in the army, after her own."

"And the most coveted and honorable. Sons of two dukes tried to get it, as we know. And of all people in the world, this majestic windmill carries it off. Well, isn't it a gigantic promotion, when you come to look at it!"

"There's no doubt about it. It's a kind of copy of Joan's own in miniature."

"I don't know how to account for it—do you?"

"Yes—without any trouble at all—that is, I think I do."

Noël was surprised at that, and glanced up quickly, as if to see if I was in earnest. He said—

"I thought you couldn't be in earnest, but I see you are. If you can make me understand this puzzle, do it. Tell me what the explanation is."

"I believe I can. You have noticed that our chief knight says a good many wise things and has a thoughtful head on his shoulders. One day, riding along, we were talking about Joan's great talents, and he said, 'But, greatest of all her gifts, she has the seeing eye.' I said, like an unthinking fool, 'The seeing eye?—I shouldn't count on that for much—I suppose we all have it.' 'No,' he said; 'very few have it.' Then he explained, and made his meaning clear. He said the common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind of eye couldn't detect. He said the mightiest military genius must fail and come to nothing if it have not the seeing eye—that is to say, if it cannot read men and select its subordinates with an infallible judgment. It sees as by intuition that this man is good for strategy, that one for dash and daredevil assault, the other for patient bull-dog persistence, and it appoints each to his right place and wins, while the commander without the seeing eye would give to each the other's place and lose. He was right about Joan, and I saw it. When she was a child and the tramp came one night, her father and all of us took him for a rascal, but she saw the honest man through the rags. When I dined with the governor of Vaucouleurs so long ago, I saw nothing in our two knights, though I sat with them and talked with them two hours; Joan was there five minutes, and neither spoke with them nor heard them speak, yet she marked them for men of worth and fidelity, and they have confirmed her judgment. Whom has she sent for to take charge of this thundering rabble of new recruits at Blois, made up of old disbanded Armagnac raiders, unspeakable hellions, every one? Why, she has sent for Satan himself—that is to say, La Hire—that military hurricane, that godless swashbuckler, that lurid conflagration of blasphemy, that Vesuvius of profanity, forever in eruption. Does he know how to deal with that mob of roaring devils? Better than any man that lives; for he is the head devil of this world his own self, he is the match of the whole of them combined, and probably the father of most of them. She places him in temporary command until she can get to Blois herself—and then! Why, then she will certainly take them in hand personally, or I don't know her as well as I ought to, after all these years of intimacy. That will be a sight to see—that fair spirit in her white armor, delivering her will to that muck-heap, that rag-pile, that abandoned refuse of perdition."

"La Hire!" cried Noël, "our hero of all these years—I do want to see that man!"

"I too. His name stirs me just as it did when I was a little boy."

"I want to hear him swear."

"Of course, I would rather hear him swear than another man pray. He is the frankest man there is, and the naïvest. Once when he was rebuked for pillaging on his raids, he said it was nothing. Said he, 'If God the Father were a soldier, He would rob.' I judge he is the right man to take temporary charge there at Blois. Joan has cast the seeing eye upon him, you see."

"Which brings us back to where we started. I have an honest affection for the Paladin, and not merely because he is a good fellow, but because he is my child—I made him what he is, the windiest blusterer and most catholic liar in the kingdom. I'm glad of his luck, but I hadn't the seeing eye. I shouldn't have chosen him for the most dangerous post in the army. I should have placed him in the rear to kill the wounded and violate the dead."

"Well, we shall see. Joan probably knows what is in him better than we do. And I'll give you another idea. When a person in Joan of Arc's position tells a man he is brave, he believes it; and believing it is enough; in fact, to believe yourself brave is to be brave; it is the one only essential thing."

"Now you've hit it!" cried Noël. "She's got the creating mouth as well as the seeing eye! Ah, yes, that is the thing. France was cowed and a coward; Joan of Arc has spoken, and France is marching, with her head up!"

I was summoned now, to write a letter from Joan's dictation. During the next day and night our several uniforms were made by the tailors, and our new armor provided. We were beautiful to look upon now, whether clothed for peace or war. Clothed for peace, in costly stuffs and rich colors, the Paladin was a tower dyed with the glories of the sunset; plumed and sashed and iron-clad for war, he was a still statelier thing to look at.

Orders had been issued for the march toward Blois. It was a clear, sharp, beautiful morning. As our showy great company trotted out in column, riding two and two, Joan and the Duke of Alençon in the lead, D'Aulon and the big standard-bearer next, and so on, we made a handsome spectacle, as you may well imagine; and as we plowed through the cheering crowds, with Joan bowing her plumed head to left and right and the sun glinting from her silver mail, the spectators realized that the curtain was rolling up before their eyes upon the first act of a prodigious drama, and their rising hopes were expressed in an enthusiasm that increased with each moment, until at last one seemed to even physically feel the concussion of the huzzas as well as hear them. Far down the street we heard the softened strains of wind-blown music, and saw a cloud of lancers moving, the sun glowing with a subdued light upon the massed armor, but striking bright upon the soaring lance-heads—a vaguely luminous nebula, so to speak, with a constellation twinkling above it—and that was our guard of honor. It joined us, the procession was complete, the first war-march of Joan of Arc was begun, the curtain was up.