Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 17
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Book II - Sweet Fruit of Bitter Truth
|Book II - Joan's First Battle-Field→|
When we got home, breakfast for us minor fry was waiting in our mess-room and the family honored us by coming in to eat it with us. The nice old treasurer, and in fact all three were flatteringly eager to hear about our adventures. Nobody asked the Paladin to begin, but he did begin, because now that his specially ordained and peculiar military rank set him above everybody on the personal staff but old D'Aulon, who didn't eat with us, he didn't care a farthing for the knights' nobility no mine, but took precedence in the talk whenever it suited him, which was all the time, because he was born that way. He said:
"God be thanked, we found the army in admirable condition I think I have never seen a finer body of animals."
"Animals!" said Miss Catherine.
"I will explain to you what he means," said Noël. "He—"
"I will trouble you not to trouble yourself to explain anything for me," said the Paladin, loftily. "I have reason to think—"
"That is his way," said Noël; "always when he thinks he has reason to think, he thinks he does think, but this is an error. He didn't see the army. I noticed him, and he didn't see it. He was troubled by his old complaint."
"What s his old complaint?" Catherine asked.
"Prudence," I said, seeing my chance to help.
But it was not a fortunate remark, for the Paladin said:
"It probably isn't your turn to criticize people's prudence—you who fall out of the saddle when a donkey brays."
They all laughed, and I was ashamed of myself for my hasty smartness. I said:
"It isn't quite fair for you to say I fell out on account of the donkey's braying. It was emotion, just ordinary emotion."
"Very well, if you want to call it that, I am not objecting. What would you call it, Sir Bertrand?"
"Well, it—well, whatever it was, it was excusable, I think. All of you have learned how to behave in hot hand-to-hand engagements, and you don't need to be ashamed of your record in that matter; but to walk along in front of death, with one's hands idle, and no noise, no music, and nothing going on, is a very trying situation. If I were you, De Conte, I would name the emotion; it's nothing to be ashamed of."
It was as straight and sensible a speech as ever I heard, and I was grateful for the opening it gave me; so I came out and said:
"It was fear—and thank you for the honest idea, too."
"It was the cleanest and best way out," said the old treasurer; "you've done well, my lad."
That made me comfortable, and when Miss Catherine said, "It's what I think, too," I was grateful to myself for getting into that scrape.
Sir Jean de Metz said—
"We were all in a body together when the donkey brayed, and it was dismally still at the time. I don't see how any young campaigner could escape some little touch of that emotion."
He looked about him with a pleasant expression of inquiry on his good face, and as each pair of eyes in turn met his head they were in nodded a confession. Even the Paladin delivered his nod. That surprised everybody, and saved the Standard-Bearer's credit. It was clever of him; nobody believed he could tell the truth that way without practice, or would tell that particular sort of a truth either with or without practice. I suppose he judged it would favorably impress the family. Then the old treasurer said—
"Passing the forts in that trying way required the same sort of nerve that a person must have when ghosts are about him in the dark, I should think. What does the Standard-Bearer think?"
"Well, I don't quite know about that, sir. I've often thought I would like to see a ghost if I—"
"Would you?" exclaimed the young lady. "We've got one! Would you try that one? Will you?"
She was so eager and pretty that the Paladin said straight out that he would; and then as none of the rest had bravery enough to expose the fear that was in him, one volunteered after the other with a prompt mouth and a sick heart till all were shipped for the voyage; then the girl clapped her hands in glee, and the parents were gratified, too, saying that the ghosts of their house had been a dread and a misery to them and their forebears for generations, and nobody had ever been found yet who was willing to confront them and find out what their trouble was, so that the family could heal it and content the poor spectres and beguile them to tranquillity and peace.