Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 23
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Book II - Joan Inspires the Tawdry King
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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 fêted 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, an 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 tinselled 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 in its jewelled 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 outwards 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 marvellous 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 jewelled 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—prithee 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, re-enforced. 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 catechised 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.