Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 38
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Book II - The King Cries "Forward!"
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In my double quality of page and secretary I followed Joan to the council. She entered that presence with the bearing of a grieved goddess. What was become of the volatile child that so lately was enchanted with a ribbon and suffocated with laughter over the distress of a foolish peasant who had stormed a funeral on the back of a bee-stung bull? One may not guess. Simply it was gone, and had left no sign. She moved straight to the council-table, and stood. Her glance swept from face to face there, and where it fell, these lit it as with a torch, those it scorched as with a brand. She knew where to strike. She indicated the generals with a nod, and said—
"My business is not with you. You have not craved a council of war." Then she turned toward the King's privy council, and continued: "No; it is with you. A council of war! It is amazing. There is but one thing to do, and only one, and lo, ye call a council of war! Councils of war have no value but to decide between two or several doubtful courses. But a council of war when there is only one course? Conceive of a man in a boat and his family in the water, and he goes out among his friends to ask what he would better do? A council of war, name of God! To determine what?"
She stopped, and turned till her eyes rested upon the face of La Tremouille; and so she stood, silent, measuring him, the excitement in all faces burning steadily higher and higher, and all pulses beating faster and faster; then she said, with deliberation—
"Every sane man—whose loyalty is to his King and not a show and a pretence—knows that there is but one rational thing before us—the march upon Paris!" Down came the fist of La Hire with an approving crash upon the table. La Tremouille turned white with anger, but he pulled himself firmly together and held his peace. The King's lazy blood was stirred and his eye kindled finely, for the spirit of war was away down in him somewhere, and a frank, bold speech always found it and made it tingle gladsomely. Joan waited to see if the chief minister might wish to defend his position; but he was experienced and wise, and not a man to waste his forces where the current was against him. He would wait; the King's private ear would be at his disposal by and by.
That pious fox the Chancellor of France took the word now. He washed his soft hands together, smiling persuasively, and said to Joan:
"Would it be courteous, your Excellency, to move abruptly from here without waiting for an answer from the Duke of Burgundy? You may not know that we are negotiating with his Highness, and that there is likely to be a fortnight's truce between us; and on his part a pledge to deliver Paris into our hands without the cost of a blow or the fatigue of a march thither."
Joan turned to him and said, gravely—
"This is not a confessional, my lord. You were not obliged to expose that shame here."
The Chancellor's face reddened, and he retorted—
"Shame? What is there shameful about it?"
Joan answered in level, passionless tones—
"One may describe it without hunting far for words. I knew of this poor comedy, my lord, although it was not intended that I should know. It is to the credit of the devisers of it that they tried to conceal it—this comedy whose text and impulse are describable in two words."
The Chancellor spoke up with a fine irony in his manner:
"Indeed? And will your Excellency be good enough to utter them?"
"Cowardice and treachery!"
The fists of all the generals came down this time, and again the King's eye sparkled with pleasure. The Chancellor sprang to his feet and appealed to his Majesty—
"Sire, I claim your protection."
But the King waved him to his seat again, saying—
"Peace. She had a right to be consulted before that thing was undertaken, since it concerned war as well as politics. It is but just that she be heard upon it now."
The Chancellor sat down trembling with indignation, and remarked to Joan—
"Out of charity I will consider that you did not know who devised this measure which you condemn in so candid language."
"Save your charity for another occasion, my lord," said Joan, as calmly as before. "Whenever anything is done to injure the interests and degrade the honor of France, all but the dead know how to name the two conspirators-in-chief."
"Sir, sire! this insinuation—"
"It is not an insinuation, my lord," said Joan, placidly, "it is a charge. I bring it against the King's chief minister and his Chancellor."
Both men were on their feet now, insisting that the King modify Joan's frankness; but he was not minded to do it. His ordinary councils were stale water—his spirit was drinking wine, now, and the taste of it was good. He said—
"Sit—and be patient. What is fair for one must in fairness be allowed the other. Consider—and be just. When have you two spared her? What dark charges and harsh names have you withheld when you spoke of her?" Then he added, with a veiled twinkle in his eyes, "If these are offences I see no particular difference between them, except that she says her hard things to your faces, whereas you say yours behind her back."
He was pleased with that neat shot and the way it shrivelled those two people up, and made La Hire laugh out loud and the other generals softly quake and chuckle. Joan tranquilly resumed—
"From the first, we have been hindered by this policy of shilly-shally; this fashion of counseling and counseling and counseling where no counseling is needed, but only fighting. We took Orleans on the 8th of May, and could have cleared the region round about in three days and saved the slaughter of Patay. We could have been in Rheims six weeks ago, and in Paris now; and would see the last Englishman pass out of France in half a year. But we struck no blow after Orleans, but went off into the country—what for? Ostensibly to hold councils; really to give Bedford time to send reinforcements to Talbot—which he did; and Patay had to be fought. After Patay, more counseling, more waste of precious time. Oh, my King, I would that you would be persuaded!" She began to warm up, now. "Once more we have our opportunity. If we rise and strike, all is well. Bid me march upon Paris. In twenty days it shall be yours, and in six months all France! Here is half a year's work before us; if this chance be wasted, I give you twenty years to do it in. Speak the word, O gentle King—speak but the one—"
"I cry you mercy!" interrupted the Chancellor, who saw a dangerous enthusiasm rising in the King's face. "March upon Paris? Does your Excellency forget that the way bristles with English strongholds?"
"That for your English strongholds!" and Joan snapped her fingers scornfully. "Whence have we marched in these last days? From Gien. And whither? To Rheims. What bristled between? English strongholds. What are they now? French ones—and they never cost a blow!" Here applause broke out from the group of generals, and Joan had to pause a moment to let it subside. "Yes, English strongholds bristled before us; now French ones bristle behind us. What is the argument? A child can read it. The strongholds between us and Paris are garrisoned by no new breed of English, but by the same breed as those others—with the same fears, the same questionings, the same weaknesses, the same disposition to see the heavy hand of God descending upon them. We have but to march!—on the instant—and they are
ours, Paris is ours, France is ours! Give the word, O my King, command your servant to—"
"Stay!" cried the Chancellor. "It would be madness to put our affront upon his Highness the Duke of Burgundy. By the treaty which we have every hope to make with him—"
"Oh, the treaty which we hope to make with him! He has scorned you for years, and defied you. Is it your subtle persuasions that have softened his manners and beguiled him to listen to proposals? No; it was blows!—the blows which we gave him! That is the only teaching that that sturdy rebel can understand. What does he care for wind? The treaty which we hope to make with him—alack! He deliver Paris! There is no pauper in the land that is less able to do it. He deliver Paris! Ah, but that would make great Bedford smile! Oh, the pitiful pretext! the blind can see that this thin pourparler with its fifteen-day truce has no purpose but to give Bedford time to hurry forward his forces against us. More treachery—always treachery! We call a council of war—with nothing to council about; but Bedford calls no council to teach him what our course is. He knows what he would do in our place. He would hang his traitors and march upon Paris! O gentle King, rouse! The way is open, Paris beckons, France implores. Speak and we—"
"Sire, it is madness, sheer madness! Your Excellency, we cannot, we must not go back from what we have done; we have proposed to treat, we must treat with the Duke of Burgundy."
"And we will!" said Joan.
"At the point of the lance!"
The house rose, to a man—all that had French hearts—and let go a crack of applause—and kept it up; and in the midst of it one heard La Hire growl out: "At the point of the lance! By God, that is music!" The King was up, too, and drew his sword, and took it by the blade and strode to Joan and delivered the hilt of it into her hand, saying:—
"There, the King surrenders. Carry it to Paris."
And so the applause burst out again, and the historical council of war that has bred so many legends was over.
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