Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book III/Chapter 16

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Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Book III - Joan Stands Defiant Before the Rack
EXECUTION OF JOAN OF ARC (From the mural painting by J.E. Lenepveu in the Panthéon at Paris)
Chapter XVI

The brilliant weather, the heavenly weather, the bewitching weather made everybody's heart to sing, as I have told you; yes, Rouen was feeling light-hearted and gay, and most willing and ready to break out and laugh upon the least occasion; and so when the news went around that the young girl in the tower had scored another defeat against Bishop Cauchon there was abundant laughter—abundant laughter among the citizens of both parties, for they all hated the Bishop. It is true, the English-hearted majority of the people wanted Joan burned, but that did not keep them from laughing at the man they hated. It would have been perilous for anybody to laugh at the English chiefs or at the majority of Cauchon's assistant judges, but to laugh at Cauchon or D'Estivet and Loyseleur was safe—nobody would report it.

The difference between Cauchon and cochon[1] was not noticeable in speech, and so there was plenty of opportunity for puns; the opportunities were not thrown away.

Some of the jokes got well worn in the course of two or three months, from repeated use; for every time Cauchon started a new trial the folk said "The sow has littered[2] again"; and every time the trial failed they said it over again, with its other meaning, "The hog has made a mess of it."

And so, on the third of May, Noël and I, drifting about the town, heard many a wide-mouthed lout let go his joke and his laugh, and then move tot he next group, proud of his wit and happy, to work it off again—

"'Od's blood, the sow has littered five times, and five times has made a mess of it!"

And now and then one was bold enough to say—but he said it softly—

"Sixty-three and the might of England against a girl, and she camps on the field five times!"

Cauchon lived in the great palace of the Archbishop, and it was guarded by English soldiery; but no matter, there was never a dark night but the walls showed next morning that the rude joker had been there with his paint and brush. Yes, he had been thee, and had smeared the sacred walls with pictures of hogs in all attitudes except flattering ones; hogs clothed in a Bishop's vestments and wearing a Bishop's mitre irreverently cocked on the side of their heads.

Cauchon raged and cursed over his defeats and his impotence during seven says; then he conceived a new scheme. You shall see what it was; for you have not cruel hearts, and you would never guess it.

On the ninth of May there was a summons, and Manchon and I got out materials together and started. But this time we were to go to one of the other towers—not the one which was Joan's prison. It was round and grim and massive, and built of the plainest and thickest and solidest masonry—a dismal and forbidding structure.[3] We entered the circular room on the ground floor, and I saw what turned me sick—the instruments of torture and the executioners standing ready! Here you have the black heart of Cauchon at the blackest, here you have the proof that in his nature there was no such thing as pity. One wonders if he ever knew his mother or ever had a sister.

Cauchon was there, and the Vice-Inquisitor and the Abbot of St. Corneille; also six others, among them that false Loyseleur. The guards were in their places, the rack was there, and by it stood the executioner and his aids in their crimson

hose and doublets, meet color for their bloody trade. The picture of Joan rose before me stretched upon the rack, her feet tied to one end of it, her wrists to the other, and those red giants turning the windlass and pulling her limbs out of their sockets. It seemed to me that I could hear the bones snap and the flesh tear apart, and I did not see how that body of anointed servants of the merciful Jesus could sit there and look so placid and indifferent.

After a little, Joan arrived and was brought in. She saw the rack, she saw the attendants, and the same picture which I had been seeing must have risen in her mind; but do you think she quailed, do you think she shuddered? No, there was no sign of that sort. She straightened herself up, and there was a slight curl of scorn about her lip; but as for fear, she showed not a vestige of it.

This was a memorable session, but it was the shortest one of all the list. When Joan had taken her seat a résumé of her "crimes" was read to her. Then Cauchon made a solemn speech. It in he said that in the course of her several trials Joan had refused to answer some of the questions and had answered others with lies, but that now he was going to have the truth out of her, and the whole of it.

Her manner was full of confidence this time; he was sure he had found a way at last to break this child's stubborn spirit and make her beg and cry. He would score a victory this time and stop the mouths of the jokers of Rouen. You see, he was only just a man after all, and couldn't stand ridicule any better than other people. He talked high, and his splotchy face lighted itself up with all the shifting tints and signs of evil pleasure and promised triumph—purple, yellow, red, green—they were all there, with sometimes the dull and spongy blue of a drowned man, the uncanniest of them all. And finally he burst out in a great passion and said:

"There is the rack, and there are its ministers! You will reveal all now or be put to the torture. Speak."

Then she made that great answer which will live forever; made it without fuss or bravado, and yet how fine and noble was the sound of it—

"I will tell you nothing more than I have told you; no, not even if you tear the limbs from my body. And even if in my pain I did say something otherwise, I would always say afterward that it was the torture that spoke and not I."

There was no crushing that spirit. You should have seen Cauchon. Defeated again, and he had not dreamed of such a thing. I heard it said the next day, around the town, that he had a full confession all written out, in his pocket and all ready for Joan to sign. I do not know that that was true, but it probably was, for her mark signed at the bottom of a confession would be the kind of evidence (for effect with the public) which Cauchon and his people were particularly value, you know.

No, there was no crushing that spirit, and no beclouding that clear mind. Consider the depth, the wisdom of that answer, coming from an ignorant girl. Why, there were not six men in the world who had ever reflected that words forced out of a person by horrible tortures were not necessarily words of verity and truth, yet this unlettered peasant-girl put her finger upon that flaw with an unerring instinct. I had always supposed that torture brought out the truth—everybody supposed it; and when Joan came out with those simple common-sense words they seemed to flood the place with light. It was like a lightning-flash at midnight which suddenly reveals a fair valley sprinkled over with silver streams and gleaming villages and farmsteads where was only an impenetrable world of darkness before. Manchon stole a sidewise look at me, and his face was full of surprise; and there was the like to be seen in other faces there. Consider—they were old, and deeply cultured, yet here was a village maid able to teach them something which they had not known before. I heard one of them mutter—

"Verily it is a wonderful creature. She has laid her hand upon an accepted truth that is as old as the world, and it has crumbled to dust and rubbish under her touch. Now whence got she that marvellous insight?"

The judges laid their heads together and began to talk now. It was plain, from chance words which one caught now and then, that Cauchon and Loyseleur were insisting upon the application of the torture, and that most of the others were urgently objecting.

Finally Cauchon broke out with a good deal of asperity in his voice and ordered Joan back to her dungeon. That was a happy surprise for me. I was not expecting that the Bishop would yield.

When Manchon came home that night he said he had found out why the torture was not applied.

There were two reasons. One was, a fear that Joan might die under the torture, which would not suit the English at all; the other was, that the torture would effect nothing if Joan was going to take back everything she said under its pains; and as to putting her mark to a confession, it was believed that not even the rack would ever make her do that.

So all Rouen laughed again, and kept it up for three days, saying—

"The sow has littered six times, and made six messes of it."

And the palace walls got a new decoration—a mitred hog carrying a discarded rack home on its shoulder, and Loyseleur weeping in its wake. Many rewards were offered for the capture of these painters, but nobody applied. Even the English guard feigned blindness and would not see the artists at work.

The Bishop's anger was very high now. He could not reconcile himself to the idea of giving up the torture. It was the pleasantest idea he had invented yet, and he would not cast it by. So he called in some of his satellites on the twelfth, and urged the torture again. But it was a failure. With some, Joan's speech had wrought an effect; others feared she might die under torture; others did not believe that any amount of suffering could make her put her mark to a lying confession. There were fourteen men present, including the Bishop. Eleven of them voted dead against the torture, and stood their ground in spite of Cauchon's abuse. Two voted with the Bishop and insisted upon the torture. These two were Loyseleur and the orator—the man whom Joan had bidden to "read his book"—Thomas de Courcelles, the renowned pleader, and master of eloquence.

Age has taught me charity of speech; but it fails me when I think of those three names—Cauchon, Courcelles, Loyseleur.

Notes[edit]

  1. Hog, pig.
  2. Cochonner, to litter, to farrow; also, "to make a mess of"!
  3. The lower half of it remains to-day just as it was then; the upper half is of a later date.—Translator.