Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book III/Chapter 17
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Book III - Supreme in Direst Peril
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Another ten days' wait. The great theologians of that treasury of all valuable knowledge and all wisdom, the University of Paris, were still weighing and considering and discussing the Twelve Lies.
I had had but little to do these ten days, so I spent them mainly in walks about the town with Noël. But there was no pleasure in them, our spirits being so burdened with cares, and the outlook for Joan growing steadily darker and darker all the time. And then we naturally contrasted our circumstances with hers: this freedom and sunshine, with her darkness and chains; our comradeship, with her lonely estate; our alleviations of one sort and another, with her destitution in all. She was used to liberty, but now she had none; she was an out-of-door creature by nature and habit, but now she was shut up day and night in a steel cage like an animal; she was used to the light, but now she was always in a gloom where all objects about her were dim and spectral; she was used to the thousand various sounds which are the cheer and music of a busy life, but now she heard only the monotonous footfall of the sentry pacing his watch; she had been fond of talking with her mates, but now there was no one to talk to; she had had an easy laugh, but it was gone dumb now; she had been born for comradeship, and blithe and busy work, and all manner of joyous activities, but here were only dreariness, and leaden hours, and weary inaction, and brooding stillness, and thoughts that travel by day and night and night and day round and round in the same circle, and wear the brain and break the heart with weariness. It was death in life; yes, death in life, that is what it must have been. And there was another hard thing about it all. A young girl in trouble needs the soothing solace and support and sympathy of persons of her own sex, and the delicate offices and gentle ministries which only these can furnish; yet in all these months of gloomy captivity in her dungeon Joan never saw the face of a girl or a woman. Think how her heart would have leaped to see such a face.
Consider. If you would realize how great Joan of Arc was, remember that it was out of such a place and such circumstances that she came week after week and month after month and confronted the master intellects of France single-handed, and baffled their cunningest schemes, defeated their ablest plans, detected and avoided their secretest traps and pitfalls, broke their lines, repelled their assaults, and camped on the field after every engagement; steadfast always, true to her faith and her ideals; defying torture, defying the stake, and answering threats of eternal death and the pains of hell with a simple "Let come what may, here I take my stand and will abide."
Yes, if you would realize how great was the soul, how profound the wisdom, and how luminous the intellect of Joan of Arc, you must study her there, where she fought out that long fight all alone—and not merely against the subtlest brains and deepest learning of France, but against the ignoble deceits, the meanest treacheries, and the hardest hearts to be found in any land, pagan or Christian.
She was great in battle—we all know that; great in foresight; great in loyalty and patriotism; great in persuading discontented chiefs and reconciling conflicting interests and passions; great in the ability to discover merit and genius wherever it lay hidden; great in picturesque and eloquent speech; supremely great in the gift of firing the hearts of hopeless men and noble enthusiasms, the gift of turning hares into heroes, slaves and skulkers into battalions that march to death with songs on their lips. But all these are exalting activities; they keep hand and heart and brain keyed up to their work; there is the joy of achievement, the inspiration of stir and movement, the applause which hails success; the soul is overflowing with life and energy, the faculties are at white heat; weariness, despondency, inertia—these do not exist.
Yes, Joan of Arc was great always, great everywhere, but she was greatest in the Rouen trials. There she rose above the limitations and infirmities of our human nature, and accomplished under blighting and unnerving and hopeless conditions all that her splendid equipment of moral and intellectual forces could have accomplished if they had been supplemented by the mighty helps of hope and cheer and light, the presence of friendly faces, and a fair and equal fight, with the great world looking on and wondering.