Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book III/Chapter 21
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Book III - Respited Only for Torture
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There is no certainty that any one in all Rouen was in the secret of the deep game which Cauchon was playing except the Cardinal of Winchester. Then you can imagine the astonishment and stupefaction of that vast mob gathered there and those crowds of churchmen assembled on the two platforms, when they saw Joan of Arc moving away, alive and whole—slipping out of their grip at last, after all this tedious waiting, all this tantalizing expectancy.
Nobody was able to stir or speak for a while, so paralyzing was the universal astonishment, so unbelievable the fact that the stake was actually standing there unoccupied and its prey gone. Then suddenly everybody broke into a fury of rage; maledictions and charges of treachery began to fly freely; yes, and even stones: a stone came near killing the Cardinal of Winchester—it just missed his head. But the man who threw it was not to blame, for he was excited, and a person who is excited never can throw straight.
The tumult was very great, indeed, for a while. In the midst of it a chaplain of the Cardinal even forgot the proprieties so far as to oppobriously assail the August Bishop of Beauvais himself, shaking his fist in his face and shouting:
"By God, you are a traitor!"
"You lie!" responded the Bishop.
He a traitor! Oh, far from it; he certainly was the last Frenchman that any Briton had a right to bring that charge against.
The Earl of Warwick lost his temper, too. He was a doughty soldier, but when it came to the intellectuals—when it came to delicate chicane, and scheming, and trickery—he couldn't see any further through a millstone than another. So he burst out in his frank warrior fashion, and swore that the King of England was being treacherously used, and that Joan of Arc was going to be allowed to cheat the stake. But they whispered comfort into his ear—
"Give yourself no uneasiness, my lord; we shall soon have her again."
Perhaps the like tidings found their way all around, for good news travels fast as well as bad. At any rate, the ragings presently quieted down, and the huge concourse crumbled apart and disappeared. And thus we reached the noon of that fearful Thursday.
We two youths were happy; happier than any words can tell—for we were not in the secret any more than the rest. Joan's life was saved. We knew that, and that was enough. France would hear of this day's infamous work—and then! Why, then her gallant sons would flock to her standard by thousands and thousands, multitudes upon multitudes, and their wrath would be like the wrath of the ocean when the storm-winds sweep it; and they would hurl themselves against this doomed city and overwhelm it like the resistless tides of that ocean, and Joan of Arc would march again! In six days—seven days—one short week—noble France, grateful France, indignant France, would be thundering at these gates—let us count the hours, let us count the minutes, let us count the seconds! O happy day, O day of ecstasy, how our hearts sang in our bosoms!
For we were young then, yes, we were very young.
Do you think the exhausted prisoner was allowed to rest and sleep after she had spent the small remnant of her strength in dragging her tired body back to the dungeon?
No, there was no rest for her, with those sleuth-hounds on her track. Cauchon and some of his people followed her to her lair straightway; they found her dazed and dull, her mental and physical forces in a state of prostration. They told her she had abjured; that she had made certain promises—among them, to resume the apparel of her sex; and that if she relapsed, the Church would cast her out for good and all. She heard the words, but they had no meaning to her. She was like a person who has taken a narcotic and is dying for sleep, dying for rest from nagging, dying to be let alone, and who mechanically does everything the persecutor asks, taking but dull note of the things done, and but dully recording them in the memory. And so Joan put on the gown which Cauchon and his people had brought; and would come to herself by-and-by, and have at first but a dim idea as to when and how the change had come about.
Cauchon went away happy and content. Joan had resumed woman's dress without protest; also she had been formally warned against relapsing. He had witnesses to these facts. How could matters be better?
But suppose she should not relapse?
Why, then she must be forced to do it.
Did Cauchon hint to the English guards that thenceforth if they chose to make their prisoner's captivity crueler and bitterer than ever, no official notice would be taken of it? Perhaps so; since the guards did begin that policy at once, and no official notice was taken of it. Yes, from that moment Joan's life in that dungeon was made almost unendurable. Do not ask me to enlarge upon it. I will not do it.