Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book III/Chapter 7
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Book III - Craft That Was in Vain
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The third meeting of the court was in that same spacious chamber, next day, 24th of February.
How did it begin? In just the same old way. When the preparations were ended, the robed sixty-two massed in their chairs and the guards and order-keepers distributed to their stations, Cauchon spoke from his throne and commanded Joan to lay her hands upon the Gospels and swear to tell the truth concerning everything asked her!
Joan's eyes kindled, and she rose; rose and stood, fine and noble, and faced toward the Bishop and said—
"Take care what you do, my lord, you who are my judge, for you take a terrible responsibility on yourself and you presume too far."
It made a great stir, and Cauchon burst out upon her with an awful threat—the threat of instant condemnation unless she obeyed. That made the very bones of my body turn cold, and I saw cheeks about me blanch—for it meant fire and the stake! But Joan, still standing, answered him back, proud and undismayed—
"Not all the clergy in Paris and Rouen could condemn me, lacking the right!"
This made a great tumult, and part of it was applause from the spectators. Joan resumed her seat.
The Bishop still insisted. Joan said—
"I have already made oath. It is enough."
The Bishop shouted—
"In refusing to swear, you place yourself under suspicion!"
"Let be. I have sworn already. It is enough." The Bishop continued to insist. Joan answered that "she would tell what she knew—but not all that she knew."
The Bishop plagued her straight along, till at last she said, in a weary tone—
"I came from God; I have nothing more to do here. Return me to God, from whom I came."
It was piteous to hear; it was the same as saying, "You only want my life; take it and let me be at peace."
The Bishop stormed out again—
"Once more I command you to—"
Joan cut in with a nonchalant "Passez outre," and Cauchon retired from the struggle; but he retired with some credit this time, for he offered a compromise, and Joan, always clear-headed, saw protection for herself in it and promptly and willingly accepted it. She was to swear to tell the truth "as touching the matters set down in the proces verbal." They could not sail her outside of definite limits, now; her course was over a charted sea, henceforth. The Bishop had granted more than he had intended, and more than he would honestly try to abide by.
By command, Beaupere resumed his examination of the accused. It being Lent, there might be a chance to catch her neglecting some detail of her religious duties. I could have told him he would fail there. Why, religion was her life!
"Since when have you eaten or drunk?"
If the least thing had passed her lips in the nature of sustenance, neither her youth nor the fact that she was being half starved in her prison could save her from dangerous suspicion of contempt for the commandments of the Church.
"I have done neither since yesterday at noon."
The priest shifted to the Voices again.
"When have you heard your Voice?"
"Yesterday and to-day."
"At what time?"
"Yesterday it was in the morning."
"What were you doing then?"
"I was asleep and it woke me."
"By touching your arm?"
"No; without touching me."
"Did you thank it? Did you kneel?"
He had Satan in his mind, you see; and was hoping, perhaps, that by-and-by it could be shown that she had rendered homage to the arch enemy of God and man.
"Yes, I thanked it; and knelt in my bed where I was chained, and joined my hands and begged it to implore God's help for me so that I might have light and instruction as touching the answers I should give here."
"Then what did the Voice say?"
"It told me to answer boldly, and God would help me." Then she turned toward Cauchon and said, "You say that you are my judge; now I tell you again, take care what you do, for in truth I am sent of God and you are putting yourself in great danger."
Beaupere asked her if the Voice's counsels were not fickle and variable.
"No. It never contradicts itself. This very day it has told me again to answer boldly."
"Has it forbidden you to answer only part of what is asked you?"
"I will tell you nothing as to that. I have revelations touching the King my master, and those I will not tell you." Then she was stirred by a great emotion, and the tears sprang to her eyes and she spoke out as with strong conviction, saying—
"I believe wholly—as wholly as I believe the Christian faith and that God has redeemed us from the fires of hell, that God speaks to me by that Voice!"
Being questioned further concerning the Voice, she said she was not at liberty to tell all she knew.
"Do you think God would be displeased at your telling the whole truth?"
"The Voice has commanded me to tell the King certain things, and not you—and some very lately—even last night; things which I would he knew. He would be more easy at his dinner."
"Why doesn't the Voice speak to the King itself, as it did when you were with him? Would it not if you asked it?"
"I do not know if it be the wish of God." She was pensive a moment or two, busy with her thoughts and far away, no doubt; then she added a remark in which Beaupere, always watchful, always alert, detected a possible opening—a chance to set a trap. Do you think he jumped at it instantly, betraying the joy he had in his mind, as a young hand at craft and artifice would do? No, oh, no, you could not tell that he had noticed the remark at all. He slid indifferently away from it at once, and began to ask idle questions about other things, so as to slip around and spring on it from behind, so to speak: tedious and empty questions as to whether the Voice had told her she would escape from this prison; and if it had furnished answers to be used by her in to-day's seance; if it was accompanied with a glory of light; if it had eyes, etc. That risky remark of Joan's was this:
"Without the Grace of God I could do nothing."
The court saw the priest's game, and watched his play with a cruel eagerness. Poor Joan was grown dreamy and absent; possibly she was tired. Her life was in imminent danger, and she did not suspect it. The time was ripe now, and Beaupere quietly and stealthily sprang his trap:
"Are you in a state of Grace?"
Ah, we had two or three honorable brave men in that pack of judges; and Jean Lefevre was one of them. He sprang to his feet and cried out—
"It is a terrible question! The accused is not obliged to answer it!"
Cauchon's face flushed black with anger to see this plank flung to the perishing child, and he shouted—
"Silence! and take your seat. The accused will answer the question!"
There was no hope, no way out of the dilemma; for whether she said yes or whether she said no, it would be all the same— a disastrous answer, for the Scriptures had said one cannot know this thing. Think what hard hearts they were to set this fatal snare for that ignorant young girl and be proud of such work and happy in it. It was a miserable moment for me while we waited; it seemed a year. All the house showed excitement; and mainly it was glad excitement. Joan looked out upon these hungering faces with innocent untroubled eyes, and then humbly and gently she brought out that immortal answer which brushed the formidable snare away as it had been but a cobweb:
"If I be not in a state of Grace, I pray God place me in it; if I be in it, I pray God keep me so."
Ah, you will never see an effect like that; no, not while you live. For a space there was the silence of the grave. Men looked wondering into each other's faces, and some were awed and crossed themselves; and I heard Lefevre mutter—
"It was beyond the wisdom of man to devise that answer. Whence comes this child's amazing inspirations?"
Beaupere presently took up his work again, but the humiliation of his defeat weighed upon him, and he made but a rambling and dreary business of it, he not being able to put any heart in it.
He asked Joan a thousand questions about her childhood and about the oak wood, and the fairies, and the children's games and romps under our dear Arbre Fée de Bourlemont, and this stirring up of old memories broke her voice and made her cry a little, but she bore up as well as she could, and answered everything.
Then the priest finished by touching again upon the matter of her apparel—a matter which was never to be lost sight of in this still-hunt for this innocent creature's life, but kept always hanging over her, a menace charged with mournful possibilities:
"Would you like a woman's dress?"
"Indeed yes, if I may go out from this prison—but here, no."