Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book III/Chapter 9

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Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
Book III - Her Sure Deliverance Foretold
THE MAID OF ORLEANS (from the portrait by an unknown painter, in the Hôtel de Ville at Ronen)
Chapter IX

The next sitting opened on Thursday the first of March. Fifty-eight judges present—the others resting.

As usual, Joan was required to take an oath without reservations. She showed no temper this time. She considered herself well buttressed by the proces verbal compromise which Cauchon was so anxious to repudiate and creep out of; so she merely refused, distinctly and decidedly; and added, in a spirit of fairness and candor—

"But as to matters set down in the proces verbal, I will freely tell the whole truth—yes, as freely and fully as if I were before the Pope."

Here was a chance! We had two or three Popes, then; only one of them could be the true Pope, of course. Everybody judiciously shirked the question of which was the true Pope and refrained from naming him, it being clearly dangerous to go into particulars in this matter. Here was an opportunity to trick an unadvised girl into bringing herself into peril, and the unfair judge lost no time in taking advantage of it. He asked, in a plausibly indolent and absent way—

"Which one do you consider to be the true Pope?"

The house took an attitude of deep attention, and so waited to hear the answer and see the prey walk into the trap. But when the answer came it covered the judge with confusion, and you could see many people covertly chuckling. For Joan asked in a voice and manner which almost deceived even me, so innocent it seemed—

"Are there two?"

One of the ablest priests in that body and one of the best swearers there, spoke right out so that half the house heard him, and said—

"By God, it was a master stroke!"

As soon as the judge was better of his embarrassment he came back to the charge, but was prudent and passed by Joan's question—

"Is it true that you received a letter from the Count of Armagnac asking you which of the three Popes he ought to obey?"

"Yes, and answered it."

Copies of both letters were produced and read. Joan said that hers had not been quite strictly copied. She said she had received the Count's letter when she was just mounting her horse; and added—

"So, in dictating a word or two of reply I said I would try to answer him from Paris or somewhere where I could be at rest."

She was asked again which Pope she had considered the right one.

"I was not able to instruct the Count of Armagnac as to which one he ought to obey"; then she added, with a frank fearlessness which sounded fresh and wholesome in that den of trimmers and shufflers, "but as for me, I hold that we are bound to obey our Lord the Pope who is at Rome."

The matter was dropped. They produced and read a copy of Joan's first effort at dictating—her proclamation summoning the English to retire from the siege of Orleans and vacate France—truly a great and fine production for an unpractised girl of seventeen.

"Do you acknowledge as your own the document which has just been read?"

"Yes, except that there are errors in it—words which make me give myself too much importance." I saw what was coming; I was troubled and ashamed. "For instance, I did not say 'Deliver up to the Maid' (rendez a la Pucelle); I said 'Deliver up to the King' (rendez au Roi); and I did not call myself 'Commander-in-Chief' (chef de guerre). All those are words which my secretary substituted; or mayhap he misheard me or forgot what I said."

She did not look at me when she said it: she spared me that embarrassment. I hadn't misheard her at all, and hadn't forgotten. I changed her language purposely, for she was Commander-in-Chief and entitled to call herself so, and it was becoming and proper, too; and who was going to surrender anything to the King?—at that time a stick, a cipher? If any surrendering was done, it would be to the noble Maid of Vaucouleurs, already famed and formidable though she had not yet struck a blow.

Ah, there would have been a fine and disagreeable episode (for me) there, if that pitiless court had discovered that the very scribbler of that piece of dictation, secretary to Joan of Arc, was present—and not only present, but helping build the record; and not only that, but destined at a far distant day to testify against lies and perversions smuggled into it by Cauchon and deliver them over to eternal infamy!

"Do you acknowledge that you dictated this proclamation?"

"I do."

"Have you repented of it? Do you retract it?"

Ah, then she was indignant!

"No! Not even these chains"—and she shook them—"not even these chains can chill the hopes that I uttered there. And more!"—she rose, and stood a moment with a divine strange light kindling in her face, then her words burst forth as in a flood—"I warn you now that before seven years a disaster will smite the English, oh, many fold greater than the fall of Orleans! and—"

"Silence! Sit down!"

"—and then, soon after, they will lose all France!"

Now consider these things. The French armies no longer existed. The French cause was standing still, our King was standing still, there was no hint that by and by the Constable Richemont would come forward and take up the great work of Joan of Arc and finish it. In face of all this, Joan made that prophecy—made it with perfect confidence—and it came true.

For within five years Paris fell—1436—and our King marched into it flying the victor's flag. So the first part of the prophecy was then fulfilled—in fact, almost the entire prophecy; for, with Paris in our hands, the fulfilment of the rest of it was assured.

Twenty years later all France was ours excepting a single town—Calais.

Now that will remind you of an earlier prophecy of Joan's. At the time that she wanted to take Paris and could have done it with ease if our King had but consented, she said that that was the golden time; that, with Paris ours, all France would be ours in six months. But if this golden opportunity to recover France was wasted, said she, "I give you twenty years to do it in."

She was right. After Paris fell, in 1436, the rest of the work had to be done city by city, castle by castle, and it took twenty years to finish it.

Yes, it was the first day of March, 1431, there in the court, that she stood in the view of everybody and uttered that strange and incredible prediction. Now and then, in this world, somebody's prophecy turns up correct, but when you come to look into it there is sure to be considerable room for suspicion that the prophecy was made after the fact. But here the matter is different. There in that court Joan's prophecy was set down in the official record at the hour and moment of its utterance, years before the fulfilment, and there you may read it to this day. Twenty-five years after Joan's death the record was produced in the great Court of the Rehabilitation and verified under oath by Manchon and me, and surviving judges of our court confirmed the exactness of the record in their testimony.

Joan's startling utterance on that now so celebrated first of March stirred up a great turmoil, and it was some time before it quieted down again. Naturally, everybody was troubled, for a prophecy is a grisly and awful thing, whether one thinks it ascends from hell or comes down from heaven. All that these people felt sure of was, that the inspiration back of it was genuine and puissant. They would have given their right hands to know the source of it.

At last the questions began again.

"How do you know that those things are going to happen?"

"I know it by revelation. And I know it as surely as I know that you sit here before me."

This sort of answer was not going to allay the spreading uneasiness. Therefore, after some further dallying the judge got the subject out of the way and took up one which he could enjoy more.

"What languages do your Voices speak?"

"French."

"St. Marguerite, too?"

"Verily; why not? She is on our side, not on the English!"

Saints and angels who did not condescend to speak English! is a grave affront. They could not be brought into court and punished for contempt, but the tribunal could take silent note of Joan's remark and remember it against her; which they did. It might be useful by-and-by.

"Do your saints and angels wear jewelry?—crowns, rings, earrings?"

To Joan, questions like these were profane frivolities and not worthy of serious notice; she answered indifferently. But the question brought to her mind another matter, and she turned upon Cauchon and said—

"I had two rings. They have been taken away from me during my captivity. You have one of them. It is the gift of my brother. Give it back to me. If not to me, then I pray that it be given to the Church."

The judges conceived the idea that maybe these rings were for the working of enchantments.

Perhaps they could be made to do Joan a damage.

"Where is the other ring?"

"The Burgundians have it."

"Where did you get it?"

"My father and mother gave it to me."

"Describe it."

"It is plain and simple and has 'Jesus and Mary' engraved upon it."

Everybody could see that that was not a valuable equipment to do devil's work with. So that trail was not worth following. Still, to make sure, one of the judges asked Joan if she had ever cured sick people by touching them with the ring. She said no.

"Now as concerning the fairies, that were used to abide near by Domremy whereof there are many reports and traditions. It is said that your godmother surprised these creatures on a summer's night dancing under the tree called L'Arbre Fée de Bourlemont. Is it not possible that your pretended saints and angles are but those fairies?"

"Is that in your proces?"

She made no other answer.

"Have you not conversed with St. Marguerite and St. Catherine under that tree?"

"I do not know."

"Or by the fountain near the tree?"

"Yes, sometimes."

"What promises did they make you?"

"None but such as they had God's warrant for."

"But what promises did they make?"

"That is not in your proces; yet I will say this much: they told me that the King would become master of his kingdom in spite of his enemies."

"And what else?"

There was a pause; then she said humbly:

"They promised to lead me to Paradise."

If faces do really betray what is passing in men's minds, a fear came upon many in that house, at this time, that maybe, after all, a chosen servant and herald of God was here being hunted to her death. The interest deepened. Movements and whisperings ceased: the stillness became almost painful.

Have you noticed that almost from the beginning the nature of the questions asked Joan showed that in some way or other the questioner very often already knew his fact before he asked his question? Have you noticed that somehow or other the questioners usually knew just how and were to search for Joan's secrets; that they really knew the bulk of her privacies—a fact not suspected by her—and that they had no task before them but to trick her into exposing those secrets?

Do you remember Loyseleur, the hypocrite, the treacherous priest, tool of Cauchon? Do you remember that under the sacred seal of the confessional Joan freely and trustingly revealed to him everything concerning her history save only a few things regarding her supernatural revelations which her Voices had forbidden her to tell to any one—and that the unjust judge, Cauchon, was a hidden listener all the time?

Now you understand how the inquisitors were able to devise that long array of minutely prying questions; questions whose subtlety and ingenuity and penetration are astonishing until we come to remember Loyseleur's performance and recognize their source. Ah, Bishop of Beauvais, you are now lamenting this cruel iniquity these many years in hell! Yes verily, unless one has come to your help. There is but one among the redeemed that would do it; and it is futile to hope that that one has not already done it—Joan of Arc.

We will return to the questionings.

"Did they make you still another promise?"

"Yes, but that is not in your proces. I will not tell it now, but before three months I will tell it you."

The judge seems to know the matter he is asking about, already; one gets this idea from his next question.

"Did your Voices tell you that you would be liberated before three months?"

Joan often showed a little flash of surprise at the good guessing of the judges, and she showed one this time. I was frequently in terror to find my mind (which I could not control) criticizing the Voices and saying, "They counsel her to speak boldly—a thing which she would do without any suggestion from them or anybody else—but when it comes to telling her any useful thing, such as how these conspirators manage to guess their way so skilfully into her affairs, they are always off attending to some other business.”I am reverent by nature; and when such thoughts swept through my head they made me cold with fear, and if there was a storm and thunder at the time, I was so ill that I could but with difficulty abide at my post and do my work.

Joan answered — 

“That is not in your proces. I do not know when I shall be set free, but some who wish me out of this world will go from it before me.”

It made some of them shiver.

“Have your Voices told you that you will be delivered from this prison?”

Without a doubt they had, and the judge knew it before he asked the question.

“Ask me again in three months and I will tell you.”

She said it with such a happy look, the tired prisoner! And I? And Noël Rainguesson, drooping yonder? — why, the floods of joy went streaming through us from crown to sole! It was all that we could do to hold still and keep from making fatal exposure of our feelings.

She was to be set free in three months. That was what she meant; we saw it. The Voices had told her so, and told her true — true to the very day — May 30th. But we know now that they had mercifully hidden from her how she was to be set free, but left her in ignorance. Home again! That day was our understanding of it — Noël’s and mine; that was our dream; and now we would count the days, the hours, the minutes. They would fly lightly along; they would soon be over. Yes, we would carry our idol home; and there, far from the pomps and tumults of the world, we would take up our happy life again and live it out as we had begun it, in the free air and the sunshine, with the friendly sheep and the friendly people for comrades, and the grace and charm of the meadows, the woods, and the river always before our eyes and their deep peace in our hearts. Yes, that was our dream, the dream that carried us bravely through that three months to an exact and awful fulfilment, the though of which would have killed us, I think, if we had foreknown it and been obliged to bear the burden of it upon our hearts the half of those weary days.

Our reading of the prophecy was this: We believed the King's soul was going to be smitten with remorse; and that he would privately plan a rescue with Joan's old lieutenants, D'Alençon and the Bastard and La Hire, and that this rescue would take place at the end of the three months. So we made up our minds to be ready and take a hand in it.

In the present and also in later sittings Joan was urged to name the exact day of her deliverance; but she could not do that. She had not the permission of her Voices. Moreover, the Voices themselves did not name the precise day. Ever since the fulfilment of the prophecy, I have believed that Joan had the idea that her deliverance was going to dome in the form of death. But not that death! Divine as she was, dauntless as she was in battle, she was human also. She was not solely a saint, an angel, she was a clay-made girl also—as human a girl as any in the world, and full of a human girl's sensitiveness and tenderness and delicacies. And so, that death! No, she could not have lived the three months with that one before her, I think. You remember that the first time she was wounded she was frightened, and cried, just as any other girl of seventeen would have done, although she had known for eighteen days that she was going to be wounded on that very day. No, she was not afraid of any ordinary death, and an ordinary death was what she believed the prophecy of deliverance meant, I think, for her face showed happiness, not horror, when she uttered it.

Now I will explain why I think as I do. Five weeks before she was captured in the battle of Compiègne, her Voices told her what was coming. They did not tell her the day or the place, but said she would be taken prisoner and that it would be before the feast of St. John. She begged that death, certain and swift, should be her fate, and the captivity brief; for she was a free spirit, and dreaded the confinement. The Voices made no promise, but only told her to bear whatever came. Now as they did not refuse the swift death, a hopeful young thing like Joan would naturally cherish that fact and make the most of it, allowing it to grow and establish itself in her mind. And so now that she was told she was to be "delivered" in three months, I think she believed it meant that she would die in her bed in the prison, and that that was why she looked happy and content—the gates of Paradise standing open for her, the time so short, you see, her troubles so soon to be over, her reward so close at hand. Yes, that would make her look happy, that would make her patient and bold, and able to fight her fight out like a soldier. Save herself if she could, of course, and try for the best, for that was the way she was made; but die with her face to the front if die she must.

Then later, when she charged Cauchon with trying to kill her with a poisoned fish, her notion that she was to be "delivered" by death in the prison—if she had it, and I believe she had—would naturally be greatly strengthened, you see.

But I am wandering from the trial. Joan was asked to definitely name the time that she would be delivered from prison.

"I have always said that I was not permitted to tell you everything. I am to be set free, and I desire to ask leave of my Voices to tell you the day. That is why I wish for delay."

"Do your Voices forbid you to tell the truth?"

"Is it that you wish to know matters concerning the King of France? I tell you again that he will regain his kingdom, and that I know it as well as I know that you sit here before me in this tribunal." She sighed and, after a little pause, added: "I should be dead but for this revelation, which comforts me always."

Some trivial questions were asked her about St. Michael's dress and appearance. She answered them with dignity, but one saw that they gave her pain. After a little she said—

"I have great joy in seeing him, for when I see him I have

the feeling that I am not in mortal sin."

She added, "Sometimes St. Marguerite and St. Catherine have allowed me to confess myself to them."

Here was a possible chance to set a successful snare for her innocence.

"When you confessed were you in mortal sin, do you think?"

But her reply did her no hurt. So the inquiry was shifted once more to the revelations made to the King—secrets which the court had tried again and again to force out of Joan, but without success.

"Now as to the sign given to the King—"

"I have already told you that I will tell you nothing about it."

"Do you know what the sign was?"

"As to that, you will not find out from me."

All this refers to Joan's secret interview with the King—held apart, though two or three others were present. It was known—through Loyseleur, of course—that this sign was a crown and was a pledge of the verity of Joan's mission. But that is all a mystery until this day—the nature of the crown, I mean—and will remain a mystery to the end of time. We can never know whether a real crown descended upon the King's head, or only a symbol, the mystic fabric of a vision.

"Did you see a crown upon the King's head when he received the revelation?"

"I cannot tell you as to that, without perjury."

"Did the King have that crown at Rheims?"

"I think the King put upon his head a crown which he found there; but a much richer one was brought him afterward."

"Have you seen that one?"

"I cannot tell you, without perjury. But whether I have seen it or not, I have heard say that it was rich and magnificent."

They went on and pestered her to weariness about that mysterious crown, but they got nothing more out of her. The sitting closed. A long, hard day for all of us.