Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 16
This episode disagreed with me and I was not able to leave my bed the next day. The others were in the same condition. But for this, one or another of us might have had the good luck that fell to the Paladin's share that day; but it is observable that God in His compassion sends the good luck to such as are ill equipped with gifts, as compensation for their defect, but requires such as are more fortunately endowed to get by labor and talent what those others get by chance. It was Noël who said this, and it seemed to me to be well and justly thought.
The Paladin, going about the town all the day in order to be followed and admired and overhear the people say in an awed voice, "Ssh!—look, it is the Standard-Bearer of Joan of Arc!" had speech with all sorts and conditions of folk, and he learned from some boatmen that there was a stir of some kind going on in the bastilles on the other side of the river; and in the evening, seeking further, he found a deserter from the fortress called the "Augustins," who said that the English were going to send me over to strengthen the garrisons on our side during the darkness of the night, and were exulting greatly, for they meant to spring upon Dunois and the army when it was passing the bastilles and destroy it; a thing quite easy to do, since the "Witch" would not be there, and without her presence the army would do like the French armies of these many years past—drop their weapons and run when they saw an English face.
It was ten at night when the Paladin brought this news and asked leave to speak to Joan, and I was up and on duty then. It was a bitter stroke to me to see what a chance I had lost. Joan made searching inquiries, and satisfied herself that the word was true, then she made this annoying remark:
"You have done well, and you have my thanks. It may be that you have prevented a disaster. Your name and service shall receive official mention."
Then he bowed low, and when he rose he was eleven feet high. As he swelled out past me he covertly pulled down the corner of his eye with his finger and muttered part of that defiled refrain, "Oh, tears, ah, tears, oh, sad sweet tears!—name in General Orders—personal mention to the King, you see!"
I wished Joan could have seen his conduct, but she was busy thinking what she would do. Then she had me fetch the knight Jean de Metz, and in a minute he was off for La Hire's quarters with orders for him and the Lord de Villars and Florent d'Iliers to report to her at five o'clock next morning with five hundred picked men well mounted. The histories say half past four, but it is not true, I heard the order given.
We were on our way at five to the minute, and encountered the head of the arriving column between six and seven, a couple of leagues from the city. Dunois was pleased, for the army had begun to get restive and show uneasiness now that it was getting so near to the dreaded bastilles. But that all disappeared now, as the word ran down the line, with a huzzah that swept along the length of it like a wave, that the Maid was come. Dunois asked her to halt and let the column pass in review, so that the men could be sure that the reports of her presence was not a ruse to revive their courage. So she took position at the side of the road with her staff, and the battalions swung by with a martial stride, huzzahing. Joan was armed, except her head. She was wearing the cunning little velvet cap with the mass of curved white ostrich plumes tumbling over its edges which the city of Orleans had given her the night she arrived—the one that is in the picture that hangs in the Hôtel de Ville at Rouen. She was looking about fifteen. The sight of soldiers always set her blood to leaping, and lit the fires in her eyes and brought the warm rich color to her cheeks; it was then that you saw that she was too beautiful to be of the earth, or at any rate that there was a subtle something somewhere about her beauty that differed it from the human types of your experience and exalted it above them.
In the train of wains laden with supplies a man lay on top of the goods. He was stretched out on his back, and his hands were tied together with ropes, and also his ankles. Joan signed to the officer in charge of that division of the train to come to her, and he rode up and saluted.
"What is he that is bound there?" she asked.
"A prisoner, General."
"What is his offence?"
"He is a deserter."
"What is to be done with him?"
"He will be hanged, but it was not convenient on the march, and there was no hurry."
"Tell me about him."
"He is a good soldier, but he asked leave to go and see his wife who was dying, he said, but it could not be granted; so he went without leave. Meanwhile the march began, and he only overtook us yesterday evening."
"Overtook you? Did he come of his own will?"
"Yes, it was of his own will."
"He a deserter! Name of God! Bring him to me."
The officer rode forward and loosed the man's feet and brought him back with his hands still tied. What a figure he was—a good seven feet high, and built for business! He had a strong face; he had an unkempt shock of black hair which showed up a striking way when the officer removed his morion for him; for weapon he had a big ax in his broad leathern belt. Standing by Joan's horse, he made Joan look littler than ever, for his head was about on a level with her own. His face was profoundly melancholy; all interest in life seemed to be dead in the man. Joan said—
"Hold up your hands."
The man's head was down. He lifted it when he heard that soft friendly voice, and there was a wistful something in his face which made one think that there had been music in it for him and that he would like to hear it again. When he raised his hands Joan laid her sword to his bonds, but the officer said with apprehension—
"Ah, madam—my General!"
"What is it?" she said.
"He is under sentence!"
"Yes, I know. I am responsible for him"; and she cut the bonds. They had lacerated his wrists, and they were bleeding. "Ah, pitiful!" she said; "blood—I do not like it"; and she shrank from the sight. But only for a moment. "Give me something, somebody, to bandage his wrists with."
The officer said—
"Ah, my General! it is not fitting. Let me bring another to do it."
"Another? De par le Dieu! You would seek far to find one that can do it better than I, for I learned it long ago among both men and beasts. And I can tie better than those that did this; if I had tied him the ropes had not cut his flesh."
The man looked on silent, while he was being bandaged, stealing a furtive glance at Joan's face occasionally, such as an animal might that is receiving a kindness form an unexpected quarter and is gropingly trying to reconcile the act with its source. All the staff had forgotten the huzzahing army drifting by in its rolling clouds of dust, to crane their necks and watch the bandaging as if it was the most interesting and absorbing novelty that ever was. I have often seen people do like that—get entirely lost in the simplest trifle, when it is something that is out of their line. Now there in Poitiers, once, I saw two bishops and a dozen of those grave and famous scholars grouped together watching a man paint a sign on a shop; they didn't breathe, they were as good as dead; and when it began to sprinkle they didn't know it at first; then they noticed it, and each man hove a deep sigh, and glanced up with a surprised look as wondering to see the others there, and how he came to be there himself—but that is the way with people, as I have said. There is no way of accounting for people. You have to take them as they are.
"There," said Joan at last, pleased with her success; "another could have done it no better—not as well, I think. Tell me—what is it you did? Tell me all."
The giant said:
"It was this way, my angel. My mother died, then my three little children, one after the other, all in two years. It was the famine; others fared so—it was God's will. I saw them die; I had that grace; and I buried them. Then when my poor wife's fate was come, I begged for leave to go to her—she who was so dear to me—she who was all I had; I begged on my knees. But they would not let me. Could I let her die, friendless and alone? Could I let her die believing I would not come? Would she let me die and she not come—with her feet free to do it if she would, and no cost upon it but only her life? Ah, she would come—she would come through the fire! So I went. I saw her. She died in my arms. I buried her. Then the army was gone. I had trouble to overtake it, but my legs are long and there are many hours in a day; I overtook it last night."
Joan said, musingly, as if she were thinking aloud:
"It sounds true. If true, it were no great harm to suspend the law this one time—any would say that. It may not be true, but if it is true—" She turned suddenly to the man and said, "I would see your eyes—look up!" The eyes of the two met, and Joan said to the officer, "This man is pardoned. Give you good day; you may go." Then she said to the man, "Did you know it was death to come back to the army?"
"Yes," he said, "I knew it."
"Then why did you do it?"
The man said, quite simply—
"Because it was death. She was all I had. There was nothing left to love."
"Ah, yes, there was—France! The children of France have always their mother—they cannot be left with nothing to love. You shall live—and you shall serve France—"
"I will serve you!"
—"you shall fight for France—"
"I will fight for you!"
"You shall be France's soldier—"
"I will be your soldier!"
—"you shall give all your heart to France—"
"I will give all my heart to you—and all my soul, if I have one—and all my strength, which is great—for I was dead and am alive again; I had nothing to live for, but now I have! You are France for me. You are my France, and I will have no other."
Joan smiled, and was touched and pleased at the man's grave enthusiasm—solemn enthusiasm, one may call it, for the manner of it was deeper than mere gravity—and she said—
"Well, it shall be as you will. What are you called?"
The man answered with unsmiling simplicity—
"They call me the Dwarf, but I think it is more in jest than otherwise."
It made Joan laugh, and she said—
"It has something of that look truly! What is the office of that vast ax?"
The soldier replied with the same gravity—which must have been born to him, it sat upon him so naturally:
"It is to persuade persons to respect France."
Joan laughed again, and said—
"Have you given many lessons?"
"Ah, indeed, yes—many."
"The pupils behaved to suit you, afterward?"
"Yes; it made them quiet—quite pleasant and quiet."
"I should think it would happen so. Would you like to be my man-at-arms?—orderly, sentinel, or something like that?"
"If I may!"
"Then you shall. You shall have proper armor, and shall go on teaching your art. Take one of those led horses there, and follow the staff when we move."
That is how we came by the Dwarf; and a good fellow he was. Joan picked him out on sight, but it wasn't a mistake; no one could be faithfuler than he was, and he was a devil and the son of a devil when he turned himself loose with his ax. He was so big that he made the Paladin look like an ordinary man. He liked to like people, therefore people liked him. He liked us boys from the start; and he liked the knights, and liked pretty much everybody he came across; but he thought more of a paring of Joan's finger-nail than he did of all the rest of the world put together.
Yes, that is where we got him—stretched on the wain, going to his death, poor chap, and nobody to say a good word for him. He was a good find. Why, the knights treated him almost like an equal—it is the honest truth; that is the sort of a man he was. They called him the Bastille sometimes, and sometimes they called him Hellfire, which was on account of his warm and sumptuous style in battle, and you know they wouldn't have given him pet names if they hadn't had a good deal of affection for him.
To the Dwarf, Joan was France, the spirit of France made flesh—he never got away from that idea that he had started with; and God knows it was the true one. That was a humble eye to see so great a truth where some others failed. To me that seems quite remarkable. And yet, after all, it was, in a way, just what nations do. When they love a great and noble thing, they embody it—they want it so that they can see it with their eyes; like liberty, for instance. They are not content with the cloudy abstract idea, they make a beautiful statue of it, and then their beloved idea is substantial and they can look at it and worship it. And so it is as I say; to the Dwarf, Joan was our country embodied, our country made visible flesh cast in a gracious form. When she stood before others, they saw Joan of Arc, but he saw France.
Sometimes he would speak of her by that name. It shows you how the idea was embedded in his mind, and how real it was to him. The world has called our kings by it, but I
know of none of them who has had so good a right as she to that sublime title.
When the march past was finished, Joan returned to the front and rode at the head of the column. When we began to file past those grim bastilles and could glimpse the men within, standing to their guns and ready to empty death into our ranks, such a faintness came over me and such a sickness that all things seemed to turn dim and swim before my eyes; and the other boys looked droopy, too, I thought—including the Paladin, although I do not know this for certain, because he was ahead of me and I had to keep my eyes out toward the bastille side, because I could wince better when I saw what to wince at.
But Joan was at home—in Paradise, I might say. She sat up straight, and I could see that she was feeling different from me. The awfulest thing was the silence; there wasn't a sound but the screaking of the saddles, the measured tramplings, and the sneezing of the horses, afflicted by the smothering dust-clouds which they kicked up. I wanted to sneeze myself, but it seemed to me that I would rather go unsneezed, or suffer even a bitterer torture, if there is one, than attract attention to myself.
I was not of a rank to make suggestions, or I would have suggested that if we went faster we should get by sooner. It seemed to me that it was an ill-judged time to be taking a walk. Just as we were drifting in that suffocating stillness past a great cannon that stood just within a raised portcullis, with nothing between me and it but the moat, a most uncommon jackass in there split the world with his bray, and I fell out of the saddle. Sir Bertrand grabbed me as I went, which was well, for if I had gone to the ground in my armor I could not have gotten up again by myself. The English warders on the battlements laughed a coarse laugh, forgetting that every one must begin, and that there had been a time when they themselves would have fared no better when shot by a jackass.
The English never uttered a challenge nor fired a shot. It was said afterward that when their men saw the Maid riding at the front and saw how lovely she was, their eager courage cooled down in many cases and vanished in the rest, they feeling certain that the creature was not mortal, but the very child of Satan, and so the officers were prudent and did not try to make them fight. It was said also that some of the officers were affected by the same superstitious fears. Well, in any case, they never offered to molest us, and we poked by all the grisly fortresses in peace. During the march I caught up on my devotions, which were in arrears; so it was not all loss and no profit for me after all.
It was on this march that the histories say Dunois told Joan that the English were expecting reinforcements under the command of Sir John Fastolfe, and that she turned upon him and said:
"Bastard, Bastard, in God's name I warn you to let me know of his coming as soon as you hear of it; for if he passes without my knowledge you shall lose your head!"
It may be so; I don't deny it; but I didn't her it. If she really said it I think she only meant she would take off his official head —degrade him from his command. It was not like her to threaten a comrade's life. She did have her doubts of her generals, and was entitled to them, for she was all for storm and assault, and they were for holding still and tiring the English out. Since they did not believe in her way and were experienced old soldiers, it would be natural for them to prefer their own and try to get around carrying hers out.
But I did hear something that the histories didn't mention and don't know about. I heard Joan say that now that the garrisons on the other wide had been weakened to strengthen those on our side, the most effective point of operations had shifted to the south shore; so she meant to go over there and storm the forts which held the bridge end, and that would open up communication with our own dominions and raise the siege. The generals began to, privately, right away, but they only baffled and delayed her, and that for only four days.
All Orleans met the army at the gate and huzzahed it through the bannered streets to its various quarters, but nobody had to rock it to sleep; it slumped down dog-tired, for Dunois had rushed it without mercy, and for the next twenty-four hours it would be quiet, all but the snoring.