Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book III/Chapter 19
Joan had been adjudged guilty of heresy, sorcery, and all the other terrible crimes set forth in the Twelve Articles, and her life was in Cauchon's hands at last. He could send her to the stake at once. His work was finished now, you think? He was satisfied? Not at all. What would his Archbishopric be worth if the people should get the idea into their heads that this faction of interested priests, slaving under the English lash, had wrongly condemned and burned Joan of Arc, Deliverer of France? That would be to make of her a holy martyr. Then her spirit would rise from her body's ashes, a thousandfold reinforced, and sweep the English domination into the sea, and Cauchon along with it. No, the victory was not complete yet. Joan's guilt must be established by evidence which would satisfy the people. Where was that evidence to be found? There was only one person in the world who could furnish it—Joan of Arc herself. She must condemn herself, and in public—at least she must seem to do it.
But how was this to be managed? Weeks had been spent already in trying to get her to surrender—time wholly wasted; what was to persuade her now? Torture had been threatened, the fire had been threatened; what was left? Illness, deadly fatigue, and the sight of the fire, the presence of the fire! That was left.
Now that was a shrewd thought. She was but a girl after all, and, under illness and exhaustion, subject to a girl's weaknesses.
Yes, it was shrewdly thought. She had tacitly said, herself, that under the bitter pains of the rack they would be
able to extort a false confession from her. It was a hint worth remembering, and it was remembered.
She had furnished another hint at the same time: that as soon as the pains were gone, she would retract the confession. That hint was also remembered.
She had herself taught them what to do, you see. First, they must wear out her strength, then frighten her with the fire. Second, while the fright was on her, she must be made to sign a paper.
But she would demand a reading of the paper. They could not venture to refuse this, with the public there to hear. Suppose that during the reading her courage should return?—she would refuse to sign then. Very well, even that difficulty could be got over. They could read a short paper of no importance, then slip a long and deadly one into its place and trick her into signing that.
Yet there was still one other difficulty. If they made her seem to abjure, that would free her from the death-penalty. They could keep her in a prison of the Church, but they could not kill her. That would not answer; for only her death would content the English. Alive she was a terror, in a prison or out of it. She had escaped from two prisons already.
But even that difficulty could be managed. Cauchon would make promises to her; in return she would promise to leave off the male dress. He would violate his promises, and that would so situate her that she would not be able to keep hers. Her lapse would condemn her to the stake, and the stake would be ready.
These were the several moves; there was nothing to do but to make them, each in its order, and the game was won. One might almost name the day that the betrayed girl, the most innocent creature in France and the noblest, would go to her pitiful death.
And the time was favorable—cruelly favorable. Joan's spirit had as yet suffered no decay, it was as sublime and masterful as ever; but her body's forces had been steadily wasting away in those last ten days, and a strong mind needs a healthy body for it's rightful support.
The world knows now that Cauchon's plan was as I have sketched it to you, but the world did not know it at that time. There are sufficient indications that Warwick and all the other English chiefs except the highest one—the Cardinal of Winchester—were not let into the secret, also, that only Loyseleur and Beaupère, on the French side, knew the scheme. Sometimes I have doubted if even Loyseleur and Beaupère knew the whole of it at first. However, if any did, it was these two.
It is usual to let the condemned pass their last night of life in peace, but this grace was denied to poor Joan, if one may credit the rumors of the time. Loyseleur was smuggled into her presence, and in the character of priest, friend, and secret partisan of France and hater of England, he spent some hours in beseeching her to do "the only right an righteous thing"—submit to the Church, as a good Christian should; and that then she would straightway get out of the clutches of the dreaded English and be transferred to the Church's prison, where she would be honorably used and have women about her for jailers. He knew where to touch her. He knew how odious to her was the presence of her rough and profane English guards; he knew that her Voices had vaguely promised something which she interpreted to be escape, rescue, release of some sort, and the chance to burst upon France once more and victoriously complete the great work which she had been commissioned of Heaven to do. Also there was that other thing: if her failing body could be further weakened by loss of rest and sleep now, her tired mind would be dazed and drowsy on the morrow, and in ill condition to stand out against persuasions, threats, and the sight of the stake, and also be purblind to traps and snares which it would be swift to detect when in its normal estate.
I do not need to tell you that there was no rest for me that night. Nor for Noël. We went to the main gate of the city before nightfall, with a hope in our minds, based upon that vague prophecy of Joan's Voices which seemed to promise a rescue by force at the last moment. The immense news had flown swiftly far and wide that at last Joan of Arc was condemned, and would be sentenced and burned alive on the morrow; and so crowds of people were flowing in at the gate, and other crowds were being refused admission by the soldiery; these being people who brought doubtful passes or none at all. We scanned these crowds eagerly, but thee was nothing about them to indicate that they were our old war-comrades in disguise, and certainly there were no familiar faces among them. And so, when the gate was closed at last, we turned away grieved, and more disappointed than we cared to admit, either in speech or thought.
The streets were surging tides of excited men. It was difficult to make one's way. Toward midnight our aimless tramp brought us to the neighborhood of the beautiful church of St. Ouen, and there all was bustle and work. The square was a wilderness of torches and people; and through a guarded passage dividing the pack, laborers were carrying planks and timbers and disappearing with them through the gate of the churchyard. We asked what was going forward; the answer was—
"Scaffolds and the stake. Don't you know that the French witch is to be burned in the morning?"
Then we went away. We had no heart for that place.
At dawn we were at the city gate again; this time with a hope which our wearied bodies and fevered minds magnified into a large probability. We had heard a report that the Abbot of Jumièges with all his monks was coming to witness the burning. Our desire, abetted by our imagination, turned those nine hundred monks into Joan's old campaigners, and their Abbot into La Hire or the Bastard or D'Alençon; and we watched them file in, unchallenged, the multitude respectfully dividing and uncovering while they passed, with our hearts in our throats and our eyes swimming with tears of joy and pride and exultation; and we tried to catch glimpses of the faces under the cowls, and were prepared to give signal to any recognized face that we were Joan's men and ready and eager to kill and be killed in the good cause. How foolish we were; but we were young, you know, and youth hopeth all things, believeth all things.