Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book III/Chapter 2
My wound gave me a great deal of trouble clear into the first part of October; then the fresher weather renewed my life and strength. All this time there were reports drifting about that the King was going to ransom Joan. I believed these, for I was young and had not yet found out the littleness and meanness of our poor human race, which brags about itself so much, and thinks it is better and higher than the other animals.
In October I was well enough to go out with two sorties, and in the second one, on the 23d, I was wounded again. My luck had turned, you see. On the night of the 25th the besiegers decamped, and in the disorder and confusion one of their prisoners escaped and got safe into Compiègne, and hobbled into my room as pallid and pathetic an object as you would wish to see.
"What? Alive? Noël Rainguesson!"
It was indeed he. It was a most joyful meeting, that you will easily know; and also as sad as it was joyful. We could not speak Joan's name. One's voice would have broken down. We knew who was meant when she was mentioned; we could say "she" and "her," but we could not speak the name.
We talked of the personal staff. Old D'Aulon, wounded and a prisoner, was still with Joan and serving her, by permission of the Duke of Burgundy. Joan was being treated with respect due to her rank and to her character as a prisoner of war taken in honorable conflict. And this was continued—as we learned later—until she fell into the hands of that bastard of Satan, Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais.
Noël was full of noble and affectionate praises and appreciations of our old boastful big Standard-Bearer, now gone silent forever, his real and imaginary battles all fought, his work done, his life honorably closed and completed.
"And think of his luck!" burst out Noël, with his eyes full of tears. "Always the pet child of luck!
"See how it followed him and stayed by him, from his first step all through, in the field or out of it; always a splendid figure in the public eye, courted and envied everywhere; always having a chance to do fine things and always doing them; in the beginning called the Paladin in joke, and called it afterward in earnest because he magnificently made the title good; and at last—supremest luck of all—died in the field! died with his harness on; died faithful to his charge the Standard in his hand; died—oh, think of it—with the approving eye of Joan of Arc upon him!
"He drained the cup of glory to the last drop, and went jubilant to his peace, blessedly spared all part in the disaster which was to follow. What luck, what luck! And we? What was our sin that we are still here, we who have also earned our place with the happy dead?"
And presently he said:
"They tore the sacred Standard from his dead hand and carried it away, their most precious prize after its captured owner. But they haven't it now. A month ago we put our lives upon the risk—our two good knights, my fellow-prisoners, and I—and stole it, and got it smuggled by trusty hands to Orleans, and there it is now, safe for all time in the Treasury."
I was glad and grateful to learn that. I have seen it often since, when I have gone to Orleans on the 8th of May to be the petted old guest of the city and hold the first place of honor at the banquets and in the processions—I mean since Joan's brothers passed from this life. It will still be there, sacredly guarded by French love, a thousand years from now—yes, as long as any shred of it hangs together.
Two or three weeks after this talk came the tremendous news like a thunder-clap, and we were aghast—Joan of Arc sold to the English!
Not for a moment had we ever dreamed of such a thing. We were young, you see, and did not know the human race, as I have said before. We had been so proud of our country, so sure of her nobleness, her magnanimity, her gratitude. We had expected little of the King, but of France we had expected everything. Everybody knew that in various towns patriot priests had been marching in procession urging the people to sacrifice money, property, everything, and buy the freedom of their heaven-sent deliverer. That the money would be raised we had not thought of doubting.
But it was all over now, all over. It was a bitter time for us. The heavens seemed hung with black; all cheer went out from our hearts. Was this comrade here at my bedside really Noël Rainguesson, that light-hearted creature whose whole life was but one long joke, and who used up more breath in laughter than in keeping his body alive? No, no; that Noël I was to see no more. This one's heart was broken. He moved grieving about, and absently, like one in a dream; the stream of his laughter was dried at its source.
Well, that was best. It was my own mood. We were company for each other. He nursed me patiently through the dull long weeks, and at last, in January, I was strong enough to go about again. Then he said:
"Shall we go now?"
There was no need to explain. Our hearts were in Rouen; we would carry our bodies there. All that we cared for in this life was shut up in that fortress. We could not help her, but it would be some solace to us to be near her, to breathe the air that she breathed, and look daily upon the stone walls that hid her. What if we should be made prisoners there? Well, we could but do our best, and let luck and fate decide what should happen.
And so we started. We could not realize the change which had come upon the country. We seemed able to choose our own route and go whenever we pleased, unchallenged and unmolested. When Joan of Arc was in the field there was a sort of panic of fear everywhere; but now that she was out of the way, fear had vanished. Nobody was troubled about you or afraid of you, nobody was curious about you or your business, everybody was indifferent.
We presently saw that we could take to the Seine, and not weary ourselves out with land travel.
So we did it, and were carried in a boat to within a league of Rouen. Then we got ashore; not on the hilly side, but on the other, where it is as level as a floor. Nobody could enter or leave the city without explaining himself. It was because they feared attempts at a rescue of Joan.
We had no trouble. We stopped in the plain with a family of peasants and stayed a week, helping them with their work for board and lodging, and making friends of them. We got clothes like theirs, and wore them. When we had worked our way through their reserves and gotten their confidence, we found that they secretly harbored French hearts in their bodies. Then we came out frankly and told them everything, and found them ready to do anything they could to help us. Our plan was soon made, and was quite simple. It was to help them drive a flock of sheep to the market of the city. One morning early we made the venture in a melancholy drizzle of rain, and passed through the frowning gates unmolested. Our friends had friends living over a humble wine-shop in a quaint tall building situated in one of the narrow lanes that run down from the cathedral to the river, and with these they bestowed us; and the next day they smuggled our own proper clothing and other belongings to us. The family that lodged us—the Pierrons—were French in sympathy, and we needed to have no secrets from them.
- It remained there three hundred and sixty years, and then was destroyed in a public bonfire, together with two swords, a plumed cap, several suits of state apparel, and other relics of the Maid, by a mob in the time of the Revolution. Nothing which the hand of Joan of Arc is known to have touched now remains in existence except a few preciously guarded military and state papers which she signed, her pen being guided by a clerk or her secretary, Louis de Conte. A bowlder exists from which she is known to have mounted her horse when she was once setting out upon a campaign. Up to a quarter of a century ago there was a single hair from her head still in existence. It was drawn through the wax of a seal attached to the parchment of a state document. It was surreptitiously snipped out, seal and all, by some vandal relic-hunter, and carried off. Doubtless it still exists, but only the thief knows where.—Translator.