LA PUCELLE ABANDONED
The hunt for truth is the most arduous that engages the historian; too often likewise the most hopeless and unprofitable. But sometimes it makes a real kill, as in the celebrated instance of the Man in the Iron Mask, which baffled the keenest minds during nearly two centuries. (See the author's "Adventures in Life and Letters" for a full account of this "mystery.") Similarly, due to zealous inquirers, old fictions have been shredded away from the core of truth in Jeanne d'Arc's legend, especially in our day.
It was long the habit of writers even so perspicacious as Mark Twain to explain the Maid's failure before Paris on the theory that her inspiration had failed and her marvelous powers decayed with the full accomplishment of her mission at Reims. Recent profound researches in the troubled history of that time make such a hypothesis impossible. In truth, Jeanne was never more her inspired self, never more fully in command of her great abilities, than at Paris. Her failure—if it must so be called—was wholly due to the machinations of La Tremoille and the treacherous or uncandid course of the king himself.
We shall not use many words in relating this unhappy episode.
Charles was continuing his pourparlers with Philip, envoys of the latter coming to Compiegne for further conferences toward August 22. At this Jeanne finally lost patience and resolved to act upon her own responsibility, enlisting d'Alencon in the bold venture. "Prepare your soldiers," she said, "and those captains who are faithful to you. By my martin, I am going to see Paris nearer than I have yet seen it!" The same day Jeanne and the duke, with a good-sized detachment from the royal army—not the whole army, mind—started on the road toward Paris. We do not know if they got away without the knowledge of Charles; in any event, the fact could not be long hidden from him.
On August 28 a truce, amounting to a flagitious treason against the French cause, was signed by Charles and the Burgundians. It provided for the maintenance of peace until Christmas, Philip agreeing to concur with his forces in the defense of the capital during the term of said treaty. He did not specify the enemy against whom he would defend the city—a flagrant omission, convicting the French par ties of fatuity as well as treason.
Charles was thus bound in honor to keep his hands off Paris and the foreign intruders until Christmas—an immense advantage to his opponents, and one utterly without compensation to the French. The fact seems incredible, but history gives no further light on
the matter. And so this precious conference of dupers and duped brought its evil business to an end.
Meantime, Jeanne and d'Alencon marched on in high hopes, receiving the submission of many towns as they advanced, one of these being Beauvais, which at the same time expelled its bishop, the infamous Cauchon, a devoted ally of the English. Hearing of this unlooked-for movement, Bedford is again affrighted and confides the defense of Paris to his chancellor, the Archbishop Louis de Luxembourg, a notable priestly politician of whom we shall have more and worse to say in the sequel. The latter hastens to pass around the swearing formulas again (whatever these might amount to), and sees to it that the city is put in a strong state of defense. He inflames the people by causing a rumor to be spread that Charles intends to raze Paris and drive the plowshare over it.
Jeanne could have no hope of success without the presence of Charles and the main body of the army. D'Alencon endeavors, without result, to enlist the sheriffs of Paris in the royal cause. He makes several fruitless efforts to see the king, who is now coming toward Paris, very slowly, as is his wont. Finally, Charles arrives at St. Denis; the troops acclaim him, and the general expectation is that he comes to head a great attack upon Paris. Philip the none-too-good and his tool La Tremoille are quite at ease on this point; a little signed paper in their hands was to postpone for long the hopes of France.
Knowing what he knew, it is hard to understand
why Charles did not forthwith order his troops to retire; but that would have been in conflict with his ordinarily tortuous maneuvers. It would have made his Majesty ill had he been required to give a plain reason for any action of his. Such were the refinements of duplicity and darksomeness that certain minds attained to in what we are pleased to call the simple "ages of faith."
Charles then permitted La Pucelle and d'Alencon to go on with their preparations for attacking the city. The troops he had brought with him to St. Denis stood ready to engage. On September 7 there was a vigorous skirmish, and the captains wished to put off further fighting until the morrow. But Jeanne had resolved to make a heavy assault that same day.
Again she was allowed to have her will. The army marched to the attack in two bodies: the first, commanded by Jeanne, Gilles de Rais, and Gaucourt (both unreliable and worse), was to make the assault; the second, led by d'Alencon and the Comte de Clermont, formed the reserve or rear-guard.
Jeanne dashes toward the gate St. Honore, followed by her trusty soldiers, and forces the first barrier; then, uplifting her white banner, leaps into the first ditch, under a hot fire from the walls. She attempts to cross the second ditch but finds the water very deep, from a flood of the Seine—a check of which certain treacherous captains had not informed her, as it was their duty to do. Still, Jeanne would not be repulsed, but seeking a ford she began to take soundings with the pole of her standard. Suddenly an
arrow pierced her thigh, a grievous wound, preventing her from standing upright. Notwithstanding, she held her place, had the fosse filled up, ordered her men to prepare to scale the walls, declaring that they should take the town in short order. Now treason showed, unabashed, its ugly face. Acting upon the orders of Tremoille and some captains in his interest, the soldiers who should have supported Jeanne, fell back and withdrew from the combat. But the Maid ceased not to repeat, "I shall take Paris to-day, or I die here!"
The cowardly retreat continues, and Jeanne is left almost alone, in the falling night. Come now d'Alencon and some cavaliers, who carry her away, in spite of her protestations. She could only say heartbrokenly, and with perfect truth:
"Had you continued the attack we should have taken the town."
I AM HER GERNERAL, SHE MY CAPTAIN IS
I Am her general, she my captain is;
But it must be of God's own mysteries
That I no power may venture without her,
No wit to plan, nor foot or hand to stir.
Alas! 'tis not her love that makes me so;
No love for me doth in her bosom glow,
But a mere comrade kindness--all her love
To France is given and to the saints above,
And I am pledged her loyal chevalier.
Ah, though she bid me die it were most dear!
I am her general, she my captain is,
And I unworthy even her feet to kiss,
Which angels tend, lest that they go amiss.
She hath no love unto this trade of war;
Its cruelties but drive her spirit far;
And yet she guides the battle like a star!
Yea, from the vivid lightning of her eyes
We snatch an oracle that ne'er belies.
Nor death nor life she feareth but the friend
That hates in secret and prepares the end!
I am her general, she my captain is!
What boots it with this riddle aye to tease
My weary brain, since now the Fates decree
A parting of the ways for her and me?
My dream of war and worship soon must fade,
And, I do fear, the fortune of the Maid.
Vain too my scheme to bear her far away
From those whose one fell thought is to betray.
Accursed vipers!—evil was the chance
That made you masters of the Hope of France!