Undaunted by Threat of Burning
TWO WEEKS went by; the second of May was come, the chill was departed out of the air, the wild flowers were springing in the glades and glens, the birds were piping in the woods, all nature was brilliant with sunshine, all spirits were renewed and refreshed, all hearts glad, the world was alive with hope and cheer, the plain beyond the Seine stretched away soft and rich and green, the river was limpid and lovely, the leafy islands were dainty to see, and flung still daintier reflections of themselves upon the shining water; and from the tall bluffs above the bridge Rouen was become again a delight to the eye, the most exquisite and satisfying picture of a town that nestles under the arch of heaven anywhere.
When I say that all hearts were glad and hopeful, I mean it in a general sense. There were exceptions—we who were the friends of Joan of Arc, also Joan of Arc herself, that poor girl shut up there in that frowning stretch of mighty walls and towers: brooding in darkness, so close to the flooding downpour of sunshine yet so impossibly far away from it; so longing for any little glimpse of it, yet so implacably denied it by those wolves in the black gowns who were plotting her death and the blackening of her good name.
Cauchon was ready to go on with his miserable work. He had a new scheme to try now. He would see what persuasion could do—argument, eloquence, poured out upon the incorrigible captive from the mouth of a trained expert. That was his plan. But the reading of the Twelve Articles to her was not a part of it. No, even Cauchon was ashamed to lay that monstrosity before her; even he had a remnant of shame in him, away down deep, a million fathoms deep, and that remnant asserted itself now and prevailed.
On this fair second of May, then, the black company gathered itself together in the spacious chamber at the end of the great hall of the castle—the Bishop of Beauvais on his throne, and sixty-two minor judges massed before him, with the guards and recorders at their stations and the orator at his desk.
Then we heard the far clank of chains, and presently Joan entered with her keepers and took her seat upon her isolated bench. She was looking well now, and most fair and beautiful after her fortnight's rest from wordy persecution.
She glanced about and noted the orator. Doubtless she divined the situation.
The orator had written his speech all out, and had it in his hand, though he held it back of him out of sight. It was so thick that it resembled a book. He began flowing, but in the midst of a flowery period his memory failed him and he had to snatch a furtive glance at his manuscript—which much injured the effect. Again this happened, and then a third time. The poor man's face was red with embarrassment, the whole great house was pitying him, which made the matter worse; then Joan dropped in a remark which completed the trouble. She said:
"Read your book—and then I will answer you!"
Why, it was almost cruel the way those moldy veterans laughed; and as for the orator, he looked so flustered and helpless that almost anybody would have pitied him, and I had difficulty to keep from doing it myself. Yes, Joan was feeling very well after her rest, and the native mischief that was in her lay near the surface. It did not show when she made the remark, but I knew it was close in there back of the words.
When the orator had gotten back his composure he did a wise thing; for he followed Joan's advice: he made no more attempts at sham impromptu oratory, but read his speech straight from his "book." In the speech he compressed the Twelve Articles into six, and made these his text.
Every now and then he stopped and asked questions, and Joan replied. The nature of the Church Militant was explained, and once more Joan was asked to submit herself to it.
She gave her usual answer.
Then she was asked:
"Do you believe the Church can err?"
"I believe it cannot err; but for those deeds and words of mine which were done and uttered by command of God, I will answer to Him alone."
"Will you say that you have no judge upon earth? Is not our Holy Father the Pope your judge?"
"I will say nothing about it. I have a good Master who is our Lord, and to Him I will submit all."
Then came these terrible words:
"If you do not submit to the Church you will be pronounced a heretic by these judges here present and burned at the stake!"
Ah, that would have smitten you or me dead with fright, but it only roused the lion heart of Joan of Arc, and in her answer rang that martial note which had used to stir her soldiers like a bugle-call:
"I will not say otherwise than I have said already; and if I saw the fire before me I would say it again!"
It was uplifting to hear her battle-voice once more and see the battle-light burn in her eye. Many there were stirred; every man that was a man was stirred, whether friend or foe; and Manchon risked his life again, good soul, for he wrote in the margin of the record in good plain letters these brave words: "Superba responsio!" and there they have remained these sixty years, and there you may read them to this day.
"Superba responsio!" Yes, it was just that. For this "superb answer" came from the lips of a girl of nineteen with death and hell staring her in the face.
Of course, the matter of the male attire was gone over again; and as usual at wearisome length; also, as usual, the customary bribe was offered: if she would discard that dress voluntarily they would let her hear mass. But she answered as she had often answered before:
"I will go in a woman's robe to all services of the Church if I may be permitted, but I will resume the other dress when I return to my cell."
They set several traps for her in a tentative form; that is to say, they placed suppositious propositions before her and cunningly tried to commit her to one end of the propositions without committing themselves to the other. But she always saw the game and spoiled it. The trap was in this form:
"Would you be willing to do so and so if we should give you leave?"
Her answer was always in this form or to this effect:
"When you give me leave, then you will know."
Yes, Joan was at her best that second of May. She had all her wits about her, and they could not catch her anywhere. It was a long, long session, and all the old ground was fought over again, foot by foot, and the orator-expert worked all his persuasions, all his eloquence; but the result was the familiar one—a drawn battle, the sixty-two retiring upon their base, the solitary enemy holding her original position within her original lines.