And now, in this solemn hush, the stranger gave Joan a pat or two on the head and said:
"Little maid--whom God keep!--you have brought me from death to life this night; now listen: here is your reward," and at that supreme time for such a heart-melting, soul-rousing surprise, without another word he lifted up the most noble and pathetic voice that was ever heard, and began to pour out the great Song of Roland!
Think of that, with a French audience all stirred up and ready. Oh, where was your spoken eloquence now! what was it to this! How fine he looked, how stately, how inspired, as he stood there with that mighty chant welling from his lips and his heart, his whole body transfigured, and his rags along with it.
Everybody rose and stood while he sang, and their faces glowed and their eyes burned; and the tears came and flowed don their cheeks and their forms began to sway unconsciously to the swing of the song, and their bosoms to heave and pant; and moanings broke out, and deep ejaculations; and when the last verse was reached, and Roland lay dying, all alone, with his face to the field and to his slain, lying there in heaps and winrows, and took off and held up his gauntlet to God with his failing hand, and breathed his beautiful prayer with his paling pips, all burst out in sobs and wailings. But when the final great note died out and the song was done, they all flung themselves in a body at the singer, stark mad with love of him and love of France and pride in her great deeds and old renown, and smothered him with their embracings; but Joan was there first, hugged close to his breast, and covering his face with idolatrous kisses.
The storm raged on outside, but that was no matter; this was the stranger's home now, for as long as he might please.
Chapter 4 Joan Tames the Mad Man
ALL CHILDREN have nicknames, and we had ours. We got one apiece early, and they stuck to us; but Joan was richer in this matter, for, as time went on, she earned a second, and then a third, and so on, and we gave them to her. First and last she had as many as half a dozen. Several of these she never lost. Peasant-girls are bashful naturally; but she surpassed the rule so far, and colored so easily, and was so easily embarrassed in the presence of strangers, that we nicknamed her the Bashful. We were all patriots, but she was called the Patriot, because our warmest feeling for our country was cold beside hers. Also she was called the Beautiful; and this was not merely because of the extraordinary beauty of her face and form, but because of the loveliness of her character. These names she kept, and one other--the Brave.
We grew along up, in that plodding and peaceful region, and got to be good-sized boys and girls--big enough, in fact, to begin to know as much about the wars raging perpetually to the west and north of us as our elders, and also to feel as stirred up over the occasional news from these red fields as they did. I remember certain of these days very clearly. One Tuesday a crowd of us were romping and singing around the Fairy Tree, and hanging garlands on it in memory of our lost little fairy friends, when Little Mengette cried out:
"Look! What is that?"
When one exclaims like that in a way that shows astonishment and apprehension, he gets attention. All the panting breasts and flushed faces flocked together, and all the eager eyes were turned in one direction--down the slope, toward the village.
"It's a black flag."
"A black flag! No--is it?"
"You can see for yourself that it is nothing else."
"It is a black flag, sure! Now, has any ever seen the like of that before?"
"What can it mean?"
"Mean? It means something dreadful--what else?"
"That is nothing to the point; anybody knows that without the telling. But what?--that is the question."
"It is a chance that he that bears it can answer as well as any that are here, if you contain yourself till he comes."
"He runs well. Who is it?"
Some named one, some another; but presently all saw that it was Étienne Roze, called the Sunflower, because he had yellow hair and a round pock-marked face.