At last we came upon a dreadful object. It was the madman--hacked and stabbed to death in his iron cage in the corner of the square. It was a bloody and dreadful sight. Hardly any of us young people had ever seen a man before who had lost his life by violence; so this cadaver had an awful fascination for us; we could not take our eyes from it. I mean, it had that sort of fascination for all of us but one. That one was Joan. She turned away in horror, and could not be persuaded to go near it again. There--it is a striking reminder that we are but creatures of use and custom; yes, and it is a reminder, too, of how harshly and unfairly fate deals with us sometimes. For it was so ordered that the very ones among us who were most fascinated with mutilated and bloody death were to live their lives in peace, while that other, who had a native and deep horror of it, must presently go forth and have it as a familiar spectacle every day on the field of battle.
You may well believe that we had plenty of matter for talk now, since the raiding of our village seemed by long odds the greatest event that had really ever occurred in the world; for although these dull peasants may have thought they recognized the bigness of some of the previous occurrences that had filtered from the world's history dimly into their minds, the truth is that they hadn't. One biting little fact, visible to their eyes of flesh and felt in their own personal vitals, became at once more prodigious to them than the grandest remote episode in the world's history which they had got at second hand and by hearsay. It amuses me now when I recall how our elders talked then. The fumed and fretted in a fine fashion.
"Ah, yes," said old Jacques d'Arc, "things are come to a pretty pass, indeed! The King must be informed of this. It is time that he cease from idleness and dreaming, and get at his proper business." He meant our young disinherited King, the hunted refugee, Charles VII.
"You way well," said the maire. "He should be informed, and that at once. It is an outrage that such things whould be permitted. Why, we are not safe in our beds, and he taking his case yonder. It shall be made known, indeed it shall--all France shall hear of it!"
To hear them talk, one would have imagined that all the previous ten thousand sackings and burnings in France had been but fables, and this one the only fact. It is always the way; words will answer as long as it is only a person's neighbor who is in trouble, but when that person gets into trouble himself, it is time that the King rise up and do something.
The big event filled us young people with talk, too. We let it flow in a steady stream while we tended the flocks. We were beginning to feel pretty important now, for I was eighteen and the other youths were from one to four years older--young men, in fact. One day the Paladin was arrogantly criticizing the patriot generals of France and said:
"Look at Donois, Bastard of Orleans--call him a eneral! Just put me in his place once--never mind what I would do, it is not for me to say, I have no stomach for talk, my way is to act and let others do the talking--but just put me in his place once, that's all! And look at Saintrailles--pooh! and that blustering La Hire, now what a general that is!"
It shocked everybody to hear these great names so flippantly handled, for to us these renowned soldiers were almost gods. In their far-off splendor they rose upon our imaginations dim and huge, shadowy and awful, and it was a fearful thing to hear them spoken of as if they were mere men, and their acts open to comment and criticism. The olor rose in Joan's face, and she said:
"I know not how any can be so hardy as to use such words regarding these sublime men, who are the very pillars of the French state, supporting it with their strength and preserving it at daily cost of their blood. As for me, I could count myself honored past all deserving if I might be allowed but the privilege of looking upon them once--at a distance, I mean, for it would not become one of my degree to approach them too near."
The Paladin was disconcerted for a moment, seeing by the faces around him that Joan had put into words what the others felt, then he pulled his complacency together and fell to fault-finding again. Joan's brother Jean said:
"If you don't like what our generals do, why don't you go to the great wars yourself and better their work? You are always talking about going to the wars, but you don't go."
"Look you," said the Paladin, "it is easy to say that.