Now I will tell you why I remain chafing here in a bloodless tranquillity which my reputation teaches you is repulsive to my nature. I do not go because I am not a gentleman. That is the whole reason. What can one private soldier do in a contest like this? Nothing. He is not permitted to rise from the ranks. If I were a gentleman would I remain here? Not one moment. I can save France--ah, you may laugh, but I know what is in me, I know what is hid under this peasant cap. I can save France, and I stand ready to do it, but not under these present conditions. If they want me, let them send for me; otherwise, let them take the consequences; I shall not budge but as an officer."
"Alas, poor France--France is lost!" said Pierre d'Arc.
"Since you sniff so at others, why don't you go to the wars yourself, Pierre d'Arc?"
"Oh, I haven't been sent for, either. I am no more a gentleman than you. Yet I will go; I promise to go. I promise to go as a private under your orders--when you are sent for."
They all laughed, and the Dragon-fly said:
"So soon? Then you need to begin to get ready; you might be called for in five years--who knows? Yes, in my opinion you'll march for the wars in five years."
"He will go sooner," said Joan. She said it in a low voice and musingly, but several heard it.
"How do you know that, Joan?" said the Dragon-fly, with a surprised look. But Jean d'Arc broke in and said:
"I want to go myself, but as I am rather young yet, I also will wait, and march when the Paladin is sent for."
"No," said Joan, "he will go with Pierre."
She said it as one who talks to himself aloud without knowing it, and none heard it but me. I glanced at her and saw that her knitting-needles were idle in her hands, and that her face had a dreamy and absent look in it. There were fleeting movements of her lips as if she might be occasionally saying parts of sentences to herself. But there was no sound, for I was the nearest person to her and I heard nothing. But I set my ears open, for those two speeches had affected me uncannily, I being superstitious and easily troubled by any little thing of a strange and unusual sort.
NoČl Rainguesson said:
"There is one way to let France have a chance for her salvation. We've got one gentleman in the commune, at any rate. Why can't the Scholar change name and condition with the Paladin? Then he can be an officer. France will send for him then, and he will sweep these English and Burgundian armies into the sea like flies."
I was the Scholar. That was my nickname, because I could read and write. There was a chorus of approval, and the Sunflower said:
"That is the very thing--it settles every difficulty. The Sieur de Conte will easily agree to that. Yes, he will march at the back of Captain Paladin and die early, covered with common-soldier glory."
"He will march with Jean and Pierre, and live till these wars are forgotten," Joan muttered; "and at the eleventh hour NoČl and the Paladin will join these, but not of their own desire." The voice was so low that I was not perfectly sure that these were the words, but they seemed to be. It makes one feel creepy to hear such things.
"Come, now," NoČl continued, "it's all arranged; there's nothing to do but organize under the Paladin's banner and go forth and rescue France. You'll all join?"
All said yes, except Jacques d'Arc, who said:
"I'll ask you to excuse me. It is pleasant to talk war, and I am with you there, and I've always thought I should go soldiering about this time, but the look of our wrecked village and that carved-up and bloody madman have taught me that I am not made for such work and such sights. I could never be at home in that trade. Face swords and the big guns and death? It isn't in me. No, no; count me out. And besides, I'm the eldest son, and deputy prop and protector of the family. Since you are going to carry Jean and Pierre to the wars, somebody must be left behind to take care of our Joan and her sister. I shall stay at home, and grow old in peace and tranquillity."
"He will stay at home, but not grow old," murmured Joan.