They were come from the King to speak with the Maid of Vaucouleurs. Then he flew downstairs, and presently appeared again, backing into the room, and bowing to the ground with every step, in front of four imposing and austere bishops and their train of servants.
Joan rose, and we all stood. The bishops took seats, and for a while no word was said, for it was their prerogative to speak first, and they were so astonished to see what a child it was that was making such a noise in the world and degrading personages of their dignity to the base function of ambassadors to her in her plebeian tavern, that they could not find any words to say at first. Then presently their spokesman told Joan they were aware that she had a message for the King, wherefore she was now commanded to put it into words, briefly and without waste of time or embroideries of speech.
As for me, I could hardly contain my joy--our message was to reach the King at last! And there was the same joy and pride and exultation in the faces of our knights, too, and in those of Joan's brothers. And I knew that they were all praying--asI was--that the awe which we felt in the presence of these great dignitaries, and which would have tied our tongues and locked our jaws, would not affect her in the like degree, but that she would be enabled to word her message well, and with little stumbling, and so make a favorable impression here, where it would be so valuable and so important.
Ah, dear, how little we were expecting what happened then! We were aghast to hear her say what she said. She was standing in a reverent attitude, with her head down and her hands clasped in front of her; for she was always reverent toward the consecrated servants of God. When the spokesman had finished, she raised her head and set her calm eye on those faces, not any more disturbed by their state and grandeur than a princess would have been, and said, with all her ordinary simplicity and modesty of voice and manner:
"Ye will forgive me, reverend sirs, but I have no message save for the King's ear alone."
Those surprised men were dumb for a moment, and their faces flushed darkly; then the spokesman said:
"Hark ye, to you fling the King's command in his face and refuse to deliver this message of yours to his servants appointed to receive it?"
"God has appointed me to receive it, and another's commandment may not take precedence of that. I pray you let me have speech for his grace the Dauphin."
"Forbear this folly, and come at your message! Deliver it, and waste no more time about it."
"You err indeed, most reverend fathers in God, and it is not well. I am not come hither to talk, but to deliver Orleans, and lead the Dauphin to his good city of Rheims, and set the crown upon his head."
"Is that the message you send to the King?"
But Joan only said, in the simple fashion which was her wont:
"Ye will pardon me for reminding you again--but I have no message to send to any one."
The King's messengers rose in deep anger and swept out of the place without further words, we and Joan kneeling as they passed.
Our countenances were vacant, our hearts full of a sense of disaster. Our precious opportunity was thrown away; we could not understand Joan's conduct, she who had ben so wise until this fatal hour. At last the Sieur Bertrand found courage to ask her why she had let this great chance to get her message to the King go by.
"Who sent them here?" she asked.
"Who moved the King to send them?" She waited for an answer; none came, for we began to see what was in her mind--so she answered herself: "The Dauphin's council moved him to it. Are they enemies to me and to the Dauphin's weal, or are they friends?"
"Enemies," answered the Sieur Bertrand.
"If one would have a message go sound and ungarbled, does one choose traitors and tricksters to send it by?"
I saw that we had been fools, and she wise. They saw it too, so none found anything to say. Then she went on:
"They had but small wit that contrived this trap.