Seventeen, she was--seventeen, and all alone on her bench by herself; yet was not afraid, but faced that great company of erudite doctor4s of law ant theology, and by the help of no art learned in the schools, but using only the enchantments which were hers by nature, of youth, sincerity, a voice soft and musical, and an eloquence whose source was the heart, not the head, she laid that spell upon them. Now was not that a beautiful thing to see? If I could, I would put it before you just as I saw it; then I know what you would say.
As I have told you, she could not read. "One day they harried and pestered her with arguments, reasonings, objections, and other windy and wordy trivialities, gathered out of the works of this and that and the other great theological authority, until at last her patience vanished, and she turned upon them sharply and said:
"I don't know A from B; but I know this: that I am come by command of the Lord of Heaven to deliver Orleans from the English power and crown the King of Rheims, and the matters ye are puttering over are of no consequence!"
Necessarily those were trying days for her, and wearing for everybody that took part; but her share was the hardest, for she had no holidays, but must be always on hand and stay the long hours through, whereas this, that, and the other inquisitor could absent himself and rest up from his fatigues when he got worn out. And yet she showed no wear, no weariness, and but seldom let fly her temper. As a rule she put her day through calm, alert, patient, fencing with those veteran masters of scholarly sword-play and coming out always without a scratch.
One day a Dominican sprung upon her a question which made everybody cock up his ears with interest; as for me, I trembled, and said to myself she is done this time, poor Joan, for there is no way of answering this. The sly Dominican began in this way--in a sort of indolent fashion, as if the thing he was about was a matter of no moment:
"You assert that God has willed to deliver France from this English bondage?"
"Yes, He has willed it."
"You wish for men-at-arms, so that you may go to the relief of Orleans, I believe?"
"Yes--and the sooner the better."
"God is all-powerful, and able to do whatsoever thing He wills to do, is it not so?"
"Most surely. None doubts it."
The Dominican lifted his head suddenly, and sprung that question I have spoken of, with exultation:
"Then answer me this. If He has willed to deliver France, and is able to do whatsoever He wills, where is the need for men-at-arms?"
There was a fine stir and commotion when he said that, and a sudden thrusting forward of heads and putting up of hands to ears to catch the answer; and the Dominican wagged his head with satisfaction, and looked about him collecting his applause, for it shone in every face. But Joan was not disturbed. There was no note of disquiet in her voice when she answered:
"He helps who help themselves. The sons of France will fight the battles, but He will give the victory!"
You could see a light of admiration sweep the house from face to face like a ray from the sun. Even the Dominican himself looked pleased, to see his master-stroke so neatly parried, and I heard a venerable bishop mutter, in the phrasing common to priest and people in that robust time, "By God, the child has said true. He willed that Goliath should be slain, and He sent a child like this to do it!"
Another day, when the inquisition had dragged along until everybody looked drowsy and tired but Joan, Brother S‚guin, professor of theology at the University of Poitiers, who was a sour and sarcastic man, fell to plying Joan with all sorts of nagging questions in his bastard Limousin French--for he was from Limoges. Finally he said:
"How is it that you understand those angels? What language did they speak?"
"In-deed! How pleasant to know that our language is so honored! Good French?"
"Perfect, eh? Well, certainly you ought to know.