Then what a crash there was! All about us cries and cheers, and the chanting of the choirs and groaning of the organ; and outside the clamoring of the bells and the booming of the cannon. The fantastic dream, the incredible dream, the impossible dream of the peasant-child stood fulfilled; the English power was broken, the Heir of France was crowned.
She was like one transfigured, so divine was the joy that shone in her face as she sank to her knees at the King's feet and looked up at him through her tears. Her lips were quivering, and her words came soft and low and broken:
"Now, O gentle King, is the pleasure of God accomplished according to His command that you should come to Rheims and receive the crown that belongeth of right to you, and unto none other. My work which was given me to do is finished; give me your peace, and let me go back to my mother, who is poor and old, and has need of me."
The King raised her up, and there before all that host he praised her great deeds in most noble terms; and there he confirmed her nobility and titles, making her the equal of a count in rank, and also appointed a household and officers for her according to her dignity; and then he said:
"You have saved the crown. Speak--require--demand; and whatsoever grace you ask it shall be granted, though it make the kingdom poor to meet it."
Now that was fine, that was royal. Joan was on her knees again straightway, and said:
"Then, O gentle King, if out of your compassion you will speak the word, I pray you give commandment that my village, poor and hard pressed by reason of war, may have its taxes remitted."
"It is so commanded. Say on."
"That is all."
"All? Nothing but that?"
"It is all. I have no other desire."
"But that is nothing--less than nothing. Ask--do not be afraid."
"Indeed, I cannot, gentle King. Do not press me. I will not have aught else, but only this alone."
The King seemed nonplussed, and stood still a moment, as if trying to comprehend and realize the full stature of this strange unselfishness. Then he raised his head and said:
"Whe has one a kingdom and crowned its King; and all she asks and all she will take is this poor grace--and even this is for others, not for herself. And it is well; her act being proportioned to the dignity of one who carries in her head and heart riches which outvalue any that any King could add, though he gave his all. She shall have her way. Now, therefore, it is decreed that from this day forth Domremy, natal village of Joan of Arc, Deliverer of France, called the Maid of Orleans, is freed from all taxation forever." Whereat the silver horns blew a jubilant blast.
There, you see, she had had a vision of this very scene the time she was in a trance in the pastures of Domremy and we asked her to name to boon she would demand of the King if he should ever chance to tell her she might claim one. But whether she had the vision or not, this act showed that after all the dizzy grandeurs that had come upon her, she was still the same simple, unselfish creature that she was that day.
Yes, Charles VII. remitted those taxes "forever." Often the gratitude of kings and nations fades and their promises are forgotten or deliberately violated; but you, who are children of France, should remember with pride that France has kept this one faithfully. Sixty-three years have gone by since that day. The taxes of the region wherein Domremy lies have been collected sixty-three times since then, and all the villages of that region have paid except that one--Domremy. The tax-gatherer never visits Domremy. Domremy has long ago forgotten what that dread sorrow-sowing apparition is like. Sixty-three tax-books have been filed meantime, and they lie yonder with the other public records, and any may see them that desire it. At the top of every page in the sixty-three books stands the name of a village, and below that5 name its weary burden of taxation is figured out and displayed; in the case of all save one. It is true, just as I tell you.