Simply it was gone, and had left no sign. She moved straight to the council-table, and stood. Her glance swept from face to face there, and where it fell, these lit it as with a torch, those it scorched as with a brand. She knew where to strike. She indicated the generals with a nod, and said:

"My business is not with you. You have not craved a council of war." Then she turned toward the King's privy council, and continued: "No; it is with you. A council of war! It is amazing. There is but one thing to do, and only one, and lo, ye call a council of war! Councils of war have no value but to decide between two or several doubtful courses. But a council of war when there is only one course? Conceive of a man in a boat and his family in the water, and he goes out among his friends to ask what he would better do? A council of war, name of God! To determine what?"

She stopped, and turned till her eyes rested upon the face of La Tremouille; and so she stood, silent, measuring him, the excitement in all faces burning steadily higher and higher, and all pulses beating faster and faster; then she said, with deliberation:

"Every sane man--whose loyalty is to his King and not a show and a pretense--knows that there is but one rational thing before us--the march upon Paris!"

Down came the fist of La Hire with an approving crash upon the table. La Tremouille turned white with anger, but he pulled himself firmly together and held his peace. The King's lazy blood was stirred and his eye kindled finely, for the spirit of war was away down in him somewhere, and a frank, bold speech always found it and made it tingle gladsomely. Joan waited to see if the chief minister might wish to defend his position; but he was experienced and wise, and not a man to waste his forces where the current was against him. He would wait; the King's private ear would be at his disposal by and by.

That pious fox the Chancellor of France took the word now. He washed his soft hands together, smiling persuasively, and said to Joan:

"Would it be courteous, your Excellency, to move abruptly from here without waiting for an answer from the Duke of Burgundy? You may not know that we are negotiating with his Highness, and that there is likely to be a fortnight's truce between us; and on his part a pledge to deliver Paris into our hands without the cost of a blow or the fatigue of a march thither."

Joan turned to him and said, gravely:

"This is not a confessional, my lord. You were not obliged to expose that shame here."

The Chancellor's face reddened, and he retorted:

"Shame? What is there shameful about it?"

Joan answered in level, passionless tones:

"One may describe it without hunting far for words. I knew of this poor comedy, my lord, although it was not intended that I should know. It is to the credit of the devisers of it that they tried to conceal it--this comedy whose text and impulse are describable in two words."

The Chancellor spoke up with a fine irony in his manner:

"Indeed? And will your Excellency be good enough to utter them?"

"Cowardice and treachery!"

The fists of all the generals came down this time, and again the King's eye sparkled with pleasure. The Chancellor sprang to his feet and appealed to his Majesty:

"Sire, I claim your protection."

But the King waved him to his seat again, saying:

"Peace. She had a right to be consulted before that thing was undertaken, since it concerned war as well as politics. It is but just that she be heard upon it now."

The Chancellor sat down trembling with indignation, and remarked to Joan:

"Out of charity I will consider that you did not know who devised this measure which you condemn in so candid language."

"Save your charity for another occasion, my lord," said Joan, as calmly as before. "Whenever anything is done to injure the interests and degrade the honor of France, all but the dead know how to name the two conspirators-in-chief--"

"Sir, sire! this insinuation--"

"It is not an insinuation, my lord," said Joan, placidly, "it is a charge.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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