I bring it against the King's chief minister and his Chancellor."
Both men were on their feet now, insisting that the King modify Joan's frankness; but he was not minded to do it. His ordinary councils were stale water--his spirit was drinking wine, now, and the taste of it was good. He said:
"Sit--and be patient. What is fair for one must in fairness be allowed the other. Consider--and be just. When have you two spared her? What dark charges and harsh names have you withheld when you spoke of her?" Then he added, with a veiled twinkle in his eyes, "If these are offenses I see no particular difference between them, except that she says her hard things to your faces, whereas you say yours behind her back."
He was pleased with that neat shot and the way it shriveled those two people up, and made La Hire laugh out loud and the other generals softly quake and chuckle. Joan tranquilly resumed:
"From the first, we have been hindered by this policy of shilly-hally; this fashion of counseling and counseling and counseling where no counseling is needed, but only fighting. We took Orleans on the 8th of May, and could have cleared the region round about in three days and saved the slaughter of Patay. We could have been in Rheims six weeks ago, and in Paris now; and would see the last Englishman pass out of France in half a year. But we struck no blow after Orleans, but went off into the country--what for? Ostensibly to hold councils; really to give Bedford time to send reinforcements to Talbot--which he did; and Patay had to be fought. After Patay, more counseling, more waste of precious time. Oh, my King, I would that you would be persuaded!" She began to warm up, now. "Once more we have our opportunity. If we rise and strike, all is well. Bid me march upon Paris. In twenty days it shall be yours, and in six months all France! Here is half a year's work before us; if this chance be wasted, I give you twenty years to do it in. Speak the word, O gentle King--speak but the one--"
"I cry you mercy!" interrupted the Chancellor, who saw a dangerous enthusiasm rising in the King's face. "March upon Paris? Does your Excellency forget that the way bristles with English strongholds?"
"That for your English strongholds!" and Joan snapped her fingers scornfully. "Whence have we marched in these last days? From Gien. And whither? To Rheims. What bristled between? English strongholds. What are they now? French ones--and they never cost a blow!" Here applause broke out from the group of generals, and Joan had to pause a moment to let it subside. "Yes, English strongholds bristled before us; now French ones bristle behind us. What is the argument? A child can read it. The strongholds between us and Paris are garrisoned by no new breed of English, but by the same breed as those others--with the same fears, the same questionings, the same weaknesses, the same disposition to see the heavy hand of God descending upon them. We have but to march!--on the instant--and they are ours, Paris is ours, France is ours! Give the word, O my King, command your servant to--"
"Stay!" cried the Chancellor. "It would be madness to put our affront upon his Highness the Duke of Burgundy. By the treaty which we have every hope to make with him--"
"Oh, the treaty which we hope to make with him! He has scorned you for years, and defied you. Is it your subtle persuasions that have softened his manners and beguiled him to listen to proposals? No; it was blows!--the blows which we gave him! That is the only teaching that that sturdy rebel can understand. What does he care for wind? The treaty which we hope to make with him--alack! He deliver Paris! There is no pauper in the land that is less able to do it. He deliver Paris! Ah, but that would make great Bedford smile! Oh, the pitiful pretext! the blind can see that this thin pour-parler with its fifteen-day truce has no purpose but to give Bedford time to hurry forward his forces against us. More treachery--always treachery! We call a council of war--with nothing to council about; but Bedford calls no council to teach him what our course is.