I must admit that May 4 during the siege of Orleans holds a special place in my heart. It is not only that we are on the cusp of something, well, miraculously big. Who does not like a great battle story, anyway? No, the reason I so love May 4 with the return of The Bastard from Blois with Joan’s army is that on this day we have a most moving account of loving tribute given her by one of her soldiers. We will allow Mark Twain to regale us here. It is this story that most mimics my own feelings; it touches me deeply in the heart. The story of the Dwarf is, in a certain way, my own story indeed.
The Dwarf, in quick summary, was a very large soldier who, upon re-entering Blois on the march back from Orleans, deserted the army. The reason he deserted the army was that his wife, his one love in life, was fatally ill. He wished to see her before she died. After her death, the Dwarf ran to catch up to the army. Despite the heart-wrenching circumstances, the other soldiers took no mercy on Dwarf and threatened him with death as a deserter. They carried him with the army back to Orleans as a criminal. Joan wanted to know what this was all about and approached him. She listened to the man’s story. What she did next would leave the Dwarf changed forever. The following account is as good as any to describe how Joan felt about her soldiers and how Joan’s soldiers felt about her. In summary, there was a bond and a love between them that prepared each to give their lives for the other. This enthusiasm, this will to live, fight, and even die for the Maid was a force that no number of English garrisons would be able to match.
“The eyes of the two met (Joan and the Dwarf), and Joan said to the officer, “The man is pardoned. Give you good-day; you may go.”
Then she said to the man, “Did you know it was death to come back to the army?”
“Yes,” he said, “I knew it.”
“Then why did you do it?”
The man said quite simply, “BECAUSE it was death. She was all I had. There was nothing left to love.”
“Ah, yes, there was – France! The children of France have always their mother – they cannot be left with nothing to love. You shall live – and you shall serve France.”
“I will serve YOU!”
“You shall fight for France.”
“I will fight for YOU!”
“You shall be France’s soldier.”
“I will be YOUR soldier!”
“You shall give all your heart to France.”
“I will give all my heart to YOU! – and all my soul – if I have one – and all my strength, which is great – for I was dead and am alive again; I had nothing to live for, but now I have! You are France for me. You are my France, and I will have no other.” (Twain, “Joan of Arc,” p.180)
That type of love and enthusiasm drove Joan’s army to meet the English for the first time that day with wild abandon. For, despite the tepidity of the rest of the English in the surrounding bastilles that were choking Orleans of its life, the forces from the Bastille of Saint-Loup had sallied forth to attack “the witch’s” men at arms! This one daring advance by the English would ultimately mark the beginning of the end for the English in France.
It was a battle in the open field, and when Joan came forward with her banner flying and shouting, “Forward men! – Follow me!” the French forces surged forward in a terrible and frightening way. The English were repulsed but formed a counter charge and returned as like a raging fire.
Dunois had now arrived on the scene, and those of the enemy who survived ran back into the fortress for a short-lived respite. He thanked Joan and told her that she would now receive a great reception!
“NOW? Hardly now, Bastard. Not yet!”
“Why not yet, is there more to be done?”
“More Bastard? We have but begun!” We will take this fortress!”
He tried to talk her out of it. (That famous French military “caution” that so annoyed her)
“Bastard, Bastard, will you play always with these English? Now verily, I tell you we will not budge until this place is ours. We will carry it by storm. Sound the charge!” (ibid. p.190)
And with that, Joan’s forces brought the Bastille under French control. Joan had experienced her first battle and was gloriously victorious! The morale of the French forces rose to the heavens, as did their voices in loud acclamations of joy!
However, when they went to search for Joan and to raise her high on their shoulders as they marched back into Orleans, she was not in sight. When they did finally discover her, she was alone, sitting with her face in her hands, tears streaming from her eyes. Joan was, after all, only seventeen years old. How she wished she could be back home in Domremy tending her father’s sheep! Sadly, more fighting would be necessary. Orleans was not yet free. This was only the beginning. More bastilles would have to fall.
Tomorrow – The Feast of the Ascension – no fighting for one more day – then we move to glorious victory and a feat that will forever make Joan known as “The Maid of Orleans!”, still celebrated each year, 600 years later, in the city of Orleans.