The Devils of Loudun Page 10

Delicious dream! But a most troublesome obstacle stood in the way of its fulfilment. Philippe’s father was Louis Trincant, and Louis Trincant was the parson’s best friend, his staunchest and most resolute ally against the monks, the Lieutenant Criminel and the rest of his adversaries. Louis Trincant trusted him, trusted him so completely that he had made his daughters give up their old confessor so that they might become Grandier’s penitents. And would the Curé be good enough to read them an occasional lecture on filial duty and maidenly modesty? Didn’t he agree that Guillaume Rogier was not quite good enough for Philippe, but would make a very suitable match for Françoise? And surely Philippe ought to keep up her Latin. Could he possibly find time to give her an occasional lesson? To abuse such trust would be the blackest of crimes. And yet its very blackness was a reason for committing it. On all the levels of our being, from the muscular and sensational to the moral and the intellectual, every tendency generates its own opposite. We look at something red, and visual induction intensifies our perception of green and even, in certain circumstances, causes us to see a green halo round the red object, a green after-image when the object has been removed. We will a movement; one set of muscles is stimulated and, automatically, by spinal induction, the opposing muscles are inhibited. The same principle holds good on the higher levels of consciousness. Every yes begets a corresponding no. “There is more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in all the creeds.” And there is (as Butler pointed out long since, and as we shall have occasion to observe on many occasions during the course of this history) there is more doubt in honest faith, believe me, than in all the Bradlaughs and all the Marxist textbooks. In moral education induction poses a peculiarly difficult problem. If every yes tends automatically to evoke its corresponding no, how can we inculcate right conduct without at the same time inductively inculcating the wrong conduct which is its opposite? Methods for circumventing induction exist; but that they are not always well applied is sufficiently proved by the existence of vast numbers of stubborn and ‘contrary’ children, of adolescents who are consistently ‘agin the government,’ of perverse and antinomian adults. Even the well-balanced and the self-controlled are sometimes aware of a paradoxical temptation to do the exact opposite of what they know they ought to do. It is a temptation, very often, to an evil without point or profit, to a gratuitous and, so to say, disinterested outrage against common sense and common decency. Most of these inductive temptations are successfully resisted—most, but by no means all. Every now and then sensible and fundamentally decent people will embark, all of a sudden, on courses of which they themselves are the first to disapprove. In these cases the evil-doer acts as though he were possessed by some entity different from and malignantly hostile to his ordinary self. In fact, he is the victim of a neutral mechanism, which (as not uncommonly happens with machines) has got out of hand and, from being the servant of its possessor, has become his master. Philippe was exceedingly attractive and “the strongest oaths are straw to the fire in the blood.” But as well as fire in the blood there is induction in the brain. Trincant was the parson’s best friend. The very act of recognizing that such a thing would be monstrous created in Grandier’s mind a perverse desire to betray him. Instead of making a supreme effort to resist the temptation the parson tried to find reasons for yielding. He kept telling himself that the father of such a delicious morsel as Philippe had no right to behave so trustfully. It was sheer folly—no, worse than folly; it was a crime that deserved condign punishment. Latin lessons, indeed! It was the story all over again of Héloïse and Abelard, with the Public Prosecutor as Uncle Fulbert, inviting the ravisher to make himself at home. Only one thing was lacking—the privilege, so freely accorded to Héloïse’s tutor, of using the birch. And perhaps if he asked for it, the imbecile Trincant would grant him even that. . . .

Time passed. The widow continued to enjoy her Tuesdays; but on most of the other days of the week Grandier was to be found at the Public Prosecutor’s. Françoise was already married; but Philippe was still at home and making excellent progress with her Latin.

Omne adeo genus in terris hominumque ferarumque

et genus aequoreum, pecudes pictaeque volucres,

in furias, ignemque ruunt; amor omnibus idem.1

And even the vegetables feel the tender passion.

Nutant ad mutua palmae

foedera, populeo suspirat populus ictu,

et platani platanis, alnoque assibilat alnus.2

Laboriously Philippe translated for him the tenderer passages in the poets, the most scabrous episodes in mythology. With a self-denial which his widow made it rather easy for him to practise, the parson refrained from anything like an assault upon his pupil’s honour, from anything that might even be interpreted as a declaration or a proposition. He merely made himself charming and interesting, told the girl two or three times a week that she was the most intelligent woman he had ever known and occasionally looked at her in a way that made Philippe drop her eyes and blush. It was all rather a waste of time, but not unamusing. And luckily there was always Ninon; luckily, too, the girl could not read his thoughts.

They sat in the same room, but not in the same universe. No longer a child, but not yet a woman, Philippe was the inhabitant of that rosy limbo of phantasy which lies between innocence and experience. Her home was not at Loudun, not among these frumps and bores and boors, but with a god in a private Elysium, transfigured by the radiance of dawning love and imaginary sex. Those dark eyes of his, those moustaches, those white and well-kept hands—they haunted her like a guilty conscience. And what wit he had, what profundity of knowledge! An archangel, as wise as he was beautiful and as kind as he was wise. And he thought her clever, he praised her diligence; above all he had a certain way of looking at her. Was it possible that he . . .? But no, no, it was sacrilegious even to think such thoughts, it was a sin. But how could she ever confess it—to him?

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