The Devils of Loudun Page 12

Nothing? With an almost audible snigger, Fate sprung the trap she had been preparing for herself. And there she was, pinned helplessly between physiology and the social order—pregnant but unmarried, dishonoured beyond redemption. The inconceivable had become the actual; that which had been out of the question was now a fact. The moon waxed, hung for a glorious night or two in its full splendour, then waned, waned, like the last hope, and disappeared. There was nothing for it but to die in his arms—to die, or if that were impossible, at least forget for a little and be someone else.

Alarmed by so much violence, such a recklessness of self-abandonment, the parson tried to modulate her passion into a lighter and less tragic key. He accompanied his caresses with apt quotations from the livelier classics. Quantum, quale latus, quam juvenile femur!1 In the intermissions of love he told improper stories from the Dames Galantes of Brantôme, he whispered into her ear a few of the enormities so diligently catalogued by Sanchez in his folio on matrimony. But her face never changed its expression. It was like a face in marble, a face on a tomb, closed, unresponsive, pure even of life. And when at last she reopened her eyes, it was as though she were looking at him from another world, a world where there was only suffering and a fixed despair. The look disquieted him; but to his solicitous questioning her only answer was to lift her hands, catch him by his thick black curls and pull him down to her mouth, to her proffered throat and breast.

Then one day, in the middle of his story about King Francis’s drinking cups for debutantes—those flagons engraved on the inside with amorous postures, which revealed themselves a little more completely with every sip of the concealing wine—she interrupted him with the curt announcement that she was going to have a baby, and immediately burst into a paroxysm of uncontrollable sobbing.

Shifting his hand from the bosom to the bowed head and changing his tone, without any transition, from the bawdy to the clerical, the parson told her that she must learn to bear her cross with Christian resignation. Then, remembering the visit he had promised to pay to poor Mme. de Brou, who had a cancer of the womb and needed all the spiritual consolation he could give her, he took his leave.

After that he was too busy to give her any more lessons. Except as a penitent, Philippe never saw him alone. And when, in the confessional, she tried to speak to him as a person—as the man she had loved, the man who, as she still believed, had loved her—she found, confronting her, only the priest, only the transubstantiator of bread and wine, the giver of absolution and the assigner of penance. How eloquently he urged her to repent, to throw herself on the divine mercy! And when she mentioned their past love, he rebuked her with an almost prophetic indignation, for thus complacently wallowing in her filth; when she asked him despairingly what she was to do, he told her with unction that, as a Christian, she must be, not merely resigned to the humiliation which it was God’s good pleasure that she should suffer; she must embrace and actively will it. Of his own share in her misadventure he would not allow her to speak. Every soul must bear the burden of its own wrong-doing. One’s own sins were not excused by the sins which others might, or might not, have committed. If she came to the confessional, it was in order to ask forgiveness for what she had done, not to inquire into the conscience of others. And with that, bewildered and in tears, she would be dismissed.

The spectacle of her unhappiness evoked in him neither pity nor remorse, but only a sense of grievance. The siege had been tedious, the capture without glory, the subsequent enjoyment only moderate. And now with this precipitate and untimely fecundity, she was threatening his honour, his very existence. A little bastard on top of all his other troubles—it would be the ruin of him! He had never really cared for the girl; now he actively disliked her. And she was no longer even pretty. Pregnancy and worry had conspired to give her the expression of a whipped dog, the complexion of a child with worms. In conjunction with all the rest, her temporary unattractiveness made him feel not only that he had no further obligations towards her, but that she had done him an injury and, by impugning his taste, insulted him into the bargain. It was with a good conscience that he now took the course which, since there was no acceptable alternative, he would have had to take even with a bad one. He decided to brazen it out, to deny everything. Not only would he act and speak, he would even think and inwardly feel, as though nothing of the kind had ever, or could ever have, happened, as though the very idea of an intimacy with Philippe Trincant were absurd, preposterous, utterly out of the question.

Le cœur le mieux donné tient toujours à demi,

Chacun s’aime un peu mieux toujours que son ami.


THE weeks passed. Philippe went abroad less and less frequently and at last even gave up going to church. She was ill, she said, and had to keep to her room. Her friend, Marthe le Pelletier, a girl of good family, but orphaned and very poor, came to live in the house as her nurse and companion. Still suspecting nothing, still indignant if anyone even so much as hinted at the truth or breathed a word against the parson, M. Trincant talked with parental concern about peccant humours and impending phthisis. Dr. Fanton, the attending physician, discreetly said nothing to anybody. The rest of Loudun either winked and sniggered, or else indulged in the pleasures of righteous indignation. When they met him, the parson’s enemies dropped envenomed hints; his graver friends shook their heads at him, the more Rabelaisian dug him in the ribs and offered ribald congratulations. To all of them Grandier replied that he did not know what they were talking about. For those who were not already prejudiced against him, his frank yet dignified manner and the manifest sincerity of his words were proof enough of his innocence. It was morally impossible that such a man could have done the things his calumniators accused him of. In the houses of such distinguished persons as M. de Cerisay and Mme. de Brou he was still a welcome guest. And their doors remained open to him even after that of the Public Prosecutor had been closed. For, in the end, even Trincant’s eyes were opened to the true nature of his daughter’s indisposition. Cross-questioned, she confessed the truth. From having been the parson’s staunchest friend Trincant became, overnight, the most implacable and the most dangerous of his enemies. Grandier had forged another and an essential link in the chain that was to draw him to his doom.

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