The Devils of Loudun Page 15

In the sight of God, perhaps—but most certainly not in the sight of men. So far as the good people of Loudun were concerned, Madeleine was merely the latest of their parson’s concubines—a little sainte nitouche, who looked as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but in fact was no better than she should be; a prude who had suddenly revealed herself as a whore and was prostituting her body in the most shameless manner to this cassocked Priapus, this goat in a biretta.

Among those who met each afternoon under M. Adam’s crocodile, indignation was louder, malignity more venomous than in any other quarter. Loathing the parson, but unable, so discreetly had he managed his affairs, to turn this latest outrage to his disadvantage, they indemnified themselves for their enforced inaction by resorting to bad language. There was nothing they could do; but at least they could talk. And talk they did—to so many people and in terms so insulting that Madeleine’s relatives decided at last that something would have to be done about it. What they thought of Madeleine’s liaison with her confessor is not recorded. All we know is that, like Trincant, they were strong believers in the power of legal truth to take the place of truth unqualified. Magna est veritas legitima, et praevalebit.1 Acting upon this maxim, they persuaded Madeleine to bring an action for slander against M. Adam. The case was heard before the Parlement of Paris and the apothecary was found guilty. A local landowner, who was no friend of the de Brous and who detested Grandier, stood surety for him and an appeal was lodged. There was a second hearing, and the decision of the lower court was confirmed. Poor M. Adam was sentenced to pay six hundred and forty livres parisis in damages, to bear the entire costs of the two trials and, in the presence of the magistrates of the city and of Madeleine de Brou and her relations, to kneel, bare-headed, and to say “in a loud and intelligible voice that he had, temerariously and maliciously, uttered atrocious and scandalous words against the said damsel, for the which he was to ask pardon of God, of the King, of Justice and of the said Mademoiselle de Brou, acknowledging her to be a maiden of virtue and honour.” And so it was done. Legal truth had triumphantly prevailed. Lawyers themselves, the Public Prosecutor and the Lieutenant Criminel admitted defeat. In any future attack on Grandier, Madeleine, they saw, would have to be left in peace. After all, her mother had been a Chauvet; de Cerisay was her cousin; de Brous had intermarried with the Tabarts, the Dreux, the Genebauts. Whatever she might do, a girl with relatives of such importance could not possibly be anything but fille de bien et d’honneur. Meanwhile, it was too bad that the apothecary should have been completely ruined. However, such is life, such the mysterious dispensations of Providence. All of us have our little crosses, and every man, as the apostle so justly remarked, shall bear his own burden.

Two new recruits were now added to the cabal against Grandier. The first was a lawyer of some importance, Pierre Menuau, the King’s Advocate. For years past he had pestered Madeleine with proposals of marriage. Her refusals had not discouraged him and he still had hopes of some day winning the girl, the dowry and the ramifying family influence. Great, therefore, was his fury on discovering that Madeleine had bilked him of what he regarded as his rights by bestowing herself upon the parson. Trincant listened sympathetically to his outcry and, by way of consolation, offered him a place on the council of war. The invitation was accepted with alacrity, and from now on Menuau was one of the most active members of the cabal.

The second of Grandier’s new enemies was a friend of Menuau’s, called Jacques de Thibault, a country gentleman who had been a soldier and was now, as an unofficial agent for Cardinal Richelieu, dabbling in provincial politics. From the first Thibault had disliked the parson. A twopenny-halfpenny little priest, a member of the lower middle classes—and he sports the moustaches of a cavalryman, he affects the manners of a lord, he shows off his Latin as though he were a Doctor of the Sorbonne! And now he has the impudence to debauch the King’s Advocate’s intended bride! Obviously this sort of thing could not be allowed to go on.

Thibault’s first step was to address himself to one of Grandier’s most powerful friends and protectors, the Marquis du Bellay. He talked so loud and backed up his denunciations with a catalogue of so many real and imaginary offences that the Marquis changed camps and henceforward treated his erstwhile friend as persona non grata. Grandier was deeply hurt and not a little disquieted. Officious friends hastened to tell him of the part which Thibault had played in the affair, and the next time the two men met, the parson (who was in full canonicals and about to enter the church of Sainte-Croix) accosted his enemy with bitter words of reproach. For all answer Thibault lifted his malacca cane and aimed a blow at Grandier’s head. A new phase of the battle of Loudun had begun.

Grandier was the first to act. Vowing vengeance on Thibault, he set off the very next morning for Paris. Violence against the person of a priest was sacrilege, was blasphemy in action. He would appeal to the Parlement, to the Attorney General, to the Chancellor, to the King himself.

Within the hour M. Adam was fully informed of his departure and the purpose of his journey. Dropping his pestle, he hurried off to tell the Public Prosecutor, who immediately sent a servant to summon the other members of the cabal. They came and, after some discussion, worked out a plan of counter-attack. While the parson was away in Paris complaining to the King, they would go to Poitiers and complain to the Bishop. A document was drawn up in the best legal style. In it Grandier was accused of having debauched innumerable married women and young girls, of being profane and impious, of never reading his breviary and of having committed fornication within the precincts of his church. To transform these statements into legal truths was easy. M. Adam was despatched to the cattle market and soon came back with two seedy-looking individuals who professed themselves willing, for a small consideration, to sign anything that might be set before them. Bougreau knew how to write, but Cherbonneau could only make his mark. When it was all over, they took their money and went gleefully away to get drunk.

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