The Devils of Loudun Page 20

Besides these, the parson had other and less discreditable reasons for wishing to stay. Loudun was Madeleine’s home, and it would be very difficult for her to leave it. And there was his friend, Jean d’Armagnac, who now had as much need of Grandier’s help as Grandier had once had need of his. To leave Loudun in the midst of the battle over the castle would be like deserting an ally in the face of the enemy.

On his way home from Saint-Jouin, Grandier dismounted at the parsonage of one of the villages on his road and asked if he might cut a branch from the handsome bay tree growing in the garden. The old priest gladly gave his permission. Nothing like bay leaves, he remarked, for improving the flavour of wild duck and roast venison. And nothing like bay leaves, Grandier added, for celebrating a triumph. It was with the victor’s laurel in his hand that he rode through the streets of Loudun. That evening, after nearly two years of silence, the parson’s ringing voice was heard again in St. Peter’s. Beneath the apothecary’s crocodile, meanwhile, the members of the cabal acknowledged their defeat and grimly debated their next move.

A new phase of the struggle was to open sooner than they or anyone else expected. A day or two after Grandier’s triumphant return from Saint-Jouin, a distinguished visitor arrived in town and took lodgings at the Swan and Cross. This visitor was Jean de Martin, Baron de Laubardemont, First President of the Court of Appeal (cour des aides) of Guyenne, a member of the Council of State and now His Majesty’s special Commissioner for the demolition of the castle of Loudun. For a man of only forty-one M. de Laubardemont had gone far. His career was a demonstration of the fact that, in certain circumstances, crawling is a more effective means of locomotion than walking upright, and that the best crawlers are also the deadliest biters. All his life Laubardemont had systematically crawled before the powerful and bitten the defenceless. And now he was reaping his reward; he had become one of His Eminence’s favourite subordinates.

In appearance and manner the Baron had modelled himself, two hundred and some odd years before the event, on Dickens’s Uriah Heep. The long, squirming body, the damp hands incessantly rubbed, the constant protestations of humility and good will—all were there. And so was the underlying malignancy, so was the ruthless eye to the main chance.

This was Laubardemont’s second visit to Loudun. He had come there in the previous year to represent the King at the baptism of one of d’Armagnac’s children. For this reason the Governor, somewhat naïvely, believed that Laubardemont was his devoted friend. But the Baron had no friends and was devoted only to the powerful. D’Armagnac wielded no effective power; he was merely the favourite of a King who had invariably shown himself too weak to say no to his first minister. The favourite had had His Majesty’s assurance that the donjon would not be razed; but His Eminence had made up his mind that it must go. This being so, it was a foregone conclusion that sooner or later (and more probably sooner) the King would withdraw his promise. Whereupon the favourite would be revealed for what he was—a mere cipher, a titled nonentity. Before leaving for Poitou, Laubardemont had called on the Governor and made the usual offers of service, the customary protestations of everlasting friendship. And while at Loudun he was assiduous in his attentions to Mme. d’Armagnac, he went out of his way to be polite to the parson. Secretly, however, he held long consultations with Trincant, Hervé, Mesmin de Silly and the other Cardinalists. Grandier, whose private intelligence service was at least as good as the apothecary’s, was very soon apprised of these meetings. He wrote to the Governor, warning him to be on his guard against Laubardemont and, above all, against Laubardemont’s master, the Cardinal. D’Armagnac replied triumphantly that the King had just written personally to his Commissioner with explicit orders that the keep was to be left standing. That would settle the matter, once and for all.

The royal missive was delivered about the middle of December 1631. Laubardemont merely put it in his pocket and said nothing about it. The demolition of the outer walls and towers went steadily forward and when, in January, Laubardemont left Loudun to attend to more pressing business elsewhere, the wreckers were getting very close to the keep. Grandier questioned the engineer in charge of the work. His orders were to demolish everything. Acting on his own initiative, the parson gave orders to the soldiers under the Governor’s command to form a cordon round the inner fortress.

In February Laubardemont returned and, perceiving that, for the moment, the game was up, apologized to Mme. d’Armagnac for his unaccountable oversight and finally published the King’s letter. Temporarily the keep had been saved, but for how long and at what price? Michel Lucas, His Majesty’s private secretary and a faithful agent of the Cardinal, received orders to undermine d’Armagnac’s influence with his royal master. As for the parson—he would be dealt with in due course and as occasion offered.

Grandier and d’Armagnac scored their last and their most suicidal victory in the early summer of 1632. A courier was bribed, a budget of letters from the Cardinalists to Michel Lucas was intercepted. These letters contained, along with much malicious slander against the Governor, clear proofs that the men who had written them were working wholeheartedly for the ruin of Loudun. D’Armagnac, who was staying at his country house of Lamotte, rode unannounced into the city and, to the sound of the tocsin, summoned an assembly of the people. The incriminating letters were read aloud, and such was the popular fury that Hervé, Trincant and the rest had to go into hiding. But the Governor’s triumph was short-lived. Returning a few days later to court, he found that the news of his exploit had preceded him and that the Cardinal had taken it very badly. La Vrillière, the Secretary of State, and a faithful friend, took him aside and told him that he would have to choose between his donjon and his offices under the crown. In no circumstances would His Eminence permit him to keep both. And in any case, whatever might be the present intentions of His Majesty, the donjon was going to be demolished. D’Armagnac took the hint. From that time forth he offered no further resistance. A year later the King wrote another letter to his Commissioner. “Monsieur de Laubardemont, having heard of your diligence . . . I write this letter to express my satisfaction, and because the donjon still remains to be demolished, you will not fail to cause it to be razed entirely, without reserving anything.” As usual, the Cardinal had had his way.

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