The Devils of Loudun Page 50

Licensed, sometimes even suggested, and always respectfully listened to, the diabolic depositions came pouring in just as fast as Laubardemont needed them. Thus he found it desirable that Grandier should be not merely a magician, but also a high priest in the Old Religion. The word went round, and immediately one of the lay demoniacs obliged by confessing (through the mouth of a devil who had been duly constrained by one of the Carmelite exorcists) that she had prostituted herself to the parson, and that the parson had expressed his appreciation by offering to take her to the Sabbath and make her a princess at the devil’s court. Grandier affirmed that he had never so much as laid eyes on the girl. But Satan had spoken and to doubt his word would be sacrilege.

Some witches, as is well known, have supernumerary ni**les; others acquire, at the touch of the devil’s finger, one or more small areas of insensibility, where the prick of a needle causes no pain and draws no blood. Grandier had no extra teats; ergo he must carry somewhere on his person those pain-free spots by which the Evil One marks his own. Where precisely were those spots? As early as 26th April the Prioress had given the answer. There were five marks in all—one on the shoulder, at the place where criminals are branded, two more on the bu**ocks, very near the fundament, and one on either testicle. (A quoi rèvent les Jeunes Filles?) To confirm the truth of this statement, Mannoury, the surgeon, was ordered to do a little vivisection. In the presence of two apothecaries and several doctors, Grandier was stripped, shaved all over, blindfolded and then systematically pricked to the bone with a long, sharp probe. Ten years before. in Trincant’s drawing-room, the parson had made fun of this ignorant and pompous ass. Now the ass was getting his own back, and with a vengeance. The pain was excruciating and, through the bricked-up windows, the prisoner’s screams could be heard by an ever-growing crowd of the curious in the street below. In the official summary of the counts on which Grandier was condemned, we learn that, owing to the great difficulty of locating such small areas of insensibility, only two out of the five marks described by the Prioress were actually discovered. But, for Laubardemont’s purposes, two were amply sufficient. Mannoury’s methods, it may be added, were admirably simple and effective. After a score of agonizing jabs he would reverse the probe and press the blunt end against the parson’s flesh. Miraculously, there was no pain. The devil had marked the spot. Had he been permitted to go on long enough, there is no doubt that Mannoury would have discovered all the marks. Unfortunately, one of the apothecaries (an untrustworthy stranger from Tours) was less complaisant than the village doctors whom Laubardemont had assembled to control the experiment. Catching Mannoury in the act of cheating, the man protested. In vain. His minority report was merely ignored. Meanwhile, Mannoury and the others had proved themselves to be most gratifyingly co-operative. Laubardemont was able to announce that Science had now corroborated the revelations of hell.

For the most part, of course, Science did not have to corroborate; ex hypothesi, the revelations of hell were true. When Grandier was confronted by his accusers, they rushed at him like a pack of Maenads, screaming through the mouths of all their devils that it was he who had bewitched them, he who, every night for four whole months, had prowled through the convent making passes at them and whispering obscence cajoleries in their ears. Conscientiously Laubardemont and his clerks made notes of everything that was said. The minutes were duly signed, countersigned and filed in duplicate at the record-office. Factually, theologically and now legally, it was all true.

To make the parson’s guilt still truer the exorcists produced a number of ‘pacts,’ which had appeared mysteriously in the cells, or (better still) had been vomited up, undigested, in the midst of a paroxysm. It was by means of these pacts that the good sisters had been, and were still being, bewitched. Here, for example, was a piece of paper, stained with three drops of blood and containing eight orange pips; here, a bundle of five straws; here, a little package of cinders, worms, hairs and nail-parings. But it was Jeanne des Anges who, as usual, outdid all the rest. On 17th June, while possessed by Leviathan, she threw up a pact containing (according to her devils) a piece of the heart of a child sacrificed in 1631 at a witches’ Sabbath near Orléans, the ashes of a consecrated wafer and some of Grandier’s blood and se**n.

There were moments when the new doctrine was a source of embarrassment. One morning, for example, a devil (duly constrained and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament) remarked that M. de Laubardemont was a cuckold. The clerk conscientiously recorded the statement, and Laubardemont, who had not been present at the exorcism, signed the minute without reading it, and appended the usual postscript to the effect that, to the best of his knowledge, everything contained in the procès-verbal was true. When the matter came to light, there was much Rabelaisian laughter. It was annoying, of course, but of no serious consequence. Compromising documents could always be destroyed, stupid clerks dismissed and impertinent devils recalled to their duty by a good scolding or even a smacking. All in all, the advantages of the new doctrine far outweighed its drawbacks.

One of these advantages, as Laubardemont was quick to realize, consisted in this: that it was now possible (through the mouth of a devil who had been duly constrained in the presence of the Sacrament) to flatter the Cardinal in an entirely new and supernatural manner. In the minutes of an exorcism of 20th May 1634, written entirely in Laubardemont’s hand, we read the following: “Question: ‘What do you say about the great Cardinal, the protector of France?’ The devil answered, swearing by the name of God, ‘He is the scourge of all my good friends.’ Question: ‘Who are your good friends?’ Answer: ‘The heretics.’ Question: ‘What are the other heroic aspects of his person?’ Answer: ‘His work for the relief of the people, the gift of government, which he has received from God, his desire to preserve peace in Christendom, the single-minded love he bears to the King’s person.’” It was a handsome tribute and, coming, as it did, direct from hell, it could be accepted as the simple truth. The nuns were far gone in hysteria, but never so far gone as to forget which side their bread was buttered. Throughout the possession, as Dr. Legué has pointed out,1 God, Christ and the Virgin were constantly blasphemed, but never Louis XIII and never, above all, His Eminence. The good sisters knew well enough that, against Heaven, they could let off steam with impunity. But if they were rude to the Cardinal . . . Well, see what was happening to M. Grandier.

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