The Devils of Loudun Page 64

When the devils’ depositions had all been heard, the prisoner was called to the bar. In the Factum, which was read aloud by defending counsel, Grandier answered his infernal accusers, stressed the illegality of the proceedings and Laubardemont’s bias, denounced the exorcists for their systematic prompting of the demoniacs, and proved that the Capuchins’ new doctrine was a dangerous heresy. The judges sat there, shifting in their chairs with unconcealed impatience, whispering among themselves, laughing, picking their noses, doodling with squeaky quills on the paper before them. Grandier looked at them, and suddenly it was manifest to him that there was no hope.

He was taken back to his cell. In the windowless attic the heat was horribly oppressive. Lying sleepless on his pile of straw, he could hear the drunken singing of some Breton sightseers, who had come for the big show and were trying to while away the dreary time of waiting. Only a few more days now. . . . And all this horror was undeserved. He had done nothing, he was absolutely innocent. Yes, absolutely innocent. But their malice had pursued him, patiently, persistently; and now this huge machine of organized injustice was closing in on him. He could fight, but they were invincibly strong; he could use his wits and his eloquence, but they did not even listen. Now there was nothing but to beg for mercy, and they would only laugh. He was trapped—snared like one of those rabbits he had caught as a boy in the fields at home. Screaming in the noose, and the noose grew tighter as the animal struggled, but never quite tight enough to stop the screaming. To stop the screaming you had to knock it over the head with a stick. And suddenly he found himself overcome by a horrible mingling of anger and frustration and self-pity and an agonizing fear. To the screaming rabbit he had brought the release of a single, merciful blow. But they—what did they have in store for him? The words he had written at the end of his letter to the King came back to him, “I remember that, while I was a student at Bordeaux, fifteen or sixteen years ago, a monk was burned for sorcery; but the clergy and his fellow monks did their best to save him, even though he had made confession of his crime. But in my own case I may say, not without resentment, that monks and nuns and my own colleagues, canons like myself, have conspired to destroy me, though I have not been convicted of anything remotely resembling sorcery.” He closed his eyes and, in imagination, saw the monk’s distorted face through the roaring curtain of flame. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus . . .” And then the screaming became inarticulate, became the screaming of the snared rabbit, and there was nobody to take mercy, nobody to put an end to the agony.

The terror became so unbearable that, involuntarily, he cried aloud. The sound of his own voice startled him. He sat up and looked around him. The darkness was impenetrable. And suddenly he was overcome with shame. Crying in the night, like a woman, like a frightened child! He frowned to himself, he clenched his fists. Nobody should ever call him a coward. Let them do their worst! He was ready for it. They should find his courage greater than their malice, stronger than any torment their cruelty could devise.

The parson lay down again—but not to sleep. He had the will to heroism; but his body was in a panic. The heart throbbed uncontrollably. Shuddering with the mindless fears of the nervous system, his muscles were made yet tenser by his conscious effort to overcome that purely physical terror. He tried to pray; but “God” was a word without meaning, “Christ” and “Mary” were empty names. He could think only of the approaching ignominy, of death in unspeakable pain, of the monstrous injustice of which he was the victim. It was all completely unthinkable; and yet it was a fact, it was actually happening. If only he had taken the Archbishop’s advice and left the parish eighteen months ago! And why had he refused to listen to Guillaume Aubin? What madness had made him stay and let himself be arrested? The fancy of what might have been made the present reality seem even more unbearable. Even more unbearable. . . . And yet he resolved to bear it. Manfully. They hoped to see him cringe and cower. But never would he give them that satisfaction, never. Gritting his teeth, he pitted his will against their spite. But the blood was still banging in his ears, and as he turned uneasily on the straw, he realized that his body was bathed in a profuse sweat.

The horror of the night was immeasurably long; and yet here, in an instant, was the dawn, and he was nearer by a day to that other, that infinitely worse and final horror.

At five o’clock the cell door was opened and the gaoler announced a visitor. It was Father Ambrose, of the Order of Augustinian Canons, who had come in pure charity to ask if he could be of any help or comfort to the prisoner. Grandier hastily dressed, then knelt and began the general confession of a whole lifetime of faults and shortcomings. They were all old sins, for which he had done penance and received absolution—old sins, and yet brand new; for now, for the first time, he recognized them for what they were: barriers against grace, doors deliberately slammed in the face of God. In words and forms he had been a Christian, he had been a priest; in thoughts and acts and feelings he had never worshipped anything but himself. “My kingdom come, My will be done”—the kingdom of lust and greed and vanity, the will to cut a figure, the will to trample underfoot, to triumph and exult. For the first time in his life he knew the meaning of contrition—not doctrinally, not by scholastic definition, but from within, as an anguish of regret and self-condemnation. When the confession was over, he was bitterly weeping, not for what he was to suffer, but for what he had done.

Father Ambrose pronounced the formula of absolution, then gave him Communion, and spoke a little about the will of God. Nothing was to be asked for, he said, and nothing refused. Except for sin, all that might happen to one was not merely to be accepted with resignation; it was to be willed, moment by moment, as God’s will for that particular moment. Suffering was to be willed, affliction was to be willed, the humiliations resulting from personal weakness and ineptitude were to be willed. And in the act of being willed they would be understood. And in the act of being understood they would be transfigured, would be seen, not with the eyes of the natural man, but as God saw them.

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