The Devils of Loudun Page 65

The parson listened. It was all in the Bishop of Geneva, it was all in St. Ignatius. Not only had he heard it all before; he had even said it—a thousand times and much more eloquently, much more forcefully than poor dear Father Ambrose could ever hope to say it. But the old man was in earnest, the old man obviously knew what he was talking about. Mumbled in a toothless mouth, without elegance, even without grammar—the words were like lamps, suddenly illuminating a mind that had been darkened by too much brooding over past hurts, too much relishing of future pleasures or imaginary triumphs.

“God is here,” mumbled the tired old voice, “and Christ is now. Here is your prison, now in the midst of your humiliations and your sufferings.”

The door was opened again, and it was Bontemps, the gaoler. He had reported Father Ambrose’s visit to the Commissioner, and M. de Laubardemont had sent peremptory orders that His Reverence was to leave immediately and not return. If the prisoner wanted to see a priest, he could ask for Father Tranquille or Father Lactance.

The old friar was hustled out of the room; but his words remained, and the meaning of them was becoming clearer and clearer. “God is here and Christ is now”—and, so far as the soul was concerned, could be nowhere else and at no other instant. All this pitting of the will against his enemies, all this defiance of unjust fate, these resolves to be heroic and indomitable—how futile, considering that God was always present, how utterly pointless!

At seven the parson was taken to the Carmelite convent, for another sight of the judges assembled to condemn him. But God was among them; even when Laubardemont tried to trip him up in his answers, Christ was there. On some of the magistrates the calm dignity of Grandier’s manner made a profound impression. But Father Tranquille explained it very simply: it was all the devil’s doing. What looked like calm was merely the brazen insolence of hell; and this dignity was nothing but the outward expression of unrepentant pride.

The judges saw the defendant only three times in all. Then, very early on the morning of the eighteenth, after the usual pious preliminaries, they rendered their decision. It was unanimous. Grandier was to be subjected to “the question” both ordinary and extraordinary; he was then to kneel at the doors of St. Peter’s and St. Ursula’s and there, with a rope round his neck and a two-pound taper in his hand, ask pardon of God, the King and Justice; next, he was to be taken to the Place Sainte-Croix, tied to a stake and burned alive; after which his ashes were to be scattered to the four winds. The sentence, writes Father Tranquille, was truly celestial; for Laubardemont and his thirteen judges were “as much in heaven by reason of their piety and their fervent devotions as on earth through the exercise of their functions.”

No sooner had sentence been pronounced than Laubardemont sent orders to the surgeons Mannoury and Fourneau to proceed immediately to the prison. Mannoury was the first to arrive; but was so much disconcerted by what Grandier said to him about his earlier exploits with the needle that he retired in a panic, leaving to his colleague the task of preparing the victim for execution. The judges’ orders were that Grandier should be shaved all over—head, face and body. Fourneau, who was convinced of the parson’s innocence, respectfully apologized for what he had to do, then set to work.

The parson was stripped. The razor passed over his skin. In a few minutes his body was as hairless as a eunuch’s. Next, the rich black curls were sheared to a bristly stubble; the scalp was lathered and shaved clean. Then it was the turn of the Mephistophelean moustaches and the little beard.

“And now the eyebrows,” said a voice from the doorway.

Startled, they turned their heads. It was Laubardemont. Reluctantly, Fourneau did as he was told. That face, which so many women had found so irresistibly handsome, was now the mask, grotesquely bald, of the clown in a harlequinade.

“Good,” said the Commissioner, “good! And now the fingernails.”

Fourneau was puzzled.

“The fingernails,” Laubardemont repeated. “You will now pull out the fingernails.”

This time the surgeon refused to obey. Laubardemont began by being genuinely astonished. What was wrong? After all, the man was a convicted sorcerer. But the convicted sorcerer, the other retorted, was still a man. The Commissioner grew angry; but in spite of all his threats, the surgeon stood firm. There was no time to send for another operator, and Laubardemont had to be content with the partial disfigurement of his victim by shaving.

Dressed only in a long nightshirt and a pair of worn-out slippers, Grandier was taken downstairs, bundled into a closed carriage and driven to the courthouse. Townspeople and tourists thronged the approaches; but only a favoured few—high officials, men of rank with their wives and daughters, half a dozen faithful Cardinalists from among the bourgeoisie—were permitted to enter. Silks rustled; there was a rich glow of velvet, a glittering of jewels, a smell of civet and ambergris. In full canonicals Father Lactance and Father Tranquille entered the judgment hall. With consecrated whisks they scattered holy water over everything within range, intoning as they did so the formulas of exorcism. Then a door was opened and, in his nightgown and slippers, but with a skull-cap and biretta on his shaven head, Grandier appeared on the threshold. After he too had been thoroughly sprinkled, the guards led him up the whole length of the hall and made him kneel before the judges’ bench. His hands were tied behind his back, and it was therefore impossible for him to bare his head. The clerk of the court stepped forward, snatched off his hat and cap and flung them down contemptuously on the floor. At the sight of that pale, hairless clown, several of the ladies giggled hysterically. An usher called for silence. The clerk put on his spectacles, cleared his throat and started to read the sentence—first, half a page of legal jargon; then a long description of the amende honorable which the prisoner was to make; then the condemnation to death at the stake; then a digression about the commemorative plaque to be set up in the Ursulines’ chapel at a cost of one hundred and fifty livres, chargeable to the prisoner’s confiscated estate; and finally, as a kind of afterthought, a casual mention of the tortures, ordinary and extraordinary, which were to precede the burning. “Pronounced at the said Loudun, 18th August 1634, and executed,” the clerk concluded emphatically, “the same day.”

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