The Devils of Loudun Page 66

There was a long silence. Then Grandier addressed his judges.

“My lords,” he said slowly and distinctly, “I call God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost to witness, together with the Virgin, my sole advocate, that I have never been a sorcerer, have never committed sacrilege and have never known any other magic than that of Holy Scripture, the which I have always preached. I adore my Saviour and pray that I may partake in the merit of the blood of His Passion.”

He raised his eyes to heaven; then, after a moment, lowered them again to look at the Commissioner and his thirteen stipendiaries. In a tone almost of intimacy, as though they were his friends, he told them that he was afraid for his salvation—afraid lest the hideous torments prepared for his body might drive his poor soul to despair and, through that gravest of sins, to eternal damnation. Surely their lordships did not intend to kill a soul? And, that being so, surely they would be pleased, in their mercy, to mitigate, if only a little, the rigour of his punishment?

He paused for a few seconds and looked questioningly from face to stony face. From the women’s benches came the sound of another of those half-suppressed giggles. Once again the parson knew that there was no hope—no hope except in this God who was here and would not desert him, this Christ who was now, who would go on being now at every moment of his martyrdom.

Opening his mouth again, he began to talk about the martyrs. These holy witnesses had died for the love of God and the honour of Jesus Christ—had died on the wheel, in the flames, under the sword, riddled with arrows, torn and devoured by wild beasts. Never would he venture to compare himself with such as these; but at least he might hope that an infinitely merciful God would permit him to atone by his sufferings for all the sins of a vain and disordered life.

The parson’s words were so touching, and the fate which awaited him so monstrously cruel, that all but his most inveterate enemies were moved to pity. Some of the women who had giggled at the antics of the clown now found themselves in tears. The ushers called for silence. In vain. The sobbing was uncontrollable. Laubardemont was greatly disturbed. Nothing was going according to plan. Better than anyone else he must have known that Grandier was not guilty of the crimes for which he was to be tortured and burned alive. And yet, in some sublimely Pickwickian sense, the parson was a sorcerer. On the basis of a thousand pages of worthless evidence, thirteen hireling judges had said so. Therefore, though certainly false, it must somehow be true. Now, by all the rules of the game, Grandier should be spending his last hours in despair and rebellion, cursing the devil who had ensnared him and the God who was sending him to hell. Instead of which, the scoundrel was talking like a good Catholic and giving the most touching, the most heart-rending example of Christian resignation. The thing was insufferable. And what would His Eminence say, when he heard that the only result of this carefully stage-managed ceremony had been to convince the spectators that the parson was innocent? There was only one thing to do, and Laubardemont, who was a man of decision, promptly did it.

“Clear the court,” he ordered.

The ushers and the archers of the guard hastened to obey. Angrily protesting, the gentry and their ladies were herded out into the corridors and the waiting-rooms. The doors were closed behind them. Save for Grandier, his guards and judges, the two friars and a handful of city officials, the great hall was empty.

Laubardemont now addressed the prisoner. Let him confess his guilt and reveal the names of his accomplices. Then and only then the judges might consider his appeal for mitigation of their sentence.

The parson answered that he could not name accomplices he had never had, nor confess to crimes of which he was completely innocent. . . .

But Laubardemont wanted a confession; indeed, he urgently needed one—needed it in order to confound the sceptics and silence the critics of his proceedings. From severe, his manner became, all of a sudden, positively genial. He gave orders that Grandier’s hands should be untied, then pulled a paper out of his pocket, dipped a pen in the inkpot and offered it to the prisoner. If he signed, it would be unnecessary to resort to torture.

According to all the rules, a convicted criminal should have jumped at this chance to buy himself a little mercy. Gauffridy, for example, the priestly magician of Marseilles, had ended by putting his name to anything and everything. But once again Grandier refused to play the game.

“I must beg your lordship to excuse me,” he said.

“Just a little signature,” Laubardemont wheedled. And when the other protested that his conscience would not permit him to affirm a lie, the Commissioner implored him to reconsider his decision—for his own sake, to spare his poor body unnecessary pain, to save his imperilled soul, to cheat the devil and reconcile himself to the God he had so grievously offended.

According to Father Tranquille, Laubardemont actually wept while he was making this final appeal for a confession. We need not doubt the friar’s word. Richelieu’s hangman possessed a genuine gift of tears. The eye-witness account of the last hours of Cinq-Mars and de Thou paints a picture of Laubardemont blubbering like a crocodile over the young men he had just condemned to death. In the present case tears were as unavailing as threats had been. Grandier persisted in his refusal to sign a false confession. To Lactance and Tranquille, the fact was further, final proof of guilt. It was Lucifer who had closed the prisoner’s mouth and hardened his heart against repentance.

Laubardemont turned off his tears. In a tone of cold fury he told the parson that this was the last proffer of mercy. Would he sign? Grandier shook his head. Laubardemont beckoned to the captain of the guards and ordered him to take the prisoner upstairs to the torture chamber. Grandier made no outcry. All he asked was that Father Ambrose might be sent for, to be with him during his ordeal. But Father Ambrose was not available. After his unauthorized visit to the prison, he had been ordered to leave the city. Grandier then asked for the assistance of Father Grillau, the Warden of the Cordeliers. But the Cordeliers were in bad odour for their refusal to accept the Capuchins’ new doctrine, or to have anything to do with the possession. And anyhow Grillau was known to have been on friendly terms with the parson and his family. Laubardemont refused to let him be sent for. If the prisoner wished for spiritual consolation, he might address himself to Lactance and Tranquille—the most relentless of his enemies.

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