The Devils of Loudun Page 68

Unfortunately for their thesis, these pious propagandists were not the only ones to leave a record of the proceedings. Laubardemont might enjoin secrecy; but he had no way of compelling La Grange to obey his orders. And there were other unbiased observers of the events—some of them, such as Ismaël Boulliau, the astronomer, known to us by name, others whose surviving manuscripts remain anonymous.

The clock struck, and the prisoner’s brief respite was at an end. He was bound, stretched out on the floor, with his legs, from the knees to the feet, enclosed between four oaken boards, of which the outer pair were fixed, while the two inner ones were movable. By driving wedges into the space separating the two movable boards, it was possible to crush the victim’s legs against the fixed framework of the machine. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary torture was measured by the number of progressively thicker wedges hammered home. Because it was invariably (though not immediately) fatal, the question extraordinary was administered only to condemned criminals, who were to be executed without delay.

While the prisoner was being prepared for the question, Fathers Lactance and Tranquille exorcized the ropes, the boards, the wedges and the mallets. This was very necessary; for if they were not driven out of these objects, the devils might, by their infernal arts, prevent the torture from being as excruciating as it ought to be. When the friars had finished their sprinkling and their muttering, the executioner stepped forward, raised his ponderous mallet and, like a man splitting a knotty piece of timber, brought it down with all his force. There was an uncontrollable shriek of pain. Father Lactance bent over the victim and asked in Latin if he would confess. But Grandier only shook his head.

The first wedge was driven home between the knees. Then another was inserted at the level of the feet and when that had been hammered to the head, the thin end of a third and heavier wedge was tapped into position immediately below the first. There was the thud of the mallet, the shriek of pain—then silence. The victim’s lips were moving. Was it a confession? The friar cupped his ear; but all he could hear was the word “God,” repeated several times, and then, “Do not abandon me, do not allow this pain to cause me to forget you.” He turned to the executioner and told him to get on with his work.

At the second stroke on the fourth wedge, several bones of the feet and ankles had broken. For a moment, the parson fainted away.

“Cogne, cogne!” Father Lactance yelled to the executioner. “Hit, hit!”

The prisoner opened his eyes again.

“Father,” he whispered, “where is the charity of St. Francis?”

The disciple of St. Francis vouchsafed no answer.

“Cogne!” he said again. And when the blow had fallen, he turned back to the prisoner. “Dicas, dicas!”

But there was nothing to tell. A fifth wedge was inserted.

“Dicas!” The mallet hung suspended. “Dicas!”

The victim looked at the executioner, looked at the friar, then closed his eyes.

“Torture me as you like,” he said in Latin. “In a little while it will be all one, for ever.”


The blow fell.

Breathless and sweating in the summer heat, the executioner handed the mallet to his assistant. And now it was Tranquille’s turn to talk to the prisoner. In a tone of sweet reasonableness, he set forth the manifest advantages of a confession—advantages not merely in the next world, but here and now.

The parson listened and, when he had finished, asked him a question.

“Father,” he said, “do you believe on your conscience that a man ought, merely to be delivered from pain, to confess a crime he has not committed?”

Brushing aside these obviously Satanic sophisms, Tranquille continued his urgings.

The parson whispered that he was very ready to own up to all his real offences.

“I have been a man, I have loved women. . . .”

But that was not what Laubardemont and the Franciscans wished to hear.

“You have been a magician, you have had commerce with devils.”

And when the parson protested yet once more that he was innocent, a sixth wedge was hammered home, then a seventh, then an eighth. From ordinary, the question had reached the traditional limits of the extraordinary. The bones of the knees, the shins, the ankles, the feet—all were shattered. But still the friars could extort no admission of guilt—only that screaming, and in the intervals, the whispered name of God.

The eighth wedge was the last of the regular set. Laubardemont called for more—for a cruelty beyond the merely extraordinary. The executioner went out to the storeroom and came back with two new wedges. When he learned that they were no thicker than the last of the original set, Laubardemont flew into a rage and threatened the man with a whipping. But meanwhile, as the friars pointed out, wedge number seven at the knee could be replaced by a duplicate of wedge number eight at the ankle. One of the new wedges was inserted between the boards and this time it was Father Lactance who swung the mallet.

“Dicas!” he shouted after every blow. “Dicas, dicas!”

Not to be outdone, Father Tranquille took the mallet from his colleague, adjusted the tenth wedge and, in three mighty strokes, banged it home.

Grandier had fainted again, and it almost looked as if he might be dead before they could get him to the stake. Besides, there were no more wedges. Reluctantly—for this stubborn frustrator of all his best-laid plans deserved to be tortured for ever—Laubardemont called a halt. This first phase of Grandier’s martyrdom had lasted three-quarters of an hour. The machine was taken apart, and the executioners lifted their victim on to a stool. He looked down at his horribly mangled legs, then at the Commissioner and his thirteen accomplices.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies