The Devils of Loudun Page 69

“Gentlemen,” he said, “attendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus. Behold, and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow.”

On Laubardemont’s orders he was carried to another room and laid on a bench. It was a stifling day in August; but the parson was shivering with the cold of extreme surgical shock. La Grange covered him with a rug and filled a glass of wine for him to drink.

Meanwhile Lactance and Tranquille were trying to make the best of what had been a deplorably bad job. To all who questioned them they answered that indeed it was true—the magician had refused to confess, even under torture. And the reason was only too obvious. Grandier had called upon God to give him strength, and his God, who was Lucifer, had made him insensible to pain. They might have gone on all day, wedge after wedge; it would have availed them nothing.

To prove to himself that this was true, another of the exorcists, Father Archangel, resolved to make a little experiment. This experiment was described, a few days later, in a public discourse, which was recorded as follows by one of the auditors. “The said Father Archangel remarked that the devil had granted him (Grandier) insensibility inasmuch as, being stretched out on a bench, with his knees, which had been crushed by the Gehenna, covered with a green rug, this rug being raised by the said Father somewhat roughly, and the said Father even poking his legs and knees, he did not complain of the pain which the said Father might be causing him.” From this it followed, first, that Grandier had felt no pain, second, that Satan had made him insensible, third, that (to quote the Capuchin’s very words) “when he spoke favourably of God, he meant the devil, and when he said that he detested the devil, he meant that he detested God,” and, fourthly and finally, that every precaution must be taken to make sure that, at the stake, he should feel the full effect of the flames.

When Father Archangel had gone, it was the turn, yet once more, of the Commissioner. For more than two hours Laubardemont sat beside his victim, employing all the arts of persuasion to extort the signature which would excuse his own illegal proceedings, would whitewash the Cardinal, would justify the future use of inquisitorial methods in every case where hysterical nuns could be induced by their confessors to accuse the enemies of the regime. That signature was indispensable; but try as he might—and M. de Gastynes, who was present at the interview, declared that he had “never heard anything so abominable” as those specious arguments, those cajoleries, those hypocritical sighs and sobs—the Commissioner was unable to get what he wanted. To everything he could say, Grandier replied that it was morally impossible for him to put his name to a statement which he knew, and God knew (and doubtless the Commissioner knew), to be absolutely false. In the end Laubardemont had to admit defeat. He called La Grange and told him to send for the executioners.

They came. Grandier was dressed in a shirt impregnated with sulphur; then a rope was tied round his neck and he was carried down to the courtyard, where a cart drawn by six mules was standing ready. He was hoisted up and set on a bench. The driver shouted to his beasts; and preceded by a company of archers and followed by Laubardemont and the thirteen tame magistrates, the cart rumbled slowly into the street. A halt was made, and the sentence was once more read aloud. Then the mules moved on. At the door of St. Peter’s—the door through which for so many years the parson had come and gone with his air of confident and majestic dignity dignity—the procession came to a standstill. The two-pound taper was placed in Grandier’s hand and he was lifted down from the cart to beg pardon, as the sentence had prescribed, for his crimes. But there were no knees to kneel on, and when they lowered him to the ground, he fell forward on his face. The executioners had to lift him up again. At this moment, Father Grillau, the Warden of the Cordeliers, issued from the church and, pushing past the archers of the guard, bent over the prisoner and embraced him.

Deeply moved, Grandier asked for his prayers and the prayers of all his community—the only one in Loudun which had steadily refused to co-operate with the parson’s enemies.

Grillau promised to pray for the condemned man, urged him to put his trust in God and the Redeemer, then gave him a message from his mother. She was praying for him at the feet of Our Lady, and she sent her blessing.

Both men were weeping. A murmur of sympathy ran through the crowd. Laubardemont heard it and was furious. Would nothing ever go as he had planned it? By all the rules, the rabble should be trying to lynch this trafficker with the devil. Instead of which, they were lamenting his cruel fate. He hurried forward and peremptorily ordered the guards to send the Cordelier away. In the scuffle which followed, one of the attendant Capuchins took the opportunity to hit Grandier over his shaven head with a cudgel.

When order had been restored, the parson said what he had to say—but added, after asking pardon of God, the King and Justice, that, though a great sinner, he was completely innocent of the crime for which he was now to suffer.

While the executioners were carrying him back to the cart, a friar harangued the tourists and townspeople, assuring them that they would be committing a very grave sin if they ventured to pray for this unrepentant magician.

The procession moved on. At the door of the Ursuline convent the ceremony of asking pardon of God, King and Justice was repeated. But when the clerk ordered him to ask pardon of the Prioress and all the good sisters, the prisoner answered that he had never done them any harm, and could only pray to God that He would forgive them. Then seeing Moussaut, the husband of Philippe Trincant and one of the most implacable of his enemies, he asked him to forget the past and added with a curious little touch of that courtly politeness for which he had been famous, “je meurs votre serviteur—I die your most obedient servant.” Moussaut turned away his face and refused to answer.

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