The Devils of Loudun Page 70

Not all of Grandier’s enemies were so un-Christian. René Bernier, one of the priests who had testified against him when he was accused of improper behaviour, pushed his way through the crowd in order to ask the parson’s forgiveness and to offer to say a Mass on his behalf. The parson took his hand and gratefully kissed it.

In the Place Sainte-Croix more than six thousand persons were jammed into a space which would have been uncomfortably narrow for half their number. Every window had been rented, and there were spectators even on the roofs and among the gargoyles of the church. A grandstand had been set up for the judges and Laubardemont’s particular friends; but the rabble had occupied every seat and had to be dislodged by the guards at the point of the pike and halberd. It was only after a pitched battle that these very important personages could be seated.

Even the most important personage of all had the greatest difficulty in reaching the place appointed for him. It took the prisoner half an hour to cover the last hundred yards to the stake, and his guards were compelled to fight for every inch of the way.

Not far from the north wall of the church a stout post, fifteen feet high, had been driven into the ground. About its base were piled layers of faggots, logs and straw, and since the victim was no longer capable of standing on those shattered feet of his, a small iron seat had been fastened to the post a couple of feet above the firewood. For all the importance of the event, all its enormous notoriety, the expenses of the execution were remarkably modest. A certain Deliard was paid nineteen livres sixteen sols for “the wood used for the bonfire of Master Urbain Grandier, together with the post to which he was tied.” For “an iron seat weighing twelve pounds, at the rate of three sols four deniers per pound, together with six nails wherewith to attach the said seat to Master Urbain Grandier’s stake,” Jacquet, the locksmith, received forty-two sols. For one day’s hire of five horses, used by the archers kindly lent for the occasion by the Provost of Chinon, and for one day’s hire of six mules, a cart and two men, the widow Morin was paid one hundred and eight sols. Four livres were spent on the prisoner’s two shirts—the plain one in which he was tortured and the sulphured article in which he was burned. The two-pound candle used in the ceremony of the amende honorable cost forty sols, and wine for the executioners, thirteen. Add to these expenses the payment for work done by the doorkeeper of Sainte-Croix and a couple of assistants, and you had a grand total of twenty-nine livres, two sols and six deniers.

Grandier was taken down from the cart, lifted on to the iron seat and securely lashed to the post. His back was turned to the church, his face to the grandstand and the fa¸ade of a house in which he had once felt himself as much at home as in his own parsonage. It was the house where he had made all those jokes at the expense of Adam and Mannoury, where he had entertained the company with readings from Catherine Hammon’s letters, where he had taught a young girl Latin and seduced her, where he had transformed his best friend into the most relentless of his enemies. Louis Trincant was sitting now at the window of his drawing-room, and with him were Canon Mignon and Thibault. At the sight of the hairless clown who had once been Urbain Grandier, they laughed triumphantly. The parson looked up and met their eyes. Thibault waved his hand as though to an old friend, and M. Trincant, who was sipping white wine and water, raised his glass and drank to the father of his bastard grandchild.

Partly in shame—for he remembered those Latin lessons and his abandonment of the desperately weeping girl—and partly out of a fear lest the spectacle of their triumph might move him to bitterness and make him forget that God was even here, even now, Grandier dropped his eyes.

A hand touched him on the shoulder. It was La Grange, the captain of the guard, who had come to ask the parson’s forgiveness for what he had been obliged to do. Then he made two promises: the prisoner would be allowed to make a speech and, before the fire was lighted, he would be strangled. Grandier thanked him, and La Grange turned away to give his orders to the executioner, who immediately prepared a noose.

Meanwhile the friars were busy with their exorcisms.

“Ecce crucem Domini, fugite partes adversae, vicit leo de tribu Juda, radix David. Exorciso te, creatura ligni, in nomine Dei patris omnipotentis, et in nomine Jesus Christi filii ejus Domini nostri, et in virtute Spiritus sancti. . . .”1

They sprinkled the wood, the straw, the glowing coals of the brazier that stood ready beside the pyre; they sprinkled the earth, the air, the victim, the executioners, the spectators. This time, they swore, no devil should prevent the wretch from suffering to the extreme limit of his capacity for pain. Several times the parson tried to address the crowd; but no sooner had he begun than they threw holy water in his face or hit him on the mouth with an iron crucifix. When he flinched from the blow, the friars would shout triumphantly that the renegade was denying his Redeemer. And all the time Father Lactance kept calling on the prisoner to confess.

“Dicas!” he shouted.

The word caught the fancy of the onlookers and for the brief and horrible remainder of his life the Recollet was always known in Loudun as Father Dicas.

“Dicas! Dicas!”

For the thousandth time Grandier answered that he had nothing to confess.

“And now,” he added, “give me the kiss of peace and let me die.”

At first Lactance refused; but when the crowd protested against such an un-Christian malignity, he climbed on to the pile of faggots and kissed the parson’s cheek.

“Judas!” cried a voice, and a score of others took up the refrain.

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