The Devils of Loudun Page 72


An engraving from Urbain Grandier et les Possédées de Loudun by Dr. Gabriel Legué

odds and ends would be no less effective if the parson were guilty of the crimes imputed to him, than if he were innocent. The power to work miracles lies, not in the source of a relic, but in its reputation, however acquired. Constant throughout history, a certain percentage of human beings can be restored to health or happiness by practically anything that has been well advertised—from Lourdes to witchcraft, from the Ganges to patent medicines and Mrs. Eddy, from the thaumaturgical arm of St. Francis Xavier to those “pigges bones” which Chaucer’s Pardoner carried in a glass for all to see and worship. If Grandier were what the Capuchins had said he was, that was excellent: even in ashes, a sorcerer is richly charged with power. And his relics would be charged with no less power if the parson were guiltless; for in that case he would be a martyr, equal to the best of them. In a little while most of the ashes had disappeared. Horribly tired and thirsty, but happy in the thought that their pockets were bulging with relics, tourists and townsfolk drifted away in search of a drink and the chance to take off their shoes.

That evening, after only the briefest of rests and the lightest of refreshments, the good fathers re-assembled at the Ursuline convent. The Prioress was exorcized, duly went into convulsions, and in response to Lactance’s questioning announced that the black fly was none other than Baruch, the parson’s familiar. And why had Baruch hurled himself so rudely on the book of exorcisms? Sœur Jeanne bent herself backwards until her head touched her heels, then did the splits and finally answered that he had been trying to throw the book into the fire. It was all so edifying that the friars decided to break off for the night and begin again next morning, in public.

On the following day the sisters were taken to Sainte-Croix. Many of the tourists were still in town, and the church was crowded to the doors. The Prioress was exorcized and, after the usual preliminaries, identified herself as Isacaaron, the only devil presently at home; for all the other tenants of her body had gone back to hell for the wild party which had been organized for the reception of Grandier’s soul.

Judiciously questioned, Sœur Jeanne confirmed what the exorcists had been saying all along—namely, that when Grandier had said ‘God’ he always meant ‘Satan,’ and that when he had renounced the devil he had actually been renouncing Christ.

Lactance then wanted to know what kind of torments the parson was suffering down there, and was evidently rather disappointed when the Prioress told him that the worst of them was the privation of God.

No doubt, no doubt. But what were the physical tortures?

After a good deal of pressing Sœur Jeanne replied that Grandier “had a special torture for each of the sins he had committed, especially those of the flesh.”

And what about the execution? Had the devil been able to prevent the wretch from suffering?

Alas, replied Isacaaron, Satan had been frustrated by the exorcisms. If the fire had not been blessed, the parson would have felt nothing. But thanks to the labours of Lactance, Tranquille and Archangel he had suffered excruciatingly.

But not so excruciatingly, cried the exorcist, as he was suffering now! And with a kind of gloating horror, Father Lactance brought the conversation back to hell. In which of hell’s many mansions was the magician lodged? How had Lucifer received him? What precisely was being done to him at this moment? Sister Jane’s Isacaaron did his best to answer. Then, when his imagination began to flag, Sister Agnes was thrown into fits, and Beherit was invited to say his piece.

That evening, at the convent, the friars noticed that Father Lactance looked pale and seemed strangely preoccupied. Was he feeling ill?

Father Lactance shook his head. No, he was not ill. But the prisoner had asked to see Father Grillau, and they had denied him. Could it be that they had committed a sin by making it impossible for him to confess?

His colleagues did their best to reassure him, but without success. Next morning, after a sleepless night, Lactance was in a fever.

“God is punishing me,” he kept repeating, “God is punishing me.”

He was bled by Mannoury, was purged by M. Adam. The fever subsided for a little, then returned. And now he began to see things, to hear things. Grandier under torture, screaming. Grandier at the stake, asking God to forgive his enemies. And then devils, swarms of devils. They entered his body, they set him raving, they made him kick his legs and bite the pillows, they filled his mouth with the most horrible blasphemies.

On 18th September, exactly one month after Grandier’s execution, Father Lactance knocked the crucifix out of the hand of the priest who had administered Extreme Unction, and died. Laubardemont paid for a handsome funeral, and Father Tranquille preached a sermon, in which he extolled the Recollet as a model of holiness and proclaimed that he had been murdered by Satan, who had thus revenged himself for all the affronts and humiliations inflicted on him by this most heroic of God’s servants.

The next to go was Mannoury, the surgeon. One night, shortly after the death of Father Lactance, he was sent for to bleed a sick man, who lived near the Porte du Martrai. On the way home, his servant with a lantern walking ahead of him, he saw Urbain Grandier. Naked, as when he had been pricked for the devil’s marks, the parson was standing in the rue du Grand-Pavé, between the counterscarps of the castle and the Cordeliers’ garden. Mannoury halted, and his servant saw him staring into the vacant blackness, heard him asking someone, who wasn’t there, what he wanted. There was no answer. Then the surgeon began to tremble all over. A moment later, he fell to the ground, screaming for pardon. Within the week he, too, was dead.

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