The Devils of Loudun Page 83

It was another miracle. Yet again Sœur Jeanne had demonstrated that, to some extent at least, she possessed her possessors. She had willed and suggested the expulsion of Leviathan, and now she had willed and suggested the disappearance of all the symptoms of an acute and apparently fatal psycho-somatic illness.

She got out of bed, dressed, went down to the chapel and joined her sisters in singing a Te Deum. Dr. Fanton was sent for again and, after being told of what had happened, remarked that the power of God is greater than that of our remedies. “Nevertheless,” writes the Prioress, “he would not be converted and declined in future to take care of us.”

Poor Dr. Fanton! After Laubardemont’s return to Loudun, he was called before a commission of magistrates and asked to sign a certificate to the effect that his patient’s restoration to health had been miraculous. He refused. Pressed to explain the reasons for this refusal he answered that the sudden passage from mortal sickness to perfect health might easily have happened in the course of nature. “By reason of the sensible issue of the humour, or by its insensible excretion through the pores of the skin, or else by the conveyance of the humour from the part where it caused these accidents to another, less important part. Furthermore, the distressing symptoms produced by the humour being in a certain place can be relieved without the necessity of a change of part; this is brought about by mitigation of the humour as it is subdued by nature, or by the onset of another humour which, being less savage, will blunt the acrimony of the first humour.” Dr. Fanton added that “manifest excretion is by urines and fluxes of the intestines, or by vomits, sweats and losses of blood; and that insensible excretion takes place when the parts discharge themselves insensibly; these last kinds of excretion are most frequent among patients who work up hot humours, notably bile, without seeing the signs of coction which precede such excretions, even though it may be in the moment of crisis and of the discharge of nature. It is obvious that, in the cure of diseases, smaller quantities of humours must leave the body when these have previously been evacuated by remedies, which carry away not merely the antecedent cause of diseases, but also their conjoint causes. To which must be added that, in their movements, the humours observe certain regular hours.” Molière, we perceive, invented nothing: he merely recorded.

Two days passed. Then the Prioress suddenly remembered that she had not wiped away the unction which had cured her, so that some of it must still be on her chemise. In the presence of the sub-Prioress she removed her habit. “Both of us smelled an admirable odour; I took off my chemise, which we then cut at the waist. On it were five drops of this divine balm, which gave forth an excellent perfume.”

“Where are your young mistresses?” Gorgibus asks at the beginning of Les Précieuses Ridicules. “In their room,” says Marotte. “What are they up to?” “Making pomade for the lips.” It was an age when every woman of fashion had to be her own Elizabeth Arden. Recipes for face creams and hand lotions, for rouge and perfume, were treasured as secret weapons or generously exchanged between particular friends. In her youth at home, and even since her profession, Sœur Jeanne had been a famous cosmetician and amateur pharmacist. St. Joseph’s unction came, we may suspect, from a source some way this side of heaven. But, meanwhile, there the Five Drops were, for all to see. “It is not to be believed,” writes the Prioress, “how great was the devotion of the people towards this blessed unction and how many miracles God worked by means of it.”

Sœur Jeanne now had two first-class prodigies to her credit, with a stigmatized hand and a perfumed chemise as perpetual witnesses to the extraordinary graces she had received. But this was not yet enough. At Loudun, she felt, her light had been put under a bushel, True, there were the tourists, the visiting princes, lords and prelates. But think of all the millions who would never make the pilgrimage! Think of the King and Queen! Think of His Eminence! Think of all the Dukes and Marquises, all the Marshals of France, all the Papal Legates, the Envoys Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary, the Doctors of the Sorbonne, the Deans, the Abbots, the Bishops and Archbishops! Shouldn’t these be given a chance to admire the marvels, to see and hear the humble recipient of such astounding favours?

Coming from her own lips, the suggestion might have seemed presumptuous, and so it was Behemoth who first broached the subject. When, after the most strenuous of exorcisms, Father Ressès asked him why he so stubbornly resisted, the fiend replied that he would never leave the Prioress’s body until that body had made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. François de Sales at Annecy, in Savoy. Exorcism followed exorcism. Under the torrent of anathemas Behemoth merely smiled. To his earlier ultimatum he now added another condition: Father Surin must be recalled—otherwise even the trip to Annecy would be of no avail.

By the middle of June Surin was back at Loudun. But the pilgrimage proved harder to arrange. Vitelleschi, the General of the Order, did not like the idea of one of his Jesuits promenading through France with a nun; and on his side the Bishop of Poitiers did not like the idea of one of his nuns promenading with a Jesuit. Besides, there was the question of money. The royal treasury was, as usual, empty. What with the subsidies to the nuns and the salaries of the exorcists, the possession had already cost a pretty penny. There was nothing to spare for jaunts to Savoy. Behemoth stuck to his guns. As a great concession, he agreed to take his leave at Loudun—but only if Sœur Jeanne and Surin were permitted to make a vow to go to Annecy afterwards. In the end he had his way. Surin and Sœur Jeanne were permitted to meet at the tomb of St. Francis, but would have to go and come by different roads. The vows were made and, a little later, on 15th October, Behemoth departed. Sœur Jeanne was free. Two weeks later Surin returned to Bordeaux. The following spring Father Tranquille died in a paroxysm of demoniac frenzy. The treasury ceased to pay the salary of the surviving exorcists, who were all recalled to their various houses. Left to themselves such devils as remained soon took their leave. After six years of incessant struggle, the Church Militant gave up the fight. Its enemies promptly disappeared. The long orgy was at an end. If there had been no exorcists, it would never have begun.

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