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Book 1 Chapter 4 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER IV

THE TRIAL

        Oh, vendetta di Dio, quanto to dei
        Esser temuta da ciascun che legge
        Cio, che fu manifesto agli occhi miei.--DANTE.

Notwithstanding the custom of having secret trials, freely countenanced
by Richelieu, the judges of the Cure of Loudun had resolved that the
court should be open to the public; but they soon repented this measure.
They were all interested in the destruction of Urbain Grandier; but they
desired that the indignation of the country should in some degree
sanction the sentence of death they had received orders to pass and to
carry into effect.

Laubardemont was a kind of bird of prey, whom the Cardinal always let
loose when he required a prompt and sure agent for his vengeance; and on
this occasion he fully justified the choice that had been made of him. He
committed but one error--that of allowing a public trial, contrary to the
usual custom; his object had been to intimidate and to dismay. He
dismayed, indeed, but he created also a feeling of indignant horror.

The throng without the gates had waited there two hours, during which
time the sound of hammers indicated that within the great hall they were
hastily completing their mysterious preparations. At length the archers
laboriously turned upon their hinges the heavy gates opening into the
street, and the crowd eagerly rushed in. The young Cinq-Mars was carried
along with the second enormous wave, and, placed behind a thick column,
stood there, so as to be able to see without being seen. He observed with
vexation that the group of dark-clad citizens was near him; but the great
gates, closing, left the part of the court where the people stood in such
darkness that there was no likelihood of his being recognized. Although
it was only midday, the hall was lighted with torches; but they were
nearly all placed at the farther end, where rose the judges' bench behind
a long table. The chairs, tables, and steps were all covered with black
cloth, and cast a livid hue over the faces of those near them. A seat
reserved for the prisoner was placed upon the left, and on the crape robe
which covered him flames were represented in gold embroidery to indicate
the nature of the offence. Here sat the accused, surrounded by archers,
with his hands still bound in chains, held by two monks, who, with
simulated terror, affected to start from him at his slightest motion, as
if they held a tiger or enraged wolf, or as if the flames depicted on his
robe could communicate themselves to their clothing. They also carefully
kept his face from being seen in the least degree by the people.

The impassible countenance of M. de Laubardemont was there to dominate
the judges of his choice; almost a head taller than any of them, he sat
upon a seat higher than theirs, and each of his glassy and uneasy glances
seemed to convey a command. He wore a long, full scarlet robe, and a
black cap covered his head; he seemed occupied in arranging papers, which
he then passed to the judges. The accusers, all ecclesiastics, sat upon
the right hand of the judges; they wore their albs and stoles. Father
Lactantius was distinguishable among them by his simple Capuchin habit,
his tonsure, and the extreme hardness of his features. In a side gallery
sat the Bishop of Poitiers, hidden from view; other galleries were filled
with veiled women. Below the bench of judges a group of men and women,
the dregs of the populace, stood behind six young Ursuline nuns, who
seemed full of disgust at their proximity; these were the witnesses.

The rest of the hall was filled with an enormous crowd, gloomy and
silent, clinging to the arches, the gates, and the beams, and full of a
terror which communicated itself to the judges, for it arose from an
interest in the accused. Numerous archers, armed with long pikes, formed
an appropriate frame for this lugubrious picture.

At a sign from the President, the witnesses withdrew through a narrow
door opened for them by an usher. As the Superior of the Ursulines passed
M. de Laubardemont she was heard to say to him, "You have deceived me,
Monsieur." He remained immovable, and she went on. A profound silence
reigned throughout the whole assembly.

Rising with all the gravity he could assume, but still with visible
agitation, one of the judges, named Houmain, judge-Advocate of Orleans,
read a sort of indictment in a voice so low and hoarse that it was
impossible to follow it. He made himself heard only when what he had to
say was intended to impose upon the minds of the people. He divided the
evidence into two classes: one, the depositions of seventy-two witnesses;
the other, more convincing, that resulting from "the exorcisms of the
reverend fathers here present," said he, crossing himself.

Fathers Lactantius, Barre, and Mignon bowed low, repeating the sacred
sign.

"Yes, my lords," said Houmain, addressing the judges, "this bouquet of
white roses and this manuscript, signed with the blood of the magician, a
counterpart of the contract he has made with Lucifer, and which he was
obliged to carry about him in order to preserve his power, have been
recognized and brought before you. We read with horror these words
written at the bottom of the parchment: 'The original is in hell, in
Lucifer's private cabinet.'"

A roar of laughter, which seemed to come from stentorian lungs, was heard
in the throng. The president reddened, and made a sign to the archers,
who in vain endeavored to discover the disturber. The judge-Advocate
continued:

"The demons have been forced to declare their names by the mouths of
their victims. Their names and deeds are deposited upon this table. They
are called Astaroth, of the order of Seraphim; Eazas, Celsus, Acaos,
Cedron, Asmodeus, of the order of Thrones; Alex, Zebulon, Cham, Uriel,
and Achas, of the order of Principalities, and so on, for their number is
infinite. For their actions, who among us has not been a witness of
them?"

A prolonged murmur arose from the gathering, but, upon some halberdiers
advancing, all became silent.

"We have seen, with grief, the young and respectable Superior of the
Ursulines tear her bosom with her own hands and grovel in the dust; we
have seen the sisters, Agnes, Claire, and others, deviate from the
modesty of their sex by impassioned gestures and unseemly laughter. When
impious men have inclined to doubt the presence of the demons, and we
ourselves felt our convictions shaken, because they refused to answer to
unknown questions in Greek or Arabic, the reverend fathers have, to
establish our belief, deigned to explain to us that the malignity of evil
spirits being extreme, it was not surprising that they should feign this
ignorance in order that they might be less pressed with questions; and
that in their answers they had committed various solecisms and other
grammatical faults in order to bring contempt upon themselves, so that
out of this disdain the holy doctors might leave them in quiet. Their
hatred is so inveterate that just before performing one of their
miraculous feats, they suspended a rope from a beam in order to involve
the reverend personages in a suspicion of fraud, whereas it has been
deposed on oath by credible people that there never had been a cord in
that place.

"But, my lords, while Heaven was thus miraculously explaining itself by
the mouths of its holy interpreters, another light has just been thrown
upon us. At the very time the judges were absorbed in profound
meditation, a loud cry was heard near the hall of council; and upon going
to the spot, we found the body of a young lady of high birth. She had
just exhaled her last breath in the public street, in the arms of the
reverend Father Mignon, Canon; and we learned from the said father here
present, and from several other grave personages, that, suspecting the
young lady to be possessed, by reason of the current rumor for some time
past of the admiration Urbain Grandier had for her, an idea of testing it
happily occurred to the Canon, who suddenly said, approaching her,
'Grandier has just been put to death,' whereat she uttered one loud
scream and fell dead, deprived by the demon of the time necessary for
giving her the assistance of our holy Mother, the Catholic Church."

A murmur of indignation arose from the crowd, among whom the word
"Assassin" was loudly reechoed; the halberdiers commanded silence with a
loud voice, but it was obtained rather by the judge resuming his address,
the general curiosity triumphing.

"Oh, infamy!" he continued, seeking to fortify himself by exclamations;
"upon her person was found this work, written by the hand of Urbain
Grandier," and he took from among his papers a book bound in parchment.

"Heavens!" cried Urbain from his seat.

"Look to your prisoner!" cried the judge to the archers who surrounded
him.

"No doubt the demon is about to manifest himself," said Father
Lactantius, in a sombre voice; "tighten his bonds." He was obeyed.

The judge-Advocate continued, "Her name was Madeleine de Brou, aged
nineteen."

"O God! this is too much!" cried the accused, as he fell fainting on the
ground.

The assembly was deeply agitated; for a moment there was an absolute
tumult.

"Poor fellow! he loved her," said some.

"So good a lady!" cried the women.

Pity began to predominate. Cold water was thrown upon Grandier, without
his being taken from the court, and he was tied to his seat. The
Judge-Advocate went on:

"We are directed to read the beginning of this book to the court," and he
read as follows:

   "'It is for thee, dear and gentle Madeleine, in order to set at rest
   thy troubled conscience, that I have described in this book one
   thought of my soul. All those thoughts tend to thee, celestial
   creature, because in thee they return to the aim and object of my
   whole existence; but the thought I send thee, as 'twere a flower,
   comes from thee, exists only in thee, and returns to thee alone.

   "'Be not sad because thou lovest me; be not afflicted because I
   adore thee. The angels of heaven, what is it that they do? The
   souls of the blessed, what is it that is promised them? Are we less
   pure than the angels? Are our souls less separated from the earth
   than they will be after death? Oh, Madeleine, what is there in us
   wherewith the Lord can be displeased? Can it be that we pray
   together, that with faces prostrate in the dust before His altars,
   we ask for early death to take us while yet youth and love are ours?
   Or that, musing together beneath the funereal trees of the
   churchyard, we yearned for one grave, smiling at the idea of death,
   and weeping at life? Or that, when thou kneelest before me at the
   tribunal of penitence, and, speaking in the presence of God, canst
   find naught of evil to reveal to me, so wholly have I kept thy soul
   in the pure regions of heaven? What, then, could offend our
   Creator? Perhaps--yes! perhaps some spirit of heaven may have
   envied me my happiness when on Easter morn I saw thee kneeling
   before me, purified by long austerities from the slight stain which
   original sin had left in thee! Beautiful, indeed, wert thou! Thy
   glance sought thy God in heaven, and my trembling hand held His
   image to thy pure lips, which human lip had never dared to breathe
   upon. Angelic being! I alone participated in the secret of the
   Lord, in the one secret of the entire purity of thy soul; I it was
   that united thee to thy Creator, who at that moment descended also
   into my bosom. Ineffable espousals, of which the Eternal himself
   was the priest, you alone were permitted between the virgin and her
   pastor! the sole joy of each was to see eternal happiness beginning
   for the other, to inhale together the perfumes of heaven, to drink
   in already the harmony of the spheres, and to feel assured that our
   souls, unveiled to God and to ourselves alone, were worthy together
   to adore Him.

   "'What scruple still weighs upon thy soul, O my sister? Dost thou
   think I have offered too high a worship to thy virtue? Fearest thou
   so pure an admiration should deter me from that of the Lord?'"

Houmain had reached this point when the door through which the witnesses
had withdrawn suddenly opened. The judges anxiously whispered together.
Laubardemont, uncertain as to the meaning of this, signed to the fathers
to let him know whether this was some scene executed by their orders;
but, seated at some distance from him, and themselves taken by surprise,
they could not make him understand that they had not prepared this
interruption. Besides, ere they could exchange looks, to the amazement of
the assembly, three women, 'en chemise', with naked feet, each with a
cord round her neck and a wax taper in her hand, came through the door
and advanced to the middle of the platform. It was the Superior of the
Ursulines, followed by Sisters Agnes and Claire. Both the latter were
weeping; the Superior was very pale, but her bearing was firm, and her
eyes were fixed and tearless. She knelt; her companions followed her
example. Everything was in such confusion that no one thought of checking
them; and in a clear, firm voice she pronounced these words, which
resounded in every corner of the hall:

"In the name of the Holy Trinity, I, Jeanne de Belfiel, daughter of the
Baron de Cose, I, the unworthy Superior of the Convent of the Ursulines
of Loudun, ask pardon of God and man for the crime I have committed in
accusing the innocent Urbain Grandier. My possession was feigned, my
words were dictated; remorse overwhelms me."

"Bravo!" cried the spectators, clapping their hands. The judges arose;
the archers, in doubt, looked at the president; he shook in every limb,
but did not change countenance.

"Let all be silent," he said, in a sharp voice; "archers, do your duty."

This man felt himself supported by so strong a hand that nothing could
affright him--for no thought of Heaven ever visited him.

"What think you, my fathers?" said he, making a sign to the monks.

"That the demon seeks to save his friend. Obmutesce, Satanas!" cried
Father Lactantius, in a terrible voice, affecting to exorcise the
Superior.

Never did fire applied to gunpowder produce an effect more instantaneous
than did these two words. Jeanne de Belfiel started up in all the beauty
of twenty, which her awful nudity served to augment; she seemed a soul
escaped from hell appearing to, her seducer. With her dark eyes she cast
fierce glances upon the monks; Lactantius lowered his beneath that look.
She took two steps toward him with her bare feet, beneath which the
scaffolding rung, so energetic was her movement; the taper seemed, in her
hand, the sword of the avenging angel.

"Silence, impostor!" she cried, with warmth; "the demon who possessed me
was yourself. You deceived me; you said he was not to be tried. To-day,
for the first time, I know that he is to be tried; to-day, for the first
time, I know that he is to be murdered. And I will speak!"

"Woman, the demon bewilders thee."

"Say, rather, that repentance enlightens me. Daughters, miserable as
myself, arise; is he not innocent?"

"We swear he is," said the two young lay sisters, still kneeling and
weeping, for they were not animated with so strong a resolution as that
of the Superior.

Agnes, indeed, had hardly uttered these words when turning toward the
people, she cried, "Help me! they will punish me; they will kill me!" And
hurrying away her companion, she drew her into the crowd, who
affectionately received them. A thousand voices swore to protect them.
Imprecations arose; the men struck their staves against the floor; the
officials dared not prevent the people from passing the sisters on from
one to another into the street.

During this strange scene the amazed and panic-struck judges whispered;
M. Laubardemont looked at the archers, indicating to them the points they
were especially to watch, among which, more particularly, was that
occupied by the group in black. The accusers looked toward the gallery of
the Bishop of Poitiers, but discovered no expression in his dull
countenance. He was one of those old men of whom death appears to take
possession ten years before all motion entirely ceases in them. His eyes
seemed veiled by a half sleep; his gaping mouth mumbled a few vague and
habitual words of prayer without meaning or application; the entire
amount of intelligence he retained was the ability to distinguish the man
who had most power, and him he obeyed, regardless at what price. He had
accordingly signed the sentence of the doctors of the Sorbonne which
declared the nuns possessed, without even deducing thence the consequence
of the death of Urbain; the rest seemed to him one of those more or less
lengthy ceremonies, to which he paid not the slightest attention
--accustomed as he was to see and live among them, himself an
indispensable part and parcel of them. He therefore gave no sign of life
on this occasion, merely preserving an air at once perfectly noble and
expressionless.

Meanwhile, Father Lactantius, having had a moment to recover from the
sudden attack made upon him, turned toward the president and said:

"Here is a clear proof, sent us by Heaven, of the possession, for the
Superior never before has forgotten the modesty and severity of her
order."

"Would that all the world were here to see me!" said Jeanne de Belfiel,
firm as ever. "I can not be sufficiently humiliated upon earth, and
Heaven will reject me, for I have been your accomplice."

Perspiration appeared upon the forehead of Laubardemont, but he tried to
recover his composure. "What absurd tale is this, Sister; what has
influenced you herein?"

The voice of the girl became sepulchral; she collected all her strength,
pressed her hand upon her heart as if she desired to stay its throbbing,
and, looking at Urbain Grandier, answered, "Love."

A shudder ran through the assembly. Urbain, who since he had fainted had
remained with his head hanging down as if dead, slowly raised his eyes
toward her, and returned entirely to life only to undergo a fresh sorrow.
The young penitent continued:

"Yes, the love which he rejected, which he never fully knew, which I have
breathed in his discourses, which my eyes drew in from his celestial
countenance, which his very counsels against it have increased.

"Yes, Urbain is pure as an angel, but good as a man who has loved. I knew
not that he had loved! It is you," she said more energetically, pointing
to Lactantius, Barre, and Mignon, and changing her passionate accents for
those of indignation--"it is you who told me that he loved; you, who this
morning have too cruelly avenged me by killing my rival with a word.
Alas, I only sought to separate them! It was a crime; but, by my mother,
I am an Italian! I burned with love, with jealousy; you allowed me to see
Urbain, to have him as a friend, to see him daily." She was silent for a
moment, then exclaimed, "People, he is innocent! Martyr, pardon me, I
embrace thy feet!"

She prostrated herself before Urbain and burst into a torrent of tears.

Urbain raised his closely bound hands, and giving her his benediction,
said, gently:

"Go, Sister; I pardon thee in the name of Him whom I shall soon see. I
have before said to you, and you now see, that the passions work much
evil, unless we seek to turn them toward heaven."

The blood rose a second time to Laubardemont's forehead. "Miscreant!" he
exclaimed, "darest thou pronounce the words of the Church?"

"I have not quitted her bosom," said Urbain.

"Remove the girl," said the President.

When the archers went to obey, they found that she had tightened the cord
round her neck with such force that she was of a livid hue and almost
lifeless. Fear had driven all the women from the assembly; many had been
carried out fainting, but the hall was no less crowded. The ranks
thickened, for the men out of the streets poured in.

The judges arose in terror, and the president attempted to have the hall
cleared; but the people, putting on their hats, stood in alarming
immobility. The archers were not numerous enough to repel them. It became
necessary to yield; and accordingly Laubardemont in an agitated voice
announced that the council would retire for half an hour. He broke up the
sitting; the people remained gloomily, each man fixed firmly to his
place.