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Book 2 Chapter 5 Cinq Mars by Alfred de Vigny


CHAPTER V

THE MARTYRDOM

     'La torture interroge, et la douleur repond.'
               RAYNOURARD, Les Templiers.

The continuous interest of this half-trial, its preparations, its
interruptions, all had held the minds of the people in such attention
that no private conversations had taken place. Some irrepressible cries
had been uttered, but simultaneously, so that no man could accuse his
neighbor. But when the people were left to themselves, there was an
explosion of clamorous sentences.

There was at this period enough of primitive simplicity among the lower
classes for them to be persuaded by the mysterious tales of the political
agents who were deluding them; so that a large portion of the throng in
the hall of trial, not venturing to change their judgment, though upon
the manifest evidence just given them, awaited in painful suspense the
return of the judges, interchanging with an air of mystery and inane
importance the usual remarks prompted by imbecility on such occasions.

"One does not know what to think, Monsieur?"

"Truly, Madame, most extraordinary things have happened."

"We live in strange times!"

"I suspected this; but, i' faith, it is not wise to say what one thinks."

"We shall see what we shall see," and so on--the unmeaning chatter of the
crowd, which merely serves to show that it is at the command of the first
who chooses to sway it. Stronger words were heard from the group in
black.

"What! shall we let them do as they please, in this manner? What! dare to
burn our letter to the King!"

"If the King knew it!"

"The barbarian impostors! how skilfully is their plot contrived! What!
shall murder be committed under our very eyes? Shall we be afraid of
these archers?"

"No, no, no!" rang out in trumpet-like tones.

Attention was turned toward the young advocate, who, standing on a
branch, began tearing to pieces a roll of paper; then he cried:

"Yes, I tear and scatter to the winds the defence I had prepared for the
accused. They have suppressed discussion; I am not allowed to speak for
him. I can only speak to you, people; I rejoice that I can do so. You
heard these infamous judges. Which of them can hear the truth? Which of
them is worthy to listen to an honest man? Which of them will dare to
meet his gaze? But what do I say? They all know the truth. They carry it
in their guilty breasts; it stings their hearts like a serpent. They
tremble in their lair, where doubtless they are devouring their victim;
they tremble because they have heard the cries of three deluded women.
What was I about to do? I was about to speak in behalf of Urbain
Grandier! But what eloquence could equal that of those unfortunates? What
words could better have shown you his innocence? Heaven has taken up arms
for him in bringing them to repentance and to devotion; Heaven will
finish its work--"

"Vade retro, Satanas," was heard through a high window in the hall.

Fournier stopped for a moment, then said:

"You hear these voices parodying the divine language? If I mistake not,
these instruments of an infernal power are, by this song, preparing some
new spell."

"But," cried those who surrounded him, "what shall we do? What have they
done with him?"

"Remain here; be immovable, be silent," replied the young advocate. "The
inertia of a people is all-powerful; that is its true wisdom, that its
strength. Observe them closely, and in silence; and you will make them
tremble."

"They surely will not dare to appear here again," said the Comte du Lude.

"I should like to look once more at the tall scoundrel in red," said
Grand-Ferre, who had lost nothing of what had occurred.

"And that good gentleman, the Cure," murmured old Father Guillaume
Leroux, looking at all his indignant parishioners, who were talking
together in a low tone, measuring and counting the archers, ridiculing
their dress, and beginning to point them out to the observation of the
other spectators.

Cinq-Mars, still leaning against the pillar behind which he had first
placed himself, still wrapped in his black cloak, eagerly watched all
that passed, lost not a word of what was said, and filled his heart with
hate and bitterness. Violent desires for slaughter and revenge, a vague
desire to strike, took possession of him, despite himself; this is the
first impression which evil produces on the soul of a young man. Later,
sadness takes the place of fury, then indifference and scorn, later
still, a calculating admiration for great villains who have been
successful; but this is only when, of the two elements which constitute
man, earth triumphs over spirit.

Meanwhile, on the right of the hall near the judges' platform, a group of
women were watching attentively a child about eight years old, who had
taken it into his head to climb up to a cornice by the aid of his sister
Martine, whom we have seen the subject of jest with the young soldier,
Grand-Ferre. The child, having nothing to look at after the court had
left the hall, had climbed to a small window which admitted a faint
light, and which he imagined to contain a swallow's nest or some other
treasure for a boy; but after he was well established on the cornice, his
hands grasping the bars of an old shrine of Jerome, he wished himself
anywhere else, and cried out:

"Oh, sister, sister, lend me your hand to get down!"

"What do you see there?" asked Martine.

"Oh, I dare not tell; but I want to get down," and he began to cry.

"Stay there, my child; stay there!" said all the women. "Don't be afraid;
tell us all that you see."

"Well, then, they've put the Cure between two great boards that squeeze
his legs, and there are cords round the boards."

"Ah! that is the rack," said one of the townsmen. "Look again, my little
friend, what do you see now?"

The child, more confident, looked again through the window, and then,
withdrawing his head, said:

"I can not see the Cure now, because all the judges stand round him, and
are looking at him, and their great robes prevent me from seeing. There
are also some Capuchins, stooping down to whisper to him."

Curiosity attracted more people to the boy's perch; every one was silent,
waiting anxiously to catch his words, as if their lives depended on them.

"I see," he went on, "the executioner driving four little pieces of wood
between the cords, after the Capuchins have blessed the hammer and nails.
Ah, heavens! Sister, how enraged they seem with him, because he will not
speak. Mother! mother! give me your hand, I want to come down!"

Instead of his mother, the child, upon turning round, saw only men's
faces, looking up at him with a mournful eagerness, and signing him to go
on. He dared not descend, and looked again through the window, trembling.

"Oh! I see Father Lactantius and Father Barre themselves forcing in more
pieces of wood, which squeeze his legs. Oh, how pale he is! he seems
praying. There, his head falls back, as if he were dying! Oh, take me
away!"

And he fell into the arms of the young Advocate, of M. du Lude, and of
Cinq-Mars, who had come to support him.

"Deus stetit in synagoga deorum: in medio autem Deus dijudicat--" chanted
strong, nasal voices, issuing from the small window, which continued in
full chorus one of the psalms, interrupted by blows of the hammer--an
infernal deed beating time to celestial songs. One might have supposed
himself near a smithy, except that the blows were dull, and manifested to
the ear that the anvil was a man's body.

"Silence!" said Fournier, "He speaks. The chanting and the blows stop."

A weak voice within said, with difficulty, "Oh, my fathers, mitigate the
rigor of your torments, for you will reduce my soul to despair, and I
might seek to destroy myself!"

At this the fury of the people burst forth like an explosion, echoing
along the vaulted roofs; the men sprang fiercely upon the platform,
thrust aside the surprised and hesitating archers; the unarmed crowd
drove them back, pressed them, almost suffocated them against the walls,
and held them fast, then dashed against the doors which led to the
torture chamber, and, making them shake beneath their blows, threatened
to drive them in; imprecations resounded from a thousand menacing voices
and terrified the judges within.

"They are gone; they have taken him away!" cried a man who had climbed to
the little window.

The multitude at once stopped short, and changing the direction of their
steps, fled from this detestable place and spread rapidly through the
streets, where an extraordinary confusion prevailed.

Night had come on during the long sitting, and the rain was pouring in
torrents. The darkness was terrifying. The cries of women slipping on the
pavement or driven back by the horses of the guards; the shouts of the
furious men; the ceaseless tolling of the bells which had been keeping
time with the strokes of the question;

   [Torture ('Question') was regulated in scrupulous detail by Holy
   Mother The Church: The ordinary question was regulated for minor
   infractions and used for interrogating women and children. For more
   serious crimes the suspect (and sometimes the witnesses) were put to
   the extraordinary question by the officiating priests. D.W.]

the roll of distant thunder--all combined to increase the disorder. If
the ear was astonished, the eyes were no less so. A few dismal torches
lighted up the corners of the streets; their flickering gleams showed
soldiers, armed and mounted, dashing along, regardless of the crowd, to
assemble in the Place de St. Pierre; tiles were sometimes thrown at them
on their way, but, missing the distant culprit, fell upon some
unoffending neighbor. The confusion was bewildering, and became still
more so, when, hurrying through all the streets toward the Place de St.
Pierre, the people found it barricaded on all sides, and filled with
mounted guards and archers. Carts, fastened to the posts at each corner,
closed each entrance, and sentinels, armed with arquebuses, were
stationed close to the carts. In the centre of the Place rose a pile
composed of enormous beams placed crosswise upon one another, so as to
form a perfect square; these were covered with a whiter and lighter wood;
an enormous stake arose from the centre of the scaffold. A man clothed in
red and holding a lowered torch stood near this sort of mast, which was
visible from a long distance. A huge chafing-dish, covered on account of
the rain, was at his feet.

At this spectacle, terror inspired everywhere a profound silence; for an
instant nothing was heard but the sound of the rain, which fell in
floods, and of the thunder, which came nearer and nearer.

Meanwhile, Cinq-Mars, accompanied by MM. du Lude and Fournier and all the
more important personages of the town, had sought refuge from the storm
under the peristyle of the church of Ste.-Croix, raised upon twenty stone
steps. The pile was in front, and from this height they could see the
whole of the square. The centre was entirely clear, large streams of
water alone traversed it; but all the windows of the houses were
gradually lighted up, and showed the heads of the men and women who
thronged them.

The young D'Effiat sorrowfully contemplated this menacing preparation.
Brought up in sentiments of honor, and far removed from the black
thoughts which hatred and ambition arouse in the heart of man, he could
not conceive that such wrong could be done without some powerful and
secret motive. The audacity of such a condemnation seemed to him so
enormous that its very cruelty began to justify it in his eyes; a secret
horror crept into his soul, the same that silenced the people. He almost
forgot the interest with which the unhappy Urbain had inspired him, in
thinking whether it were not possible that some secret correspondence
with the infernal powers had justly provoked such excessive severity; and
the public revelations of the nuns, and the statement of his respected
tutor, faded from his memory, so powerful is success, even in the eyes of
superior men! so strongly does force impose upon men, despite the voice
of conscience!

The young traveller was asking himself whether it were not probable that
the torture had forced some monstrous confession from the accused, when
the obscurity which surrounded the church suddenly ceased. Its two great
doors were thrown open; and by the light of an infinite number of
flambeaux, appeared all the judges and ecclesiastics, surrounded by
guards. Among them was Urbain, supported, or rather carried, by six men
clothed as Black Penitents--for his limbs, bound with bandages saturated
with blood, seemed broken and incapable of supporting him. It was at most
two hours since Cinq-Mars had seen him, and yet he could hardly recognize
the face he had so closely observed at the trial. All color, all
roundness of form had disappeared from it; a livid pallor covered a skin
yellow and shining like ivory; the blood seemed to have left his veins;
all the life that remained within him shone from his dark eyes, which
appeared to have grown twice as large as before, as he looked languidly
around him; his long, chestnut hair hung loosely down his neck and over a
white shirt, which entirely covered him--or rather a sort of robe with
large sleeves, and of a yellowish tint, with an odor of sulphur about it;
a long, thick cord encircled his neck and fell upon his breast. He looked
like an apparition; but it was the apparition of a martyr.

Urbain stopped, or, rather, was set down upon the peristyle of the
church; the Capuchin Lactantius placed a lighted torch in his right hand,
and held it there, as he said to him, with his hard inflexibility:

"Do penance, and ask pardon of God for thy crime of magic."

The unhappy man raised his voice with great difficulty, and with his eyes
to heaven said:

"In the name of the living God, I cite thee, Laubardemont, false judge,
to appear before Him in three years. They have taken away my confessor,
and I have been fain to pour out my sins into the bosom of God Himself,
for my enemies surround me. I call that God of mercy to witness I never
have dealt in magic. I have known no mysteries but those of the Catholic
religion, apostolic and Roman, in which I die; I have sinned much against
myself, but never against God and our Lord--"

"Cease!" cried the Capuchin, affecting to close his mouth ere he could
pronounce the name of the Saviour. "Obdurate wretch, return to the demon
who sent thee!"

He signed to four priests, who, approaching with sprinklers in their
hands, exorcised with holy water the air the magician breathed, the earth
he touched, the wood that was to burn him. During this ceremony, the
judge-Advocate hastily read the decree, dated the 18th of August, 1639,
declaring Urbain Grandier duly attainted and convicted of the crime of
sorcery, witchcraft, and possession, in the persons of sundry Ursuline
nuns of Loudun, and others, laymen, etc.

The reader, dazzled by a flash of lightning, stopped for an instant, and,
turning to M. de Laubardemont, asked whether, considering the awful
weather, the execution could not be deferred till the next day.

"The decree," coldly answered Laubardemont, "commands execution within
twenty-four hours. Fear not the incredulous people; they will soon be
convinced."

All the most important persons of the town and many strangers were under
the peristyle, and now advanced, Cinq-Mars among them.

"The magician never has been able to pronounce the name of the Saviour,
and repels his image."

Lactantius at this moment issued from the midst of the Penitents, with an
enormous iron crucifix in his hand, which he seemed to hold with
precaution and respect; he extended it to the lips of the sufferer, who
indeed threw back his head, and collecting all his strength, made a
gesture with his arm, which threw the cross from the hands of the
Capuchin.

"You see," cried the latter, "he has thrown down the cross!"

A murmur arose, the meaning of which was doubtful.

"Profanation!" cried the priests.

The procession moved toward the pile.

Meanwhile, Cinq-Mars, gliding behind a pillar, had eagerly watched all
that passed; he saw with astonishment that the cross, in falling upon the
steps, which were more exposed to the rain than the platform, smoked and
made a noise like molten lead when thrown into water. While the public
attention was elsewhere engaged, he advanced and touched it lightly with
his bare hand, which was immediately scorched. Seized with indignation,
with all the fury of a true heart, he took up the cross with the folds of
his cloak, stepped up to Laubardemont, and, striking him with it on the
forehead, cried:

"Villain, I brand thee with the mark of this red-hot iron!"

The crowd heard these words and rushed forward.

"Arrest this madman!" cried the unworthy magistrate.

He was himself seized by the hands of men who cried, "Justice! justice,
in the name of the King!"

"We are lost!" said Lactantius; "to the pile, to the pile!"

The Penitents dragged Urbain toward the Place, while the judges and
archers reentered the church, struggling with the furious citizens; the
executioner, having no time to tie up the victim, hastened to lay him on
the wood, and to set fire to it. But the rain still fell in torrents, and
each piece of wood had no sooner caught the flame than it became
extinguished. In vain did Lactantius and the other canons themselves seek
to stir up the fire; nothing could overcome the water which fell from
heaven.

Meanwhile, the tumult which had begun in the peristyle of the church
extended throughout the square. The cry of "Justice!" was repeated and
circulated, with the information of what had been discovered; two
barricades were forced, and despite three volleys of musketry, the
archers were gradually driven back toward the centre of the square. In
vain they spurred their horses against the crowd; it overwhelmed them
with its swelling waves. Half an hour passed in this struggle, the guards
still receding toward the pile, which they concealed as they pressed
closer upon it.

"On! on!" cried a man; "we will deliver him; do not strike the soldiers,
but let them fall back. See, Heaven will not permit him to die! The fire
is out; now, friend, one effort more! That is well! Throw down that
horse! Forward! On!"

The guard was broken and dispersed on all sides. The crowd rushed to the
pile, but no more light was there: all had disappeared, even the
executioner. They tore up and threw aside the beams; one of them was
still burning, and its light showed under a mass of ashes and ensanguined
mire a blackened hand, preserved from the fire by a large iron bracelet
and chain. A woman had the courage to open it; the fingers clasped a
small ivory cross and an image of St. Magdalen.

"These are his remains," she said, weeping.

"Say, the relics of a martyr!" exclaimed a citizen, baring his head.