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List Of Contents | Contents of Marquise de Brinvilliers, by Dumas, Pere
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evil-doers without exception; for if you spared them, they would be
able to make use of your poison, and you would then be guilty of all
the murders committed by them after your death, because you did not
give them over to the judges during your life; thus one might say you
survive yourself, for your crime survives you.  You know, madame,
that a sin in the moment of death is never pardoned, and that to get
remission for your crimes, if crimes you have, they must die when you
die: for if you slay them not, be very sure they will slay you."

"Yes, I am sure of that," replied the marquise, after a moment of
silent thought; "and though I will not admit that I am guilty, I
promise, if I am guilty, to weigh your words.  But one question, sir,
and pray take heed that an answer is necessary.  Is there not crime
in this world that is beyond pardon?  Are not some people guilty of
sins so terrible and so numerous that the Church dares not pardon
them, and if God, in His justice, takes account of them, He cannot
for all His mercy pardon them?  See, I begin with this question,
because, if I am to have no hope, it is needless for me to confess."

"I wish to think, madame," replied the doctor, in spite of himself
half frightened at the marquise, "that this your first question is
only put by way of a general thesis, and has nothing to do with your
own state.  I shall answer the question without any personal
application.  No, madame, in this life there are no unpardonable
sinners, terrible and numerous howsoever their sins may be.  This is
an article of faith, and without holding it you could not die a good
Catholic.  Some doctors, it is true, have before now maintained the
contrary, but they have been condemned as heretics.  Only despair and
final impenitence are unpardonable, and they are not sins of our life
but in our death."

"Sir," replied the marquise, "God has given me grace to be convinced
by what you say, and I believe He will pardon all sins--that He has
often exercised this power.  Now all my trouble is that He may not
deign to grant all His goodness to one so wretched as I am, a
creature so unworthy of the favours already bestowed on her."

The doctor reassured her as best he could, and began to examine her
attentively as they conversed together.  "She was," he said, "a woman
naturally courageous and fearless; naturally gentle and good; not
easily excited; clever and penetrating, seeing things very clearly in
her mind, and expressing herself well and in few but careful words;
easily finding a way out of a difficulty, and choosing her line of
conduct in the most embarrassing circumstances; light-minded and
fickle; unstable, paying no attention if the same thing were said
several times over. For this reason," continued the doctor, "I was
obliged to alter what I had to say from time to time, keeping her but
a short time to one subject, to which, however, I would return later,
giving the matter a new appearance and disguising it a little. She
spoke little and well, with no sign of learning and no affectation,
always, mistress of herself, always composed and saying just what she
intended to say.  No one would have supposed from her face or from
her conversation that she was so wicked as she must have been,
judging by her public avowal of the parricide.  It is surprising,
therefore--and one must bow down before the judgment of God when He
leaves mankind to himself--that a mind evidently of some grandeur,
professing fearlessness in the most untoward and unexpected events,
an immovable firmness and a resolution to await and to endure death
if so it must be, should yet be so criminal as she was proved to be
by the parricide to which she confessed before her judges.  She had
nothing in her face that would indicate such evil.  She had very
abundant chestnut hair, a rounded, well-shaped face, blue eyes very
pretty and gentle, extraordinarily white skin, good nose, and no
disagreeable feature.  Still, there was nothing unusually attractive
in the face: already she was a little wrinkled, and looked older than
her age.  Something made me ask at our first interview how old she
was.  'Monsieur,' she said, 'if I were to live till Sainte-
Madeleine's day I should be forty-six.  On her day I came into the
world, and I bear her name.  I was christened Marie-Madeleine.  But
near to the day as we now are, I shall not live so long: I must end
to-day, or at latest to-morrow, and it will be a favour to give me
the one day.  For this kindness I rely on your word.'  Anyone would
have thought she was quite forty-eight.  Though her face as a rule
looked so gentle, whenever an unhappy thought crossed her mind she
showed it by a contortion that frightened one at first, and from time
to time I saw her face twitching with anger, scorn, or ill-will.
I forgot to say that she was very little and thin.  Such is, roughly
given, a description of her body and mind, which I very soon came to
know, taking pains from the first to observe her, so as to lose no
time in acting on what I discovered."

As she was giving a first brief sketch of her life to her confessor,
the marquise remembered that he had not yet said mass, and reminded
him herself that it was time to do so, pointing out to him the chapel
of the Conciergerie.  She begged him to say a mass for her and in
honour of Our Lady, so that she might gain the intercession of the
Virgin at the throne of God.  The Virgin she had always taken for her
patron saint, and in the midst of her crimes and disorderly life had
never ceased in her peculiar devotion.  As she could not go with the
priest, she promised to be with him at least in the spirit.  He left
her at half-past ten in the morning, and after four hours spent alone
together, she had been induced by his piety and gentleness to make
confessions that could not be wrung from her by the threats of the
judges or the fear of the question.  The holy and devout priest said
his mass, praying the Lord's help for confessor and penitent alike.
After mass, as he returned, he learned from a librarian called Seney,
at the porter's lodge, as he was taking a glass of wine, that
judgment had been given, and that Madame de Brinvilliers was to have
her hand cut off.  This severity--as a fact, there was a mitigation
of the sentence--made him feel yet more interest in his penitent, and
he hastened back to her side.

As soon as she saw the door open, she advanced calmly towards him,
and asked if he had truly prayed for her; and when he assured her of
this, she said, "Father, shall I have the consolation of receiving
the viaticum before I die?"

"Madame," replied the doctor, "if you are condemned to death, you
must die without that sacrament, and I should be deceiving you if I
let you hope for it.  We have heard of the death of the constable of
Saint-Paul without his obtaining this grace, in spite of all his
entreaties.  He was executed in sight of the towers of Notre-Dame.
He offered his own prayer, as you may offer yours, if you suffer the
same fate.  But that is all: God, in His goodness, allows it to

"But," replied the marquise, "I believe M. de Cinq-Mars and M. de
Thou communicated before their death."

"I think not, madame," said the doctor; "for it is not so said in
the pages of Montresor or any other book that describes their

"But M. de Montmorency?" said she.

"But M. de Marillac?" replied the doctor.

In truth, if the favour had been granted to the first, it had been
refused to the second, and the marquise was specially struck thereby,
for M. de Marillac was of her own family, and she was very proud of
the connection.  No doubt she was unaware that M. de Rohan had
received the sacrament at the midnight mass said for the salvation of
his soul by Father Bourdaloue, for she said nothing about it, and
hearing the doctor's answer, only sighed.

"Besides," he continued, "in recalling examples of the kind, madame,
you must not build upon them, please: they are extraordinary cases,
not the rule.  You must expect no privilege; in your case the
ordinary laws will be carried out, and your fate will not differ from
the fate of other condemned persons.  How would it have been had you
lived and died before the reign of Charles VI?  Up to the reign of
this prince, the guilty died without confession, and it was only by
this king's orders that there was a relaxation of this severity.
Besides, communion is not absolutely necessary to salvation, and one
may communicate spiritually in reading the word, which is like the
body; in uniting oneself with the Church, which is the mystical
substance of Christ; and in suffering for Him and with Him, this last
communion of agony that is your portion, madame, and is the most
perfect communion of all.  If you heartily detest your crime and love
God with all your soul, if you have faith and charity, your death is
a martyrdom and a new baptism."

"Alas, my God," replied the marquise, "after what you tell me, now
that I know the executioner's hand was necessary to my salvation,
what should I have become had I died at Liege?  Where should I have
been now?  And even if I had not been taken, and had lived another
twenty years away from France, what would my death have been, since
it needed the scaffold for my purification?  Now I see all my wrong-
doings, and the worst of all is the last--I mean my effrontery before
the judges.  But all is not yet lost, God be thanked; and as I have
one last examination to go through, I desire to make a complete
confession about my whole life.  You, Sir, I entreat specially to ask
pardon on my behalf of the first president; yesterday, when I was in
the dock, he spoke very touching words to me, and I was deeply moved;
but I would not show it, thinking that if I made no avowal the
evidence would not be sufficiently strong to convict me.  But it has
happened otherwise, and I must have scandalised my judges by such an
exhibition of hardihood.  Now I recognise my fault, and will repair
it.  Furthermore, sir, far from feeling angry with the president for
the judgment he to-day passes against me, far from complaining of the

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