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List Of Contents | Contents of Marquise de Brinvilliers, by Dumas, Pere
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Armenians, and indignation against the priest who had betrayed them.
He put the accuser into a room which adjoined the court, and sent for
the Armenian bishop to ask what confession really was, and what
punishment was deserved by a priest who betrayed it, and what was the
fate of those whose crimes were made known in this fashion.  The
bishop replied that the secrets of confession are inviolable, that
Christians burn the priest who reveals them, and absolve those whom
he accuses, because the avowal made by the guilty to the priest is
proscribed by the Christian religion, on pain of eternal damnation.
The vizier, satisfied with the answer, took the bishop into another
room, and summoned the accused to declare all the circumstances: the
poor wretches, half dead, fell at the vizier's feet.  The woman
spoke, explaining that the necessity of defending life and honour had
driven them to take up arms to kill their enemy.  She added that God
alone had witnessed their crime, and it would still be unknown had
not the law of the same God compelled them to confide it to the ear
of one of His ministers for their forgiveness.  Now the priest's
insatiable avarice had ruined them first and then denounced them.
The vizier made them go into a third room, and ordered the
treacherous priest to be confronted with the bishop, making him again
rehearse the penalties incurred by those who betray confessions.
Then, applying this to the guilty priest, he condemned him to be
burnt alive in a public place;--in anticipation, said he, of burning
in hell, where he would assuredly receive the punishment of his
infidelity and crimes.  The sentence was executed without delay.

In spite of the effect which the advocate intended to produce by
these three cases, either the judges rejected them, or perhaps they
thought the other evidence without the confession was enough, and it
was soon clear to everyone, by the way the trial went forward, that
the marquise would be condemned.  Indeed, before sentence was
pronounced, on the morning of July 16th, 1676, she saw M. Pirot,
doctor of the Sorbonne, come into her prison, sent by the chief
president.  This worthy magistrate, foreseeing the issue, and feeling
that one so guilty should not be left till the last moment, had sent
the good priest.  The latter, although he had objected that the
Conciergerie had its own two chaplains, and added that he was too
feeble to undertake such a task, being unable even to see another man
bled without feeling ill, accepted the painful mission, the president
having so strongly urged it, on the ground that in this case he
needed a man who could be entirely trusted.  The president, in fact,
declared that, accustomed as he was to dealing with criminals, the
strength of the marquise amazed him.  The day before he summoned M.
Pirot, he had worked at the trial from morning to night, and for
thirteen hours the accused had been confronted with Briancourt, one
of the chief witnesses against her.  On that very day, there had
been five hours more, and she had borne it all, showing as much
respect towards her judges as haughtiness towards the witness,
reproaching him as a miserable valet, given to drink, and protesting
that as he had been dismissed for his misdemeanours, his testimony
against her ought to go for nothing.  So the chief president felt no
hope of breaking her inflexible spirit, except by the agency of a
minister of religion; for it was not enough to put her to death, the
poisons must perish with her, or else society would gain nothing.
The doctor Pirot came to the marquise with a letter from her sister,
who, as we know, was a nun bearing the name of Sister Marie at the
convent Saint-Jacques.  Her letter exhorted the marquise, in the most
touching and affectionate terms, to place her confidence in the good
priest, and look upon him not only as a helper but as a friend.

When M. Pirot came before the marquise, she had just left the dock,
where she had been for three hours without confessing anything, or
seeming in the least touched by what the president said, though he,
after acting the part of judge, addressed her simply as a Christian,
and showing her what her deplorable position was, appearing now for
the last time before men, and destined so soon to appear before God,
spoke to her such moving words that he broke down himself, and the
oldest and most obdurate judges present wept when they heard him.
When the marquise perceived the doctor, suspecting that her trial was
leading her to death, she approached him, saying:

"You have come, sir, because----"

But Father Chavigny, who was with M. Pirot; interrupted her, saying:

"Madame, we will begin with a prayer."

They all fell on their knees invoking the Holy Spirit; then the
marquise asked them to add a prayer to the Virgin, and, this prayer
finished, she went up to the doctor, and, beginning afresh, said:

"Sir, no doubt the president has sent you to give me consolation:
with you I am to pass the little life I have left.  I have long been
eager to see you."

"Madame," the doctor replied, "I come to render you any spiritual
office that I can; I only wish it were on another occasion."

"We must have resolution, sir," said she, smiling, "for all things."

Then turning to Father Chavigny, she said:

"My father, I am very grateful to you for bringing the doctor here,
and for all the other visits you have been willing to pay me.  Pray
to God for me, I entreat you; henceforth I shall speak with no one
but the doctor, for with him I must speak of things that can only be
discussed tete-a-tete.  Farewell, then, my father; God will reward
you for the attention you have been willing to bestow upon me."

With these words the father retired, leaving the marquise alone with
the doctor and the two men and one woman always in attendance on her.
They were in a large room in the Montgomery tower extending,
throughout its whole length.  There was at the end of the room a bed
with grey curtains for the lady, and a folding-bed for the custodian.
It is said to have been the same room where the poet Theophile was
once shut up, and near the door there were still verses in his well-
known style written by his hand.

As soon as the two men and the woman saw for what the doctor had
come, they retired to the end of the room, leaving the marquise free
to ask for and receive the consolations brought her by the man of
God.  Then the two sat at a table side by side.  The marquise thought
she was already condemned, and began to speak on that assumption; but
the doctor told her that sentence was not yet given, and he did not
know precisely when it would be, still less what it would be; but at
these words the marquise interrupted him.

"Sir," she said, "I am not troubled about the future.  If my sentence
is not given yet, it soon will be.  I expect the news this morning,
and I know it will be death: the only grace I look for from the
president is a delay between the sentence and its execution; for if I
were executed to-day I should have very little time to prepare, and I
feel I have need for more."

The doctor did not expect such words, so he was overjoyed to learn
what she felt.  In addition to what the president had said, he had
heard from Father Chavigny that he had told her the Sunday before
that it was very unlikely she would escape death, and indeed, so far
as one could judge by reports in the town, it was a foregone
conclusion.  When he said so, at first she had appeared stunned, and
said with an air of great terror, "Father, must I die?"  And when he
tried to speak words of consolation, she had risen and shaken her
head, proudly replying--

"No, no, father; there is no need to encourage me.  I will play my
part, and that at once: I shall know how to die like a woman of
spirit."

Then the father had told her that we cannot prepare for death so
quickly and so easily; and that we have to be in readiness for a long
time, not to be taken by surprise; and she had replied that she
needed but a quarter of an hour to confess in, and one moment to die.

So the doctor was very glad to find that between Sunday and Thursday
her feelings had changed so much.

"Yes," said she, "the more I reflect the more I feel that one day
would not be enough to prepare myself for God's tribunal, to be
judged by Him after men have judged me."

"Madame," replied the doctor, "I do not know what or when your
sentence will be; but should it be death, and given to-day, I may
venture to promise you that it will not be carried out before to-
morrow.  But although death is as yet uncertain, I think it well that
you should be prepared for any event."

"Oh, my death is quite certain," said she, "and I must not give way
to useless hopes.  I must repose in you the great secrets of my whole
life; but, father, before this opening of my heart, let me hear from
your lips the opinion you have formed of me, and what you think in my
present state I ought to do."

"You perceive my plan," said the doctor, "and you anticipate what I
was about to say.  Before entering into the secrets of your
conscience, before opening the discussion of your affairs with God, I
am ready, madame, to give you certain definite rules.  I do not yet
know whether you are guilty at all, and I suspend my judgment as to
all the crimes you are accused of, since of them I can learn nothing
except through your confession.  Thus it is my duty still to doubt
your guilt.  But I cannot be ignorant of what you are accused of:
this is a public matter, and has reached my ears; for, as you may
imagine, madame, your affairs have made a great stir, and there are
few people who know nothing about them."

"Yes," she said, smiling, "I know there has been a great deal of
talk, and I am in every man's mouth."

"Then," replied the doctor, "the crime you are accused of is
poisoning.  If you are guilty, as is believed, you cannot hope that
God will pardon you unless you make known to your judges what the
poison is, what is its composition and what its antidote, also the
names of your accomplices.  Madame, we must lay hands on all these

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