“Yes, tell us,” said Carhaix, his great eyes made watery by the smoke of his pipe.
“Well, you know, as a consequence of unheard-of crimes, the Marshal de Rais was condemned to be hanged and burned alive. After the sentence was passed, when he was brought back to his dungeon, he addressed a last appeal to the Bishop, Jean de Malestroit, beseeching the Bishop to intercede for him with the fathers and mothers of the children Gilles had so ferociously violated and put to death, to be present when he suffered.
“The people whose hearts he had lacerated wept with pity. They now saw in this demoniac noble only a poor man who lamented his crimes and was about to confront the Divine Wrath. The day of execution, by nine o’clock they were marching through the city in processional. They chanted psalms in the streets and took vows in the churches to fast three days in order to help assure the repose of the Marshal’s soul.”
“Pretty far, as you see, from American lynch law,” said Des Hermies.
“Then,” resumed Durtal, “at eleven they went to the prison to get Gilles de Rais and accompanied him to the prairie of Las Biesse, where tall stakes stood, surmounted by gibbets.
“The Marshal supported his accomplices, embraced them, adjured them to have ‘great displeasure and contrition of their ill deeds’ and, beating his breast, he supplicated the Virgin to spare them, while the clergy, the peasants, and the people joined in the psalmody, intoning the sinister and imploring strophes of the chant for the departed:
Quia mali et nobis conscii.
Sed tu, Mater summi concilii,
Para nobis locum refugii,
“‘Tunc iratus Judex—’”
“Hurrah for Boulanger!”
The noise as of a stormy sea mounted from the Place Saint Sulpice, and a hubbub of cries floated up to the tower room. “Boulange—Lange—” Then an enormous, raucous voice, the voice of an oyster woman, a push-cart peddler, rose, dominating all others, howling, “Hurrah for Boulanger!”
“The people are cheering the election returns in front of the city hall,” said Carhaix disdainfully.
They looked at each other.
“The people of today!” exclaimed Des Hermies.
“Ah,” grumbled Gevingey, “they wouldn’t acclaim a sage, an artist, that way, even—if such were conceivable now—a saint.”
“And they did in the Middle Ages.”
“Well, they were more naif and not so stupid then,” said Des Hermies. “And as Gevingey says, where now are the saints who directed them? You cannot too often repeat it, the spiritual councillors of today have tainted hearts, dysenteric souls, and slovenly minds. Or they are worse. They corrupt their flock. They are of the Docre order and Satanize.”
“To think that a century of positivism and atheism has been able to overthrow everything but Satanism, and it cannot make Satanism yield an inch.”