“He exceeds them in the magnitude of his debauches, in opulence of murders, and that’s all. It’s a fact. Read Michelet. You will see that the princes of this epoch were redoubtable butchers. There was a sire de Giac who poisoned his wife, put her astride of his horse and rode at breakneck speed for five leagues, until she died. There was another, whose name I have forgotten, who collared his father, dragged him barefoot through the snow, and calmly thrust him into a subterranean prison and left him there until he died. And how many others! I have tried, without success, to find whether in battles and forays the Marshal committed any serious misdeeds. I have discovered nothing, except that he had a pronounced taste for the gibbet; for he liked to string up all the renegade French whom he surprised in the ranks of the English or in the cities which were not very much devoted to the king.
“We shall find his taste for this kind of torture manifesting itself later on in the chateau de Tiffauges.
“Now, in conclusion, add to all these factors a formidable pride, a pride which incites him to say, during his trial, ’So potent was the star under which I was born that I have done what no one in the world has done nor ever can do.’
“And assuredly, the Marquis de Sade is only a timid bourgeois, a mediocre fantasist, beside him!”
“Since it is difficult to be a saint,” said Des Hermies, “there is nothing for it but to be a Satanist. One of the two extremes. ‘Execration of impotence, hatred of the mediocre,’ that, perhaps, is one of the more indulgent definitions of Diabolism.”
“Perhaps. One can take pride in going as far in crime as a saint in virtue. And that expresses Gilles de Rais exactly.”
“All the same, it’s a mean subject to handle.”
“It certainly is, but happily the documents are abundant. Satan was terrible to the Middle Ages—”
“And to the modern.”
“What do you mean?”
That Satanism has come down in a straight, unbroken line from that age to this.”
“Oh, no; you don’t believe that at this very hour the devil is being evoked and the black mass celebrated?”
“You are sure?”
“You amaze me. But, man! do you know that to witness such things would aid me signally in my work? No joking, you believe in a contemporary Satanistic manifestation? You have proofs?”
“Yes, and of them we shall speak later, for today I am very busy. Tomorrow evening, when we dine with Carhaix. Don’t forget. I’ll come by for you. Meanwhile think over the phrase which you applied a moment ago to the magicians: ’If they had entered the Church they would not have consented to be anything but cardinals and popes,’ and then just think what kind of a clergy we have nowadays. The explanation of Satanism is there, in great part, anyway, for without sacrilegious priests there is no mature Satanism.”