The Sorceress, by Jules Michelet, , at sacred-texts.com
THE abbess of the convent of Ollioules was young for an abbess, being only thirty-eight. She was a woman of wit, intelligence, and great vivacity. Impetuous in her likes and dislikes, and easily carried away by any impulse of heart or senses, she was conspicuously lacking, however, in the tact and moderation required for the government of such an establishment.
The religious house in question depended upon two sources of income. On the one hand, it had from Toulon two or three nuns belonging to consular families, who, bringing with them handsome dowries, did pretty much what they pleased, living in communion with the Observantine monks, who were confessors of the convent. On the other, these same monks, whose order had extensive ramifications at Marseilles and throughout the country, were able to get the nuns little girls as boarders and paying novices,an ill-omened connection, fraught with peril for the children, as the Aubany affair showed clearly enough.
No serious confinement within bounds, and little discipline indoors. In the burning nights of summer in this African climate (more oppressive and exhausting than elsewhere in the stifling gorges of Ollioules) nuns and novices came and went with little to control their freedom. What occurred at Loudun in 1630 was repeated exactly at Ollioules in 1730. The majority of the sisters (twelve, or thereabouts, out of the fifteen the house numbered), a good deal neglected by the monks, who preferred the well-born ladies of society, were poor, languid, disappointed creatures, whose only consolations were gossip, childish games,
and dubious familiarities amongst themselves, and between them and the novices.
The abbess was afraid Charlotte Cadière would see too much of all this, and raised difficulties about receiving her. Then suddenly changing her mind, she took just the opposite side, and in a charming letter, far more flattering than a little girl had any right to expect from such a great lady, she expressed the hope that she would give up Girard as her director. Not that she wished to transfer her allegiance to the Observantine Fathers, who were quite unworthy of such a trust; the bold and brilliant idea she had conceived was to make the girl her own, to be Charlotte's confessor herself.
The lady abbess was vain and ambitious, and hoped to appropriate the marvellous child for her own purposes. She thought she could easily gain an ascendency over her mind, being convinced of possessing greater powers to please than an old Jesuit Father, and would fain have exploited the girl saint for the profit of her house.
She paid her the signal honour of receiving her at the threshold of the outer door. She kissed her, and generally took possession of her; presently leading her to the fine chamber she occupied as lady abbess, she told her they would henceforth share it in common. She was enchanted with her modest bearing and rather sickly elegance, as well as with a certain mysterious, affecting touch of strangeness about her. Charlotte had suffered extremely during the short journey, and the abbess was for getting her to bed at once, in her own bed. She told her she was so fond of her she wanted her to share it, that they should sleep together like sisters.
In view of the object she had in view, this was perhaps an injudicious step. It was going too far; to lodge the saint in her own apartments would have been quite enough. By yielding to this curious caprice of having the child sleep with her, she made her appear too much in the light of a little favourite. Such intimacy, very much practised among ladies of the world, was
a thing forbid in convents, a thing to be done surreptitiously, and a bad example for a lady superior to set.
The abbess was astonished, however, to find her protégée hesitate. Doubtless modesty and humility were not the only factors in this reluctance. Still less would it have been due to any repugnance for the lady's person; relatively speaking, she was a younger woman than poor Charlotte Cadière, enjoying a vitality and health she would fain have communicated to her little sick friend. She pressed her tenderly to consent.
To make her forget Girard was her object, and she expected much from this close intimacy at all hours of the day and night. It was the especial foible of lady abbesses, their most cherished pretension, to confess their nuns,as is permitted by St. Theresa. This was bound to come of itself, under the pleasant conditions arranged. The girl would surely make her confessors only trifling confidences, keeping the innermost privacy of her heart for the one person of her predilection. Of evenings, at night, behind the bed-curtains, under the caresses of a companion eager to penetrate her soul, she would let slip many a secret,both of her own and other people's.
She was unable just at first to shake herself free from such pressing importunities, and shared the lady abbess's bed. The latter deemed her hold secure now,doubly secure, and on two different grounds; she was hers both as a saint and as a woman,I should say as a girl, nervous, sensitive, and from very weakness, perhaps sensual. She had her legend composed, her words, every remark that escaped her, written down. Moreover, she carefully collected the most homely details of her physical existence, sending the report to Toulon. She would so gladly have made her an idol, her little doll and darling. On such slippery ground the downward road was no doubt easy and rapid, but the girl had scruples, and was in a way afraid. She roused herself to a great effort that might have been supposed beyond her exhausted strength. She asked humbly to quit this dove's nest, this
downy bed, and pampered existence, to share the ordinary life of the novices or of the boarders.
Great the surprise and mortification of the abbess, who deemed herself insulted. She was deeply offended at what she called her ingratitude, and never forgave her.
A warm welcome awaited her from the rest of the community. The mistress of the novices, Mme. de Lescot, a nun from Paris, equally clever and good-hearted, was a superior woman to the abbess. She seems to have realised what Charlotte was really, the victim of an unfortunate destiny, a young heart full of God's Holiness, but cruelly marred by abnormal accidents of fate, bound to bring her headlong to shame and some sinister end. Her only preoccupation was to watch over her, to guard her against her own imprudent impulses, to explain and excuse whatever seemed most inexcusable in her conduct.
Barring the two or three noble ladies who lived with the monks, and had small liking for the high abstractions of mysticism, all loved the girl and thought her a very angel from heaven. Their sensibility, which wanted an object, was concentrated on her, and her alone. They found her not only pious and supernaturally religious, but a good girl and a good sort, a charming and diverting companion. Ennui was a thing of the past; Charlotte both amused and edified them with her dreams,truly, by this I mean sincerely, recounted and always overflowing with the purest tenderness. She would say, "I travel everywhere at night, even to America. I leave letters everywhere, to tell the people to be converted. To-night I shall come and find you, even though you were to lock yourself in your room. We will go together into the Sacred Heart."
Miraculous! One and all, at midnight, received, so they declared, the delicious visit. They firmly believed they felt Charlotte kiss their cheeks, and lead them away into the Heart of Jesus (pp. 81, 89, 93). They were very frightened and very
happy. The most soft-hearted and credulous of them all was a nun from Marseilles, Sister Raimbaud by name, who enjoyed this felicity no less than fifteen times in three months, or, in other words, every six days pretty nearly.
All pure fancyas is sufficiently proved by the fact that Cadière was with each and all of them at identically the same moment. Still the abbess was hurt, in the first instance because she was jealous at feeling herself the only one left out in the cold, in the second place being convinced that Charlotte, however buried she might be in her dreams and visions, would be only too certain eventually to hear from so many bosom friends about the scandals of the establishment. They were not hard to see. But as nothing could penetrate Charlotte Cadière's mind otherwise than by special illumination from on high, she believed herself to have discovered them by revelation. Her gentle heart was stirred to its depths, and she felt profound compassion for God, who was so vilely outraged. Once more she imagined herself bound to pay for the rest, to save the sinners from the chastisements they had deserved by exhausting in her own person whatever fiercest cruelty the fury of the devils might inflict.
This all burst upon her unexpectedly and overwhelmingly on June 25th, St. John's Day. In the evening she was with the sisters in the novices room. Suddenly she fell back writhing and screaming, and presently became unconscious. On her waking, the novices crowded round her, waiting inquisitively to hear what she would say. But the mistress, Mme. Lescot, guessed of what sort this would be, and felt sure she would ruin herself. She carried her off straight to her own room, where she found her body to be scarified all over and her linen stained with blood.
How came Girard to fail her in the midst of these struggles, internal and external? This was a thing she could not understand. Surely did she need support; yet he never came, or if he did, only to the public parlour, at long intervals and for a hurried visit.
She writes to him on June 28th (by her brothers, for though
she could read, she scarcely knew how to write), summoning him in the most ardent and pressing terms. He answers her appeal by pleading for delay; he has to preach at Hyères, he has a sore throat, etc. Contrary to all expectation, it was the abbess herself who eventually got him to come. No doubt she was anxious about the discoveries Cadière had made as to the internal economy of the convent. Convinced she would speak of these to Girard, she wanted to anticipate her revelations. She wrote the Jesuit a letter of the most flattering and tender character (July 3rd; p. 327), begging him, when he came, to see her first, as she wished, unknown to everyone, to be his pupil, his disciple, as the humble-hearted Nicodemus was our Lord's. "I shall be able, quietly and unobtrusively," she writes, "to make great strides in virtue, under your guidance, by favour of the blessed freedom my position gives me. Our new novice affords a pretext that will serve to conceal and at the same time forward my purpose" (p. 327).
An extraordinary, a reckless step to take, that shows how ill-balanced was the lady abbess's mind. Having failed to supplant Girard with Charlotte, she was for trying to supplant Charlotte with Girard. Without preface or preparation she went straight to the point, as great ladies will, who are still well able to please, and whose overtures are certain to be instantly accepted, even going so far as to refer to the freedom she enjoyed!
This false step was determined by the belief that Girard had pretty well ceased to care for Charlotte by this time, as indeed was the case. But she might have guessed he had other difficulties on his hands at Toulon. He was disturbed and anxious about another affair, no longer involving a mere child, but a lady of ripe age, easy circumstances, and good position, the best-conducted of all his penitents, Mlle. Gravier to wit. Her forty years had been unavailing to protect her; Father Girard would tolerate no independent lamb in the fold. One fine morning she was astounded and deeply mortified to find herself pregnant, and gave vent to bitter recriminations (July; p. 395).
Girard, preoccupied by this fresh misadventure, looked coldly upon the very unexpected advances made by the abbess of Ollioules. He suspected her of laying a trap for him in conjunction with the Observantine Fathers, and resolved to be very cautious. He saw the abbess, already half regretting her imprudent letter, and then Charlotte afterwards, but only in the convent chapel, where he heard her confession.
The latter could not but be wounded by the slight, and no doubt his behaviour was very strange and to the last degree inconsistent. He would disturb her peace of mind with frivolous, flattering letters, and little playful, almost loverlike, threats and teasings (Dépos. Lescot. and p. 335 ),then scornfully refuse to see her except in public.
In a note written the same evening she pays him out cleverly, telling him how at the moment he gave her absolution she had felt herself marvellously detached both from her own personality and from every human creature.
The very thing Girard most desired! The threads of his life were sorely entangled, and Charlotte was only a further embarrassment. Far from being annoyed at her letter, he was delighted at what she said, and made detachment the text of an urgent sermon. At the same time he insinuated how great was the need of prudence on his part. He had received, he told her, a letter in which he was seriously warned of the errors he had committed. However, as he was leaving on Thursday (the 6th) for Marseilles, he would pay her a flying visit (pp. 329, July 4th, 1730).
She waited for him, but no Girard appeared. Her agitation was intense; the flood rose to its height and became a raging, tempestuous sea. She confided in her bosom friend Raimbaud, who would not leave her, but slept the night with her (p. 73), against the rules, saving appearances by saying she had come to her room in the early morning. It was the night of July 6th, a night of concentrated, overpowering heat, in the narrow, shut-in furnace of Ollioules. At four or five, seeing her struggling in sharp agony, she "thought she had the colic, and went to the
kitchen in search of fire." During her absence Charlotte had recourse to extreme measures, which could certainly not fail to bring Girard there without a moment's delay. Whether by reopening the wounds on her head with her nails, or in some way forcing the iron-pointed crown over her brow, she continued to drench her face with blood, which ran down in great gouts. The pain transfigured her whole appearance, and her eyes glittered strangely.
The scene lasted a good two hours. The nuns crowded in to see her in this extraordinary condition, and were lost in admiration. They were for bringing the Observantine Fathers, but Charlotte would not allow them.
The abbess, for her part, would have taken good care not to let Girard know, having no wish for him to see her in her present pathetic condition, which was too touching by far. However, the kind-hearted Mme. Lescot saw to this, and had the father duly informed. He came, but instead of going up to her chamber at once, like a true charlatan, he had an ecstasy of his own in the chapel, where he remained a whole hour prostrate on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament (p. 95). Going upstairs at last, he finds all the nuns assembled round Charlotte. He is told how for a moment she had looked just as if she were at Mass, moving her lips for all the world as if she were receiving the wafer. "Who should know it better than I?" was the impostor's ready answer. "An angel had given me notice. So I said Mass, and gave her communion from Toulon." The sisters were overwhelmed by the miracle, one of them actually being ill for two days afterwards. Then Girard, addressing Cadière with unseemly levity, "Ah! ha! little sweet-tooth," he cried, "so you are robbing me of half my share?"
The rest withdraw respectfully, and leave him face to face with his pale-eyed, bleeding, enfeebled victim,and for these very reasons the more strongly moved. Any other man would have been touched; what more naïve, more striking avowal could she give of her dependence than this irresistible craving she
had to see him? This avowal, expressed in her bleeding face and wounded brow, must surely stir his compassion. She was humiliating herself, but who could fail to pity her under the circumstances? She was constrained then for once to yield to Nature's impulses, this innocent being? In her short and unhappy life, then, the poor girl saint, so much a stranger to things of the senses, did know one hour of human weakness. What he had had of her without her consciousness could count for little or nothing. Now, with consent of soul and will, he was to have all.
Charlotte is very brief, as may be supposed, about all this. In her deposition she says shamefacedly she lost consciousness, and scarcely knew what happened. In a confession made to her friend, Madame Allemand (p. 178), without formulating any complaint, she makes clear all that occurred.
In return for this vivid outburst of devotion towards him, this charming impatience to see him, what did Girard do? Scolded her! The flame that would have caught another man and set him on fire, chilled Girard. His tyrannous heart would tolerate only women whose will was dead within them, unresisting playthings of his passions. And this girl, by the vigorous initiative she had taken, had forced him to come to her!the scholar was leading the master. The irritable pedant treated the whole situation as he would have done a barring-out at school. His libertine severities, his selfish coldness, and the evident pleasure he felt in inflicting pain horrified the unhappy girl, and left her with no other feeling but remorse.
Another abomination! The very blood shed for him had no effect but to suggest the idea he might utilise it to his own advantage. In this interview, the last perhaps, he wished to bind over the poor creature at any rate to discretion, to make her think herself, though deserted by him, still under obligations towards him. He asked if he was to be less favoured than the nuns who had witnessed the miracle. She made her wounds bleed for him to see, and the water with which he washed off
this blood was then drunk between him and her, 1 by which odious communion he believed himself to have bound her soul to his.
This took up two or three hours, and it was nearly midday. The abbess was scandalised, and thought good to come herself with the dinner and make them open the door. Girard drank tea; as it was a Friday, he pretended he was fasting, having taken in good provision no doubt at Toulon. Cadière asked for coffee. The lay Sister in charge of the kitchen was surprised on such a day (p. 86). But without this stimulant the girl would have fainted. It gave her a little strength, and she kept Girard still by her side. He remained with her (it is true, the door was not locked now) till four o'clock, wishing to efface the sinister impression left by his behaviour of the forenoon. By dint of a string of lies promising friendship and protection, he somewhat reassured the excitable creature, and restored her to calmness. She conducted him to the door on his leaving at last, and walking behind him, she took, like the child she really was, two or three little jumps of joy. He said drily, "Silly little madcap!" and that was all (p. 89).
She paid cruelly for her weakness. The same evening, at nine o'clock, she had a fearful vision, and they heard her screaming, "Oh, my God, begone! Leave me, leave me!" On the 8th, at the morning Mass, she did not stay for the communion (no doubt deeming herself unfit), but took refuge in her room. The scandal was great; but so great a favourite was she, that a nun who had run after her invented a merciful lie and swore she had seen Jesus communicating her with his own hand.
Mme. Lescot, with equal judgment and adroitness, wrote in the accredited legendary form, as mystic ejaculations, pious sighs, holy tears, any words they could drag from her torn and
bleeding heart. A very rare occurrencethere was a conspiracy of kindness among women to shield a fellow-woman; and nothing could speak more highly in the poor girl's favour or be a surer testimonial to her powers of pleasing. In a month she was the spoiled child of all the Sisters. Whatever she did, they defended her: innocent in any case, they saw in her only a victim of the devil's wicked assaults. A worthy, stout-hearted woman of the people, daughter of the locksmith of Ollioules, and keeper of the turning-box at the convent, Matherone by name, after surprising certain indecent liberties on Girard's part, declared none the less, "It is nothing; she's a saint." Once when he was speaking of withdrawing her from the convent, the woman cried out, "Take away our Mademoiselle Cadière! . . . Why, I will have an iron door made, to stop her going out of the house." Her brothers, who came to see her every day, alarmed at the state of things they found and the advantage the abbess and her monks might turn them to, plucked up courage, and in an open letter, which they addressed to Girard in the name of Charlotte Cadière, recalled the revelation she had had on June 25th as to the way of life followed by the Observantine Fathers, telling him "it was high time to carry out God's purposes in this matter,"no doubt to demand an inquiry being held, to accuse the accusers.
The challenge was over-bold and altogether injudicious. Almost dying as she was, Charlotte Cadière was very far from any such ideas. Her friends thought perhaps the man who had caused the mischief might possibly allay it, and begged Girard to come and confess their protégée. The result was a terrible scene. In the confessional she gave vent to screams and lamentations, audible thirty yards away. The curious amongst the nuns enjoyed a fine opportunity of eavesdropping, which they did not fail to benefit by. Girard was in torment, and kept repeating, quite unavailingly, "Calm yourself, calm yourself, mademoiselle!" (p. 95).All very well to give her absolution, but alas! she could not see her way to absolve herself. On the
[paragraph continues] 12th she had so sharp a pain below the heart she thought her ribs would burst. On the 14th she seemed at death's door, and her mother was summoned. She received the Viaticum. The following day "she made a general apology, the most touching and expressive ever heard," which "dissolved us in tears" (pp. 330, 331). The 20th she fell into a sort of death agony that was un-endurably pathetic. Then by a sudden and favourable change that saved her life, she enjoyed a very soothing vision. She saw the penitent Magdalene forgiven and transfigured in glory, holding the place in heaven which Lucifer had lost (p. 332).
Still Girard could not make sure of her discretion except by corrupting her yet further and stifling her remorse. Now and again he would come (to the convent parlour) and kiss her, then regardless of appearances. But more often still he would send his pious protégées to see her. Madame Guiol and others visited her, overwhelming her with caresses and embraces; when she confided her secret to them with tears of shame, they only smiled, and told her all this was only part of the divine liberties the elect enjoyed; that they had had their share too, and were in the same case with her. Indeed, they openly boasted of the delights of such an association amongst women. Nor did Father Girard disapprove of their mutual confidences and their thus sharing the most disgraceful secrets. So habituated was he to these abominations, and looked upon it all so much as a matter of course, that he actually spoke to Charlotte about Mlle. Gravier's pregnancy. He wanted her to have her invited to Ollioules, calmed her irritation, and persuaded her her condition might very well be an illusion of the Evil One that could be dissipated by proper means (p. 395).
All this disgusting information made no impression on Charlotte Cadière, though it could not but rouse her brothers' indignation, who knew how true it all was. The letters written by them in her name are exceedingly curious. Savage and furious in their inmost hearts, regarding Girard as a consummate scoundrel, yet obliged to make their sister speak with respect
and tenderness, they yet write in such a way that here and there, to anyone reading between the lines, their rage is evident.
As for Girard's letters, these are laboured productions, manifestly composed in view of a possible trial to come. We will quote from the only one he never had an opportunity of falsifying, one dated July 22. It is bitter-sweet in tenor aid gallant in tone, the letter of a reckless, hot-headed man. This is the gist of it:
"The Bishop arrived this morning at Toulon, and intends to visit Cadière. . . . Arrangements will be made beforehand as to what can be done and said. If the Vicar-in-Chief and Father Sabatier come to see her and ask to see (her wounds), she will tell them she has been forbidden to act or speak.
"I am hungry to see you again and to see everything. You know I only ask my rights. It is long since I have seen anything more than half (he means at the grating of the parlour). I shall tire you out? Well, then! do not tire me out too"and so on.
An extraordinary letter in every way. He is suspicious at one and the same time both of the Bishop and even of the Jesuit, his own colleague, old Father Sabatier. It is at bottom the letter of a guilty man in terror of discovery. He knows perfectly well she has in her possession his letter and papers, in a word stuff enough to ruin him outright.
The two young men answer in their sister's name by an animated letter, the only one that rings true. They answer line by line, without invective, but with a bitterness that is often ironic, and which displays a concentrated fire of indignation. In it their sister promises to obey her correspondent, to say nothing either to the Bishop or the Jesuit. She congratulates him on having "so much courage to exhort others to suffer." She throws his odious gallantry back in his face, but in equally odious words,in this part a man's hand is manifest, it is the work of a couple of clumsy schoolboys.
The next day but one they went to tell him she wished to quit the convent instantly. He was terribly startled, thinking
the papers were going to escape along with her. So profound was his terror it robbed him of his presence of mind, and he was weak enough to go weeping to the parlour at Ollioules, where he threw himself on his knees before her, and asked her if she would have the courage to leave him (p. 7). This touched the poor girl, who told him no, came forward and allowed him to embrace her. And all the time the Judas only wanted to deceive her and gain a few days' breathing space, time to get support from high quarters.
By the 29th all is changed. Charlotte is still at Ollioules, asking his pardon and promising submission (p. 339). It is very evident he has brought powerful influence to work, that by this date they have received threats,perhaps from Aix, or later on from Paris. The bigwigs of the Jesuit Order have written, and Court protectors from Versailles.
What were the two brothers to do in this dilemma? Doubtless they consulted their chiefs, who probably warned them not to press Girard too hard on the ground of immorality as a confessor; this would have been to offend the whole of the clergy, whose dearest prerogative confession is. On the other hand, they were to isolate him from the clerical body, by insisting on the singularity of his tenets, and bring the Quietist in him into prominence. With this weapon alone they could do great execution. In 1698 a curé of a village near Dijon had been burned for Quietism. They conceived the idea of composing (apparently from their sister's dictation, who was really an entire stranger to the plan) a memoir, in which Girard's Quietism, exaggerated and sublimated, should be established, or as a matter of fact denounced. This consists in an account of the series of visions she had had during Lent. In these the name of Girard is already in the heavens; she sees it, united with her own name, in the Book of Life.
They dared not carry the memoir in question directly to the Bishop; but they got it stolen by their friend, his almoner, young Father Camerle. The Bishop read it, and other copies
circulated in the town. On August 21st, Girard being at the palace, the prelate said to him, laughing, "Well! well! Father, so your name's in the Book of Life, is it?"
He was panic-stricken, and believed himself undone. He wrote to Charlotte in terms of bitter reproach, once more tearfully demanding his papers. Charlotte was greatly surprised, and swore the memoir had never been out of her brothers hands. When she discovered this was untrue, her despair knew no bounds (p. 363). The most cruel pains of mind and body assailed her, and a moment came when she verily thought her flesh was melting. "I became more than half mad. I felt such a craving for pain! Twice I grasped the scourge, and so fiercely, I drew blood abundantly" (p. 362). In the midst of this wild frenzy, which shows equally the ill-balance of her brain and the infinite sensitiveness of her conscience, Guiol put the finishing touch to her agony by describing Girard to her as a man almost at death's door. Her pity rose to the highest pitch (p. 361).
She was sure now to let the papers go; though it was only too plain they were her only protection and defence, alone capable of proving her innocence and the nature of the wiles to which she had fallen a victim. To give them back was to run a serious risk of herself and her seducer changing places. It might be said, and there would then be nothing to disprove the lie, that it was she had led a holy man astray, and all the odium would be concentrated on her unhappy head.
But, if the only alternative lay between perishing herself or ruining Girard, she very much preferred the first. A demon (Guiol, no doubt) tempted her with this very bait, the extraordinary sublimity of such a sacrifice. She wrote to her saying God claimed of her a bloody sacrifice (p. 28). She was able to quote saints for her example, who, when accused, made no attempt at justification, but rather accused themselves and died as meek as lambs. This was the course Charlotte Cadière deliberately adopted. When charges were alleged against Girard
in her presence, she invariably justified him, saying, "He speaks the truth; I told lies" (p. 32).
She might very well have returned merely Girard's own letters, but in the generosity of her heart she was ready to do whatever she was asked; so she gave him the drafts of her own into the bargain. He secured at the same time both these drafts in the handwriting of the Jacobin and the copies which the other brother made to send to him. After this he had nothing to fear. No sort of control was possible; he could excise, add, destroy, erase, falsify at his good pleasure. His task as a forger was perfectly easy, and he worked with a will. Out of eighty letters there remain sixteen, and even these appear to be elaborate compositions, manufactured after the event.
Girard held all the cards, and could laugh at his enemies, whose turn it now was to tremble. The Bishop, a man of the great world, knew his Versailles far too well, and what influence the Jesuits wielded there, not to treat them with consideration. He even thought it politic to say a gracious word to Father Girard to make up for his malicious remark about the Book of Life, and told him with an amiable smile he would like to act as sponsor to a child of any of his relatives at the font.
The bishops of Toulon had always been great lords. The episcopal register contains all the chief names of Provence, Baux, Glandèves, Nicolai, Forbin, Forbin dOppède, as well as famous Italian names like Fiesci, Trivuleio, La Rovere. From 1712 to 1737, under the Regency and Fleury, the Bishop of Toulon was a La Tour du Pin. He was a very rich man, holding in commendam the abbeys of Aniane and Saint Guilhem of the Desert in Languedoc. He was said to have behaved well during the Plague in 1721. Otherwise, he was an almost constant absentee, lived a purely worldly life, never saying Mass, and having the reputation of something more than gallantry.
He arrived at Toulon in July, and though Girard would gladly have dissuaded him from going to Ollioules and visiting
[paragraph continues] Charlotte Cadière, his curiosity was too strong to resist the temptation. He saw her at one of her good times, and was taken by her looks. He thought her a good, saintly little personage, and was so far convinced of the reality of her revelations from on high as, rather inconsiderately, to speak to her of his affairs, and interests, and future, consulting her much as he might have done a common fortune-teller.
Still he hesitated, in spite of her brothers prayers, to remove her from Ollioules, and out of Girard's reach. Means, however, were found to fix his resolution. The report was spread at Toulon that Charlotte had shown a wish to fly to the desert, as her model St. Theresa had tried to do as a child of twelve. This notion, so it was said, was put in her head by Girard, in order to carry her off some fine morning, get her beyond the bounds of the diocese, whose chief glory she was,in a word, to make a present of this treasure to some far-away religious house, where the Jesuits, having an exclusive monopoly, would exploit for their own benefit her miracles and her visions, and all the attractions she exercised as a young and popular saint. The Bishop was much aggrieved, and sent word to the abbess to deliver Mlle. Cadière to no one but her mother, who was shortly to remove her from the convent and take her to a bastide belonging to the family.
Not to offend Girard, they got Charlotte to write to him to the effect that, if the change of residence was inconvenient to him, he could procure a coadjutor, and so give her a second confessor. He understood the hint, and preferred to disarm jealousy by giving up Cadière altogether. He broke off relations (September 15th) by a very judiciously worded, humble, and piteous epistle, in which he endeavoured to leave her still his friend and well-wisher. "If I have committed faults against you," he writes, "still you must always remember I had every wish to help you. . . . I am and shall always be your devoted friend in the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
Nevertheless the Bishop was far from being reassured. He
thought the three JesuitsGirard, Sabatier, and Grignetwere for putting his suspicions to sleep, and then one fine day, with an order from Paris, carrying off the girl with them. He took the decisive step, September 17th, of sending his carriage (a light, fashionable, unclerical conveyance called a phaeton), and having her driven to her mother's bastide in the near neighbourhood.
To calm her feelings and protect her person, and set her generally in the right way, he sought a confessor for her, addressing himself in the first instance to a Carmelite who had been her director before Girard. But the monk, who was an old man, refused, and others in all probability followed his example. The Bishop was obliged to take a stranger, a new arrival three months before from Franche-Comté, one Father Nicholas, Prior of the Barefooted Carmelites. He was a man of forty, at once able and courageous, of a very determined, not to say obstinate character. He showed himself well worthy of the confidence reposed in him by declining the duty at first. It was not so much the Jesuits he was afraid of as Charlotte Cadière herself. He expected little good of her, considering the angel was likely enough to be an angel of darkness, and fearing the foul fiend, under the gentle guise of a young girl, would only strike the fouler blows.
But the mere sight of her reassured him not a little; she seemed innocent enough, and only too glad to have found a man at last who was sure and trustworthy, and able to give her firm support. She had suffered sorely from the continual state of uncertainty Girard had always kept her in. From the first day she talked more freely than she had done for a month past, telling him about her life and sufferings, her pieties and visions. Even the coming of night did not stop hera hot night of mid-September. All stood open in the chamber, the three doors as well as the windows. She went on almost till dawn, by the side of her sleeping brothers. Next day she began again, sitting in the vine-trellised summer-house, speaking in the most edifying fashion of God and the sublimest mysteries of religion.
[paragraph continues] The Carmelite was astounded, asking himself if the devil could possibly praise God so eloquently.
Her innocence was self-evident. She seemed a good-hearted, docile girl, meek as a lamb and frolicsome as a puppy. She was eager to play bowls (a common amusement at the bastides), and he did not refuse to play too.
If a spirit dwelt in her, at any rate no one could say it was a "lying spirit." Watching her long and closely, none could doubt that her wounds really bled at times. Her new confessor, unlike Girard, carefully avoided any indecent investigations to verify the fact, contenting himself with what he saw of the stigmata on her feet. He was only too frequently witness of her ecstasies. A violent heat would suddenly take her at the heart and circulate all through her frame; then she would lose consciousness, fall into convulsions, and begin talking wildly.
The Carmelite understood perfectly that in Charlotte Cadière there were two distinct persons, the girl herself and the demon that possessed her. The first was right-thinking, and even exceptionally innocent of heart, ignorant of wrong, for all the wrong she had suffered, comprehending little of the very things that had troubled her so sorely. Previous to her confession, when she spoke of Girard's kisses, the Carmelite told her roughly, "Why, they are very deadly sins." "Oh, God!" she replied, weeping, "then I am undone, for he did many other worse things to me."
The Bishop often came to see her, the bastide making a convenient object for his walks. When he questioned her, she answered simply and unsuspiciously, and told him at any rate the beginning of what had occurred. The Bishop was very angry, deeply mortified and indignant, doubtless guessing what was left unsaid. He came within an ace of raising a terrible hue-and-cry against Girard. Without a thought of the dangers of provoking a struggle with the Jesuits, he entered completely into the Carmelite's ideas, admitting she was bewitched,ergo that Girard was a wizard. He was for instantly inhibiting him formally,
ruining and disgracing him. But Charlotte pleaded for the man who had so deeply wronged her, and refused to be avenged. Throwing herself on her knees before the Bishop, she conjured him to spare Girard, not to speak of such severe measures. With touching humility, she declared, "Enough that I am enlightened now, that I know how sinful I was" (p. 127). Her brother, the Jacobin, seconded her prayers, foreseeing all the perils involved in such a contest, and doubting if the Bishop had firmness enough to carry it through.
She was now much calmer. The burning heats of summer were over, and the gracious month of October come, when Nature at last showed a more kindly face. The Bishop reaped a lively gratification from the fact of her having been saved by his instrumentality. The poor girl, removed from the stifling conditions of Ollioules, freed from all contact with Girard, well guarded by her relatives and the good, brave-hearted monk, last but not least protected by the Bishop, who grudged no trouble and consistently gave her his countenance, she entirely recovered her serenity. Like the parched grass that revives under the October showers, she lifted up her drooping head and bloomed afresh.
For some seven weeks she appeared perfectly sensible and well behaved. So delighted was the Bishop, he would fain have had the Carmelite, with Cadière to second him, deal with the rest of Girard's penitents and bring them to a similar condition of sweet reasonableness. They were to come to the bastide,one may guess how much against the grain and with how ill a grace. Nothing, in fact, could well be more unseemly than thus to confront women of the sort with the Bishop's protégée, a young girl barely recovered from a state of ecstatic deliriousness.
The situation was critical, verging indeed on the ludicrous. Two factions were brought face to face,Girard's women on the one side, the Bishop's on the other. On the Bishop's part Madame Allemand and her daughter, partisans of Charlotte
[paragraph continues] Cadière's; on the opposite the rebels, the Guiol woman at their head. The Bishop opened negotiations with the latter to induce her to enter into relations with the Carmelite and bring her friends to confess to him. He sent his registrar to her, and later on a procurator, a former lover of Madame Guiol's. Meeting with no success, the Bishop played his last card, and summoned them all to the Palace. There they denied one and all the reality both of ecstasies and stigmata, of which they had previously boasted. One of the party, no doubt Guiol, with equal effrontery and malicious artfulness, astounded his lordship yet more by offering to show him there and then they had no mark whatever on any part of their bodies. They had supposed him giddy-headed enough to fall into the snare. He scored cleverly, however; he refused flatly, but expressed his thanks to the ladies who, at the expense of their modesty, would have made him Father Girard's imitator, setting all the town grinning at his adroitness.
The Bishop's proceedings turned out a dead failure. On the one hand, these insolent women merely laughed at him, while on the other, his supposed success with Mlle. Cadière ended in disappointment. No sooner back in gloomy Toulon and installed in the confined Ruelle de lHôpital, than she suffered a relapse. She was again on the very scene, with all its dangerous and sinister associations, that had witnessed the first commencement of her malady, in the actual battlefield where the two opposing factions were engaged. The Jesuits, with the Court of France, as all could see, at their back, had on their side the politicians, the diplomats, the moderate men. The Carmelite had only the Bishop, not supported even by his own colleagues, or by the curés. However, he had a weapon in reserve. On November 8th he extracted from Cadière a written authorisation to make public her confession, if circumstances required it.
This was a bold step that set Girard trembling by its very audacity. He was not a brave man, and he would have been
undone if his cause had not been the Jesuits too. He lay perdu in the recesses of their house. On the other hand, his colleague Sabatier, an old man of a sanguine, choleric temperament, went straight to the Palace and forced himself into the Bishop's presence, bearing in his gown, like Popilius, peace or war. He put his back, so to speak, to the wall, and gave the prelate to understand that an action at law with the Jesuits meant his professional ruin, that he would remain Bishop of Toulon to the end of his days, and never be Archbishop. More than that, with the freedom of speech allowable to an apostle so influential at Versailles, he told him plainly that if the business should prove a revelation of a Jesuit Father's morals, it would throw no less searching a light on those of a certain Bishop. A letter, obviously put together by Girard (p. 334), would seem to show that the Jesuits lay all ready in ambush to launch formidable countercharges against the prelate, declaring his life "not merely unworthy of the episcopal dignity, but abominable."
The wily and perfidious Girard, the apoplectic Sabatier, bursting with rage and spite, would have seconded the calumny with might and main. Such men would not have failed to say all this ado was for a girl's sake, that if Girard had tended her when sick, the Bishop had enjoyed her favours when restored to health. What annoyance such a scandal must occasion in the well-ordered life of a great nobleman and gentleman of society! It would have been too ridiculous a piece of Quixotism to take up arms to avenge the virtue of a little crack-brained invalid girl, and for her sake to come to blows with all respectable men! Cardinal de Bonzi died of disappointed love at Toulouse, but, at any rate, it was for a fair and high-born lady, the Marquise de Ganges. Here his lordship ran the risk of ruining himself, of being overwhelmed by shame and ridicule for the daughter of an old-clothes-man in the Rue de lHôpital!
These menaces of Sabatier's produced the more effect, inasmuch as the Bishop was already, for other reasons, less eager in Charlotte's behalf. He was annoyed with her for falling ill
again, and thus spoiling his success. She was putting him in the wrong by her inconsiderate relapse, and he could not help bearing her a grudge for not getting well.
He told himself Sabatier was quite right; it would be a piece of silly good-nature to compromise himself. The change was sudden and instantaneous, like conversion by the grace of heaven. He saw the light in a moment of time, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, and straightway went over to the Jesuits.
Sabatier stuck to his guns. He put pens and paper before him, and made him write out and sign on the spot an interdiction directed against the Carmelite, his agent with Charlotte Cadière, and another for her brother, the Jacobin (Nov. 10, 1730).
269:1 This was a custom of the Reiters, the northern soldiery, to make themselves blood-brothers by this sort of communion (see Michelet, Origines du Droit).