Monsignor the Bishop of Toul is remembering how the young, gifted Doctor Poirot had tried to seduce a saint and had been burnt alive for it. He continues the story, as seen through his eyes.
At the sight of several men about to start eating some food, which they are taking from a basket, during a pilgrimage to Saint-Mont, half-an-hour’s walk from Elisabeth de Ranfaing’s home, the saint suddenly realises the meaning of the premonitory dream that she had had the previous night: a great multitude of strong, robust men were dragging her to a barbaric altar, dedicated to Cupid, and had obliged her to kneel before this lascive god. Among her torturers, she had perfectly recognized Doctor Poirot, who, once more, said that he loved her with a platonic love, inseparable from the veneration that he had for her as a saint.
The widow’s friends tried to persuade her that the men were not going to eat her alive, but, pale and trembling, she rushed into the chapel to reiterate her vows of eternal chastity, at the feet of Mary. She came out again one hour later, for she had to eat. Poirot was there, radiating malevolent joy, complimenting her, worrying about her pallor, advising her not to drink only water, in other words, acting like a real succubus demon, ready to descend onto its prey. He is also the one who, with fake courtesy, distributes a piece of salted pork to everyone.
He had hidden a philtre under the pork… Elisabeth had hardly tasted it than she felt herself to be bewitched and suffered the
“inexplicable torment of seeing her mind filled with thoughts, and her heart with feelings, of affection for the person for whom it horrified her to have them”
as her historiographer d’Argombat wrote.
From this cursed day, she knew no rest. She could cry as much as she wanted, become desperate, run through her apartment like a madwoman, the image of the charming doctor pursued her. When, at the end of her tether, she had him called, she first went into her boudoir to clean herself up a bit or to pinch her cheeks that dismay had paled. She immediately pulled herself together, whipped herself until she bled, and begged her confessor to tie her to the column of her bed until “her tongue and her heart were in accord”.
Luckily, Poirot had no idea of the trouble he had caused. Otherwise, he would have forced his perverse talent to take advantage of her. Meanwhile, he had the nerve to diagnose that his victim had “the mother illness”, which in Lorraine parlance, meant “hysteria”. Luckily, Pichard, his colleague and vigilant enemy, recused this sacrilegious diagnosis and spoke of possession in the form of a “uterine furor, erotic and true love madness”.
As her pain augmented, the saint conveniently remembers that several months beforehand, she had accidentally met Poirot, and that he had thrown into her face “a smelly breath where the spell was enclosed”. From the magical piece of salted pork to a poisoned burp, the family was beginning to have enough, and some courageous relatives proposed killing the tempter. The saint begged them to let her suffer a little more. She was bearing up well under the repeated exorcisms that were having more and more difficulty in shoring up her courage.
At the end of her strength, she at last consents, in March 1621, to give the name of her tormentor during an exorcism. It is, of course, Poirot, who, present at the seance, pretends to be astounded. In vain, he cooks up the cowardly project of fleeing the duchy. The good Duke Henri II has him arrested.
The Extraordinary Commissionaries charged with judging him knew full well the long suffering endured by Elisabeth because of this fiend, and promised to be diligent. They shaved him from head to toe and sounded him everywhere with long needles. Satan in this man knew so well how to hide that no diabolical mark could be established with certainty. His fingers were crushed in screws, he was stretched on a ladder, a thousand sufferings were inflicted on him, with no result…
It was also in vain that an attempt was made to make the Devil say again the name of his accomplice, through the saint’s mouth. The Evil One didn’t want to do it again, for, he said, it made him die to denounce his henchmen. The exorcist reminded him that he had already done it once, but to no avail… the Evil One indicated that the first time he did it in spite of himself, because the Virgin Mary, who also had her entries into Elisabeth’s soul, had forced him to do it. How can you reason with the Devil?…
Poirot, in any case, is locked up in a nice, humid cell until, in March the following year, a woman, that some said was ill, but who was more likely a witch, reveals that he had been a marvellous sabbath companion for her. Out of nowhere, here at last was good proof which allowed the saint to be freed of him without delay. As early as the 7 April, the sentence falls and the two miserable people, dressed in gowns steeped in sulphur which would not make their demise any more agreeable, but allowed the people of Lorraine to smell the proximity of Hell, expired in flames…
This fire also consumes whatever was still unsure in Elisabeth’s faith, traversed by too many influences and uncertainties. Soon, she would be authorised to take the habit, to found and direct a powerful charitable institution and, after another time of trials and also denigration, she will perform many miracles, attested by thousands of Lorraine inhabitants, who file past her physical remains…
To be continued.