The Marquise de Ganges

The Marquise de Ganges

Three months go by, then the Marquise’s husband, during one of his rare visits, invites her to travel to his marquisate of Ganges, tucked in between the Cevennes and the deep gorges of the Herault.  Until then, the Marquis had always gone alone to this ancient, fortified town, but this time the Abbot and the Knight go with them.

Despite his bad behaviour, she still has confidence in her husband.  She is sure that he still loves her a little and that he particularly loves the beautiful children that she has given him.  Still, she is so worried that, before leaving, she goes to a notary to make a secret Will.  If something happens to her, she wants to leave her estate to her children, and only to them.  Anything that she might write later would be false and dictated under constraint.  This alone must be her Last Will and Testament…

Here she is at Ganges where the arrival of her caleche has drawn a few townspeople into the street.  Then the heavy doors of the manor house close behind her.  Her husband is there to welcome her under the porch.  Coldly, he announces that he has to leave almost immediately, called to Toulouse for important political business.  He will leave his wife in the care of his two brothers and will return as quickly as he can…  The young woman understands everything.  She now knows that they want to kill her, and that her brothers-in-law are criminals.  They are readying themselves and the whole empty house vibrates with the terror which descends inside her.  The poor thing guesses that she has a few hours respite;  until nighttime perhaps or the next day.  They have all the time in the world anyway and the walled house is so big that no-one would even hear her cry out.  She is in her bedchamber and looks around her.  Her windows open onto a deep ravine and there are three doors, none of which can be locked.  So, trembling, she sits down on her bed and waits.  Already, night is falling and no servant comes to bring her clothes, or lights.  What are her dear children doing now, in Avignon?  And, above all, what will become of them?

Diane's bedchamber in the Chateau de Ganges.

Diane’s bedchamber in the Chateau de Ganges.

When it is dark, she sees, as if in a nightmare, the Abbot and the Knight enter.  But the nightmare is real.  They both approach.  They are dreadfully pale and look hallucinated.  The Knight draws his sword and the Abbot holds a pistol in one hand and a glass in the other.

The Marquise screams, she begs and asks to be allowed to live.  In the name of her children.  In vain.  The two monsters close in on her and say that she has to die.  So, sensing that there is nothing more that she can do, that she has been abandoned by both God and men, she seizes the glass and swallows its contents in one gulp.  There remains a deposit at the bottom.  The Abbot, who is the most determined one, tells her to swallow it all.  The liquid burns her throat and stomach atrociously.  She throws herself onto the bed, twists her body and furtively spits the liquid onto the sheets.  She tells them that they are cursed because she is going to die without having been able to confess herself.  Finally, something which seems to touch them…  Eternal hellfire.  Like automatons, they go to find the chaplain, who is under their orders.  During their short absence, the Marquise makes herself vomit, then slips, dishevelled, stumbling, through a window on the ground floor.  In the deserted streets, she runs and arrives before a house that she thinks she recognizes.  It is that of the Maugirons, notables who came to visit her once at Saint-Andre.  She begs for water.

Diane, who had taken refuge with friends, was wounded five times by her brother-in-law's sword.

Diane, who had taken refuge with friends, was wounded five times by her brother-in-law’s sword.

The Maugirons, very upset, do what they can.  But already the Knight has arrived, looking like a mad somnambulist.  He pushes everyone away and plunges his sword five times into the young woman’s body.  At the fifth blow, the sword breaks in the middle.  He flees, running to join his brother who is waiting outside.  Everything has happened so fast that the Maugirons have been unable to stop it.  The two brothers have returned to their manor and the Knight wipes the blood off his boots and jacket.  He sees, through the window, one of the Maugirons’ domestics passing by, followed by a doctor.  The Abbot realizes that, if they have sent for the doctor, the Marquise is not yet dead.  He rushes outside and runs towards his sister-in-law’s house of refuge.  He manages to force a passage to her bed and, there, he presses a pistol to her heart and fires.

The Marquise was in fact still alive, and she survived her horrible wounds for another nineteen days…

The clairvoyant had told her that she would die three times.  The poison, the sword, the pistol.  Three weapons and so much determination to put an end to her life…

But who really killed her?  The Marquis’ two brothers of course.  But why?  Violence of unrequited desire?  Obtuse hate from two good-for-nothings?  Sordid interest, exalted by the husband’s complicity?

Surely.  But in this strange crime, of a cruelty perhaps without example in this century which counts however some terrifying ones, there was also the Marquise’s haunting certainty that she was going to be killed.  Contagious terror of assassination with which the clairvoyants had inoculated her, fear of being killed which engendered the assassins.

Vertigo in fact, which can wrap itself around everybody:  he who thinks himself to be persecuted and those who become persecutors.  Banal, sordid story of an inheritance, too?  Doubtless.  But, above all, murderous folly unleashed by a prediction.  When one believes that all is fated, all is then fated.  And he who believes the worst attracts the worst…

***

To be continued.

Advertisements