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Extraordinary anecdote of Louis XIV and madame de Maintenon-- The comtesse du Barry at Chantilly--Opinion of king and comte de la Marche respecting the "Iron Mask"--Madame du Barry visits madame de Lagarde
My acquaintance with the singular being I was speaking of in the last chapter did not end here, as you will find in the sequel. I will now give you an account of an equally strange affair, in nearly the same words as Louis XV himself related it to me. Altho' strongly recommended by my sister-in-law and M. de Sartines to conceal the whole story of my mysterious friend from the king, yet, unaccustomed to the prudential observation of court reserve, I, one fine evening, in order to fill up a long blank in the conversation, related the story from beginning to end. His majesty listened with attention until I had concluded.
"This is indeed," said he, "a most singular history; and I think you have acted very wisely in putting an end to all such interference on the part of the police; for in such cases you frequently run great risks to procure a trifling gratification. We have seen something of the same sort in our family."
This discourse excited my curiosity; and I entreated of him to explain himself more fully. "I ought not to do so," replied he; "such transactions should be kept for ever concealed; but as more than half a century has elapsed since the event I allude to took place, I think I may venture to break the silence I have religiously observed until now. You are the only person I have ever mentioned it to, and I must bind you to the strictest secrecy."
This I faithfully promised; and so long as Louis XV lived I kept my word.
"At the conclusion of the last century, during the month of September," resumed the king, "it happened that Louis XIV, and madame de Maintenon formed the wish of consulting together some learned astrologer, in order to ascertain whether the coming age would be productive of good or ill to them. As neither of them knew to whom to apply, in order to attain their object, madame de Maintenon was compelled to confide her wishes to her friend, madame de Montchevreuil, who readily engaged to find for her the person she required; for, spite of the severity with which the law visited such practices, there was no scarcity of dealers in augury, who promised good or bad fortune accordingly as they were paid for it.
"Whilst this lady was making diligent search after one perfectly competent to satisfy madame de Maintenon, this latter, in conjunction with the king, despite the superiority of their minds, was greatly disturbed at the probable consequences of the step they meditated. Their desire to penetrate into futurity appeared to them as ridiculous as it was criminal, but their weaker feelings triumphed; and the result of their deliberations was that far from relinquishing their intention of searching the book of fate, they should lose neither pains nor trouble to attain their object; and to encourage each other, they reckoned upon their fingers the names of every person of their acquaintance, or even belonging to the court, who had derived profit and advantage from the predictions of fortune-tellers.
"The minds of all at this period were still imbued with those superstitious feelings, of which many of the most illustrious persons had given ample proof even in the preceding reign. We have become either more wicked or more sceptical, whichever you please to term it; but this is certain, that many of the things predicted were accomplished with an exact punctuality, which might serve to overthrow the finest arguments of the greatest philosophers, and which has indeed destroyed many ingenious theories. Doubtless the hidden laws of nature have reference to other beings than ourselves; and, beyond dispute, may be said to govern the creatures of an unknown world as well as exercising control over poor mortals like us." After this short digression, of which I give you the precise wording, the king continued as follows:
"On the following day madame de Montchevreuil paid a visit to madame de Maintenon, in which she declared, that upon mature reflection, she could not proceed with the commission she had undertaken: that it was tempting Providence, and had better be abandoned. This remonstrance had no effect upon madame de Maintenon, who shielded herself from any necessity of retracting, by repeating to herself, that she had pledged herself to join Louis XIV in the undertaking, and it would never do for her to forfeit her character for firmness and good sense by now appearing trifling and capricious. However, she feigned a seeming compliance with the advice of madame de Montchevreuil, whilst, in reality, her mind was resolved upon executing her project.
"There was in her household a female who was not immediately one of her establishment, altho' generally ranking as such; one of those active, stirring persons, who thrust themselves into a noble family under the equivocal title of half servant, half lady. This one had charge of all the necessary purchases of linen, Engaged the servants, kept watch over their conduct, procured for the marchioness whatever particulars she might require upon any subject; and took upon herself, in a word, any piece of service by which she could more firmly plant herself in the family of her employers. She received no fixed wages, but their absence was abundantly compensated in the numerous rich presents that were continually made her. Her sleeping apartment was always immediately adjoining that of madame de Maintenon in the castle. A person of this description (as may be readily supposed) knew the world too well to find any difficulty in procuring a mere fortune-teller; and as her discretion might be confidently relied on, it was resolved by her mistress to intrust her with the design.
"Two days after, she had removed all difficulties by discovering an Italian priest, famed as the most skilful necromancer of his day, one who undertook to reveal the decrees of fate to all those who should consult him, as clearly and readily as tho' its leaves lay open, as a book before his eyes. But this gifted person lived in the utmost dread of attracting the notice of parliament, and exercised his art only under the strictest assurances of secrecy, in the most retired and secluded manner, with every precaution to prevent the possibility of a surprise.
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Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry -by- Baron Etienne Leon Lamothe-Langon