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About this period the prince de Conde, whose gallantry never failed, entreated the king to pay a second visit to Chantilly: and it was upon this occasion that Louis erased from the list of court ladies all those whose presence would be disagreeable to me during our stay at Chantilly. One scene of pleasure followed another, and one fete succeeded another. I accompanied his majesty without ever quitting him; and if hitherto there had existed any doubts as to the sincerity of the king's attachment, the most sceptical person would now have been convinced of the fact. Louis XV was never from my side, and appeared solely occupied in gratifying my slightest wish; the princes of the court carefully followed his example; and such a life as I then led was abundant compensation for all the pains and anxieties I had endured from the malice and jealousy of certain females, as well as the sarcastic bitterness of men, who feared lest my influence should destroy theirs.
I may, with truth, affirm that I received the honors and attention of a queen; verses, plays, all written to convey some praise or compliment to me; and the king testified the lively gratification it afforded him to see me thus an object of general solicitude, as well as of the most flattering distinction. His conduct towards the prince de Conde became more gracious than it had ever been observed to be to the princes of the blood; for there existed a singular coolness in the royal family towards all the princes of this branch. The king looked upon it as vastly inferior to his own, because it had been separated from the throne before the accession of Henry IV to the crown; he even asserted, that there was much to be said upon this subject, and prudence compels me to pass over the many histories and circumstances related by him to me of this brilliant portion of his noble race.
Neither the prince de Conde, whom I knew well, nor the prince de la Marche, entertained much regard for their relations; and they had always some spiteful story in store respecting the posterity of Louis XIII. There is one historical fact which has never been cleared up.
One day I was conversing with the comte de la Marche upon the disputes concerning the parliaments, and expressing my fear, that, if driven to desperate measures, the people would rise in open rebellion in favor of the magistracy. "They would be still more clamororous," replied he, "if they knew all I could tell them."
"And what do you know more than myself?'" asked I; "your highness alarms me by speaking thus."
"Amongst events now passed and gone is one that would materially affect the public peace, if known."
"You must explain yourself, my lord," said I. He refused; but I persisted in pressing the matter with so much earnestness, that at last he said, in a low voice,
"Did you ever hear of the man who wore the iron mask?"
"Yes, certainly," replied I, "who was he?"
"A great prince, and a most unfortunate man."
"But who was he really?"
"In the eyes of the law the crown of France should have been his; but in the conscientious view of things he certainly had no claim."
The comte de la Marche stopped here; and, as I was not very deeply read in history, I did not exactly comprehend the distinction he had just made. I had frequently heard talk of the "Iron Mask," whom people reported to be either allied to, or sprung from, the royal family; but all these particulars were confused in my memory. However, I was much struck with the conversation I had had with the comte de la Marche; and when next the conversation fell on this mysterious personage, I asked the duc de Richelieu what he thought of him.
"Upon my honor," replied he, "I never could find out who he really was; not that I did not try," added he, assuming an air of modest vanity, which well became his green old age. "I had a mistress of tolerably high birth, mademoiselle d'Orleans, as indeed I had the honor of having the princesses, her august sisters. However, the former, known under the name of mademoiselle de Charollais, was dying to do some act of kindness that should be agreeable to me. Well, I requested she would obtain from the regent, her father, the solution of the secret relative to the 'Iron Mask.' She used every possible device, but nothing could she obtain from her father, who protested that the mystery should never escape his lips; and he kept his word, he never did divulge it. I even imagine that the king himself is ignorant of it, unless indeed the cardinal de Fleury informed him of it." The marechal told me afterwards that he thought the opinion adopted by Voltaire the most probable, viz: that this unknown person was the son of the queen Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV. These last words helped, in a measure, to resolve the enigma which comte de la Marche had left me to unravel; and, with a view to satisfy myself more positively on the subject, I availed myself of the first time I was alone with the king, to lead the conversation to this story.
At the mention of the "Iron Mask," Louis XV started. "And do you really credit such a fable?" asked he.
"Is it then entirely untrue?" inquired I.
"Certainly not," he replied; "all that has been said on the matter is destitute of even common sense."
"Well," cried I, "what your majesty says only confirms what I heard from the marechal de Richelieu."
"And what has he been telling you?"
"Very little, sire; he told me only, that the secret of who the 'Iron Mask' really was had not been communicated to you."
'The marechal is a simpleton if he tells you so. I know the whole affair, and was well acquainted with the unhappy business."
"Ah!" exclaimed I, clapping my hands in triumph, "just now you affected perfect ignorance; you knew nothing at all about it, and now--"
"You are a very dangerous woman," cried the king, interrupting me by loud fits of laughter, "and you are cunning enough even to surprise the secrets of the state."
"'Tis you, rather, who could not resist the inclination to let me see that you knew what the marechal had declared you ignorant of. Which of us two is the more to blame, I wonder?"
"Myself, I think," answered the king; "for after all, you did but act with the candor and curiosity of your sex: it was for me to have employed more of the prudence of a king in my replies to your interrogatories."
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Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry -by- Baron Etienne Leon Lamothe-Langon