"And you fear lest it should carry you beyond your depth, and would fain return to terra firma; is it not so, my lord duke?"
At this ironical speech an expression of heavy displeasure rose to the countenance of M. de Choiseul, and he remained for several minutes like a man who fears to trust himself to reply. Then he added,
"Madam, when I solicited the favour of this conversation, it was with the sincerest desire of adjusting all differences between us, and it would but ill advance that purpose were I now to reply to you with warmth and petulance; condescend, on your part, to lay aside sarcasm and raillery. You have already too many advantages over me, and it would ill accord with your wonted generosity to insult a half-conquered foe."
"You are right, my lord," answered I; "jests and recrimination will effect nothing; let us rather proceed at once to consider what is best for the interest of both."
"Willingly," replied he. 'Now you speak to the purpose; and as I was prepared to hear you--are you inclined for a serious discussion of our business?"
"Pray begin, my lord, I am all attention."
"Well, madam, I deeply regret all that has passed, and deplore that my friends and part of my family should be disagreeable to you; I take upon myself to engage that their hostility shall end, and am willing to afford you the most perfect satisfaction upon this point. Impressed with highest respect for his majesty, and the most lively desire to serve him, I ask for nothing more than to be on good terms with those he loves; and as for the future, my unshrinking loyalty may be relied on."
"I am well assured of it, my lord duke; and likewise you have never taken any part in the calumnies which have been aimed at me. Let us then forgive the and since we are agreed as to the future, let us speak but of the present. I have friends fitted to serve the king, whose ambition leads them to aspire to that honour. What will you do to assist them?"
"Ere I promise that, madam, it is necessary I should be acquainted with them."
"What would it avail to name them to you? You perfectly well
comprehend to whom I allude. I am resolutely decided to support them, and to employ for this purpose the friendship with which his majesty deigns to honour me."
The duke coloured deeply at these words.
"Then, madam," said he, " you would fain strip me to enrich others?"
"No, my lord, I ask but a division of your possessions. You cannot have every thing; and it would not be fair that our reconciliation should be profitable to you only." "I did not anticipate, madam, in coming hither, that you would command me to offer up myself as a sacrifice upon an altar raised by you to the interests of your friends."
"Meaning to say, my lord duke, that you will keep every thing to yourself. I cannot compliment you upon your liberality, however I may for your candour."
"Madam, I have never since my entry into the ministry sought to live at the expense of my country, and let me resign office when I may, I shall retire loaded only with debts, whilst you and your friends draw large revenues from the nation."
The conversation became warm and angry, the duke and myself, with crimson cheeks and inflamed countenances, surveyed each other with haughty defiance. At length he added,
"I had hoped that I should have quitted you more kindly disposed towards me."
"And I, my lord, fancied that you were coming with an ardent desire for peace; but no, the spirit of your sister leads you astray, and you would fain punish me for her absence from court."
"Madam, I beseech you to leave my sister in peace; she has gone, that ought to satisfy you. We will not, if you please, speak of her."
"I only wish that she would likewise do me the honour to be silent respecting me. I am not ignorant that she continues to aim her slanders at me from afar as she did when near me. One might suppose that the sole object of her journeyings was but to excite all France against me."
"Madam, you are mistaken. My sister--"
"Continues to play the same part in the country she did in Paris. She detests me because I happen to have youth and beauty on my side. May her hatred last forever."
"Ah, madam, say not so; for with your charms you are indeed too formidable an antagonist; and the more so, as I clearly perceive you are not inclined for peace."
"At least," said I, "the war on my side shall be fair and open, and those belonging to you have not always waged it with me upon those terms."
The duke merely warded off this last assertion by some unmeaning compliment, and we separated greater enemies than ever.
The first person to whom I could communicate what had passed was the duc d'Aiguillon. He listened to my recital without any decided expression of his opinion; but no sooner had I concluded, than he took me by the hand, and pressing it with a friendly grasp,
"How I congratulate you," said he, "upon the good fortune which has extricated you from this affair. Do you know that a reconciliation with the duc de Choiseul would have involved your inevitable disgrace? What evil genius counselled you to act in such a manner?"
"I fancied I was doing right," said I, "in thus proving to the king that I was not an unreasonable woman."
"The Choiseuls," replied he, "would have entangled you in their nets, and, separated from your real friends, would have made you the innocent author of your own destruction. Tell the king just so much, that the duc de Choiseul has been to see you, that you conversed together some time, and that he has offended you more than ever."
"I promise you, my kind friend," said I, "to follow your advice."
When I next saw the king, I apprized him of the visit.
"That does not astonish me," said Louis XV, "the duke is anxious to be on friendly terms with you."
"He has then taken a very contrary road to arrive at my friendship," said I; "if he really desires that we should be on good terms, he must conduct himself very differently"; and there the conversation ended. But several days afterwards, having sent away my maitre d'hotel, with whom I had reason to be dissatisfied, and the king appearing surprised at seeing a fresh countenance amongst my household, I said to him, "Sir, I have got rid of my Choiseul, when will it please you to get rid of yours?" The king, without replying to me, began to laugh; in which, for want of a better termination to my remark, I was constrained to join.
Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry -by- Baron Etienne Leon Lamothe-Langon