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"I was wrong," said the duke, "not to have mentioned it to you, but I was silent from a desire to preserve peace between you. Now that the affair has been revealed to you, I will not sully my lips with a falsehood for the pleasure of upholding an unprincipled man."
"I will not ask you to tell me more," replied I. "I know enough to make me despise the cowardly spirit of him whom I reject as unworthy of my friendship." So saying, I ran to my writing-table, and wrote to the duc de Villeroi the following note:--
"MONSIEUR LE DUC,--I love my friends with all their faults, but I cannot pardon their perfidy; and, since from what I have heard I am left to conclude, that but for the charms of my attendant Sophie, I should not have been favoured with so many of your visits, I now write to warn you, that I this day dismiss the unfortunate object of your admiration from my service, and therefore recommend you to cease all further communication. Your presence in my house would be any thing but agreeable to me; and since the fair object which has hitherto attracted you will no longer dwell under my roof, I presume your presenting yourself before me would only be more painful than you have hitherto found it. The frankness of my conduct may offend you, but it cannot surprise or grieve you more than your duplicity has me.
"I remain with befitting sentiments, monsieur le duc,
"Your most humble and obedient servant."
When I had completed my letter, I rang, and a footman attended. "Go, "said I to him," carry this note immediately to the duc de Villeroi, and wait, if it be necessary, the whole day, until you can return with the assurance that you have delivered it into his own hand."
Whilst I was thus speaking to the man, who had been engaged by my steward, and very recently entered into my service, I chanced to look at him inadvertently, when my attention was arrested by seeing him rapidly change colour. I could not at the moment conceive what could thus agitate him, and making a sign for him to depart immediately upon his commission, he slowly left the room, regarding me as he went in such a manner, that I could not fail recognising him: and here, my friend, I must lay aside every particle of self-love and vanity ere I can make you a complete confession; the retrospect of my life brings many events, of which the remembrance is indeed painful to me, and only the solemn promise I am under to conceal nothing restrains me from consigning many particulars to oblivion. I am once more about to incur the chance of drawing down your contempt by my candour, but before I enter upon the subject, permit me to conclude my affair with the duc de Villeroi.
My letter was a thunderbolt to the duke. He better than any one knew the extent of my credit, which he dreaded, lest I might employ it to his injury; he therefore hastened to reply to me in the following words:--
"MADAME LA COMTESSE,--I am a most unhappy, or rather a vilely calumniated man; and my enemies have employed the most odious means of making me appear despicable in your eyes. I confess, that not daring to aspire to you, I stopped at the footstool of your throne, but I wholly deny the words which have been laid to my charge. I venture to expect from your justice that you will grant me the favour of an opportunity of exculpating myself from so black a charge. It would be cruel indeed to condemn a man without hearing him.
"I am with the most profound respect, &c."
To this hypocritical epistle I replied by another note as follows:--
"Every bad and unfavourable case may be denied, monsieur le duc, therefore I am not astonished at your seeking to repel the charge of having uttered the disrespectful words laid to your charge. As for the explanations you offer me they would be fruitless; I will have none with those who have either been my friends or appeared to be such. I must therefore beg you will cease all attempts at a correspondence which can lead to no good results.
"I have the honour to remain, &c., &c."
After this business was despatched, I caused Sophie to be sent for to attend me.
"Well, Sophie," said I, " you perceive the confusion you have occasioned through your folly. Is it then true that the duc de Villeroi has spoken of love to you?"
"Yes, indeed, madam," replied the poor girl, weeping bitterly.
"And you return his passion."
"I believe so, madam."
This naif confession made me smile. I continued--
"Then you are not quite sure of the fact?"
"No, madam; for when I do not see him I forget all about it; but when he is before me, so handsome and so generous, so full of love, I try to make myself equally fond of him; but somehow I cannot help preferring his courier, M. l'Eclair."
These last words completely destroyed all attempts at preserving
my gravity, and I burst into the most uncontrollable laughter, which, however, soon gave place to a painful recollection of how soon this young and artless creature, as simple as she was beautiful, was likely to lose this open-heartedness in the hands of her seducer.
"Sophie," said I to her at last, "this unfortunate affair forbids my retaining you any longer in my service; I am compelled to send you from me. I trust this noble lover of yours will never forsake you; have a care only to conceal from him, should you persist in encouraging his addresses, that he has a rival in the person of his courier, l'Eclair."
Sophie threw herself weeping at my feet. I raised and encouraged her by the kindest words to pursue the right path, but I remained steady in my determination of sending her from me.
I was not mistaken. The duc de Villeroi became the possessor of poor Sophie, and publicly boasted of having her under his protection. He did not, however, proceed to these extreme measures until he had essayed every possible means of effecting a reconciliation with me, and he employed more than a hundred persons in the vain attempt of inducing me to pardon him. With this view the marechale de Mirepoix, whose succour he had implored, observed to me that it was sometimes necessary to feign to overlook an insult; I replied, that dissimulation was an art I knew nothing of, nor did I wish ever to acquire it.
"Really, my dear countess," cried she, "you should not live at court, you are absolutely unfit for it."
"It may be so," replied I; "but I would rather quit Versailles altogether than be surrounded by false and perfidious friends."
All the remonstrances of the good-natured marechale were fruitless, I could not bring myself to pardon a man who had so openly outraged my friendship.
Directly I saw the king, I related the whole affair to him.
"It must be confessed," said he, "that the duke has behaved very ill towards you, but he has certainly shown his taste as far as regards Sophie. She is a sweet creature."
"Ah! you are all alike," cried I. "You gentlemen think a pretty face an excuse for every fault; and he only deserves blame who can attach himself where beauty is wanting."
"Because he is a simpleton for so doing," said Louis XV with the utmost gravity, giving me at the same time an affectionate embrace.
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Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry -by- Baron Etienne Leon Lamothe-Langon