Letter from Lebel--Visit from Lebel--Nothing conclusive--Another visit from Lebel--Invitation to sup with the king--Instructions of the comte Jean to the comtesse
One morning comte Jean entered my apartment, his face beaming with delight.
'Read," said he, giving me a letter, "read, Jeannette: victory is ours. News from Morand. Lebel is coming to Paris, and will dine with us. Are we alone?"
"No, there are two of your countrymen whom you invited yesterday."
"I will write and put them off. Morand alone must dine with Lebel; he ought to have a place at the feast which he furnishes with such good music. Come, my dear girl, we touch the moment of importance, it is in your beauty and power of pleasing that I place all my hopes. I think I may rely on you; but, above all, do not forget that you are my sister-in-law."
"Brother-in-law," said I, laughing, "it is not unnecessary that I should know decidedly to which of family I am married? The custom in France is not that a woman be the undivided property of three brothers."
"That only happens in Venice," replied the comte; "my brother Elie is too young, you must be the wife of Guillaume, my second brother."
"Very well; I am the comtesse Guillaume du Barry; that does famously well; we like to know whom we are married to."
After this conversation, comte Jean insisted on presiding at my toilette. He acquitted himself of the task, with a most laughable attention. During two good hours, at least, he tormented first Henriette, and then the female hairdresser, for I had not yet followed the mode, which began to be very general, of having my hair dressed by a man. Comte Jean passed alternately from my dressing-room to the kitchen. He knew Lebel was a gallant and a gourmand, and he was anxious to please him in all senses at once.
At one o'clock I was under arms, and prepared to receive him on whom my destiny depended. As soon as I reached the drawing-room, comte Jean compelled me to submit to the test of a rigid examination.
His serious air amused me much as he gazed at me some time in solemn silence. At length his forehead relaxed, a smile of satisfaction played on his lips, and extending his arms to me, without venturing to touch me, "You are charming, divine," he said; "Lebel ought to go and hang himself if he does not fall down at your knees."
Soon afterwards the folding-doors were hastily opened, and a servant announced M. Lebel, premier de sa Majeste, with M. Morand. The comte went to meet the arrivals, and as I now saw Lebel for the first time, he presented him to me formally.
"Sister, this is M. Lebel, premier de sa Majeste , who has done us the honor to come and dine with us."
"And he confers a real pleasure on us," said I, looking smilingly on M. Lebel. My look had its effect, for Lebel remained mute and motionless from admiration at my person. At length he stammered out a few incoherent words, which I imagined to be compliments. The comte watched Lebel anxiously, and Morand began to rub his hands, saying:
"Well, sir, what think you of our celestial beauty?"
"She is worthy of a throne," replied Lebel, bending his head before me, and taking my hand, which he pressed respectfully to his lips. This reply was, perhaps, inadvertently made, but I took it as a good augury. "Yes," added Lebel, "you are the most lovely creature I ever met, though no one is more in the habit of seeing handsome females than myself."
"And of causing them to be seen by others," replied comte Jean.
This was an opening which was not followed up by Lebel. His first enthusiasm having passed, he measured me from head to foot, as if he would take an accurate description of my person.
For my part I began to support the looks of Lebel with more assurance. He was a man of no particular "mark or likelihood," but had made his way. Living at Versailles had given him a certain air of easy impertinence, but you could not discover anything distinguished in his manners, nothing which concealed his humble extraction. The direction of the Parc aux Cerfs gave him much influence with the king, who found the convenience of such a man, who was willing to take upon himself all the disagreeable part of his clandestine amours. His duties placed him in contact with the ministers, the lieutenant of police, and the comptroller-general. The highest nobility sought his friendship with avidity. They all had a wife, a sister, a daughter, whom they wished to make the favorite sultana; and for this it was necessary to get the ear of Lebel. Thus, under a libertine prince, the destinies of France were at the mercy of a valet de chambre.
I should tell you, however, that I never had occasion but to speak well of him, and that I have the utmost gratitude for all he did for me. The attachment he testified on our first meeting has never been altered. He gave me his protection as far as it was necessary for me, and when the favor of the king had accorded to me a station, whence all the court sought to hurl me, Lebel seconded me with all his power in my efforts to preserve it. I will say, that it is to his vigilance that I owe the overthrow of more than one conspiracy against me. He was a warm and sincere friend, and not at all interested in the services he rendered. He did a great deal of good, as well as harm, in private. I know poor families whom he has assisted with his own purse, when he could obtain nothing for them from the king, for Louis was only prodigal in his pleasures.
However, we dined, and Lebel praised me incessantly to the very skies, and that with so much warmth, that I was fearful at one time he would fall in love with me himself, and would not resign me to another. Thank heaven, Lebel was a faithful servant.
After dinner, when we left the table, Lebel paid me some compliments; then pulling out his watch, he spoke of an appointment at the Marais, and left without saying a word of seeing us again.
At this abrupt departure, comte Jean and I looked at each other with astonishment. As for Morand, he was overjoyed.
"Well, comtesse," said he, "behold the number of your slaves increased by an illustrious adorer. You have made a conquest of M. Lebel, and I am certain he has gone away deeply smitten."
"I hope we shall see him again," said comte Jean.
"Do you doubt it?"
"Assure him," said I, "of the pleasure it will afford us to receive him as he merits."
Several persons entered, and M. Morand, profiting by the bustle which their entrance occasioned, approached me, and said, in a low tone,
"You are in possession of his heart, will you charge me with any message to him?"
"M. Morand," was my reply, "what are you thinking of? A woman of my rank throw herself at any person's head?"
"No, certainly not; but you can send him a kind word, or some affectionate token."
"I could not think of it; M. Lebel appeared to me a most agreeable man, and I shall be at all times delighted to see him."
Morand asked nothing more than this, and there our conversation ended.
Two days elapsed without being marked by any event. Comte Jean had spent them with much anxiety. He was absent, when, on the third morning, Henriette came hastily into my room. "Madame," she said, "the valet de chambre of the king is in the drawing-room, and inquires if you will receive him."
At this news I was surprised and vexed. M. Lebel took me unawares; my toilette was not begun. I gave a hasty glance at my mirror, "Let M. Lebel come in"; and M. Lebel, who was on the heels of my maid, entered instantly. After having saluted me, he said,
Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry -by- Baron Etienne Leon Lamothe-Langon