The Count de la Tour D’Auvergne and Madame D’Urfe — Camille — My Passion for the Count’s Mistress — The Ridiculous Incident Which Cured Me — The Count de St. Germain
In spite of my love for Mdlle. Baletti, I did not omit to pay my court to the most noted ladies of the pavement; but I was chiefly interested in kept women, and those who consider themselves as belonging to the public only in playing before them night by night, queens or chamber-maids.
In spite of this affection, they enjoy what they call their independence, either by devoting themselves to Cupid or to Plutus, and more frequently to both together. As it is not very difficult to make the acquaintance of these priestesses of pleasure and dissipation, I soon got to know several of them.
The halls of the theatres are capital places for amateurs to exercise their talents in intriguing, and I had profited tolerably well by the lessons I had learnt in this fine school.
I began by becoming the friend of their lovers, and I often succeeded by pretending to be a man of whom nobody need be afraid.
Camille, an actress and dancer at the Italian play, with whom I had fallen in love at Fontainebleu seven years ago, was one of those of whom I was most fond, liking the society at her pretty little house, where she lived with the Count d’Eigreville, who was a friend of mine, and fond of my company. He was a brother of the Marquis de Gamache and of the Countess du Rumain, and was a fine young fellow of an excellent disposition. He was never so well pleased as when he saw his mistress surrounded by people — a taste which is rarely found, but which is very convenient, and the sign of a temperament not afflicted by jealousy. Camille had no other lovers — an astonishing thing in an actress of the kind, but being full of tact and wit she drove none of her admirers to despair. She was neither over sparing nor over generous in the distribution of her favours, and knew how to make the whole town rave about her without fearing the results of indiscretion or sorrows of being abandoned.
The gentleman of whom, after her lover, she took most notice, was the Count de la Tour d’Auvergne, a nobleman of an old family, who idolized her, and, not being rich enough to possess her entirely, had to be content with what she gave him. Camille had given him a young girl, for whose keep she paid, who lived with Tour d’Auvergne in furnished apartments in the Rue de Taranne, and whom he said he loved as one loves a portrait, because she came from Camille. The count often took her with him to Camille’s to supper. She was fifteen, simple in her manners, and quite devoid of ambition. She told her lover that she would never forgive him an act of infidelity except with Camille, to whom she felt bound to yield all since to her she owed all.
I became so much in love with her that I often went to Camille’s solely to see her and to enjoy those artless speeches with which she delighted the company. I strove as best I could to conceal my flame, but often I found myself looking quite sad at the thought of the impossibility of my love being crowned with success. If I had let my passion be suspected I should have been laughed at, and should have made myself a mark for the pitiless sarcasms of Camille. However, I got my cure in the following ridiculous manner:—
Camille lived at the Barriere Blanche, and on leaving her house, one rainy evening, I sought in vain for a coach to take me home.
“My dear Casanova,” said Tour d’Auvergne, “I can drop you at your own door without giving myself the slightest inconvenience, though my carriage is only seated for two; however, my sweetheart can sit on our knees.”
I accepted his offer with pleasure, and we seated ourselves in the carriage, the count on my left hand and Babet on both our knees.
Burning with amorous passion I thought I would take the opportunity, and, to lose no time, as the coachman was driving fast, I took her hand and pressed it softly. The pressure was returned. Joy! I carried the hand to my lips, and covered it with affectionate though noiseless kisses. Longing to convince her of the ardour of my passion, and thinking that her hand would not refuse to do me a sweet service, I . . . but just at critical moment,
“I am really very much obliged to you, my dear fellow,” said the Count de la Tour d’Auvergne, “for a piece of politeness thoroughly Italian, of which, however, I do not feel worthy; at least, I hope it’s meant as politeness and not as a sign of contempt.”
At these dreadful words I stretched out my hand and felt the sleeve of his coat. Presence of mind was no good in a situation like this, when his words were followed by a peal of loud laughter which would have confounded the hardiest spirit. As for me, I could neither join in his laughter nor deny his accusation; the situation was a fearful one, or would have been if the friendly shades of night had not covered my confusion. Babet did her best to find out from the count why he laughed so much, but he could not tell her for laughing, for which I gave thanks with all my heart. At last the carriage stopped at my house, and as soon as my servant had opened the door of my carriage I got down as fast as I could, and wished them good night — a compliment which Tour d’Auvergne returned with fresh peals of laughter. I entered my house in a state of stupefaction, and half an hour elapsed before I, too, began to laugh at the adventure. What vexed me most was the expectation of having malicious jests passed upon me, for I had not the least right to reckon on the count’s discretion. However, I had enough sense to determine to join in the laughter if I could, and if not, to take it well, for this is, and always will be, the best way to get the laughers on one’s own side at Paris.
For three days I saw nothing of the delightful count, and on the fourth I resolved to ask him to take breakfast with me, as Camille had sent to my house to enquire how I was. My adventure would not prevent me visiting her house, but I was anxious to know how it had been taken.
As soon as Tour d’Auvergne saw me he began to roar with laughter, and I joined in, and we greeted each other in the friendliest manner possible. “My dear count,” said I, “let us forget this foolish story. You have no business to attack me, as I do not know how to defend myself.”
“Why should you defend yourself, my dear fellow. We like you all the better for it, and this humorous adventure makes us merry every evening.”
“Everybody knows it, then?”
“Of course, why not? It makes Camille choke with laughter. Come this evening; I will bring Babet, and she will amuse you as she maintains that you were not mistaken.”
“She is right.”
“Eh? what? You do me too much honour, and I don’t believe you; but have it as you like.”
“I can’t do better, but I must confess when all’s said that you were not the person to whom my fevered imagination offered such ardent homage.”
At supper I jested, pretended to be astonished at the count’s indiscretion, and boasted of being cured of my passion. Babet called me a villain, and maintained that I was far from cured; but she was wrong, as the incident had disgusted me with her, and had attached me to the count, who, indeed, was a man of the most amiable character. Nevertheless, our friendship might have been a fatal one, as the reader will see presently.
One evening, when I was at the Italian theatre, Tour d’Auvergne came up to me and asked me to lend him a hundred louis, promising to repay me next Saturday.
“I haven’t got the money,” I said, “but my purse and all it contains is at your service.”
“I want a hundred louis, my dear fellow, and immediately, as I lost them at play yesterday evening at the Princess of Anhalt’s.”
“But I haven’t got them.”
“The receiver of the lottery ought always to be able to put his hand on a hundred louis.”
“Yes, but I can’t touch my cash-box; I have to give it up this day week.”
“So you can; as I will repay you on Saturday. Take a hundred louis from the box, and put in my word of honour instead; don’t you think that is worth a hundred Louis?”
“I have nothing to say to that, wait for me a minute.”
I ran to my office, took out the money and gave it to him. Saturday came but no count, and as I had no money I pawned my diamond ring and replaced the hundred louis I owed the till. Three or four days afterwards, as I was at the Comedie Francaise, the Count de la Tour d’Auvergne came up to me and began to apologize. I replied by shewing my hand, and telling him that I had pawned my ring to save my honour. He said, with a melancholy air, that a man had failed to keep his word with him, but he would be sure to give me the hundred louis on the Saturday following, adding, “I give you my word of honour.”
“Your word of honour is in my box, so let’s say nothing about that. You can repay me when you like.”
The count grew as pale as death.
“My word of honour, my dear Casanova, is more precious to me than my life; and I will give you the hundred louis at nine o’clock to-morrow morning at a hundred paces from the cafe at the end of the Champs- Elysees. I will give you them in person, and nobody will see us. I hope you will not fail to be there, and that you will bring your sword. I shall have mine.”
“Faith, count! that’s making me pay rather dear for my jest. You certainly do me a great honour, but I would rather beg your pardon, if that would prevent this troublesome affair from going any further.”
“No, I am more to blame than you, and the blame can only be removed by the sword’s point. Will you meet me?
“I do not see how I can refuse you, although I am very much averse to the affair.”
I left him and went to Silvia’s, and took my supper sadly, for I really liked this amiable nobleman, and in my opinion the game we were going to play was not worth the candle. I would not have fought if I could have convinced myself that I was in the wrong, but after turning the matter well-over, and looking at it from every point of view, I could not help seeing that the fault lay in the count’s excessive touchiness, and I resolved to give him satisfaction. At all hazards I would not fail to keep the appointment.
I reached the cafe a moment after him. We took breakfast together and he payed. We then went out and walked towards the Etoile. When we got to a sheltered place he drew a bundle of a hundred louis from his pocket, gave it to me with the greatest courtesy, and said that one stroke of the sword would be sufficient. I could not reply.
He went off four paces and drew his sword. I did the same without saying a word, and stepping forward almost as soon as our blades crossed I thrust and hit him. I drew back my sword and summoned him to keep his word, feeling sure that I had wounded him in his chest.
He gently kissed his sword, and putting his hand into his breast he drew it out covered with blood, and said pleasantly to me, “I am satisfied.”
I said to him all that I could, and all that it was my duty to say in the way of compliment, while he was stanching the blood with his handkerchief, and on looking at the point of my sword I was delighted to find that the wound was of the slightest. I told him so offering to see him home. He thanked me and begged me to keep my own counsel, and to reckon him henceforth amongst my truest friends. After I had embraced him, mingling my tears with my embraces, I returned home, sad at heart but having learnt a most useful lesson. No one ever knew of our meeting, and a week afterwards we supped together at Camille’s.
A few days after, I received from M. de la Ville the five hundred louis for my Dunkirk mission. On my going to see Camille she told me that Tour d’Auvergne was kept in bed by an attack of sciatica, and that if I liked we could pay him a visit the next day. I agreed, and we went. After breakfast was over I told him in a serious voice that if he would give me a free hand I could cure him, as he was not suffering from sciatica but from a moist and windy humour which I could disperse my means of the Talisman of Solomon and five mystic words. He began to laugh, but told me to do what I liked.
“Very good, then I will go out and buy a brush.”
“I will send a servant.”
“No, I must get it myself, as I want some drugs as well.” I bought some nitre, mercury, flower of sulphur, and a small brush, and on my return said, “I must have a little of your — — this liquid is indispensable, and it must be quite fresh.”
Camille and he began to laugh, but I succeeded in keeping the serious face suitable to my office. I handed him a mug and modestly lowered the curtains, and he then did what I wanted.
I made a mixture of the various ingredients, and I told Camille that she must rub his thigh whilst I spoke the charm, but I warned her that if she laughed while she was about it it would spoil all. This threat only increased their good humour, and they laughed without cessation; for as soon as they thought they had got over it, they would look at one another, and after repressing themselves as long as they could would burst out afresh, till I began to think that I had bound them to an impossible condition. At last, after holding their sides for half an hour, they set themselves to be serious in real earnest, taking my imperturbable gravity for their example. De la Tour d’Auvergne was the first to regain a serious face, and he then offered Camille his thigh, and she, fancying herself on the boards, began to rub the sick man, whilst I mumbled in an undertone words which they would not have understood however clearly I had spoken, seeing that I did not understand them myself.
I was nearly spoiling the efficacy of the operation when I saw the grimaces they made in trying to keep serious. Nothing could be more amusing than the expression on Camille’s face. At last I told her that she had rubbed enough, and dipping the brush into the mixture I drew on his thigh the five-pointed star called Solomon’s seal. I then wrapped up the thigh in three napkins, and I told him that if he would keep quiet for twenty-four hours without taking off — his napkins, I would guarantee a cure.
The most amusing part of it all was, that by the time I had done the count and Camille laughed no more, their faces wore a bewildered look, and as for me . . . I could have sworn I had performed the most wonderful work in the world. If one tells a lie a sufficient number of times, one ends by believing it.
A few minutes after this operation, which I had performed as if by instinct and on the spur of the moment, Camille and I went away in a coach, and I told her so many wonderful tales that when she got out at her door she looked quite mazed.
Four or five days after, when I had almost forgotten the farce, I heard a carriage stopping at my door, and looking out of my window saw M. de la Tour d’Auvergne skipping nimbly out of the carriage.
“You were sure of success, then,” said he, “as you did not come to see me the day after your astounding operation.”
“Of course I was sure, but if I had not been too busy you would have seen me, for all that.”
“May I take a bath?”
“No, don’t bathe till you feel quite well.”
“Very good. Everybody is in a state of astonishment at your feat, as I could not help telling the miracle to all my acquaintances. There are certainly some sceptics who laugh at me, but I let them talk.”
“You should have kept your own counsel; you know what Paris is like. Everybody will be considering me as a master-quack.”
“Not at all, not at all. I have come to ask a favour of you.”
“I have an aunt who enjoys a great reputation for her skill in the occult sciences, especially in alchemy. She is a woman of wit, very, rich, and sole mistress of her fortune; in short, knowing her will do you no harm. She longs to see you, for she pretends to know you, and says that you are not what you seem. She has entreated me to take you to dine with her, and I hope you will accept the invitation. Her name is the Marchioness d’Urfe”
I did not know this lady, but the name of d’Urfe caught my attention directly, as I knew all about the famous Anne d’Urfe who flourished towards the end of the seventeenth century. The lady was the widow of his great-grandson, and on marrying into the family became a believer in the mystical doctrines of a science in which I was much interested, though I gave it little credit. I therefore replied that I should be glad to go, but on the condition that the party should not exceed the count, his aunt, and myself.
“She has twelve people every day to dinner, and you will find yourself in the company of the best society in Paris.”
“My dear fellow, that’s exactly what I don’t want; for I hate to be thought a magician, which must have been the effect of the tales you have told.”
“Oh, no! not at all; your character is well known, and you will find yourself in the society of people who have the greatest regard for you.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“The Duchess de l’Oragnais told me, that, four or five years ago, you were often to be seen at the Palais Royal, and that you used to spend whole days with the Duchess d’Orleans; Madame de Bouffers, Madame de Blots, and Madame de Melfort have also talked to me about you. You are wrong not to keep up your old acquaintances. I know at least a hundred people of the first rank who are suffering from the same malady as that of which you cured me, and would give the half of their goods to be cured.”
De la Tour d’Auvergne had reason on his side, but as I knew his wonderful cure had been due to a singular coincidence, I had no desire to expose myself to public ridicule. I therefore told him that I did not wish to become a public character, and that he must tell Madame d’Urfe that I would have the honour of calling on her in strict privacy only, and that she might tell me the day and hour on which I should kneel before her.
The same evening I had a letter from the count making an appointment at the Tuileries for the morrow; he was to meet me there, and take me to his aunt’s to dinner. No one else was to be present.
The next day we met each other as had been arranged, and went to see Madame d’Urfe, who lived on the Quai des Theatins, on the same side as the “Hotel Bouillon.”
Madame d’Urfe, a woman advanced in years, but still handsome, received me with all the courtly grace of the Court of the Regency. We spent an hour and a half in indifferent conversation, occupied in studying each other’s character. Each was trying to get at the bottom of the other.
I had not much trouble in playing the part of the unenlightened, for such, in point of fact, was my state of mind, and Madame d’Urfe unconsciously betrayed the desire of shewing her learning; this put me at my ease, for I felt sure I could make her pleased with me if I succeeded in making her pleased with herself.
At two o’clock the same dinner that was prepared every day for twelve was served for us three. Nothing worthy of note (so far as conversation went) was done at dinner, as we talked commonplace after the manner of people of fashion.
After the dessert Tour d’Auvergne left us to go and see the Prince de Turenne, who was in a high fever, and after he was gone Madame d’Urfe began to discuss alchemy and magic, and all the other branches of her beloved science, or rather infatuation. When we got on to the magnum opus, and I asked her if she knew the nature of the first matter, it was only her politeness which prevented her from laughing; but controlling herself, she replied graciously that she already possessed the philosopher’s stone, and that she was acquainted with all the operations of the work. She then shewed me a collection of books which had belonged to the great d’Urfe, and Renee of Savoy, his wife; but she had added to it manuscripts which had cost her more than a hundred thousand francs. Paracelsus was her favourite author, and according to her he was neither man, woman, nor hermaphrodite, and had the misfortune to poison himself with an overdose of his panacea, or universal medicine. She shewed me a short manuscript in French, where the great work was clearly explained. She told me that she did not keep it under lock and key, because it was written in a cypher, the secret of which was known only to herself.
“You do not believe, then, in steganography.”
“No, sir, and if you would like it, I will give you this which has been copied from the original.”
“I accept it, madam, with all the more gratitude in that I know its worth.”
From the library we went into the laboratory, at which I was truly astonished. She shewed me matter that had been in the furnace for fifteen years, and was to be there for four or five years more. It was a powder of projection which was to transform instantaneously all metals into the finest gold. She shewed me a pipe by which the coal descended to the furnace, keeping it always at the same heat. The lumps of coal were impelled by their own weight at proper intervals and in equal quantities, so that she was often three months without looking at the furnace, the temperature remaining the same the whole time. The cinders were removed by another pipe, most ingeniously contrived, which also answered the purpose of a ventilator.
The calcination of mercury was mere child’s play to this wonderful woman. She shewed me the calcined matter, and said that whenever I liked she would instruct me as to the process. I next saw the Tree of Diana of the famous Taliamed, whose pupil she was. His real name was Maillot, and according to Madame d’Urfe he had not, as was supposed, died at Marseilles, but was still alive; “and,” added she, with a slight smile, “I often get letters from him. If the Regent of France,” said she, “had listened to me he would be alive now. He was my first friend; he gave me the name of Egeria, and he married me to M. d’Urfe”
She possessed a commentary on Raymond Lully, which cleared up all difficult points in the comments of Arnold de Villanova on the works of Roger Bacon and Heber, who, according to her, were still alive. This precious manuscript was in an ivory casket, the key of which she kept religiously; indeed her laboratory was a closed room to all but myself. I saw a small cask full of ‘platina del Pinto’, which she told me she could transmute into gold when she pleased. It had been given her by M. Vood himself in 1743. She shewed me the same metal in four phials. In the first three the platinum remained intact in sulphuric, nitric, and muriatic acid, but in the fourth, which contained ‘aqua regia’, the metal had not been able to resist the action of the acid. She melted it with the burning-glass, and said it could be melted in no other way, which proved, in her opinion, its superiority to gold. She shewed me some precipitated by sal ammoniac, which would not precipitate gold.
Her athanor had been alight for fifteen years. The top was full of black coal, which made me conclude that she had been in the laboratory two or three days before. Stopping before the Tree of Diana, I asked her, in a respectful voice, if she agreed with those who said it was only fit to amuse children. She replied, in a dignified manner, that she had made it to divert herself with the crystallization of the silver, spirit of nitre, and mercury, and that she looked upon it as a piece of metallic vegetation, representing in little what nature performed on a larger scale; but she added, very seriously, that she could make a Tree of Diana which should be a very Tree of the Sun, which would produce golden fruit, which might be gathered, and which would continue to be produced till no more remained of a certain ingredient. I said modestly that I could not believe the thing possible without the powder of projection, but her only answer was a pleased smile.
She then pointed out a china basin containing nitre, mercury, and sulphur, and a fixed salt on a plate.
“You know the ingredients, I suppose?” said she.
“Yes; this fixed salt is a salt of urine.”
“You are right.”
“I admire your sagacity, madam. You have made an analysis of the mixture with which I traced the pentacle on your nephew’s thigh, but in what way can you discover the words which give the pentacle its efficacy?”
“In the manuscript of an adept, which I will shew you, and where you will find the very words you used.”
I bowed my head in reply, and we left this curious laboratory.
We had scarcely arrived in her room before Madame d’Urfe drew from a handsome casket a little book, bound in black, which she put on the table while she searched for a match. While she was looking about, I opened the book behind her back, and found it to be full of pentacles, and by good luck found the pentacle I had traced on the count’s thigh. It was surrounded by the names of the spirits of the planets, with the exception of those of Saturn and Mars. I shut up the book quickly. The spirits named were the same as those in the works of Agrippa, with which I was acquainted. With an unmoved countenance I drew near her, and she soon found the match, and her appearance surprised me a good deal; but I will speak of that another time.
The marchioness sat down on her sofa, and making me to do the like she asked me if I was acquainted with the talismans of the Count de Treves?
“I have never heard of them, madam, but I know those of Poliphilus:”
“It is said they are the same.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“We shall see. If you will write the words you uttered, as you drew the pentacle on my nephew’s thigh, and if I find the same talisman with the same words around it, the identity will be proved.”
“It will, I confess. I will write the words immediately.”
I wrote out the names of the spirits. Madame d’Urfe found the pentacle and read out the names, while I pretending astonishment, gave her the paper, and much to her delight she found the names to be the same.
“You see,” said she, “that Poliphilus and the Count de Treves possessed the same art.”
“I shall be convinced that it is so, if your book contains the manner of pronouncing the ineffable names. Do you know the theory of the planetary hours?”
“I think so, but they are not needed in this operation.”
“They are indispensable, madam, for without them one cannot work with any certainty. I drew Solomon’s pentacle on the thigh of Count de la Tour d’Auvergne in the hour of Venus, and if I had not begun with Arael, the spirit of Venus, the operation would have had no effect.”
“I did not know that. And after Arael?”
“Next comes Mercury, then the Moon, then Jupiter, and then the Sun. It is, you see, the magic cycle of Zoroaster, in which Saturn and Mars are omitted.”
“And how would you have proceeded if you had gone to work in the hour of the Moon?”
“I should have begun with Jupiter, passed to the Sun, then to Arael or Venus, and I should have finished at Mercury.”
“I see sir, that you are most apt in the calculation of the planetary hours.”
“Without it one can do nothing in magic, as one would have no proper data; however, it is an easy matter to learn. Anyone could pick it up in a month’s time. The practical use, however, is much more difficult than the theory; this, indeed, is a complicated affair. I never leave my house without ascertaining the exact number of minutes in the day, and take care that my watch is exact to the time, for a minute more or less would make all the difference in the world”
“Would you have the goodness to explain the theory to me.”
“You will find it in Artephius and more clearly in Sandivogius.”
“I have both works, but they are in Latin.”
“I will make you a translation of them.”
“You are very kind; I shall be extremely obliged to you.”
“I have seen such things here, madam, that I could not refuse, for reasons which I may, perhaps, tell you to-morrow.”
“Why not to-day?”
“Because I ought to know the name of your familiar spirit before I tell you.”
“You know, then, that I have a familiar? You should have one, if it is true that you possess the powder of projection.”
“I have one.”
“Give me the oath of the order.”
“I dare not, and you know why.”
“Perhaps I shall be able to remove your fears by tomorrow.”
This absurd oath was none other than that of the princes of the Rosy Cross, who never pronounce it without being certain that each party is a Rosicrucian, so Madame d’Urfe was quite right in her caution, and as for me I had to pretend to be afraid myself. The fact is I wanted to gain time, for I knew perfectly well the nature of the oath. It may be given between men without any indecency, but a woman like Madame d’Urfe would probably not relish giving it to a man whom she saw for the first time.
“When we find this oath alluded to in the Holy Scriptures,” she said, “it is indicated by the words ‘he swore to him by laying his hand on his thigh.’”
“But the thigh is not really what is meant; and consequently we never find any notice of a man taking this oath to a woman, as a woman has no ‘verbum’.”
The Count de la Tour d’Auvergne came back at nine o’clock in the evening, and he skewed no little astonishment at seeing me still with his aunt. He told us that his cousin’s fever had increased, and that small-pox had declared itself; “and I am going to take leave of you, my dear aunt, at least for a month, as I intend to shut myself up with the sick man.”
Madame d’Urfe praised his zeal, and gave him a little bag on his promising to return it to her after the cure of the prince.
“Hang it round his neck and the eruption will come out well, and he will be perfectly cured.”
He promised to do so, and having wished us good evening he went out.
“I do not know, madam, what your bag contains, but if it have aught to do with magic, I have no confidence in its efficacy, as you have neglected to observe the planetary hour.”
“It is an electrum, and magic and the observance of the hour have nothing to do with it.”
“I beg your pardon.”
She then said that she thought my desire for privacy praiseworthy, but she was sure I should not be ill pleased with her small circle, if I would but enter it.
“I will introduce you to all my friends,” said she, “by asking them one at a time, and you will then be able to enjoy the company of them all.”
I accepted her proposition.
In consequence of this arrangement I dined the next day with M. Grin and his niece, but neither of them took my fancy. The day after, I dined with an Irishman named Macartney, a physician of the old school, who bored me terribly. The next day the guest was a monk who talked literature, and spoke a thousand follies against Voltaire, whom I then much admired, and against the “Esprit des Lois,” a favourite work of mine, which the cowled idiot refused to attribute to Montesquieu, maintaining it had been written by a monk. He might as well have said that a Capuchin created the heavens and the earth.
On the day following Madame d’Urfe asked me to dine with the Chevalier d’Arzigny, a man upwards of eighty, vain, foppish, and consequently ridiculous, known as “The Last of the Beaus.” However, as he had moved in the court of Louis XIV., he was interesting enough, speaking with all the courtesy of the school, and having a fund of anecdote relating to the Court of that despotic and luxurious monarch.
His follies amused me greatly. He used rouge, his clothes were cut in the style which obtained in the days of Madame de Sevigne, he professed himself still the devoted lover of his mistress, with whom he supped every night in the company of his lady friends, who were all young and all delightful, and preferred his society to all others; however, in spite of these seductions, he remained faithful to his mistress.
The Chevalier d’Arzigny had an amiability of character which gave whatever he said an appearance of truth, although in his capacity of courtier truth was probably quite unknown to him. He always wore a bouquet of the most strongly-smelling flowers, such as tuberoses, jonquils, and Spanish jasmine; his wig was plastered down with amber- scented pomade, his teeth were made of ivory, and his eyebrows dyed and perfumed, and his whole person exhaled an odour to which Madame d’Urfe did not object, but which I could scarcely bear. If it had not been for this drawback I should probably have cultivated his society. He was a professed Epicurean, and carried out the system with an amazing tranquillity. He said that he would undertake to receive twenty-four blows with the stick every morning on the condition that he should not die within the twenty-four hours, and that the older he grew the more blows he would gladly submit to. This was being in love with life with a vengeance.
Another day I dined with M. Charon, who was a counsellor, and in charge of a suit between Madame d’Urfe and her daughter Madame du Chatelet, whom she disliked heartily. The old counsellor had been the favoured lover of the marchioness forty years before, and he thought himself bound by the remembrance of their love-passages to support the cause of his old sweetheart. In those days French magistrates thought they had a right to take the side of their friends, or of persons in whom they had an interest, sometimes for friendship’s sake, and sometimes for a monetary consideration; they thought, in fact, that they were justified in selling justice.
M. Charon bored me like the others, as was natural, considering we had no two tastes in common.
The scene was changed the next day when I was amused with the company of M. de Viarme, a young counsellor, a nephew of Madame d’Urfe’s, and his pretty and charming wife. He was the author of the “Remonstrances to the King,” a work which got him a great reputation, and had been read eagerly by the whole town. He told me that the business of a counsellor was to oppose everything done by the crown, good and bad. His reasons for this theory were those given by all minorities, and I do not think I need trouble my readers with them.
The most enjoyable dinner I had was with Madame de Gergi, who came with the famous adventurer, known by the name of the Count de St. Germain. This individual, instead of eating, talked from the beginning of the meal to the end, and I followed his example in one respect as I did not eat, but listened to him with the greatest attention. It may safely be said that as a conversationalist he was unequalled.
St. Germain gave himself out for a marvel and always aimed at exciting amazement, which he often succeeded in doing. He was scholar, linguist, musician, and chemist, good-looking, and a perfect ladies’ man. For awhile he gave them paints and cosmetics; he flattered them, not that he would make them young again (which he modestly confessed was beyond him) but that their beauty would be preserved by means of a wash which, he said, cost him a lot of money, but which he gave away freely.
He had contrived to gain the favour of Madame de Pompadour, who had spoken about him to the king, for whom he had made a laboratory, in which the monarch — a martyr to boredom — tried to find a little pleasure or distraction, at all events, by making dyes. The king had given him a suite of rooms at Chambord, and a hundred thousand francs for the construction of a laboratory, and according to St. Germain the dyes discovered by the king would have a materially beneficial influence on the quality of French fabrics.
This extraordinary man, intended by nature to be the king of impostors and quacks, would say in an easy, assured manner that he was three hundred years old, that he knew the secret of the Universal Medicine, that he possessed a mastery over nature, that he could melt diamonds, professing himself capable of forming, out of ten or twelve small diamonds, one large one of the finest water without any loss of weight. All this, he said, was a mere trifle to him. Notwithstanding his boastings, his bare-faced lies, and his manifold eccentricities, I cannot say I thought him offensive. In spite of my knowledge of what he was and in spite of my own feelings, I thought him an astonishing man as he was always astonishing me. I shall have something more to say of this character further on.
When Madame d’Urfe had introduced me to all her friends, I told her that I would dine with her whenever she wished, but that with the exception of her relations and St. Germain, whose wild talk amused me, I should prefer her to invite no company. St. Germain often dined with the best society in the capital, but he never ate anything, saying that he was kept alive by mysterious food known only to himself. One soon got used to his eccentricities, but not to his wonderful flow of words which made him the soul of whatever company he was in.
By this time I had fathomed all the depths of Madame d’Urfe’s character. She firmly believed me to be an adept of the first order, making use of another name for purposes of my own; and five or six weeks later she was confirmed in this wild idea on her asking me if I had diciphered the manuscript which pretended to explain the Magnum Opus.
“Yes,” said I, “I have deciphered it, and consequently read it, and I now beg to return it you with my word of honour that I have not made a copy; in fact, I found nothing in it that I did not know before.”
“Without the key you mean, but of course you could never find out that.”
“Shall I tell you the key?”
“Pray do so.”
I gave her the word, which belonged to no language that I know of, and the marchioness was quite thunderstruck.
“This is too amazing,” said she; “I thought myself the sole possessor of that mysterious word — for I had never written it down, laying it up in my memory — and I am sure I have never told anyone of it.”
I might have informed her that the calculation which enabled me to decipher the manuscript furnished me also with the key, but the whim took me to tell her that a spirit had revealed it to me. This foolish tale completed my mastery over this truly learned and sensible woman on everything but her hobby. This false confidence gave me an immense ascendancy over Madame d’Urfe, and I often abused my power over her. Now that I am no longer the victim of those illusions which pursued me throughout my life, I blush at the remembrance of my conduct, and the penance I impose on myself is to tell the whole truth, and to extenuate nothing in these Memoirs.
The wildest notion in the good marchioness’s brain was a firm belief in the possibility of communication between mortals and elementary spirits. She would have given all her goods to attain to such communication, and she had several times been deceived by impostors who made her believe that she attained her aim.
“I did not think,” said she, sadly, “that your spirit would have been able to force mine to reveal my secrets.”
“There was no need to force your spirit, madam, as mine knows all things of his own power.”
“Does he know the inmost secrets of my soul?”
“Certainly, and if I ask him he is forced to disclose all to me.”
“Can you ask him when you like?”
“Oh, yes! provided I have paper and ink. I can even ask him questions through you by telling you his name.”
“And will you tell it me?”
“I can do what I say; and, to convince you, his name is Paralis. Ask him a simple question in writing, as you would ask a common mortal. Ask him, for instance, how I deciphered your manuscript, and you shall see I will compel him to answer you.”
Trembling with joy, Madame d’Urfe put her question, expressed it in numbers, then following my method in pyramid shape; and I made her extract the answer, which she wrote down in letters. At first she only obtained consonants, but by a second process which supplied the vowels she received a clear and sufficient answer. Her every feature expressed astonishment, for she had drawn from the pyramid the word which was the key to her manuscript. I left her, carrying with me her heart, her soul, her mind, and all the common sense which she had left.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52