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CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 8 (of 8), Part 3

By Alexander Dumas, Pere





THE MARQUISE DE GANGES



Toward the close of the year 1657, a very plain carriage, with no
arms painted on it, stopped, about eight o'clock one evening, before
the door of a house in the rue Hautefeuille, at which two other
coaches were already standing.  A lackey at once got down to open the
carriage door; but a sweet, though rather tremulous voice stopped
him, saying, "Wait, while I see whether this is the place."

Then a head, muffled so closely in a black satin mantle that no
feature could be distinguished, was thrust from one of the carriage
windows, and looking around, seemed to seek for some decisive sign on
the house front.  The unknown lady appeared to be satisfied by her
inspection, for she turned back to her companion.

"It is here," said she.  "There is the sign."

As a result of this certainty, the carriage door was opened, the two
women alighted, and after having once more raised their eyes to a
strip of wood, some six or eight feet long by two broad, which was
nailed above the windows of the second storey, and bore the
inscription, "Madame Voison, midwife," stole quickly into a passage,
the door of which was unfastened, and in which there was just so much
light as enabled persons passing in or out to find their way along
the narrow winding stair that led from the ground floor to the fifth
storey.
The two strangers, one of whom appeared to be of far higher rank than
the other, did not stop, as might have been expected, at the door
corresponding with the inscription that had guided them, but, on the
contrary, went on to the next floor.

Here, upon the landing, was a kind of dwarf, oddly dressed after the
fashion of sixteenth-century Venetian buffoons, who, when he saw the
two women coming, stretched out a wand, as though to prevent them
from going farther, and asked what they wanted.

"To consult the spirit," replied the woman of the sweet and tremulous
voice.

"Come in and wait," returned the dwarf, lifting a panel of tapestry
and ushering the two women into a waiting-room.

The women obeyed, and remained for about half an hour, seeing and
hearing nothing.  At last a door, concealed by the tapestry, was
suddenly opened; a voice uttered the word "Enter," and the two women
were introduced into a second room, hung with black, and lighted
solely by a three-branched lamp that hung from the ceiling.  The door
closed behind them, and the clients found themselves face to face
with the sibyl.

She was a woman of about twenty-five or twenty-six, who, unlike other
women, evidently desired to appear older than she was.  She was
dressed in black; her hair hung in plaits; her neck, arms, and feet
were bare; the belt at her waist was clasped by a large garnet which
threw out sombre fires.  In her hand she held a wand, and she was
raised on a sort of platform which stood for the tripod of the
ancients, and from which came acrid and penetrating fumes; she was,
moreover, fairly handsome, although her features were common, the
eyes only excepted, and these, by some trick of the toilet, no doubt,
looked inordinately large, and, like the garnet in her belt, emitted
strange lights.

When the two visitors came in, they found the soothsayer leaning her
forehead on her hand, as though absorbed in thought.  Fearing to
rouse her from her ecstasy, they waited in silence until it should
please her to change her position.  At the end of ten minutes she
raised her head, and seemed only now to become aware that two persons
were standing before her.

"What is wanted of me again?" she asked, "and shall I have rest only
in the grave?"

"Forgive me, madame," said the sweet-voiced unknown, "but I am
wishing to know----"

"Silence!" said the sibyl, in a solemn voice.  "I will not know your
affairs.  It is to the spirit that you must address yourself; he is a
jealous spirit, who forbids his secrets to be shared; I can but pray
to him for you, and obey his will."

At these words, she left her tripod, passed into an adjoining room,
and soon returned, looking even paler and more anxious than before,
and carrying in one hand a burning chafing dish, in the other a red
paper.  The three flames of the lamp grew fainter at the same moment,
and the room was left lighted up only by the chafing dish; every
object now assumed a fantastic air that did not fail to disquiet the
two visitors, but it was too late to draw back.

The soothsayer placed the chafing dish in the middle of the room,
presented the paper to the young woman who had spoken, and said to
her--

"Write down what you wish to know."

The woman took the paper with a steadier hand than might have been
expected, seated herself at a table, and wrote:--

"Am I young?  Am I beautiful?  Am I maid, wife, or widow?  This is
for the past.

"Shall I marry, or marry again?  Shall I live long, or shall I die
young?  This is for the future."

Then, stretching out her hand to the soothsayer, she asked--

"What am I to do now with this?"

"Roll that letter around this ball," answered the other, handing to
the unknown a little ball of virgin wax.  "Both ball and letter will
be consumed in the flame before your eyes; the spirit knows your
secrets already.  In three days you will have the answer."

The unknown did as the sibyl bade her; then the latter took from her
hands the ball and the paper in which it was wrapped, and went and
threw both into the chafing pan.

" And now all is done as it should be," said the soothsayer.
"Comus!"

The dwarf came in.

"See the lady to her coach."

The stranger left a purse upon the table, and followed Comus.  He
conducted her and her companion, who was only a confidential maid,
down a back staircase, used as an exit, and leading into a different
street from that by which the two women had come in; but the
coachman, who had been told beforehand of this circumstance, was
awaiting them at the door, and they had only to step into their
carriage, which bore them rapidly away in the direction of the rue
Dauphine.

Three days later, according to the promise given her, the fair
unknown, when she awakened, found on the table beside her a letter in
an unfamiliar handwriting; it was addressed "To the beautiful
Provencale," and contained these words--

"You are young; you are beautiful; you are a widow.  This is for the
present.

"You will marry again; you will die young, and by a violent death.
This is for the future.
                                        THE SPIRIT."


The answer was written upon a paper like that upon which the
questions had been set down.

The marquise turned pale and uttered a faint cry of terror; the
answer was so perfectly correct in regard to the past as to call up a
fear that it might be equally accurate in regard to the future.

The truth is that the unknown lady wrapped in a mantle whom we have
escorted into the modern sibyl's cavern was no other than the
beautiful Marie de Rossan, who before her marriage had borne the name
of Mademoiselle de Chateaublanc, from that of an estate belonging to
her maternal grandfather, M. Joannis de Nocheres, who owned a fortune
of five to six hundred thousand livres.  At the age of thirteen--that
is to say, in 1649--she had married the Marquis de Castellane, a
gentleman of very high birth, who claimed to be descended from John
of Castille, the son of Pedro the Cruel, and from Juana de Castro,
his mistress.  Proud of his young wife's beauty, the Marquis de
Castellane, who was an officer of the king's galleys, had hastened to
present her at court.  Louis XIV, who at the time of her presentation
was barely twenty years old, was struck by her enchanting face, and
to the great despair of the famous beauties of the day danced with
her three times in one evening.  Finally, as a crowning touch to her
reputation, the famous Christina of Sweden, who was then at the
French court, said of her that she had never, in any of the kingdoms
through which she had passed, seen anything equal to "the beautiful
Provencale."  This praise had been so well received, that the name of
"the beautiful Provencale" had clung to Madame de Castellane, and she
was everywhere known by it.

This favour of Louis XIV and this summing up of Christina's had been
enough to bring the Marquise de Castellane instantly into fashion;
and Mignard, who had just received a patent of nobility and been made
painter to the king, put the seal to her celebrity by asking leave to
paint her portrait.  That portrait still exists, and gives a perfect
notion of the beauty which it represents; but as the portrait is far
from our readers' eyes, we will content ourselves by repeating, in
its own original words, the one given in 1667 by the author of a
pamphlet published at Rouen under the following title: True and
Principal Circumstances of the Deplorable Death of Madame the
Marquise de Ganges:

[Note: It is from this pamphlet, and from the Account of the Death of
Madame the Marquise de Ganges, formerly Marquise de Castellane, that
we have borrowed the principal circumstances of this tragic story.
To these documents we must add--that we may not be constantly
referring our readers to original sources--the Celebrated Trials by
Guyot de Pitaval, the Life of Marie de Rossan, and the Lettres
galantes of Madame Desnoyers.]


"Her complexion, which was of a dazzling whiteness, was illumined by
not too brilliant a red, and art itself could not have arranged more
skilfully the gradations by which this red joined and merged into the
whiteness of the complexion.  The brilliance of her face was
heightened by the decided blackness of her hair, growing, as though
drawn by a painter of the finest taste, around a well proportioned
brow; her large, well opened eyes were of the same hue as her hair,
and shone with a soft and piercing flame that rendered it impossible
to gaze upon her steadily; the smallness, the shape, the turn of her
mouth, and, the beauty of her teeth were incomparable; the position
and the regular proportion of her nose added to her beauty such an

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