List Of Contents | Contents of Memoirs of the Comtesse du Barry
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

of this adventure, probably invented by himself, he did not seek
to destroy the confidence I appeared to entertain in the predictions
of my prophet.  I say invented, because the king had a peculiar
readiness and facility in composing these sort of wonderful tales,
carefully noting down every circumstance which fell under his
knowledge deviating from the ordinary course of things.  He had
a large collection of these legends, which he delighted in narrating;
and this he did with an ease and grace of manner I have never
seen equalled.

About this period the prince de Conde, whose gallantry never
failed, entreated the king to pay a second visit to Chantilly: and
it was upon this occasion that Louis erased from the list of court
ladies all those whose presence would be disagreeable to me
during our stay at Chantilly.  One scene of pleasure followed
another, and one fete succeeded another.  I accompanied his
majesty without ever quitting him; and if hitherto there had
existed any doubts as to the sincerity of the king's attachment,
the most sceptical person would now have been convinced of the
fact.  Louis XV was never from my side, and appeared solely
occupied in gratifying my slightest wish; the princes of the
court carefully followed his example; and such a life as I then
led was abundant compensation for all the pains and anxieties
I had endured from the malice and jealousy of certain females,
as well as the sarcastic bitterness of men, who feared lest my
influence should destroy theirs.

I may, with truth, affirm that I received the honors and attention
of a queen; verses, plays, all written to convey some praise or
compliment to me; and the king testified the lively gratification
it afforded him to see me thus an object of general solicitude,
as well as of the most flattering distinction.  His conduct
towards the prince de Conde became more gracious than it had
ever been observed to be to the princes of the blood; for there
existed a singular coolness in the royal family towards all the
princes of this branch.  The king looked upon it as vastly inferior
to his own, because it had been separated from the throne before
the accession of Henry IV to the crown; he even asserted, that
there was much to be said upon this subject, and prudence compels
me to pass over the many histories and circumstances related by
him to me of this brilliant portion of his noble race.

Neither the prince de Conde, whom I knew well, nor the prince de
la Marche, entertained much regard for their relations; and they
had always some spiteful story in store respecting the posterity
of Louis XIII.  There is one historical fact which has never been
cleared up.

One day I was conversing with the comte de la Marche upon the
disputes concerning the parliaments, and expressing my fear, that,
if driven to desperate measures, the people would rise in open
rebellion in favor of the magistracy.  "They would be still more
clamororous," replied he, "if they knew all I could tell them."

"And what do you know more than myself?'" asked I; "your highness
alarms me by speaking thus."

"Amongst events now passed and gone is one that would materially
affect the public peace, if known."

"You must explain yourself, my lord," said I.  He refused; but I
persisted in pressing the matter with so much earnestness, that
at last he said, in a low voice,

"Did you ever hear of the man who wore the iron mask?"

"Yes, certainly," replied I, "who was he?"

"A great prince, and a most unfortunate man."

"But who was he really?"

"In the eyes of the law the crown of France should have been
his; but in the conscientious view of things he certainly had
no claim."

The comte de la Marche stopped here; and, as I was not very
deeply read in history, I did not exactly comprehend the
distinction he had just made.  I had frequently heard talk of the
"Iron Mask," whom people reported to be either allied to, or
sprung from, the royal family; but all these particulars were
confused in my memory.  However, I was much struck with the
conversation I had had with the comte de la Marche; and when
next the conversation fell on this mysterious personage, I asked
the duc de Richelieu what he thought of him.

"Upon my honor," replied he, "I never could find out who he really
was; not that I did not try," added he, assuming an air of modest
vanity, which well became his green old age.  "I had a mistress
of tolerably high birth, mademoiselle d'Orleans, as indeed I had
the honor of having the princesses, her august sisters.  However,
the former, known under the name of mademoiselle de Charollais,
was dying to do some act of kindness that should be agreeable to
me.  Well, I requested she would obtain from the regent, her
father, the solution of the secret relative to the 'Iron Mask.'
She used every possible device, but nothing could she obtain
from her father, who protested that the mystery should never
escape his lips; and he kept his word, he never did divulge it.
I even imagine that the king himself is ignorant of it, unless
indeed the cardinal de Fleury informed him of it."  The marechal
told me afterwards that he thought the opinion adopted by Voltaire
the most probable, viz: that this unknown person was the son of
the queen Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV.  These last words
helped, in a measure, to resolve the enigma which comte de la
Marche had left me to unravel; and, with a view to satisfy myself
more positively on the subject, I availed myself of the first
time I was alone with the king, to lead the conversation to
this story.

At the mention of the "Iron Mask," Louis XV started.  "And do
you really credit such a fable?"  asked he.

"Is it then entirely untrue?"  inquired I.

"Certainly not," he replied; "all that has been said on the matter
is destitute of even common sense."

"Well," cried I, "what your majesty says only confirms what I
heard from the marechal de Richelieu."

"And what has he been telling you?"

"Very little, sire;  he told me only, that the secret of who the
'Iron Mask' really was had not been communicated to you."

'The marechal is a simpleton if he tells you so.  I know the
whole affair, and was well acquainted with the unhappy business."

"Ah!"  exclaimed I, clapping my hands in triumph, "just now you
affected perfect ignorance; you knew nothing at all about it,
and now--"

"You are a very dangerous woman," cried the king, interrupting
me by loud fits of laughter, "and you are cunning enough even
to surprise the secrets of the state."

"'Tis you, rather, who could not resist the inclination to let me
see that you knew what the marechal had declared you ignorant of.
Which of us two is the more to blame, I wonder?"

"Myself, I think," answered the king; "for after all, you did but
act with the candor and curiosity of your sex: it was for me to
have employed more of the prudence of a king in my replies to
your interrogatories."

"Well, but," said I, "since you really do know all about this man
with the iron mask, you will tell it to me, will you not?"

"I should be very careful how I gratified your curiosity," said
he; "this is a point of history which must never be cleared up;
state reasons require that it should for ever remain a matter of doubt."

"And  must have you tell me," returned I; "do pray tell, and I
will love you with all my heart."

"It cannot be."

"And why not?  This unfortunate person has been long dead without
leaving any posterity."

"Are you quite sure of that?"  inquired the king, in a serious tone.

"But what signifies," said I, "whether he be dead or alive?  I
entreat of you to bestow upon me this proof of your confidence.
Who of all those who have spoken of him have told the truth?"

"Nobody; but Voltaire has approached it more nearly than any
one else."

After this partial confession the king implored of me to change
the conversation, which I could easily perceive was extremely
disagreeable to him.  Nevertheless, it seemed to me quite clear,
that this celebrated person belonged to the royal family, but by
what title I could not devise.  It was in vain that I afterwards
revived the subject; not even during the most tender confidences
could I obtain the information I desired.  Possibly had I lived
with him some years more I might have succeeded in drawing from
him all he knew respecting the object of my curiosity.  Old men,
like children, can conceal nothing from those they love, and who
have obtained over them an influence they willingly submit to.

Before I proceed to more important events, I would fain speak of
persons with whom I lived before my elevation.  My godfather,
M. Billard du Monceau, was still living, as well as madame Lagarde,
with whom I had resided as companion.  My interview with the
former is well known; and the authors of "Anecdotes of My Life,"
published thirteen years since, have strictly adhered to the truth,
with the exception of some vulgarisms they have put into the
mouth of that excellent man which he never uttered.

As to madame Lagarde, she was strangely surprised to see me arrive
at her house; and the evident embarrassment my presence occasioned
her was a sufficient revenge on my part for the many unkind things
she had said and done respecting me.  I would not prolong her
uncomfortable situation, but studied to conduct myself with the
same unaffected simplicity of former days.  I talked over the
past, inquired after her family, and offered my best services and
protection without malice for what was gone by, and with perfect
sincerity for the future.  But spite of all my endeavors to spare
her feelings, it was evident that rage and humiliation at the
advantage my altered fortunes gave me over her, struggled within
her, and the conflict of her mind was but too plainly depicted in
her countenance.  However, that was the least of my troubles; I
soon restored her to comparative calmness; and before I quitted
her, made her promise she would come and see me.

She would gladly have evaded this request; but her son, the master
of requests, who sufficiently misjudged me to fear my resentment,

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: