One evening, in April 1645, two young men, between twenty-five and thirty, are having a discussion in a sumptuous apartment in the Rue Saint-Antoine, in Paris. One of them, the host, is called Louis de Prat, Marquis de Precy. The other is Charles-Pompee d’Angennes, Marquis de Pisani, son of the Marquise de Rambouillet, whose Blue Room was the first of the literary salons.
The two friends, who were soon to leave for Flanders to join the regiments of the Prince de Conde, were talking about death and the survival of the soul. Precy was worried that, if he were killed and buried on the battlefield, he might have to haunt it for eternity.
The Marquis de Pisani didn’t believe in haunting ghosts. He was of the opinion that the soul entered into another, completely different world, and forgot about Earth. Precy thought that the dead were all around the living, but that the dead and the living were unable to communicate with each other. He wondered about Hell, Paradise and Purgatory. Are we rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our faults? Does our life on Earth determine our life in the next world? To be able to answer these questions, it would be necessary to communicate with the dead.
Pisani has an idea. They are both going off to war. They might be killed. He proposes that the first of them to die should come back to give the other some information on the afterlife, in whatever way that he can. The two friends shake hands on it.
Two months pass by and, toward the end of June, the young men receive the order to join their regiment. Unfortunately, the Marquis de Precy is in bed with a bad temperature and the Marquis de Pisani leaves alone for Flanders.
One month later, on 4 August, around six o’clock in the morning, Precy, who is still ill, is asleep in his bedroom, turned toward the wall, when he is woken by someone drawing his bed-curtains. He turns around, thinking that his valet is bringing him a cup of milk and a biscuit, and sees at his bedside the Marquis de Pisani, looking superb in leather uniform and boots. Full of joy, he rises and wants to hug him. But Pisani moves a few paces away. He tells his friend that he can’t embrace him. Naturally, Precy wants to know why.
“Because I’m dead. I came to see you like I promised. You remember our pact? I was killed yesterday at Nordlingen, in Bavaria… The troops of Mr de Gramont had just engaged in battle against Mr de Mercy who commanded the Imperial Armies. Straight away, the fighting was frightful. And I fell at six o’clock, before the village of Allerheim…”
Precy is sure that it’s a joke, and laughing, he again wants to embrace him. His arms close on thin air. The person in front of him has no consistency. He is astounded.
Pisani shows him where he was wounded. There is a tear in his clothes, surrounded by blood, in his back.
“I’m really dead, Louis. And I come to tell you, in answer to our questions, that it’s all true. The afterlife is peopled with souls. Some are near you. But there are things that I can’t explain to you. However, you must know that you should live in a less frivolous manner… Hurry, Louis, you have no time to lose, for you will be killed in the first battle in which you participate… “
And he disappears.
The Marquis de Precy, deeply disturbed, immediately calls his chamber-valet and wakes the entire household with his cries. Everyone rushes to him. He recounts all that he has just seen and heard.
“He was there, in uniform, with his boots, and he showed me the trace of the wound that killed him. He died yesterday, in Bavaria, during a terrible battle.”
Someone tells the Marquis to go back to bed. His friend had not gone to Bavaria, but to Flanders. His high temperature was giving him hallucinations.
Precy can insist all he wants, give details and swear that he is absolutely sure, no-one wants to believe him.
The weeks pass.
And, one morning, news arrives from the Army. They learn that, Turenne finding himself in difficulty with the Imperial Armies, Conde had been sent to help him, that the regiments which were in Flanders had gone to Bavaria and, that during the terrible fighting at Nordlingen, the Marquis de Pisani had been killed on 3 August, at six o’clock in the evening, by musket fire in the back, before the village of Allerheim.
This news, which couldn’t possibly have been known to Precy the day after the Battle of Nordlingen, stupefies his friends.
But there are always some people who want to give reassuring explanations to phenomena they don’t understand. Therefore, we see certain people declaring with authority that the young Marquis transformed into a vision a simple premonition created by the friendship which connected him to Pisani.
Others say, with the same assurance, that he just dreamed it. That people often have premonitory dreams containing details of great precision. That there was nothing supernatural about it.
Precy is convinced that he hadn’t dreamed it and that his vision was not a simple premonition. So, to be sure not to die in a battle, as the ghost of his friend had predicted, he decides, prudently, that once cured, he will not join the army of Mr de Conde.
And for years afterwards, he flees anything that resembles the military state.
Then the Fronde breaks out, and divides France. Precy, considering that this uprising was not a real war, accepts the commandment of Mazarin’s gendarmes.
On 2 July 1652, he is in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, fighting against Conde’s regiments, when the Grande Mademoiselle, perched on the Bastille, gives orders to fire on the royal troops.
In the evening, Precy’s body is found in the middle of a pile of cadavers.
It was the first battle in which the young Marquis had participated…