In the year 1700, at 22 rue de l’Hirondelle, in Paris, there lived a strange old man, a former Chatelet Prosecutor.  His name was Maitre Dumas.  Twenty years before, Maitre Dumas, who did not appear to be very rich, had suddenly displayed all of the external signs of immense riches.  He had had marvellous clothes made for himself, he had bought paintings, tapisteries, precious books for his home, and it was said that he only ate from gold dishes.

This sudden change in his way of living had caused a lot of talk over the past twenty years.  It was murmured that the old man, who attended no church and lived like a non-believer, indulged in magic and was given his gold by the Devil, whom he secretly worshipped.  This was founded on an indiscretion by someone from the former Prosecutor’s household who had revealed that he locked himself up every night in the highest room in his house to observe the stars and perform Cabalistic operations.

As well as this, the local merchants, who were keeping an eye on him, had noticed that, every Friday, around three o’clock in the afternoon, a man, riding a black mule with a horrible wound on its rump, stopped in front of Maitre Dumas’ hotel.  Having attached his mule, this man entered through a little door and climbed directly up to the attic where he locked himself up for several hours with the former Prosecutor.  No-one had ever succeeded in finding out who the mysterious visitor was, nor what he came to do Rue de l’Hirondelle.

Then, on 31 December 1700, the rider arrives, unusually, around ten o’clock in the morning.  He climbs up to the attic, and almost immediately, Madame Dumas hears her husband let out a dreadful cry.  She rushes up and finds the former Prosecutor, a greatly distressed expression on his face, in discussion with his visitor.  Maitre Dumas tells her not to worry, and to leave him with his friend.  Obediently, the wife goes back down to her own apartments.

Around midday, the mysterious rider leaves the house, and Maitre Dumas lets his wife know, via a servant, that he will not be having lunch.  The afternoon goes by.  Around five o’clock, Madame Dumas, who is used to hearing her husband moving around in the attic, is suddenly worried.  No sound is coming from the upper floor.  Accompanied by her son, she climbs up to the observatory.  The room is empty.  Maitre Dumas has disappeared.

The police, masons, carpenters are all called.  The walls are sounded, the chimneys are searched.  In vain.  The former Prosecutor is nowhere to be found.

For weeks, this disappearance intrigues the locals who occupy their evening hours making the wildest suppositions.  It is even mentioned at the Court, and Louis XV hears about it as a child, from the Marquis de Villeret.  Deeply impressed by this enigma, the young King will talk about it throughout his adolescence.

The Count of Saint-Germain

Then time passes and, in 1758, a strange person, presented by the Marquis de Marigny, Superintendent of the Beaux-Arts and brother of Madame de Pompadour, is received at Versailles.  This gentleman, of whom it is said that he possesses an extraordinary gift of clairvoyance, that he has succeeded in performing the Great Work of the alchemists, and found the secrets of both the philosophical stone and of immortality, is called, or rather calls himself, for his real name is unknown, the Count of Saint-Germain.

Louis XV, having asked a few questions of this curious person, suddenly has the idea of submitting the problem of the disappearance of Maitre Dumas to him.  The King starts by asking him if he would be able to tell him what had happened to someone who had disappeared 58 years before.  The Count says:

“Do you mean Maitre Dumas who lived Rue de l’Hirondelle?”

The King is astounded that a man who has just arrived in France should know about this old story more than half a century old.  He asks the Count if he can tell him what happened to Maitre Dumas.  The Count says that he can, but that he is reluctant to do so bccause this revelation could expose the King to certain dangers.  The King insists.  The Count accepts.

Then, the Count of Saint-Germain asks for a map of Paris.  He finds the former hotel of Maitre Dumas, places a piece of the map on his forehead, closes his eyes, appears to empty his mind, and remains silent for a long moment.  At last, he murmurs:

“I see… “

Then, he opens his eyes and speaks:

“Sire, I have just watched the last few moments of Maitre Dumas.  Either the workmen who looked for the Prosecutor were paid so that this case would never be cleared up, or they had only mediocre knowledge of their trade.  This is what happened:  in an angle of the laboratory, near the entrance door, several planks in the floor are mobile.  They cover the start of a staircase which descends through the floor and the wall.  At the end of this staircase, you go up again to an underground room.  It is in this place that Prosecutor Dumas took refuge.  Very weak, he absorbed a strong narcotic and did not wake up.”

The King asks if it really was the Devil who came to visit him.  Saint-Germain replies:

“I rather think that it was Maitre Dumas who visited the Devil.  If Your Majesty becomes a Rose-Croix, I will lift the last veil that covers this mystery.  At the moment, it is not possible for me to answer His question, for, by doing that, I would expose myself to the greatest dangers.”

To be continued.