One evening in 1706, the Duke d’Orleans gives a supper for his friends. Underneath his windows, in the Palais-Royal gardens, an orchestra attacks a gavotte. This is the signal for the arrival of stuffed eels, chapons en croute and largely “ripened” game – the Duke likes it like that for its tonic virtues – onto the future Regent’s table. The queen of the evening is an actress, Mademoiselle Adrienne Lecouvreur, whose last play is a triumph. Mostly because of the Duke’s debauched friends who went to applaud her very loudly…
Once again, the Duke begins a war story in which he was the hero in Italy a few years before.
The ladies, in low-cut dresses of the fashionable sky-blue, have moved nearer. Lovingly, Philippe d’Orleans’ mistress, the ardent Marie-Louise de Siry, drapes herself over his shoulder.
As for his debauched friends, flanked by their catamites and their demi-mondaines, they are thinking only of leaving for the Opera ball…
Monsieur de Saint-Simon, whose piety is offended by the end-of-meal conversation, discretely leaves.
The supper crowd is having a lot of fun at the Duke d’Orleans’ Palais-Royal home. Far from Versailles where the Sun King is declining under the influence of that nightcap called Madame de Maintenon…
Darkness has now completely descended on the palace. The Duke has retired to his mistress’ boudoir with a few of his inner circle. Through a hidden door, a strange-looking man is shown in. His breeches are very worn and he stinks of tobacco. This man passes himself off as a magician capable of reading the past, the present and the future. His only instrument is a glass filled with water…
For a long moment, the man remains bent over the glass, doing strange things… Perspiration trickles down his pallid face. He says in a raucous voice:
“A child, I need a child”.
In spite of the late hour, they send for the daughter of one of the domestics, woken anyway, by the noise of the supper. She is eight years old and does not seem very bright. She was born in the palace and has never left it.
The magician strokes her chin and places his hand on her head. He then pronounces confused incantations. The little girl leans over the glass… The magician says:
“Let us try to begin with the present. Tell us what is happening right at this moment at the home of Madame de Nancre. Come along! Tell us, child!…”
The little girl then tells what she sees…
The Duke loves occult sciences. It is the only thing that he takes seriously… But, as he has often been tricked, he remains sceptical, at first. He discretely sends one of his valets to Madame de Nancre’s, which is close by. He tells him:
“Run over there and have a good look around. Examine in detail how the furniture is disposed and all that is happening right now. Then come back and whisper in my ear what you have seen…”
The valet rushes out, registers as much as he can and, as he is very alert, comes back to Philippe and gives him a whispered detailed description. The Duke then says:
“Right… I want the little girl to watch what is happening right now at Madame de Nancre’s, in the glass.”
The child, who has never set foot inside this lady’s home, describes the salon with the precision of someone who is there. She enumerates all of the furniture, even indicating how it is placed, and what people are walking through the rooms. She describes everything as she would if she were hiding in a corner of the grand salon, this person’s face, this other one’s gestures, the clothes that the guests are wearing, whether they are seated or standing. She indicates in particular that there are two gaming tables well-separated and she recounts in length the comportment of the players and that of the spectators.
The next day, Philippe d’Orleans reports this prodigy to the Duke de Saint-Simon. The author of the famous Memoires is very religious. It is not rare for him to lock himself up with the Trappist monks for a retreat. Magicians horrify him. He doesn’t hide his opinion and asks the Duke, who is also his confidant and friend:
“Why do you amuse yourself with these mysteries? You should occupy yourself with more serious things!…”
“Wait! I’ve only told you the beginning of my story. Now, it becomes really interesting!”
And Philippe recounts the end of his evening.
The strange man says:
“Now this little girl is going to see things of the future in the glass of water. What do you want her to see, Excellency?”
Philippe does not hesitate. He wants her to see what will happen at the King’s death. The magician says that she will not be able to reveal the date, but that she will show them all of the circumstances.
The little girl, who has never seen Versailles, describes the details of Louis XIV’s chamber. She then shows the Sun King stretched out on his death-bed, enumerates the high-ranking people who are keeping watch over the body and she paints their portraits. They recognise Madame de Maintenon, Madame, the King’s sister, the Duchess d’Orleans and even a little child whom she describes with more vivacity because she has already seen him in the apartments of Mademoiselle de Siry.
When one of them moves, she follows him or her with her eyes and describes it… With such precision and naturalness that the people present are fascinated.
They are listening with extreme attention because there, in front of the eyes of this innocent little girl, the kingdom of the greatest King of all time is hovering.
And they are astonished. Because nowhere around the dead King, does the little girl distinguish the Princes of the Blood. She speaks of neither My Lord, the King’s son, Grand Dauphin de France, nor of his grandson Monsieur, the Duke de Bourgogne. Philippe d’Orleans presses her to look again.
To be continued.