Sent to Frankfurt to represent Louis XV, Marshal de Belle-Isle was so active there and displayed such magnificence, that the Germans were slightly stunned… In all ways, Monsieur the Duke had shown himself to be worthy of Superintendant Fouquet, his temerarious and unfortunate father-in-law. So much so that the King of Prussia had been unable to stop himself from saying:
“It must be agreed that Marshal de Belle-Isle is Germany’s legislator!”
Alas! A sudden reversal of fortune favourises his old enemy Maria-Theresa of Austria, against whom, like Cato the Ancient stubbornly working on Carthage’s destruction, he had succeeded in launching Europe’s armies. So, here is this great captain abandoned by the Prussians, locked up in Prague and ordered to sound the retreat… The Golden Fleece bestowed upon him in Frankfurt by Karl VII, who owed him his throne, is this evening a very poor protection against the stormy weather! Freezing cold in his retreat, the Marshal is also suffering from atrocious rhumatisms which are attacking his lumbar region and all of his members. Bitten by icy cold rain, and by the Central European gales even in his bed, he lives drugged, surrounded by a perpetual ballet of mediocre doctors, despairing of ever seeing the gentle climate of France again… Then, one evening, he hears of a man who says that he is related to the House of Hesse and who, having learnt of his problems, claims to be able to cure him in five days. In the necessity in which he finds himself, Belle-Isle has to try and, his back pressed against the damask of an armchair – his last luxury! – he receives this magician.
The unknown man orders him to lie down. He imposes his hands on the Duke’s body and makes circles over it with a white jade wand.
The man of war wants to know what these mummeries are and whether he is trying to tie his laces.
The man wittily replies:
“Even the devil couldn’t tie such a temperament… from what I’ve heard! You are going to stop eating and take only three spoonfuls per day of this orgeat. It’s an extract of emerald mixed with a few follicles of sene.”
“You want to kill me, Monsieur de Saint-Germain!”
“Drink up! The greatest princes have confidence in me, and have had for a long time! Anyway, I leave you this as security…”
The unknown man, who has good manners and is dressed with as much care as simplicity, places a round lacquered box on a table, bows gracefully and disappears. When the Duke opens the box, he discovers, astounded, the glittering flames of rubies, topazes, emeralds and diamonds, three or four of which are at least ten carats each…
A few months later, after having saved the essential of his reputation and his armies, Marshal de Belle-Isle is back at Versailles. He is very happy to have his feet close to some burning logs, far from draughts, finally behind his coromandel screens; while, on his sofas, marquises are teary-eyed at the story of his exploits…
But in this December 1744, terrible news spreads through Versailles. Madame de Chateauroux, Louis XV’s gracious favourite, is dying, poisoned by a dish of mushrooms.
The Duke sends a lackey to fetch the Count de Saint-Germain.
Belle-Isle had been so pleased with the treatment given to him one year previously by his mysterious visitor, that he had brought him back with him to Paris and installed him in the Marais, of which he has rapidly become the toast. Each day that passes increases his popularity and good society continues to discover his talents, the depth of which blows their minds…
Despite his accent, Monsieur de Saint-Germain speaks the most careful French, and those who have tested him more deeply in the language domain have been able to see that he speaks as well Italian, Spanish, English and Portuguese with confounding purety. It is also known that he excellently touches the clavecin, but when he plays the violin, he becomes absolutely prodigious…
People sometimes wonder whether it is only one violin that he is holding in his hands and not two or three! He is able to produce such sonorities that he makes crystal objects explode if care has not been taken to remove them. Philidor assures that this is great Art, and the great Rameau himself maintains that his Preludes are incomparable.
But the Count has other talents. Firstly, he paints almost as well as Latour or Van Loo. But his vast compositions, whose subjects are marvellously like the originals, bathe in colours, the secret of which he knows, and whose brilliance and permanence are those of precious stones. He explains the success of this new technique by his knowledge of chemistry and physics, and highly educated people, like the father of Madame de Genlis, have to admit that, in these matters, his knowledge is much greater than theirs…
Stung, they have sent scholars to him, but they have only been able to incline before his knowledge of the exact Sciences. Discovering along the way that Monsieur de Saint-Germain is also extremely well-versed in the language of Homer and Virgil, and that he writes and speaks Sanskrit, Chinese and Arabic with a perfection that makes his claim of having spent a lot of time in Asia and the Orient easily believable. But his Science can also render him amiable. To the pretty women of the Court, he offers magic boxes. By exposing them to the fire’s heat, the agatha which decorates them fades and leaves in its place a shepherdess carrying a basket of flowers. If the lid is again heated, the stone reappears… He also knows how to make delicious sweets, which have the form of fruits, and book-bindings, which he constellates with little precious stones. For precious stones seem to flow from the hands of this scintillating man… He carries them on him, dissimulating them with exquisite taste under ribbons and laces. Nonetheless, if he is asked, he doesn’t hesitate to show them. The other day, during a gala at Versailles, his garters, his shoe-buckles, his snuff-box in gold encrusted with diamonds of the finest water, passed among all of the pretty hands and Monsieur de Gontaut could not help saying:
“But there’s more than two hundred thousand francs worth here!”
To be continued.