It is 1656, in the ancient quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, whose narrow alley ways and high houses, the tops of which touch each other above the street, have always favourized the most equivocal fermentings of the mind. In this sombre XVIIth Century, throughout which flames regularly devour witches, the little Rue d’Hautefeuille, bordered on one side by a disused Jewish cemetery and on the other by student lodgings, is no exception. It could even be said that inside the few houses with little towers in this street, magi and fortune-tellers, adept in all types of mancies, are in charge of Paris.
One October afternoon, a young woman who is barely twenty years old, wearing deep mourning, has her carriage stop at the entrance to this little street. If she wasn’t completely veiled, it could be seen that she is very beautiful. So beautiful that the whole of the Court of the young Sun-King [Louis XIV] is ecstatic about it. So beautiful that the Queen of Sweden, visiting Versailles, cannot refrain from saying:
“In all of the kingdoms that I have crossed, I have never met a woman who can compare to this beautiful Provencale!”
This beauty had been married at thirteen to an amiable officer fifteen years her senior. She had very much loved him. But he had recently died at sea after seven years of a happy union. Now, his young widow is about to remarry, in obedience to her parents’ wishes. This time her husband will be a gentleman of her own age, the Marquis de Ganges, Governor of Saint-Andre-de-Majencoules, an advanced post in the Cevennes. The Marquis is also very beautiful, and so joyful! Always dressed in the latest fashion, frequenting the best Parisian tailors, he is to be seen at Versailles at both the Petit and the Grand Risings. He is always hunting, often in the King’s company. He is exactly the same age as Louis XIV. To resume, he is a perfect cavalier, who will go magnificently with this young, rich heiress…
A high oak door, flanked by torches, a flight of marble steps, and the young woman is at the lodgings of Catherine Deshayes, the wife of Monvoisin, whose profession is fortune-teller. Upon entering the vestibule of the one whom the Greats, her clients, call La Voisin, the future Marquise has a moment’s hesitation. She is shown a sinister hallway all hung in black and constellated with cabalistic signs. But the maid leads her smilingly towards the magician’s lair. The place has obviously been decorated by a succubus with refined taste and everything is intended to put the visitor in the right mood. Between the standing statue of Belzebuth and a set of mirrors which allow people from the Past and from the Future to be seen, La Voisin lolls in an Egyptian armchair. Fascinated, the young woman contemplates behind her a very crude allegory representing lust…
Draped in dark taffeta studded with little green dragons, her face hidden under a sort of nun’s cornette, La Voisin appears wary at first, and wants to know why the young woman has come to her.
“In a few days, I will have to make a capital decision. I would like your spirits to advise me.”
The magician relaxes and tells her that she will ask them to answer her. She asks her not to say anything but to write down, on the piece of paper that she hands to her, the questions that she wants to ask the spirits. The young woman does not want to write anything down, fearing that the paper could be used against her. La Voisin assures her that she will burn the paper before her eyes.
The young woman takes the pen which is being held out to her, backs away and writes two lines on the paper, which she then gives to the clairvoyant, who rolls it into a ball and drops it immediately into the mouth of a furnace where aromatic herbs are burning. Using an elementary sleight-of-hand, La Voisin has of course hidden the paper on which is written:
“Am I young? Am I beautiful? Am I a girl, a woman, or a widow? Should I marry or remarry? Will I live a long life, will I soon die?”
She leaves, having made an appointment to return in three days. The time needed by the spirits to come up with the answers. The time needed by La Voisin to gather information from one of her many spies who investigate for her around Paris…
When the future Marquise returns, she hears this:
“You are young, you are beautiful, you are a widow. Soon you will remarry…”
Then, touching the head of a stuffed salamander with big orange spots, she concentrates for a moment then says this, which is true clairvoyance:
“I have to tell you… yes… I have to tell you, that you are going to die young!”
The young woman wants to know whether the cards ever make a mistake. La Voisin replies that they rarely do. The young woman begs her to try again. The fortune-teller slowly rises and goes towards her oven. In a recipient she takes a pinch of resin which she rolls in what appears to be incense, then throws the little ball into the fire.
A green and blue flame rises, which she carefully inspects. She turns back toward the young woman.
“There is little hope… You will die young from a violent death!”
To be continued.