"The paper he has written proves the contrary. His arms have the ducal bearings; but perhaps you are not aware that M. de la Rochefoucault is a duke and peer of the French realm?"
"I beg your eminence's pardon; I know all about it; I know even more, for I know that Francois VI. married a daughter of the house of Vivonne."
"You know nothing."
When I heard this remark, as foolish as it was rude, I resolved on remaining silent, and it was with some pleasure that I observed the joy felt by all the male guests at what they thought an insult and a blow to my vanity. An officer remarked that the deceased was a fine man, a witty man, and had shewn wonderful cleverness in keeping up his assumed character so well that no one ever had the faintest suspicion of what he really was. A lady said that, if she had known him, she would have been certain to find him out. Another flatterer, belonging to that mean, contemptible race always to be found near the great and wealthy of the earth, assured us that the late prince had always shewn himself cheerful, amiable, obliging, devoid of haughtiness towards his comrades, and that he used to sing beautifully. "He was only twenty-five years of age," said Madame Sagredo, looking me full in the face, "and if he was endowed with all those qualities, you must have discovered them."
"I can only give you, madam, a true likeness of the man, such as I have seen him. Always gay, often even to folly, for he could throw a somersault beautifully; singing songs of a very erotic kind, full of stories and of popular tales of magic, miracles, and ghosts, and a thousand marvellous feats which common-sense refused to believe, and which, for that very reason, provoked the mirth of his hearers. His faults were that he was drunken, dirty, quarrelsome, dissolute, and somewhat of a cheat. I put up with all his deficiences, because he dressed my hair to my taste, and his constant chattering offered me the opportunity of practising the colloquial French which cannot be acquired from books. He has always assured me that he was born in Picardy, the son of a common peasant, and that he had deserted from the French army. He may have deceived me when he said that he could not write."
Just then Camporese rushed into the room, and announced that La Veleur was yet breathing. The general, looking at me significantly, said that he would be delighted if the man could be saved.
"And I likewise, monsignor, but his confessor will certainly kill him to-night."
"Why should the father confessor kill him?"
"To escape the galleys to which your excellency would not fail to send him for having violated the secrecy of the confessional."
Everybody burst out laughing, but the foolish old general knitted his brows. The guests retired soon afterwards, and Madame F-----, whom I had preceded to the carriage, M. D---- R----- having offered her his arm, invited me to get in with her, saying that it was raining. It was the first time that she had bestowed such an honour upon me.
"I am of your opinion about that prince," she said, "but you have incurred the displeasure of the proveditore."
"I am very sorry, madam, but it could not have been avoided, for I cannot help speaking the truth openly."
"You might have spared him," remarked M. D---- R-----, "the cutting jest of the confessor killing the false prince."
"You are right, sir, but I thought it would make him laugh as well as it made madam and your excellency. In conversation people generally do not object to a witty jest causing merriment and laughter."
"True; only those who have not wit enough to laugh do not like the jest."
"I bet a hundred sequins that the madman will recover, and that, having the general on his side, he will reap all the advantages of his imposture. I long to see him treated as a prince, and making love to Madame Sagredo"
Hearing the last words, Madame F-----, who did not like Madame Sagredo, laughed heartily, and, as we were getting out of the carriage, M. D---- R----- invited me to accompany them upstairs. He was in the habit of spending half an hour alone with her at her own house when they had taken supper together with the general, for her husband never shewed himself. It was the first time that the happy couple admitted a third person to their tete-a-tete. I felt very proud of the compliment thus paid to me, and I thought it might have important results for me. My satisfaction, which I concealed as well as I could, did not prevent me from being very gay and from giving a comic turn to every subject brought forward by the lady or by her lord.
We kept up our pleasant trio for four hours; and returned to the mansion of M. D---- R----- only at two o'clock in the morning. It was during that night that Madame F---- and M. D---- R----- really made my acquaintance. Madame F---- told him that she had never laughed so much, and that she had never imagined that a conversation, in appearance so simple, could afford so much pleasure and merriment. On my side, I discovered in her so much wit and cheerfulness, that I became deeply enamoured, and went to bed fully satisfied that, in the future, I could not keep up the show of indifference which I had so far assumed towards her.