But let your first action be to send back M. Month. The worthy man has his family at Prague to look after; he can't afford to stay long here."
"True, I will see about it directly."
The coach started for Frankfort the same evening, and summoning Month I thanked him for his kindness and paid him generously, so he went off well pleased.
I had nothing further to do at Metz, so I took leave of my new friends, and in two days time I was at Nancy, where I wrote to Madame d'Urfe that I was on my way back with a virgin, the last of the family of Lascaris, who had once reigned at Constantinople. I begged her to receive her from my hands, at a country house which belonged to her, where we should be occupied for some days in cabalistic ceremonies.
She answered that she would await us at Pont-Carre, an old castle four leagues distant from Paris, and that she would welcome the young princess with all possible kindness.
"I owe her all the more friendship," added the sublime madwoman, "as the family of Lascaris is connected with the family of d'Urfe, and as I am to be born again in the seed of the happy virgin."
I felt that my task would be not exactly to throw cold water on her enthusiasm, but to hold it in check and to moderate its manifestations. I therefore explained to her by return of post that she must be content to treat the virgin as a countess, not a princess, and I ended by informing her that we should arrive, accompanied by the countess's governess, on the Monday of Holy Week.
I spent twelve days at Nancy, instructing the young madcap in the part she had to play, and endeavouring to persuade her mother that she must content herself with being the Countess Lascaris's humble servant. It was a task of immense difficulty; it was not enough to shew her that our success depended on her submitting; I had to threaten to send her back to Bologna by herself. I had good reason to repent of my perseverance. That woman's obstinacy was an inspiration of my good angel's, bidding me avoid the greatest mistake I ever made.
On the day appointed we reached Pont-Carre. Madame d'Urfe, whom I had advised of the exact hour of our arrival, had the drawbridge of the castle lowered, and stood in the archway in the midst of her people, like a general surrendering with all the honours of war. The dear lady, whose madness was but an excess of wit, gave the false princess so distinguished a reception that she would have shewn her amazement if I had not warned her of what she might expect. Thrice did she clasp her to her breast with a tenderness that was quite maternal, calling her her beloved niece, and explaining the entire pedigrees of the families of Lascaris and d'Urfe to make the countess understand how she came to be her niece. I was agreeably surprised to see the polite and dignified air with which the Italian wench listened to all this; she did not even smile, though the scene must have struck her as extremely laughable.
As soon as we got into the castle Madame d'Urfe proceeded to cense the new-comer, who received the attention with all the dignity of an opera queen, and then threw herself into the arms of the priestess, who received her with enthusiastic affection.
At dinner the countess was agreeable and talkative, which won her Madame d'Urfe's entire favour; her broken French being easily accounted for. Laura, the countess's mother, only knew her native Italian, and so kept silence. She was given a comfortable room, where her meals were brought to her, and which she only left to hear mass.
The castle was a fortified building, and had sustained several sieges in the civil wars. As its name, Pont-Carre, indicated, it was square, and was flanked by four crenelated towers and surrounded by a broad moat. The rooms were vast, and richly furnished in an old-fashioned way. The air was full of venomous gnats who devoured us and covered our faces with painful bites; but I had agreed to spend a week there, and I should have been hard put to it to find a pretext for shortening the time.