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THЕ STОRM CLOUDS GATHER
Diane de Polignac and the other numerous favourites of the Prince found themselves retired, and the Count was so captivated by his new passion that he even forgot about the political intrigues.
My name was on everyone’s lips and always connected with the name of the Prince of the Blood. His love which had been so carefully sought by even the Marquise de Beliere – came to me of its own accord and so unexpectedly that I did not know whether to be pleased or sad.
But was this really love?
At that time, on that divan, he had astonished me with his inexhaustible passion, untiring thirst, skills, and moreover his experience, demands and even perversions bordering on shamelessness. I found myself depressed by this. Although he may not have intended to do so, he was literally humiliating me with his great experience in the matters of the flesh.
I tried very hard not to show my feelings.
A week later I managed to sneak out of Versailles and the arms of the Prince for one day and to go to Paris in the hope of seeing my father. The moment I saw him, I realised that he knew everything. I had studied my father enough to know what he would not berate me.
“Bravo”, he greeted me, “Didn‘t I always say that you would achieve much. With your beauty, it could not have been otherwise. All that remains now is to find you a husband, mademoiselle, but do not think that a husband will be burden on you. You can forget about him immediately”
We had a most curious conversation. I asked, “Do you not even judge me for that?”
“My dear, I do nothing for the sake of appearances”.
“But the Count d’Artois wants me to live with him. Everywhere where he goes… he wants me to live openly with him”.
“Mademoiselle, that is completely logical from his point of view. I advise you to satisfy his request and you will see that your life will be wonderful”.
Fortunately, I was clever enough not to follow his advice. The conversation with my father upset me even more than if he had berated and reproached me. So I became more cunning. I learnt to become slyer and as a sign of protest, I became much colder towards the Count d’Artois.
If it had not been for these annoying trivia, life really would have been marvellous.
I had always dreamed about entertainments, dances and fun and now my life was full of them. The Prince of the Blood would not leave my side for a moment. At least he tried not to leave my side. For this reason he used in influence to distance me from Marie Antoinette, releasing me from the tedious duties of a lady-in-waiting and the continual duties. He loved her brother-in-law, he was just as frivolous and extravagant as she was herself. However, he could not stand her. His favourite pastime was to tell me about Marie Antoinette’s love affairs, her extravagances and love for pleasures. The Prince even hinted that in the past they had been connected in a more intimate way than just family relatives, but I doubted that. Observing Marie Antoinette in her life, I could not believe that she led such a depraved life as the Prince had suggested.
Nevertheless, he opened my eyes to the fact that Versailles was boring. Soon I was to become convinced of this.
December and January were icy and snowy. The streets of Paris were covered in snow and after a short thaw, they became covered in ice, and everyone travelled in sledges. The Count d’Artois liked to roam around Paris, ride at mad speeds in his sledge through the streets, raising clouds of sparkling snow dust and he like me to accompany him. Frequently during such outings, the horses would knock over and even crush passersby, but the Prince was completely unconcerned.
Paris in the winter was wonderful. I soon realised that it was possible to have fun in much more simple and unpretentious places that the salons of the society prudes and the halls of Versailles.
I would wake up late, at about eleven o’clock in the morning, and usually by the Count d’Artois coming into my room, brutishly pulling the blanket off me, and waking me either with passionate embraces of by tickling me. I pretended to be angry. I found life interesting with him. He liked to call himself an arrogant, cynical, unceremonious and blatant rogue. He helped me dress, beginning with my underwear and finishing with my furs. He would brush my blonde hair and treated me like a child. He never complimented me but I could read them in his eyes. Sometimes tenderly, sometimes passionately, he would wrap me up in the warm sable fur coats, ermine muffled and take me away for breakfast. He had the most diverse tastes. Sometimes he would like to breakfast in someone’s salon or fashionable restaurant, sometimes a café in the Palais Royal. Whatever he chose, it was always interesting and I never protested.
After breakfast, if the Prince had a particular flood of desire, I would go with him into town, to a castle, either Saint Cloud, Rambouillet and Marly. Everything was prepared for intimacy, even up to the small table on which food was served to us. It appeared from the lower floors as though growing out of the floor. We would spend all day between the bed, the musical fountains and the fish in the tiny lake. But that was quite a rare occurrence. Most often after breakfast we would ride out on the sledge to the Pont Neuf, the place of pleasure in Paris. The Prince would take me by the hand along the Quais des Orfevres with the jewellery shops. The windows were filled with sparkling gold and silver objects and precious trivia. Not far away, on the Conti embankment stood "Au Petit Dunkerque”, the famous jewellers, with its innumerable, marvellous precious objects. There were gold enamel tobacco cases, purses richly embroidered with silk and hair bands, travelling cases and earrings. The Prince bought for me everything which he thought was beautiful and fashionable, whatever the cost and decided that rubies suited me most of all. I knew that he had greater debts than the King, Queen and the entire court together, but I did not stop him. I did not find it humiliating to accept presents from him.
Here on this very bridge, was the constant noise of the colourful crowd of city residents, the poverty of Paris, the people who ate only from time to time. On the worn-out steps of the Pont Neuf, by its railings and on the pavements there were shoe shiners, coalmen, porters, sock menders, rag and bone sellers. There were stalls selling ribbons, pies, wax, wooden and paper figures, dolls, old books, shoe soles and used brochures. Street singers sang their chansons named after the Pont Neuf bridge. Jugglers, conjurors, fortune tellers displayed their talents here, as well as all sorts of other people without a specific profession.
A charlatan was selling his patent medicines next to a “tooth puller” dressed in a red costume. His wares were laid out at the end of a bench rented out to a fruit seller. Close to the embankment there was a sign advertising the sale of “birds, flowers and people”. Another thing that could be seen here was the recruiting sergeants for the King’s army, loudly calling out the young men passing by, who for 30 livres could sell their freedom. In a roadside inn, beneath a smoke-blackened canvas roof, a dirty old woman was ladling out
portions of meat, lentils, peas and beans with a blackened fork and rusty knife on chipped plates. People ate with their hands with the plates on their knees. The Prince offered me some of this food and laughed loudly when he saw the grimace on my face after the first mouthful.
In brief, Pont Neuf was as big as the world itself and it was enough to stroll up and down it for about an hour to meet the people you needed.
We also went to Rue de la Paix with its most fashionable dress and shoe shops. However, I cannot say very much for the Prince’s taste.
The Count taught me about horse racing – how to place bets and even win. He had brought this fashion here from England ten years ago, and it was now becoming popular. I could now quite often be seen on the stands of the racecourse, and the Queen as well. I loved horses and I was pleasantly surprised when the Prince gave me an entire stable with thirty rare trotters. They must have been worth no less than sixty thousand livres at the very least.
After the race course, and exhausted from the betting and tension, the Count would take me to the Palais Royal, which well deserved its title as the heart of Paris. In contrast to the Pont Neuf, there was no hustle or bustle here. You could find everything with the most refined taste demanded. The rarest textiles, costumes, decorations, the sweetest ladies’ trivia, the best pictures and statuettes, the most refined wines and food. Life in the Palais Royal was like a magical dream. We would go for lunch to one of the most expensive restaurants, so that I could rest. They were places not only for lunch, but where we could take coffee or chocolate or even play chequers, dominoes or chess. The Prince taught me how to play chess. He boasted that he played chess no worse than Philidor or Maillot.
The Count took me to the room of wax figures, showed me the mechanical billiards, marionettes and wandering theatres and concerts. Palais Royal was full of all manner of entertainment.
There was a fine snow falling. It stuck to my eyelashes and powdered the fur of my hood. The streetlights were gradually lit, and the show windows were illuminated one by one. Evening came. The Prince was becoming more cheerful and hungry for pleasure. He whispered indecent words and insults into my ear about the acquaintances we encountered in Palais Royal. He lightly pinched my waist.
“Have I not shown you the delights of Paris?” He asked. “Now will you not show me your delights, my dear?!”
I gently refused.
“Your Highness, the evening is not yet over”.
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