The Beauty Spot


In the year seventeen hundred and fifty-six, when Louis XV, tired of the quarrelling between the magistracy and the Great Council about the two-sous tax,1

made up his mind to hold a ‘Bed of Justice’, the members resigned their functions. Sixteen of those resignations were accepted, whereupon there were the same number of exiles.

‘But can you,’ Madame de Pompadour said to one of the presidents, ‘can you watch in cold blood a handful of men resist the authority of a king of France? Wouldn’t you give an adverse judgment on that? Put aside your little cloak, Mr. President, and you will see all that as I do.’

It was not only the exiles who suffered for their wrong intentions, but their relations and their friends as well. The unsealing of letters amused the king. To save himself from being bored by his pleasures, he used to get his favourite to read all the queer things in his postbag. It is obvious that under the pretext of being himself his own secret police, he got amusement from the thousands of intrigues that passed before him in this way; but whoever was related, closely or distantly, to the heads of the factions, was almost always lost. We know that Louis XV, along with all kinds of weaknesses, had only one driving power, that of being inexorable.

One evening, when he was sitting before the fire, his feet on the chimney fender, in his usual state of melancholy, the marquise, running through a bundle of letters, shrugged her shoulders laughing. The king asked what was the matter.

‘I’ve found here’, she answered, ‘a letter with no common sense in it, but it ’s a touching story, and makes one feel sorry.’

‘What ’s at the bottom?’ said the king.

‘No name: it ’s a love letter.’

‘And what’s outside?’

‘That’s the funny thing. It’s addressed to Mademoiselle d’Annebault, the niece of my dear friend Madame d’Estrades. Apparently it is in order that I should see it that it has been stuffed in among these papers.’

‘And what’s inside?’ said the king again.

‘But I’m telling you, love! There’s talk, too, of Vauvert and Neauflette. Are there any gentlemen in those districts? Does your majesty know them?’

The king prided himself on knowing France by heart, that is to say, the nobility of France. He had studied the etiquette of his court and it was not more familiar to him than the coats of arms of his kingdom: a knowledge restricted enough, nothing else counting at all. But his vanity was involved in it, and the hierarchy was in his eyes like the marble staircase of his palace: he wanted to walk up it as master. After brooding a few minutes he frowned as if struck by an evil recollection, then, signing to the marquise to read, he threw himself back in his easy chair, and said with a smile:

‘Go on, then, the girl’s a pretty girl.’

Madame de Pompadour, making use of her most sweetly mocking tone, began to read a long letter, all filled with amorous outbursts.

‘See then’, the writer said, ‘how the Fates are persecuting me. Everything seemed disposed to grant my prayers, and you, my dear love, had you not led me to hope for happiness? Yet I must renounce it all, and that for a fault I have not committed. Is it not the extreme of cruelty to have let me glimpse the heavens in order to plunge me in the abyss? When a wretch is condemned to death do we take

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