Imagens das páginas

house, he introduced a niece of Jeanne's husband, a girl of fifteen, who played the part of crystal gazer, and saw, in the crystal, whatever Cagliostro told her to see. All was favourable to the wishes of Rohan, who was as easy of belief as any spiritualist, being entirely dominated by the Neapolitan, who, none the less, knew nothing of the great final coup, despite his clairvoyance.

So far, in the summer of 1784, the great diamond fraud had not risen into Jeanne's consciousness. Her aim was merely to convince the Cardinal that she could win for him the Queen's favour, and then work upon his gratitude. It was in July 1784 that Jeanne's husband made the acquaintance of Marie Laguay, a pretty and good-humoured but quite unfortunate' young woman'the height of honesty and dissoluteness '—who might be met in public gardens, chaperoned solely by a nice little boy. Jeanne de Valois was not of a jealous temperament. Mademoiselle Laguay was the friend of her husband, the tawdry Count. For Jeanne that was enough. She invited the young lady to her house, and by her royal fantasy created her Baronne Gay d'Oliva (Valoi, an easy anagram).

She presently assured the Baronne that the Queen desired her collaboration in a practical joke ; her Majesty would pay £600 for the freak. This is the Baronne's own version ; her innocence, she averred, readily believed that Marie Antoinette desired her assist


'You are only asked to give, some evening, a note and a rose, to a great lord, in an alley of the gardens of Versailles. My husband will bring you thither to-morrow evening.'

Jeanne later confessed that the Baronne really was stupid enough to be quite satisfied that the whole affair was a jest.

Judged by their portraits, d'Oliva, who was to personate the Queen, in an interview with the Cardinal, was not at all like Marie Antoinette. Her short, round, buxom face bears no resemblance to the long and noble outlines of the features of the Queen. But both women were fair, and of figures not dissimilar. On August 11, 1784, Jeanne dressed up d'Oliva in the chemise or gaulle, the very simple white blouse which Marie Antoinette wears in the contemporary portrait by Madame Vigée-Lebrun, a portrait exhibited at the Salon of 1783. The ladies, with La Motte, then dined at the best restaurant in Versailles, and went out into the park. The sky was heavy, without moon or starlight, and they walked into the sombre mass of the Grove of Venus, so styled from a statue of

the goddess which was never actually placed there. Nothing could be darker than the thicket below the sullen sky.

A shadow of a man appeared : Vous voilà ! said the Count, and the shadow departed. It was Villette, the forger of the Queen's letters, the lover and accomplice of Jeanne de Valois.

Then the gravel of a path crackled under the feet of three men. One approached, heavily cloaked. D’Oliva was left alone, a rose fell from her hand, she had a letter in her pocket which she forgot to give to the cloaked man, who knelt, and kissed the skirt of her dress. She murmured something; the cloaked Cardinal heard, or thought he heard, her say : 'You may hope that the past is forgotten.'

Another shadow flitted past, whispering : “Quick! Quick! Come on! Here are Madame and Madame d'Artois !'

They dispersed. Later the Cardinal recognised the whispering shadow that fled by, in Villette, the forger. How could he recognise a fugitive shade, vaguely beheld in a dark wood, on a sultry and starless night? If he mistook the girl d'Oliva for the Queen, what is his recognition of the shadow worth?

The conspirators had a jolly supper, and one Beugnot, a friend of Jeanne, not conscious of the plot, escorted the Baronne d'Oliva back to her rooms in Paris.

The trick, the transparent trick was played, and Jeanne could extract from the Cardinal what money she wanted, in the name of the Queen, that gave him a rose in the Grove of Venus. Letters from the Queen were administered at intervals by Jeanne, and the prelate never dreamed of comparing them with the authentic handwriting of Marie Antoinette.

We naturally ask ourselves, was Rohan in love with the daughter of the Valois? Does his passion account for his blindness ? Most authors have believed what Jeanne later proclaimed, that she was the Cardinal's mistress. This the divine steadily denied. There was no shadow of proof that they were even on familiar terms, except a number of erotic letters, which Jeanne showed to a friend, Beugnot, saying that they were from the Cardinal, and then burned. The Cardinal believed all things, in short, and verified nothing, in obedience to his dominating idea—the recovery of the Queen's good graces.

Meanwhile, Jeanne drew on him for large sums, which the Queen, she said, needed for acts of charity. It was proved that Jeanne instantly invested the money in her own name, bought

a large house with another loan, and filled it with splendid furniture. She was as extravagant as she was greedy ; alieni appetens, sui profusa.

The Cardinal was in Alsace, at his bishopric, when, in NovemberDecember 1784, Jeanne was brought acquainted with the jewellers, Böhmer and Bassenge, who could not find a customer for their enormous and very hideous necklace of diamonds, left on their hands by the death of Louis XV. The European Courts were poor; Marie Antoinette had again and again refused to purchase a bauble like a comforter 'made of precious stones, or to accept it from the King. 'We have more need of a ship of war,' she said, and would not buy though the jeweller fell on his knees and threatened to drown himself. There were then no American millionaires, and the thickest and ugliest of necklaces was ' eating its head off,' for the stones had been bought with borrowed money.

In the jewellers Jeanne found new victims; they, too, believed in her credit with the Queen ; they, too, asked no questions, and held that she could find them a purchaser. Jeanne imposed on them thus, while the Cardinal was still in Alsace. He arrived at Paris in January 1785. He learned, from Jeanne, that the Queen wished him to deal for her with the jewellers! She would pay the price, the £60,000, by quarterly instalments.

The Cardinal could believe that the Queen, who, as he supposed, had given him a darkling interview, would entrust him with such a commission, for an article which she had notoriously refused. But there is a sane spot in every man's mind, and, on examining the necklace (January 24, 1785), he said that it was in very poor taste. However, as the Queen wanted to wear it at a ceremony on February 2, he arranged the terms, and became responsible for the money. His guarantee was a document produced by Jeanne, and signed ‘Marie Antoinette de France. As Cagliostro pointed out to Rohan later, too late, the Queen could not possibly signature. Neither the prelate nor the tradesmen saw the manifest absurdity. Rohan carried the necklace to Jeanne, who gave it to the alleged messenger of the Queen. Rohan only saw the silhouette of this man, in a dusky room, through a glass door, but he later declared that in him he recognised the fleeting shade who whispered the warning to fly, in the dark Grove of Venus. It was Villette, the forger.

Naturally people asked, “If you could not tell the Queen from Mlle. d'Oliva when you kissed her robe in the grove, how could you

use this

recognise, through a dim glass door, the man of whom you had only caught a glimpse as a fleeting shadow ? If you are so clever, why, it was the Queen whom you met in the wood. You cannot have been mistaken in her.'

These obvious arguments told against the Queen as well as against the Cardinal.

The Queen did not wear the jewels at the feast for which she had wanted them. Strange to say, she never wore them at all, to the surprise of the vendors and of the Cardinal. The necklace was, in fact, hastily cut to pieces with a blunt heavy knife, in Jeanne's house ; her husband crossed to England, and sold many stones, and bartered more for all sorts of trinkets, to Gray, of New Bond Street, and Jeffreys, of Piccadilly. Villette had already been arrested with his pockets full of diamonds, but the luck of the House of Valois, and the astuteness of Jeanne, procured his release. So the diamonds were, in part, 'dumped down ’ in England ; many were kept by the La Mottes ; and Jeanne paid some pressing debts in diamonds.

The happy pair, with six carriages, a stud of horses, silver plate of great value, and diamonds glittering on many portions of their raiment, now went off to astonish their old friends at Bar-surAube. The inventories of their possessions read like pages out of * The Arabian Nights.' All went merrily, till, at a great ecclesiastical feast, among her friends the aristocracy, on August 17, 1785, Jeanne learned that the Cardinal had been arrested at Versailles, in full pontificals, when about to celebrate the Mass. She rushed from table, fled to Versailles, and burned her papers. . She would not fly to England; she hoped to brazen out the affair.

The arrest of the Cardinal was caused thus : On July 12, 1785, the jeweller, Böhmer, went to Versailles with a letter of thanks to the Queen, dictated by Rohan. The date for the payment of the first instalment had arrived, nothing had been paid, a reduction in price had been suggested and accepted. Böhmer gave the letter of thanks to the Queen, but the Controller General entered, and Böhmer withdrew, without waiting for a reply. The Queen presently read the letter of thanks, could not understand it, and sent for the jeweller, who had gone home. Marie Antoinette thought he was probably mad, certainly a bore, and burned his note before the eyes of Madame Campan.

* Tell the man, when you next see him, that I do not want diamonds, and shall never buy any more.'

[ocr errors]

Fatal folly! Had the Queen insisted on seeing Böhmer, all would have been cleared up, and her innocence established. Böhmer's note spoke of the recent arrangements, of the jeweller's joy that the greatest of queens possesses the handsomest of necklaces

and Marie Antoinette asked no questions !

Jeanne now (August 3) did a great stroke. She told Bassenge that the Queen's guarantee to the Cardinal was a forgery. She calculated that the Cardinal, to escape the scandal, would shield her, would sacrifice himself and pay the £60,000.

But the jewellers dared not carry the news to the Cardinal. They went to Madame Campan, who said that they had been gulled: the Queen had never received the jewels. Still, they did not tell the Cardinal. Jeanne now sent Villette out of the way, to Geneva, and on August 4 Bassenge asked the Cardinal whether he was sure that the man who was to carry the jewels to the Queen had been honest ? A pleasant question! The Cardinal kept up his courage ; all was well, he could not be mistaken. Jeanne, with cunning audacity, did not fly: she went to her splendid home at Bar-sur-Aube.

Villette was already out of reach; d'Oliva, with her latest lover, was packed off to Brussels; there was no proof against Jeanne ; her own flight would have been proof. The Cardinal could not denounce her; he had insulted the Queen by supposing that she gave him a lonely midnight tryst, a matter of high treason; the Cardinal could not speak. He consulted Cagliostro. “The guaran. tee is forged,' said the sage ; "the Queen could not sign “ Marie Antoinette de France.” Throw yourself at the King's feet, and confess all.” The wretched Rohan now compared the Queen's forged notes to him with authentic letters of hers in the possession of his family. The forgery was conspicuous, but he did not follow the advice of Cagliostro. On August 12, the Queen extracted the whole facts, as far as known to them, from the jewellers. On August 15, the day of the Assumption, when the Cardinal was to celebrate, the King asked him: 'My cousin, what is this tale of a diamond necklace bought by you in the name of the Queen ?'

The unhappy man, unable to speak coherently, was allowed to write the story, in fifteen lines.

“How could you believe,' asked the Queen with angry eyes, ' that I, who have not spoken to you for eight years, entrusted you with this commission ?'

How indeed could he believe it?

« AnteriorContinuar »