MARQUISE DE GANGES
MARQUISE DE GANGES
Toward the close of the year 1657 a very plain carriage with no
arms painted on it stopped about eight o'clock one evening before
the door of a house in the rue Hautefeuille at which two other
coaches were already standing. A lackey at once got down to open the
carriage door; but a sweet though rather tremulous voice stopped
him saying "Wait while I see whether this is the place."
Then a head muffled so closely in a black satin mantle that no
feature could be distinguished was thrust from one of the carriage
windows and looking around seemed to seek for some decisive sign on
the house front. The unknown lady appeared to be satisfied by her
inspection for she turned back to her companion.
"It is here" said she. "There is the sign."
As a result of this certainty the carriage door was opened the two
women alighted and after having once more raised their eyes to a
strip of wood some six or eight feet long by two broad which was
nailed above the windows of the second storey and bore the
inscription "Madame Voison midwife" stole quickly into a passage
the door of which was unfastened and in which there was just so much
light as enabled persons passing in or out to find their way along
the narrow winding stair that led from the ground floor to the fifth
The two strangers one of whom appeared to be of far higher rank than
the other did not stop as might have been expected at the door
corresponding with the inscription that had guided them but on the
contrary went on to the next floor.
Here upon the landing was a kind of dwarf oddly dressed after the
fashion of sixteenth-century Venetian buffoons who when he saw the
two women coming stretched out a wand as though to prevent them
from going farther and asked what they wanted.
"To consult the spirit" replied the woman of the sweet and tremulous
"Come in and wait" returned the dwarf lifting a panel of tapestry
and ushering the two women into a waiting-room.
The women obeyed and remained for about half an hour seeing and
hearing nothing. At last a door concealed by the tapestry was
suddenly opened; a voice uttered the word "Enter" and the two women
were introduced into a second room hung with black and lighted
solely by a three-branched lamp that hung from the ceiling. The door
closed behind them and the clients found themselves face to face
with the sibyl.
She was a woman of about twenty-five or twenty-six who unlike other
women evidently desired to appear older than she was. She was
dressed in black; her hair hung in plaits; her neck arms and feet
were bare; the belt at her waist was clasped by a large garnet which
threw out sombre fires. In her hand she held a wand and she was
raised on a sort of platform which stood for the tripod of the
ancients and from which came acrid and penetrating fumes; she was
moreover fairly handsome although her features were common the
eyes only excepted and these by some trick of the toilet no doubt
looked inordinately large and like the garnet in her belt emitted
When the two visitors came in they found the soothsayer leaning her
forehead on her hand as though absorbed in thought. Fearing to
rouse her from her ecstasy they waited in silence until it should
please her to change her position. At the end of ten minutes she
raised her head and seemed only now to become aware that two persons
were standing before her.
"What is wanted of me again?" she asked "and shall I have rest only
in the grave?"
"Forgive me madame" said the sweet-voiced unknown "but I am
wishing to know----"
"Silence!" said the sibyl in a solemn voice. "I will not know your
affairs. It is to the spirit that you must address yourself; he is a
jealous spirit who forbids his secrets to be shared; I can but pray
to him for you and obey his will."
At these words she left her tripod passed into an adjoining room
and soon returned looking even paler and more anxious than before
and carrying in one hand a burning chafing dish in the other a red
paper. The three flames of the lamp grew fainter at the same moment
and the room was left lighted up only by the chafing dish; every
object now assumed a fantastic air that did not fail to disquiet the
two visitors but it was too late to draw back.
The soothsayer placed the chafing dish in the middle of the room
presented the paper to the young woman who had spoken and said to
"Write down what you wish to know."
The woman took the paper with a steadier hand than might have been
expected seated herself at a table and wrote:--
"Am I young? Am I beautiful? Am I maid wife or widow? This is
for the past.
"Shall I marry or marry again? Shall I live long or shall I die
young? This is for the future."
Then stretching out her hand to the soothsayer she asked--
"What am I to do now with this?"
"Roll that letter around this ball" answered the other handing to
the unknown a little ball of virgin wax. "Both ball and letter will
be consumed in the flame before your eyes; the spirit knows your
secrets already. In three days you will have the answer."
The unknown did as the sibyl bade her; then the latter took from her
hands the ball and the paper in which it was wrapped and went and
threw both into the chafing pan.
" And now all is done as it should be" said the soothsayer.
The dwarf came in.
"See the lady to her coach."
The stranger left a purse upon the table and followed Comus. He
conducted her and her companion who was only a confidential maid
down a back staircase used as an exit and leading into a different