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Chapter 2
In 1658, at the corner of the streets Git-le-Coeur and Le Hurepoix (the site of the latter
being now occupied by the Quai des Augustins as far as Pont Saint-Michel), stood the
great mansion which Francis I had bought and fitted up for the Duchesse d'Etampes. It
was at this period if not in ruins at least beginning to show the ravages of time. Its rich
interior decorations had lost their splendour and become antiquated. Fashion had taken
up its abode in the Marais, near the Place Royale, and it was thither that profligate
women and celebrated beauties now enticed the humming swarm of old rakes and
young libertines. Not one of them all would have thought of residing in the mansion, or
even in the quarter, wherein the king's mistress had once dwelt. It would have been a
step downward in the social scale, and equivalent to a confession that their charms
were falling in the public estimation. Still, the old palace was not empty; it had, on the
contrary, several tenants. Like the provinces of Alexander's empire, its vast suites of
rooms had been subdivided; and so neglected was it by the gay world that people of the
commonest description strutted about with impunity where once the proudest nobles
had been glad to gain admittance. There in semi-isolation and despoiled of her
greatness lived Angelique-Louise de Guerchi, formerly companion to Mademoiselle de
Pons and then maid of honour to Anne of Austria. Her love intrigues and the scandals
they gave rise to had led to her dismissal from court. Not that she was a greater sinner
than many who remained behind, only she was unlucky enough or stupid enough to be
found out. Her admirers were so indiscreet that they had not left her a shred of
reputation, and in a court where a cardinal is the lover of a queen, a hypocritical
appearance of decorum is indispensable to success. So Angelique had to suffer for the
faults she was not clever enough to hide. Unfortunately for her, her income went up and
down with the number and wealth of her admirers, so when she left the court all her
possessions consisted of a few articles she had gathered together out of the wreck of
her former luxury, and these she was now selling one by one to procure the necessaries
of life, while she looked back from afar with an envious eye at the brilliant world from
which she had been exiled, and longed for better days. All hope was not at an end for
her. By a strange law which does not speak well for human nature, vice finds success
easier to attain than virtue. There is no courtesan, no matter how low she has fallen,
who cannot find a dupe ready to defend against the world an honour of which no vestige
remains. A man who doubts the virtue of the most virtuous woman, who shows himself
inexorably severe when he discovers the lightest inclination to falter in one whose
conduct has hitherto been above reproach, will stoop and pick up out of the gutter a
blighted and tarnished reputation and protect and defend it against all slights, and
devote his life to the attempt to restore lustre to the unclean thing dulled by the touch of
many fingers.
In her days of prosperity Commander de Jars and the king's treasurer had both fluttered
round Mademoiselle de Guerchi, and neither had fluttered in vain. Short as was the
period necessary to overcome her scruples, in as short a period it dawned on the two
candidates for her favour that each had a successful rival in the other, and that however
potent as a reason for surrender the doubloons of the treasurer had been, the personal