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THE FALSE PRINCE OF MODENA.
An Anecdote of the 18th Century.
Translated for the Port Folio.
Of all the imposters who under false names have shone more or less on the theatre of the world, one of the most remarkable, by the singularity of the circumstances which favoured his imposture, is a youth who made his appearance about the middle of the last century in the island of Martinique, under the title of Hereditary Prince of Modena. The following is a statement of the facts such as they have been reported by an eye-witness, who without pretending to explain them, simply relates what passed under his own observation. He deserves the more confidence, because never having shared in the credulity of those who were seduced by so singular an imposture, he cannot be suspected of exaggerating the inconceivable circumstances which might in some measure seem as an excuse for this credulity.
In the beginning of the year 1748, France being yet at war with Great Britain, a small merchant vessel bound from Rochelle to the Cul-de-sac Marin, a port of Martinique, was so closely pursued by the English cruisers which blockaded that island, that the captain seeing the impossibility of saving his vessel and cargo, determined on trying at least to escape captivity, by throwing himself and all his crew into his long-boat; they succeeded in reaching the shore in safety, but with the loss of all their effects.
Besides the crew, which was not numerous, this captain had on board with him a young man, of eighteen or nineteen years
of age, whose features, without being beautiful or regular, were agreeable, his figure elegant although small, but who was especially remarkable by the fairness and extreme delicacy of his skin, which seemed to indicate an elevated rank in life. He called himself the Count of Tarnaud, son of a major-general, and the respect of the crew appeared to announce a still more distinguished situation. He had however sailed without any attendants; the only person who was particularly attached to his person was one Rhodez, a young sailor of about 24 years of
the captain's mate, with whom he had become acquainted during the passage.
This young man seemed to enjoy his intimate confidence; but on the part of Rhodez the intimacy did not amount to familiarity, and the most unequivocal marks of respect betrayed his consideration for the stranger.
The latter, when they reached the shore, had inquired for some reputable inhabitant of the island, at whose house he might find an asylum and assistance. The residence of an officer, named Duval Ferrol, who lived near the spot where they had landed, was pointed out to him. He went there, without any other recommendation than the misfortune he had lately undergone. He was received as is usuai in America, and in all countries where the difficulty of communication between the inhabitants supports the exercise of hospitality, and established him'selfthere with Rhodez.
All sorts of attentions were shown him; these he accepted, as if he rather conferred than received a favour. He eluded by vague answers the bumerous questions addressed to him; and the mysterious couduct of Rhodez supported and even increased a curiosity which was directed towards the young stranger with greater vivacity in consequence of the captain's refusing to answer all inquiries respecting him. He merely said in confidence to the commandant of the Cul-de-sac Marin, that this youth had been brought to him by a merchant, who had recommended to him in private, but without giving any farther instructions, to treat him with great respect, because he was a person of importance.*
Every thing about the young man appeared indeed mysterious and extraordinary. He had arrived at Rochelle, as has been since learnt, some time before his embarkation. He was at that time accompanied by an elderly man who appeared to be his mentor. Nobody knew by what conveyance they had come. They were both dressed with the greatest simplicity. On arriving at Rochelle, instead of stopping at an inn, they had hired a small apartment in a private house, and had immediately caused it to
*This captain's name was Mendavid; he was a very ignorant and stupid individual.
be furnished at their expense, at no great cost indeed, but comfortably. During their residence in that city, the young man had lived very retired, never going out, seeing nobody, living principally on shell-fish and especially fresh-water cray-fish, which are scarce and dear at Rochelle.
The old man, on the contrary, was a great deal from home; his chief business seemed to consist in finding an opportunity to embark his pupil, which was not an easy matter in consequence of the war.
At last one had presented itself: when the youth set out to go on board, the woman at whose house he lodged having asked him what she should do with his furniture; “keep it,” answered he, « to remember me.' His conductor who witnessed this act of generosity, had scarcely appeared to notice it. The present might be estimated at about five hundred livres; but the most singular circumstance was that he who made it did not take with him, in money and effects, much more than the value of that sum; and from the manner of his debut in the colony, it was not to be presumed that he had secured for himself any very certain rescources there. However nothing seemed to give him uneasiness during the passage. His manners had constantly been dignified, without prodigality. When they found themselves obliged to betake themselves to their boat and coast along the island in order to escape the English, they had not had time to put any provisions on board, the crew were starving; he purchased of a planter, whom they met in his pirogue, the provisions he was carrying to hisplantation, and distributed them among the sailors, who, as will easily be believed, were filled with new respect for the young passenger, whose importance was already made known to them by the mysterious recommendation given to the captain.
Some of these details were soon spread about the island; it. was known from the sailors that their passenger had been sick on board; that all kinds of attention were paid him; that he had received them with great affability and goodness, mingled howe. ver with a little hauteur. During his indisposition, Rhodez, by the captain's orders, never left the sick gentleman; and from this time dated the intercourse of confidence on one part, and of
respect and services really extraordinary on the other, which existed between these two individuals.
There was in all this more than enough to kindle curiosity, ever on the watch in places where it can but rarely be excited and not easily satisfied. Already it was known throughout the colony that a man of high birth had arrived at Martinique and lodged at Duval Ferrol's ; all the circumstances of his landing were mentioned ; his daily actions were the subject of conversation; facts were misrepresented, exaggerated, multiplied; the imaginations of people were excited, without yet having a determinate object before them, and this young man, who had been only four days in the island, was already the subject of endless rediculous suppositions, of romantic stories each more strange than the other, all repeated with equal assurance and received with equal avidity.
However, after a few days, Duval Ferrol informs the stranger that not knowing him and being himself a subaltern officer, he had been under the necessity of making his arrival known to the Lieutenant de Roi, commanding at the Cul-de-sac Marin, and that the latter requested to see him. The young man goes there, he presents himself by the name of count de Tarnaud and is well received; but the commandant, having had notice of the rumours which are circulated on the subject of the stranger, and being determined to pierce through the mystery which envelops him, offers him a lodging in his house and the use of his table. Tarnaud accepts it all, and now we have him established at Nadau's; this was the commandant's name.
Rhodez, who never quitted him, took up his quarters there also, and thus appeared to acknowledge a sort of voluntary dependence, which by the by, he did not seek to dissemble.
Young Tarnaud had now been two days at the commandant's ; the latter had company to dine with him. When they were just seated at table, the young man perceives that he has forgotten his handkerchief-Rhodez leaves his seat and goes for it. All the guests stare at each other; a white man wait upon a white man! This in the islands is an unheard of thing, a dishonourable thing, unless it were a prince, or at least the governor of the colony.
The poorest planter would not consent to do it; and Rhodez, of a good family, well educated, acquainted with the customs of the country, would certainly not commit himself to such a degree for a man of ordinary rank. Who then can this stranger be? What confidential information can Rhodez have obtained from him ? How is this mystery to be unravelled ?
The company are seated; in the midst of the dinner Nadau receives a letter from Duval Ferrol :
“You desire of me," writes he, "information respecting the French passenger who lodged some days at my house ; his signature will tell you more than I could do. I herewith send you a letter which I have just now received from him.”
Nadau looks over the letter enclosed in that of Duval; it contains nothing but thanks, expressed in a style bad enough—but what confounds him is that it is signed D'Estè, and not Tarnaud. As soon as dinner was over, he takes aside one of his guests, to whom he communicates the contents of the packet. His friend sets off immediately for the house of the marquis d’Eragny, whose plantation was at a short distance. The marquis was still at table with several other persons who dined with him. They were speaking of the stranger; the new-comer states what has just happened. At the name of Estè every body was astonished-they endeavour to find out who it can be, and at last, after consulting the court Almanack, it is decided that the stranger can only be Hercules Rinaldo d'Estè, hereditary prince of Modena and brother of the dutchess of Penthièvre. Nothing more easy than to ascertain the fact ;-one of the company, by name Bois-Fermè, the commandant's brother in law, declares that the preceding year he has several times seen the prince of Modena; another of the company has seen him when with the army; they resolve to clear up all doubts about the matter; in the meantime they must finish their wine. Towards evening the whole troop mount their horses, and arrive at the commandant's as he is going to supper. They look attentively on the stranger. Bois-Fermè declares that it is certainly he.--It is true that Bois