Adrienne, who was left behind in Paris, knew very little of what was going on. Only two things were absolutely clear to her. One was that if her lover secured the duchy he must be parted from her. The other was that without money his ambition must be thwarted, and that he would then return to her. Here was a test to try the soul of any woman. It proved the height and the depth of her devotion. Come what might, Maurice should be Duke of Courland, even though she lost him. She gathered together her whole fortune, sold every jewel that she possessed, and sent her lover the sum of nearly a million francs.
This incident shows how absolutely she was his. But in fact, because of various intrigues, he failed of election to the ducal throne of Courland, and he returned to Adrienne with all her money spent, and without even the grace, at first, to show his gratitude. He stormed and raged over his ill luck. She merely soothed and petted him, though she had heard that he had thought of marrying another woman to secure the dukedom. In one of her letters she bursts out with the pitiful exclamation:
I am distracted with rage and anguish. Is it not natural to cry out against such treachery? This man surely ought to know me—he ought to love me. Oh, my God! What are we—what are we?
But still she could not give him up, nor could he give her up, though there were frightful scenes between them—times when he cruelly reproached her and when her native melancholy deepened into outbursts of despair. Finally there occurred an incident which is more or less obscure in parts. The Duchesse de Bouillon, a great lady of the court—facile, feline, licentious, and eager for delights—resolved that she would win the love of Maurice de Saxe. She set herself to win it openly and without any sense of shame. Maurice himself at times, when the tears of Adrienne proved wearisome, flirted with the duchess.
Yet, even so, Adrienne held the first place in his heart, and her rival knew it. Therefore she resolved to humiliate Adrienne, and to do so in the place where the actress had always reigned supreme. There was to be a gala performance of Racine’s great tragedy, “Phedre,” with Adrienne, of course, in the title-role. The Duchesse de Bouillon sent a large number of her lackeys with orders to hiss and jeer, and, if possible, to break off the play. Malignantly delighted with her plan, the duchess arrayed herself in jewels and took her seat in a conspicuous stage-box, where she could watch the coming storm and gloat over the discomfiture of her rival.
When the curtain rose, and when Adrienne appeared as Phedre, an uproar began. It was clear to the great actress that a plot had been devised against her. In an instant her whole soul was afire. The queen-like majesty of her bearing compelled silence throughout the house. Even the hired lackeys were overawed by it. Then Adrienne moved swiftly across the stage and fronted her enemy, speaking into her very face the three insulting lines which came to her at that moment of the play: