On the appointed day the royal party proceeded to the cathedral, and the Comte de Provence presented the little child at the baptismal font. The grand almoner, who presided, asked;
“What name shall be given to this child?”
The Comte de Provence answered in a sneering tone:
“Oh, we don’t begin with that. The first thing to find out is who the father and the mother are!”
These words, spoken at such a place and such a time, and with a strongly sardonic ring, set all Paris gossiping. It was a thinly veiled innuendo that the father of the child was not the King of France. Those about the court immediately began to look at Fersen with significant smiles. The queen would gladly have kept him near her; but Fersen cared even more for her good name than for his love of her. It would have been so easy to remain in the full enjoyment of his conquest; but he was too chivalrous for that, or, rather, he knew that the various ambassadors in Paris had told their respective governments of the rising scandal. In fact, the following secret despatch was sent to the King of Sweden by his envoy:
I must confide to your majesty that the young Count Fersen has been so well received by the queen that various persons have taken it amiss. I own that I am sure that she has a liking for him. I have seen proofs of it too certain to be doubted. During the last few days the queen has not taken her eyes off him, and as she gazed they were full of tears. I beg your majesty to keep their secret to yourself.
The queen wept because Fersen had resolved to leave her lest she should be exposed to further gossip. If he left her without any apparent reason, the gossip would only be the more intense. Therefore he decided to join the French troops who were going to America to fight under Lafayette. A brilliant but dissolute duchess taunted him when the news became known.
“How is this?” said she. “Do you forsake your conquest?”
But, “lying like a gentleman,” Fersen answered, quietly:
“Had I made a conquest I should not forsake it. I go away free, and, unfortunately, without leaving any regret.”
Nothing could have been more chivalrous than the pains which Fersen took to shield the reputation of the queen. He even allowed it to be supposed that he was planning a marriage with a rich young Swedish woman who had been naturalized in England. As a matter of fact, he departed for America, and not very long afterward the young woman in question married an Englishman.
Fersen served in America for a time, returning, however, at the end of three years. He was one of the original Cincinnati, being admitted to the order by Washington himself. When he returned to France he was received with high honors and was made colonel of the royal Swedish regiment.