The Duke grabbed the heavy angular frame and raised it onto the easel. As he stepped back the old man tapped on the copper plate with his finger and proclaimed:
“Here for all to see is the Heart of Henry IV, the first Bourbon! It was a little damaged from Ravaillac’s stab in the back, a man of the highest and most praiseworthy principles.”
The painting portrayed a monstrous kitchen range with several cooking holes that were covered. Flames shot out of several of these holes and on them stood cooking pots in which living people stewed. Several were attempting to climb out; others were grabbing at each other and howling with horrified expressions. A grisly fear, an unbearable agony screamed out of all these starving faces. The brown kitchen range displayed a glazed tile with a heart painted on it and the letters “Henry IV”.
The Duke turned away.
“I don’t understand it at all,” he said.
Droling laughed brightly, “And yet in your school books you read the great words of your honest ancestor:
‘I would like every farmer to have a chicken in his pot on Sundays!’
Look, there you see the little roosters which the king had in his own pots! That is truly a royal heart, that kitchen range there! Would you like a sample of this Bourbon for your nose?”
He went to the cabinet, took out another snuff box and held it out to the Duke.
“There is only a little bit there,” he said, “but try some. It’s a good mix, Henry IV and Francis I. Try some; it will make you think like a predator.”
“Are you trying to say, Herr Droling,” asked the Duke, “that this tobacco—this dark brown powder here—comes from the hearts of both kings?”
“That I will most certainly admit, Herr Orlèans. It comes from nothing else. I mixed it myself.”
“How did you get these hearts?”
“I bought them. Didn’t I already tell you that? Are you interested in the particular details? Then listen.”
He pushed the Duke down in his chair and sprang back up onto his painter stool.
“Have you ever heard of Petit-Radel? No? Then you are uncultured, a true Orlèans. I’ve already noticed that. Your grandfather was good friends with the architect Petit-Radel. Well one day he received the silly commission from the Committee of Public Safety to destroy the king’s graves in the vaults of Saint Denis and Val-de-Grâce. He took care of it grandly too, I tell you. Then he had to do the same thing in the Jesuit church on Rue Saint Antoine. Your grandfather notified me about it.
‘Go with him, ‘said the honest Philippe. ‘You can buy some cheap mummy there!’
Do you know what that is Herr Orlèans? No? Well, mummy is from a mummy, the remnant of an embalmed body which you can use as pigment. And my soul, this pigment is very expensive! You can only imagine how happy I was to find some so cheaply. We found the urns with the embalmed hearts of the kings and princes in the Jesuit church. Petit-Radel pounded the urns to pieces. Then I bought the copper plates and the hearts.”
“And you made pigment out of the hearts?”
“Yes, naturally, what else? It is the only thing a king’s heart is good for. No, I exaggerate. It also makes an excellent snuff!—so help yourself, Henry IV and Francis I.”
The Duke declined, “Thank you, but no, Herr Droling.”
The old man snapped the box shut. “As you wish, but you are wrong in passing up such an opportunity. Never again will you be in a position to snuff a king’s heart.”
“The parts of the hearts that you don’t use as snuff you use as pigment in your paintings?”
“Certainly Herr Orlèans. I believed you grasped that long ago. You will find every heart of the Valois-Bourbon-Orlèans family in my paintings. But you will find more in them than just
the physical substance. I have not made them that cheaply! Which heart would you like to see now?”
“Louis XV,” said the Duke at random.
Soon another painting stood on the easel. It was completely done in dark shades and the flesh tones showed a dull brown color.
“You seem to have used a lot of mummy here, Herr Droling,” remarked the Duke. “Was the heart that large?”
The old man laughed. “No, it was very small, a boy’s heart even though it beat for sixty four years. But in this one I have made use of other hearts as well. I have used those of the Regents, the Dukes of Orlèans, the Pompadour and Comtesse du Barry. This painting depicts an entire time period.”
The painting showed a throng of an astonishing number of Ladies and Gentlemen moving through each other in dull movements, pushing past one another and crawling over each other. Some were entirely naked, most were in the costume of their time period with high toupees, long powdered wigs, lace skirts and sabots. But instead of a head they all carried thin parchment covered skulls on their shoulders. The suffering movements were animal like, even dog like. The masterly painted figures, costumes and limbs, especially the hands, arms and shoulders were all human giving the entire impression of a repulsive corpse like milieu.
This curious mixture of life and death, of animal and human, rang together so harmoniously that the painting made an unprecedented horrible impression on the viewer’s awareness. Droling, who didn’t miss even the smallest movements of his guest, pointed to the carafe.
“Please, help yourself, Herr Orlèans. You silent critique satisfies me to the highest degree.”
“I find this painting awful,” said the Duke.
The old man crowed with delight. “Isn’t it disgusting? Very nasty. In a word genuinely royal!”