April's 2002 Book Review
April's Monthly Vintage Book Review Continues With:
"Part Two" of The High Constable's Wife
If You Missed Last Month's (March's 2002)
Review Click Here For Part One!
The Droll Stories of Honore De Balzac
The Book League of America
Title of One Section Located in The First Ten Tales:
The High Constable's Wife
"There's a man of quality."
This sentence remained in the fashionable language.
Later it became a custom so to designate the people of the court.
It was to the wife of the constable d'Armagnac, and to no other
source, that the French language is indebted for this charming
By a lucky chance the countess had surmised correctly
concerning this gentleman. He was a bannerless knight, named
Julien de Boys-Bourredon, who not having inherited on his estate
enough to make a toothpick, and knowing no other wealth than
the rich nature with which his dead mother had opportunely
furnished him, conceived the idea of deriving there from both rent
and profit at Court, knowing how fond the ladies are of these good
revenues, and value them high and dear, when they can stand
being looked at between two suns. There are many like him who
have thus taken the narrow road of women to make their way; but
he, far from arranging his love in measured quantities, spent funds
and all, as soon as, come to the full-dress Mass, he saw the
triumphant beauty of the Countess Bonne. Then he fell really in love,
which was a grand thing for his crowns, because he lost both thirst
and appetite. This love is of the worst kind, because it incites you to
the love of diet, during the diet of love; a double malady, of which one
is sufficient to extinguish a man. Such was the young gentleman of
whom the good lady had thought, and towards whom she came
quickly to invite him to his death.
On entering, she saw the poor chevalier, who faithful to his pleasure,
awaited her, his back against a pillar, as a sick man longs for the sun,
the spring-time, and the dawn. Then she turned away her eyes, and
wished to go to the queen and request her assistance in this
desperate case, for she took pity on her lover, but one of the captains
said to her, with great appearance of respect, "Madame, we have
orders not to allow you to speak with man, or woman, even though it
should be the queen or your confessor. And remember that the lives
of all of us are at stake."
"Is it not your business to die?" said she.
Then the countess knelt down in her accustomed place, and again
regarding her faithful slave, found his face thinner and more deeply
lined than ever it had been. "Bah!" said she, "I shall have less
remorse for his death; he is half dead as it is." With this paraphrase
of her idea, she cast upon the said gentleman one of those warm
little ogles that are only allowable in princesses and harlots, and the
false love which her lovely eyes bore witness to, gave a pleasant
pang to the gallant of the pillar. Who does not love the warm attack
of life when it flows thus round the heart and engulfs everything?
Madame recognized with a pleasure, always fresh in the minds of
women, the omnipotence of her magnificent regard by the answer
which, without saying a word, the chevalier made to it. And in fact,
the blushes which empurpled his cheeks spoke better than the
best speeches of the Greek and Latin orators, and was also well
understoond. At this sweet sight, the countess, to make sure that
it was not a freak of nature, took pleasure in experimentalizing how
far the virtue of her eyes would go, and after having heated her slave
more than thirty times, she was confirmed in her belief that he would
bravely die for her. This idea so touched her, that from three
repetitions between her orisons she was tickled with the desire to
put into a lump all the joys of man, and to dissolve them for him in one
single glance of love, in order that she should not one day be
reproached with having not only dissipated the life, but also the
happiness of this gentleman. When the officiating priest turned round
to sing the Off you go to this fine gilded flock, the constable's wife
went out by the side of the pillar where her courtier was, passed in
front of him and endeavoured to insinuate into his understanding by a
speaking glance that he was to follow her, and to make positive the
intelligence and significant interpretation of this gentle appeal, the
artful jade turned round again a little after passing him to again
request his company. She saw that he had moved a little from his
place, and dared not advance, so modest was he, but upon this last
sign, the gentleman, sure of not being over-credulous, mixed with the
crowd with little and noiseless steps, like an innocent who is afraid of
venturing in one of those good places people call bad ones.
And whether he walked behind or in front, to the right or to the left, my
lady bestowed upon him a glistening glance to allure him the more and
the better to draw him to her, like a fisher who gently jerks the line in
order to hook the gudgeon. To be brief: the countess practised so well
the profession of the daughters of pleasure when resembled a harlot
so much as a woman of high birth. And indeed, on and again turned her
face towards the poor chevalier to invite him to accompany her,
discharging at him so diabolical a glance, that he ran to the queen of his
heart, believing himself to be called by her. Thereupon she offered him
her hand, and both boiling and trembling from contrary causes found
themselves inside the house. At this wretched hour, Madame
d'Armagnac was ashamed of having done all these harlotries to the
profit of death, and of betraying Savoisy the better to save him;
but this slight remorse was lame as the greater, and came tardily.
Seeing everything readly, the countess leant heavily upon her vassal's
arm, and said to him---
"Come quickly to my room; it is necessary that I should speak with
And he, not knowing that his life was in peril, found no voice where with
to reply, so much did the hope of approaching happiness choke him.
"Ah!" said she, "these ladies of the court are the best at such work."
Then she honoured this courtier with a profound salutation, in which
was depicted the ironical respect due to those who have the great
courage to die for so little.
"Picard," said the constable's lady, drawing the laundress to her by the
skirt, "I have not the courage to confess to him the reward with which
I am about to pay his silent love and his charming belief in the loyalty of
"Bah! Madame; why tell him? Send him away well contented by the
postern. So many men die in war for nothing, cannot this one die for
something? I'll produce another like him if that will console you."
"Come along," cried the countess, "I will confess all to him.
That shall be the punishment for my sin."
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