March's 2002 Book Review
March 1, 2002
This Months Book Review
(Which is April's 2002 Book Review 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
The high constable of Armagnac, desiring to rise in
the world, espoused the Countess Bonne, who was
already considerably enamoured of little Savoisy,
son of the chamberlain to his majesty King Charles
The constable was a rough warrior, miserable in
appearance, tough in skin, thickly bearded, always
uttering angry words, always busy hanging people,
always in the sweat of battles, or thinking of other
stratagems than those of love. Thus this good
soldier, caring little to favour the marriage stew,
used his charming wife after the fashion of a man
with more lofty ideas; of the which ladies have a
great horror, since they like not the joists of the
bed to be sole judges of their fondling and
Now the lovely countess, as soon as she was
grafted on the constable, only nibbled more eagerly
at the love with which her heart was laden for the
aforesaid Savoisy, which that gentleman clearly
perceived. Wishing both to study the same music,
they would soon harmonize their fancies, and
decipher the hieroglyphic; and this was a thing
clearly demonstrated to the Queen Isabella, that
Savoisy's horses were oftener stabled at the
house of her cousin of Armagnac than in the
Hotel St. Pol, where the chamberlain lived, since
the destruction of his residence, ordered by the
university, as every one knows.
This discreet and wise princess, fearing in advance
some unfortunate adventure for Bonne-the more
so as a constable was as ready to brandish his
broadsword as a priest to bestow benedictions-the
said queen, as sharp as a dirk, said one day, while
coming out from vespers, to her cousin, who was
taking the holy water with Savoisy-
"My dear, don't you see some blood in that water?"
"Bah!" said Savoisy to the queen. "Love likes blood,
This the queen considered a good reply, and put it
into writing, and, later on, into action, when her lord
the king wounded one of her lovers, whose business
you will see settled in this narrative.
You know by constant experience, that in the early
time of love each of two lovers is always in great fear
of exposing the mystery of the heart, and as much from
the flower of prudence as from the amusement yielded
by the sweet tricks of gallantry they play at who can best
conceal their thoughts. But one day of forgetfulness
suffices to inter the whole virtuous past. The poor
woman is taken in her joy as in a lasso; her sweetheart
proclaims his presence, or sometimes his departure, by
some article of clothing-a scarf, a spur, left by some fatal
chance, and there comes a stroke of the dagger that
severs the web so gallantly woven by their golden
delights. But when one is full of days, he should not make
a wry face at death, and the sword of a husband is a
pleasant death for a gallant, if there be pleasant deaths.
So may be will finish the merry amours of the constable's
One morning Monsieur d'Armagnac having lots of leisure
time in consequence of the flight of the Duke of Burgundy,
who was quitting Lagnay, thought he would go and wish
his lady good day, and attempted to wake her up in a
pleasant enough fashion, so that she should not be angry;
but she, sunk in the heavy slumbers of the morning,
replied to the action-
"Leave me alone, Charles!"
"Oh, oh," said the constable, hearing the name of a saint
who was not one of his patrons, "I have a Charles on my
Then, without touching his wife, he jumped out of the bed,
and ran upstairs with his face flaming and his sword
drawn, to the place where slept the countess's maid-
servant, convinced that the said servant had a finger in the
"Ah, ah, wench of hell!" cried he, to commence the
discharge of his passion, "say thy prayers, for I intend to
kill thee instantly, because of the secret practices of
Charles who comes here."
"Ah, Monseigneur," replied the woman, "who told you
"Stand steady, that I may rip thee at one blow, if you do
not confess to me every assignation given, and in what
manner they have been arranged. If thy tongue gets
entangled, if thou falterest, I will pierce thee with my
"Pierce me through!" replied the girl; "you will learn
The constable, having taken this excellent reply amiss,
ran her through on the spot, so mad was he with rage;
and came back into his wife's chamber and said to his
groom, whom, awakened by the shrieks of the girl, he
met upon the stairs, "Go upstairs; I've corrected
Billette rather severely."
Before he reappeared in the presence of Bonne he went
to fetch his son, who was sleeping like a child, and led
him roughly into her room. The mother opened her eyes
pretty widely, you may imagine-atthe cries of her little
one; and was greatly terrified at seeing him in the hands
of her husband, who had his right hand all bloody, and
cast a fierce glance on the mother and son.
"What is the matter?" said she.
"Madame," asked the man of quick execution,
"this child, is he the fruit of my loins, or those of
Savoisy, your lover?"
At this question Bonne turned pale, and sprang upon her
son like a frightened frog leaping into the water.
"Ah, he is really ours," said she.
"If you do not wish to see his head roll at your feet
confess yourself to me, and no prevarication. You have
given me a lieutenant."
"Who is he?"
"It is not Savoisy, and I will never say the name of a man
that I don't know."
Thereupon the constable rose, took his wife by the arm
to cut her speech with a blow of the sword, but she,
casting upon him with an imperial glance, cried-"Kill me
if you will, but touch me not."
"You shall live," replied the husband,
"because I reserve for you a chastisement more ample
And doubting the inventions, snares, argument, and
artifices familiar to women in these desperate situations,
of which they study night and day the variations, by
themselves, or between themselves, he departed with
this rude and bitter speech. He went instantly to
interrogate his servants, presenting to them a face
divinely terrible; so all of them replied to him as they
would to God the Father on the Judgement Day, when
each of us will be called to his account.
None of them knew the serious mischief which was at
the bottom of these summary interrogations and
crafty interlocutions; but from all that they said, the
constable came to the conclusion that no male in his
house was in the business, except one of his dogs,
whom he found dumb, and to whom he had given the
post of watching the gardens; so taking him in his
hands, he strangled him with rage. This fact incited
him by induction to suppose that the other constable
came into his house by the garden, of which the only
entrance was a postern opening on to the water side.
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