Honoré de Balzac.

Comédie humaine; (Volume 52) online

. (page 1 of 20)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacComédie humaine; (Volume 52) → online text (page 1 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


presented to the
UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
SAN DIEGO

by



Mrs. Townsend



gemote tic Balzac



Jjonort tic Balzac

LES CONTES DROLATIQUES

VOLUME I



LIMITED TO ONE THOUSAND COMPLETE COPIES



NO.



jGM



THE FAIR IMPERIA



He stood dumfounded, like a robber before tlie
officers of the law. The lady was without skirt or
head-dress. The maids and tire-women, busily re-
moving her clothes and her shoes, bared her lovely
body with such dexterity and openness, that the
wonder-struck priest uttered an Ah ! that smacked
of love.



ETCHINGS BY LES CONTES DROLATIQUES

J E ANN IN AFTER PAINTINGS BY

BY WAGREZ GEORGE JOHN MURDOCH



COLLECTED IN THE ABBEYS OF TOURAINE AND
BROUGHT FORTH INTO THE LIGHT

BY

He &tmr lie 3$al?ac

FOR THE DIVERSION OF PANTAGRUELISTS AND
OF NONE OTHERS



NOW FOR THE FIRST TIME COMPLETELY
TRANS LA TED INTO ENGLISH



VOLUME
LII



PRINTED FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY BY

GEORGE BARRIE &> SON

PHILADELPHIA



COPYRIGHTED. IgOO. BY G. B. A SON



CONTES DROLATIQUES

THE FIRST TEN



PROLOGUE

This is a highly-seasoned book, full of diverting
morsels of goodly savor, spiced to suit the taste of
those most illustrious victims of the gout and those
most accomplished topers, to whom our worthy
compatriot, Francois Rabelais, the eternal glory of
Touraine, formerly addressed himself. Not that
the author has the presumption to wish to be aught
else than a loyal Tourainer and to furnish entertain-
ment for the bounteous repasts of the famous folk of
that sweet and fertile country which produces more
cuckolds, fools, and jesters than any other, and
which has furnished its full share of the famous
men of France, as the late Courier, of spicy memory;
Verville, author of the Moyen de Parvenir, and others
well known, of whom we may mention Sieur Des-
cartes, for that he was a melancholy genius, who
sang the praises of vain visions rather than wine
and good cheer; a man whom all the pastry-cooks
and innkeepers of Tours hold in pious horror, mis-
understand him and refuse to listen to him; " Where
does he live?" they say, if you mention his name. —
This work, then, is the issue of the joyous leisure of
divers good old monks, of whom there are many
traces scattered through our province, as at La

(3)



4 CONTES DROLATIQUES

Grenadiere-les-Saint-Cyr, at the hamlet of Sacche-
les-Azay-le- Ridel, at Marmoustiers, Veretz, La
Roche-Corbon, and in some collections of pleasant
anecdotes; who are monks of the old school and
valiant women who lived in the good old times when
honest folk could crack a joke without looking to see
if a horse or a sportive colt or two issued from their
sides with every laugh, like the young women of
to-day, who choose to divert themselves in serious
fashion: a custom as becoming to our merry France
as an oil-cruet on a queen's head. And so, as
laughter is a privilege granted to man alone, and as
there is sufficient cause for tears on behalf of public
liberty without adding thereto by books, I esteem it a
deuced patriotic thing to publish a dram of merry
conceits in these days when ennui falls like fine
rain which drenches us, soaks us through at last,
and goes on dissolving our ancient customs, which
made the raye publique a source of amusement to
the greatest number. Now there are very few
left — and they are dying off every day — of those
old Pantagruelists, who allowed God and the King
their master to do their will, nor did they put their
fingers in the pie more than they ought, being con-
tent with hearty laughter; so that I greatly fear to
see these memorable fragments of olden breviaries
cast out, spat upon, gagged, reproved, confounded —
the which would seem to me no cause for mockery,
insomuch as I continue to look with much respect
upon the relics of our Gallic antiquities.

And do you remember, also, fierce critics, gleaners



PROLOGUE 5

of phrases, harpies who pervert the ideas and pur-
poses of everyone, that we laugh only when we are
children; and, as we journey on, laughter evaporates,
vanishes like unto the oil in a lamp. This means
that one must be innocent and pure of heart to
laugh; for lack of which you twist your lips, work
your cheeks, and scowl like people who hide vices
and impurity. Take this book, therefore, as a group
or a statue from which an artist cannot expunge cer-
tain features, and would be a twenty-two carat idiot
if he should so much as put fig-leaves over them,
because such works are not made for convents, any
more than this book. Nevertheless, I have taken
pains, to my great regret, to weed out from the
manuscripts all the old words — still a little too
young — which might have offended the ears, daz-
zled the eyes, reddened the cheeks, puckered the
lips of virgins in breeches, and virtue with three
lovers; for one must needs do something for the
vices of one's time, and periphrasis is much more
gallant than plain-speaking! In truth, we are grow-
ing old and we esteem long-winded trifles more
highly than the brief escapades of our youth, be-
cause we can enjoy them longer. Spare me, there-
fore, in your evil-speaking, and read this rather by
night than by day; and give it not to the maidens,
if there be any such, lest the book take fire. I take
myself off. But I fear nothing for this book, because
it is derived from an exalted and precious source,
whence everything that has come forth has enjoyed
great success: witness the royal orders of the Golden



6 CONTES DROLATIQUES

Fleece, the Holy Ghost, the Garter, and the Bath,
and many other notable things which were taken
therefrom, in whose shadow do I take my stand.
" Now, my loves, make merry, and gayly read
every word with your body and loins at ease, and
may ulcers consume you if you deny me after read-
ing me!" — These are the words of our dear master
Rabelais, to whom we should doff our caps in token
of reverence and honor, as the prince of all wisdom
and all merriment.



THE FAIR IMPERIA

The Archbishop of Bordeaux had taken in his
train, when he set forth to attend the Council of
Constance, a sweet little priest of Touraine, whose
manners and speech were curiously winning, inso-
much that he was deemed to be the son of La Soldee
and the governor. The Archbishop of Tours had
readily lent him to his confrere on his passage
through that city, for archbishops are wont to ex-
change gifts of this sort, knowing how intense is
the theological itching. And so this young priest
came to the Council and was lodged in the house
of his prelate, who was a man of estimable morals
and great learning.

Philippe de Mala — such was the priest's name —
resolved to bear himself becomingly and to serve
his patron faithfully; but he saw in that mysterious
council of priests many men leading dissolute lives,
yet gaining rather more than less indulgences, gold
pieces, and benefices than all those of more virtuous
and orderly lives. Now, on a certain night, when his
virtue was sore bestead, the devil whispered in his
ear and understanding that he must lay in his provi-
sions by the basketful, since everyone might suckle
at the bosom of our holy mother Church, yet would

(7)



8 CONTES DROLATIQUES

it not run dry; a miracle which proved the presence
of God. And the Touraine priest did not neglect the
devil's advice. He promised himself to feast and to
riot in roast meats and other German sauces when-
ever he could do it without paying, seeing that he
was as poor as a man can be. As he continued to
be very continent, for he took pattern by his poor
old archbishop, who perforce sinned no more and
was esteemed a saint, he had often to suffer intol-
erable cravings followed by fits of melancholy,
because of the great numbers of beautiful courte-
sans, gayly bedecked, but cold as ice to the poor,
who were sojourning at Constance to enlighten the
understandings of the fathers of the Council. He
was distracted because he knew not how to come
nigh those chattering lights-o'-love, who rebuffed
cardinals, commendatory abbes, auditors of the
Rota, legates, bishops, princes, dukes, and mar-
graves, as if they had been simple clerks, with empty
pockets. In the evening, having said his prayers,
he practised speaking to them, learning by heart the
sweet breviary of love. He put questions to him-
self, that he might be prepared to make answer in
any contingency. And on the morrow, if, at the
hour of complines, he chanced to meet one of the
aforsesaid princesses, in fine array, perched in her
litter, escorted by pages well-armed, and proud as a
popinjay, he would stand open-mouthed, like a dog
catching flies, at sight of those sprightly features,
which caused him to burn so fiercely.

Monseigneur's secretary, a gentleman of Perigord,



THE FAIR IMPERIA 9

having clearly demonstrated to him that the fathers,
procurators, and auditors of the Rota purchased by-
lavish gifts — not relics or indulgences, but gold and
jewels — the favor of intimacy with the haughtiest
of those petted pusses who abode under the protec-
tion of the lords of the Council, the poor Tourainer,
simple and chaste as he was, hoarded in his mattress
the gold angels given him by the good archbishop
for his labors as a scribe, and hoped some day to
have enough of them to be able to get a peep at
some cardinal's light-o'-love, trusting to God for the
rest. He was without a hair from head to heels,
and resembled a man no more than a goat in a
nightcap resembles a maid; but, spurred on by his
desire, he would go out at night and wander through
the streets of Constance, caring little for his life;
and at the risk of being run through the body by
soldiers, he watched the cardinals entering their
mistresses' houses. Then would he see the wax-
candles lighted in the houses, and the doors and
windows suddenly gleaming bright. Then would
he hear the sanctified abbes and others capering
about, drinking the best, inflamed with love, singing
the secret alleluia, and giving largess to the music
with which they were regaled. The kitchens per-
formed miracles, and many a Prayer they said
of rich and succulent stews, followed by Matins of
young hams, Vespers of dainty tidbits, and Lauds
of sweetmeats. And after drinking, silence fell upon
the worthy churchmen. Their pages diced on the
stairs, and the restive mules stamped in the street.



10 CONTES DROLATIQUES

All went well ! But faith and religion were there, I
ween! That is how it came to pass that goodman
Huss was burned ! And the cause? He put his hand
in the dish without being asked. Moreover, why
must he be a Huguenot before other people?

To return to dear little Philippe, many a time
he was roughly handled, and many a lusty blow
he received; but the devil encouraged him, urging
him to believe that, sooner or later, would come his
turn to play the cardinal with the mistress of one.
His longing made him bold as a stag in autumn; and
so it came about that he stole one evening into the
finest house in Constance, where he had often seen
chamberlains, seneschals, varlets, and pages wait-
ing with torches for their masters, — kings, dukes,
cardinals, and archbishops.

"Aha!" he said to himself, " she who dwells here
must be a lovely and a wanton creature."

An armed retainer suffered him to pass, thinking
that he belonged to the Elector of Bavaria, who had
just taken his leave, and that he was the bearer of a
message from that lord. Philippe de Mala ascended
the stairs as swiftly as a greyhound goaded by
amorous frenzy, and a delectable perfume guided
him to the chamber where the mistress of the house
sat chatting with her women, putting off her gar-
ments the while. He stood dumbfounded, like a
robber before the officers of the law. The lady
was without skirt or head-dress. The maids and
tire-women, busily removing her clothes and her
shoes, bared her lovely body with such dexterity



THE FAIR IMPERIA II

and openness, that the wonderstruck priest uttered
an Ah! that smacked of love.

" Pray, what do you wish, my little fellow?" said
the lady.

" To lay my heart at your feet," he replied,
devouring her with his eyes.

"You may return to-morrow," she rejoined, to
make merry at his cost.

To which, Philippe, flushing crimson, prettily
made answer:

" I will not fail."

She laughed like a mad woman. Philippe, abashed
and breathless, but happy withal, fixed upon her
two eyes which feasted upon fascinating treasures
of love: as beautiful hair falling over a back of ivory
whiteness and disclosing luscious bits of flesh, white
and gleaming, through its innumerable curling locks.
She wore upon her snow-white brow a balas ruby,
less lavish of fiery rays than her black eyes which
her hearty laughter had moistened with tears. She
herself threw off her pointed shoe, gilded like a reli-
quary, writhing about for very wantonness, and
showed her dainty foot, as tiny as a swan's bill.
She was in merry mood that evening; else would
she have ordered the little shaveling tossed out of
the window, paying no more heed to him than to
her first bishop.

" Ke hath fine eyes, madame," said one of the
tire-women.

"Whence came he, pray?" queried another.

"Poor child!" cried madame, "his mother will



12 CONTES DROLATIQUES

be looking for him. We must show him the way
home."

The Tourainer, retaining his self-possession, made
a gesture of delight as he gazed upon the gold bro-
cade-covered bed, whereon the damsel's lovely body
was soon to rest. That glance, overflowing with
life and with amorous intelligence, amused the lady's
caprice, who, half laughing, half vexed with the
darling, repeated: "To-morrow!" and dismissed
him with a gesture which Pope John himself would
have obeyed, especially as he was like a snail with-
out its shell, the Council having unpoped him.

" Ah! madame, another vow of chastity changed
to amorous desire," said one of the women.

And the laughter broke forth anew, as merry as
hail. Philippe withdrew, knocking his head against
the walls like a genuine hooded crow, all dazzled as
he was by having seen that creature, a more deli-
cious morsel than a siren rising from the waves.
He noticed the figures of animals carved above the
door, and returned to his excellent archbishop with
a thousand baskets of devils in his heart and a store
of cunning in his entrails. He went up to his tiny
chamber and counted his angels all night long, but
could make no more than four; and as that was his
all, he opined that he could content the fair lady by
giving her all he had in the world.

"What is the matter, pray, Philippe?" said the
good archbishop, disturbed by the tremblings and
Oh! ohs! of his clerk.

"Ah! monseigneur!" the poor priest replied, "I



THE FAIR IMPERIA 1 3

am wondering how so light and sweet a woman can
weigh so heavily on the heart!"

"What woman?" queried the archbishop, laying
aside his breviary, wherein he was reading for the
behoof of others, worthy man!

"Ah! Jesus! you will rebuke me, my dear master
and patron, for that I have seen the mistress of a
cardinal at the very least. And I weep because I
lack many more than one wretched crown to give
her, even though you should permit me to convert
her to the right way."

The archbishop contracted the circumflex accent
above his nose, but said not a word. Whereupon
the humble priest did tremble in his skin for that he
had confessed to his superior. But the holy man
abruptly said to him:

" Of a truth, is she so very dear?"

" Ah!" was the reply, "she hath stripped many
a mitre and spoiled many a crozier."

"Even so, Philippe, an thou wilt renounce her, I
will lend thee thirty gold angels from the poor-box."

"Ah! monseigneur, I should lose too much!"
rejoined the youth, aflame with the thought of the
feast to which he looked forward.

"Oh! Philippe," said the good Bordelais, "wilt
thou go to the devil and displease God, like all our
cardinals?"

And the master, overwhelmed with grief, began to
pray to Saint Gatien, patron saint of chaste youths,
to save his servitor. He made him kneel and bade
him commend himself to Saint Philippe; but the



14 CONTES DROLATIQUES

wretched priest under his breath besought the saint
to help him not to faint if on the morrow his lady
should have mercy and compassion for him; and
the good archbishop, observing his servant's fervor,
exclaimed:

" Courage, boy! Heaven will grant thy prayer."

On the morrow, while monseigneur declaimed at
the Council against the licentious conduct of the
apostles of Christianity, Philippe de Mala squan-
dered his hard-earned angels in perfumery, baths,
vapor-baths, and other trifles. In sooth, so foppish
did he make himself that you would have said he
was some lovelorn damozel's darling. He wandered
through the town until he recognized the abode of
his heart's queen; and when he asked the passers-
by whose house it was, they laughed in his face,
saying:

" Whence comes this scurvy knave who has not
heard of the fair Imperia?"

He was sore afraid lest he had spent his angels for
the devil's behoof, when he knew, from the name,
into what a terrible trap he had walked of his own
will.

Imperia was the most finical and capricious crea-
ture in the world; moreover, she was esteemed the
most gloriously beautiful, and the most skilful in
beguiling cardinals and cajoling rough soldiers and
oppressors of the people. She had her own gallant
captains, archers, and noblemen, eager to serve her
in every way. She had but to lisp a word to com-
pass the death of those who presumed to weary her.



THE FAIR IMPERIA 15

The undoing of a man cost her only a pretty smile;
and often the Sire de Baudricourt, one of the captains
in the service of the King of France, would ask her
if there were anyone he could kill for her that day,
by way of jest when there were churchmen present.
Saving the potentates among the higher clergy, with
whom Madame Imperia shrewdly held her merriment
in check, she led everyone by the nose, by virtue of
her nimble tongue and her fashion of loving, whereby
the most virtuous and coldest were caught fast as by
bird-lime. So she was as dearly loved and as re-
spected as the real great ladies and princesses, and
was called Madame. — Wherefore the good Emperor
Sigismond thus replied to a prudish dame who spoke
slightingly of her: "Let virtuous women cling to
the estimable customs of blessed virtue, and Madame
Imperia to the charming transgressions of the god-
dess Venus." — Christian words whereat the ladies
most wrongfully took offence.

Philippe, therefore, thinking of the delectable
feast his eyes had had overnight, suspected that
there would be nothing more for. him. Whereat he
grieved; and, neither eating nor drinking, wandered
through the town, awaiting the hour; and he was so
gallant and coquettish that other charmers would have
been less inaccessible than was Madame Imperia.

When night came, the comely little Tourainer,
puffed out with pride, caparisoned with desires, and
impelled by the Alack-a-days which suffocated him,
glided like an eel to the abode of the real queen of
the Council; for to her all the authority, learning,



16 CONTES DROLATIQUES

and virtue of Christendom bent the knee. The
maitre d'hotel knew him not and would have cast
him out, but the tire-woman called from the stair-
top:

" Hola, Messire Imbert, 'tis madame's little one!"
And poor Philippe, red as a wedding-night, mounted
the spiral stair, stumbling with joy in his good-for-
tune. The maid took him by the hand and led him to
the room where madame was in state, already painted
for the fray, gallantly arrayed like a brave woman
who hopes for the best. The resplendent Imperia
sat at a table covered with a velvety cloth worked
in gold, and with all the paraphernalia of a joyous
carouse. Flagons of wine, thirsty goblets, bottles
of hippocras, stone jars full of good Cyprus, dishes
filled with sweetmeats, roasted peacocks, green
sauces, little salted hams, would have gladdened the
gallant's eyes, had he loved Madame Imperia less.
She saw plainly that her little monk had eyes for
her alone. Albeit well used to the dazzling devo-
tion of churchmen, she was well pleased, inas-
much as she had fallen in love the night before with
the poor boy, who had played havoc in her heart
all day. The shutters had been closed. Madame
was kindly disposed and apparelled as if to do honor
to a prince of the Empire. And so the rascal, beat-
ified by Imperia's sacrosanct beauty, knew full well
that neither Emperor, burgrave, nay, not even a
cardinal about to be chosen Pope, would prevail that
evening against him, humble priest that he was,
who, in his poor lodging, sheltered only the devil



THE FAIR IMPERIA 17

and love. He assumed a lordly air and strut as he
saluted her with a courtesy in nowise ridiculous;
and thereupon the lady said to him, making him
welcome with a burning glance:

" Sit beside me, that I may see if you are changed
since yesterday."

" Oh, yes!" he rejoined.

" How so?" queried she.

"Yesterday," replied slyboots, " I loved you.
To-night we love each other; and I, who was then
a poor, unhappy wretch, have become richer than a
king."

"Oh! boy! boy!" she cried in high glee, "thou
art changed, indeed, for thou wert a young monk,
and well I see that thou hast become an old devil."

And they sat themselves down cheek by jowl
before a blazing fire, which scattered their bliss in
all directions. Nor did they advance beyond the
point of being ready to eat, because they thought
only of billing and cooing with their eyes, nor
touched the dishes. As they were at last installed
in comfort and contentment, there arose a hateful
clamor at madame's door, as if people were fighting
and shouting there.

" Madame," said the tire-woman, hastily entering,
"there is another — "

" Who?" she cried, haughtily as a tyrant, angered
at the interruption.

" The Bishop of Coire would speak with you — "

" May the devil curry him!" she retorted, with a
melting glance at Philippe.



18 CONTES DROLATIQUES

" He saw the light through the crack, madame,
and is making a great outcry."

" Say to him that I have the fever, and you will
not say false, for I am ill with this little monk, who
is fluttering about in my brain."

But, as she finished speaking, and devoutly pressed
Philippe's hand, whose blood was boiling beneath
his skin, the stout Bishop of Coire appeared, all
breathless and wrathful. His lackeys followed,
bearing upon a golden plate a trout of the canon-
ical salmon hue, freshly taken from the Rhine;
spices, too, in marvellous dishes, and delicacies of
all sorts, as liqueurs and preserves made by the
holy nuns in his abbeys.

"Ah! ah!" he exclaimed in his hoarse voice, "I
have my appointed time to spend with the devil,
and you need not cause me to be flayed by him
beforehand, my love."

" Your belly will make a fine scabbard for a
sword some day!" she retorted, knitting her brows,
which, but now lovely and engaging, became fierce
enough to make one quake.

"And this choir-boy, comes he to the offertory
thus early?" queried the bishop, insolently turning
his broad, florid face toward the comely Philippe.

" Monseigneur, 1 am here to confess madame."

" Oho! dost thou not know the canons? To con-
fess ladies at this hour of the night is a function
reserved for bishops. Now, begone, go and feed
with simple monks, and return here no more on
pain of excommunication."



THE FAIR IMPERIA 19

"Do not stir!" roared Imperia, more lovely with
anger than she had been with love, for now there
were both love and anger in her beauty. " Stay,
my friend, you are at home here!"

Thereupon, he knew that she really loved him.

" Is it not set down in the breviary and taught by
the Church that you shall be equal before God in the
valley of Jehosaphat?" she asked the bishop.

" That is an invention of the devil, who has
changed the text of the Bible; but it is written,"
replied the great clown of a bishop, in haste to sit
at table.

" Even so; therefore be ye equal before me, who
am your goddess here on earth," retorted Imperia;
" else will I cause you to be strangled delicately
some day between your head and your shoulders! I
swear it by the omnipotence of my tonsure, which
is worth no less than the Pope's!"

And, desiring that the trout, likewise the gold
plate, the sweetmeats and their receptacles, should
grace the board, she added craftily:

" Be seated and drink."

But the sly minx, who had been in such deviltry
before, winked at her lover to signify that he need
have no anxiety concerning the German, for the


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacComédie humaine; (Volume 52) → online text (page 1 of 20)