One of my favourite authors is Ponson du Terrail. He really works best in his longer works – his tales that go on for thousands of pages. Very little of his work is in English. Here is something for those interested:
A TOSS-UP FOR A HUSBAND.
FROM THE FRENCH OF VISCOMTE PONSON DU TERRAIL.
THE Marchioness was at her toilet. Florine and Aspasia, her two ladies’ maids, were busy powdering, as it were with hoar-frost, the bewitching widow.
She was a widow, this Marchioness, a widow of twenty-three; and wealthy, as very few persons were any longer at the court of Louis XV., her godfather.
Three-and-twenty years earlier, his Majesty had held her at the baptismal font of the chapel at Marly, and had settled upon her an income of a hundred thousand livres, by way of proving to her father, the Baron Fontevrault, who had saved his life at the battle of Fontenoy, that Kings can be grateful, whatever people choose to say to the contrary.
The Marchioness then was a widow. She resided, during the summer, in a charming little chateau, situated half-way up the slope overhanging the water, on the road from Bougival to Saint Germain. Madame Dubarry’s estate adjoined hers; and on opening her eyes she could see, without rising, the white gable-ends and the wide-spreading chestnut-trees of Luciennes, perched upon the heights. On this particular day—it was noon—the Marchioness, whilst her attendants dressed her hair and arranged her head-dress with the most exquisite taste, gravely employed herself in tossing up, alternately, a couple of fine oranges, which crossed each other in the air, and then dropped into the white and delicate hand that caught them in their fall.
This sleight-of-hand—which the Marchioness interrupted at times whilst she adjusted a beauty-spot on her lip, or cast an impatient glance on the crystal clock that told how time was running away with the fair widow’s precious moments—had lasted for ten minutes, when the folding-doors were thrown open, and a valet, such as one sees now only on the stage, announced with pompous voice—“The King!”
Apparently, the Marchioness was accustomed to such visits, for she but half rose from her seat, as she saluted with her most gracious smile the personage who entered.
It was indeed Louis XV. himself—Louis XV. at sixty-five; but robust, upright, with smiling lip and beaming eye, and jauntily clad in a close-fitting, pearl-grey hunting-suit, that became him to perfection. He carried under his arm a handsome fowling-piece, inlaid with mother-of-pearl; a small pouch, intended for ammunition alone, hung over his shoulder.
The King had come from Luciennes, almost alone, that is to say with a Captain of the Guard, the old Marshal de Richelieu, and a single equerry on foot. He had been amusing himself with quail-shooting, loading his own gun, as was the fashion with his ancestors, the later Valois and the earlier Bourbons. His grandsire, Henry IV., could not have been less ceremonious.
But a shower of hail had surprised him; and his Majesty had no relish for it. He pretended that the fire of an enemy’s battery was less disagreeable than those drops of water, so small and so hard, that wet him through, and reminded him of his twinges of rheumatism.
Fortunately, he was but a few steps from the gateway of the chateau, when the shower commenced. He had come therefore to take shelter with his god-daughter, having dismissed his suite, and only keeping with him a magnificent pointer, whose genealogy was fully established by the Duke de Thchelieu, and traced back, with a few slips in orthography, directly to Nisus, that celebrated greyhound, given by Charles IX. to his friend Ronsard, the poet.
“Good morning, Marchioness,” said the King, as he entered, putting down his fowling-piece in a corner. “I have come to ask your hospitality. We were caught in a shower, at your gate—Richelien and I. I have packed off Richelieu.”
“Ah, Sire, that wasn’t very kind of you.”
“Hush I” replied the King, in a good-humored tone. “It’s only mid-day; and if the Marshal had forced his way in here at so early an hour, he would have bragged of it every where, this very evening. He is very apt to compromise one, and he is a great coxcomb too, the old Duke. But don’t put yourself out of the way, Marchioness. Let Aspasia finish this becoming pile of your head-dress, and Florine spread out with her silver knife the scented powder that blends so well with the lilies and the roses of your bewitching face . . . . Why, Marchioness, you’re so pretty, one could eat you up
“You think me so, Sire?”
“I tell you so every day. Oh, what fine oranges!”
And the King seated himself upon the roomy sofa, by the side of the Marchioness, whose rosy finger-tips he kissed with an infinity of grace. Then taking up one of the oranges that he had admired, he proceeded leisurely to examine it.
“But,” said he at length, “what are oranges doing by the side of your Chinese powder-box and your scent-bottles? Is there any connection between this fruit and the maintenance—easy as it is, Marchioness—of your charms?” Read the rest of this entry »