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Pierrette   By: (1799-1850)

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To Mademoiselle Anna Hanska:

Dear Child, You, the joy of the household, you, whose pink or white pelerine flutters in summer among the groves of Wierzschovnia like a will o' the wisp, followed by the tender eyes of your father and your mother, how can I dedicate to you a story full of melancholy? And yet, ought not sorrows to be spoken of to a young girl idolized as you are, since the day may come when your sweet hands will be called to minister to them? It is so difficult, Anna, to find in the history of our manners and morals a subject that is worthy of your eyes, that no choice has been left me; but perhaps you will be made to feel how fortunate your fate is when you read the story sent to you by Your old friend, De Balzac.



At the dawn of an October day in 1827 a young fellow about sixteen years of age, whose clothing proclaimed what modern phraseology so insolently calls a proletary, was standing in a small square of Lower Provins. At that early hour he could examine without being observed the various houses surrounding the open space, which was oblong in form. The mills along the river were already working; the whirr of their wheels, repeated by the echoes of the Upper Town in the keen air and sparkling clearness of the early morning, only intensified the general silence so that the wheels of a diligence could be heard a league away along the highroad. The two longest sides of the square, separated by an avenue of lindens, were built in the simple style which expresses so well the peaceful and matter of fact life of the bourgeoisie. No signs of commerce were to be seen; on the other hand, the luxurious porte cocheres of the rich were few, and those few turned seldom on their hinges, excepting that of Monsieur Martener, a physician, whose profession obliged him to keep a cabriolet, and to use it. A few of the house fronts were covered by grape vines, others by roses climbing to the second story windows, through which they wafted the fragrance of their scattered bunches. One end of the square enters the main street of the Lower Town, the gardens of which reach to the bank of one of the two rivers which water the valley of Provins. The other end of the square enters a street which runs parallel to the main street.

At the latter, which was also the quietest end of the square, the young workman recognized the house of which he was in search, which showed a front of white stone grooved in lines to represent courses, windows with closed gray blinds, and slender iron balconies decorated with rosettes painted yellow. Above the ground floor and the first floor were three dormer windows projecting from a slate roof; on the peak of the central one was a new weather vane. This modern innovation represented a hunter in the attitude of shooting a hare. The front door was reached by three stone steps. On one side of this door a leaden pipe discharged the sink water into a small street gutter, showing the whereabouts of the kitchen. On the other side were two windows, carefully closed by gray shutters in which were heart shaped openings cut to admit the light; these windows seemed to be those of the dining room. In the elevation gained by the three steps were vent holes to the cellar, closed by painted iron shutters fantastically cut in open work. Everything was new. In this repaired and restored house, the fresh colored look of which contrasted with the time worn exteriors of all the other houses, an observer would instantly perceive the paltry taste and perfect self satisfaction of the retired petty shopkeeper.

The young man looked at these details with an expression of pleasure that seemed to have something rather sad in it; his eyes roved from the kitchen to the roof, with a motion that showed a deliberate purpose... Continue reading book >>

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