Famous Stories from Foreign Countries/The Little Blanchefleure

Rudolf Hans Bartsch4025392Famous Stories From Foreign Countries — The Little Blanchefleure1921Edna Worthley Underwood




Rudolf Hans Bartsch is the Austrian writer who won the attention of world critics so quickly by the three books—Vom sterbenden Rokoko, Elizabeth Kött, and Zwölf aus der Steiermark.

In Vellhagen and Klasing’s Monthly, Dr. Carl Busse says of him: “Because he is such a creator—by the grace of God—while all that he writes is so genuine that it seems to have come from some divine source, we love this Austrian writer. No story teller, of to-day surpasses him in depth of contents, and charm and grace of surface. Few possess such natural gifts.”

The story we give is from Vom sterbenden Rokoko, a book in which he paints powerful and delightful pictures of the 18th Century.


My friend Franeli Thaller from Solathurn, was telling me about an old picture.

From the second hand dealer, Hirschli, by the Hafnersteg, I bought a picture of the little Marquise Blanchefleure, who, with a great part of the French nobility—in that year of bad taste, 1792—lost her charming head. Here in the picture she has her head; and that head has a high coiffure, and astonishingly arched eyebrows—just as if they had been drawn by the brush of Watteau—and a merry looking little face. She is charming, and she fills my heart with longing.

You do not know anything about the little Marquise Blanchefleure, do you, who was always right? You do not know anything, of course, do you, of the ridiculous passion of my great grandfather, the Swiss, Thaller, whose portrait in enamel hangs just below hers, nor of the foolish actions of the Jacobins, those people devoid of all taste and charm?


Well, the little Marquise Blanchefleure was always right. She was right to come into this world as a duchess. Remote blood of Savoy—although somewhat far down in the list of rank of Versailles—but still she was a little duchess, who one day would blossom out into the merriest Marquise in the Court of the King. She was right that she was better than all other creatures in her father’s castles, villages and estates; better than the music and dance teacher, the overseer, peasant, maid, ass, ox, serf, and all else that was there. She lived laughing and merry, and the world bent before her beauty and splendor. Just as the wind sweeps over grain fields, making them bow and bend, so crowds of people bent before her; compliments en mille. She was right to marry Marquis Massimel de la Réole de Courtroy, over whose stupidity the court laughed so that he became indispensable to the king, and was always present at his lever to ensure good humor for the day. She had lovers in plenty, men rich enough to gratify all the caprices of a Blanchefleure.

Her laughing habit of command is illustrated by the following incident. Every one knows that in the French army it was forbidden—under penalty of death—to sing the kuhreihen. The reason was because the awkward German children of the Alps—when they heard it sung or played—would either run away like a herd of cattle, or die of homesickness.

Zu Strasburg auf der Schanz,
Da ging mein Trau’ren an, . . .
Das Alphorn hört ich druhen wohl austimmen,
Ins Vaterland muszt ich hinüber schwimmen,—
Das ging nicht an.

And my great, great, grandfather, Primus Thaller, sang the kuhreihen in the midst of the streets of Paris! He stood in the courtyard of the Swiss barracks, where the sand is yellow and glowed in the light of the setting sun, and where the soldiers were getting ready to go into the city. This was the way it happened. He had just received a letter from America, from his brother Quintus, who was six years younger, and had been a drummer boy in the regiment of the Prince of Orleans. It was the typical letter of an eighteen year old boy who wrote enthusiastically of Lafayette, Washington, Freedom, and the rights of the individual. Young Quintus said that the Regiment of the Lilies would return to France; over their heads were invisible, prophetic tongues of fire, which, in France, would burst out into a great conflagration, great words; Freedom! Equality! Fraternity!

Great words? Freedom, equality? Then my poor, lonesome great grandfather thought how all this had existed in his own home country for hundreds of years—in Appenzell, from which village he had come with the hope of winning fame and gold. And he thought how they were bringing these ideas from America, across the sea, to proclaim them new and world astonishing, while in his own little home village, they flourished quietly. The great laws of the human race are cause neither for a great intoxication nor a great jubilation. They represent merely a careful estimating; for the great mass of humanity they are meat, bread, shelter, hearth, a little sunshine, and green grass, or hard labor, that the beast of destruction may sleep in safety.

In his home in Appenzell, they already had that which they whispered so carefully in Paris. He thought of his circumspect uncles, their cows and calves, their fields and Alps. It is surely the Paradise of the human race, my dear Switzerland, thought the sergeant—and—thus deep in thought, without knowing what he was doing, he sang the kuhreihen.

There it was and done for.

The news from America had put more rage into people’s hearts than my honest great, great grandfather Primus could estimate.

For a long time discipline in the army had been neglected. There were men of his own country in the regiment, and a dozen joined softly the refrain of my great grandfather’s song, so that the kuhreihen rang far and loud. No one had sung it before for decades, and therefore no one had been punished. But now it sounded quite differently than in the olden days. Not a song of exile and homesickness! No; now it was a song of defiance. They reveled, and shouted the song. But although my grandfather stole away when he saw they were destroying the spirit of his song, and although only a couple of Appenzell cow-herds ran away and deserted, he was the one who had started it. They arrested him. According to law, he must be punished with death. The death penalty was about the only thing that bound the subjects to their king in those days. I do not know of course whether it is the same way in other countries to-day.

It was the King’s duty to revive the punishment of the old law. At his lever he thought earnestly over the fate of my great grandfather, Primus. When the Marquis Massimel de la Réole de Courtroy approached him laughing merrily he said: “What shall we do with this fellow, Primus? He has brought into fashion an old piece of stupidity.” The Marquis did not really know about the subject of conversation, so he said impulsively: “Sire, if it is a question of fashion, why not turn it over to my wife to decide?”

The entire court laughed, and His Majesty, who was an agreeable person, laughed too. He had procured delay—which was pleasing to him—so the fate of my great, great grandfather rested in the charming hands of the little Marquise Blanchefleure, who at that moment was tying the ribbons of the morning cap of Marie Antoinette. The lever of this enchanting, frivolous Queen began an hour later, but the Marquis, as husband of his wife, and messenger of the king, was already there. In the meantime he had informed himself about the case of Primus Thaller, and explained it to the Queen and the Marquise. Madame Blanchefleure clapped delightedly her little hands. A Swiss! How charming! I beg the handsome King of France to give him to me, to build a Swiss dairy for me in La Réole, and an Alp, and get me some dappled cows.

The Queen laughed and agreed.

“He must get some real cow-bells, a grey coat with a red waistcoat, a shepherd’s hat, and blue ribbons the color of the sky. In June our Imperial Majesty will visit La Réole, and then, on top of the charming Alp which he has built, we will make him sing the kuhreihen, so all can hear it. Is not that true, beautiful Queen?”

The merry, frivolous Queen laughed and agreed, and the King pardoned my great, great grandfather, who had been the cause of such a joyful occurrence. Then Herr Primus had an audience with Madame Blanchefleure, in order to thank her for his life.

He had proved that he was useless as a soldier. He appeared before her in the little round hat, and the peasant clothes of Appenzell. Because of her curiosity and excitement over the situation, Madame Blanchefleure had cold hands and flaming cheeks. When the pitiful, awkward, grey figure of the poor cow-herd was ushered in, her breath stopped. She had pictured to herself a powerful revolutionist and popular agitator, whose words were flame, and here came a little commonplace law-book of citizens’ rights; good, honest, quiet, a regular—“You give me that and I’ll give you this.”

Can you make a guess as to what Madame Blanchefleure did? When he entered and said to her with great sincerity: “It was good of Your Grace to turn your attention to a poor fellow like me,” she looked at his face, because his clothes and his personal appearance were so unimportant. He had our grey, keen eyes, an honest, narrow face; high temples, thin nose; only youth gave a sort of gentleness to this unpleasant Cato-face. He was so unshakable and self-centered, that ten measures of wine could not change him, nor falling in love, nor the political upheavals of a period of revolution. He stood in front of her as the very symbol of reliability, with his two little legs spread wide apart—an old habit of the Swiss—inherited through generations. But she observed this commonplace little face and thought:

“I’ll bring him to the point where he shall say of me: elle me fait troubler.” This was the standpoint from which she regarded men.

“But listen to me,” she began amazed, “you! You have sung? But you do not look in the least like it.”

“I can not sing. I just came to thank you.”

“Then how could you sing your ranz de vaches?”

“Oh—it just came—from the inside of me.”

“Were you homesick?”

“No; I only just thought that Appenzell was better than Paris.”

“Good heavens! And you want to go away from here? What have we done to you? You are slighting us. We, we love you Swiss. You are the honest little mirror in which we see ourselves just as we are. O please say something rude to me!”

“I can’t! I don’t know you well enough.”

“O—then you don’t know Paris very well. How is it possible that no one has fallen in love with you here? In Paris—everyone is loved by some one. Even soldiers have sweethearts.. How can it be that our pretty children and women have not said a good word to you about Paris? You have a sweetheart, of course? Or you have several? Perhaps you have too many?”

But my good great grandfather had no sweetheart in Paris, although he was a sergeant. He always wanted one with a blond, sunny face, and that kind he could not find here. The eyes of Parisian women are twinkling stars shining over secret street corners; they always lure one around a comer. My great, great grandfather always walked straight ahead.

That he said to her, but of course in the better language which my honorable great grandfather spoke.

“Good Heaven!” declared Blanchefleure, “how could one make up to you? Perhaps I should try if I were not married.”

Poor Primus lifted his astonished grey eyes and looked at her, in order the better to penetrate the meaning behind the silk and ostrich feathers, glittering clothes, and gilded furniture. He looked deep and earnestly into the charming, tender little face, so expressive of unmixed joy, in the gay, opera setting from which it looked out.

He began to feel sad because she was married. She really resembled a sunbeam.

“Can’t you say anything at all?” begged Blanchefleure.

Krüzigts Herrgöttli!” stammered poor Primus.

“You say you might have tried it with me?”

“What?” she questioned delighted.

Then he spoke French again. “You ought not to play any jokes on a poor fellow like me.”

“No, of course not,” she laughed. “I was only going to say that it’s a misfortune for us both. Just think! I haven’t any real sweetheart now, and I’m just as deserted as you are.”

“But haven’t you the merry Marquis?”

“Why I’m married to him!” she almost sobbed, so convinced was she of her own misfortune. “Can you understand at all—you who are from Switzerland where every one chooses as he wishes, what it means to be born a Princess and to be sold according to appraisement?”

Ei, ja,” nodded Primus. “With us in Appenzell, no peasant who owned fifty cows would give his girl to a peasant who didn’t own so many. That is good for the family.”

“How is it?”

“Keeps them from becoming poor,”

“Are you very poor?”

“If I hadn’t been I wouldn’t have become a soldier.”

At this moment the little Marquise asked Herr Primus, if he would like to set up a dairy for her in La Réole—like those in his home, in Appenzell. My great grandfather twirled his round hat in his hand and fought the sternest battle of his life. His honest Swiss mind was interested in just one thing, how much gold he could get. Twice he began, looked up in the gay, sunshine face, and for the life of him, could not get the question out of his mouth. So he said yes without any conditions. He had even forgotten his Swiss reckoning in this charming interview. It would have been all over with him in Paris the first of May in the year 1789.


It was lucky for him that he never saw La Réole. Then a quiet tragedy would have passed over him and no one been the wiser except Madame Blanchefleure, who would have found it all very amusing. The terrible, prodigious Revolution prevented Madame from putting her charming plan into execution.

That great Lord, Marquis Massimel de la Réole de Courtroy, enjoyed the distinguished honor of having his head cut off, immediately after the amiable King, which occurrence—no matter what scorners may say—cost him his life. This act was one of the proofs of the equality of all men, because the Revolution said so. Madame Blanchefleure in spite of the sweetest of tears, together with hundreds of the friends who had idled with her in those golden gardens of Versailles, was imprisoned in the dungeon of the Temple, along with the flower of the nobility of witty, elegant France. Professors, academicians, fashionable painters, enchanting poets. In fact the choicest spirits of France were here. A company composed entirely of men of noble birth, of men of distinguished career, whose important heredity made them dangerous—(The Revolution had a sharp eye for just such people). An assembly such as only could be found in France—grace, wit, charm, superior habits of living.

It was a glorious thing, the way they amused themselves here, and the way they went to death. Madame Blanchefleure was as much at home with these distinguished spirits, as a butterfly which one shelters in a hot house from the cold of winter. The death sentence transforms commonplace people into sad figures of tragedy. But these people—the most finely constructed the world has ever seen—played it through like a comedy. They met death defiant and brave, with head erect—en rococo—just as they had lived.

And now about my great grandfather, Primus Thaller! Since that first of May he had not been able to forget little Blanchefleure, with the flower face. He thought at first that it was just gratitude on his part, and carried her picture about as a monk would the likeness of the Virgin. The great Revolution swept away, along with impertinent, merry Versailles, and the old nobility, every vestige of the plan for the dairy at La Réole. But the little Marquise remembered about honest Primus Thaller who nearly lost his life because of the ancient decree. He became an officer, a captain upon the spot. He was assigned to a regiment, all whose distinguished leaders had been killed, and in their places saloon keepers, errand boys, and street urchins had been put; in fact all the distinguished do-nothings who had been elevated by the Revolution. He did not feel very comfortable, but he took the money and that pleased him. But he kept thinking all the time: “I wonder what has become of little Blanchefleure?”

Then he heard that the Marquis had been beheaded, and that the little widow was in the dungeon of the Temple awaiting, perhaps, a similar end. Ah!—at that thought the winds of freedom began to riot in his heart! Now he knew that he was in love with her. Now she was a widow! Now she was poorer than a cow-girl of Appenzell; now he could marry her.

This logic surprised him as much as a mole hill in a meadow where the bees hum. His brother, who had once belonged to the regiment of the Prince of Orleans, did duty as watchman in the Temple.

Du Quinteli! is there with you imprisoned a young woman who wears a flowered silk, and three ostrich feathers in her hair?”

“No,” replied Lieutenant Quintus, who had once been drummer boy. “I haven’t seen any one like that! But perhaps she has taken off the flowered silk. What’s her name?”

Primus told her name and Quintus began to ponder.

“I know her very well—a tidy little woman who said to me one day: “The Americans do not understand anything of our fine life,” and as I was about to tickle her under the chin, thinking I knew something about it, she said: “A man has eyes and a dog has a nose, and that I was not as good as a dog. From America nothing good can come.”

Just then a noble gentleman, Vicque d’Azur was brought into the Temple. He had let the soldiers drag him along just any way, but now he heard the two brothers talking and declared:

“That is true—and it goes still deeper. One can despise this French Revolution, but one can not help but be afraid of that cold, American, little-shop-keeper way of thinking. A mind capable of forecasting facts might indeed make this prophecy: The cultivation of Europe will perish one day because of this shop-keeper thinking of the United States. Because of this unfortunate apeing, we shall become just one of America’s intellectual colonies; not much better than Greece since Mummius destroyed inelegant Rome. Our artists will become like those old ones—able only to wave broken wings of longing. The Americans will then visit with a holy abhorrence the ruins of our life, which was much too fine for them. Europe was original for the last time in May 1789.” When he had finished speaking the soldiers shoved him forward.

“Friends,” he said gently,—“I do not need any suggestions from hostlers,” and disappeared within the dungeon of the Temple.

“What does the fool mean?” queried Quintus.

Primus thought about it, but he couldn’t make it clear. Then he asked permission to speak to the little citizeness widow, Massimel.

“Go down into the cellar and find her,” laughed Quintus. “I don’t dare let her come out.”

When he reached the cellar he was amazed, because what he saw surpassed the power of the imagination. Soft, secretive sounds of violin, flute, and bass-viol flattered the ear, and slipped along the wet walls, like a little kitten on a silk dress. They were playing upon instruments that had been smuggled in. M.Miradoux, first violinist of the Royal Opera, had the violin; the flute, Vicomte Chantigny, whose breath could perform just such wonders as the breath of the west wind. With the tenor-viol the Strasburg canon, Avenarius, had grown humpbacked, and the contra bass was played by the celebrated Abbé Mervioli of Florence. A silver bribe—even under the Revolution—could bring golden music into the dungeons of the Temple.

The delicate serenade of Mozart!

It worked wonders here in the twilight dark—Palaces towered in their former royal splendor, and graciously listened to the amiable inspirations of the Salzburg Music-Lord. The old days came back, charmed into life, in defiance of the Marseillaise and Carmagnole. Around the dungeon walls sat noble lords in silk hose, and ladies in thread lace, elegant and aristocratic, in the midst of misery—these captives sacrificed to the fury of the mob. Knee crossed over knee, the great lords sat, and the ladies, graceful heads resting upon slender hands—nothing here but illustrious nobles. And over them floated the fragile melodies of Wolfgang Amadés, graceful and enchanting, like clouds of incense.

Near the end of the Alegro there comes a passage lovelier than all the rest of that lovely melody, as if suddenly the player had remembered a soft, little hand that stroked his cheek. When this passage came, Herr Primus heard behind him a whispered “Ah!” He whirled about—Blanchefleure. She held up one little hand as a signal that he should make no noise. Soon the music was over, and while the lords and ladies stopped to congratulate the players. Captain Thaller made his honorable proposal for the hand of the poor, pale, charming, little Blanchefleure. She listened to him with astonishingly arched and surprised brows, as he began, “Now you are a widow and just as poor as any cow-girl of Appenzell—thank God.”

Oh!” she exclaimed doubtfully—“Ah?

“Now we soldiers are the whole thing. The Revolution thought it annihilated the officer—and it made him the Lord God. I’ll take you out of this hole—Quintus will find a way to do it.”

“Wait,” said Blanchefleure—“there comes the minuet again.”

In fact the musicians began to play again that enchanting melody of the old days, dancing to which one said more with eyes and finger tips than the plebian waltz knows. And the frivolous crowd took their places for the dance.

“Perhaps it is the last minuet,” said apologetically Blanchefleure, with her graceful laugh. “I should never cease regretting not having danced it—with you, M. Captain.”

The poor young man looked down at her confused, as she took him by the hand.

“Don’t be afraid. We have now equality and fraternity. What—don’t you believe in them?”

The sweet, melancholy, coquettish dance of Frivolity which was about to die, began. It was the minuet from Don Giovanni, and they played it just before the stroke of fate—impertinent, frivolous and graceful as the music. As they approached, Primus Thaller continued with his honorable wooing. “I love you as no other and you must be my wife.”

The teasing, backward movement of this dance of coquetry carried Blanchefleure away from him. Her eyes laughed, but she said: “What foolish things you think of. You haven’t any taste, my Friend.”

Again the gentle rythm of the dance brought them together; their hands met. “You might have been my lover, down there, in the country—in La Réole, where the cow-bells preach of nature. I always had my season of return to nature.”

And she bent back and stepped away from him with coquettish grace, while the heart of poor Primus raged with flames, as if the great, destructive Revolution were confined within his own body. Again she danced back. “But to become Madame Thaller—my dear, good, honest Friend from Appenzell! What are you thinking of? One could, of course, kiss you—just for fun! Ah!—it is too bad we could not have played our comedy in La Réole. A stupid shame! Now we must renounce the kiss! unless you are willing to put up with kissing my hand?”

They had reached the place in the minuet, where—upon the stage—Zerlina destroys the sweet frivolity. And, although the gallant gentlemen, Miradoux, Vicomte Chantigny, Avenarius and Abbé Merivoli changed the music for a brief uninterrupted return to a merry da capo, Fate ordered the original setting. The door was thrown open and a harsh saloon keeper’s voice tore in shreds the flowery chains that bound their dream.

“You—there—citizens and citizenesses! Peace—in the name of the Republic!”

The dancers knew what this interruption meant. It was the daily reading of the names of those summoned to court—to hear their sentence read. Out of the Temple the road lay along a dark street, with only one little window of exit—into eternity—the guillotine. This time the name of the little citizeness Massimel was read.

“Here!” she called; but her face grew white.

“Are you thinking of my offer of marriage?” asked Primus Thaller stepping up behind her. The poor, pale Blanchefleure looked at him with terrified eyes, above which arched her amazing eyebrows.

“Ah!—God, my Friend!” she replied pensively. “You republicans can not even let us enjoy the dance. Over there in the corner sits my little maid, who insisted upon being imprisoned with me. Zénobe! Dance on with this young fellow! Please excuse me on account of this ridiculous interruption—and take her in my stead. She is a charming child. Adieu, my Friend!”

And M. Miradoux, the incorrigible of the ancien regime, began that enchanting melody of Mozart, softly, softly—laughing gently, the couples took their places as before. But little Zénobe did not dare to join them. She wept for terror, and my great grandfather did not care to dance with the little maid. He turned his back coldly on them all.

That was the memorable minuet which Captain Primus Thaller danced with the distinguished nobility of France. It was the last minuet of the rococo period, and its grace and sweetness was interrupted by the summons of the tribunal of the Jacobins. Captain Primus, with a heavy heart, climbed the stairs back to the daylight, and little Blanchefleure left the dungeon to appear before the tribunal.

The trial room was like a wine shop. Four or five rough men crouched about, dirty and evil of mind like savage peasant dogs.

“Citizeness Blanchefleure Massimel? Widow?” snarled one of them.

“If that is the way you wish—”

“Formerly of the court of citizeness Antoinette Capet?”

“Of whom are you speaking? The Queen, you should say!

“Ah!—should we? Write that down, Citizen Pouprac. She said Queen.”

“I think that is sufficient,” growled Pouprac. Then he looked up wickedly.

“Why do you laugh, Citizeness? You are insulting the court! Why do you laugh?”

“Good Heavens—how you look!” chattered poor, little Blanchefleure, her face turning deep red.

“When one wears such trousers—as you!” she covered her little face with her hands and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Pouprac glanced at his trousers which were made of red, white and blue cotton. They testified to his republican leanings.

He jumped up in a rage, and stood on his short, widespread tiger legs.

“You are condemned to death, Citizeness Massimel,” he roared. “You are condemned because you have insulted the flag of France!”

The little Marquise took her hands down from her face and looked at him. She sniffed with her little nose, and arched her brows.

You—you would judge me! Go wash yourself—and put on hose—before you can be of any service whatever to me!”

And she went away. They say she laughed upon the scaffold.

My great grandfather heard that she was not willing to have her hair cut off.

“Is that really necessary?” she asked. “The headsman can use my hair as a handle to hold my head up to show it to the crowd—as is the custom.”

When the Sans-culotte, in his huge apron, stood before her, she shrugged the sweetest little shoulders and declared: “I don’t care! I knew, of course, when you came to cut my head off, that you had no aesthetic sense. And I have always been right.”

After these last inspired words, she died, the poor, little, trembling woman. She died, and all they who would have wept for her were dead, too, or preparing to die.

So no one knew what became of beautiful Blanchefleure, who had always been right. And my poor, great grandfather he had never understood her. Only I—only I! I understand her, I who bought her picture from the second-hand dealer—as a sort of revenge upon them of a later day who did not care to be a great, great grandmother.

Lucky for her that she was not! She remained, instead, young—always young—and an object of love.

And I can love her as the honorable Primus Thaller loved her—only better; with more intelligence, with more aesthetic joy.

She was always right, and I long for her today.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1952, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 71 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1961, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 62 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse