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Title: The Story Of The Duchess Of Cicogne And Of Monsieur De Boulingrin - 1920
Author: France, Anatole, 1844-1924
Language: English
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From "The Seven Wives Of Bluebeard & Other Marvellous Tales"

By Anatole France

Translated by D. B. Stewart

Edited By James Lewis May And Bernard Miall

John Lane Company MCMXX


THE story of the Sleeping Beauty is well known; we have excellent
accounts of it, both in prose and in verse. I shall not undertake to
relate-it again; but, having become acquainted with several memoirs of
the time which have remained unpublished, I discovered some anecdotes
relating to King Cloche and Queen Satine, whose daughter it was that
slept a hundred years, and also to several members of the Court who
shared the Princess's sleep. I propose to communicate to the public such
portions of these revelations as have seemed to me most interesting.

After several years of marriage, Queen Satine gave the King, her
husband, a daughter who received the names of Paule-Marie-Aurore. The
baptismal festivities were planned by the Duc des Hoisons, grand master
of the ceremonies, in accordance with a formulary dating from the
Emperor Honorius, which was so mildewed and so nibbled by rats that it
was impossible to decipher any of it.

There were still fairies in those days, and those who had titles used
to go to Court. Seven of them were invited to be god-mothers, Queen
Titania, Queen Mab, the wise Vivien, trained by Merlin in the arts of
enchantment, Melusina, whose history was written by Jean d'Arras, and
who became a serpent every Saturday (but the baptism was on a Sunday),
Urgèle, White Anna of Brittany, and Mourgue who led Ogier the Dane into
the country of Avalon.

They appeared at the castle in robes of the colour of time, of the sun,
of the moon, and of the nymphs, all glittering with diamonds and pearls.
As all were taking their places at table an old fairy called Alcuine,
who had not been invited, was seen to enter.

"Pray do not be annoyed, madame," said the King, "that you were not of
those invited to this festivity; it was believed that you were either
dead or enchanted."

Since the fairies grew old, there is no doubt that they used to die.
They all died in time, and everybody knows that Melusina became a
kitchen wench in Hell. By means of enchantment they could be imprisoned
in a magic circle, a tree, a bush, or a stone, or changed into a statue,
a hind, a dove, a footstool, a ring, or a slipper. But as a fact it was
not because they thought her dead or enchanted that they had not invited
the fairy Alcuine; it was because her presence at the banquet had been
regarded as contrary to etiquette. Madame de Maintenon was able to state
without the least exaggeration that "there are no austerities in the
convents like those to which Court etiquette subjects the great." In
accordance with his sovereign's royal wish the Duc des Hoisons had not
invited the fairy Alcuine, because she had one quartering of nobility
too few to be admitted to Court. When the Ministers of State represented
that it was of the utmost importance to humour this powerful and
vindictive fairy, of whom they would make a dangerous enemy if they
excluded her from the festivities, the King replied in peremptory tones
that she could not be invited, as she was not qualified by birth.

This unhappy monarch, even more than his predecessors, was a slave to
etiquette. His obstinacy in subordinating the greatest interests and
most urgent duties to the smallest exigencies of an obsolete ceremonial,
had more than once caused serious loss to the monarchy, and had involved
the realm in formidable perils. Of all these perils and losses, those
to which Cloche had exposed his house by refusing to stretch a point
of etiquette in favour of a fairy, without birth, yet formidable and
illustrious, were by no means the hardest to foresee, nor was it least
urgent to avert them.

The aged Alcuine, enraged by the contempt to which she had been
subjected, bestowed upon the Princess Aurore a disastrous gift. At
fifteen years of age, beautiful as the day, this royal child was to die
of a fatal wound, caused by a spindle, an innocent weapon in the hands
of mortal women, but a terrible one when the three spinstress Sisters
twist and coil thereon the thread of our destinies and the strings of
our hearts.

The seven godmothers could modify, but could not annul Alcuine's decree,
and thus the fate of the Princess was determined. "Aurore will prick her
hand with a spindle; she will not die of it, but will fall into a sleep
of a hundred years, from which the son of a king will come to arouse


ANXIOUSLY the King and Queen consulted, in respect of the decree
pronounced upon the Princess in her cradle, all persons of learning and
judgment, notably Monsieur Gerberoy, perpetual secretary of the Academy
of Sciences, and Dr. Gastinel, the Queen's accoucheur. "Monsieur
Gerberoy," Satine inquired, "can one really sleep a hundred years?"
"Madame," answered the Academician, "we have examples of sleep, more or
less prolonged, some of which I can relate to Your Majesty. Epimenides
of Cnossos was born of the loves of a mortal and a nymph. While yet a
child he was sent by Dosiades, his father, to watch the flocks in
the mountains. When the warmth of midday enveloped the earth, he laid
himself down in a cool, dark cave, and there he fell into a slumber
which lasted for fifty-seven years. He studied the virtues of the
plants, and died, according to some, at the age of a hundred and
fifty-four years; according to others at the age of two hundred and

"The story of the seven sleepers of Ephesus is related by Theodore
and Rufinus, in a manuscript sealed with two silver seals. Briefly
expounded, these are the principal facts. In the year 25 of our Lord,
seven of the officers of the Emperor Decius, who had embraced the
Christian religion, distributed their goods to the poor, retired to
Mount Celion, and there all seven fell asleep in a cave. During the
reign of Theodore the Bishop of Ephesus found them there, blooming like
roses. They had slept for one hundred and forty-four years.

"Frederick Barbarossa is still asleep. In the crypt beneath a ruined
castle, in the midst of a dense forest, he is seated before a table
round which his beard has twisted seven times. He will awake to drive
away the crows which croak around the mountain.

"These, madame, are the greatest sleepers of whom History has kept a

"They are all exceptions," answered the Queen. "You, Monsieur Gastinel,
who practise medicine, have you ever seen people sleep a hundred years?"

"No, madame," replied the accoucheur, "I have not exactly seen any such,
nor do I ever expect to do so; but I have seen some curious cases of
lethargy, which, if you desire, I will bring to Your Majesty's notice.

"Ten years ago a demoiselle Jeanne Caillou, being admitted to the
Hôtel-Dieu, there slept for six consecutive years. I myself observed the
girl Léonide Montauciel, who fell asleep on Easter Day in the year '61,
and did not awake until Easter Day of the following year."

"Monsieur Gastinel," demanded the King, "can the point of a spindle
cause a wound which will send one to sleep for a hundred years?"

"Sire, it is not probable," answered Monsieur Gastinel, "but in the
domain of pathology, we can never say with certainty, 'This will or will
not happen.'"

"One might mention Brunhild," said Monsieur Gerberoy, "who was pricked
by a thorn, fell asleep, and was awakened by Sigurd."

"There was also Guenillon," said the Duchess of Cicogne, first
lady-in-waiting to the Queen. And she hummed:

     She was sent to the wood
     To gather some nuts,
     The bush was too high,
     The maid was too small.

     The bush was too high,
     The maid was too small,
     She pricked her poor hand
     With a very sharp thorn.

     She pricked her poor hand
     With a very sharp thorn,
     From the pain in her finger
     The maid fell asleep.

"What are you thinking of, Cicogne?" said the Queen. "You are singing."

"Your Majesty will forgive me," replied the Duchess. "It was to ward off
the bad luck."

The King issued an edict, whereby all persons were forbidden under
pain of death to spin with spindles, or even to have spindles in their
possession. All obeyed. They still used to say in the country districts:
"The spindles must follow the mattock," but it was only by force of
habit. The spindles had disappeared.


MONSIEUR DE LA ROCHECOUPÉE, the Prime Minister who, under the feeble
King Cloche, governed the kingdom, respected popular beliefs, as all
great statesmen respect them. Caesar was Pontifex Maximus, and Napoleon
had himself crowned by the Pope. Monsieur de La Rochecoupée admitted
the power of the fairies. He was by no means sceptical, by no means
incredulous. He did not suggest that the prediction of the seven
godmothers was false. But, being helpless, he did not allow it to
disturb him. His temperament was such that he did not worry about evils
which he was impotent to remedy. In any case, so far as could be judged,
the occurrence foretold was not imminent. Monsieur de La Rochecoupée
viewed events as a statesman, and statesmen never look beyond the
present moment. I am speaking of the shrewdest and most far-sighted.
After all, supposing one day the King's daughter did fall asleep for a
hundred years, it was, in his eyes, purely a family matter, seeing that
women were excluded from the throne by the Salic Law.

He had, as he said, plenty of other fish to fry. Bankruptcy, hideous
bankruptcy was ever present, threatening to consume the wealth and the
honour of the nation. Famine was raging in the kingdom, and millions of
unfortunate wretches were eating plaster instead of bread. That year the
opera ball was more brilliant and the masques finer than ever.

The peasantry, artisans, and shopkeepers, and the girls of the theatre,
vied with one another in grieving over the fatal curse inflicted by
Alcuine upon the innocent Princess. The lords of the Court, on the
contrary, and the princes of the blood royal, appeared very indifferent
to it. And there were on all hands men of business and students of
science who did not believe in the award of the fairies, for the very
good reason that they did not believe in fairies.

Such a one was Monsieur Boulingrin, Secretary of State for the Treasury.
Those who ask how it was possible that he should not believe in them
since he had seen them are unaware of the lengths to which scepticism
can go in an argumentative mind. Nourished on Lucretius, imbued with
the doctrines of Epicurus and Gassendi, he often provoked Monsieur de La
Rochecoupée by the display of a cold disbelief in fairies.

The Prime Minister would say to him: "If not for your own sake, be a
believer for that of the public. Seriously, my dear Boulingrin, that
there are moments when I wonder which of us two is the more credulous in
respect of fairies. I never think of them, and you are always talking of

Monsieur de Boulingrin dearly loved the Duchess of Cicogne, wife of the
ambassador to Vienna, first lady-in-waiting to the Queen, who belonged
to the highest aristocracy of the realm; a witty woman, somewhat lean,
and a trifle close, who was losing her income, her estates, and her very
chemise at faro. She showed much kindness to Monsieur de Boulingrin,
lending herself to an intercourse for which she had no temperamental
inclination, but which she thought suitable to her rank, and useful to
her interests. Their intrigue was conducted with an art which revealed
their good taste, and the elegance of the prevailing morality;
the connection was openly avowed, and thereby stripped of all base
hypocrisy; but it was at the same time so reserved in appearance that
even the severest critics saw no cause for censure in it.

During the time which the Duchess yearly spent on her estate, Monsieur
de Boulingrin used to stay in an old pigeon-house, separated from his
friend's château by a sunken road, which skirted a marsh, where by night
the frogs among the reeds tuned their diligent voices.

Now, one evening when the last rays of the setting sun were dying the
stagnant water with the hue of blood, the Secretary of State for the
Treasury saw at the cross-roads three young fairies who were dancing in
a circle and singing:

     "Trois filles dedans un pré
          Mon coeur vole
          Mon coeur vole
     Mon coeur vole à votre gré."

They enclosed him within their circle, and their light and airy forms
sped swiftly about him. Their faces, in the twilight, were dim and
transparent; their tresses shone like the will-o'-the-wisp. They

"Trois filles dedans un pré!" until, dazed and ready to fall, he begged
for mercy.

Then said the most beautiful, opening the circle:

"Sisters, give leave to Monsieur de Boulingrin to pass, that he may go
to the castle, and kiss his ladylove."

He went on without having recognized the fairies, the mistresses of
men's destinies, and a little farther on he met three old beggar women,
who were walking bowed low over their sticks; their faces were like
three apples roasted in the cinders. From their rags protruded bones
which had more dirt than flesh upon them. Their naked feet ended in
fleshless toes of immoderate length, like the bones of an ox-tail.

As soon as they saw him approaching they smiled upon him and threw him
kisses; they stopped him on his way, calling him their darling, their
love, their pet, and covered him with caresses which he was powerless
to evade, for the moment he made a movement to escape, they dug into his
flesh the sharp claws at the tips of their fingers.

"Isn't he handsome? Isn't he lovely?" they sighed.

For some time they raved on, begging him to love them. Then, seeing they
could not rouse his senses, which were frozen with horror, they covered
him with abuse, hammered him with their staves, threw him on the ground
and trod him underfoot. Then, when he was crushed, broken, aching, and
crippled in every limb, the youngest, who was at least eighty years
of age, squatted upon him and treated him in a manner too infamous to
describe. He was almost suffocated; immediately afterwards the other
two, taking the place of the first, treated the unfortunate gentleman in
the same way.

Finally all three made off, saluting him with: "Good night, Endymion!"
"To our next meeting, Adonis!" "Good-bye, beautiful Narcissus!" and left
him swooning.

When he came back to his senses, a toad near him was whistling
deliciously like a flute, and a cloud of mosquitoes were dancing before
the moon. He rose with great difficulty and limpingly pursued his

Once again Monsieur de Boulingrin had failed to recognize the fairies,
mistresses of the destinies of men.

The Duchess of Cicogne awaited him impatiently.

"You come very late, my friend," she said.

He answered, as he kissed her fingers, that it was very kind of her to
reproach him. His excuse was that he had been somewhat unwell.

"Boulingrin," she said, "sit down there."

And she confided to him that she would be very happy to accept from
the royal treasury a present of two thousand crowns, as a fitting
compensation for the unkindness of fate, faro having for the last six
months been terribly against her.

Informed that the matter was urgent, Boulingrin wrote immediately to
Monsieur de La Rochecoupée to ask for the necessary sum of money.

"La Rochecoupée will be delighted to obtain it for you," he said. "He
is a helpful person and takes pleasure in serving his friends. I may add
that in him one perceives greater talents than are commonly seen in the
favourites of Princes. He has taste, and a head for business; but he
is lacking in philosophy. He believes in fairies, relying on his

"Boulingrin," said the Duchess, "you stink like a tom-cat."


SEVENTEEN years, day by day, had elapsed since the fairies' decree. The
Princess was as beautiful as a star. The King, Queen, and Court were
in residence at the rural palace of Eaux-Perdues. Need I relate what
happened then? It is well known how the Princess Aurore, wandering one
day through the castle, came to the top of a keep, where, in a garret,
she found a dear old woman, all alone, plying her distaff. She had never
heard of the King's regulations, forbidding the use of spindles.

"What are you doing, my good woman?" asked the Princess.

"I am spinning, my dear child," replied the old woman, who did not
recognize her.

"Ah, how pretty it looks," replied the Princess. "How do you do it? Give
it to me, that I may see if I can do it as well."

No sooner had she picked up the spindle, than she pricked her hand with
it, and fell swooning.{*} King Cloche, when he heard that the fairies'
decree had been accomplished, ordered that the sleeping Princess should
be placed in the Blue Chamber, on a bed of azure embroidered with
silver. Shocked, and full of consternation, the courtiers made ready to
weep, practised sighing, and assumed an expression of deep affliction.
Intrigues were formed in every direction; it was reported that the King
had discharged his Ministers. The blackest calumnies were hatched. It
was said that the Duc de La Rochecoupée had concocted a draught to
send the Princess to sleep, and that Monsieur de Boulingrin was his

     * Contes de Perrault, édition Aadré Lefevre, p. 86-108

The Duchess of Cicogne climbed the secret staircase to the chambers of
her old friend, whom she found in his night-cap, smiling, for he was
reading _La Fiancée du roi de Garbe_.

Cicogne told him the news, and how the Princess was lying on a blue bed
in a state of lethargy.

The Secretary of State listened attentively.

"You do not believe, I hope, my dear friend, that the fairies have
anything to do with it?" he said.

For he did not believe in fairies, although three of them, ancient and
venerable, had overpowered him with their love and their staves, and had
drenched him to the skin in a disgusting liquid, in order to prove their
existence to him. The defect of the experimental method pursued by
these ladies is that the experiment was addressed to the senses, whose
testimony one can always challenge.

"The fairies have had everything to do with it!" cried the Duchess. "The
Princess's accident may have the most unfortunate results for you and
for me. People will not fail to attribute it to the incapacity of the
Ministers, and possibly to their malevolence. Can one tell how far
calumny may reach? You are already accused of niggardliness. According
to what is being said, you refused, on my advice, to pay for warders for
the young and unfortunate Princess. Worse than that, there are rumours
of black magic, of casting spells. The storm has got to be faced. Show
yourself, or you are lost!"

"Calumny," said Boulingrin, "is the curse of this world. It has killed
the greatest of men. Whoever honestly serves his King must make up his
mind to pay tribute to that crawling, flying horror."

"Boulingrin," said Cicogne, "get dressed." And she snatched off his
night-cap, and threw it down by the bed-side.

A few minutes later they were in the antechamber of the apartment in
which Aurore was sleeping, and seating themselves on a bench they waited
to be introduced.

Now at the news that the decree of the Fates had been accomplished, the
fairy Vivien, one of the Princess's godmothers, repaired in great haste
to Eaux-Perdues, and in order that when she awoke her god-daughter
should have a Court she touched every one in the castle with her ring.
"Governesses, maids of honour, women of the bedchamber, noblemen,
officers, grooms of the chamber, cooks, scullions, messengers, guards,
beadles, pages, and footmen; she also touched the horses in the stables,
the grooms, the great mastiffs in the yard, and little Pouffe, the
Princess's lap-dog, which lay near her upon her bed. The very spits
in front of the fire, loaded with pheasants and partridges, went to

     * Contes de Perrault, édition Aadré Lefevre, p. 87

Meanwhile, Cicogne and Boulingrin waited side by side upon their bench.

"Boulingrin," whispered the Duchess in her old friend's ear, "does it
not seem to you that there is something suspicious in this business?
Don't you suspect an intrigue on the part of the King's brothers to get
the poor man to abdicate? He is well known as a good father. They may
well have wished to throw him into despair."

"It is possible," answered the Secretary of State. "In any case
the fairies have nothing whatever to do with the matter. Only old
countrywomen can still believe these cock-and-bull stories."

"Be quiet, Boulingrin," said the Duchess. "There is nothing so hateful
as a sceptic. He is an impertinent person who laughs at our simplicity.
I detest strong-minded people; I believe what I ought to believe; but in
this particular case, I suspect a dark intrigue."

At the moment when Cicogne spoke these words, the fairy Vivien touched
them both with her ring, and sent them to sleep like the rest.


IN a quarter of an hour there grew all round about the park such an
immense quantity of trees, large and small, with thorns and briars
interlaced,-that neither man nor beast could pass; so that only the
tops of the castle towers could be seen, and these only from a long
way off.{*} Once, twice, thrice, fifty, sixty, eighty, ninety, and a
hundred times did Urania close the circle of Time: the Sleeping Beauty
and her Court, with Boulingrin beside the Duchess on the bench in the
antechamber, still slept on.

     * Contes de Perrault, pp. 87-88.

Whether one regard Time as a mode of the unique substance, whether it be
defined as one of the forms of the conscious ego, or an abstract phase
of the immediate externality, or whether one regard it purely as a law,
a relation resulting from the progression of Reality, we can affirm that
one hundred years is a certain space of time.


EVERY one knows the end of the enchantment, and how, after a hundred
terrestrial cycles, a prince favoured by the fairies penetrated the
enchanted wood, and reached the bed where slept the Princess. He was a
little German princeling, with a pretty moustache, and rounded hips. As
soon as she woke up, she fell, or rather rose so much in love, that she
followed him to his little principality in such a hurry that she never
said a word to the people of her household, who had slept with her for a
hundred years.

Her first lady-in-waiting was quite touched thereby, and exclaimed with
admiration: "I recognize the blood of my kings." Boulingrin woke up
beside the Duchess de Cicogne at the same time as the Princess and all
her household. As he rubbed his eyes, his mistress said: "Boulingrin,
you have been asleep." "Not at all, dear lady, not at all." He spoke in
good faith. Having slept without dreaming for a hundred years, he did
not know that he had been asleep.

"I have been so little asleep," he said, "that I can repeat what you
said a minute ago."

"Well, what did I say?"

"You said, 'I suspect a dark intrigue.'"

As soon as it awoke, the whole of the little Court was discharged; every
one had to fend for himself as best he could.

Boulingrin and Cicogne hired from the castle steward an old
seventeenth-century trap drawn by an animal which was already very aged
before it went to sleep for a hundred years, and drove to the station of
Eaux-Perdues, where they caught a train which, in two hours, deposited
them in the capital of the country. Great was their surprise at all
that they saw and heard. But by the end of a quarter of an hour they had
exhausted their astonishment, and nothing surprised them any more. As
for themselves, nobody took the slightest interest in them. Their story
was perfectly incomprehensible, and awakened no curiosity, for our minds
are not interested in anything that is too obvious, or too difficult to

As one may well believe, Boulingrin had not the remotest idea what had
happened to him. But when the Duchess said that it was not natural, he

"Dear lady, allow me to observe that you have been badly trained in
physics. Nothing exists which is not according to Nature."

There remained to them neither friends, relations, nor property. They
could not identify the position of their house. With the little money
they had they bought a guitar, and sang in the streets. By this means
they gained sufficient to support themselves. At night Cicogne staked
at manille, in the inns, the coppers that had been thrown her during
the day, while Boulingrin, with a bowl of warm wine in front of him,
explained to the company that it was ridiculous to believe in fairies.

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