In this novella, the impecunious narrator (clearly a pretty undisguised Balzac himself), climbs onto the impériale, the top, outside seats on a couch heading into the countryside. He is joined by another young blade and they soon fall into an intimacy, after revealing that they both are romancing older, married women.
Enfin, après avoir fait nos maîtresses jeunes, charmantes, dévouées, comtesses, pleines de goût, spirituelles, fines ; après leur avoir donné de jolis pieds, une peau satinée et même doucement parfumée, nous nous avouâmes, lui, que madame une telle avait trente-huit ans, et moi, de mon côté, que j’adorais une quadragénaire.The bonding, based on shared tastes, is immediate.
Finally, after having made our mistresses as young, charming, dedicated, countess, tasteful, witty, fine, after giving them pretty feet, smooth skin and even gently perfumed, we confessed – he, that his Madame X was thirty-eight years old, and I, for my part, loved a forty-year old.
Suddenly, as the coach nears his destination, it overturns, and as the other man leaps in impatience jumps from the impériale, he is crushed. On his deathbed, he makes the narrator promise to bring his dying message to the mistress he was planning to visit, including returning compromising letters. The narrator also brings a lock cut from the young man’s hair.
He arrives, meets the cuckolded husband, the ravishing wife. E eventually, in a dream-like conversation when she enters his bedroom at night and wakes him, he delivers his friends’ last message, along with the letter, and the lock of hair. The woman secretly managed to give a welcome sum of money to the narrator inn thanks for his deed.
The story itself simple and, for Balzac, the characters just sketched. But the autobiographical links are obvious: Balzac was forever having affair with older married women, exploiting them financially, often several at the same time, The praise of women old enough to be their mothers by young lovers is the high point of the story, and the theme that persists through his fiction (and life).