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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850)

A Slight Misunderstanding

From “Droll Stories”

LOUIS XI had given the Abbey of Turpenay to a gentleman who, enjoying the revenue, had called himself M. de Turpenay. It happened that the king being at Plessis-les-Tours, the real abbot, who was a monk, came and presented himself before the king, and presented a petition, remonstrating with him that, canonically and monastically, he was entitled to the abbey, and that the usurping gentleman wronged him of his right, and therefore he called upon his Majesty to have justice done to him. Nodding his peruke, the king promised to render him contented. This monk, importunate as are all hooded animals, came often at the end of the king’s meals, who, bored with the holy water of the convent, called friend Tristan and said to him, “Old fellow, there is here a Turpenay who annoys me; rid the world of him for me.”

Tristan, taking a frock for a monk, or a monk for a frock, came to this gentleman, whom all the court called M. de Turpenay, and, having accosted him, managed to lead him on one side, then, taking him by the button-hole, gave him to understand that the king desired he should die. He tried to resist, supplicating and supplicating to escape, but in no way could he obtain a hearing. He was delicately strangled between the head and the shoulders, so that he expired; and, three hours afterward, Tristan told the king that he was despatched. It happened five days later, which is the space in which souls come back again, that the monk came into the room where the king was, and when he saw him he was much astonished. Tristan was present; the king called him, and whispered into his ear:

“You have not done what I told you to.”

“Saving your Majesty, I have done it. Turpenay is dead.”

“Eh? I meant this monk.”

“I understood the gentleman!”

“What, it is done, then?”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“Very well, then”—turning toward the monk—“come here, monk.” The monk approached. The king said to him, “Kneel down.” The poor monk began to shiver in his shoes. But the king said to him, “Thank God that He has not willed that you should be executed as I had ordered. He who took your estates has been instead. God has done you justice. Go and pray to God for me, and don’t stir out of your convent.”

This proves the good-heartedness of Louis XI. He might very well have hanged the monk, the cause of the error. As for the aforesaid gentleman, it was given out that he had died in the king’s service.