These three stories, recently published in book form in France, are the only remaining fiction previously untranslated into English from the great French writer (1903-87) best known for her brilliant historical novels and for being the only woman thus far inducted into the AcadÇmie Franáaise. All three pieces were written between 1927 and 1930, when Yourcenar was in her 20s. An illuminating account of their composition and evaluation of their quality appear in a helpful foreword contributed by Yourcenar's biographer, Josyane Savigneau. The stories themselves, meanwhile, are a mixed lot. ``A Blue Tale'' surmounts its central stylistic gimmicka setting whose objects are virtually all shades and varieties of the title colorby bathing in sensuous description the fablelike story of a group of merchants who travel to a Middle Eastern island kingdom to seek a ``cave of sapphires'' and are accordingly punished for their greed. This reads like something out of the Arabian Nights and bears strong similarities to the contents of one of Yourcenar's best later books, her Oriental Tales. ``The First Evening'' is of interest chiefly because it was originally conceived by the author's father and mentor, Michel de Crayencour, and later revised and completed by Yourcenar. It's an analytical look at the wedding trip of a sophisticated older man and his virginal second wife disturbed by the husband's memories of the mistress he has abandoned. Here and there, Yourcenar's wry aphoristic voice is heard (``No doubt she thought him handsome. This lack of taste annoyed him''). ``The Evil Spell'' analyzes the relations among Italian villagers who appeal to a ``healer'' to cure a dying woman believed to have been cursed by her romantic rival. Neither the story's leftist political subtext nor its contrived specificity about peasant superstition rescues it from condescension and triviality. Apprentice work, and very uneven, but a welcome addition nevertheless to the distinctive oeuvre of an important modern writer.