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Title: Ursula
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ursula" ***

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URSULA


By Honore De Balzac


Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley



DEDICATION

  To Mademoiselle Sophie Surville,

  It is a true pleasure, my dear niece, to dedicate to you this
  book, the subject and details of which have won the
  approbation, so difficult to win, of a young girl to whom the
  world is still unknown, and who has compromised with none of
  the lofty principles of a saintly education. Young girls are
  indeed a formidable public, for they ought not to be allowed
  to read books less pure than the purity of their souls; they
  are forbidden certain reading, just as they are carefully
  prevented from seeing social life as it is. Must it not
  therefore be a source of pride to a writer to find that he has
  pleased you?

  God grant that your affection for me has not misled you. Who can tell?
  --the future; which you, I hope, will see, though not, perhaps.

  Your uncle,
  De Balzac.



URSULA



CHAPTER I. THE FRIGHTENED HEIRS

Entering Nemours by the road to Paris, we cross the canal du Loing, the
steep banks of which serve the double purpose of ramparts to the fields
and of picturesque promenades for the inhabitants of that pretty little
town. Since 1830 several houses had unfortunately been built on the
farther side of the bridge. If this sort of suburb increases, the place
will lose its present aspect of graceful originality.

In 1829, however, both sides of the road were clear, and the master of
the post route, a tall, stout man about sixty years of age, sitting one
fine autumn morning at the highest part of the bridge, could take in at
a glance the whole of what is called in his business a “ruban de queue.”
 The month of September was displaying its treasures; the atmosphere
glowed above the grass and the pebbles; no cloud dimmed the blue of the
sky, the purity of which in all parts, even close to the horizon, showed
the extreme rarefaction of the air. So Minoret-Levrault (for that was
the post master’s name) was obliged to shade his eyes with one hand to
keep them from being dazzled. With the air of a man who was tired of
waiting, he looked first to the charming meadows which lay to the
right of the road where the aftermath was springing up, then to the
hill-slopes covered with copses which extend, on the left, from Nemours
to Bouron. He could hear in the valley of the Loing, where the sounds on
the road were echoed back from the hills, the trot of his own horses and
the crack of his postilion’s whip.

None but a post master could feel impatient within sight of such
meadows, filled with cattle worthy of Paul Potter and glowing beneath
a Raffaelle sky, and beside a canal shaded with trees after Hobbema.
Whoever knows Nemours knows that nature is there as beautiful as art,
whose mission is to spiritualize it; there, the landscape has ideas and
creates thought. But, on catching sight of Minoret-Levrault an artist
would very likely have left the view to sketch the man, so original was
he in his native commonness. Unite in a human being all the conditions
of the brute and you have a Caliban, who is certainly a great thing.
Wherever form rules, sentiment disappears. The post master, a living
proof of that axiom, presented a physiognomy in which an observer could
with difficulty trace, beneath the vivid carnation of its coarsely
developed flesh, the semblance of a soul. His cap of blue cloth, with
a small peak, and sides fluted like a melon, outlined a head of vast
dimensions, showing that Gall’s science has not yet produced its chapter
of exceptions. The gray and rather shiny hair which appeared below the
cap showed that other causes than mental toil or grief had whitened
it. Large ears stood out from the head, their edges scarred with the
eruptions of his over-abundant blood, which seemed ready to gush at the
least exertion. His skin was crimson under an outside layer of
brown, due to the habit of standing in the sun. The roving gray eyes,
deep-sunken, and hidden by bushy black brows, were like those of the
Kalmucks who entered France in 1815; if they ever sparkled it was
only under the influence of a covetous thought. His broad pug nose was
flattened at the base. Thick lips, in keeping with a repulsive double
chin, the beard of which, rarely cleaned more than once a week, was
encircled with a dirty silk handkerchief twisted to a cord; a short
neck, rolling in fat, and heavy cheeks completed the characteristics of
brute force which sculptors give to their caryatids. Minoret-Levrault
was like those statues, with this difference, that whereas they
supported an edifice, he had more than he could well do to support
himself. You will meet many such Atlases in the world. The man’s torso
was a block; it was like that of a bull standing on his hind-legs. His
vigorous arms ended in a pair of thick, hard hands, broad and strong
and well able to handle whip, reins, and pitchfork; hands which his
postilions never attempted to trifle with. The enormous stomach of this
giant rested on thighs which were as large as the body of an ordinary
adult, and feet like those of an elephant. Anger was a rare thing with
him, but it was terrible, apoplectic, when it did burst forth. Though
violent and quite incapable of reflection, the man had never done
anything that justified the sinister suggestions of his bodily presence.
To all those who felt afraid of him his postilions would reply, “Oh!
he’s not bad.”

The master of Nemours, to use the common abbreviation of the country,
wore a velveteen shooting-jacket of bottle-green, trousers of green
linen with great stripes, and an ample yellow waistcoat of goat’s
skin, in the pocket of which might be discerned the round outline of
a monstrous snuff-box. A snuff-box to a pug nose is a law without
exception.

A son of the Revolution and a spectator of the Empire, Minoret-Levrault
did not meddle with politics; as to his religious opinions, he had never
set foot in a church except to be married; as to his private principles,
he kept them within the civil code; all that the law did not forbid or
could not prevent he considered right. He never read anything but
the journal of the department of the Seine-et-Oise, and a few printed
instructions relating to his business. He was considered a clever
agriculturist; but his knowledge was only practical. In him the moral
being did not belie the physical. He seldom spoke, and before speaking
he always took a pinch of snuff to give himself time, not to find ideas,
but words. If he had been a talker you would have felt that he was out
of keeping with himself. Reflecting that this elephant minus a trumpet
and without a mind was called Minoret-Levrault, we are compelled to
agree with Sterne as to the occult power of names, which sometimes
ridicule and sometimes foretell characters.

In spite of his visible incapacity he had acquired during the last
thirty-six years (the Revolution helping him) an income of thirty
thousand francs, derived from farm lands, woods and meadows. If Minoret,
being master of the coach-lines of Nemours and those of the Gatinais to
Paris, still worked at his business, it was less from habit than for the
sake of an only son, to whom he was anxious to give a fine career. This
son, who was now (to use an expression of the peasantry) a “monsieur,”
 had just completed his legal studies and was about to take his degree as
licentiate, preparatory to being called to the Bar. Monsieur and Madame
Minoret-Levrault--for behind our colossus every one will perceive
a woman without whom this signal good-fortune would have been
impossible--left their son free to choose his own career; he might be a
notary in Paris, king’s-attorney in some district, collector of customs
no matter where, broker, or post master, as he pleased. What fancy of
his could they ever refuse him? to what position of life might he
not aspire as the son of a man about whom the whole countryside, from
Montargis to Essonne, was in the habit of saying, “Pere Minoret doesn’t
even know how rich he is”?

This saying had obtained fresh force about four years before this
history begins, when Minoret, after selling his inn, built stables and a
splendid dwelling, and removed the post-house from the Grand’Rue to the
wharf. The new establishment cost two hundred thousand francs, which the
gossip of thirty miles in circumference more than doubled. The Nemours
mail-coach service requires a large number of horses. It goes to
Fontainebleau on the road to Paris, and from there diverges to Montargis
and also to Montereau. The relays are long, and the sandy soil of the
Montargis road calls for the mythical third horse, always paid for but
never seen. A man of Minoret’s build, and Minoret’s wealth, at the head
of such an establishment might well be called, without contradiction,
the master of Nemours. Though he never thought of God or devil, being
a practical materialist, just as he was a practical agriculturist, a
practical egoist, and a practical miser, Minoret had enjoyed up to
this time a life of unmixed happiness,--if we can call pure materialism
happiness. A physiologist, observing the rolls of flesh which covered
the last vertebrae and pressed upon the giant’s cerebellum, and, above
all, hearing the shrill, sharp voice which contrasted so absurdly with
his huge body, would have understood why this ponderous, coarse being
adored his only son, and why he had so long expected him,--a fact proved
by the name, Desire, which was given to the child.

The mother, whom the boy fortunately resembled, rivaled the father in
spoiling him. No child could long have resisted the effects of such
idolatry. As soon as Desire knew the extent of his power he milked his
mother’s coffer and dipped into his father’s purse, making each author
of his being believe that he, or she, alone was petitioned. Desire,
who played a part in Nemours far beyond that of a prince royal in his
father’s capital, chose to gratify his fancies in Paris just as he had
gratified them in his native town; he had therefore spent a yearly sum
of not less than twelve thousand francs during the time of his legal
studies. But for that money he had certainly acquired ideas that would
never had come to him in Nemours; he had stripped off the provincial
skin, learned the power of money and seen in the magistracy a means of
advancement which he fancied. During the last year he had spent an extra
sum of ten thousand francs in the company of artists, journalists, and
their mistresses. A confidential and rather disquieting letter from his
son, asking for his consent to a marriage, explains the watch which the
post master was now keeping on the bridge; for Madame Minoret-Levrault,
busy in preparing a sumptuous breakfast to celebrate the triumphal
return of the licentiate, had sent her husband to the mail road,
advising him to take a horse and ride out if he saw nothing of the
diligence. The coach which was conveying the precious son usually
arrived at five in the morning and it was now nine! What could be the
meaning of such delay? Was the coach overturned? Could Desire be dead?
Or was it nothing worse than a broken leg?

Three distinct volleys of cracking whips rent the air like a discharge
of musketry; the red waistcoats of the postilions dawned in sight, ten
horses neighed. The master pulled off his cap and waved it; he was
seen. The best mounted postilion, who was returning with two gray
carriage-horses, set spurs to his beast and came on in advance of the
five diligence horses and the three other carriage-horses, and soon
reached his master.

“Have you seen the ‘Ducler’?”

On the great mail routes names, often fantastic, are given to the
different coaches; such, for instance, as the “Caillard,” the “Ducler”
 (the coach between Nemours and Paris), the “Grand Bureau.” Every new
enterprise is called the “Competition.” In the days of the Lecompte
company their coaches were called the “Countess.”--“‘Caillard’ could not
overtake the ‘Countess’; but ‘Grand Bureau’ caught up with her finely,”
 you will hear the men say. If you see a postilion pressing his horses
and refusing a glass of wine, question the conductor and he will
tell you, snuffing the air while his eye gazes far into space, “The
‘Competition’ is ahead.”--“We can’t get in sight of her,” cries
the postilion; “the vixen! she wouldn’t stop to let her passengers
dine.”--“The question is, has she got any?” responds the conductor.
“Give it to Polignac!” All lazy and bad horses are called Polignac.
Such are the jokes and the basis of conversation between postilions and
conductors on the roofs of the coaches. Each profession, each calling in
France has its slang.

“Have you seen the ‘Ducler’?” asked Minoret.

“Monsieur Desire?” said the postilion, interrupting his master. “Hey!
you must have heard us, didn’t our whips tell you? we felt you were
somewhere along the road.”

Just then a woman dressed in her Sunday clothes,--for the bells were
pealing from the clock tower and calling the inhabitants to mass,--a
woman about thirty-six years of age came up to the post master.

“Well, cousin,” she said, “you wouldn’t believe me--Uncle is with Ursula
in the Grand’Rue, and they are going to mass.”

In spite of the modern poetic canons as to local color, it is quite
impossible to push realism so far as to repeat the horrible blasphemy
mingled with oaths which this news, apparently so unexciting, brought
from the huge mouth of Minoret-Levrault; his shrill voice grew sibilant,
and his face took on the appearance of what people oddly enough call a
sunstroke.

“Is that true?” he asked, after the first explosion of his wrath was
over.

The postilions bowed to their master as they and their horses passed
him, but he seemed to neither see nor hear them. Instead of waiting for
his son, Minoret-Levrault hurried up to the Grand’Rue with his cousin.

“Didn’t I always tell you so?” she resumed. “When Doctor Minoret
goes out of his head that demure little hypocrite will drag him into
religion; whoever lays hold of the mind gets hold of the purse, and
she’ll have our inheritance.”

“But, Madame Massin--” said the post master, dumbfounded.

“There now!” exclaimed Madame Massin, interrupting her cousin. “You are
going to say, just as Massin does, that a little girl of fifteen
can’t invent such plans and carry them out, or make an old man of
eighty-three, who has never set foot in a church except to be married,
change his opinions,--now don’t tell me he has such a horror of priests
that he wouldn’t even go with the girl to the parish church when she
made her first communion. I’d like to know why, if Doctor Minoret hates
priests, he has spent nearly every evening for the last fifteen years of
his life with the Abbe Chaperon. The old hypocrite never fails to give
Ursula twenty francs for wax tapers every time she takes the sacrament.
Have you forgotten the gift Ursula made to the church in gratitude to
the cure for preparing her for her first communion? She spent all her
money on it, and her godfather returned it to her doubled. You men!
you don’t pay attention to things. When I heard that, I said to myself,
‘Farewell baskets, the vintage is done!’ A rich uncle doesn’t behave
that way to a little brat picked up in the streets without some good
reason.”

“Pooh, cousin; I dare say the good man is only taking her to the door of
the church,” replied the post master. “It is a fine day, and he is out
for a walk.”

“I tell you he is holding a prayer-book, and looks sanctimonious--you’ll
see him.”

“They hide their game pretty well,” said Minoret, “La Bougival told me
there was never any talk of religion between the doctor and the abbe.
Besides, the abbe is one of the most honest men on the face of the
globe; he’d give the shirt off his back to a poor man; he is incapable
of a base action, and to cheat a family out of their inheritance is--”

“Theft,” said Madame Massin.

“Worse!” cried Minoret-Levrault, exasperated by the tongue of his
gossiping neighbour.

“Of course I know,” said Madame Massin, “that the Abbe Chaperon is an
honest man; but he is capable of anything for the sake of his poor. He
must have mined and undermined uncle, and the old man has just tumbled
into piety. We did nothing, and here he is perverted! A man who never
believed in anything, and had principles of his own! Well! we’re done
for. My husband is absolutely beside himself.”

Madame Massin, whose sentences were so many arrows stinging her fat
cousin, made him walk as fast as herself, in spite of his obesity and
to the great astonishment of the church-goers, who were on their way to
mass. She was determined to overtake this uncle and show him to the post
master.

Nemours is commanded on the Gatinais side by a hill, at the foot of
which runs the road to Montargis and the Loing. The church, on the
stones of which time has cast a rich discolored mantle (it was rebuilt
in the fourteenth century by the Guises, for whom Nemours was raised to
a peerage-duchy), stands at the end of the little town close to a
great arch which frames it. For buildings, as for men, position does
everything. Shaded by a few trees, and thrown into relief by a neatly
kept square, this solitary church produces a really grandiose effect. As
the post master of Nemours entered the open space, he beheld his uncle
with the young girl called Ursula on his arm, both carrying prayer-books
and just entering the church. The old man took off his hat in the porch,
and his head, which was white as a hill-top covered with snow, shone
among the shadows of the portal.

“Well, Minoret, what do you say to the conversion of your uncle?” cried
the tax-collector of Nemours, named Cremiere.

“What do you expect me to say?” replied the post master, offering him a
pinch of snuff.

“Well answered, Pere Levrault. You can’t say what you think, if it is
true, as an illustrious author says it is, that a man must think his
words before he speaks his thoughts,” cried a young man, standing near,
who played the part of Mephistopheles in the little town.

This ill-conditioned youth, named Goupil, was head clerk to Monsieur
Cremiere-Dionis, the Nemours notary. Notwithstanding a past conduct that
was almost debauched, Dionis had taken Goupil into his office when a
career in Paris--where the clerk had wasted all the money he inherited
from his father, a well-to-do farmer, who educated him for a notary--was
brought to a close by his absolute pauperism. The mere sight of Goupil
told an observer that he had made haste to enjoy life, and had paid
dear for his enjoyments. Though very short, his chest and shoulders were
developed at twenty-seven years of age like those of a man of forty.
Legs small and weak, and a broad face, with a cloudy complexion like
the sky before a storm, surmounted by a bald forehead, brought out still
further the oddity of his conformation. His face seemed as though it
belonged to a hunchback whose hunch was inside of him. One singularity
of that pale and sour visage confirmed the impression of an invisible
gobbosity; the nose, crooked and out of shape like those of many
deformed persons, turned from right to left of the face instead of
dividing it down the middle. The mouth, contracted at the corners, like
that of a Sardinian, was always on the qui vive of irony. His hair, thin
and reddish, fell straight, and showed the skull in many places. His
hands, coarse and ill-joined at the wrists to arms that were far too
long, were quick-fingered and seldom clean. Goupil wore boots only fit
for the dust-heap, and raw silk stockings now of a russet black; his
coat and trousers, all black, and threadbare and greasy with dirt,
his pitiful waistcoat with half the button-moulds gone, an old silk
handkerchief which served as a cravat--in short, all his clothing
revealed the cynical poverty to which his passions had reduced him. This
combination of disreputable signs was guarded by a pair of eyes with
yellow circles round the pupils, like those of a goat, both lascivious
and cowardly. No one in Nemours was more feared nor, in a way, more
deferred to than Goupil. Strong in the claims made for him by his very
ugliness, he had the odious style of wit peculiar to men who allow
themselves all license, and he used it to gratify the bitterness of
his life-long envy. He wrote the satirical couplets sung during the
carnival, organized charivaris, and was himself a “little journal” of
the gossip of the town. Dionis, who was clever and insincere, and for
that reason timid, kept Goupil as much through fear as for his keen mind
and thorough knowledge of all the interests of the town. But the master
so distrusted his clerk that he himself kept the accounts, refused to
let him live in his house, held him at arm’s length, and never confided
any secret or delicate affair to his keeping. In return the clerk fawned
upon the notary, hiding his resentment at this conduct, and watching
Madame Dionis in the hope that he might get his revenge there. Gifted
with a ready mind and quick comprehension he found work easy.

“You!” exclaimed the post master to the clerk, who stood rubbing his
hands, “making game of our misfortunes already?”

As Goupil was known to have pandered to Dionis’ passions for the last
five years, the post master treated him cavalierly, without suspecting
the hoard of ill-feeling he was piling up in Goupil’s heart with every
fresh insult. The clerk, convinced that money was more necessary to him
than it was to others, and knowing himself superior in mind to the whole
bourgeoisie of Nemours, was now counting on his intimacy with Minoret’s
son Desire to obtain the means of buying one or the other of three town
offices,--that of clerk of the court, or the legal practice of one of
the sheriffs, or that of Dionis himself. For this reason he put up
with the affronts of the post master and the contempt of Madame
Minoret-Levrault, and played a contemptible part towards Desire,
consoling the fair victims whom that youth left behind him after each
vacation,--devouring the crumbs of the loaves he had kneaded.

“If I were the nephew of a rich old fellow, he never would have given
God to ME for a co-heir,” retorted Goupil, with a hideous grin which
exhibited his teeth--few, black, and menacing.

Just then Massin-Levrault, junior, the clerk of the court, joined his
wife, bringing with him Madame Cremiere, the wife of the tax-collector
of Nemours. This man, one of the hardest natures of the little town, had
the physical characteristics of a Tartar: eyes small and round as sloes
beneath a retreating brow, crimped hair, an oily skin, huge ears without
any rim, a mouth almost without lips, and a scanty beard. He spoke like
a man who was losing his voice. To exhibit him thoroughly it is enough
to say that he employed his wife and eldest daughter to serve his legal
notices.

Madame Cremiere was a stout woman, with a fair complexion injured by
red blotches, always too tightly laced, intimate with Madame Dionis, and
supposed to be educated because she read novels. Full of pretensions to
wit and elegance, she was awaiting her uncle’s money to “take a certain
stand,” decorate her salon, and receive the bourgeoisie. At present her
husband denied her Carcel lamps, lithographs, and all the other trifles
the notary’s wife possessed. She was excessively afraid of Goupil, who
caught up and retailed her “slapsus-linquies” as she called them. One
day Madame Dionis chanced to ask what “Eau” she thought best for the
teeth.

“Try opium,” she replied.

Nearly all the collateral heirs of old Doctor Minoret were now assembled
in the square; the importance of the event which brought them was so
generally felt that even groups of peasants, armed with their scarlet
umbrellas and dressed in those brilliant colors which make them so
picturesque on Sundays and fete-days, stood by, with their eyes fixed on
the frightened heirs. In all little towns which are midway between
large villages and cities those who do not go to mass stand about in the
square or market-place. Business is talked over. In Nemours the hour of
church service was a weekly exchange, to which the owners of property
scattered over a radius of some miles resorted.

“Well, how would you have prevented it?” said the post master to Goupil
in reply to his remark.

“I should have made myself as important to him as the air he breathes.
But from the very first you failed to get hold of him. The inheritance
of a rich uncle should be watched as carefully as a pretty woman--for
want of proper care they’ll both escape you. If Madame Dionis were here
she could tell you how true that comparison is.”

“But Monsieur Bongrand has just told me there is nothing to worry
about,” said Massin.

“Oh! there are plenty of ways of saying that!” cried Goupil, laughing.
“I would like to have heard your sly justice of the peace say it. If
there is nothing to be done, if he, being intimate with your uncle,
knows that all is lost, the proper thing for him to say to you is,
‘Don’t be worried.’”

As Goupil spoke, a satirical smile overspread his face, and gave such
meaning to his words that the other heirs began to feel that Massin
had let Bongrand deceive him. The tax-collector, a fat little man, as
insignificant as a tax-collector should be, and as much of a cipher as a
clever woman could wish, hereupon annihilated his co-heir, Massin, with
the words:--“Didn’t I tell you so?”

Tricky people always attribute trickiness to others. Massin therefore
looked askance at Monsieur Bongrand, the justice of the peace, who was
at that moment talking near the door of the church with the Marquis du
Rouvre, a former client.

“If I were sure of it!” he said.

“You could neutralize the protection he is now giving to the Marquis
du Rouvre, who is threatened with arrest. Don’t you see how Bongrand
is sprinkling him with advice?” said Goupil, slipping an idea of
retaliation into Massin’s mind. “But you had better go easy with your
chief; he’s a clever old fellow; he might use his influence with your
uncle and persuade him not to leave everything to the church.”

“Pooh! we sha’n’t die of it,” said Minoret-Levrault, opening his
enormous snuff-box.

“You won’t live of it, either,” said Goupil, making the two women
tremble. More quick-witted than their husbands, they saw the privations
this loss of inheritance (so long counted on for many comforts) would
be to them. “However,” added Goupil, “we’ll drown this little grief in
floods of champagne in honor of Desire!--sha’n’t we, old fellow?” he
cried, tapping the stomach of the giant, and inviting himself to the
feast for fear he should be left out.



CHAPTER II. THE RICH UNCLE

Before proceeding further, persons of an exact turn of mind may like to
read a species of family inventory, so as to understand the degrees
of relationship which connected the old man thus suddenly converted
to religion with these three heads of families or their wives. This
cross-breeding of families in the remote provinces might be made the
subject of many instructive reflections.

There are but three or four houses of the lesser nobility in Nemours;
among them, at the period of which we write, that of the family of
Portenduere was the most important. These exclusives visited none but
nobles who possessed lands or chateaus in the neighbourhood; of the
latter we may mention the d’Aiglemonts, owners of the beautiful estate
of Saint-Lange, and the Marquis du Rouvre, whose property, crippled by
mortgages, was closely watched by the bourgeoisie. The nobles of the
town had no money. Madame de Portenduere’s sole possessions were a
farm which brought a rental of forty-seven hundred francs, and her town
house.

In opposition to this very insignificant Faubourg St. Germain was a
group of a dozen rich families, those of retired millers, or former
merchants; in short a miniature bourgeoisie; below which, again, lived
and moved the retail shopkeepers, the proletaries and the peasantry. The
bourgeoisie presented (like that of the Swiss cantons and of other
small countries) the curious spectacle of the ramifications of certain
autochthonous families, old-fashioned and unpolished perhaps, but who
rule a whole region and pervade it, until nearly all its inhabitants are
cousins. Under Louis XI., an epoch at which the commons first made
real names of their surnames (some of which are united with those of
feudalism) the bourgeoisie of Nemours was made up of Minorets, Massins,
Levraults and Cremieres. Under Louis XIII. these four families had
already produced the Massin-Cremieres, the Levrault-Massins, the
Massin-Minorets, the Minoret-Minorets, the Cremiere-Levraults,
the Levrault-Minoret-Massins, Massin-Levraults, Minoret-Massins,
Massin-Massins, and Cremiere-Massins,--all these varied with juniors
and diversified with the names of eldest sons, as for instance,
Cremiere-Francois, Levrault-Jacques, Jean-Minoret--enough to drive a
Pere Anselme of the People frantic,--if the people should ever want a
genealogist.

The variations of this family kaleidoscope of four branches was now so
complicated by births and marriages that the genealogical tree of
the bourgeoisie of Nemours would have puzzled the Benedictines of
the Almanach of Gotha, in spite of the atomic science with which they
arrange those zigzags of German alliances. For a long time the Minorets
occupied the tanneries, the Cremieres kept the mills, the Massins were
in trade, and the Levraults continued farmers. Fortunately for the
neighbourhood these four stocks threw out suckers instead of depending
only on their tap-roots; they scattered cuttings by the expatriation
of sons who sought their fortune elsewhere; for instance, there are
Minorets who are cutlers at Melun; Levraults at Montargis; Massins
at Orleans; and Cremieres of some importance in Paris. Divers are the
destinies of these bees from the parent hive. Rich Massins employ, of
course, the poor working Massins--just as Austria and Prussia take the
German princes into their service. It may happen that a public office is
managed by a Minoret millionaire and guarded by a Minoret sentinel. Full
of the same blood and called by the same name (for sole likeness), these
four roots had ceaselessly woven a human network of which each thread
was delicate or strong, fine or coarse, as the case might be. The same
blood was in the head and in the feet and in the heart, in the working
hands, in the weakly lungs, in the forehead big with genius.

The chiefs of the clan were faithful to the little town, where the
ties of family were relaxed or tightened according to the events which
happened under this curious cognomenism. In whatever part of France you
may be, you will find the same thing under changed names, but without
the poetic charm which feudalism gave to it, and which Walter Scott’s
genius reproduced so faithfully. Let us look a little higher and
examine humanity as it appears in history. All the noble families of the
eleventh century, most of them (except the royal race of Capet) extinct
to-day, will be found to have contributed to the birth of the Rohans,
Montmorencys, Beauffremonts, and Mortemarts of our time,--in fact they
will all be found in the blood of the last gentleman who is indeed a
gentleman. In other words, every bourgeois is cousin to a bourgeois, and
every noble is cousin to a noble. A splendid page of biblical genealogy
shows that in one thousand years three families, Shem, Ham, and Japhet,
peopled the globe. One family may become a nation; unfortunately, a
nation may become one family. To prove this we need only search back
through our ancestors and see their accumulation, which time increases
into a retrograde geometric progression, which multiplies of itself;
reminding us of the calculation of the wise man who, being told to
choose a reward from the king of Persia for inventing chess, asked
for one ear of wheat for the first move on the board, the reward to be
doubled for each succeeding move; when it was found that the kingdom was
not large enough to pay it. The net-work of the nobility, hemmed in by
the net-work of the bourgeoisie,--the antagonism of two protected races,
one protected by fixed institutions, the other by the active patience of
labor and the shrewdness of commerce,--produced the revolution of 1789.
The two races almost reunited are to-day face to face with collaterals
without a heritage. What are they to do? Our political future is big
with the answer.

The family of the man who under Louis XV. was simply called Minoret was
so numerous that one of the five children (the Minoret whose entrance
into the parish church caused such interest) went to Paris to seek
his fortune, and seldom returned to his native town, until he came to
receive his share of the inheritance of his grandfather. After suffering
many things, like all young men of firm will who struggle for a place in
the brilliant world of Paris, this son of the Minorets reached a nobler
destiny than he had, perhaps, dreamed of at the start. He devoted
himself, in the first instance, to medicine, a profession which demands
both talent and a cheerful nature, but the latter qualification even
more than talent. Backed by Dupont de Nemours, connected by a lucky
chance with the Abbe Morellet (whom Voltaire nicknamed Mords-les), and
protected by the Encyclopedists, Doctor Minoret attached himself as
liegeman to the famous Doctor Bordeu, the friend of Diderot, D’Alembert,
Helvetius, the Baron d’Holbach and Grimm, in whose presence he felt
himself a mere boy. These men, influenced by Bordeu’s example, became
interested in Minoret, who, about the year 1777, found himself with
a very good practice among deists, encyclopedists, sensualists,
materialists, or whatever you are pleased to call the rich philosophers
of that period.

Though Minoret was very little of a humbug, he invented the famous balm
of Lelievre, so much extolled by the “Mercure de France,” the weekly
organ of the Encyclopedists, in whose columns it was permanently
advertised. The apothecary Lelievre, a clever man, saw a stroke
of business where Minoret had only seen a new preparation for the
dispensary, and he loyally shared his profits with the doctor, who was
a pupil of Rouelle in chemistry as well as of Bordeu in medicine. Less
than that would make a man a materialist.

The doctor married for love in 1778, during the reign of the “Nouvelle
Heloise,” when persons did occasionally marry for that reason. His
wife was a daughter of the famous harpsichordist Valentin Mirouet,
a celebrated musician, frail and delicate, whom the Revolution slew.
Minoret knew Robespierre intimately, for he had once been instrumental
in awarding him a gold medal for a dissertation on the following
subject: “What is the origin of the opinion that covers a whole family
with the shame attaching to the public punishment of a guilty member of
it? Is that opinion more harmful than useful? If yes, in what way can
the harm be warded off.” The Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences at
Metz, to which Minoret belonged, must possess this dissertation in the
original. Though, thanks to this friendship, the Doctor’s wife need
have had no fear, she was so in dread of going to the scaffold that
her terror increased a disposition to heart disease caused by the
over-sensitiveness of her nature. In spite of all the precautions taken
by the man who idolized her, Ursula unfortunately met the tumbril of
victims among whom was Madame Roland, and the shock caused her death.
Minoret, who in tenderness to his wife had refused her nothing, and had
given her a life of luxury, found himself after her death almost a
poor man. Robespierre gave him an appointment as surgeon-in-charge of a
hospital.

Though the name of Minoret obtained during the lively debates to which
mesmerism gave rise a certain celebrity which occasionally recalled
him to the minds of his relatives, still the Revolution was so great a
destroyer of family relations that in 1813 Nemours knew little of Doctor
Minoret, who was induced to think of returning there to die, like the
hare to its form, by a circumstance that was wholly accidental.

Who has not felt in traveling through France, where the eye is often
wearied by the monotony of plains, the charming sensation of coming
suddenly, when the eye is prepared for a barren landscape, upon a fresh
cool valley, watered by a river, with a little town sheltering beneath
a cliff like a swarm of bees in the hollow of an old willow? Wakened by
the “hu! hu!” of the postilion as he walks beside his horses, we shake
off sleep and admire, like a dream within a dream, the beautiful
scene which is to the traveler what a noble passage in a book is to a
reader,--a brilliant thought of Nature. Such is the sensation caused
by a first sight of Nemours as we approach it from Burgundy. We see it
encircled with bare rocks, gray, black, white, fantastic in shape like
those we find in the forest of Fontainebleau; from them spring scattered
trees, clearly defined against the sky, which give to this particular
rock formation the dilapidated look of a crumbling wall. Here ends the
long wooded hill which creeps from Nemours to Bouron, skirting the road.
At the bottom of this irregular amphitheater lie meadow-lands through
which flows the Loing, forming sheets of water with many falls. This
delightful landscape, which continues the whole way to Montargis, is
like an opera scene, for its effects really seem to have been studied.

One morning Doctor Minoret, who had been summoned into Burgundy by a
rich patient, was returning in all haste to Paris. Not having mentioned
at the last relay the route he intended to take, he was brought without
his knowledge through Nemours, and beheld once more, on waking from a
nap, the scenery in which his childhood had been passed. He had lately
lost many of his old friends. The votary of the Encyclopedists had
witnessed the conversion of La Harpe; he had buried Lebrun-Pindare and
Marie-Joseph de Chenier, and Morellet, and Madame Helvetius. He assisted
at the quasi-fall of Voltaire when assailed by Geoffroy, the continuator
of Freton. For some time past he had thought of retiring, and so, when
his post chaise stopped at the head of the Grand’Rue of Nemours, his
heart prompted him to inquire for his family. Minoret-Levrault, the post
master, came forward himself to see the doctor, who discovered him to
be the son of his eldest brother. The nephew presented the doctor to
his wife, the only daughter of the late Levrault-Cremiere, who had died
twelve years earlier, leaving him the post business and the finest inn
in Nemours.

“Well, nephew,” said the doctor, “have I any other relatives?”

“My aunt Minoret, your sister, married a Massin-Massin--”

“Yes, I know, the bailiff of Saint-Lange.”

“She died a widow leaving an only daughter, who has lately married a
Cremiere-Cremiere, a fine young fellow, still without a place.”

“Ah! she is my own niece. Now, as my brother, the sailor, died a
bachelor, and Captain Minoret was killed at Monte-Legino, and here I am,
that ends the paternal line. Have I any relations on the maternal side?
My mother was a Jean-Massin-Levrault.”

“Of the Jean-Massin-Levrault’s there’s only one left,” answered
Minoret-Levrault, “namely, Jean-Massin, who married Monsieur
Cremiere-Levrault-Dionis, a purveyor of forage, who perished on the
scaffold. His wife died of despair and without a penny, leaving one
daughter, married to a Levrault-Minoret, a farmer at Montereau, who is
doing well; their daughter has just married a Massin-Levrault, notary’s
clerk at Montargis, where his father is a locksmith.”

“So I’ve plenty of heirs,” said the doctor gayly, immediately proposing
to take a walk through Nemours accompanied by his nephew.

The Loing runs through the town in a waving line, banked by terraced
gardens and neat houses, the aspect of which makes one fancy that
happiness must abide there sooner than elsewhere. When the doctor turned
into the Rue des Bourgeois, Minoret-Levrault pointed out the property of
Levrault-Levrault, a rich iron merchant in Paris who, he said, had just
died.

“The place is for sale, uncle, and a very pretty house it is; there’s a
charming garden running down to the river.”

“Let us go in,” said the doctor, seeing, at the farther end of a
small paved courtyard, a house standing between the walls of the
two neighbouring houses which were masked by clumps of trees and
climbing-plants.

“It is built over a cellar,” said the doctor, going up the steps of
a high portico adorned with vases of blue and white pottery in which
geraniums were growing.

Cut in two, like the majority of provincial houses, by a long passage
which led from the courtyard to the garden, the house had only one room
to the right, a salon lighted by four windows, two on the courtyard and
two on the garden; but Levrault-Levrault had used one of these windows
to make an entrance to a long greenhouse built of brick which extended
from the salon towards the river, ending in a horrible Chinese pagoda.

“Good! by building a roof to that greenhouse and laying a floor,” said
old Minoret, “I could put my book there and make a very comfortable
study of that extraordinary bit of architecture at the end.”

On the other side of the passage, toward the garden, was the
dining-room, decorated in imitation of black lacquer with green and
gold flowers; this was separated from the kitchen by the well of the
staircase. Communication with the kitchen was had through a little
pantry built behind the staircase, the kitchen itself looking into the
courtyard through windows with iron railings. There were two chambers on
the next floor, and above them, attic rooms sheathed in wood, which were
fairly habitable. After examining the house rapidly, and observing that
it was covered with trellises from top to bottom, on the side of the
courtyard as well as on that to the garden,--which ended in a terrace
overlooking the river and adorned with pottery vases,--the doctor
remarked:--

“Levrault-Levrault must have spend a good deal of money here.”

“Ho! I should think so,” answered Minoret-Levrault. “He liked
flowers--nonsense! ‘What do they bring in?’ says my wife. You saw inside
there how an artist came from Paris to paint flowers in fresco in the
corridor. He put those enormous mirrors everywhere. The ceilings were
all re-made with cornices which cost six francs a foot. The dining-room
floor is in marquetry--perfect folly! The house won’t sell for a penny
the more.”

“Well, nephew, buy it for me: let me know what you do about it; here’s
my address. The rest I leave to my notary. Who lives opposite?” he
asked, as they left the house.

“Emigres,” answered the post master, “named Portenduere.”

The house once bought, the illustrious doctor, instead of living
there, wrote to his nephew to let it. The Folie-Levraught was therefore
occupied by the notary of Nemours, who about that time sold his practice
to Dionis, his head-clerk, and died two years later, leaving the house
on the doctor’s hands, just at the time when the fate of Napoleon was
being decided in the neighbourhood. The doctor’s heirs, at first misled,
had by this time decided that his thought of returning to his native
place was merely a rich man’s fancy, and that probably he had some tie
in Paris which would keep him there and cheat them of their hoped-for
inheritance. However, Minoret-Levrault’s wife seized the occasion
to write him a letter. The old man replied that as soon as peace
was signed, the roads cleared of soldiers, and safe communications
established, he meant to go and live at Nemours. He did, in fact, put in
an appearance with two of his clients, the architect of his hospital and
an upholsterer, who took charge of the repairs, the indoor arrangements,
and the transportation of the furniture. Madame Minoret-Levrault
proposed the cook of the late notary as caretaker, and the woman was
accepted.

When the heirs heard that their uncle and great-uncle Minoret was really
coming to live in Nemours, they were seized (in spite of the political
events which were just then weighing so heavily on Brie and on the
Gatinais) with a devouring curiosity, which was not surprising. Was
he rich? Economical or spendthrift? Would he leave a fine fortune or
nothing? Was his property in annuities? In the end they found out
what follows, but only by taking infinite pains and employing much
subterraneous spying.

After the death of his wife, Ursula Mirouet, and between the years 1789
and 1813, the doctor (who had been appointed consulting physician to the
Emperor in 1805) must have made a good deal of money; but no one knew
how much. He lived simply, without other extravagancies than a carriage
by the year and a sumptuous apartment. He received no guests, and dined
out almost every day. His housekeeper, furious at not being allowed to
go with him to Nemours, told Zelie Levrault, the post master’s wife,
that she knew the doctor had fourteen thousand francs a year on the
“grand-livre.” Now, after twenty years’ exercise of a profession which
his position as head of a hospital, physician to the Emperor, and member
of the Institute, rendered lucrative, these fourteen thousand francs a
year showed only one hundred and sixty thousand francs laid by. To have
saved only eight thousand francs a year the doctor must have had either
many vices or many virtues to gratify. But neither his housekeeper
nor Zelie nor any one else could discover the reason for such moderate
means. Minoret, who when he left it was much regretted in the quarter
of Paris where he had lived, was one of the most benevolent of men, and,
like Larrey, kept his kind deeds a profound secret.

The heirs watched the arrival of their uncle’s fine furniture and large
library with complacency, and looked forward to his own coming, he being
now an officer of the Legion of honor, and lately appointed by the king
a chevalier of the order of Saint-Michel--perhaps on account of his
retirement, which left a vacancy for some favorite. But when the
architect and painter and upholsterer had arranged everything in
the most comfortable manner, the doctor did not come. Madame
Minoret-Levrault, who kept an eye on the upholsterer and architect as if
her own property was concerned, found out, through the indiscretion of a
young man sent to arrange the books, that the doctor was taking care of
a little orphan named Ursula. The news flew like wild-fire through the
town. At last, however, towards the middle of the month of January,
1815, the old man actually arrived, installing himself quietly, almost
slyly, with a little girl about ten months old, and a nurse.

“The child can’t be his daughter,” said the terrified heirs; “he is
seventy-one years old.”

“Whoever she is,” remarked Madame Massin, “she’ll give us plenty of
tintouin” (a word peculiar to Nemours, meaning uneasiness, anxiety, or
more literally, tingling in the ears).

The doctor received his great-niece on the mother’s side somewhat
coldly; her husband had just bought the place of clerk of the court, and
the pair began at once to tell him of their difficulties. Neither Massin
nor his wife were rich. Massin’s father, a locksmith at Montargis,
had been obliged to compromise with his creditors, and was now, at
sixty-seven years of age, working like a young man, and had nothing to
leave behind him. Madame Massin’s father, Levrault-Minoret, had just
died at Montereau after the battle, in despair at seeing his farm
burned, his fields ruined, his cattle slaughtered.

“We’ll get nothing out of your great-uncle,” said Massin to his wife,
now pregnant with her second child, after the interview.

The doctor, however, gave them privately ten thousand francs, with which
Massin, who was a great friend of the notary and of the sheriff, began
the business of money-lending, and carried matters so briskly with the
peasantry that by the time of which we are now writing Goupil knew him
to hold at least eighty thousand francs on their property.

As to his other niece, the doctor obtained for her husband, through
his influence in Paris, the collectorship of Nemours, and became his
bondsman. Though Minoret-Levrault needed no assistance, Zelie, his wife,
being jealous of the uncle’s liberality to his two nieces, took her
ten-year old son to see him, and talked of the expense he would be to
them at a school in Paris, where, she said, education costs so much. The
doctor obtained a half-scholarship for his great-nephew at the school of
Louis-le-Grand, where Desire was put into the fourth class.

Cremiere, Massin, and Minoret-Levrault, extremely common persons, were
“rated without appeal” by the doctor within two months of his arrival
in Nemours, during which time they courted, less their uncle than his
property. Persons who are led by instinct have one great disadvantage
against others with ideas. They are quickly found out; the suggestions
of instinct are too natural, too open to the eye not to be seen at a
glance; whereas, the conceptions of the mind require an equal amount of
intellect to discover them. After buying the gratitude of his heirs, and
thus, as it were, shutting their mouths, the wily doctor made a pretext
of his occupations, his habits, and the care of the little Ursula to
avoid receiving his relatives without exactly closing his doors to them.
He liked to dine alone; he went to bed late and he got up late; he had
returned to his native place for the very purpose of finding rest
in solitude. These whims of an old man seemed to be natural, and his
relatives contented themselves with paying him weekly visits on Sundays
from one to four o’clock, to which, however, he tried to put a stop by
saying: “Don’t come and see me unless you want something.”

The doctor, while not refusing to be called in consultation over serious
cases, especially if the patients were indigent, would not serve as a
physician in the little hospital of Nemours, and declared that he no
longer practiced his profession.

“I’ve killed enough people,” he said, laughing, to the Abbe Chaperon,
who, knowing his benevolence, would often get him to attend the poor.

“He’s an original!” These words, said of Doctor Minoret, were the
harmless revenge of various wounded vanities; for a doctor collects
about him a society of persons who have many of the characteristics of
a set of heirs. Those of the bourgeoisie who thought themselves entitled
to visit this distinguished physician kept up a ferment of jealousy
against the few privileged friends whom he did admit to his intimacy,
which had in the long run some unfortunate results.



CHAPTER III. THE DOCTOR’S FRIENDS

Curiously enough, though it explains the old proverb that “extremes
meet,” the materialistic doctor and the cure of Nemours were soon
friends. The old man loved backgammon, a favorite game of the
priesthood, and the Abbe Chaperon played it with about as much skill as
he himself. The game was the first tie between them. Then Minoret was
charitable, and the abbe was the Fenelon of the Gatinais. Both had had
a wide and varied education; the man of God was the only person in all
Nemours who was fully capable of understanding the atheist. To be able
to argue, men must first understand each other. What pleasure is there
in saying sharp words to one who can’t feel them? The doctor and the
priest had far too much taste and had seen too much of good society
not to practice its precepts; they were thus well-fitted for the little
warfare so essential to conversation. They hated each other’s opinions,
but they valued each other’s character. If such conflicts and such
sympathies are not true elements of intimacy we must surely despair of
society, which, especially in France, requires some form of antagonism.
It is from the shock of characters, and not from the struggle of
opinions, that antipathies are generated.

The Abbe Chaperon became, therefore, the doctor’s chief friend. This
excellent ecclesiastic, then sixty years of age, had been curate of
Nemours ever since the re-establishment of Catholic worship. Out of
attachment to his flock he had refused the vicariat of the diocese. If
those who were indifferent to religion thought well of him for so
doing, the faithful loved him the more for it. So, revered by his
sheep, respected by the inhabitants at large, the abbe did good without
inquiring into the religious opinions of those he benefited. His
parsonage, with scarcely furniture enough for the common needs of life,
was cold and shabby, like the lodging of a miser. Charity and avarice
manifest themselves in the same way; charity lays up a treasure in
heaven which avarice lays up on earth. The Abbe Chaperon argued with his
servant over expenses even more sharply than Gobseck with his--if indeed
that famous Jew kept a servant at all. The good priest often sold the
buckles off his shoes and his breeches to give their value to some poor
person who appealed to him at a moment when he had not a penny. When he
was seen coming out of church with the straps of his breeches tied
into the button-holes, devout women would redeem the buckles from the
clock-maker and jeweler of the town and return them to their pastor with
a lecture. He never bought himself any clothes or linen, and wore his
garments till they scarcely held together. His linen, thick with darns,
rubbed his skin like a hair shirt. Madame de Portenduere, and other good
souls, had an agreement with his housekeeper to replace the old clothes
with new ones after he went to sleep, and the abbe did not always find
out the difference. He ate his food off pewter with iron forks and
spoons. When he received his assistants and sub-curates on days of high
solemnity (an expense obligatory on the heads of parishes) he borrowed
linen and silver from his friend the atheist.

“My silver is his salvation,” the doctor would say.

These noble deeds, always accompanied by spiritual encouragement, were
done with a beautiful naivete. Such a life was all the more meritorious
because the abbe was possessed of an erudition that was vast and varied,
and of great and precious faculties. Delicacy and grace, the inseparable
accompaniments of simplicity, lent charm to an elocution that was worthy
of a prelate. His manners, his character, and his habits gave to his
intercourse with others the most exquisite savor of all that is most
spiritual, most sincere in the human mind. A lover of gayety, he was
never priest in a salon. Until Doctor Minoret’s arrival, the good man
kept his light under a bushel without regret. Owning a rather fine
library and an income of two thousand francs when he came to Nemours,
he now possessed, in 1829, nothing at all, except his stipend as parish
priest, nearly the whole of which he gave away during the year. The
giver of excellent counsel in delicate matters or in great misfortunes,
many persons who never went to church to obtain consolation went to the
parsonage to get advice. One little anecdote will suffice to complete
his portrait. Sometimes the peasants,--rarely, it is true, but
occasionally,--unprincipled men, would tell him they were sued for debt,
or would get themselves threatened fictitiously to stimulate the abbe’s
benevolence. They would even deceive their wives, who, believing their
chattels were threatened with an execution and their cows seized,
deceived in their turn the poor priest with their innocent tears. He
would then manage with great difficulty to provide the seven or eight
hundred francs demanded of him--with which the peasant bought himself
a morsel of land. When pious persons and vestrymen denounced the fraud,
begging the abbe to consult them in future before lending himself to
such cupidity, he would say:--

“But suppose they had done something wrong to obtain their bit of land?
Isn’t it doing good when we prevent evil?”

Some persons may wish for a sketch of this figure, remarkable for the
fact that science and literature had filled the heart and passed through
the strong head without corrupting either. At sixty years of age the
abbe’s hair was white as snow, so keenly did he feel the sorrows of
others, and so heavily had the events of the Revolution weighed upon
him. Twice incarcerated for refusing to take the oath he had twice, as
he used to say, uttered in “In manus.” He was of medium height,
neither stout nor thin. His face, much wrinkled and hollowed and quite
colorless, attracted immediate attention by the absolute tranquillity
expressed in its shape, and by the purity of its outline, which seemed
to be edged with light. The face of a chaste man has an unspeakable
radiance. Brown eyes with lively pupils brightened the irregular
features, which were surmounted by a broad forehead. His glance wielded
a power which came of a gentleness that was not devoid of strength. The
arches of his brow formed caverns shaded by huge gray eyebrows which
alarmed no one. As most of his teeth were gone his mouth had lost its
shape and his cheeks had fallen in; but this physical destruction was
not without charm; even the wrinkles, full of pleasantness, seemed to
smile on others. Without being gouty his feet were tender; and he walked
with so much difficulty that he wore shoes made of calf’s skin all the
year round. He thought the fashion of trousers unsuitable for priests,
and he always appeared in stockings of coarse black yarn, knit by his
housekeeper, and cloth breeches. He never went out in his cassock, but
wore a brown overcoat, and still retained the three-cornered hat he had
worn so courageously in times of danger. This noble and beautiful old
man, whose face was glorified by the serenity of a soul above reproach,
will be found to have so great an influence upon the men and things of
this history, that it was proper to show the sources of his authority
and power.

Minoret took three newspapers,--one liberal, one ministerial, one
ultra,--a few periodicals, and certain scientific journals,
the accumulation of which swelled his library. The newspapers,
encyclopaedias, and books were an attraction to a retired captain of the
Royal-Swedish regiment, named Monsieur de Jordy, a Voltairean nobleman
and an old bachelor, who lived on sixteen hundred francs of pension and
annuity combined. Having read the gazettes for several days, by favor
of the abbe, Monsieur de Jordy thought it proper to call and thank
the doctor in person. At this first visit the old captain, formerly a
professor at the Military Academy, won the doctor’s heart, who returned
the call with alacrity. Monsieur de Jordy, a spare little man much
troubled by his blood, though his face was very pale, attracted
attention by the resemblance of his handsome brow to that of Charles
XII.; above it he kept his hair cropped short, like that of the
soldier-king. His blue eyes seemed to say that “Love had passed that
way,” so mournful were they; revealing memories about which he kept such
utter silence that his old friends never detected even an allusion to
his past life, nor a single exclamation drawn forth by similarity
of circumstances. He hid the painful mystery of his past beneath a
philosophic gayety, but when he thought himself alone his motions,
stiffened by a slowness which was more a matter of choice than the
result of old age, betrayed the constant presence of distressful
thoughts. The Abbe Chaperon called him a Christian ignorant of his
Christianity. Dressed always in blue cloth, his rather rigid demeanor
and his clothes bespoke the old habits of military discipline. His
sweet and harmonious voice stirred the soul. His beautiful hands and the
general cut of his figure, recalling that of the Comte d’Artois, showed
how charming he must have been in his youth, and made the mystery of
his life still more mysterious. An observer asked involuntarily what
misfortune had blighted such beauty, courage, grace, accomplishment,
and all the precious qualities of the heart once united in his person.
Monsieur de Jordy shuddered if Robespierre’s name were uttered before
him. He took much snuff, but, strange to say, he gave up the habit
to please little Ursula, who at first showed a dislike to him on that
account. As soon as he saw the little girl the captain fastened his eyes
upon her with a look that was almost passionate. He loved her play so
extravagantly and took such interest in all she did that the tie between
himself and the doctor grew closer every day, though the latter never
dared to say to him, “You, too, have you lost children?” There are
beings, kind and patient as old Jordy, who pass through life with a
bitter thought in their heart and a tender but sorrowful smile on their
lips, carrying with them to the grave the secret of their lives; letting
no one guess it,--through pride, through disdain, possibly through
revenge; confiding in none but God, without other consolation than his.

Monsieur de Jordy, like the doctor, had come to die in Nemours, but he
knew no one except the abbe, who was always at the beck and call of
his parishioners, and Madame de Portenduere, who went to bed at nine
o’clock. So, much against his will, he too had taken to going to bed
early, in spite of the thorns that beset his pillow. It was therefore a
great piece of good fortune for him (as well as for the doctor) when
he encountered a man who had known the same world and spoken the same
language as himself; with whom he could exchange ideas, and who went to
bed late. After Monsieur de Jordy, the Abbe Chaperon, and Minoret had
passed one evening together they found so much pleasure in it that the
priest and soldier returned every night regularly at nine o’clock, the
hour at which, little Ursula having gone to bed, the doctor was free.
All three would then sit up till midnight or one o’clock.

After a time this trio became a quartette. Another man to whom life
was known, and who owed to his practical training as a lawyer,
the indulgence, knowledge, observation, shrewdness, and talent for
conversation which the soldier, doctor, and priest owed to their
practical dealings with the souls, diseases, and education of men, was
added to the number. Monsieur Bongrand, the justice of peace, heard of
the pleasure of these evenings and sought admittance to the doctor’s
society. Before becoming justice of peace at Nemours he had been for ten
years a solicitor at Melun, where he conducted his own cases, according
to the custom of small towns, where there are no barristers. He became a
widower at forty-five years of age, but felt himself still too active
to lead an idle life; he therefore sought and obtained the position of
justice of peace at Nemours, which became vacant a few months before
the arrival of Doctor Minoret. Monsieur Bongrand lived modestly on his
salary of fifteen hundred francs, in order that he might devote his
private income to his son, who was studying law in Paris under the
famous Derville. He bore some resemblance to a retired chief of a civil
service office; he had the peculiar face of a bureaucrat, less sallow
than pallid, on which public business, vexations, and disgust leave
their imprint,--a face lined by thought, and also by the continual
restraints familiar to those who are trained not to speak their minds
freely. It was often illumined by smiles characteristic of men who
alternately believe all and believe nothing, who are accustomed to see
and hear all without being startled, and to fathom the abysses which
self-interest hollows in the depths of the human heart.

Below the hair, which was less white than discolored, and worn flattened
to the head, was a fine, sagacious forehead, the yellow tones of which
harmonized well with the scanty tufts of thin hair. His face, with the
features set close together, bore some likeness to that of a fox,
all the more because his nose was short and pointed. In speaking,
he spluttered at the mouth, which was broad like that of most great
talkers,--a habit which led Goupil to say, ill-naturedly, “An umbrella
would be useful when listening to him,” or, “The justice rains
verdicts.” His eyes looked keen behind his spectacles, but if he took
the glasses off his dulled glance seemed almost vacant. Though he was
naturally gay, even jovial, he was apt to give himself too important
and pompous an air. He usually kept his hands in the pockets of his
trousers, and only took them out to settle his eye-glasses on his nose,
with a movement that was half comic, and which announced the coming of
a keen observation or some victorious argument. His gestures, his
loquacity, his innocent self-assertion, proclaimed the provincial
lawyer. These slight defects were, however, superficial; he redeemed
them by an exquisite kind-heartedness which a rigid moralist might call
the indulgence natural to superiority. He looked a little like a fox,
and he was thought to be very wily, but never false or dishonest. His
wiliness was perspicacity; and consisted in foreseeing results and
protecting himself and others from the traps set for them. He loved
whist, a game known to the captain and the doctor, and which the abbe
learned to play in a very short time.

This little circle of friends made for itself an oasis in Mironet’s
salon. The doctor of Nemours, who was not without education and
knowledge of the world, and who greatly respected Minoret as an honor
to the profession, came there sometimes; but his duties and also his
fatigue (which obliged him to go to bed early and to be up early)
prevented his being as assiduously present as the three other friends.
This intercourse of five superior men, the only ones in Nemours who
had sufficiently wide knowledge to understand each other, explains old
Minoret’s aversion to his relatives; if he were compelled to leave them
his money, at least he need not admit them to his society. Whether the
post master, the sheriff, and the collector understood this distinction,
or whether they were reassured by the evident loyalty and benefactions
of their uncle, certain it is that they ceased, to his great
satisfaction, to see much of him. So, about eight months after the
arrival of the doctor these four players of whist and backgammon made
a solid and exclusive little world which was to each a fraternal
aftermath, an unlooked for fine season, the gentle pleasures of which
were the more enjoyed. This little circle of choice spirits closed
round Ursula, a child whom each adopted according to his individual
tendencies; the abbe thought of her soul, the judge imagined himself her
guardian, the soldier intended to be her teacher, and as for Minoret, he
was father, mother, and physician, all in one.

After he became acclimated old Minoret settled into certain habits of
life, under fixed rules, after the manner of the provinces. On Ursula’s
account he received no visitors in the morning, and never gave dinners,
but his friends were at liberty to come to his house at six o’clock and
stay till midnight. The first-comers found the newspapers on the table
and read them while awaiting the rest; or they sometimes sallied forth
to meet the doctor if he were out for a walk. This tranquil life was not
a mere necessity of old age, it was the wise and careful scheme of a man
of the world to keep his happiness untroubled by the curiosity of
his heirs and the gossip of a little town. He yielded nothing to that
capricious goddess, public opinion, whose tyranny (one of the present
great evils of France) was just beginning to establish its power and
to make the whole nation a mere province. So, as soon as the child was
weaned and could walk alone, the doctor sent away the housekeeper whom
his niece, Madame Minoret-Levrault had chosen for him, having discovered
that she told her patroness everything that happened in his household.

Ursula’s nurse, the widow of a poor workman (who possessed no name but a
baptismal one, and who came from Bougival) had lost her last child, aged
six months, just as the doctor, who knew her to be a good and honest
creature, engaged her as wetnurse for Ursula. Antoinette Patris (her
maiden name), widow of Pierre, called Le Bougival, attached herself
naturally to Ursula, as wetmaids do to their nurslings. This blind
maternal affection was accompanied in this instance by household
devotion. Told of the doctor’s intention to send away his housekeeper,
La Bougival secretly learned to cook, became neat and handy, and
discovered the old man’s ways. She took the utmost care of the house and
furniture; in short she was indefatigable. Not only did the doctor wish
to keep his private life within four walls, as the saying is, but he
also had certain reasons for hiding a knowledge of his business affairs
from his relatives. At the end of the second year after his arrival La
Bougival was the only servant in the house; on her discretion he knew he
could count, and he disguised his real purposes by the all-powerful open
reason of a necessary economy. To the great satisfaction of his heirs he
became a miser. Without fawning or wheedling, solely by the influence of
her devotion and solicitude, La Bougival, who was forty-three years old
at the time this tale begins, was the housekeeper of the doctor and
his protegee, the pivot on which the whole house turned, in short,
the confidential servant. She was called La Bougival from the admitted
impossibility of applying to her person the name that actually belonged
to her, Antoinette--for names and forms do obey the laws of harmony.

The doctor’s miserliness was not mere talk; it was real, and it had an
object. From the year 1817 he cut off two of his newspapers and ceased
subscribing to periodicals. His annual expenses, which all Nemours could
estimate, did not exceed eighteen hundred francs a year. Like most old
men his wants in linen, boots, and clothing, were very few. Every six
months he went to Paris, no doubt to draw and reinvest his income. In
fifteen years he never said a single word to any one in relation to his
affairs. His confidence in Bongrand was of slow growth; it was not until
after the revolution of 1830 that he told him of his projects. Nothing
further was known of the doctor’s life either by the bourgeoisie at
large or by his heirs. As for his political opinions, he did not meddle
in public matters seeing that he paid less than a hundred francs a year
in taxes, and refused, impartially, to subscribe to either royalist or
liberal demands. His known horror for the priesthood, and his deism were
so little obtrusive that he turned out of his house a commercial runner
sent by his great-nephew Desire to ask a subscription to the “Cure
Meslier” and the “Discours du General Foy.” Such tolerance seemed
inexplicable to the liberals of Nemours.

The doctor’s three collateral heirs, Minoret-Levrault and his wife,
Monsieur and Madame Massin-Levrault, junior, Monsieur and Madame
Cremiere-Cremiere--whom we shall in future call simply Cremiere,
Massin, and Minoret, because these distinctions among homonyms is quite
unnecessary out of the Gatinais--met together as people do in little
towns. The post master gave a grand dinner on his son’s birthday, a ball
during the carnival, another on the anniversary of his marriage, to
all of which he invited the whole bourgeoisie of Nemours. The collector
received his relations and friends twice a year. The clerk of the court,
too poor, he said, to fling himself into such extravagance, lived in
a small way in a house standing half-way down the Grand’Rue, the
ground-floor of which was let to his sister, the letter-postmistress
of Nemours, a situation she owed to the doctor’s kind offices.
Nevertheless, in the course of the year these three families did meet
together frequently, in the houses of friends, in the public promenades,
at the market, on their doorsteps, or, of a Sunday in the square, as on
this occasion; so that one way and another they met nearly every day.
For the last three years the doctor’s age, his economies, and his
probable wealth had led to allusions, or frank remarks, among the
townspeople as to the disposition of his property, a topic which made
the doctor and his heirs of deep interest to the little town. For the
last six months not a day passed that friends and neighbours did not
speak to the heirs, with secret envy, of the day the good man’s eyes
would shut and the coffers open.

“Doctor Minoret may be an able physician, on good terms with death, but
none but God is eternal,” said one.

“Pooh, he’ll bury us all; his health is better than ours,” replied an
heir, hypocritically.

“Well, if you don’t get the money yourselves, your children will, unless
that little Ursula--”

“He won’t leave it all to her.”

Ursula, as Madame Massin had predicted, was the bete noire of the
relations, their sword of Damocles; and Madame Cremiere’s favorite
saying, “Well, whoever lives will know,” shows that they wished at any
rate more harm to her than good.

The collector and the clerk of the court, poor in comparison with the
post master, had often estimated, by way of conversation, the doctor’s
property. If they met their uncle walking on the banks of the canal or
along the road they would look at each other piteously.

“He must have got hold of some elixir of life,” said one.

“He has made a bargain with the devil,” replied the other.

“He ought to give us the bulk of it; that fat Minoret doesn’t need
anything,” said Massin.

“Ah! but Minoret has a son who’ll waste his substance,” answered
Cremiere.

“How much do you really think the doctor has?”

“At the end of twelve years, say twelve thousand francs saved each year,
that would give one hundred and forty-four thousand francs, and the
interest brings in at least one hundred thousand more. But as he
must, if he consults a notary in Paris, have made some good strokes of
business, and we know that up to 1822 he could get seven or eight per
cent from the State, he must now have at least four hundred thousand
francs, without counting the capital of his fourteen thousand a year
from the five per cents. If he were to die to-morrow without leaving
anything to Ursula we should get at least seven or eight hundred
thousand francs, besides the house and furniture.”

“Well, a hundred thousand to Minoret, and three hundred thousand apiece
to you and me, that would be fair.”

“Ha, that would make us comfortable!”

“If he did that,” said Massin, “I should sell my situation in court
and buy an estate; I’d try to be judge at Fontainebleau, and get myself
elected deputy.”

“As for me I should buy a brokerage business,” said the collector.

“Unluckily, that girl he has on his arm and the abbe have got round him.
I don’t believe we can do anything with him.”

“Still, we know very well he will never leave anything to the Church.”



CHAPTER IV. ZELIE

The fright of the heirs at beholding their uncle on his way to mass will
now be understood. The dullest persons have mind enough to foresee a
danger to self-interests. Self-interest constitutes the mind of the
peasant as well as that of the diplomatist, and on that ground the
stupidest of men is sometimes the most powerful. So the fatal reasoning,
“If that little Ursula has influence enough to drag her godfather into
the pale of the Church she will certainly have enough to make him leave
her his property,” was now stamped in letters of fire on the brains of
the most obtuse heir. The post master had forgotten about his son in his
hurry to reach the square; for if the doctor were really in the church
hearing mass it was a question of losing two hundred and fifty thousand
francs. It must be admitted that the fears of these relations came from
the strongest and most legitimate of social feelings, family interests.

“Well, Monsieur Minoret,” said the mayor (formerly a miller who had now
become royalist, named Levrault-Cremiere), “when the devil gets old the
devil a monk would be. Your uncle, they say, is one of us.”

“Better late than never, cousin,” responded the post master, trying to
conceal his annoyance.

“How that fellow will grin if we are defrauded! He is capable of
marrying his son to that damned girl--may the devil get her!” cried
Cremiere, shaking his fists at the mayor as he entered the porch.

“What’s Cremiere grumbling about?” said the butcher of the town, a
Levrault-Levrault the elder. “Isn’t he pleased to see his uncle on the
road to paradise?”

“Who would ever have believed it!” ejaculated Massin.

“Ha! one should never say, ‘Fountain, I’ll not drink of your water,’”
 remarked the notary, who, seeing the group from afar, had left his wife
to go to church without him.

“Come, Monsieur Dionis,” said Cremiere, taking the notary by the arm,
“what do you advise me to do under the circumstances?”

“I advise you,” said the notary, addressing the heirs collectively, “to
go to bed and get up at your usual hour; to eat your soup before it gets
cold; to put your feet in your shoes and your hats on your heads;
in short, to continue your ways of life precisely as if nothing had
happened.”

“You are not consoling,” said Massin.

In spite of his squat, dumpy figure and heavy face, Cremiere-Dionis
was really as keen as a blade. In pursuit of usurious fortune he did
business secretly with Massin, to whom he no doubt pointed out such
peasants as were hampered in means, and such pieces of land as could
be bought for a song. The two men were in a position to choose their
opportunities; none that were good escaped them, and they shared the
profits of mortgage-usury, which retards, though it does not prevent,
the acquirement of the soil by the peasantry. So Dionis took a lively
interest in the doctor’s inheritance, not so much for the post master
and the collector as for his friend the clerk of the court; sooner or
later Massin’s share in the doctor’s money would swell the capital with
which these secret associates worked the canton.

“We must try to find out through Monsieur Bongrand where the influence
comes from,” said the notary in a low voice, with a sign to Massin to
keep quiet.

“What are you about, Minoret?” cried a little woman, suddenly descending
upon the group in the middle of which stood the post master, as tall
and round as a tower. “You don’t know where Desire is and there you are,
planted on your two legs, gossiping about nothing, when I thought you on
horseback!--Oh, good morning, Messieurs and Mesdames.”

This little woman, thin, pale, and fair, dressed in a gown of white
cotton with pattern of large, chocolate-colored flowers, a cap trimmed
with ribbon and frilled with lace, and wearing a small green shawl
on her flat shoulders, was Minoret’s wife, the terror of postilions,
servants, and carters; who kept the accounts and managed the
establishment “with finger and eye” as they say in those parts. Like the
true housekeeper that she was, she wore no ornaments. She did not give
in (to use her own expression) to gew-gaws and trumpery; she held to the
solid and the substantial, and wore, even on Sundays, a black apron, in
the pocket of which she jingled her household keys. Her screeching voice
was agony to the drums of all ears. Her rigid glance, conflicting with
the soft blue of her eyes, was in visible harmony with the thin lips
of a pinched mouth and a high, projecting, and very imperious forehead.
Sharp was the glance, sharper still both gesture and speech. “Zelie
being obliged to have a will for two, had it for three,” said Goupil,
who pointed out the successive reigns of three young postilions, of
neat appearance, who had been set up in life by Zelie, each after seven
years’ service. The malicious clerk named them Postilion I., Postilion
II., Postilion III. But the little influence these young men had in the
establishment, and their perfect obedience proved that Zelie was merely
interested in worthy helpers.

This attempt at scandal was against probabilities. Since the birth of
her son (nursed by her without any evidence of how it was possible for
her to do so) Madame Minoret had thought only of increasing the family
fortune and was wholly given up to the management of their immense
establishment. To steal a bale of hay or a bushel of oats or get the
better of Zelie in even the most complicated accounts was a thing
impossible, though she scribbled hardly better than a cat, and knew
nothing of arithmetic but addition and subtraction. She never took a
walk except to look at the hay, the oats, or the second crops. She sent
“her man” to the mowing, and the postilions to tie the bales, telling
them the quantity, within a hundred pounds, each field should bear.
Though she was the soul of that great body called Minoret-Levrault and
led him about by his pug nose, she was made to feel the fears which
occasionally (we are told) assail all tamers of wild beasts. She
therefore made it a rule to get into a rage before he did; the
postilions knew very well when his wife had been quarreling with him,
for his anger ricocheted on them. Madame Minoret was as clever as she
was grasping; and it was a favorite remark in the whole town, “Where
would Minoret-Levrault be without his wife?”

“When you know what has happened,” replied the post master, “you’ll be
over the traces yourself.”

“What is it?”

“Ursula has taken the doctor to mass.”

Zelie’s pupils dilated; she stood for a moment yellow with anger, then,
crying out, “I’ll see it before I believe it!” she rushed into the
church. The service had reached the Elevation. The stillness of the
worshippers enabled her to look along each row of chairs and benches as
she went up the aisle beside the chapels to Ursula’s place, where she
saw old Minoret standing with bared head.

If you recall the heads of Barbe-Marbois, Boissy d’Anglas, Morellet,
Helvetius, or Frederick the Great, you will see the exact image of
Doctor Minoret, whose green old age resembled that of those celebrated
personages. Their heads coined in the same mint (for each had the
characteristics of a medal) showed a stern and quasi-puritan profile,
cold tones, a mathematical brain, a certain narrowness about the
features, shrewd eyes, grave lips, and a something that was surely
aristocratic--less perhaps in sentiment than in habit, more in the ideas
than in the character. All men of this stamp have high brows retreating
at the summit, the sign of a tendency to materialism. You will find
these leading characteristics of the head and these points of the face
in all the Encyclopedists, in the orators of the Gironde, in the men
of a period when religious ideas were almost dead, men who called
themselves deists and were atheists. The deist is an atheist lucky in
classification.

Minoret had a forehead of this description, furrowed with wrinkles,
which recovered in his old age a sort of artless candor from the manner
in which the silvery hair, brushed back like that of a woman when making
her toilet, curled in light flakes upon the blackness of his coat. He
persisted in dressing, as in his youth, in black silk stockings, shoes
with gold buckles, breeches of black poult-de-soie, and a black coat,
adorned with the red rosette. This head, so firmly characterized, the
cold whiteness of which was softened by the yellowing tones of old age,
happened to be, just then, in the full light of a window. As Madame
Minoret came in sight of him the doctor’s blue eyes with their reddened
lids were raised to heaven; a new conviction had given them a new
expression. His spectacles lay in his prayer-book and marked the place
where he had ceased to pray. The tall and spare old man, his arms
crossed on his breast, stood erect in an attitude which bespoke the full
strength of his faculties and the unshakable assurance of his faith.
He gazed at the altar humbly with a look of renewed hope, and took no
notice of his nephew’s wife, who planted herself almost in front of him
as if to reproach him for coming back to God.

Zelie, seeing all eyes turned upon her, made haste to leave the church
and returned to the square less hurriedly than she had left it. She
had reckoned on the doctor’s money, and possession was becoming
problematical. She found the clerk of the court, the collector, and
their wives in greater consternation than ever. Goupil was taking
pleasure in tormenting them.

“It is not in the public square and before the whole town that we
ought to talk of our affairs,” said Zelie; “come home with me. You too,
Monsieur Dionis,” she added to the notary; “you’ll not be in the way.”

Thus the probable disinheritance of Massin, Cremiere, and the post
master was the news of the day.

Just as the heirs and the notary were crossing the square to go to the
post house the noise of the diligence rattling up to the office, which
was only a few steps from the church, at the top of the Grand’Rue, made
its usual racket.

“Goodness! I’m like you, Minoret; I forgot all about Desire,” said
Zelie. “Let us go and see him get down. He is almost a lawyer; and his
interests are mixed up in this matter.”

The arrival of the diligence is always an amusement, but when it comes
in late some unusual event is expected. The crowd now moved towards the
“Ducler.”

“Here’s Desire!” was the general cry.

The tyrant, and yet the life and soul of Nemours, Desire always put the
town in a ferment when he came. Loved by the young men, with whom he was
invariably generous, he stimulated them by his very presence. But his
methods of amusement were so dreaded by older persons that more than one
family was very thankful to have him complete his studies and study
law in Paris. Desire Minoret, a slight youth, slender and fair like his
mother, from whom he obtained his blue eyes and pale skin, smiled from
the window on the crowd, and jumped lightly down to kiss his mother. A
short sketch of the young fellow will show how proud Zelie felt when she
saw him.

He wore very elegant boots, trousers of white English drilling held
under his feet by straps of varnished leather, a rich cravat, admirably
put on and still more admirably fastened, a pretty fancy waistcoat, in
the pocket of said waistcoat a flat watch, the chain of which hung down;
and, finally, a short frock-coat of blue cloth, and a gray hat,--but his
lack of the manner-born was shown in the gilt buttons of the waistcoat
and the ring worn outside of his purple kid glove. He carried a cane
with a chased gold head.

“You are losing your watch,” said his mother, kissing him.

“No, it is worn that way,” he replied, letting his father hug him.

“Well, cousin, so we shall soon see you a lawyer?” said Massin.

“I shall take the oaths at the beginning of next term,” said Desire,
returning the friendly nods he was receiving on all sides.

“Now we shall have some fun,” said Goupil, shaking him by the hand.

“Ha! my old wag, so here you are!” replied Desire.

“You take your law license for all license,” said Goupil, affronted by
being treated so cavalierly in presence of others.

“You know my luggage,” cried Desire to the red-faced old conductor of
the diligence; “have it taken to the house.”

“The sweat is rolling off your horses,” said Zelie sharply to the
conductor; “you haven’t common-sense to drive them in that way. You are
stupider than your own beasts.”

“But Monsieur Desire was in a hurry to get here to save you from
anxiety,” explained Cabirolle.

“But if there was no accident why risk killing the horses?” she
retorted.

The greetings of friends and acquaintances, the crowding of the young
men around Desire, and the relating of the incidents of the journey took
enough time for the mass to be concluded and the worshippers to issue
from the church. By mere chance (which manages many things) Desire saw
Ursula on the porch as he passed along, and he stopped short amazed at
her beauty. His action also stopped the advance of the relations who
accompanied him.

In giving her arm to her godfather, Ursula was obliged to hold her
prayer-book in one hand and her parasol in the other; and this she
did with the innate grace which graceful women put into the awkward
or difficult things of their charming craft of womanhood. If mind does
truly reveal itself in all things, we may be permitted to say that
Ursula’s attitude and bearing suggested divine simplicity. She was
dressed in a white cambric gown made like a wrapper, trimmed here and
there with knots of blue ribbon. The pelerine, edged with the same
ribbon run through a broad hem and tied with bows like those on the
dress, showed the great beauty of her shape. Her throat, of a pure
white, was charming in tone against the blue,--the right color for a
fair skin. A long blue sash with floating ends defined a slender waist
which seemed flexible,--a most seductive charm in women. She wore a
rice-straw bonnet, modestly trimmed with ribbons like those of the gown,
the strings of which were tied under her chin, setting off the whiteness
of the straw and doing no despite to that of her beautiful complexion.
Ursula dressed her own hair naturally (a la Berthe, as it was then
called) in heavy braids of fine, fair hair, laid flat on either side
of the head, each little strand reflecting the light as she walked.
Her gray eyes, soft and proud at the same time, were in harmony with a
finely modeled brow. A rosy tinge, suffusing her cheeks like a cloud,
brightened a face which was regular without being insipid; for nature
had given her, by some rare privilege, extreme purity of form combined
with strength of countenance. The nobility of her life was manifest in
the general expression of her person, which might have served as a model
for a type of trustfulness, or of modesty. Her health, though brilliant,
was not coarsely apparent; in fact, her whole air was distinguished.
Beneath the little gloves of a light color it was easy to imagine
her pretty hands. The arched and slender feet were delicately shod
in bronzed kid boots trimmed with a brown silk fringe. Her blue sash
holding at the waist a small flat watch and a blue purse with gilt
tassels attracted the eyes of every woman she met.

“He has given her a new watch!” said Madame Cremiere, pinching her
husband’s arm.

“Heavens! is that Ursula?” cried Desire; “I didn’t recognize her.”

“Well, my dear uncle,” said the post master, addressing the doctor and
pointing to the whole population drawn up in parallel hedges to let the
doctor pass, “everybody wants to see you.”

“Was it the Abbe Chaperon or Mademoiselle Ursula who converted you,
uncle,” said Massin, bowing to the doctor and his protegee, with
Jesuitical humility.

“Ursula,” replied the doctor, laconically, continuing to walk on as if
annoyed.

The night before, as the old man finished his game of whist with Ursula,
the Nemours doctor, and Bongrand, he remarked, “I intend to go to church
to-morrow.”

“Then,” said Bongrand, “your heirs won’t get another night’s rest.”

The speech was superfluous, however, for a single glance sufficed the
sagacious and clear-sighted doctor to read the minds of his heirs by
the expression of their faces. Zelie’s irruption into the church, her
glance, which the doctor intercepted, this meeting of all the expectant
ones in the public square, and the expression in their eyes as they
turned them on Ursula, all proved to him their hatred, now freshly
awakened, and their sordid fears.

“It is a feather in your cap, Mademoiselle,” said Madame Cremiere,
putting in her word with a humble bow,--“a miracle which will not cost
you much.”

“It is God’s doing, madame,” replied Ursula.

“God!” exclaimed Minoret-Levrault; “my father-in-law used to say he
served to blanket many horses.”

“Your father-in-law had the mind of a jockey,” said the doctor severely.

“Come,” said Minoret to his wife and son, “why don’t you bow to my
uncle?”

“I shouldn’t be mistress of myself before that little hypocrite,” cried
Zelie, carrying off her son.

“I advise you, uncle, not to go to mass without a velvet cap,” said
Madame Massin; “the church is very damp.”

“Pooh, niece,” said the doctor, looking round on the assembly, “the
sooner I’m put to bed the sooner you’ll flourish.”

He walked on quickly, drawing Ursula with him, and seemed in such a
hurry that the others dropped behind.

“Why do you say such harsh things to them? it isn’t right,” said Ursula,
shaking his arm in a coaxing way.

“I shall always hate hypocrites, as much after as before I became
religious. I have done good to them all, and I asked no gratitude; but
not one of my relatives sent you a flower on your birthday, which they
know is the only day I celebrate.”

At some distance behind the doctor and Ursula came Madame de
Portenduere, dragging herself along as if overcome with trouble. She
belonged to the class of old women whose dress recalls the style of the
last century. They wear puce-colored gowns with flat sleeves, the cut of
which can be seen in the portraits of Madame Lebrun; they all have black
lace mantles and bonnets of a shape gone by, in keeping with their slow
and dignified deportment; one might almost fancy that they still wore
paniers under their petticoats or felt them there, as persons who have
lost a leg are said to fancy that the foot is moving. They swathe their
heads in old lace which declines to drape gracefully about their cheeks.
Their wan and elongated faces, their haggard eyes and faded brows, are
not without a certain melancholy grace, in spite of the false fronts
with flattened curls to which they cling,--and yet these ruins are all
subordinate to an unspeakable dignity of look and manner.

The red and wrinkled eyes of this old lady showed plainly that she had
been crying during the service. She walked like a person in trouble,
seemed to be expecting some one, and looked behind her from time to
time. Now, the fact of Madame de Portenduere looking behind her was
really as remarkable in its way as the conversion of Doctor Minoret.

“Who can Madame de Portenduere be looking for?” said Madame Massin,
rejoining the other heirs, who were for the moment struck dumb by the
doctor’s answer.

“For the cure,” said Dionis, the notary, suddenly striking his forehead
as if some forgotten thought or memory had occurred to him. “I have an
idea! I’ll save your inheritance! Let us go and breakfast gayly with
Madame Minoret.”

We can well imagine the alacrity with which the heirs followed the
notary to the post house. Goupil, who accompanied his friend Desire,
locked arm in arm with him, whispered something in the youth’s ear with
an odious smile.

“What do I care?” answered the son of the house, shrugging his
shoulders. “I am madly in love with Florine, the most celestial creature
in the world.”

“Florine! and who may she be?” demanded Goupil. “I’m too fond of you to
let you make a goose of yourself wish such creatures.”

“Florine is the idol of the famous Nathan; my passion is wasted, I know
that. She has positively refused to marry me.”

“Sometimes those girls who are fools with their bodies are wise with
their heads,” responded Goupil.

“If you could but see her--only once,” said Desire, lackadaisically,
“you wouldn’t say such things.”

“If I saw you throwing away your whole future for nothing better than
a fancy,” said Goupil, with a warmth which might even have deceived
his master, “I would break your doll as Varney served Amy Robsart in
‘Kenilworth.’ Your wife must be a d’Aiglement or a Mademoiselle du
Rouvre, and get you made a deputy. My future depends on yours, and I
sha’n’t let you commit any follies.”

“I am rich enough to care only for happiness,” replied Desire.

“What are you two plotting together?” cried Zelie, beckoning to the two
friends, who were standing in the middle of the courtyard, to come into
the house.

The doctor disappeared into the Rue des Bourgeois with the activity of
a young man, and soon reached his own house, where strange events had
lately taken place, the visible results of which now filled the minds
of the whole community of Nemours. A few explanations are needed to make
this history and the notary’s remark to the heirs perfectly intelligible
to the reader.



CHAPTER V. URSULA

The father-in-law of Doctor Minoret, the famous harpsichordist and
maker of instruments, Valentin Mirouet, also one of our most celebrated
organists, died in 1785 leaving a natural son, the child of his old age,
whom he acknowledged and called by his own name, but who turned out a
worthless fellow. He was deprived on his death bed of the comfort of
seeing this petted son. Joseph Mirouet, a singer and composer, having
made his debut at the Italian opera under a feigned name, ran away with
a young lady in Germany. The dying father commended the young man, who
was really full of talent, to his son-in-law, proving to him, at the
same time, that he had refused to marry the mother that he might not
injure Madame Minoret. The doctor promised to give the unfortunate
Joseph half of whatever his wife inherited from her father, whose
business was purchased by the Erards. He made due search for his
illegitimate brother-in-law; but Grimm informed him one day that after
enlisting in a Prussian regiment Joseph had deserted and taken a false
name and that all efforts to find him would be frustrated.

Joseph Mirouet, gifted by nature with a delightful voice, a fine figure,
a handsome face, and being moreover a composer of great taste and much
brilliancy, led for over fifteen years the Bohemian life which Hoffman
has so well described. So, by the time he was forty, he was reduced to
such depths of poverty that he took advantage of the events of 1806
to make himself once more a Frenchman. He settled in Hamburg, where he
married the daughter of a bourgeois, a girl devoted to music, who fell
in love with the singer (whose fame was ever prospective) and chose
to devote her life to him. But after fifteen years of Bohemia, Joseph
Mirouet was unable to bear prosperity; he was naturally a spendthrift,
and though kind to his wife, he wasted her fortune in a very few years.
The household must have dragged on a wretched existence before Joseph
Mirouet reached the point of enlisting as a musician in a French
regiment. In 1813 the surgeon-major of the regiment, by the merest
chance, heard the name of Mirouet, was struck by it, and wrote to Doctor
Minoret, to whom he was under obligations.

The answer was not long in coming. As a result, in 1814, before the
allied occupation, Joseph Mirouet had a home in Paris, where his wife
died giving birth to a little girl, whom the doctor desired should
be called Ursula after his wife. The father did not long survive the
mother, worn out, as she was, by hardship and poverty. When dying the
unfortunate musician bequeathed his daughter to the doctor, who was
already her godfather, in spite of his repugnance for what he called the
mummeries of the Church. Having seen his own children die in succession
either in dangerous confinements or during the first year of their
lives, the doctor had awaited with anxiety the result of a last hope.
When a nervous, delicate, and sickly woman begins with a miscarriage
it is not unusual to see her go through a series of such pregnancies as
Ursula Minoret did, in spite of the care and watchfulness and science
of her husband. The poor man often blamed himself for their mutual
persistence in desiring children. The last child, born after a rest
of nearly two years, died in 1792, a victim of its mother’s nervous
condition--if we listen to physiologists, who tell us that in the
inexplicable phenomenon of generation the child derives from the father
by blood and from the mother in its nervous system.

Compelled to renounce the joys of a feeling all powerful within him, the
doctor turned to benevolence as a substitute for his denied paternity.
During his married life, thus cruelly disappointed, he had longed more
especially for a fair little daughter, a flower to bring joy to the
house; he therefore gladly accepted Joseph Mirouet’s legacy, and gave to
the orphan all the hopes of his vanished dreams. For two years he took
part, as Cato for Pompey, in the most minute particulars of Ursula’s
life; he would not allow the nurse to suckle her or to take her up or
put her to bed without him. His medical science and his experience
were all put to use in her service. After going through many trials,
alternations of hope and fear, and the joys and labors of a mother, he
had the happiness of seeing this child of the fair German woman and the
French singer a creature of vigorous health and profound sensibility.

With all the eager feelings of a mother the happy old man watched the
growth of the pretty hair, first down, then silk, at last hair, fine and
soft and clinging to the fingers that caressed it. He often kissed the
little naked feet the toes of which, covered with a pellicle through
which the blood was seen, were like rosebuds. He was passionately fond
of the child. When she tried to speak, or when she fixed her beautiful
blue eyes upon some object with that serious, reflective look which
seems the dawn of thought, and which she ended with a laugh, he would
stay by her side for hours, seeking, with Jordy’s help, to understand
the reasons (which most people call caprices) underlying the phenomena
of this delicious phase of life, when childhood is both flower and
fruit, a confused intelligence, a perpetual movement, a powerful desire.

Ursula’s beauty and gentleness made her so dear to the doctor that he
would have liked to change the laws of nature in her behalf. He declared
to old Jordy that his teeth ached when Ursula was cutting hers. When old
men love children there is no limit to their passion--they worship them.
For these little beings they silence their own manias or recall a whole
past in their service. Experience, patience, sympathy, the acquisitions
of life, treasures laboriously amassed, all are spent upon that young
life in which they live again; their intelligence does actually take the
place of motherhood. Their wisdom, ever on the alert, is equal to the
intuition of a mother; they remember the delicate perceptions which in
their own mother were divinations, and import them into the exercise of
a compassion which is carried to an extreme in their minds by a sense of
the child’s unutterable weakness. The slowness of their movements takes
the place of maternal gentleness. In them, as in children, life is
reduced to its simplest expression; if maternal sentiment makes the
mother a slave, the abandonment of self allows an old man to devote
himself utterly. For these reasons it is not unusual to see children in
close intimacy with old persons. The old soldier, the old abbe, the old
doctor, happy in the kisses and cajoleries of little Ursula, were never
weary of answering her talk and playing with her. Far from making
them impatient her petulances charmed them; and they gratified all her
wishes, making each the ground of some little training.

The child grew up surrounded by old men, who smiled at her and made
themselves mothers for her sake, all three equally attentive and
provident. Thanks to this wise education, Ursula’s soul developed in
a sphere that suited it. This rare plant found its special soil; it
breathed the elements of its true life and assimilated the sun rays that
belonged to it.

“In what faith do you intend to bring up the little one?” asked the abbe
of the doctor, when Ursula was six years old.

“In yours,” answered Minoret.

An atheist after the manner of Monsieur Wolmar in the “Nouvelle Heloise”
 he did not claim the right to deprive Ursula of the benefits offered
by the Catholic religion. The doctor, sitting at the moment on a bench
outside the Chinese pagoda, felt the pressure of the abbe’s hand on his.

“Yes, abbe, every time she talks to me of God I shall send her to her
friend ‘Shapron,’” he said, imitating Ursula’s infant speech, “I wish to
see whether religious sentiment is inborn or not. Therefore I shall do
nothing either for or against the tendencies of that young soul; but in
my heart I have appointed you her spiritual guardian.”

“God will reward you, I hope,” replied the abbe, gently joining his
hands and raising them towards heaven as if he were making a brief
mental prayer.

So, from the time she was six years old the little orphan lived under
the religious influence of the abbe, just as she had already come under
the educational training of her friend Jordy.

The captain, formerly a professor in a military academy, having a
taste for grammar and for the differences among European languages, had
studied the problem of a universal tongue. This learned man, patient as
most old scholars are, delighted in teaching Ursula to read and write.
He taught her also the French language and all she needed to know of
arithmetic. The doctor’s library afforded a choice of books which could
be read by a child for amusement as well as instruction.

The abbe and the soldier allowed the young mind to enrich itself with
the freedom and comfort which the doctor gave to the body. Ursula
learned as she played. Religion was given with due reflection. Left
to follow the divine training of a nature that was led into regions of
purity by these judicious educators, Ursula inclined more to sentiment
than to duty; she took as her rule of conduct the voice of her own
conscience rather than the demands of social law. In her, nobility of
feeling and action would ever be spontaneous; her judgment would confirm
the impulse of her heart. She was destined to do right as a pleasure
before doing it as an obligation. This distinction is the peculiar sign
of Christian education. These principles, altogether different from
those that are taught to men, were suitable for a woman,--the spirit and
the conscience of the home, the beautifier of domestic life, the queen
of her household. All three of these old preceptors followed the same
method with Ursula. Instead of recoiling before the bold questions of
innocence, they explained to her the reasons of things and the best
means of action, taking care to give her none but correct ideas.
When, apropos of a flower, a star, a blade of grass, her thoughts went
straight to God, the doctor and the professor told her that the priest
alone could answer her. None of them intruded on the territory of the
others; the doctor took charge of her material well-being and the
things of life; Jordy’s department was instruction; moral and spiritual
questions and the ideas appertaining to the higher life belonged to
the abbe. This noble education was not, as it often is, counteracted by
injudicious servants. La Bougival, having been lectured on the subject,
and being, moreover, too simple in mind and character to interfere, did
nothing to injure the work of these great minds. Ursula, a privileged
being, grew up with good geniuses round her; and her naturally fine
disposition made the task of each a sweet and easy one. Such manly
tenderness, such gravity lighted by smiles, such liberty without danger,
such perpetual care of soul and body made little Ursula, when nine years
of age, a well-trained child and delightful to behold.

Unhappily, this paternal trinity was broken up. The old captain died the
following year, leaving the abbe and the doctor to finish his work, of
which, however, he had accomplished the most difficult part. Flowers
will bloom of themselves if grown in a soil thus prepared. The old
gentleman had laid by for ten years past one thousand francs a year,
that he might leave ten thousand to his little Ursula, and keep a place
in her memory during her whole life. In his will, the wording of which
was very touching, he begged his legatee to spend the four or five
hundred francs that came of her little capital exclusively on her dress.
When the justice of the peace applied the seals to the effects of his
old friend, they found in a small room, which the captain had allowed
no one to enter, a quantity of toys, many of them broken, while all
had been used,--toys of a past generation, reverently preserved, which
Monsieur Bongrand was, according to the captain’s last wishes, to burn
with his own hands.

About this time it was that Ursula made her first communion. The abbe
employed one whole year in duly instructing the young girl, whose mind
and heart, each well developed, yet judiciously balancing one another,
needed a special spiritual nourishment. The initiation into a knowledge
of divine things which he gave her was such that Ursula grew into
the pious and mystical young girl whose character rose above all
vicissitudes, and whose heart was enabled to conquer adversity. Then
began a secret struggle between the old man wedded to unbelief and the
young girl full of faith,--long unsuspected by her who incited it,--the
result of which had now stirred the whole town, and was destined to have
great influence on Ursula’s future by rousing against her the antagonism
of the doctor’s heirs.

During the first six months of the year 1824 Ursula spent all her
mornings at the parsonage. The old doctor guessed the abbe’s secret
hope. He meant to make Ursula an unanswerable argument against him.
The old unbeliever, loved by his godchild as though she were his own
daughter, would surely believe in such artless candor; he could not fail
to be persuaded by the beautiful effects of religion on the soul of a
child, where love was like those trees of Eastern climes, bearing both
flowers and fruit, always fragrant, always fertile. A beautiful life is
more powerful than the strongest argument. It is impossible to resist
the charms of certain sights. The doctor’s eyes were wet, he knew not
how or why, when he saw the child of his heart starting for the church,
wearing a frock of white crape, and shoes of white satin; her hair bound
with a fillet fastened at the side with a knot of white ribbon, and
rippling upon her shoulders; her eyes lighted by the star of a first
hope; hurrying, tall and beautiful, to a first union, and loving her
godfather better since her soul had risen towards God. When the doctor
perceived that the thought of immortality was nourishing that spirit
(until then within the confines of childhood) as the sun gives life to
the earth without knowing why, he felt sorry that he remained at home
alone.

Sitting on the steps of his portico he kept his eyes fixed on the iron
railing of the gate through which the child had disappeared, saying as
she left him: “Why won’t you come, godfather? how can I be happy without
you?” Though shaken to his very center, the pride of the Encyclopedist
did not as yet give way. He walked slowly in a direction from which he
could see the procession of communicants, and distinguish his little
Ursula brilliant with exaltation beneath her veil. She gave him an
inspired look, which knocked, in the stony regions of his heart, on
the corner closed to God. But still the old deist held firm. He said
to himself: “Mummeries! if there be a maker of worlds, imagine the
organizer of infinitude concerning himself with such trifles!” He
laughed as he continued his walk along the heights which look down upon
the road to the Gatinais, where the bells were ringing a joyous peal
that told of the joy of families.

The noise of backgammon is intolerable to persons who do not know the
game, which is really one of the most difficult that was ever invented.
Not to annoy his godchild, the extreme delicacy of whose organs and
nerves could not bear, he thought, without injury the noise and the
exclamations she did not know the meaning of, the abbe, old Jordy while
living, and the doctor always waited till their child was in bed before
they began their favorite game. Sometimes the visitors came early
when she was out for a walk, and the game would be going on when she
returned; then she resigned herself with infinite grace and took her
seat at the window with her work. She had a repugnance to the game,
which is really in the beginning very hard and unconquerable to some
minds, so that unless it be learned in youth it is almost impossible to
take it up in after life.

The night of her first communion, when Ursula came into the salon where
her godfather was sitting alone, she put the backgammon-board before
him.

“Whose throw shall it be?” she asked.

“Ursula,” said the doctor, “isn’t it a sin to make fun of your godfather
the day of your first communion?”

“I am not making fun of you,” she said, sitting down. “I want to give
you some pleasure--you who are always on the look-out for mine. When
Monsieur Chaperon was pleased with me he gave me a lesson in backgammon,
and he has given me so many that now I am quite strong enough to beat
you--you shall not deprive yourself any longer for me. I have conquered
all difficulties, and now I like the noise of the game.”

Ursula won. The abbe had slipped in to enjoy his triumph. The next day
Minoret, who had always refused to let Ursula learn music, sent to
Paris for a piano, made arrangements at Fontainebleau for a teacher, and
submitted to the annoyance that her constant practicing was to him. One
of poor Jordy’s predictions was fulfilled,--the girl became an excellent
musician. The doctor, proud of her talent, had lately sent to Paris for
a master, an old German named Schmucke, a distinguished professor who
came once a week; the doctor willingly paying for an art which he had
formerly declared to be useless in a household. Unbelievers do not like
music--a celestial language, developed by Catholicism, which has taken
the names of the seven notes from one of the church hymns; every note
being the first syllable of the seven first lines in the hymn to Saint
John.

The impression produced on the doctor by Ursula’s first communion though
keen was not lasting. The calm and sweet contentment which prayer and
the exercise of resolution produced in that young soul had not their due
influence upon him. Having no reasons for remorse or repentance himself,
he enjoyed a serene peace. Doing his own benefactions without hope of a
celestial harvest, he thought himself on a nobler plane than religious
men whom he always accused for making, as he called it, terms with God.

“But,” the abbe would say to him, “if all men would be so, you must
admit that society would be regenerated; there would be no more
misery. To be benevolent after your fashion one must needs be a great
philosopher; you rise to your principles through reason, you are a
social exception; whereas it suffices to be a Christian to make us
benevolent in ours. With you, it is an effort; with us, it comes
naturally.”

“In other words, abbe, I think, and you feel,--that’s the whole of it.”

However, at twelve years of age, Ursula, whose quickness and natural
feminine perceptions were trained by her superior education, and whose
intelligence in its dawn was enlightened by a religious spirit (of all
spirits the most refined), came to understand that her godfather did
not believe in a future life, nor in the immortality of the soul, nor in
providence, nor in God. Pressed with questions by the innocent creature,
the doctor was unable to hide the fatal secret. Ursula’s artless
consternation made him smile, but when he saw her depressed and sad he
felt how deep an affection her sadness revealed. Absolute devotion has
a horror of every sort of disagreement, even in ideas which it does
not share. Sometimes the doctor accepted his darling’s reasonings as he
would her kisses, said as they were in the sweetest of voices with
the purest and most fervent feeling. Believers and unbelievers speak
different languages and cannot understand each other. The young girl
pleading God’s cause was unreasonable with the old man, as a spoilt
child sometimes maltreats its mother. The abbe rebuked her gently,
telling her that God had power to humiliate proud spirits. Ursula
replied that David had overcome Goliath.

This religious difference, these complaints of the child who wished to
drag her godfather to God, were the only troubles of this happy life, so
peaceful, yet so full, and wholly withdrawn from the inquisitive eyes
of the little town. Ursula grew and developed, and became in time the
modest and religiously trained young woman whom Desire admired as she
left the church. The cultivation of flowers in the garden, her music,
the pleasures of her godfather, and all the little cares she was able to
give him (for she had eased La Bougival’s labors by doing everything for
him),--these things filled the hours, the days, the months of her calm
life. Nevertheless, for about a year the doctor had felt uneasy about
his Ursula, and watched her health with the utmost care. Sagacious and
profoundly practical observer that he was, he thought he perceived some
commotion in her moral being. He watched her like a mother, but seeing
no one about her who was worthy of inspiring love, his uneasiness on the
subject at length passed away.

At this conjuncture, one month before the day when this drama begins,
the doctor’s intellectual life was invaded by one of those events which
plough to the very depths of a man’s convictions and turn them over. But
this event needs a succinct narrative of certain circumstances in his
medical career, which will give, perhaps, fresh interest to the story.



CHAPTER VI. A TREATISE ON MESMERISM

Towards the end of the eighteenth century science was sundered as widely
by the apparition of Mesmer as art had been by that of Gluck. After
re-discovering magnetism Mesmer came to France, where, from time
immemorial, inventors have flocked to obtain recognition for their
discoveries. France, thanks to her lucid language, is in some sense the
clarion of the world.

“If homoeopathy gets to Paris it is saved,” said Hahnemann, recently.

“Go to France,” said Monsieur de Metternich to Gall, “and if they laugh
at your bumps you will be famous.”

Mesmer had disciples and antagonists as ardent for and against his
theories as the Piccinists and the Gluckists for theirs. Scientific
France was stirred to its center; a solemn conclave was opened. Before
judgment was rendered, the medical faculty proscribed, in a body,
Mesmer’s so-called charlatanism, his tub, his conducting wires, and
his theory. But let us at once admit that the German, unfortunately,
compromised his splendid discovery by enormous pecuniary claims. Mesmer
was defeated by the doubtfulness of facts, by universal ignorance of the
part played in nature by imponderable fluids then unobserved, and by his
own inability to study on all sides a science possessing a triple
front. Magnetism has many applications; in Mesmer’s hands it was, in
its relation to the future, merely what cause is to effect. But, if
the discoverer lacked genius, it is a sad thing both for France and
for human reason to have to say that a science contemporaneous with
civilization, cultivated by Egypt and Chaldea, by Greece and India, met
in Paris in the eighteenth century the fate that Truth in the person of
Galileo found in the sixteenth; and that magnetism was rejected and cast
out by the combined attacks of science and religion, alarmed for their
own positions. Magnetism, the favorite science of Jesus Christ and
one of the divine powers which he gave to his disciples, was no better
apprehended by the Church than by the disciples of Jean-Jacques,
Voltaire, Locke, and Condillac. The Encyclopedists and the clergy were
equally averse to the old human power which they took to be new. The
miracles of the convulsionaries, suppressed by the Church and smothered
by the indifference of scientific men (in spite of the precious writings
of the Councilor, Carre de Montgeron) were the first summons to make
experiments with those human fluids which give power to employ certain
inward forces to neutralize the sufferings caused by outward agents. But
to do this it was necessary to admit the existence of fluids intangible,
invisible, imponderable, three negative terms in which the science of
that day chose to see a definition of the void. In modern philosophy
there is no void. Ten feet of void and the world crumbles away! To
materialists especially the world is full, all things hang together, are
linked, related, organized. “The world as the result of chance,” said
Diderot, “is more explicable than God. The multiplicity of causes, the
incalculable number of issues presupposed by chance, explain creation.
Take the Eneid and all the letters composing it; if you allow me time
and space, I can, by continuing to cast the letters, arrive at last at
the Eneid combination.”

Those foolish persons who deify all rather than admit a God recoil
before the infinite divisibility of matter which is in the nature of
imponderable forces. Locke and Condillac retarded by fifty years the
immense progress which natural science is now making under the great
principle of unity due to Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire. Some intelligent
persons, without any system, convinced by facts conscientiously studied,
still hold to Mesmer’s doctrine, which recognizes the existence of a
penetrative influence acting from man to man, put in motion by the will,
curative by the abundance of the fluid, the working of which is in fact
a duel between two forces, between an ill to be cured and the will to
cure it.

The phenomena of somnambulism, hardly perceived by Mesmer, were revealed
by du Puysegur and Deleuze; but the Revolution put a stop to their
discoveries and played into the hands of the scientists and scoffers.
Among the small number of believers were a few physicians. They were
persecuted by their brethren as long as they lived. The respectable body
of Parisian doctors displayed all the bitterness of religious warfare
against the Mesmerists, and were as cruel in their hatred as it was
possible to be in those days of Voltairean tolerance. The orthodox
physician refused to consult with those who adopted the Mesmerian
heresy. In 1820 these heretics were still proscribed. The miseries and
sorrows of the Revolution had not quenched the scientific hatred. It is
only priests, magistrates, and physicians who can hate in that way.
The official robe is terrible! But ideas are even more implacable than
things.

Doctor Bouvard, one of Minoret’s friends, believed in the new faith,
and persevered to the day of his death in studying a science to which
he sacrificed the peace of his life, for he was one of the chief “betes
noires” of the Parisian faculty. Minoret, a valiant supporter of
the Encyclopedists, and a formidable adversary of Desion, Mesmer’s
assistant, whose pen had great weight in the controversy, quarreled with
his old friend, and not only that, but he persecuted him. His conduct
to Bouvard must have caused him the only remorse which troubled the
serenity of his declining years. Since his retirement to Nemours the
science of imponderable fluids (the only name suitable for magnetism,
which, by the nature of its phenomena, is closely allied to light and
electricity) had made immense progress, in spite of the ridicule of
Parisian scientists. Phrenology and physiognomy, the departments of Gall
and Lavater (which are in fact twins, for one is to the other as cause
is to effect), proved to the minds of more than one physiologist the
existence of an intangible fluid which is the basis of the phenomena
of the human will, and from which result passions, habits, the shape of
faces and of skulls. Magnetic facts, the miracles of somnambulism, those
of divination and ecstasy, which open a way to the spiritual world, were
fast accumulating. The strange tale of the apparitions of the farmer
Martin, so clearly proved, and his interview with Louis XVIII.; a
knowledge of the intercourse of Swedenborg with the departed, carefully
investigated in Germany; the tales of Walter Scott on the effects of
“second sight”; the extraordinary faculties of some fortune-tellers, who
practice as a single science chiromancy, cartomancy, and the horoscope;
the facts of catalepsy, and those of the action of certain morbid
affections on the properties of the diaphragm,--all such phenomena,
curious, to say the least, each emanating from the same source, were now
undermining many scepticisms and leading even the most indifferent minds
to the plane of experiments. Minoret, buried in Nemours, was ignorant of
this movement of minds, strong in the north of Europe but still weak
in France where, however, many facts called marvelous by superficial
observers, were happening, but falling, alas! like stones to the bottom
of the sea, in the vortex of Parisian excitements.

At the bottom of the present year the doctor’s tranquillity was shaken
by the following letter:--


My old comrade,--All friendship, even if lost, has rights which it is
difficult to set aside. I know that you are still living, and I
remember far less our enmity than our happy days in that old hovel of
Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre.

At a time when I expect to soon leave the world I have it on my heart to
prove to you that magnetism is about to become one of the most important
of the sciences--if indeed all science is not _one_. I can overcome
your incredulity by proof. Perhaps I shall owe to your curiosity the
happiness of taking you once more by the hand--as in the days before
Mesmer. Always yours,

Bouvard.


Stung like a lion by a gadfly the old scientist rushed to Paris and
left his card on Bouvard, who lived in the Rue Ferou near Saint-Sulpice.
Bouvard sent a card to his hotel on which was written “To-morrow; nine
o’clock, Rue Saint-Honore, opposite the Assumption.”

Minoret, who seemed to have renewed his youth, could not sleep. He went
to see some of his friends among the faculty to inquire if the world
were turned upside down, if the science of medicine still had a school,
if the four faculties any longer existed. The doctors reassured him,
declaring that the old spirit of opposition was as strong as ever, only,
instead of persecuting as heretofore, the Academies of Medicine and
of Sciences rang with laughter as they classed magnetic facts with the
tricks of Comus and Comte and Bosco, with jugglery and prestidigitation
and all that now went by the name of “amusing physics.”

This assurance did not prevent old Minoret from keeping the appointment
made for him by Bouvard. After an enmity of forty-four years the
two antagonists met beneath a porte-cochere in the Rue Saint-Honore.
Frenchmen have too many distractions of mind to hate each other long. In
Paris especially, politics, literature, and science render life so vast
that every man can find new worlds to conquer where all pretensions
may live at ease. Hatred requires too many forces fully armed. None but
public bodies can keep alive the sentiment. Robespierre and Danton
would have fallen into each other’s arms at the end of forty-four years.
However, the two doctors each withheld his hand and did not offer it.
Bouvard spoke first:--

“You seem wonderfully well.”

“Yes, I am--and you?” said Minoret, feeling that the ice was now broken.

“As you see.”

“Does magnetism prevent people from dying?” asked Minoret in a joking
tone, but without sharpness.

“No, but it almost prevented me from living.”

“Then you are not rich?” exclaimed Minoret.

“Pooh!” said Bouvard.

“But I am!” cried the other.

“It is not your money but your convictions that I want. Come,” replied
Bouvard.

“Oh! you obstinate fellow!” said Minoret.

The Mesmerist led his sceptic, with some precaution, up a dingy
staircase to the fourth floor.

At this particular time an extraordinary man had appeared in Paris,
endowed by faith with incalculable power, and controlling magnetic
forces in all their applications. Not only did this great unknown
(who still lives) heal from a distance the worst and most inveterate
diseases, suddenly and radically, as the Savior of men did formerly,
but he was also able to call forth instantaneously the most remarkable
phenomena of somnambulism and conquer the most rebellious will. The
countenance of this mysterious being, who claims to be responsible to
God alone and to communicate, like Swedenborg, with angels, resembles
that of a lion; concentrated, irresistible energy shines in it. His
features, singularly contorted, have a terrible and even blasting
aspect. His voice, which comes from the depths of his being, seems
charged with some magnetic fluid; it penetrates the hearer at every
pore. Disgusted by the ingratitude of the public after his many
cures, he has now returned to an impenetrable solitude, a voluntary
nothingness. His all-powerful hand, which has restored a dying daughter
to her mother, fathers to their grief-stricken children, adored
mistresses to lovers frenzied with love, cured the sick given over
by physicians, soothed the sufferings of the dying when life became
impossible, wrung psalms of thanksgiving in synagogues, temples, and
churches from the lips of priests recalled to the one God by the same
miracle,--that sovereign hand, a sun of life dazzling the closed eyes
of the somnambulist, has never been raised again even to save the
heir-apparent of a kingdom. Wrapped in the memory of his past mercies
as in a luminous shroud, he denies himself to the world and lives for
heaven.

But, at the dawn of his reign, surprised by his own gift, this man,
whose generosity equaled his power, allowed a few interested persons to
witness his miracles. The fame of his work, which was mighty, and could
easily be revived to-morrow, reached Dr. Bouvard, who was then on the
verge of the grave. The persecuted mesmerist was at last enabled to
witness the startling phenomena of a science he had long treasured
in his heart. The sacrifices of the old man touched the heart of the
mysterious stranger, who accorded him certain privileges. As Bouvard now
went up the staircase he listened to the twittings of his old antagonist
with malicious delight, answering only, “You shall see, you shall see!”
 with the emphatic little nods of a man who is sure of his facts.

The two physicians entered a suite of rooms that were more than modest.
Bouvard went alone into a bedroom which adjoined the salon where he left
Minoret, whose distrust was instantly awakened; but Bouvard returned
at once and took him into the bedroom, where he saw the mysterious
Swedenborgian, and also a woman sitting in an armchair. The woman did
not rise, and seemed not to notice the entrance of the two old men.

“What! no tub?” cried Minoret, smiling.

“Nothing but the power of God,” answered the Swedenborgian gravely. He
seemed to Minoret to be about fifty years of age.

The three men sat down and the mysterious stranger talked of the rain
and the coming fine weather, to the great astonishment of Minoret, who
thought he was being hoaxed. The Swedenborgian soon began, however, to
question his visitor on his scientific opinions, and seemed evidently to
be taking time to examine him.

“You have come here solely from curiosity, monsieur,” he said at
last. “It is not my habit to prostitute a power which, according to my
conviction, emanates from God; if I made a frivolous or unworthy use
of it, it would be taken from me. Nevertheless, there is some hope,
Monsieur Bouvard tells me, of changing the opinions of one who has
opposed us, of enlightening a scientific man whose mind is candid;
I have therefore determined to satisfy you. That woman whom you see
there,” he continued, pointing to her, “is now in a somnambulic sleep.
The statements and manifestations of somnambulists declare that this
state is a delightful other life, during which the inner being, freed
from the trammels laid upon the exercise of our faculties by the visible
world, moves in a world which we mistakenly term invisible. Sight and
hearing are then exercised in a manner far more perfect than any we know
of here, possibly without the help of the organs we now employ, which
are the scabbard of the luminous blades called sight and hearing. To a
person in that state, distance and material obstacles do not exist, or
they can be traversed by a life within us for which our body is a
mere receptacle, a necessary shelter, a casing. Terms fail to describe
effects that have lately been rediscovered, for to-day the words
imponderable, intangible, invisible have no meaning to the fluid whose
action is demonstrated by magnetism. Light is ponderable by its heat,
which, by penetrating bodies, increases their volume; and certainly
electricity is only too tangible. We have condemned things themselves
instead of blaming the imperfection of our instruments.”

“She sleeps,” said Minoret, examining the woman, who seemed to him to
belong to an inferior class.

“Her body is for the time being in abeyance,” said the Swedenborgian.
“Ignorant persons suppose that condition to be sleep. But she will prove
to you that there is a spiritual universe, and that the mind when
there does not obey the laws of this material universe. I will send her
wherever you wish to go,--a hundred miles from here or to China, as you
will. She will tell you what is happening there.”

“Send her to my house in Nemours, Rue des Bourgeois; that will do,” said
Minoret.

He took Minoret’s hand, which the doctor let him take, and held it for a
moment seeming to collect himself; then with his other hand he took that
of the woman sitting in the arm-chair and placed the hand of the doctor
in it, making a sign to the old sceptic to seat himself beside this
oracle without a tripod. Minoret observed a slight tremor on the
absolutely calm features of the woman when their hands were thus united
by the Swedenborgian, but the action, though marvelous in its effects,
was very simply done.

“Obey him,” said the unknown personage, extending his hand above the
head of the sleeping woman, who seemed to imbibe both light and life
from him, “and remember that what you do for him will please me.--You
can now speak to her,” he added, addressing Minoret.

“Go to Nemours, to my house, Rue des Bourgeois,” said the doctor.

“Give her time; put your hand in hers until she proves to you by what
she tells you that she is where you wish her to be,” said Bouvard to his
old friend.

“I see a river,” said the woman in a feeble voice, seeming to look
within herself with deep attention, notwithstanding her closed eyelids.
“I see a pretty garden--”

“Why do you enter by the river and the garden?” said Minoret.

“Because they are there.”

“Who?”

“The young girl and her nurse, whom you are thinking of.”

“What is the garden like?” said Minoret.

“Entering by the steps which go down to the river, there is the right,
a long brick gallery, in which I see books; it ends in a singular
building,--there are wooden bells, and a pattern of red eggs. To the
left, the wall is covered with climbing plants, wild grapes, Virginia
jessamine. In the middle is a sun-dial. There are many plants in pots.
Your child is looking at the flowers. She shows them to her nurse--she
is making holes in the earth with her trowel, and planting seeds. The
nurse is raking the path. The young girl is pure as an angel, but the
beginning of love is there, faint as the dawn--”

“Love for whom?” asked the doctor, who, until now, would have listened
to no word said to him by somnambulists. He considered it all jugglery.

“You know nothing--though you have lately been uneasy about her health,”
 answered the woman. “Her heart has followed the dictates of nature.”

“A woman of the people to talk like this!” cried the doctor.

“In the state she is in all persons speak with extraordinary
perception,” said Bouvard.

“But who is it that Ursula loves?”

“Ursula does not know that she loves,” said the woman with a shake of
the head; “she is too angelic to know what love is; but her mind is
occupied by him; she thinks of him; she tries to escape the thought;
but she returns to it in spite of her will to abstain.--She is at the
piano--”

“But who is he?”

“The son of a lady who lives opposite.”

“Madame de Portenduere?”

“Portenduere, did you say?” replied the sleeper. “Perhaps so. But
there’s no danger; he is not in the neighbourhood.”

“Have they spoken to each other?” asked the doctor.

“Never. They have looked at one another. She thinks him charming. He is,
in fact, a fine man; he has a good heart. She sees him from her window;
they see each other in church. But the young man no longer thinks of
her.”

“His name?”

“Ah! to tell you that I must read it, or hear it. He is named Savinien;
she has just spoken his name; she thinks it sweet to say; she has
looked in the almanac for his fete-day and marked a red dot against
it,--child’s play, that. Ah! she will love well, with as much strength
as purity; she is not a girl to love twice; love will so dye her soul
and fill it that she will reject all other sentiments.”

“Where do you see that?”

“In her. She will know how to suffer; she inherits that; her father and
her mother suffered much.”

The last words overcame the doctor, who felt less shaken than surprised.
It is proper to state that between her sentences the woman paused for
several minutes, during which time her attention became more and more
concentrated. She was seen to see; her forehead had a singular aspect;
an inward effort appeared there; it seemed to clear or cloud by some
mysterious power, the effects of which Minoret had seen in dying persons
at moments when they appeared to have the gift of prophecy. Several
times she made gestures which resembled those of Ursula.

“Question her,” said the mysterious stranger, to Minoret, “she will tell
you secrets you alone can know.”

“Does Ursula love me?” asked Minoret.

“Almost as much as she loves God,” was the answer. “But she is very
unhappy at your unbelief. You do not believe in God; as if you could
prevent his existence! His word fills the universe. You are the cause of
her only sorrow.--Hear! she is playing scales; she longs to be a better
musician than she is; she is provoked with herself. She is thinking, ‘If
I could sing, if my voice were fine, it would reach his ear when he is
with his mother.’”

Doctor Minoret took out his pocket-book and noted the hour.

“Tell me what seeds she planted?”

“Mignonette, sweet-peas, balsams--”

“And what else?”

“Larkspur.”

“Where is my money?”

“With your notary; but you invest it so as not to lose the interest of a
single day.”

“Yes, but where is the money that I keep for my monthly expenses?”

“You put it in a large book bound in red, entitled ‘Pandects of
Justinian, Vol. II.’ between the last two leaves; the book is on the
shelf of folios above the glass buffet. You have a whole row of them.
Your money is in the last volume next to the salon--See! Vol. III. is
before Vol. II.--but you have no money, it is all in--”

“--thousand-franc notes,” said the doctor.

“I cannot see, they are folded. No, there are two notes of five hundred
francs.”

“You see them?”

“Yes.”

“How do they look?”

“One is old and yellow, the other white and new.”

This last phase of the inquiry petrified the doctor. He looked at
Bouvard with a bewildered air; but Bouvard and the Swedenborgian, who
were accustomed to the amazement of sceptics, were speaking together in
a low voice and appeared not to notice him. Minoret begged them to allow
him to return after dinner. The old philosopher wished to compose his
mind and shake off this terror, so as to put this vast power to some new
test, to subject it to more decisive experiments and obtain answers to
certain questions, the truth of which should do away with every sort of
doubt.

“Be here at nine o’clock this evening,” said the stranger. “I will
return to meet you.”

Doctor Minoret was in so convulsed a state that he left the room without
bowing, followed by Bouvard, who called to him from behind. “Well, what
do you say? what do you say?”

“I think I am mad, Bouvard,” answered Minoret from the steps of the
porte-cochere. “If that woman tells the truth about Ursula,--and none
but Ursula can know the things that sorceress has told me,--I shall say
that _you are right_. I wish I had wings to fly to Nemours this minute
and verify her words. But I shall hire a carriage and start at ten
o’clock to-night. Ah! am I losing my senses?”

“What would you say if you knew of a life-long incurable disease healed
in a moment; if you saw that great magnetizer bring sweat in torrents
from an herpetic patient, or make a paralyzed woman walk?”

“Come and dine, Bouvard; stay with me till nine o’clock. I must find
some decisive, undeniable test!”

“So be it, old comrade,” answered the other.

The reconciled enemies dined in the Palais-Royal. After a lively
conversation, which helped Minoret to evade the fever of the ideas which
were ravaging his brain, Bouvard said to him:--

“If you admit in that woman the faculty of annihilating or of traversing
space, if you obtain a certainty that here, in Paris, she sees and hears
what is said and done in Nemours, you must admit all other magnetic
facts; they are not more incredible than these. Ask her for some one
proof which you know will satisfy you--for you might suppose that we
obtained information to deceive you; but we cannot know, for instance,
what will happen at nine o’clock in your goddaughter’s bedroom.
Remember, or write down, what the sleeper will see and hear, and then go
home. Your little Ursula, whom I do not know, is not our accomplice,
and if she tells you that she has said and done what you have written
down--lower thy head, proud Hun!”

The two friends returned to the house opposite to the Assumption and
found the somnambulist, who in her waking state did not recognize Doctor
Minoret. The eyes of this woman closed gently before the hand of the
Swedenborgian, which was stretched towards her at a little distance, and
she took the attitude in which Minoret had first seen her. When her hand
and that of the doctor were again joined, he asked her to tell him what
was happening in his house at Nemours at that instant. “What is Ursula
doing?” he said.

“She is undressed; she has just curled her hair; she is kneeling on
her prie-Dieu, before an ivory crucifix fastened to a red velvet
background.”

“What is she saying?”

“Her evening prayers; she is commending herself to God; she implores
him to save her soul from evil thoughts; she examines her conscience and
recalls what she has done during the day; that she may know if she has
failed to obey his commands and those of the church--poor dear little
soul, she lays bare her breast!” Tears were in the sleeper’s eyes.
“She has done no sin, but she blames herself for thinking too much of
Savinien. She stops to wonder what he is doing in Paris; she prays to
God to make him happy. She speaks of you; she is praying aloud.”

“Tell me her words.” Minoret took his pencil and wrote, as the sleeper
uttered it, the following prayer, evidently composed by the Abbe
Chaperon.

  “My God, if thou art content with thine handmaid, who worships
  thee and prays to thee with a love that is equal to her devotion,
  who strives not to wander from thy sacred paths, who would gladly
  die as thy Son died to glorify thy name, who desires to live in
  the shadow of thy will--O God, who knoweth the heart, open the
  eyes of my godfather, lead him in the way of salvation, grant him
  thy Divine grace, that he may live for thee in his last days; save
  him from evil, and let me suffer in his stead. Kind Saint Ursula,
  dear protectress, and you, Mother of God, queen of heaven,
  archangels, and saints in Paradise, hear me! join your
  intercessions to mine and have mercy upon us.”

The sleeper imitated so perfectly the artless gestures and the inspired
manner of his child that Doctor Minoret’s eyes were filled with tears.

“Does she say more?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Repeat it.”

“‘My dear godfather; I wonder who plays backgammon with him in Paris.’
She has blown out the light--her head is on the pillow--she turns to
sleep! Ah! she is off! How pretty she looks in her little night-cap.”

Minoret bowed to the great Unknown, wrung Bouvard by the hand, ran
downstairs and hastened to a cab-stand which at that time was near the
gates of a house since pulled down to make room for the Rue d’Alger.
There he found a coachman who was willing to start immediately for
Fontainebleau. The moment the price was agreed on, the old man, who
seemed to have renewed his youth, jumped into the carriage and started.
According to agreement, he stopped to rest the horse at Essonne, but
arrived at Fontainebleau in time for the diligence to Nemours, on which
he secured a seat, and dismissed his coachman. He reached home at five
in the morning, and went to bed, with his life-long ideas of physiology,
nature, and metaphysics in ruins about him, and slept till nine o’clock,
so wearied was he with the events of his journey.



CHAPTER VII. A TWO-FOLD CONVERSION

On rising, the doctor, sure that no one had crossed the threshold of
his house since he re-entered it, proceeded (but not without extreme
trepidation) to verify his facts. He was himself ignorant of any
difference in the bank-notes and also of the misplacement of the Pandect
volumes. The somnambulist was right. The doctor rang for La Bougival.

“Tell Ursula to come and speak to me,” he said, seating himself in the
center of his library.

The girl came; she ran up to him and kissed him. The doctor took her on
his knee, where she sat contentedly, mingling her soft fair curls with
the white hair of her old friend.

“Do you want something, godfather?”

“Yes; but promise me, on your salvation, to answer frankly, without
evasion, the questions that I shall put to you.”

Ursula colored to the temples.

“Oh! I’ll ask nothing that you cannot speak of,” he said, noticing how
the bashfulness of young love clouded the hitherto childlike purity of
the girl’s blue eyes.

“Ask me, godfather.”

“What thought was in your mind when you ended your prayers last evening,
and what time was it when you said them.”

“It was a quarter-past or half-past nine.”

“Well, repeat your last prayer.”

The girl fancied that her voice might convey her faith to the sceptic;
she slid from his knee and knelt down, clasping her hands fervently; a
brilliant light illumined her face as she turned it on the old man and
said:--

“What I asked of God last night I asked again this morning, and I shall
ask it till he vouchsafes to grant it.”

Then she repeated her prayer with new and still more powerful
expression. To her great astonishment her godfather took the last words
from her mouth and finished the prayer.

“Good, Ursula,” said the doctor, taking her again on his knee. “When
you laid your head on the pillow and went to sleep did you think to
yourself, ‘That dear godfather; I wonder who is playing backgammon with
him in Paris’?”

Ursula sprang up as if the last trumpet had sounded in her ears. She
gave a cry of terror; her eyes, wide open, gazed at the old man with
awful fixity.

“Who are you, godfather? From whom do you get such power?” she asked,
imagining that in his desire to deny God he had made some compact with
the devil.

“What seeds did you plant yesterday in the garden?”

“Mignonette, sweet-peas, balsams--”

“And the last were larkspur?”

She fell on her knees.

“Do not terrify me!” she exclaimed. “Oh you must have been here--you
were here, were you not?”

“Am I not always with you?” replied the doctor, evading her question, to
save the strain on the young girl’s mind. “Let us go to your room.”

“Your legs are trembling,” she said.

“Yes, I am confounded, as it were.”

“Can it be that you believe in God?” she cried, with artless joy,
letting fall the tears that gathered in her eyes.

The old man looked round the simple but dainty little room he had given
to his Ursula. On the floor was a plain green carpet, very inexpensive,
which she herself kept exquisitely clean; the walls were hung with a
gray paper strewn with roses and green leaves; at the windows, which
looked to the court, were calico curtains edged with a band of some pink
material; between the windows and beneath a tall mirror was a pier-table
topped with marble, on which stood a Sevres vase in which she put her
nosegays; opposite the chimney was a little bureau-desk of charming
marquetry. The bed, of chintz, with chintz curtains lined with pink, was
one of those duchess beds so common in the eighteenth century, which had
a tuft of carved feathers at the top of each of the four posts, which
were fluted on the sides. An old clock, inclosed in a sort of monument
made of tortoise-shell inlaid with arabesques of ivory, decorated the
mantelpiece, the marble shelf of which, with the candlesticks and
the mirror in a frame painted in cameo on a gray ground, presented a
remarkable harmony of color, tone, and style. A large wardrobe, the
doors of which were inlaid with landscapes in different woods (some
having a green tint which are no longer to be found for sale) contained,
no doubt, her linen and her dresses. The air of the room was redolent of
heaven. The precise arrangement of everything showed a sense of order, a
feeling for harmony, which would certainly have influenced any one, even
a Minoret-Levrault. It was plain that the things about her were dear
to Ursula, and that she loved a room which contained, as it were, her
childhood and the whole of her girlish life.

Looking the room well over that he might seem to have a reason for
his visit, the doctor saw at once how the windows looked into those
of Madame de Portenduere. During the night he had meditated as to
the course he ought to pursue with Ursula about his discovery of this
dawning passion. To question her now would commit him to some course.
He must either approve or disapprove of her love; in either case his
position would be a false one. He therefore resolved to watch and
examine into the state of things between the two young people, and
learn whether it were his duty to check the inclination before it was
irresistible. None but an old man could have shown such deliberate
wisdom. Still panting from the discovery of the truth of these magnetic
facts, he turned about and looked at all the various little things
around the room; he wished to examine the almanac which was hanging at a
corner of the chimney-piece.

“These ugly things are too heavy for your little hands,” he said, taking
up the marble candlesticks which were partly covered with leather.

He weighed them in his hand; then he looked at the almanac and took it,
saying, “This is ugly too. Why do you keep such a common thing in your
pretty room?”

“Oh, please let me have it, godfather.”

“No, no, you shall have another to-morrow.”

So saying he carried off this possible proof, shut himself up in his
study, looked for Saint Savinien and found, as the somnambulist had told
him, a little red dot at the 19th of October; he also saw another before
his own saint’s day, Saint Denis, and a third before Saint John, the
abbe’s patron. This little dot, no larger than a pin’s head, had been
seen by the sleeping woman in spite of distance and other obstacles!
The old man thought till evening of these events, more momentous for him
than for others. He was forced to yield to evidence. A strong wall,
as it were, crumbled within him; for his life had rested on two
bases,--indifference in matters of religion and a firm disbelief in
magnetism. When it was proved to him that the senses--faculties purely
physical, organs, the effects of which could be explained--attained to
some of the attributes of the infinite, magnetism upset, or at least it
seemed to him to upset, the powerful arguments of Spinoza. The finite
and the infinite, two incompatible elements according to that remarkable
man, were here united, the one in the other. No matter what power
he gave to the divisibility and mobility of matter he could not help
recognizing that it possessed qualities that were almost divine.

He was too old now to connect those phenomena to a system, and compare
them with those of sleep, of vision, of light. His whole scientific
belief, based on the assertions of the school of Locke and Condillac,
was in ruins. Seeing his hollow ideas in pieces, his scepticism
staggered. Thus the advantage in this struggle between the Catholic
child and the Voltairean old man was on Ursula’s side. In the dismantled
fortress, above these ruins, shone a light; from the center of these
ashes issued the path of prayer! Nevertheless, the obstinate old
scientist fought his doubts. Though struck to the heart, he would not
decide, he struggled on against God.

But he was no longer the same man; his mind showed its vacillation.
He became unnaturally dreamy; he read Pascal, and Bossuet’s sublime
“History of Species”; he read Bonald, he read Saint-Augustine;
he determined also to read the works of Swedenborg, and the late
Saint-Martin, which the mysterious stranger had mentioned to him. The
edifice within him was cracking on all sides; it needed but one more
shake, and then, his heart being ripe for God, he was destined to fall
into the celestial vineyard as fall the fruits. Often of an evening,
when playing with the abbe, his goddaughter sitting by, he would put
questions bearing on his opinions which seemed singular to the priest,
who was ignorant of the inward workings by which God was remaking that
fine conscience.

“Do you believe in apparitions?” asked the sceptic of the pastor,
stopping short in the game.

“Cardan, a great philosopher of the sixteenth century said he had seen
some,” replied the abbe.

“I know all those that scholars have discussed, for I have just reread
Plotinus. I am questioning you as a Catholic might, and I ask if you
think that dead men can return to the living.”

“Jesus reappeared to his disciples after his death,” said the abbe.
“The Church ought to have faith in the apparitions of the Savior. As for
miracles, they are not lacking,” he continued, smiling. “Shall I tell
you the last? It took place in the eighteenth century.”

“Pooh!” said the doctor.

“Yes, the blessed Marie-Alphonse of Ligouri, being very far from
Rome, knew of the death of the Pope at the very moment the Holy Father
expired; there were numerous witnesses of this miracle. The sainted
bishop being in ecstasy, heard the last words of the sovereign pontiff
and repeated them at the time to those about him. The courier who
brought the announcement of the death did not arrive till thirty hours
later.”

“Jesuit!” exclaimed old Minoret, laughing, “I did not ask you for
proofs; I asked you if you believed in apparitions.”

“I think an apparition depends a good deal on who sees it,” said the
abbe, still fencing with his sceptic.

“My friend,” said the doctor, seriously, “I am not setting a trap for
you. What do you really believe about it?”

“I believe that the power of God is infinite,” replied the abbe.

“When I am dead, if I am reconciled to God, I will ask Him to let me
appear to you,” said the doctor, smiling.

“That’s exactly the agreement Cardan made with his friend,” answered the
priest.

“Ursula,” said Minoret, “if danger ever threatens you, call me, and I
will come.”

“You have put into one sentence that beautiful elegy of ‘Neere’ by Andre
Chenier,” said the abbe. “Poets are sublime because they clothe both
facts and feelings with ever-living images.”

“Why do you speak of your death, dear godfather?” said Ursula in a
grieved tone. “We Christians do not die; the grave is the cradle of our
souls.”

“Well,” said the doctor, smiling, “we must go out of the world, and when
I am no longer here you will be astonished at your fortune.”

“When you are here no longer, my kind friend, my only consolation will
be to consecrate my life to you.”

“To me, dead?”

“Yes. All the good works that I can do will be done in your name to
redeem your sins. I will pray God every day for his infinite mercy, that
he may not punish eternally the errors of a day. I know he will summon
among the righteous a soul so pure, so beautiful, as yours.”

That answer, said with angelic candor, in a tone of absolute certainty,
confounded error and converted Denis Minoret as God converted Saul.
A ray of inward light overawed him; the knowledge of this tenderness,
covering his years to come, brought tears to his eyes. This sudden
effect of grace had something that seemed electrical about it. The
abbe clasped his hands and rose, troubled, from his seat. The girl,
astonished at her triumph, wept. The old man stood up as if a voice had
called him, looking into space as though his eyes beheld the dawn; then
he bent his knee upon his chair, clasped his hands, and lowered his eyes
to the ground as one humiliated.

“My God,” he said in a trembling voice, raising his head, “if any one
can obtain my pardon and lead me to thee, surely it is this spotless
creature. Have mercy on the repentant old age that this pure child
presents to thee!”

He lifted his soul to God; mentally praying for the light of divine
knowledge after the gift of divine grace; then he turned to the abbe and
held out his hand.

“My dear pastor,” he said, “I am become as a little child. I belong to
you; I give my soul to your care.”

Ursula kissed his hands and bathed them with her tears. The old man took
her on his knee and called her gayly his godmother. The abbe, deeply
moved, recited the “Veni Creator” in a species of religious ecstasy.
The hymn served as the evening prayer of the three Christians kneeling
together for the first time.

“What has happened?” asked La Bougival, amazed at the sight.

“My godfather believes in God at last!” replied Ursula.

“Ah! so much the better; he only needed that to make him perfect,” cried
the old woman, crossing herself with artless gravity.

“Dear doctor,” said the good priest, “you will soon comprehend the
grandeur of religion and the value of its practices; you will find
its philosophy in human aspects far higher than that of the boldest
sceptics.”

The abbe, who showed a joy that was almost infantine, agreed to
catechize the old man and confer with him twice a week. Thus the
conversion attributed to Ursula and to a spirit of sordid calculation,
was the spontaneous act of the doctor himself. The abbe, who for
fourteen years had abstained from touching the wounds of that heart,
though all the while deploring them, was now asked for help, as a
surgeon is called to an injured man. Ever since this scene Ursula’s
evening prayers had been said in common with her godfather. Day after
day the old man grew more conscious of the peace within him that
succeeded all his conflicts. Having, as he said, God as the responsible
editor of things inexplicable, his mind was at ease. His dear child
told him that he might know by how far he had advanced already in God’s
kingdom. During the mass which we have seen him attend, he had read the
prayers and applied his own intelligence to them; from the first, he
had risen to the divine idea of the communion of the faithful. The
old neophyte understood the eternal symbol attached to that sacred
nourishment, which faith renders needful to the soul after conveying to
it her own profound and radiant essence. When on leaving the church he
had seemed in a hurry to get home, it was merely that he might once
more thank his dear child for having led him to “enter religion,”--the
beautiful expression of former days. He was holding her on his knee in
the salon and kissing her forehead sacredly at the very moment when his
relatives were degrading that saintly influence with their shameless
fears, and casting their vulgar insults upon Ursula. His haste to return
home, his assumed disdain for their company, his sharp replies as he
left the church were naturally attributed by all the heirs to the hatred
Ursula had excited against them in the old man’s mind.



CHAPTER VIII. THE CONFERENCE

While Ursula was playing variations on Weber’s “Last Thought” to her
godfather, a plot was hatching in the Minoret-Levraults’ dining-room
which was destined to have a lasting effect on the events of this drama.
The breakfast, noisy as all provincial breakfasts are, and enlivened by
excellent wines brought to Nemours by the canal either from Burgundy
or Touraine, lasted more than two hours. Zelie had sent for oysters,
salt-water fish, and other gastronomical delicacies to do honor to
Desire’s return. The dining-room, in the center of which a round table
offered a most appetizing sight, was like the hall of an inn. Content
with the size of her kitchens and offices, Zelie had built a pavilion
for the family between the vast courtyard and a garden planted with
vegetables and full of fruit-trees. Everything about the premises was
solid and plain. The example of Levrault-Levrault had been a warning to
the town. Zelie forbade her builder to lead her into such follies. The
dining-room was, therefore, hung with varnished paper and furnished with
walnut chairs and sideboards, a porcelain stove, a tall clock, and a
barometer. Though the plates and dishes were of common white china, the
table shone with handsome linen and abundant silverware. After Zelie
had served the coffee, coming and going herself like shot in a
decanter,--for she kept but one servant,--and when Desire, the budding
lawyer, had been told of the event of the morning and its probably
consequences, the door was closed, and the notary Dionis was called upon
to speak. By the silence in the room and the looks that were cast on
that authoritative face, it was easy to see the power that such men
exercise over families.

“My dear children,” said he, “your uncle having been born in 1746, is
eighty-three years old at the present time; now, old men are given to
folly, and that little--”

“Viper!” cried Madame Massin.

“Hussy!” said Zelie.

“Let us call her by her own name,” said Dionis.

“Well, she’s a thief,” said Madame Cremiere.

“A pretty thief,” remarked Desire.

“That little Ursula,” went on Dionis, “has managed to get hold of his
heart. I have been thinking of your interests, and I did not wait until
now before making certain inquiries; now this is what I have discovered
about that young--”

“Marauder,” said the collector.

“Inveigler,” said the clerk of the court.

“Hold your tongue, friends,” said the notary, “or I’ll take my hat and
be off.”

“Come, come, papa,” cried Minoret, pouring out a little glass of rum and
offering it to the notary; “here, drink this, it comes from Rome itself;
and now go on.”

“Ursula is, it is true, the legitimate daughter of Joseph Mirouet;
but her father was the natural son of Valentin Mirouet, your uncle’s
father-in-law. Being therefore an illegitimate niece, any will the
doctor might make in her favor could probably be contested; and if
he leaves her his fortune in that way you could bring a suit against
Ursula. This, however, might turn out ill for you, in case the court
took the view that there was no relationship between Ursula and the
doctor. Still, the suit would frighten an unprotected girl, and bring
about a compromise--”

“The law is so rigid as to the rights of natural children,” said the
newly fledged licentiate, eager to parade his knowledge, “that by the
judgment of the court of appeals dated July 7, 1817, a natural child can
claim nothing from his natural grandfather, not even a maintenance.
So you see the illegitimate parentage is made retrospective. The law
pursues the natural child even to its legitimate descent, on the ground
that benefactions done to grandchildren reach the natural son through
that medium. This is shown by articles 757, 908, and 911 of the civil
Code. The royal court of Paris, by a decision of the 26th of January of
last year, cut off a legacy made to the legitimate child of a natural
son by his grandfather, who, as grandfather, was as distant to a natural
grandson as the doctor, being an uncle, is to Ursula.”

“All that,” said Goupil, “seems to me to relate only to the bequests
made by grandfathers to natural descendants. Ursula is not a blood
relation of Doctor Minoret. I remember a decision of the royal court at
Colmar, rendered in 1825, just before I took my degree, which declared
that after the decease of a natural child his descendants could no
longer be prohibited from inheriting. Now, Ursula’s father is dead.”

Goupil’s argument produced what journalists who report the sittings of
legislative assemblies are wont to call “profound sensation.”

“What does that signify?” cried Dionis. “The actual case of the bequest
of an uncle to an illegitimate child may not yet have been presented for
trial; but when it is, the sternness of French law against such children
will be all the more firmly applied because we live in times when
religion is honored. I’ll answer for it that out of such a suit as I
propose you could get a compromise,--especially if they see you are
determined to carry Ursula to a court of appeals.”

Here the joy of the heirs already fingering their gold was made manifest
in smiles, shrugs, and gestures round the table, and prevented all
notice of Goupil’s dissent. This elation, however, was succeeded by deep
silence and uneasiness when the notary uttered his next word, a terrible
“But!”

As if he had pulled the string of a puppet-show, starting the little
people in jerks by means of machinery, Dionis beheld all eyes turned on
him and all faces rigid in one and the same pose.

“_But_ no law prevents your uncle from adopting or marrying Ursula,” he
continued. “As for adoption, that could be contested, and you would,
I think, have equity on your side. The royal courts would never trifle
with questions of adoptions; you would get a hearing there. It is
true the doctor is an officer of the Legion of honor, and was formerly
surgeon to the ex-emperor; but, nevertheless, he would get the worst of
it. Moreover, you would have due warning in case of adoption--but how
about marriage? Old Minoret is shrewd enough to go to Paris and marry
her after a year’s domicile, and give her a million by the marriage
contract. The only thing, therefore, that really puts your property in
danger is your uncle’s marriage with the girl.”

Here the notary paused.

“There’s another danger,” said Goupil, with a knowing air,--“that of
a will made in favor of a third person, old Bongrand for instance, who
will hold the property in trust for Mademoiselle Ursula--”

“If you tease your uncle,” continued Dionis, cutting short his
head-clerk, “if you are not all of you very polite to Ursula, you will
drive him into either a marriage or into making that private trust which
Goupil speaks of,--though I don’t think him capable of that; it is a
dangerous thing. As for marriage, that is easy to prevent. Desire there
has only got to hold out a finger to the girl; she’s sure to prefer a
handsome young man, cock of the walk in Nemours, to an old one.”

“Mother,” said Desire to Zelie’s ear, as much allured by the millions as
by Ursula’s beauty, “If I married her we should get the whole property.”

“Are you crazy?--you, who’ll some day have fifty thousand francs a year
and be made a deputy! As long as I live you never shall cut your throat
by a foolish marriage. Seven hundred thousand francs, indeed! Why, the
mayor’s only daughter will have fifty thousand a year, and they have
already proposed her to me--”

This reply, the first rough speech his mother had ever made to him,
extinguished in Desire’s breast all desire for a marriage with the
beautiful Ursula; for his father and he never got the better of any
decision once written in the terrible blue eyes of Zelie Minoret.

“Yes, but see here, Monsieur Dionis,” cried Cremiere, whose wife had
been nudging him, “if the good man took the thing seriously and married
his goddaughter to Desire, giving her the reversion of all the property,
good-by to our share in it; if he lives five years longer uncle may be
worth a million.”

“Never!” cried Zelie, “never in my life shall Desire marry the daughter
of a bastard, a girl picked up in the streets out of charity. My son
will represent the Minorets after the death of his uncle, and the
Minorets have five hundred years of good bourgeoisie behind them. That’s
equal to the nobility. Don’t be uneasy, any of you; Desire will marry
when we find a chance to put him in the Chamber of deputies.”

This lofty declaration was backed by Goupil, who said:--

“Desire, with an allowance of twenty-four thousand francs a year, will
be president of a royal court or solicitor-general; either office leads
to the peerage. A foolish marriage would ruin him.”

The heirs were now all talking at once; but they suddenly held their
tongues when Minoret rapped on the table with his fist to keep silence
for the notary.

“Your uncle is a worthy man,” continued Dionis. “He believes he’s
immortal; and, like most clever men, he’ll let death overtake him before
he has made a will. My advice therefore is to induce him to invest his
capital in a way that will make it difficult for him to disinherit you,
and I know of an opportunity, made to hand. That little Portenduere
is in Saint-Pelagie, locked-up for one hundred and some odd thousand
francs’ worth of debt. His old mother knows he is in prison; she is
crying like a Magdalen. The abbe is to dine with her; no doubt she wants
to talk to him about her troubles. Well, I’ll go and see your uncle
to-night and persuade him to sell his five per cent consols, which are
now at 118, and lend Madame de Portenduere, on the security of her farm
at Bordieres and her house here, enough to pay the debts of the prodigal
son. I have a right as notary to speak to him in behalf of young
Portenduere; and it is quite natural that I should wish to make him
change his investments; I get deeds and commissions out of the business.
If I become his adviser I’ll propose to him other land investments for
his surplus capital; I have some excellent ones now in my office. If his
fortune were once invested in landed estate or in mortgage notes in this
neighbourhood, it could not take wings to itself very easily. It is easy
to make difficulties between the wish to realize and the realization.”

The heirs, struck with the truth of this argument (much cleverer than
that of Monsieur Josse), murmured approval.

“You must be careful,” said the notary in conclusion, “to keep your
uncle in Nemours, where his habits are known, and where you can watch
him. Find him a lover for the girl and you’ll prevent his marrying her
himself.”

“Suppose she married the lover?” said Goupil, seized by an ambitious
desire.

“That wouldn’t be a bad thing; then you could figure up the loss; the
old man would have to say how much he gives her,” replied the notary.
“But if you set Desire at her he could keep the girl dangling on till
the old man died. Marriages are made and unmade.”

“The shortest way,” said Goupil, “if the doctor is likely to live much
longer, is to marry her to some worthy young man who will get her out
of your way by settling at Sens, or Montargis, or Orleans with a hundred
thousand francs in hand.”

Dionis, Massin, Zelie, and Goupil, the only intelligent heads in the
company, exchanged four thoughtful smiles.

“He’d be a worm at the core,” whispered Zelie to Massin.

“How did he get here?” returned the clerk.

“That will just suit you!” cried Desire to Goupil. “But do you think you
can behave decently enough to satisfy the old man and the girl?”

“In these days,” whispered Zelie again in Massin’s year, “notaries look
out for no interests but their own. Suppose Dionis went over to Ursula
just to get the old man’s business?”

“I am sure of him,” said the clerk of the court, giving her a sly look
out of his spiteful little eyes. He was just going to add, “because I
hold something over him,” but he withheld the words.

“I am quite of Dionis’s opinion,” he said aloud.

“So am I,” cried Zelie, who now suspected the notary of collusion with
the clerk.

“My wife has voted!” said the post master, sipping his brandy, though
his face was already purple from digesting his meal and absorbing a
notable quantity of liquids.

“And very properly,” remarked the collector.

“I shall go and see the doctor after dinner,” said Dionis.

“If Monsieur Dionis’s advice is good,” said Madame Cremiere to Madame
Massin, “we had better go and call on our uncle, as we used to do, every
Sunday evening, and behave exactly as Monsieur Dionis has told us.”

“Yes, and be received as he received us!” cried Zelie. “Minoret and
I have more than forty thousand francs a year, and yet he refused our
invitations! We are quite his equals. If I don’t know how to write
prescriptions I know how to paddle my boat as well as he--I can tell him
that!”

“As I am far from having forty thousand francs a year,” said Madame
Massin, rather piqued, “I don’t want to lose ten thousand.”

“We are his nieces; we ought to take care of him, and then besides we
shall see how things are going,” said Madame Cremiere; “you’ll thank us
some day, cousin.”

“Treat Ursula kindly,” said the notary, lifting his right forefinger to
the level of his lips; “remember old Jordy left her his savings.”

“You have managed those fools as well as Desroches, the best lawyer
in Paris, could have done,” said Goupil to his patron as they left the
post-house.

“And now they are quarreling over my fee,” replied the notary, smiling
bitterly.

The heirs, after parting with Dionis and his clerk, met again in the
square, with face rather flushed from their breakfast, just as vespers
were over. As the notary predicted, the Abbe Chaperon had Madame de
Portenduere on his arm.

“She dragged him to vespers, see!” cried Madame Massin to Madame
Cremiere, pointing to Ursula and the doctor, who were leaving the
church.

“Let us go and speak to him,” said Madame Cremiere, approaching the old
man.

The change in the faces of his relatives (produced by the conference)
did not escape Doctor Minoret. He tried to guess the reason of this
sudden amiability, and out of sheer curiosity encouraged Ursula to stop
and speak to the two women, who were eager to greet her with exaggerated
affection and forced smiles.

“Uncle, will you permit me to come and see you to-night?” said Madame
Cremiere. “We feared sometimes we were in your way--but it is such a
long time since our children have paid you their respects; our girls are
old enough now to make dear Ursula’s acquaintance.”

“Ursula is a little bear, like her name,” replied the doctor.

“Let us tame her,” said Madame Massin. “And besides, uncle,” added the
good housewife, trying to hide her real motive under a mask of economy,
“they tell us the dear girl has such talent for the forte that we are
very anxious to hear her. Madame Cremiere and I are inclined to take her
music-master for our children. If there were six or eight scholars in a
class it would bring the price of his lessons within our means.”

“Certainly,” said the old man, “and it will be all the better for me
because I want to give Ursula a singing-master.”

“Well, to-night then, uncle. We will bring your great-nephew Desire to
see you; he is now a lawyer.”

“Yes, to-night,” echoed Minoret, meaning to fathom the motives of these
petty souls.

The two nieces pressed Ursula’s hand, saying, with affected eagerness,
“Au revoir.”

“Oh, godfather, you have read my heart!” cried Ursula, giving him a
grateful look.

“You are going to have a voice,” he said; “and I shall give you masters
of drawing and Italian also. A woman,” added the doctor, looking at
Ursula as he unfastened the gate of his house, “ought to be educated to
the height of every position in which her marriage may place her.”

Ursula grew red as a cherry; her godfather’s thoughts evidently
turned in the same direction as her own. Feeling that she was too near
confessing to the doctor the involuntary attraction which led her to
think about Savinien and to center all her ideas of affection upon him,
she turned aside and sat down in front of a great cluster of climbing
plants, on the dark background of which she looked at a distance like a
blue and white flower.

“Now you see, godfather, that your nieces were very kind to me; yes,
they were very kind,” she repeated as he approached her, to change the
thoughts that made him pensive.

“Poor little girl!” cried the old man.

He laid Ursula’s hand upon his arm, tapping it gently, and took her to
the terraces beside the river, where no one could hear them.

“Why do you say, ‘Poor little girl’?”

“Don’t you see how they fear you?”

“Fear me,--why?”

“My next of kin are very uneasy about my conversion. They no doubt
attribute it to your influence over me; they fancy I deprive them of
their inheritance to enrich you.”

“But you won’t do that?” said Ursula naively, looking up at him.

“Oh, divine consolation of my old age!” said the doctor, taking his
godchild in his arms and kissing her on both cheeks. “It was for her
and not for myself, oh God! that I besought thee just now to let me live
until the day I give her to some good being who is worthy of her!--You
will see comedies, my little angel, comedies which the Minorets and
Cremieres and Massins will come and play here. You want to brighten and
prolong my life; they are longing for my death.”

“God forbids us to hate any one, but if that is--Ah! I despise them!”
 exclaimed Ursula.

“Dinner is ready!” called La Bougival from the portico, which, on the
garden side, was at the end of the corridor.



CHAPTER IX. A FIRST CONFIDENCE

Ursula and her godfather were sitting at dessert in the pretty
dining-room decorated with Chinese designs in black and gold lacquer
(the folly of Levrault-Levrault) when the justice of peace arrived. The
doctor offered him (and this was a great mark of intimacy) a cup of his
coffee, a mixture of Mocha with Bourbon and Martinique, roasted, ground,
and made by himself in a silver apparatus called a Chaptal.

“Well,” said Bongrand, pushing up his glasses and looking slyly at the
old man, “the town is in commotion; your appearance in church has put
your relatives beside themselves. You have left your fortune to the
priests, to the poor. You have roused the families, and they are
bestirring themselves. Ha! ha! I saw their first irruption into the
square; they were as busy as ants who have lost their eggs.”

“What did I tell you, Ursula?” cried the doctor. “At the risk of
grieving you, my child, I must teach you to know the world and put you
on your guard against undeserved enmity.”

“I should like to say a word to you on this subject,” said Bongrand,
seizing the occasion to speak to his old friend of Ursula’s future.

The doctor put a black velvet cap on his white head, the justice of
peace wore his hat to protect him from the night air, and they walked up
and down the terrace discussing the means of securing to Ursula what her
godfather intended to bequeath her. Bongrand knew Dionis’s opinion as
to the invalidity of a will made by the doctor in favor of Ursula; for
Nemours was so preoccupied with the Minoret affairs that the matter
had been much discussed among the lawyers of the little town. Bongrand
considered that Ursula was not a relative of Doctor Minoret, but he
felt that the whole spirit of legislation was against the foisting into
families of illegitimate off-shoots. The makers of the Code had foreseen
only the weakness of fathers and mothers for their natural children,
without considering that uncles and aunts might have a like tenderness
and a desire to provide for such children. Evidently there was a gap in
the law.

“In all other countries,” he said, ending an explanation of the legal
points which Dionis, Goupil, and Desire had just explained to the heirs,
“Ursula would have nothing to fear; she is a legitimate child, and
the disability of her father ought only to affect the inheritance from
Valentine Mirouet, her grandfather. But in France the magistracy is
unfortunately overwise and very consequential; it inquires into the
spirit of the law. Some lawyers talk morality, and might try to show
that this hiatus in the Code came from the simple-mindedness of the
legislators, who did not foresee the case, though, none the less, they
established a principle. To bring a suit would be long and expensive.
Zelie would carry it to the court of appeals, and I might not be alive
when the case was tried.”

“The best of cases is often worthless,” cried the doctor. “Here’s the
question the lawyers will put, ‘To what degree of relationship ought the
disability of natural children in matters of inheritance to extend?’ and
the credit of a good lawyer will lie in gaining a bad cause.”

“Faith!” said Bongrand, “I dare not take upon myself to affirm that
the judges wouldn’t interpret the meaning of the law as increasing the
protection given to marriage, the eternal base of society.”

Without explaining his intentions, the doctor rejected the idea of a
trust. When Bongrand suggested to him a marriage with Ursula as the
surest means of securing his property to her, he exclaimed, “Poor little
girl! I might live fifteen years; what a fate for her!”

“Well, what will you do, then?” asked Bongrand.

“We’ll think about it--I’ll see,” said the old man, evidently at a loss
for a reply.

Just then Ursula came to say that Monsieur Dionis wished to speak to the
doctor.

“Already!” cried Minoret, looking at Bongrand. “Yes,” he said to Ursula,
“send him here.”

“I’ll bet my spectacles to a bunch of matches that he is the
advance-guard of your heirs,” said Bongrand. “They breakfasted together
at the post house, and something is being engineered.”

The notary, conducted by Ursula, came to the lower end of the garden.
After the usual greetings and a few insignificant remarks, Dionis asked
for a private interview; Ursula and Bongrand retired to the salon.

The distrust which superior men excite in men of business is very
remarkable. The latter deny them the “lesser” powers while recognizing
their possession of the “higher.” It is, perhaps, a tribute to them.
Seeing them always on the higher plane of human things, men of business
believe them incapable of descending to the infinitely petty details
which (like the dividends of finance and the microscopic facts of
science) go to equalize capital and to form the worlds. They are
mistaken! The man of honor and of genius sees all. Bongrand, piqued
by the doctor’s silence, but impelled by a sense of Ursula’s interests
which he thought endangered, resolved to defend her against the heirs.
He was wretched at not knowing what was taking place between the old man
and Dionis.

“No matter how pure and innocent Ursula may be,” he thought as he looked
at her, “there is a point on which young girls do make their own law and
their own morality. I’ll test here. The Minoret-Levraults,” he began,
settling his spectacles, “might possibly ask you in marriage for their
son.”

The poor child turned pale. She was too well trained, and had too much
delicacy to listen to what Dionis was saying to her uncle; but after a
moment’s inward deliberation, she thought she might show herself, and
then, if she was in the way, her godfather would let her know it. The
Chinese pagoda which the doctor made his study had outside blinds to
the glass doors; Ursula invented the excuse of shutting them. She begged
Monsieur Bongrand’s pardon for leaving him alone in the salon, but he
smiled at her and said, “Go! go!”

Ursula went down the steps of the portico which led to the pagoda at
the foot of the garden. She stood for some minutes slowly arranging the
blinds and watching the sunset. The doctor and notary were at the end
of the terrace, but as they turned she heard the doctor make an answer
which reached the pagoda where she was.

“My heirs would be delighted to see me invest my property in real estate
or mortgages; they imagine it would be safer there. I know exactly what
they are saying; perhaps you come from them. Let me tell you, my good
sir, that my disposition of my property is irrevocably made. My heirs
will have the capital I brought here with me; I wish them to know that,
and to let me alone. If any one of them attempts to interfere with what
I think proper to do for that young girl (pointing to Ursula) I shall
come back from the other world and torment him. So, Monsieur Savinien
de Portenduere will stay in prison if they count on me to get him out. I
shall not sell my property in the Funds.”

Hearing this last fragment of the sentence Ursula experienced the first
and only pain which so far had ever touched her. She laid her head
against the blind to steady herself.

“Good God, what is the matter with her?” thought the old doctor. “She
has no color; such an emotion after dinner might kill her.”

He went to her with open arms, and she fell into them almost fainting.

“Adieu, Monsieur,” he said to the notary, “please leave us.”

He carried his child to an immense Louis XV. sofa which was in his
study, looked for a phial of hartshorn among his remedies, and made her
inhale it.

“Take my place,” said the doctor to Bongrand, who was terrified; “I must
be alone with her.”

The justice of peace accompanied the notary to the gate, asking him, but
without showing any eagerness, what was the matter with Ursula.

“I don’t know,” replied Dionis. “She was standing by the pagoda,
listening to us, and just as her uncle (so-called) refused to lend
some money at my request to young de Portenduere who is in prison for
debt,--for he has not had, like Monsieur du Rouvre, a Monsieur Bongrand
to defend him,--she turned pale and staggered. Can she love him? Is
there anything between them?”

“At fifteen years of age? pooh!” replied Bongrand.

“She was born in February, 1813; she’ll be sixteen in four months.”

“I don’t believe she ever saw him,” said the judge. “No, it is only a
nervous attack.”

“Attack of the heart, more likely,” said the notary.

Dionis was delighted with this discovery, which would prevent the
marriage “in extremis” which they dreaded,--the only sure means by which
the doctor could defraud his relatives. Bongrand, on the other hand, saw
a private castle of his own demolished; he had long thought of marrying
his son to Ursula.

“If the poor girl loves that youth it will be a misfortune for her,”
 replied Bongrand after a pause. “Madame de Portenduere is a Breton and
infatuated with her noble blood.”

“Luckily--I mean for the honor of the Portendueres,” replied the notary,
on the point of betraying himself.

Let us do the faithful and upright Bongrand the justice to say that
before he re-entered the salon he had abandoned, not without deep regret
for his son, the hope he had cherished of some day calling Ursula his
daughter. He meant to give his son six thousand francs a year the day he
was appointed substitute, and if the doctor would give Ursula a hundred
thousand francs what a pearl of a home the pair would make! His Eugene
was so loyal and charming a fellow! Perhaps he had praised his Eugene
too often, and that had made the doctor distrustful.

“I shall have to come down to the mayor’s daughter,” he thought.
“But Ursula without any money is worth more than Mademoiselle
Levrault-Cremiere with a million. However, the thing to be done is to
manoeuvre the marriage with this little Portenduere--if she really loves
him.”

The doctor, after closing the door to the library and that to the
garden, took his goddaughter to the window which opened upon the river.

“What ails you, my child?” he said. “Your life is my life. Without your
smiles what would become of me?”

“Savinien in prison!” she said.

With these words a shower of tears fell from her eyes and she began to
sob.

“Saved!” thought the doctor, who was holding her pulse with great
anxiety. “Alas! she has all the sensitiveness of my poor wife,” he
thought, fetching a stethoscope which he put to Ursula’s heart, applying
his ear to it. “Ah, that’s all right,” he said to himself. “I did not
know, my darling, that you loved any one as yet,” he added, looking at
her; “but think out loud to me as you think to yourself; tell me all
that has passed between you.”

“I do not love him, godfather; we have never spoken to each other,” she
answered, sobbing. “But to hear that he is in prison, and to know that
you--harshly--refused to get him out--you, so good!”

“Ursula, my dear little good angel, if you do not love him why did you
put that little red dot against Saint Savinien’s day just as you put one
before that of Saint Denis? Come, tell me everything about your little
love-affair.”

Ursula blushed, swallowed a few tears, and for a moment there was
silence between them.

“Surely you are not afraid of your father, your friend, mother, doctor,
and godfather, whose heart is now more tender than it ever has been.”

“No, no, dear godfather,” she said. “I will open my heart to you. Last
May, Monsieur Savinien came to see his mother. Until then I had never
taken notice of him. When he left home to live in Paris I was a child,
and I did not see any difference between him and--all of you--except
perhaps that I loved you, and never thought of loving any one else.
Monsieur Savinien came by the mail-post the night before his mother’s
fete-day; but we did not know it. At seven the next morning, after I
had said my prayers, I opened the window to air my room and I saw the
windows in Monsieur Savinien’s room open; and Monsieur Savinien was
there, in a dressing gown, arranging his beard; in all his movements
there was such grace--I mean, he seemed to me so charming. He combed
his black moustache and the little tuft on his chin, and I saw his white
throat--so round!--must I tell you all? I noticed that his throat and
face and that beautiful black hair were all so different from yours when
I watch you arranging your beard. There came--I don’t know how--a
sort of glow into my heart, and up into my throat, my head; it came so
violently that I sat down--I couldn’t stand, I trembled so. But I longed
to see him again, and presently I got up; he saw me then, and, just for
play, he sent me a kiss from the tips of his fingers and--”

“And?”

“And then,” she continued, “I hid myself--I was ashamed, but happy--why
should I be ashamed of being happy? That feeling--it dazzled my soul and
gave it some power, but I don’t know what--it came again each time I saw
within me the same young face. I loved this feeling, violent as it
was. Going to mass, some unconquerable power made me look at Monsieur
Savinien with his mother on his arm; his walk, his clothes, even the tap
of his boots on the pavement, seemed to me so charming. The least little
thing about him--his hand with the delicate glove--acted like a spell
upon me; and yet I had strength enough not to think of him during
mass. When the service was over I stayed in the church to let Madame de
Portenduere go first, and then I walked behind him. I couldn’t tell you
how these little things excited me. When I reached home, I turned round
to fasten the iron gate--”

“Where was La Bougival?” asked the doctor.

“Oh, I let her go to the kitchen,” said Ursula simply. “Then I saw
Monsieur Savinien standing quite still and looking at me. Oh! godfather,
I was so proud, for I thought I saw a look in his eyes of surprise and
admiration--I don’t know what I would not do to make him look at me
again like that. It seemed to me I ought to think of nothing forevermore
but pleasing him. That glance is now the best reward I have for any good
I do. From that moment I have thought of him incessantly, in spite of
myself. Monsieur Savinien went back to Paris that evening, and I have
not seen him since. The street seems empty; he took my heart away with
him--but he does not know it.”

“Is that all?” asked the old man.

“All, dear godfather,” she said, with a sigh of regret that there was
not more to tell.

“My little girl,” said the doctor, putting her on his knee; “you are
nearly sixteen and your womanhood is beginning. You are now between your
blessed childhood, which is ending, and the emotions of love, which
will make your life a tumultuous one; for you have a nervous system of
exquisite sensibility. What has happened to you, my child, is love,”
 said the old man with an expression of deepest sadness,--“love in its
holy simplicity; love as it ought to be; involuntary, sudden, coming
like a thief who takes all--yes, all! I expected it. I have studied
women; many need proofs and miracles of affection before love
conquers them; but others there are, under the influence of sympathies
explainable to-day by magnetic fluids, who are possessed by it in an
instant. To you I can now tell all--as soon as I saw the charming woman
whose name you bear, I felt that I should love her forever, solely and
faithfully, without knowing whether our characters or persons suited
each other. Is there a second-sight in love? What answer can I give to
that, I who have seen so many unions formed under celestial auspices
only to be ruptured later, giving rise to hatreds that are well-nigh
eternal, to repugnances that are unconquerable. The senses sometimes
harmonize while ideas are at variance; and some persons live more by
their minds than by their bodies. The contrary is also true; often minds
agree and persons displease. These phenomena, the varying and secret
cause of many sorrows, show the wisdom of laws which give parents
supreme power over the marriages of their children; for a young girl is
often duped by one or other of these hallucinations. Therefore I do not
blame you. The sensations you feel, the rush of sensibility which has
come from its hidden source upon your heart and upon your mind, the
happiness with which you think of Savinien, are all natural. But,
my darling child, society demands, as our good abbe has told us, the
sacrifice of many natural inclinations. The destinies of men and women
differ. I was able to choose Ursula Mirouet for my wife; I could go to
her and say that I loved her; but a young girl is false to herself if
she asks the love of the man she loves. A woman has not the right which
men have to seek the accomplishment of her hopes in open day. Modesty is
to her--above all to you, my Ursula,--the insurmountable barrier which
protects the secrets of her heart. Your hesitation in confiding to me
these first emotions shows me you would suffer cruel torture rather than
admit to Savinien--”

“Oh, yes!” she said.

“But, my child, you must do more. You must repress these feelings; you
must forget them.”

“Why?”

“Because, my darling, you must love only the man you marry; and, even if
Monsieur Savinien de Portenduere loved you--”

“I never thought of it.”

“But listen: even if he loved you, even if his mother asked me to
give him your hand, I should not consent to the marriage until I had
subjected him to a long and thorough probation. His conduct has been
such as to make families distrust him and to put obstacles between
himself and heiresses which cannot be easily overcome.”

A soft smile came in place of tears on Ursula’s sweet face as she said,
“Then poverty is good sometimes.”

The doctor could find no answer to such innocence.

“What has he done, godfather?” she asked.

“In two years, my treasure, he has incurred one hundred and twenty
thousand francs of debt. He has had the folly to get himself locked up
in Saint-Pelagie, the debtor’s prison; an impropriety which will always
be, in these days, a discredit to him. A spendthrift who is willing to
plunge his poor mother into poverty and distress might cause his wife,
as your poor father did, to die of despair.”

“Don’t you think he will do better?” she asked.

“If his mother pays his debts he will be penniless, and I don’t know a
worse punishment than to be a nobleman without means.”

This answer made Ursula thoughtful; she dried her tears, and said:--

“If you can save him, save him, godfather; that service will give you a
right to advise him; you can remonstrate--”

“Yes,” said the doctor, imitating her, “and then he can come here, and
the old lady will come here, and we shall see them, and--”

“I was thinking only of him,” said Ursula, blushing.

“Don’t think of him, my child; it would be folly,” said the doctor
gravely. “Madame de Portenduere, who was a Kergarouet, would never
consent, even if she had to live on three hundred francs a year, to
the marriage of her son, the Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere, with
whom?--with Ursula Mirouet, daughter of a bandsman in a regiment,
without money, and whose father--alas! I must now tell you all--was the
bastard son of an organist, my father-in-law.”

“O godfather! you are right; we are equal only in the sight of God. I
will not think of him again--except in my prayers,” she said, amid the
sobs which this painful revelation excited. “Give him what you meant to
give me--what can a poor girl like me want?--ah, in prison, he!--”

“Offer to God your disappointments, and perhaps he will help us.”

There was silence for some minutes. When Ursula, who at first did not
dare to look at her godfather, raised her eyes, her heart was deeply
moved to see the tears which were rolling down his withered cheeks. The
tears of old men are as terrible as those of children are natural.

“Oh what is it?” cried Ursula, flinging herself at his feet and kissing
his hands. “Are you not sure of me?”

“I, who longed to gratify all your wishes, it is I who am obliged to
cause the first great sorrow of your life!” he said. “I suffer as
much as you. I never wept before, except when I lost my children--and,
Ursula--Yes,” he cried suddenly, “I will do all you desire!”

Ursula gave him, through her tears a look that was vivid as lightning.
She smiled.

“Let us go into the salon, darling,” said the doctor. “Try to keep
the secret of all this to yourself,” he added, leaving her alone for a
moment in his study.

He felt himself so weak before that heavenly smile that he feared he
might say a word of hope and thus mislead her.



CHAPTER X. THE FAMILY OF PORTENDUERE

Madame de Portenduere was at this moment alone with the abbe in her
frigid little salon on the ground floor, having finished the recital of
her troubles to the good priest, her only friend. She held in her hand
some letters which he had just returned to her after reading them; these
letters had brought her troubles to a climax. Seated on her sofa beside
a square table covered with the remains of a dessert, the old lady was
looking at the abbe, who sat on the other side of the table, doubled up
in his armchair and stroking his chin with the gesture common to
valets on the stage, mathematicians, and priests,--a sign of profound
meditation on a problem that was difficult to solve.

This little salon, lighted by two windows on the street and finished
with a wainscot painted gray, was so damp that the lower panels showed
the geometrical cracks of rotten wood when the paint no longer binds it.
The red-tiled floor, polished by the old lady’s one servant, required,
for comfort’s sake, before each seat small round mats of brown straw, on
one of which the abbe was now resting his feet. The old damask curtains
of light green with green flowers were drawn, and the outside blinds had
been closed. Two wax candles lighted the table, leaving the rest of
the room in semi-obscurity. Is it necessary to say that between the two
windows was a fine pastel by Latour representing the famous Admiral de
Portenduere, the rival of the Suffren, Guichen, Kergarouet and Simeuse
naval heroes? On the paneled wall opposite to the fireplace were
portraits of the Vicomte de Portenduere and of the mother of the old
lady, a Kergarouet-Ploegat. Savinien’s great-uncle was therefore the
Vice-admiral de Kergarouet, and his cousin was the Comte de Portenduere,
grandson of the admiral,--both of them very rich.

The Vice-admiral de Kergarouet lived in Paris and the Comte de
Portenduere at the chateau of that name in Dauphine. The count
represented the elder branch, and Savinien was the only scion of the
younger. The count, who was over forty years of age and married to
a rich wife, had three children. His fortune, increased by various
legacies, amounted, it was said, to sixty thousand francs a year. As
deputy from Isere he passed his winters in Paris, where he had bought
the hotel de Portenduere with the indemnities he obtained under
the Villele law. The vice-admiral had recently married his niece by
marriage, for the sole purpose of securing his money to her.

The faults of the young viscount were therefore likely to cost him the
favor of two powerful protectors. If Savinien had entered the navy,
young and handsome as he was, with a famous name, and backed by the
influence of an admiral and a deputy, he might, at twenty-three years
of age, been a lieutenant; but his mother, unwilling that her only son
should go into either naval or military service, had kept him at Nemours
under the tutelage of one of the Abbe Chaperon’s assistants, hoping that
she could keep him near her until her death. She meant to marry him to a
demoiselle d’Aiglemont with a fortune of twelve thousand francs a year;
to whose hand the name of Portenduere and the farm at Bordieres enabled
him to pretend. This narrow but judicious plan, which would have carried
the family to a second generation, was already balked by events.
The d’Aiglemonts were ruined, and one of the daughters, Helene, had
disappeared, and the mystery of her disappearance was never solved.

The weariness of a life without atmosphere, without prospects, without
action, without other nourishment than the love of a son for his mother,
so worked upon Savinien that he burst his chains, gentle as they were,
and swore that he would never live in the provinces--comprehending,
rather late, that his future fate was not to be in the Rue des
Bourgeois. At twenty-one years of age he left his mother’s house to make
acquaintance with his relations, and try his luck in Paris. The contrast
between life in Paris and life in Nemours was likely to be fatal to a
young man of twenty-one, free, with no one to say him nay, naturally
eager for pleasure, and for whom his name and his connections opened the
doors of all the salons. Quite convinced that his mother had the savings
of many years in her strong-box, Savinien soon spent the six thousand
francs which she had given him to see Paris. That sum did not defray his
expenses for six months, and he soon owed double that sum to his hotel,
his tailor, his boot maker, to the man from whom he hired his
carriages and horses, to a jeweler,--in short, to all those traders and
shopkeepers who contribute to the luxury of young men.

He had only just succeeded in making himself known, and had scarcely
learned how to converse, how to present himself in a salon, how to
wear his waistcoats and choose them and to order his coats and tie his
cravat, before he found himself in debt for over thirty thousand francs,
while still seeking the right phrases in which to declare his love for
the sister of the Marquis de Ronquerolles, the elegant Madame de Serizy,
whose youth had been at its climax during the Empire.

“How is that you all manage?” asked Savinien one day, at the end of a
gay breakfast with a knot of young dandies, with whom he was intimate
as the young men of the present day are intimate with each other, all
aiming for the same thing and all claiming an impossible equality.
“You were no richer than I and yet you get along without anxiety; you
contrive to maintain yourselves, while as for me I make nothing but
debts.”

“We all began that way,” answered Rastignac, laughing, and the laugh
was echoed by Lucien de Rubempre, Maxime de Trailles, Emile Blondet, and
others of the fashionable young men of the day.

“Though de Marsay was rich when he started in life he was an exception,”
 said the host, a parvenu named Finot, ambitious of seeming intimate with
these young men. “Any one but he,” added Finot bowing to that personage,
“would have been ruined by it.”

“A true remark,” said Maxime de Trailles.

“And a true idea,” added Rastignac.

“My dear fellow,” said de Marsay, gravely, to Savinien; “debts are the
capital stock of experience. A good university education with tutors for
all branches, who don’t teach you anything, costs sixty thousand francs.
If the education of the world does cost double, at least it teaches you
to understand life, politics, men,--and sometimes women.”

Blondet concluded the lesson by a paraphrase from La Fontaine: “The
world sells dearly what we think it gives.”

Instead of laying to heart the sensible advice which the cleverest
pilots of the Parisian archipelago gave him, Savinien took it all as a
joke.

“Take care, my dear fellow,” said de Marsay one day. “You have a great
name; if you don’t obtain the fortune that name requires you’ll end your
days in the uniform of a cavalry-sergeant. ‘We have seen the fall of
nobler heads,’” he added, declaiming the line of Corneille as he took
Savinien’s arm. “About six years ago,” he continued, “a young Comte
d’Esgrignon came among us; but he did not stay two years in the paradise
of the great world. Alas! he lived and moved like a rocket. He rose to
the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse and fell to his native town, where he is
now expiating his faults with a wheezy old father and a game of whist
at two sous a point. Tell Madame de Serizy your situation, candidly,
without shame; she will understand it and be very useful to you.
Whereas, if you play the charade of first love with her she will pose
as a Raffaelle Madonna, practice all the little games of innocence
upon you, and take you journeying at enormous cost through the Land of
Sentiment.”

Savinien, still too young and too pure in honor, dared not confess his
position as to money to Madame de Serizy. At a moment when he knew not
which way to turn he had written his mother an appealing letter, to
which she replied by sending him the sum of twenty thousand francs,
which was all she possessed. This assistance brought him to the close
of the first year. During the second, being harnessed to the chariot of
Madame de Serizy, who was seriously taken with him, and who was, as the
saying is, forming him, he had recourse to the dangerous expedient of
borrowing. One of his friends, a deputy and the friend of his cousin the
Comte de Portenduere, advised him in his distress to go to Gobseck or
Gigonnet or Palma, who, if duly informed as to his mother’s means, would
give him an easy discount. Usury and the deceptive help of renewals
enabled him to lead a happy life for nearly eighteen months. Without
daring to leave Madame de Serizy the poor boy had fallen madly in love
with the beautiful Comtesse de Kergarouet, a prude after the fashion
of young women who are awaiting the death of an old husband and making
capital of their virtue in the interests of a second marriage. Quite
incapable of understanding that calculating virtue is invulnerable,
Savinien paid court to Emilie de Kergarouet in all the splendor of
a rich man. He never missed either ball or theater at which she was
present.

“You haven’t powder enough, my boy, to blow up that rock,” said de
Marsay, laughing.

That young king of fashion, who did, out of commiseration for the lad,
endeavor to explain to him the nature of Emilie de Fontaine, merely
wasted his words; the gloomy lights of misfortune and the twilight of a
prison were needed to convince Savinien.

A note, imprudently given to a jeweler in collusion with the
money-lenders, who did not wish to have the odium of arresting the young
man, was the means of sending Savinien de Portenduere, in default of one
hundred and seventeen thousand francs and without the knowledge of his
friends, to the debtor’s prison at Sainte-Pelagie. So soon as the fact
was known Rastignac, de Marsay, and Lucien de Rubempre went to see him,
and each offered him a banknote of a thousand francs when they found
how really destitute he was. Everything belonging to him had been seized
except the clothes and the few jewels he wore. The three young men (who
brought an excellent dinner with them) discussed Savinien’s situation
while drinking de Marsay’s wine, ostensibly to arrange for his future
but really, no doubt, to judge of him.

“When a man is named Savinien de Portenduere,” cried Rastignac, “and
has a future peer of France for a cousin and Admiral Kergarouet for a
great-uncle, and commits the enormous blunder of allowing himself to be
put in Sainte-Pelagie, it is very certain that he must not stay there,
my good fellow.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” cried de Marsay. “You could have had my
traveling-carriage, ten thousand francs, and letters of introduction for
Germany. We know Gobseck and Gigonnet and the other crocodiles; we could
have made them capitulate. But tell me, in the first place, what ass
ever led you to drink of that cursed spring.”

“Des Lupeaulx.”

The three young men looked at each other with one and the same thought
and suspicion, but they did not utter it.

“Explain all your resources; show us your hand,” said de Marsay.

When Savinien had told of his mother and her old-fashioned ways, and the
little house with three windows in the Rue des Bourgeois, without other
grounds than a court for the well and a shed for the wood; when he had
valued the house, built of sandstone and pointed in reddish cement, and
put a price on the farm at Bordieres, the three dandies looked at each
other, and all three said with a solemn air the word of the abbe
in Alfred de Musset’s “Marrons du feu” (which had then just
appeared),--“Sad!”

“Your mother will pay if you write a clever letter,” said Rastignac.

“Yes, but afterwards?” cried de Marsay.

“If you had merely been put in the fiacre,” said Lucien, “the government
would find you a place in diplomacy, but Saint-Pelagie isn’t the
antechamber of an embassy.”

“You are not strong enough for Parisian life,” said Rastignac.

“Let us consider the matter,” said de Marsay, looking Savinien over as a
jockey examines a horse. “You have fine blue eyes, well opened, a white
forehead well shaped, magnificent black hair, a little moustache which
suits those pale cheeks, and a slim figure; you’ve a foot that tells
race, shoulders and chest not quite those of a porter, but solid. You
are what I call an elegant male brunette. Your face is of the style
Louis XII., hardly any color, well-formed nose; and you have the thing
that pleases women, a something, I don’t know what it is, which men take
no account of themselves; it is in the air, the manner, the tone of
the voice, the dart of the eye, the gesture,--in short, in a number of
little things which women see and to which they attach a meaning which
escapes us. You don’t know your merits, my dear fellow. Take a certain
tone and style and in six months you’ll captivate an English-woman with
a hundred thousand pounds; but you must call yourself viscount, a title
which belongs to you. My charming step-mother, Lady Dudley, who has not
her equal for matching two hearts, will find you some such woman in the
fens of Great Britain. What you must now do is to get the payment of
your debts postponed for ninety days. Why didn’t you tell us about them?
The money-lenders at Baden would have spared you--served you perhaps;
but now, after you have once been in prison, they’ll despise you. A
money-lender is, like society, like the masses, down on his knees before
the man who is strong enough to trick him, and pitiless to the lambs.
To the eyes of some persons Sainte-Pelagie is a she-devil who burns the
souls of young men. Do you want my candid advice? I shall tell you as I
told that little d’Esgrignon: ‘Arrange to pay your debts leisurely; keep
enough to live on for three years, and marry some girl in the provinces
who can bring you an income of thirty thousand francs.’ In the course of
three years you can surely find some virtuous heiress who is willing to
call herself Madame la Vicomtesse de Portenduere. Such is virtue,--let’s
drink to it. I give you a toast: ‘The girl with money!”

The young men did not leave their ex-friend till the official hour for
parting. The gate was no sooner closed behind them than they said to
each other: “He’s not strong enough!” “He’s quite crushed.” “I don’t
believe he’ll pull through it?”

The next day Savinien wrote his mother a confession in twenty-two pages.
Madame de Portenduere, after weeping for one whole day, wrote first to
her son, promising to get him out of prison, and then to the Comte de
Portenduere and to Admiral Kergarouet.

The letters the abbe had just read and which the poor mother was holding
in her hand and moistening with tears, were the answers to her appeal,
which had arrived that morning, and had almost broken her heart.


Paris, September, 1829.

To Madame de Portenduere:

Madame,--You cannot doubt the interest which the admiral and I both feel
in your troubles. What you ask of Monsieur de Kergarouet grieves me all
the more because our house was a home to your son; we were proud of him.
If Savinien had had more confidence in the admiral we could have taken
him to live with us, and he would already have obtained some good
situation. But, unfortunately, he told us nothing; he ran into debt of
his own accord, and even involved himself for me, who knew nothing
of his pecuniary position. It is all the more to be regretted because
Savinien has, for the moment, tied our hands by allowing the authorities
to arrest him.

If my nephew had not shown a foolish passion for me and sacrificed our
relationship to the vanity of a lover, we could have sent him to travel
in Germany while his affairs were being settled here. Monsieur de
Kergarouet intended to get him a place in the War office; but this
imprisonment for debt will paralyze such efforts. You must pay his
debts; let him enter the navy; he will make his way like the true
Portenduere that he is; he has the fire of the family in his beautiful
black eyes, and we will all help him.

Do not be disheartened, madame; you have many friends, among whom I
beg you to consider me as one of the most sincere; I send you our best
wishes, with the respects of

Your very affectionate servant, Emilie de Kergarouet.


The second letter was as follows:--


Portenduere, August, 1829.

To Madame de Portenduere:

My dear aunt,--I am more annoyed than surprised at Savinien’s pranks.
As I am married and the father of two sons and one daughter, my fortune,
already too small for my position and prospects, cannot be lessened to
ransom a Portenduere from the hands of the Jews. Sell your farm, pay his
debts, and come and live with us at Portenduere. You shall receive
the welcome we owe you, even though our views may not be entirely in
accordance with yours. You shall be made happy, and we will manage to
marry Savinien, whom my wife thinks charming. This little outbreak is
nothing; do not make yourself unhappy; it will never be known in this
part of the country, where there are a number of rich girls who would be
delighted to enter our family.

My wife joins me in assuring you of the happiness you would give us,
and I beg you to accept her wishes for the realization of this plan,
together with my affectionate respects.

Luc-Savinien, Comte de Portenduere.


“What letters for a Kergarouet to receive!” cried the old Breton lady,
wiping her eyes.

“The admiral does not know his nephew is in prison,” said the Abbe
Chaperon at last; “the countess alone read your letter, and has answered
it for him. But you must decide at once on some course,” he added after
a pause, “and this is what I have the honor to advise. Do not sell your
farm. The lease is just out, having lasted twenty-four years; in a few
months you can raise the rent to six thousand francs and get a premium
for double that amount. Borrow what you need of some honest man,--not
from the townspeople who make a business of mortgages. Your neighbour
here is a most worthy man; a man of good society, who knew it as it was
before the Revolution, who was once an atheist, and is now an earnest
Catholic. Do not let your feelings debar you from going to his house
this very evening; he will fully understand the step you take; forget
for a moment that you are a Kergarouet.”

“Never!” said the old mother, in a sharp voice.

“Well, then, be an amiable Kergarouet; come when he is alone. He will
lend you the money at three and a half per cent, perhaps even at three
per cent, and will do you this service delicately; you will be pleased
with him. He can go to Paris and release Savinien himself,--for he will
have to go there to sell out his funds,--and he can bring the lad back
to you.”

“Are you speaking of that little Minoret?”

“That little Minoret is eighty-three years old,” said the abbe, smiling.
“My dear lady, do have a little Christian charity; don’t wound him,--he
might be useful to you in other ways.”

“What ways?”

“He has an angel in his house; a precious young girl--”

“Oh! that little Ursula. What of that?”

The poor abbe did not pursue the subject after these significant words,
the laconic sharpness of which cut through the proposition he was about
to make.

“I think Doctor Minoret is very rich,” he said.

“So much the better for him.”

“You have indirectly caused your son’s misfortunes by refusing to give
him a profession; beware for the future,” said the abbe sternly. “Am I
to tell Doctor Minoret that you are coming?”

“Why cannot he come to me if he knows I want him?” she replied.

“Ah, madame, if you go to him you will pay him three per cent; if he
comes to you you will pay him five,” said the abbe, inventing this
reason to influence the old lady. “And if you are forced to sell your
farm by Dionis the notary, or by Massin the clerk (who would refuse
to lend you the money, knowing it was more their interest to buy), you
would lose half its value. I have not the slightest influence on the
Dionis, Massins, or Levraults, or any of those rich men who covet your
farm and know that your son is in prison.”

“They know it! oh, do they know it?” she exclaimed, throwing up
her arms. “There! my poor abbe, you have let your coffee get cold!
Tiennette, Tiennette!”

Tiennette, an old Breton servant sixty years of age, wearing a short
gown and a Breton cap, came quickly in and took the abbe’s coffee to
warm it.

“Let be, Monsieur le recteur,” she said, seeing that the abbe meant to
drink it, “I’ll just put it into the bain-marie, it won’t spoil it.”

“Well,” said the abbe to Madame de Portenduere in his most insinuating
voice, “I shall go and tell the doctor of your visit, and you will
come--”

The old mother did not yield till after an hour’s discussion, during
which the abbe was forced to repeat his arguments at least ten times.
And even then the proud Kergarouet was not vanquished until he used the
words, “Savinien would go.”

“It is better that I should go than he,” she said.



CHAPTER XI. SAVINIEN SAVED

The clock was striking nine when the little door made in the large door
of Madame de Portenduere’s house closed on the abbe, who immediately
crossed the road and hastily rang the bell at the doctor’s gate. He fell
from Tiennette to La Bougival; the one said to him, “Why do you come so
late, Monsieur l’abbe?” as the other had said, “Why do you leave Madame
so early when she is in trouble?”

The abbe found a numerous company assembled in the green and brown
salon; for Dionis had stopped at Massin’s on his way home to re-assure
the heirs by repeating their uncle’s words.

“I believe Ursula has a love-affair,” said he, “which will be nothing
but pain and trouble to her; she seems romantic” (extreme sensibility
is so called by notaries), “and, you’ll see, she won’t marry soon.
Therefore, don’t show her any distrust; be very attentive to her and
very respectful to your uncle, for he is slyer than fifty Goupils,”
 added the notary--without being aware that Goupil is a corruption of the
word vulpes, a fox.

So Mesdames Massin and Cremiere with their husbands, the post master and
Desire, together with the Nemours doctor and Bongrand, made an unusual
and noisy party in the doctor’s salon. As the abbe entered he heard
the sound of the piano. Poor Ursula was just finishing a sonata of
Beethoven’s. With girlish mischief she had chosen that grand music,
which must be studied to be understood, for the purpose of disgusting
these women with the thing they coveted. The finer the music the less
ignorant persons like it. So, when the door opened and the abbe’s
venerable head appeared they all cried out: “Ah! here’s Monsieur
l’abbe!” in a tone of relief, delighted to jump up and put an end to
their torture.

The exclamation was echoed at the card-table, where Bongrand, the
Nemours doctor, and old Minoret were victims to the presumption with
which the collector, in order to propitiate his great-uncle, had
proposed to take the fourth hand at whist. Ursula left the piano. The
doctor rose as if to receive the abbe, but really to put an end to the
game. After many compliments to their uncle on the wonderful proficiency
of his goddaughter, the heirs made their bow and retired.

“Good-night, my friends,” cried the doctor as the iron gate clanged.

“Ah! that’s where the money goes,” said Madame Cremiere to Madame
Massin, as they walked on.

“God forbid that I should spend money to teach my little Aline to make
such a din as that!” cried Madame Massin.

“She said it was Beethoven, who is thought to be fine musician,” said
the collector; “he has quite a reputation.”

“Not in Nemours, I’m sure of that,” said Madame Cremiere.

“I believe uncle made her play it expressly to drive us away,” said
Massin; “for I saw him give that little minx a wink as she opened the
music-book.”

“If that’s the sort of charivari they like,” said the post master, “they
are quite right to keep it to themselves.”

“Monsieur Bongrand must be fond of whist to stand such a dreadful
racket,” said Madame Cremiere.

“I shall never be able to play before persons who don’t understand
music,” Ursula was saying as she sat down beside the whist-table.

“In natures richly organized,” said the abbe, “sentiments can be
developed only in a congenial atmosphere. Just as a priest is unable to
give the blessing in presence of an evil spirit, or as a chestnut-tree
dies in a clay soil, so a musician’s genius has a mental eclipse when he
is surrounded by ignorant persons. In all the arts we must receive from
the souls who make the environment of our souls as much intensity as we
convey to them. This axiom, which rules the human mind, has been made
into proverbs: ‘Howl with the wolves’; ‘Like meets like.’ But the
suffering you felt, Ursula, affects delicate and tender natures only.”

“And so, friends,” said the doctor, “a thing which would merely give
pain to most women might kill my Ursula. Ah! when I am no longer here,
I charge you to see that the hedge of which Catullus spoke,--‘Ut flos,’
etc.,--a protecting hedge is raised between this cherished flower and
the world.”

“And yet those ladies flattered you, Ursula,” said Monsieur Bongrand,
smiling.

“Flattered her grossly,” remarked the Nemours doctor.

“I have always noticed how vulgar forced flattery is,” said old Minoret.
“Why is that?”

“A true thought has its own delicacy,” said the abbe.

“Did you dine with Madame de Portenduere?” asked Ursula, with a look of
anxious curiosity.

“Yes; the poor lady is terribly distressed. It is possible she may come
to see you this evening, Monsieur Minoret.”

Ursula pressed her godfather’s hand under the table.

“Her son,” said Bongrand, “was rather too simple-minded to live in Paris
without a mentor. When I heard that inquiries were being made here about
the property of the old lady I feared he was discounting her death.”

“Is it possible you think him capable of it?” said Ursula, with such
a terrible glance at Monsieur Bongrand that he said to himself rather
sadly, “Alas! yes, she loves him.”

“Yes and no,” said the Nemours doctor, replying to Ursula’s question.
“There is a great deal of good in Savinien, and that is why he is now in
prison; a scamp wouldn’t have got there.”

“Don’t let us talk about it any more,” said old Minoret. “The poor
mother must not be allowed to weep if there’s a way to dry her tears.”

The four friends rose and went out; Ursula accompanied them to the gate,
saw her godfather and the abbe knock at the opposite door, and as
soon as Tiennette admitted them she sat down on the outer wall with La
Bougival beside her.

“Madame la vicomtesse,” said the abbe, who entered first into the little
salon, “Monsieur le docteur Minoret was not willing that you should have
the trouble of coming to him--”

“I am too much of the old school, madame,” interrupted the doctor, “not
to know what a man owes to a woman of your rank, and I am very glad to
be able, as Monsieur l’abbe tells me, to be of service to you.”

Madame de Portenduere, who disliked the step the abbe had advised so
much that she had almost decided, after he left her, to apply to the
notary instead, was surprised by Minoret’s attention to such a degree
that she rose to receive him and signed to him to take a chair.

“Be seated, monsieur,” she said with a regal air. “Our dear abbe has
told you that the viscount is in prison on account of some youthful
debts,--a hundred thousand francs or so. If you could lend them to him I
would secure you on my farm at Bordieres.”

“We will talk of that, madame, when I have brought your son back to
you--if you will allow me to be your emissary in the matter.”

“Very good, monsieur,” she said, bowing her head and looking at the abbe
as if to say, “You were right; he really is a man of good society.”

“You see, madame,” said the abbe, “that my friend the doctor is full of
devotion to your family.”

“We shall be grateful, monsieur,” said Madame de Portenduere, making
a visible effort; “a journey to Paris, at your age, in quest of a
prodigal, is--”

“Madame, I had the honor to meet, in ‘65, the illustrious Admiral de
Portenduere in the house of that excellent Monsieur de Malesherbes, and
also in that of Monsieur le Comte de Buffon, who was anxious to question
him on some curious results of his voyages. Possibly Monsieur de
Portenduere, your late husband, was present. Those were the glorious
days of the French navy; it bore comparison with that of Great Britain,
and its officers had their full quota of courage. With what impatience
we awaited in ‘83 and ‘84 the news from St. Roch. I came very near
serving as surgeon in the king’s service. Your great-uncle, who is still
living, Admiral Kergarouet, fought his splendid battle at that time in
the ‘Belle-Poule.’”

“Ah! if he did but know his great-nephew is in prison!”

“He would not leave him there a day,” said old Minoret, rising.

He held out his hand to take that of the old lady, which she allowed him
to do; then he kissed it respectfully, bowed profoundly, and left the
room; but returned immediately to say:--

“My dear abbe, may I ask you to engage a place in the diligence for me
to-morrow?”

The abbe stayed behind for half an hour to sing the praises of his
friend, who meant to win and had succeeded in winning the good graces of
the old lady.

“He is an astonishing man for his age,” she said. “He talks of going to
Paris and attending to my son’s affairs as if he were only twenty-five.
He has certainly seen good society.”

“The very best, madame; and to-day more than one son of a peer of France
would be glad to marry his goddaughter with a million. Ah! if that
idea should come into Savinien’s head!--times are so changed that the
objections would not come from your side, especially after his late
conduct--”

The amazement into which the speech threw the old lady alone enabled him
to finish it.

“You have lost your senses,” she said at last.

“Think it over, madame; God grant that your son may conduct himself in
future in a manner to win that old man’s respect.”

“If it were not you, Monsieur l’abbe,” said Madame de Portenduere, “if
it were any one else who spoke to me in that way--”

“You would not see him again,” said the abbe, smiling. “Let us hope that
your dear son will enlighten you as to what occurs in Paris in these
days as to marriages. You will think only of Savinien’s good; as you
really have helped to compromise his future you will not stand in the
way of his making himself another position.”

“And it is you who say that to me?”

“If I did not say it to you, who would?” cried the abbe rising and
making a hasty retreat.

As he left the house he saw Ursula and her godfather standing in their
courtyard. The weak doctor had been so entreated by Ursula that he had
just yielded to her. She wanted to go with him to Paris, and gave a
thousand reasons. He called to the abbe and begged him to engage the
whole coupe for him that very evening if the booking-office were still
open.

The next day at half-past six o’clock the old man and the young girl
reached Paris, and the doctor went at once to consult his notary.
Political events were then very threatening. Monsieur Bongrand had
remarked in the course of the preceding evening that a man must be a
fool to keep a penny in the public funds so long as the quarrel between
the press and the court was not made up. Minoret’s notary now indirectly
approved of this opinion. The doctor therefore took advantage of his
journey to sell out his manufacturing stocks and his shares in the
Funds, all of which were then at a high value, depositing the proceeds
in the Bank of France. The notary also advised his client to sell the
stocks left to Ursula by Monsieur de Jordy. He promised to employ an
extremely clever broker to treat with Savinien’s creditors; but said
that in order to succeed it would be necessary for the young man to stay
several days longer in prison.

“Haste in such matters always means the loss of at least fifteen per
cent,” said the notary. “Besides, you can’t get your money under seven
or eight days.”

When Ursula heard that Savinien would have to say at least a week longer
in jail she begged her godfather to let her go there, if only once. Old
Minoret refused. The uncle and niece were staying at a hotel in the
Rue Croix des Petits-Champs where the doctor had taken a very suitable
apartment. Knowing the scrupulous honor and propriety of his goddaughter
he made her promise not to go out while he was away; at other times
he took her to see the arcades, the shops, the boulevards; but nothing
seemed to amuse or interest her.

“What do you want to do?” asked the old man.

“See Saint-Pelagie,” she answered obstinately.

Minoret called a hackney-coach and took her to the Rue de la Clef, where
the carriage drew up before the shabby front of an old convent then
transformed into a prison. The sight of those high gray walls, with
every window barred, of the wicket through which none can enter without
stooping (horrible lesson!), of the whole gloomy structure in a quarter
full of wretchedness, where it rises amid squalid streets like a supreme
misery,--this assemblage of dismal things so oppressed Ursula’s heart
that she burst into tears.

“Oh!” she said, “to imprison young men in this dreadful place for money!
How can a debt to a money-lender have a power the king has not? _He_
there!” she cried. “Where, godfather?” she added, looking from window to
window.

“Ursula,” said the old man, “you are making me commit great follies.
This is not forgetting him as you promised.”

“But,” she argued, “if I must renounce him must I also cease to feel an
interest in him? I can love him and not marry at all.”

“Ah!” cried the doctor, “there is so much reason in your
unreasonableness that I am sorry I brought you.”

Three days later the worthy man had all the receipts signed, and the
legal papers ready for Savinien’s release. The payings, including the
notaries’ fees, amounted to eighty thousand francs. The doctor went
himself to see Savinien released on Saturday at two o’clock. The young
viscount, already informed of what had happened by his mother, thanked
his liberator with sincere warmth of heart.

“You must return at once to see your mother,” the old doctor said to
him.

Savinien answered in a sort of confusion that he had contracted certain
debts of honor while in prison, and related the visit of his friends.

“I suspected there was some personal debt,” cried the doctor, smiling.
“Your mother borrowed a hundred thousand francs of me, but I have paid
out only eighty thousand. Here is the rest; be careful how you spend it,
monsieur; consider what you have left of it as your stake on the green
cloth of fortune.”

During the last eight days Savinien had made many reflections on the
present conditions of life. Competition in everything necessitated
hard work on the part of whoever sought a fortune. Illegal methods and
underhand dealing demanded more talent than open efforts in face of day.
Success in society, far from giving a man position, wasted his time and
required an immense deal of money. The name of Portenduere, which his
mother considered all-powerful, had no power at all in Paris. His cousin
the deputy, Comte de Portenduere, cut a very poor figure in the Elective
Chamber in presence of the peerage and the court; and had none too much
credit personally. Admiral Kergarouet existed only as the husband of his
wife. Savinien admitted to himself that he had seen orators, men from
the middle classes, or lesser noblemen, become influential personages.
Money was the pivot, the sole means, the only mechanism of a society
which Louis XVIII. had tried to create in the likeness of that of
England.

On his way from the Rue de la Clef to the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs
the young gentleman divulged the upshot of these meditations (which were
certainly in keeping with de Marsay’s advice) to the old doctor.

“I ought,” he said, “to go into oblivion for three or four years and
seek a career. Perhaps I could make myself a name by writing a book on
statesmanship or morals, or a treatise on some of the great questions of
the day. While I am looking out for a marriage with some young lady who
could make me eligible to the Chamber, I will work hard in silence and
in obscurity.”

Studying the young fellow’s face with a keen eye, the doctor saw the
serious purpose of a wounded man who was anxious to vindicate himself.
He therefore cordially approved of the scheme.

“My friend,” he said, “if you strip off the skin of the old nobility
(which is no longer worn these days) I will undertake, after you have
lived for three or four years in a steady and industrious manner,
to find you a superior young girl, beautiful, amiable, pious, and
possessing from seven to eight hundred thousand francs, who will make
you happy and of whom you will have every reason to be proud,--one whose
only nobility is that of the heart!”

“Ah, doctor!” cried the young man, “there is no longer a nobility in
these days,--nothing but an aristocracy.”

“Go and pay your debts of honor and come back here. I shall engage the
coupe of the diligence, for my niece is with me,” said the old man.

That evening, at six o’clock, the three travelers started from the Rue
Dauphine. Ursula had put on a veil and did not say a word. Savinien, who
once, in a moment of superficial gallantry, had sent her that kiss
which invaded and conquered her soul like a love-poem, had completely
forgotten the young girl in the hell of his Parisian debts; moreover,
his hopeless love for Emilie de Kergarouet hindered him from bestowing
a thought on a few glances exchanged with a little country girl. He did
not recognize her when the doctor handed her into the coach and then sat
down beside her to separate her from the young viscount.

“I have some bills to give you,” said the doctor to the young man. “I
have brought all your papers and documents.”

“I came very near not getting off,” said Savinien, “for I had to order
linen and clothes; the Philistines took all; I return like a true
prodigal.”

However interesting were the subjects of conversation between the young
man and the old one, and however witty and clever were certain remarks
of the viscount, the young girl continued silent till after dusk, her
green veil lowered, and her hands crossed on her shawl.

“Mademoiselle does not seem to have enjoyed Paris very much,” said
Savinien at last, somewhat piqued.

“I am glad to return to Nemours,” she answered in a trembling voice
raising her veil.

Notwithstanding the dim light Savinien then recognized her by the heavy
braids of her hair and the brilliancy of her blue eyes.

“I, too, leave Paris to bury myself in Nemours without regret now that I
meet my charming neighbour again,” he said; “I hope, Monsieur le docteur
that you will receive me in your house; I love music, and I remember to
have listened to Mademoiselle Ursula’s piano.”

“I do not know,” replied the doctor gravely, “whether your mother would
approve of your visits to an old man whose duty it is to care for this
dear child with all the solicitude of a mother.”

This reserved answer made Savinien reflect, and he then remembered the
kisses so thoughtlessly wafted. Night came; the heat was great. Savinien
and the doctor went to sleep first. Ursula, whose head was full
of projects, did not succumb till midnight. She had taken off her
straw-bonnet, and her head, covered with a little embroidered cap,
dropped upon her uncle’s shoulder. When they reached Bouron at dawn,
Savinien awoke. He then saw Ursula in the slight disarray naturally
caused by the jolting of the vehicle; her cap was rumpled and half off;
the hair, unbound, had fallen each side of her face, which glowed from
the heat of the night; in this situation, dreadful for women to whom
dress is a necessary auxiliary, youth and beauty triumphed. The sleep
of innocence is always lovely. The half-opened lips showed the pretty
teeth; the shawl, unfastened, gave to view, beneath the folds of her
muslin gown and without offence to her modesty, the gracefulness of
her figure. The purity of the virgin spirit shone on the sleeping
countenance all the more plainly because no other expression was there
to interfere with it. Old Minoret, who presently woke up, placed his
child’s head in the corner of the carriage that she might be more at
ease; and she let him do it unconsciously, so deep was her sleep after
the many wakeful nights she had spent in thinking of Savinien’s trouble.

“Poor little girl!” said the doctor to his neighbour, “she sleeps like
the child she is.”

“You must be proud of her,” replied Savinien; “for she seems as good as
she is beautiful.”

“Ah! she is the joy of the house. I could not love her better if she
were my own daughter. She will be sixteen on the 5th February. God grant
that I may live long enough to marry her to a man who will make her
happy. I wanted to take her to the theater in Paris, where she was for
the first time, but she refused, the Abbe Chaperon had forbidden it.
‘But,’ I said, ‘when you are married your husband will want you to go
there.’ ‘I shall do what my husband wants,’ she answered. ‘If he asks me
to do evil and I am weak enough to yield, he will be responsible before
God--and so I shall have strength to refuse him, for his own sake.’”

As the coach entered Nemours, at five in the morning, Ursula woke up,
ashamed at her rumpled condition, and confused by the look of admiration
which she encountered from Savinien. During the hour it had taken the
diligence to come from Bouron to Nemours the young man had fallen in
love with Ursula; he had studied the pure candor of her soul, the beauty
of that body, the whiteness of the skin, the delicacy of the features;
he recalled the charm of the voice which had uttered but one expressive
sentence, in which the poor child said all, intending to say nothing. A
presentiment suddenly seemed to take hold of him; he saw in Ursula the
woman the doctor had pictured to him, framed in gold by the magic words,
“Seven or eight hundred thousand francs.”

“In three of four years she will be twenty, and I shall be
twenty-seven,” he thought. “The good doctor talked of probation, work,
good conduct! Sly as he is I shall make him tell me the truth.”

The three neighbours parted in the street in front of their respective
homes, and Savinien put a little courting into his eyes as he gave
Ursula a parting glance.

Madame de Portenduere let her son sleep till midday; but the doctor
and Ursula, in spite of their fatiguing journey, went to high mass.
Savinien’s release and his return in company with the doctor had
explained the reason of the latter’s absence to the newsmongers of the
town and to the heirs, who were once more assembled in conventicle on
the square, just as they were two weeks earlier when the doctor attended
his first mass. To the great astonishment of all the groups, Madame de
Portenduere, on leaving the church, stopped old Minoret, who offered
her his arm and took her home. The old lady asked him to dinner that
evening, also asking his niece and assuring him that the abbe would be
the only other guest.

“He must have wished Ursula to see Paris,” said Minoret-Levrault.

“Pest!” cried Cremiere; “he can’t take a step without that girl!”

“Something must have happened to make old Portenduere accept his arm,”
 said Massin.

“So none of you have guessed that your uncle has sold his Funds and
released that little Savinien?” cried Goupil. “He refused Dionis, but he
didn’t refuse Madame de Portenduere--Ha, ha! you are all done for. The
viscount will propose a marriage-contract instead of a mortgage, and the
doctor will make the husband settle on his jewel of a girl the sum he
has now paid to secure the alliance.”

“It is not a bad thing to marry Ursula to Savinien,” said the butcher.
“The old lady gives a dinner to-day to Monsieur Minoret. Tiennette came
early for a filet.”

“Well, Dionis, here’s a fine to-do!” said Massin, rushing up to the
notary, who was entering the square.

“What is? It’s all going right,” returned the notary. “Your uncle has
sold his Funds and Madame de Portenduere has sent for me to witness the
signing of a mortgage on her property for one hundred thousand francs,
lent to her by your uncle.”

“Yes, but suppose the young people should marry?”

“That’s as if you said Goupil was to be my successor.”

“The two things are not so impossible,” said Goupil.

On returning from mass Madame de Portenduere told Tiennette to inform
her son that she wished to see him.

The little house had three bedrooms on the first floor. That of Madame
de Portenduere and that of her late husband were separated by a
large dressing-room lighted by a skylight, and connected by a little
antechamber which opened on the staircase. The window of the other
room, occupied by Savinien, looked, like that of his late father, on the
street. The staircase went up at the back of the house, leaving room
for a little study lighted by a small round window opening on the court.
Madame de Portenduere’s bedroom, the gloomiest in the house, also looked
into the court; but the widow spent all her time in the salon on the
ground floor, which communicated by a passage with the kitchen built at
the end of the court, so that this salon was made to answer the double
purpose of drawing-room and dining-room combined.

The bedroom of the late Monsieur de Portenduere remained as he had
left it on the day of his death; there was no change except that he was
absent. Madame de Portenduere had made the bed herself; laying upon it
the uniform of a naval captain, his sword, cordon, orders, and hat. The
gold snuff-box from which her late husband had taken snuff for the last
time was on the table, with his prayer-book, his watch, and the cup from
which he drank. His white hair, arranged in one curled lock and framed,
hung above a crucifix and the holy water in the alcove. All the little
ornaments he had worn, his journals, his furniture, his Dutch spittoon,
his spy-glass hanging by the mantel, were all there. The widow had
stopped the hands of the clock at the hour of his death, to which they
always pointed. The room still smelt of the powder and the tobacco of
the deceased. The hearth was as he left it. To her, entering there, he
was again visible in the many articles which told of his daily habits.
His tall cane with its gold head was where he had last placed it, with
his buckskin gloves close by. On a table against the wall stood a gold
vase, of coarse workmanship but worth three thousand francs, a gift from
Havana, which city, at the time of the American War of Independence, he
had protected from an attack by the British, bringing his convoy safe
into port after an engagement with superior forces. To recompense this
service the King of Spain had made him a knight of his order; the
same event gave him a right to the next promotion to the rank of
vice-admiral, and he also received the red ribbing. He then married his
wife, who had a fortune of about two hundred thousand francs. But
the Revolution hindered his promotion, and Monsieur de Portenduere
emigrated.

“Where is my mother?” said Savinien to Tiennette.

“She is waiting for you in your father’s room,” said the old Breton
woman.

Savinien could not repress a shudder. He knew his mother’s rigid
principles, her worship of honor, her loyalty, her faith in nobility,
and he foresaw a scene. He went up to the assault with his heart beating
and his face rather pale. In the dim light which filtered through the
blinds he saw his mother dressed in black, and with an air of solemnity
in keeping with that funereal room.

“Monsieur le vicomte,” she said when she saw him, rising and taking his
hand to lead him to his father’s bed, “there died your father,--a man of
honor; he died without reproach from his own conscience. His spirit
is there. Surely he groaned in heaven when he saw his son degraded by
imprisonment for debt. Under the old monarchy that stain could have been
spared you by obtaining a lettre de cachet and shutting you up for a
few days in a military prison.--But you are here; you stand before your
father, who hears you. You know all that you did before you were sent
to that ignoble prison. Will you swear to me before your father’s shade,
and in presence of God who sees all, that you have done no dishonorable
act; that your debts are the result of youthful folly, and that your
honor is untarnished? If your blameless father were there, sitting
in that armchair, and asking an explanation of your conduct, could he
embrace you after having heard it?”

“Yes, mother,” replied the young man, with grave respect.

She opened her arms and pressed him to her heart, shedding a few tears.

“Let us forget it all, my son,” she said; “it is only a little less
money. I shall pray God to let us recover it. As you are indeed worthy
of your name, kiss me--for I have suffered much.”

“I swear, mother,” he said, laying his hand upon the bed, “to give you
no further unhappiness of that kind, and to do all I can to repair these
first faults.”

“Come and breakfast, my child,” she said, turning to leave the room.



CHAPTER XII. OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE

In 1829 the old noblesse had recovered as to manners and customs
something of the prestige it had irrevocably lost in politics. Moreover,
the sentiment which governs parents and grandparents in all that relates
to matrimonial conventions is an imperishable sentiment, closely allied
to the very existence of civilized societies and springing from the
spirit of family. It rules in Geneva as in Vienna and in Nemours,
where, as we have seen, Zelie Minoret refused her consent to a possible
marriage of her son with the daughter of a bastard. Still, all social
laws have their exceptions. Savinien thought he might bend his mother’s
pride before the inborn nobility of Ursula. The struggle began at once.
As soon as they were seated at table his mother told him of the horrible
letters, as she called them, which the Kergarouets and the Portendueres
had written her.

“There is no such thing as family in these days, mother,” replied
Savinien, “nothing but individuals! The nobles are no longer a compact
body. No one asks or cares whether I am a Portenduere, or brave, or a
statesmen; all they ask now-a-days is, ‘What taxes does he pay?’”

“But the king?” asked the old lady.

“The king is caught between the two Chambers like a man between his wife
and his mistress. So I shall have to marry some rich girl without
regard to family,--the daughter of a peasant if she has a million and is
sufficiently well brought-up--that is to say, if she has been taught in
school.”

“Oh! there’s no need to talk of that,” said the old lady.

Savinien frowned as he heard the words. He knew the granite will, called
Breton obstinacy, that distinguished his mother, and he resolved to know
at once her opinion on this delicate matter.

“So,” he went on, “if I loved a young girl,--take for instance your
neighbour’s godchild, little Ursula,--would you oppose my marriage?”

“Yes, as long as I live,” she replied; “and after my death you would
be responsible for the honor and the blood of the Kergarouets and the
Portendueres.”

“Would you let me die of hunger and despair for the chimera of nobility,
which has no reality to-day unless it has the lustre of great wealth?”

“You could serve France and put faith in God.”

“Would you postpone my happiness till after your death?”

“It would be horrible if you took it then,--that is all I have to say.”

“Louis XIV. came very near marrying the niece of Mazarin, a parvenu.”

“Mazarin himself opposed it.”

“Remember the widow Scarron.”

“She was a d’Aubigne. Besides, the marriage was in secret. But I am very
old, my son,” she said, shaking her head. “When I am no more you can, as
you say, marry whom you please.”

Savinien both loved and respected his mother; but he instantly, though
silently, set himself in opposition to her with an obstinacy equal
to her own, resolving to have no other wife than Ursula, to whom this
opposition gave, as often happens in similar circumstances, the value of
a forbidden thing.

When, after vespers, the doctor, with Ursula, who was dressed in pink
and white, entered the cold, stiff salon, the girl was seized with
nervous trembling, as though she had entered the presence of the queen
of France and had a favor to beg of her. Since her confession to the
doctor this little house had assumed the proportions of a palace in her
eyes, and the old lady herself the social value which a duchess of the
Middle Ages might have had to the daughter of a serf. Never had Ursula
measured as she did at that moment the distance which separated Vicomte
de Portenduere from the daughter of a regimental musician, a former
opera-singer and the natural son of an organist.

“What is the matter, my dear?” said the old lady, making the girl sit
down beside her.

“Madame, I am confused by the honor you have done me--”

“My little girl,” said Madame de Portenduere, in her sharpest tone. “I
know how fond your uncle is of you, and I wished to be agreeable to him,
for he has brought back my prodigal son.”

“But, my dear mother,” said Savinien cut to the heart by seeing the
color fly into Ursula’s face as she struggled to keep back her tears,
“even if we were under no obligations to Monsieur le Chevalier Minoret,
I think we should always be most grateful for the pleasure Mademoiselle
has given us by accepting your invitation.”

The young man pressed the doctor’s hand in a significant manner, adding:
“I see you wear, monsieur, the order of Saint-Michel, the oldest order
in France, and one which confers nobility.”

Ursula’s extreme beauty, to which her almost hopeless love gave a depth
which great painters have sometimes conveyed in pictures where the
soul is brought into strong relief, had struck Madame de Portenduere
suddenly, and made her suspect that the doctor’s apparent generosity
masked an ambitious scheme. She had made the speech to which Savinien
replied with the intention of wounding the doctor in that which was
dearest to him; and she succeeded, though the old man could hardly
restrain a smile as he heard himself styled a “chevalier,” amused to
observe how the eagerness of a lover did not shrink from absurdity.

“The order of Saint-Michel which in former days men committed follies to
obtain,” he said, “has now, Monsieur le vicomte, gone the way of other
privileges! It is given only to doctors and poor artists. The kings have
done well to join it to that of Saint-Lazare who was, I believe, a poor
devil recalled to life by a miracle. From this point of view the order
of Saint-Michel and Saint-Lazare may be, for many of us, symbolic.”

After this reply, at once sarcastic and dignified, silence reigned,
which, as no one seemed inclined to break it, was becoming awkward, when
there was a rap at the door.

“There is our dear abbe,” said the old lady, who rose, leaving Ursula
alone, and advancing to meet the Abbe Chaperon,--an honor she had not
paid to the doctor and his niece.

The old man smiled to himself as he looked from his goddaughter to
Savinien. To show offence or to complain of Madame de Portenduere’s
manners was a rock on which a man of small mind might have struck, but
Minoret was too accomplished in the ways of the world not to avoid
it. He began to talk to the viscount of the danger Charles X. was
then running by confiding the affairs of the nation to the Prince de
Polignac. When sufficient time had been spent on the subject to avoid
all appearance of revenging himself by so doing, he handed the old lady,
in an easy, jesting way, a packet of legal papers and receipted bills,
together with the account of his notary.

“Has my son verified them?” she said, giving Savinien a look, to which
he replied by bending his head. “Well, then the rest is my notary’s
business,” she added, pushing away the papers and treating the affair
with the disdain she wished to show for money.

To abase wealth was, according to Madame de Portenduere’s ideas, to
elevate the nobility and rob the bourgeoisie of their importance.

A few moments later Goupil came from his employer, Dionis, to ask for
the accounts of the transaction between the doctor and Savinien.

“Why do you want them?” said the old lady.

“To put the matter in legal form; there have been no cash payments.”

Ursula and Savinien, who both for the first time exchanged a glance with
offensive personage, were conscious of a sensation like that of touching
a toad, aggravated by a dark presentiment of evil. They both had the
same indefinable and confused vision into the future, which has no name
in any language, but which is capable of explanation as the action of
the inward being of which the mysterious Swedenborgian had spoken to
Doctor Minoret. The certainty that the venomous Goupil would in some
way be fatal to them made Ursula tremble; but she controlled herself,
conscious of unspeakable pleasure in seeing that Savinien shared her
emotion.

“He is not handsome, that clerk of Monsieur Dionis,” said Savinien, when
Goupil had closed the door.

“What does it signify whether such persons are handsome or ugly?” said
Madame de Portenduere.

“I don’t complain of his ugliness,” said the abbe, “but I do of his
wickedness, which passes all bounds; he is a villain.”

The doctor, in spite of his desire to be amiable, grew cold and
dignified. The lovers were embarrassed. If it had not been for the
kindly good-humor of the abbe, whose gentle gayety enlivened the
dinner, the position of the doctor and his niece would have been almost
intolerable. At dessert, seeing Ursula turn pale, he said to her:--

“If you don’t feel well, dear child, we have only the street to cross.”

“What is the matter, my dear?” said the old lady to the girl.

“Madame,” said the doctor severely, “her soul is chilled, accustomed as
she is to be met by smiles.”

“A very bad education, monsieur,” said Madame de Portenduere. “Is it
not, Monsieur l’abbe?”

“Yes,” answered Minoret, with a look at the abbe, who knew not how
to reply. “I have, it is true, rendered life unbearable to an angelic
spirit if she has to pass it in the world; but I trust I shall not die
until I place her in security, safe from coldness, indifference, and
hatred--”

“Oh, godfather--I beg of you--say no more. There is nothing the matter
with me,” cried Ursula, meeting Madame de Portenduere’s eyes rather than
give too much meaning to her words by looking at Savinien.

“I cannot know, madame,” said Savinien to his mother, “whether
Mademoiselle Ursula suffers, but I do know that you are torturing me.”

Hearing these words, dragged from the generous young man by his
mother’s treatment of herself, Ursula turned pale and begged Madame de
Portenduere to excuse her; then she took her uncle’s arm, bowed, left
the room, and returned home. Once there, she rushed to the salon and sat
down to the piano, put her head in her hands, and burst into tears.

“Why don’t you leave the management of your affairs to my old
experience, cruel child?” cried the doctor in despair. “Nobles never
think themselves under any obligations to the bourgeoisie. When we
do them a service they consider that we do our duty, and that’s all.
Besides, the old lady saw that you looked favorably on Savinien; she is
afraid he will love you.”

“At any rate he is saved!” said Ursula. “But ah! to try to humiliate a
man like you!”

“Wait till I return, my child,” said the old man leaving her.

When the doctor re-entered Madame de Portenduere’s salon he found Dionis
the notary, accompanied by Monsieur Bongrand and the mayor of Nemours,
witnesses required by law for the validity of deeds in all communes
where there is but one notary. Minoret took Monsieur Dionis aside and
said a word in his ear, after which the notary read the deeds aloud
officially; from which it appeared that Madame de Portenduere gave a
mortgage on all her property to secure payment of the hundred thousand
francs, the interest on which was fixed at five per cent. At the reading
of this last clause the abbe looked at Minoret, who answered with an
approving nod. The poor priest whispered something in the old lady’s ear
to which she replied,--

“I will owe nothing to such persons.”

“My mother leaves me the nobler part,” said Savinien to the doctor; “she
will repay the money and charges me to show our gratitude.”

“But you will have to pay eleven thousand francs the first year to meet
the interest and the legal costs,” said the abbe.

“Monsieur,” said Minoret to Dionis, “as Monsieur and Madame de
Portenduere are not in a condition to pay those costs, add them to the
amount of the mortgage and I will pay them.”

Dionis made the change and the sum borrowed was fixed at one hundred and
seven thousand francs. When the papers were all signed, Minoret made his
fatigue an excuse to leave the house at the same time as the notary and
witnesses.

“Madame,” said the abbe, “why did you affront the excellent Monsieur
Minoret, who saved you at least twenty-five thousand francs on those
debts in Paris, and had the delicacy to give twenty thousand to your son
for his debts of honor?”

“Your Minoret is sly,” she said, taking a pinch of snuff. “He knows what
he is about.”

“My mother thinks he wishes to force me into marrying his niece by
getting hold of our farm,” said Savinien; “as if a Portenduere, son of a
Kergarouet, could be made to marry against his will.”

An hour later, Savinien presented himself at the doctor’s house, where
all the relatives had assembled, enticed by curiosity. The arrival of
the young viscount produced a lively sensation, all the more because its
effect was different on each person present. Mesdemoiselles Cremiere and
Massin whispered together and looked at Ursula, who blushed. The mothers
said to Desire that Goupil was right about the marriage. The eyes of all
present turned towards the doctor, who did not rise to receive the young
nobleman, but merely bowed his head without laying down the dice-box,
for he was playing a game of backgammon with Monsieur Bongrand. The
doctor’s cold manner surprised every one.

“Ursula, my child,” he said, “give us a little music.”

While the young girl, delighted to have something to do to keep her
in countenance, went to the piano and began to move the green-covered
music-books, the heirs resigned themselves, with many demonstrations of
pleasure, to the torture and the silence about to be inflicted on them,
so eager were they to find out what was going on between their uncle and
the Portendueres.

In sometimes happens that a piece of music, poor in itself, when
played by a young girl under the influence of deep feeling, makes more
impression than a fine overture played by a full orchestra. In all
music there is, besides the thought of the composer, the soul of the
performer, who, by a privilege granted to this art only, can give both
meaning and poetry to passages which are in themselves of no great
value. Chopin proves, for that unresponsive instrument the piano, the
truth of this fact, already proved by Paganini on the violin. That
fine genius is less a musician than a soul which makes itself felt, and
communicates itself through all species of music, even simple chords.
Ursula, by her exquisite and sensitive organization, belonged to this
rare class of beings, and old Schmucke, the master, who came every
Saturday and who, during Ursula’s stay in Paris was with her every
day, had brought his pupil’s talent to its full perfection. “Rousseau’s
Dream,” the piece now chosen by Ursula, composed by Herold in his young
days, is not without a certain depth which is capable of being developed
by execution. Ursula threw into it the feelings which were agitating her
being, and justified the term “caprice” given by Herold to the fragment.
With soft and dreamy touch her soul spoke to the young man’s soul and
wrapped it, as in a cloud, with ideas that were almost visible.

Sitting at the end of the piano, his elbow resting on the cover and his
head on his left hand, Savinien admired Ursula, whose eyes, fixed on the
paneling of the wall beyond him, seemed to be questioning another world.
Many a man would have fallen deeply in love for a less reason. Genuine
feelings have a magnetism of their own, and Ursula was willing to show
her soul, as a coquette her dresses to be admired. Savinien entered
that delightful kingdom, led by this pure heart, which, to interpret its
feelings, borrowed the power of the only art that speaks to thought by
thought, without the help of words, or color, or form. Candor, openness
of heart have the same power over a man that childhood has; the same
charm, the same irresistible seductions. Ursula was never more honest
and candid than at this moment, when she was born again into a new life.

The abbe came to tear Savinien from his dream, requesting him to take
a fourth hand at whist. Ursula went on playing; the heirs departed, all
except Desire, who was resolved to find out the intentions of his uncle
and the viscount and Ursula.

“You have as much talent as soul, mademoiselle,” he said, when the young
girl closed the piano and sat down beside her godfather. “Who is your
master?”

“A German, living close to the Rue Dauphine on the quai Conti,” said the
doctor. “If he had not given Ursula a lesson every day during her stay
in Paris he would have been here to-day.”

“He is not only a great musician,” said Ursula, “but a man of adorable
simplicity of nature.”

“Those lessons must cost a great deal,” remarked Desire.

The players smiled ironically. When the game was over the doctor, who
had hitherto seemed anxious and pensive, turned to Savinien with the air
of a man who fulfills a duty.

“Monsieur,” he said, “I am grateful for the feeling which leads you
to make me this early visit; but your mother attributes unworthy and
underhand motives to what I have done, and I should give her the right
to call them true if I did not request you to refrain from coming here,
in spite of the honor your visits are to me, and the pleasure I should
otherwise feel in cultivating your society. Tell your mother that if
I do not beg her, in my niece’s name and my own, to do us the honor of
dining here next Sunday it is because I am very certain that she would
find herself indisposed on that day.”

The old man held out his hand to the young viscount, who pressed it
respectfully, saying:--

“You are quite right, monsieur.”

He then withdrew; but not without a bow to Ursula, in which there was
more of sadness than disappointment.

Desire left the house at the same time; but he found it impossible to
exchange even a word with the young nobleman, who rushed into his own
house precipitately.



CHAPTER XIII. BETROTHAL OF HEARTS

This rupture between the Portendueres and Doctor Minoret gave talk
among the heirs for a week; they did homage to the genius of Dionis, and
regarded their inheritance as rescued.

So, in an age when ranks are leveled, when the mania for equality puts
everybody on one footing and threatens to destroy all bulwarks, even
military subordination,--that last refuge of power in France, where
passions have now no other obstacles to overcome than personal
antipathies, or differences of fortune,--the obstinacy of an
old-fashioned Breton woman and the dignity of Doctor Minoret created a
barrier between these lovers, which was to end, as such obstacles often
do, not in destroying but in strengthening love. To an ardent man a
woman’s value is that which she costs him; Savinien foresaw a struggle,
great efforts, many uncertainties, and already the young girl was
rendered dearer to him; he was resolved to win her. Perhaps our feelings
obey the laws of nature as to the lastingness of her creations; to a
long life a long childhood.

The next morning, when they woke, Ursula and Savinien had the same
thought. An intimate understanding of this kind would create love if it
were not already its most precious proof. When the young girl parted her
curtains just far enough to let her eyes take in Savinien’s window, she
saw the face of her lover above the fastening of his. When one reflects
on the immense services that windows render to lovers it seems natural
and right that a tax should be levied on them. Having thus protested
against her godfather’s harshness, Ursula dropped the curtain and opened
her window to close the outer blinds, through which she could continue
to see without being seen herself. Seven or eight times during the day
she went up to her room, always to find the young viscount writing,
tearing up what he had written, and then writing again--to her, no
doubt!

The next morning when she woke La Bougival gave her the following
letter:--


To Mademoiselle Ursula:

Mademoiselle,--I do not conceal from myself the distrust a young man
inspires when he has placed himself in the position from which your
godfather’s kindness released me. I know that I must in future
give greater guarantees of good conduct than other men; therefore,
mademoiselle, it is with deep humility that I place myself at your feet
and ask you to consider my love. This declaration is not dictated by
passion; it comes from an inward certainty which involves the whole of
life. A foolish infatuation for my young aunt, Madame de Kergarouet, was
the cause of my going to prison; will you not regard as a proof of my
sincere love the total disappearance of those wishes, of that image, now
effaced from my heart by yours? No sooner did I see you, asleep and so
engaging in your childlike slumber at Bouron, than you occupied my soul
as a queen takes possession of her empire. I will have no other wife
than you. You have every qualification I desire in her who is to bear my
name. The education you have received and the dignity of your own mind,
place you on the level of the highest positions. But I doubt myself
too much to dare describe you to yourself; I can only love you. After
listening to you yesterday I recalled certain words which seem as though
written for you; suffer me to transcribe them:--

“Made to draw all hearts and charm all eyes, gentle and intelligent,
spiritual yet able to reason, courteous as though she had passed her
life at court, simple as the hermit who had never known the world, the
fire of her soul is tempered in her eyes by sacred modesty.”

I feel the value of the noble soul revealed in you by many, even the
most trifling, things. This it is which gives me the courage to ask you,
provided you love no one else, to let me prove to you by my conduct and
my devotion that I am not unworthy of you. It concerns my very life; you
cannot doubt that all my powers will be employed, not only in trying to
please you, but in deserving your esteem, which is more precious to me
than any other upon earth. With this hope, Ursula--if you will suffer
me so to call you in my heart--Nemours will be to me a paradise, the
hardest tasks will bring me joys derived through you, as life itself is
derived from God. Tell me that I may call myself

Your Savinien.


Ursula kissed the letter; then, having re-read it and clasped it with
passionate motions, she dressed herself eagerly to carry it to her
uncle.

“Ah, my God! I nearly forgot to say my prayers!” she exclaimed, turning
back to kneel on her prie-Dieu.

A few moments later she went down to the garden, where she found her
godfather and made him read the letter. They both sat down on a bench
under the arch of climbing plants opposite to the Chinese pagoda. Ursula
awaited the old man’s words, and the old man reflected long, too long
for the impatient young girl. At last, the result of their secret
interview appeared in the following answer, part of which the doctor
undoubtedly dictated.


To Monsieur le Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere:

Monsieur,--I cannot be otherwise than greatly honored by the letter in
which you offer me your hand; but, at my age, and according to the rules
of my education, I have felt bound to communicate it to my godfather,
who is all I have, and whom I love as a father and also as a friend. I
must now tell you the painful objections which he has made to me, and
which must be to you my answer.

Monsieur le vicomte, I am a poor girl, whose fortune depends entirely,
not only on my godfather’s good-will, but also on the doubtful success
of the measures he may take to elude the schemes of his relatives
against me. Though I am the legitimate daughter of Joseph Mirouet,
band-master of the 45th regiment of infantry, my father himself was my
godfather’s natural half-brother; and therefore these relatives may,
though without reason, being a suit against a young girl who would be
defenceless. You see, monsieur, that the smallness of my fortune is not
my greatest misfortune. I have many things to make me humble. It is for
your sake, and not for my own, that I lay before you these facts, which
to loving and devoted hearts are sometimes of little weight. But I beg
you to consider, monsieur, that if I did not submit them to you, I might
be suspected of leading your tenderness to overlook obstacles which the
world, and more especially your mother, regard as insuperable.

I shall be sixteen in four months. Perhaps you will admit that we are
both too young and too inexperienced to understand the miseries of a
life entered upon without other fortune than that I have received
from the kindness of the late Monsieur de Jordy. My godfather desires,
moreover, not to marry me until I am twenty. Who knows what fate may
have in store for you in four years, the finest years of your life? do
not sacrifice them to a poor girl.

Having thus explained to you, monsieur, the opinions of my dear
godfather, who, far from opposing my happiness, seeks to contribute to
it in every way, and earnestly desires that his protection, which must
soon fail me, may be replaced by a tenderness equal to his own; there
remains only to tell you how touched I am by your offer and by the
compliments which accompany it. The prudence which dictates my letter
is that of an old man to whom life is well-known; but the gratitude I
express is that of a young girl, in whose soul no other sentiment has
arisen.

Therefore, monsieur, I can sign myself, in all sincerity,

Your servant, Ursula Mirouet.


Savinien made no reply. Was he trying to soften his mother? Had this
letter put an end to his love? Many such questions, all insoluble,
tormented poor Ursula, and, by repercussion, the doctor too, who
suffered from every agitation of his darling child. Ursula went often
to her chamber to look at Savinien, whom she usually found sitting
pensively before his table with his eyes turned towards her window. At
the end of the week, but no sooner, she received a letter from him; the
delay was explained by his increasing love.

  To Mademoiselle Ursula Mirouet:

Dear Ursula,--I am a Breton, and when my mind is once made up nothing
can change me. Your godfather, whom may God preserve to us, is right;
but does it follow that I am wrong in loving you? Therefore, all I want
to know from you is whether you could love me. Tell me this, if only by
a sign, and then the next four years will be the finest of my life.

A friend of mine has delivered to my great-uncle, Vice-admiral
Kergarouet, a letter in which I asked his help to enter the navy. The
kind old man, grieved at my misfortune, replies that even the king’s
favor would be thwarted by the rules of the service in case I wanted
a certain rank. Nevertheless, if I study three months at Toulon, the
minister of war can send me to sea as master’s mate; then after a cruise
against the Algerines, with whom we are now at war, I can go through an
examination and become a midshipman. Moreover, if I distinguish myself
in an expedition they are fitting out against Algiers, I shall certainly
be made ensign--but how soon? that no one can tell. Only, they will make
the rules as elastic as possible to have the name of Portenduere again
in the navy.

I see very plainly that I can only hope to obtain you from your
godfather; and your respect for him makes you still dearer to me. Before
replying to the admiral, I must have an interview with the doctor; on
his reply my whole future will depend. Whatever comes of it, know this,
that rich or poor, the daughter of a band master or the daughter of a
king, you are the woman whom the voice of my heart points out to me.
Dear Ursula, we live in times when prejudices which might once have
separated us have no power to prevent our marriage. To you, then, I
offer the feelings of my heart, to your uncle the guarantees which
secure to him your happiness. He has not seen that I, in a few hours,
came to love you more than he has loved you in fifteen years.

Until this evening. Savinien.


“Here, godfather,” said Ursula, holding the letter out to him with a
proud gesture.

“Ah, my child!” cried the doctor when he had read it, “I am happier than
even you. He repairs all his faults by this resolution.”

After dinner Savinien presented himself, and found the doctor walking
with Ursula by the balustrade of the terrace overlooking the river.
The viscount had received his clothes from Paris, and had not missed
heightening his natural advantages by a careful toilet, as elegant as
though he were striving to please the proud and beautiful Comtesse de
Kergarouet. Seeing him approach her from the portico, the poor girl
clung to her uncle’s arm as though she were saving herself from a fall
over a precipice, and the doctor heard the beating of her heart, which
made him shudder.

“Leave us, my child,” he said to the girl, who went to the pagoda and
sat upon the steps, after allowing Savinien to take her hand and kiss it
respectfully.

“Monsieur, will you give this dear hand to a naval captain?” he said to
the doctor in a low voice.

“No,” said Minoret, smiling; “we might have to wait too long, but--I
will give her to a lieutenant.”

Tears of joy filled the young man’s eyes as he pressed the doctor’s hand
affectionately.

“I am about to leave,” he said, “to study hard and try to learn in six
months what the pupils of the Naval School take six years to acquire.”

“You are going?” said Ursula, springing towards them from the pavilion.

“Yes, mademoiselle, to deserve you. Therefore the more eager I am to go,
the more I prove to you my affection.”

“This is the 3rd of October,” she said, looking at him with infinite
tenderness; “do not go till after the 19th.”

“Yes,” said the old man, “we will celebrate Saint-Savinien’s day.”

“Good-by, then,” cried the young man. “I must spend this week in Paris,
to take the preliminary steps, buy books and mathematical instruments,
and try to conciliate the minister and get the best terms that I can for
myself.”

Ursula and her godfather accompanied Savinien to the gate. Soon after
he entered his mother’s house they saw him come out again, followed by
Tiennette carrying his valise.

“If you are rich,” said Ursula to her uncle, “why do you make him serve
in the navy?”

“Presently it will be I who incurred his debts,” said the doctor,
smiling. “I don’t oblige him to do anything; but the uniform, my dear,
and the cross of the Legion of honor, won in battle, will wipe out many
stains. Before six years are over he may be in command of a ship, and
that’s all I ask of him.”

“But he may be killed,” she said, turning a pale face upon the doctor.

“Lovers, like drunkards, have a providence of their own,” he said,
laughing.

That night the poor child, with La Bougival’s help, cut off a sufficient
quantity of her long and beautiful blond hair to make a chain; and the
next day she persuaded old Schmucke, the music-master, to take it to
Paris and have the chain made and returned by the following Sunday. When
Savinien got back he informed the doctor and Ursula that he had signed
his articles and was to be at Brest on the 25th. The doctor asked him to
dinner on the 18th, and he passed nearly two whole days in the old man’s
house. Notwithstanding much sage advice and many resolutions, the lovers
could not help betraying their secret understanding to the watchful eyes
of the abbe, Monsieur Bongrand, the Nemours doctor, and La Bougival.

“Children,” said the old man, “you are risking your happiness by not
keeping it to yourselves.”

On the fete-day, after mass, during which several glances had been
exchanged, Savinien, watched by Ursula, crossed the road and entered the
little garden where the pair were practically alone; for the kind old
man, by way of indulgence, was reading his newspapers in the pagoda.

“Dear Ursula,” said Savinien; “will you make a gift greater than my
mother could make me even if--”

“I know what you wish to ask me,” she said, interrupting him. “See, here
is my answer,” she added, taking from the pocket of her apron the box
containing the chain made of her hair, and offering it to him with a
nervous tremor which testified to her illimitable happiness. “Wear
it,” she said, “for love of me. May it shield you from all dangers by
reminding you that my life depends on yours.”

“Naughty little thing! she is giving him a chain of her hair,” said the
doctor to himself. “How did she manage to get it? what a pity to cut
those beautiful fair tresses; she will be giving him my life’s blood
next.”

“You will not blame me if I ask you to give me, now that I am leaving
you, a formal promise to have no other husband than me,” said Savinien,
kissing the chain and looking at Ursula with tears in his eyes.

“Have I not said so too often--I who went to see the walls of
Sainte-Pelagie when you were behind them?--” she replied, blushing. “I
repeat it, Savinien; I shall never love any one but you, and I will be
yours alone.”

Seeing that Ursula was half-hidden by the creepers, the young man could
not deny himself the happiness of pressing her to his heart and kissing
her forehead; but she gave a feeble cry and dropped upon the bench,
and when Savinien sat beside her, entreating pardon, he saw the doctor
standing before them.

“My friend,” said the old man, “Ursula is a born sensitive; too rough
a word might kill her. For her sake you must moderate the enthusiasm
of your love--Ah! if you had loved her for sixteen years as I have,
you would have been satisfied with her word of promise,” he added, to
revenge himself for the last sentence in Savinien’s second letter.

Two days later the young man departed. In spite of the letters which
he wrote regularly to Ursula, she fell a prey to an illness without
apparent cause. Like a fine fruit with a worm at the core, a single
thought gnawed her heart. She lost both appetite and color. The first
time her godfather asked her what she felt, she replied:--

“I want to see the ocean.”

“It is difficult to take you to a sea-port in the depth of winter,”
 answered the old man.

“Shall I really go?” she said.

If the wind was high, Ursula was inwardly convulsed, certain, in spite
of the learned assurances of the doctor and the abbe, that Savinien was
being tossed about in a whirlwind. Monsieur Bongrand made her happy for
days with the gift of an engraving representing a midshipman in uniform.
She read the newspapers, imagining that they would give news of the
cruiser on which her lover sailed. She devoured Cooper’s sea-tales and
learned to use sea-terms. Such proofs of concentration of feeling, often
assumed by other women, were so genuine in Ursula that she saw in dreams
the coming of Savinien’s letters, and never failed to announce them,
relating the dream as a forerunner.

“Now,” she said to the doctor the fourth time that this happened, “I
am easy; wherever Savinien may be, if he is wounded I shall know it
instantly.”

The old doctor thought over this remark so anxiously that the abbe and
Monsieur Bongrand were troubled by the sorrowful expression of his face.

“What pains you?” they said, when Ursula had left them.

“Will she live?” replied the doctor. “Can so tender and delicate a
flower endure the trials of the heart?”

Nevertheless, the “little dreamer,” as the abbe called her, was working
hard. She understood the importance of a fine education to a woman of
the world, and all the time she did not give to her singing and to the
study of harmony and composition she spent in reading the books chosen
for her by the abbe from her godfather’s rich library. And yet while
leading this busy life she suffered, though without complaint. Sometimes
she would sit for hours looking at Savinien’s window. On Sundays she
would leave the church behind Madame de Portenduere and watch her
tenderly; for, in spite of the old lady’s harshness, she loved her as
Savinien’s mother. Her piety increased; she went to mass every morning,
for she firmly believed that her dreams were the gift of God.

At last her godfather, frightened by the effects produced by this
nostalgia of love, promised on her birthday to take her to Toulon to see
the departure of the fleet for Algiers. Savinien’s ship formed part of
it, but he was not to be informed beforehand of their intention. The
abbe and Monsieur Bongrand kept secret the object of this journey,
said to be for Ursula’s health, which disturbed and greatly puzzled the
relations. After beholding Savinien in his naval uniform, and going on
board the fine flag-ship of the admiral, to whom the minister had given
young Portenduere a special recommendation, Ursula, at her lover’s
entreaty, went with her godfather to Nice, and along the shores of the
Mediterranean to Genoa, where she heard of the safe arrival of the fleet
at Algiers and the landing of the troops. The doctor would have liked to
continue the journey through Italy, as much to distract Ursula’s mind as
to finish, in some sense, her education, by enlarging her ideas through
comparison with other manners and customs and countries, and by the
fascination of a land where the masterpieces of art can still be seen,
and where so many civilizations have left their brilliant traces. But
the tidings of the opposition by the throne to the newly elected Chamber
of 1830 obliged the doctor to return to France, bringing back his
treasure in a flourishing state of health and possessed of a charming
little model of the ship on which Savinien was serving.

The elections of 1830 united into an active body the various Minoret
relations,--Desire and Goupil having formed a committee in Nemours
by whose efforts a liberal candidate was put in nomination at
Fontainebleau. Massin, as collector of taxes, exercised an enormous
influence over the country electors. Five of the post master’s farmers
were electors. Dionis represented eleven votes. After a few meetings
at the notary’s, Cremiere, Massin, the post master, and their adherents
took a habit of assembling there. By the time the doctor returned,
Dionis’s office and salon were the camp of his heirs. The justice of
peace and the mayor, who had formed an alliance, backed by the nobility
in the neighbouring castles, to resist the liberals of Nemours, now
worsted in their efforts, were more closely united than ever by their
defeat.

By the time Bongrand and the Abbe Chaperon were able to tell the doctor
by word of mouth the result of the antagonism, which was defined for the
first time, between the two classes in Nemours (giving incidentally such
importance to his heirs) Charles X. had left Rambouillet for Cherbourg.
Desire Minoret, whose opinions were those of the Paris bar, sent for
fifteen of his friends, commanded by Goupil and mounted on horses from
his father’s stable, who arrived in Paris on the night of the 28th.
With this troop Goupil and Desire took part in the capture of the
Hotel-de-Veille. Desire was decorated with the Legion of honor and
appointed deputy procureur du roi at Fontainebleau. Goupil received the
July cross. Dionis was elected mayor of Nemours, and the city council
was composed of the post master (now assistant-mayor), Massin, Cremiere,
and all the adherents of the family faction. Bongrand retained his place
only through the influence of his son, procureur du roi at Melun, whose
marriage with Mademoiselle Levrault was then on the tapis.

Seeing the three-per-cents quoted at forty-five, the doctor started by
post for Paris, and invested five hundred and forty thousand francs in
shares to bearer. The rest of his fortune which amounted to about two
hundred and seventy thousand francs, standing in his own name in the
same funds, gave him ostensibly an income of fifteen thousand francs a
year. He made the same disposition of Ursula’s little capital bequeathed
to her by de Jordy, together with the accrued interest thereon, which
gave her about fourteen hundred francs a year in her own right. La
Bougival, who had laid by some five thousand francs of her savings, did
the same by the doctor’s advice, receiving in future three hundred and
fifty francs a year in dividends. These judicious transactions, agreed
on between the doctor and Monsieur Bongrand, were carried out in perfect
secrecy, thanks to the political troubles of the time.

When quiet was again restored the doctor bought the little house which
adjoined his own and pulled it down so as to build a coach-house and
stables on its side. To employ a capital which would have given him
a thousand francs a year on outbuildings seemed actual folly to the
Minoret heirs. This folly, if it were one, was the beginning of a new
era in the doctor’s existence, for he now (at a period when horses and
carriages were almost given away) brought back from Paris three fine
horses and a caleche.

When, in the early part of November, 1830, the old man came to church on
a rainy day in the new carriage, and gave his hand to Ursula to help
her out, all the inhabitants flocked to the square,--as much to see the
caleche and question the coachman, as to criticize the goddaughter, to
whose excessive pride and ambition Massin, Cremiere, the post master,
and their wives attributed this extravagant folly of the old man.

“A caleche! Hey, Massin!” cried Goupil. “Your inheritance will go at top
speed now!”

“You ought to be getting good wages, Cabirolle,” said the post master to
the son of one of his conductors, who stood by the horses; “for it is
to be supposed an old man of eighty-four won’t use up many horse-shoes.
What did those horses cost?”

“Four thousand francs. The caleche, though second-hand, was two
thousand; but it’s a fine one, the wheels are patent.”

“Yes, it’s a good carriage,” said Cremiere; “and a man must be rich to
buy that style of thing.”

“Ursula means to go at a good pace,” said Goupil. “She’s right; she’s
showing you how to enjoy life. Why don’t you have fine carriages and
horses, papa Minoret? I wouldn’t let myself be humiliated if I were
you--I’d buy a carriage fit for a prince.”

“Come, Cabirolle, tell us,” said Massin, “is it the girl who drives our
uncle into such luxury?”

“I don’t know,” said Cabirolle; “but she is almost mistress of the
house. There are masters upon masters down from Paris. They say now she
is going to study painting.”

“Then I shall seize the occasion to have my portrait drawn,” said Madame
Cremiere.

In the provinces they always say a picture is drawn, not painted.

“The old German is not dismissed, is he?” said Madame Massin.

“He was there yesterday,” replied Cabirolle.

“Now,” said Goupil, “you may as well give up counting on your
inheritance. Ursula is seventeen years old, and she is prettier than
ever. Travel forms young people, and the little minx has got your uncle
in the toils. Five or six parcels come down for her by the diligence
every week, and the dressmakers and milliners come too, to try on her
gowns and all the rest of it. Madame Dionis is furious. Watch for Ursula
as she comes out of church and look at the little scarf she is wearing
round her neck,--real cashmere, and it cost six hundred francs!”

If a thunderbolt had fallen in the midst of the heirs the effect would
have been less than that of Goupil’s last words; the mischief-maker
stood by rubbing his hands.

The doctor’s old green salon had been renovated by a Parisian
upholsterer. Judged by the luxury displayed, he was sometimes accused
of hoarding immense wealth, sometimes of spending his capital on Ursula.
The heirs called him in turn a miser and a spendthrift, but the saying,
“He’s an old fool!” summed upon, on the whole, the verdict of the
neighbourhood. These mistaken judgments of the little town had the one
advantage of misleading the heirs, who never suspected the love between
Savinien and Ursula, which was the secret reason of the doctor’s
expenditure. The old man took the greatest delights in accustoming his
godchild to her future station in the world. Possessing an income of
over fifty thousand francs a year, it gave him pleasure to adorn his
idol.

In the month of February, 1832, the day when Ursula was eighteen, her
eyes beheld Savinien in the uniform of an ensign as she looked from her
window when she rose in the morning.

“Why didn’t I know he was coming?” she said to herself.

After the taking of Algiers, Savinien had distinguished himself by an
act of courage which won him the cross. The corvette on which he was
serving was many months at sea without his being able to communicate
with the doctor; and he did not wish to leave the service without
consulting him. Desirous of retaining in the navy a name already
illustrious in its service, the new government had profited by a general
change of officers to make Savinien an ensign. Having obtained leave
of absence for fifteen days, the new officer arrived from Toulon by the
mail, in time for Ursula’s fete, intending to consult the doctor at the
same time.

“He has come!” cried Ursula rushing into her godfather’s bedroom.

“Very good,” he answered; “I can guess what brings him, and he may now
stay in Nemours.”

“Ah! that’s my birthday present--it is all in that sentence,” she said,
kissing him.

On a sign, which she ran up to make from her window, Savinien came over
at once; she longed to admire him, for he seemed to her so changed
for the better. Military service does, in fact, give a certain grave
decision to the air and carriage and gestures of a man, and an erect
bearing which enables the most superficial observer to recognize a
military man even in plain clothes. The habit of command produces this
result. Ursula loved Savinien the better for it, and took a childlike
pleasure in walking round the garden with him, taking his arm, and
hearing him relate the part he played (as midshipman) in the taking of
Algiers. Evidently Savinien had taken the city. The doctor, who had been
watching them from his window as he dressed, soon came down. Without
telling the viscount everything, he did say that, in case Madame de
Portenduere consented to his marriage with Ursula, the fortune of his
godchild would make his naval pay superfluous.

“Alas!” said Savinien. “It will take a great deal of time to overcome my
mother’s opposition. Before I left her to enter the navy she was placed
between two alternatives,--either to consent to my marrying Ursula or
else to see me only from time to time and to know me exposed to the
dangers of the profession; and you see she chose to let me go.”

“But, Savinien, we shall be together,” said Ursula, taking his hand and
shaking it with a sort of impatience.

To see each other and not to part,--that was the all of love to her; she
saw nothing beyond it; and her pretty gesture and the petulant tone of
her voice expressed such innocence that Savinien and the doctor were
both moved by it. The resignation was written and despatched, and
Ursula’s fete received full glory from the presence of her betrothed.
A few months later, towards the month of May, the home-life of the
doctor’s household had resumed the quite tenor of its way but with one
welcome visitor the more. The attentions of the young viscount were
soon interpreted in the town as those of a future husband,--all the more
because his manners and those of Ursula, whether in church, or on the
promenade, though dignified and reserved, betrayed the understanding of
their hearts. Dionis pointed out to the heirs that the doctor had never
asked Madame de Portenduere for the interest of his money, three years
of which was now due.

“She’ll be forced to yield, and consent to this derogatory marriage of
her son,” said the notary. “If such a misfortune happens it is probable
that the greater part of your uncle’s fortune will serve for what Basile
calls ‘an irresistible argument.’”



CHAPTER XIV. URSULA AGAIN ORPHANED

The irritation of the heirs, when convinced that their uncle loved
Ursula too well not to secure her happiness at their expense, became as
underhand as it was bitter. Meeting in Dionis’s salon (as they had done
every evening since the revolution of 1830) they inveighed against
the lovers, and seldom separated without discussing some way of
circumventing the old man. Zelie, who had doubtless profited by the fall
in the Funds, as the doctor had done, to invest some, at least, of her
enormous gains, was bitterest of them all against the orphan girl and
the Portendueres. One evening, when Goupil, who usually avoided the
dullness of these meetings, had come in to learn something of the
affairs of the town which were under discussion, Zelie’s hatred was
freshly excited; she had seen the doctor, Ursula, and Savinien returning
in the caleche from a country drive, with an air of intimacy that told
all.

“I’d give thirty thousand francs if God would call uncle to himself
before the marriage of young Portenduere with that affected minx can
take place,” she said.

Goupil accompanied Monsieur and Madame Minoret to the middle of their
great courtyard, and there said, looking round to see if they were quite
alone:

“Will you give me the means of buying Dionis’s practice? If you will, I
will break off the marriage between Portenduere and Ursula.”

“How?” asked the colossus.

“Do you think I am such a fool as to tell you my plan?” said the
notary’s head clerk.

“Well, my lad, separate them, and we’ll see what we can do,” said Zelie.

“I don’t embark in any such business on a ‘we’ll see.’ The young man is
a fire-eater who might kill me; I ought to be rough-shod and as good a
hand with a sword or a pistol as he is. Set me up in business, and I’ll
keep my word.”

“Prevent the marriage and I will set you up,” said the post master.

“It is nine months since you have been thinking of lending me a paltry
fifteen thousand francs to buy Lecoeur’s practice, and you expect me to
trust you now! Nonsense; you’ll lose your uncle’s property, and serve
you right.”

“It if were only a matter of fifteen thousand francs and Lecoeur’s
practice, that might be managed,” said Zelie; “but to give security for
you in a hundred and fifty thousand is another thing.”

“But I’ll do my part,” said Goupil, flinging a seductive look at Zelie,
which encountered the imperious glance of the post mistress.

The effect was that of venom on steel.

“We can wait,” said Zelie.

“The devil’s own spirit is in you,” thought Goupil. “If I ever catch
that pair in my power,” he said to himself as he left the yard, “I’ll
squeeze them like lemons.”

By cultivating the society of the doctor, the abbe, and Monsieur
Bongrand, Savinien proved the excellence of his character. The love
of this young man for Ursula, so devoid of self-interest, and so
persistent, interested the three friends deeply, and they now never
separated the lovers in their thoughts. Soon the monotony of this
patriarchal life, and the certainty of a future before them, gave to
their affection a fraternal character. The doctor often left the pair
alone together. He judged the young man rightly; he saw him kiss her
hand on arriving, but he knew he would ask no kiss when alone with her,
so deeply did the lover respect the innocence, the frankness of the
young girl, whose excessive sensibility, often tried, taught him that a
harsh word, a cold look, or the alternations of gentleness and roughness
might kill her. The only freedom between the two took place before the
eyes of the old man in the evenings.

Two years, full of secret happiness, passed thus,--without other events
than the fruitless efforts made by the young man to obtain from his
mother her consent to his marriage. He talked to her sometimes for hours
together. She listened and made no answer to his entreaties, other than
by Breton silence or a positive denial.

At nineteen years of age Ursula, elegant in appearance, a fine musician,
and well brought up, had nothing more to learn; she was perfected. The
fame of her beauty and grace and education spread far. The doctor was
called upon to decline the overtures of Madame d’Aiglemont, who was
thinking of Ursula for her eldest son. Six months later, in spite of the
secrecy the doctor and Ursula maintained on this subject, Savinien
heard of it. Touched by so much delicacy, he made use of the incident
in another attempt to vanquish his mother’s obstinacy; but she merely
replied:--

“If the d’Aiglemonts choose to ally themselves ill, is that any reason
why we should do so?”

In December, 1834, the kind and now truly pious old doctor, then
eighty-eight years old, declined visibly. When seen out of doors, his
face pinched and wan and his eyes pale, all the town talked of his
approaching death. “You’ll soon know results,” said the community to the
heirs. In truth the old man’s death had all the attraction of a problem.
But the doctor himself did not know he was ill; he had his illusions,
and neither poor Ursula nor Savinien nor Bongrand nor the abbe were
willing to enlighten him as to his condition. The Nemours doctor who
came to see him every day did not venture to prescribe. Old Minoret felt
no pain; his lamp of life was gently going out. His mind continued firm
and clear and powerful. In old men thus constituted the soul governs
the body, and gives it strength to die erect. The abbe, anxious not to
hasten the fatal end, released his parishioner from the duty of hearing
mass in church, and allowed him to read the services at home, for the
doctor faithfully attended to all his religious duties. The nearer he
came to the grave the more he loved God; the lights eternal shone upon
all difficulties and explained them more and more clearly to his mind.
Early in the year Ursula persuaded him to sell the carriage and horses
and dismiss Cabirolle. Monsieur Bongrand, whose uneasiness about
Ursula’s future was far from quieted by the doctor’s half-confidence,
boldly opened the subject one evening and showed his old friend the
importance of making Ursula legally of age. Still the old man, though
he had often consulted the justice of peace, would not reveal to him the
secret of his provision for Ursula, though he agreed to the necessity
of securing her independence by majority. The more Monsieur Bongrand
persisted in his efforts to discover the means selected by his old
friend to provide for his darling the more wary the doctor became.

“Why not secure the thing,” said Bongrand, “why run any risks?”

“When you are between two risks,” replied the doctor, “avoid the most
risky.”

Bongrand carried through the business of making Ursula of age so
promptly that the papers were ready by the day she was twenty. That
anniversary was the last pleasure of the old doctor who, seized perhaps
with a presentiment of his end, gave a little ball, to which he invited
all the young people in the families of Dionis, Cremiere, Minoret, and
Massin. Savinien, Bongrand, the abbe and his two assistant priests,
the Nemours doctor, and Mesdames Zelie Minoret, Massin, and Cremiere,
together with old Schmucke, were the guests at a grand dinner which
preceded the ball.

“I feel I am going,” said the old man to the notary towards the close
of the evening. “I beg you to come to-morrow and draw up my guardianship
account with Ursula, so as not to complicate my property after my
death. Thank God! I have not withdrawn one penny from my heirs,--I
have disposed of nothing but my income. Messieurs Cremiere, Massin,
and Minoret my nephew are members of the family council appointed for
Ursula, and I wish them to be present at the rendering of my account.”

These words, heard by Massin and quickly passed from one to another
round the ball-room, poured balm into the minds of the three families,
who had lived in perpetual alternations of hope and fear, sometimes
thinking they were certain of wealth, oftener that they were
disinherited.

When, about two in the morning, the guests were all gone and no one
remained in the salon but Savinien, Bongrand, and the abbe, the old
doctor said, pointing to Ursula, who was charming in her ball dress; “To
you, my friends, I confide her! A few days more, and I shall be here no
longer to protect her. Put yourselves between her and the world until
she is married,--I fear for her.”

The words made a painful impression. The guardian’s account, rendered a
day or two later in presence of the family council, showed that Doctor
Minoret owed a balance to his ward of ten thousand six hundred francs
from the bequest of Monsieur de Jordy, and also from a little capital
of gifts made by the doctor himself to Ursula during the last fifteen
years, on birthdays and other anniversaries.

This formal rendering of the account was insisted on by the justice of
the peace, who feared (unhappily, with too much reason) the results of
Doctor Minoret’s death.

The following day the old man was seized with a weakness which compelled
him to keep his bed. In spite of the reserve which always surrounded the
doctor’s house and kept it from observation, the news of his approaching
death spread through the town, and the heirs began to run hither and
thither through the streets, like the pearls of a chaplet when the
string is broken. Massin called at the house to learn the truth, and was
told by Ursula herself that the doctor was in bed. The Nemours doctor
had remarked that whenever old Minoret took to his bed he would die;
and therefore in spite of the cold, the heirs took their stand in the
street, on the square, at their own doorsteps, talking of the event so
long looked for, and watching for the moment when the priests should
appear, bearing the sacrament, with all the paraphernalia customary in
the provinces, to the dying man. Accordingly, two days later, when the
Abbe Chaperon, with an assistant and the choir-boys, preceded by the
sacristan bearing the cross, passed along the Grand’Rue, all the heirs
joined the procession, to get an entrance to the house and see that
nothing was abstracted, and lay their eager hands upon its coveted
treasures at the earliest moment.

When the doctor saw, behind the clergy, the row of kneeling heirs, who
instead of praying were looking at him with eyes that were brighter than
the tapers, he could not restrain a smile. The abbe turned round, saw
them, and continued to say the prayers slowly. The post master was the
first to abandon the kneeling posture; his wife followed him. Massin,
fearing that Zelie and her husband might lay hands on some ornament,
joined them in the salon, where all the heirs were presently assembled
one by one.

“He is too honest a man to steal extreme unction,” said Cremiere; “we
may be sure of his death now.”

“Yes, we shall each get about twenty thousand francs a year,” replied
Madame Massin.

“I have an idea,” said Zelie, “that for the last three years he hasn’t
invested anything--he grew fond of hoarding.”

“Perhaps the money is in the cellar,” whispered Massin to Cremiere.

“I hope we shall be able to find it,” said Minoret-Levrault.

“But after what he said at the ball we can’t have any doubt,” cried
Madame Massin.

“In any case,” began Cremiere, “how shall we manage? Shall we divide;
shall we go to law; or could we draw lots? We are adults, you know--”

A discussion, which soon became angry, now arose as to the method
of procedure. At the end of half an hour a perfect uproar of voices,
Zelie’s screeching organ detaching itself from the rest, resounded in
the courtyard and even in the street.

The noise reached the doctor’s ears; he heard the words, “The house--the
house is worth thirty thousand francs. I’ll take it at that,” said, or
rather bellowed by Cremiere.

“Well, we’ll take what it’s worth,” said Zelie, sharply.

“Monsieur l’abbe,” said the old man to the priest, who remained beside
his friend after administering the communion, “help me to die in peace.
My heirs, like those of Cardinal Ximenes, are capable of pillaging the
house before my death, and I have no monkey to revive me. Go and tell
them I will have none of them in my house.”

The priest and the doctor of the town went downstairs and repeated the
message of the dying man, adding, in their indignation, strong words of
their own.

“Madame Bougival,” said the doctor, “close the iron gate and allow
no one to enter; even the dying, it seems, can have no peace. Prepare
mustard poultices and apply them to the soles of Monsieur’s feet.”

“Your uncle is not dead,” said the abbe, “and he may live some time
longer. He wishes for absolute silence, and no one beside him but his
niece. What a difference between the conduct of that young girl and
yours!”

“Old hypocrite!” exclaimed Cremiere. “I shall keep watch of him. It is
possible he’s plotting something against our interests.”

The post master had already disappeared into the garden, intending
to watch there and wait his chance to be admitted to the house as an
assistant. He now returned to it very softly, his boots making no noise,
for there were carpets on the stairs and corridors. He was able to
reach the door of his uncle’s room without being heard. The abbe and the
doctor had left the house; La Bougival was making the poultices.

“Are we quite alone?” said the old man to his godchild.

Ursula stood on tiptoe and looked into the courtyard.

“Yes,” she said; “the abbe has just closed the gate after him.”

“My darling child,” said the dying man, “my hours, my minutes even, are
counted. I have not been a doctor for nothing; I shall not last till
evening. Do not cry, my Ursula,” he said, fearing to be interrupted
by the child’s weeping, “but listen to me carefully; it concerns your
marriage to Savinien. As soon as La Bougival comes back go down to the
pagoda,--here is the key,--lift the marble top of the Boule buffet and
you will find a letter beneath it, sealed and addressed to you; take it
and come back here, for I cannot die easy unless I see it in your hands.
When I am dead do not let any one know of it immediately, but send for
Monsieur de Portenduere; read the letter together; swear to me now,
in his name and your own, that you will carry out my last wishes. When
Savinien has obeyed me, then announce my death, but not till then.
The comedy of the heirs will begin. God grant those monsters may not
ill-treat you.”

“Yes godfather.”

The post master did not listen to the end of this scene; he slipped away
on tip-toe, remembering that the lock of the study was on the library
side of the door. He had been present in former days at an argument
between the architect and a locksmith, the latter declaring that if the
pagoda were entered by the window on the river it would be much safer to
put the lock of the door opening into the library on the library side.
Dazzled by his hopes, and his ears flushed with blood, Minoret sprang
the lock with the point of his knife as rapidly as a burglar could have
done it. He entered the study, followed the doctor’s directions,
took the package of papers without opening it, relocked the door, put
everything in order, and went into the dining-room and sat down, waiting
till La Bougival had gone upstairs with the poultice before he ventured
to leave the house. He then made his escape,--all the more easily
because poor Ursula lingered to see that La Bougival applied the
poultice properly.

“The letter! the letter!” cried the old man, in a dying voice. “Obey me;
take the key. I must see you with that letter in your hand.”

The words were said with so wild a look that La Bougival exclaimed to
Ursula:--

“Do what he asks at once or you will kill him.”

She kissed his forehead, took the key and went down. A moment later,
recalled by a cry from La Bougival, she ran back. The old man looked at
her eagerly. Seeing her hands empty, he rose in his bed, tried to speak,
and died with a horrible gasp, his eyes haggard with fear. The poor
girl, who saw death for the first time, fell on her knees and burst into
tears. La Bougival closed the old man’s eyes and straightened him on
the bed; then she ran to call Savinien; but the heirs, who stood at the
corner of the street, like crows watching till a horse is buried before
they scratch at the ground and turn it over with beak and claw, flocked
in with the celerity of birds of prey.



CHAPTER XV. THE DOCTOR’S WILL

While these events were taking place the post master had hurried home to
open the mysterious package and know its contents.


To my dear Ursula Mirouet, daughter of my natural half-brother, Joseph
Mirouet, and Dinah Grollman:--

My dear Angel,--The fatherly affection I bear you--and which you have
so fully justified--came not only from the promise I gave your father
to take his place, but also from your resemblance to my wife, Ursula
Mirouet, whose grace, intelligence, frankness, and charm you constantly
recall to my mind. Your position as the daughter of a natural son of my
father-in-law might invalidate all testamentary bequests made by me in
your favor--

“The old rascal!” cried the post master.

Had I adopted you the result might also have been a lawsuit, and I
shrank from the idea of transmitting my fortune to you by marriage, for
I might live years and thus interfere with your happiness, which is
now delayed only by Madame de Portenduere. Having weighted these
difficulties carefully, and wishing to leave you enough money to secure
to you a prosperous existence--

“The scoundrel, he has thought of everything!”

  --without injuring my heirs--

“The Jesuit! as if he did not owe us every penny of his money!”--I
intend you to have the savings from my income which I have for the last
eighteen years steadily invested, by the help of my notary, seeking
to make you thereby as happy as any one can be made by riches. Without
means, your education and your lofty ideas would cause you unhappiness.
Besides, you ought to bring a liberal dowry to the fine young man who
loves you. You will therefore find in the middle of the third volume
of Pandects, folio, bound in red morocco (the last volume on the first
shelf above the little table in the library, on the side of the room
next the salon), three certificates of Funds in the three-per-cents,
made out to bearer, each amounting to twelve thousand francs a year--

“What depths of wickedness!” screamed the post master. “Ah! God would
not permit me to be so defrauded.”

Take these at once, and also some uninvested savings made to this date,
which you will find in the preceding volume. Remember, my darling child,
that you must obey a wish that has made the happiness of my whole life;
a wish that will force me to ask the intervention of God should
you disobey me. But, to guard against all scruples in your dear
conscience--for I well know how ready it is to torture you--you will
find herewith a will in due form bequeathing these certificates to
Monsieur Savinien de Portenduere. So, whether you possess them in your
own name, or whether they come to you from him you love, they will be,
in every sense, your legitimate property.

Your godfather, Denis Minoret.


To this letter was annexed the following paper written on a sheet of
stamped paper.


This is my will: I, Denis Minoret, doctor of medicine, settled in
Nemours, being of sound mind and body, as the date of this document will
show, do bequeath my soul to God, imploring him to pardon my errors in
view of my sincere repentance. Next, having found in Monsieur le Vicomte
Savinien de Portenduere a true and honest affection for me, I bequeath
to him the sum of thirty-six thousand francs a year from the Funds, at
three per cent, the said bequest to take precedence of all inheritance
accruing to my heirs.

Written by my own hand, at Nemours, on the 11th of January, 1831.

Denis Minoret.


Without an instant’s hesitation the post master, who had locked himself
into his wife’s bedroom to insure being alone, looked about for the
tinder-box, and received two warnings from heaven by the extinction of
two matches which obstinately refused to light. The third took fire. He
burned the letter and the will on the hearth and buried the vestiges of
paper and sealing-wax in the ashes by way of superfluous caution. Then,
allured by the thought of possessing thirty-six thousand francs a year
of which his wife knew nothing, he returned at full speed to his uncle’s
house, spurred by the only idea, a clear-cut, simple idea, which was
able to piece and penetrate his dull brain. Finding the house invaded by
the three families, now masters of the place, he trembled lest he
should be unable to accomplish a project to which he gave no reflection
whatever, except so far as to fear the obstacles.

“What are you doing here?” he said to Massin and Cremiere. “We can’t
leave the house and the property to be pillaged. We are the heirs, but
we can’t camp here. You, Cremiere, go to Dionis at once and tell him to
come and certify to the death; I can’t draw up the mortuary certificate
for an uncle, though I am assistant-mayor. You, Massin, go and ask old
Bongrand to attach the seals. As for you, ladies,” he added, turning to
his wife and Mesdames Cremiere and Massin, “go and look after Ursula;
then nothing can be stolen. Above all, close the iron gate and don’t let
any one leave the house.”

The women, who felt the justice of this remark, ran to Ursula’s bedroom,
where they found the noble girl, so cruelly suspected, on her knees
before God, her face covered with tears. Minoret, suspecting that the
women would not long remain with Ursula, went at once to the library,
found the volume, opened it, took the three certificates, and found in
the other volume about thirty bank notes. In spite of his brutal nature
the colossus felt as though a peal of bells were ringing in each ear.
The blood whistled in his temples as he committed the theft; cold as the
weather was, his shirt was wet on his back; his legs gave way under him
and he fell into a chair in the salon as if an axe had fallen on his
head.

“How the inheritance of money loosens a man’s tongue! Did you hear
Minoret?” said Massin to Cremiere as they hurried through the town. “‘Go
here, go there,’ just as if he knew everything.”

“Yes, for a dull beast like him he had a certain air of--”

“Stop!” said Massin, alarmed at a sudden thought. “His wife is there;
they’ve got some plan! Do you do both errands; I’ll go back.”

Just as the post master fell into the chair he saw at the gate the
heated face of the clerk of the court who returned to the house of death
with the celerity of a weasel.

“Well, what is it now?” asked the post master, unlocking the gate for
his co-heir.

“Nothing; I have come back to be present at the sealing,” answered
Massin, giving him a savage look.

“I wish those seals were already on, so that we could go home,” said
Minoret.

“We shall have to put a watcher over them,” said Massin. “La Bougival
is capable of anything in the interests of that minx. We’ll put Goupil
there.”

“Goupil!” said the post master; “put a rat in the meal!”

“Well, let’s consider,” returned Massin. “To-night they’ll watch the
body; the seals can be affixed in an hour; our wives could look after
them. To-morrow we’ll have the funeral at twelve o’clock. But the
inventory can’t be made under a week.”

“Let’s get rid of that girl at once,” said the colossus; “then we can
safely leave the watchman of the town-hall to look after the house and
the seals.”

“Good,” cried Massin. “You are the head of the Minoret family.”

“Ladies,” said Minoret, “be good enough to stay in the salon; we can’t
think of our dinner to-day; the seals must be put on at once for the
security of all interests.”

He took his wife apart and told her Massin’s proposition about Ursula.
The women, whose hearts were full of vengeance against the minx, as they
called her, hailed the idea of turning her out. Bongrand arrived with
his assistants to apply the seals, and was indignant when the request
was made to him, by Zelie and Madame Massin, as a near friend of the
deceased, to tell Ursula to leave the house.

“Go and turn her out of her father’s house, her benefactor’s house
yourselves,” he cried. “Go! you who owe your inheritance to the
generosity of her soul; take her by the shoulders and fling her into
the street before the eyes of the whole town! You think her capable of
robbing you? Well, appoint a watcher of the seals; you have a right to
do that. But I tell you at once I shall put no seals on Ursula’s room;
she has a right to that room, and everything in it is her own property.
I shall tell her what her rights are, and tell her too to put everything
that belongs to her in this house in that room--Oh! in your presence,”
 he said, hearing a growl of dissatisfaction among the heirs.

“What do you think of that?” said the collector to the post master and
the women, who seemed stupefied by the angry address of Bongrand.

“Call _him_ a magistrate!” cried the post master.

Ursula meanwhile was sitting on her little sofa in a half-fainting
condition, her head thrown back, her braids unfastened, while every now
and then her sobs broke forth. Her eyes were dim and their lids swollen;
she was, in fact, in a state of moral and physical prostration which
might have softened the hardest hearts--except those of the heirs.

“Ah! Monsieur Bongrand, after my happy birthday comes death and
mourning,” she said, with the poetry natural to her. “You know, _you_,
what he was. In twenty years he never said an impatient word to me.
I believed he would live a hundred years. He has been my mother,” she
cried, “my good, kind mother.”

These simple thoughts brought torrents of tears from her eyes,
interrupted by sobs; then she fell back exhausted.

“My child,” said the justice of peace, hearing the heirs on the
staircase. “You have a lifetime before you in which to weep, but you
have now only a moment to attend to your interests. Gather everything
that belongs to you in this house and put it into your own room at once.
The heirs insist on my affixing the seals.”

“Ah! his heirs may take everything if they choose,” cried Ursula,
sitting upright under an impulse of savage indignation. “I have
something here,” she added, striking her breast, “which is far more
precious--”

“What is it?” said the post master, who with Massin at his heels now
showed his brutal face.

“The remembrances of his virtues, of his life, of his words--an image of
his celestial soul,” she said, her eyes and face glowing as she raised
her hand with a glorious gesture.

“And a key!” cried Massin, creeping up to her like a cat and seizing a
key which fell from the bosom of her dress in her sudden movement.

“Yes,” she said, blushing, “that is the key of his study; he sent me
there at the moment he was dying.”

The two men glanced at each other with horrid smiles, and then at
Monsieur Bongrand, with a meaning look of degrading suspicion. Ursula
who intercepted it, rose to her feet, pale as if the blood had left her
body. Her eyes sent forth the lightnings that perhaps can issue only at
some cost of life, as she said in a choking voice:--

“Monsieur Bongrand, everything in this room is mine through the kindness
of my godfather; they may have it all; I have nothing on me but the
clothes I wear. I shall leave the house and never return to it.”

She went to her godfather’s room, and no entreaties could make her leave
it,--the heirs, who now began to be slightly ashamed of their conduct,
endeavoring to persuade her. She requested Monsieur Bongrand to engage
two rooms for her at the “Vieille Poste” inn until she could find some
lodging in town where she could live with La Bougival. She returned to
her own room for her prayer-book, and spent the night, with the abbe,
his assistant, and Savinien, in weeping and praying beside her uncle’s
body. Savinien came, after his mother had gone to bed, and knelt,
without a word, beside his Ursula. She smiled at him sadly, and thanked
him for coming faithfully to share her troubles.

“My child,” said Monsieur Bongrand, bring her a large package, “one of
your uncle’s heirs has taken these necessary articles from your drawers,
for the seals cannot be opened for several days; after that you will
recover everything that belongs to you. I have, for your own sake,
placed the seals on your room.”

“Thank you,” she replied, pressing his hand. “Look at him again,--he
seems to sleep, does he not?”

The old man’s face wore that flower of fleeting beauty which rests upon
the features of the dead who die a painless death; light appeared to
radiate from it.

“Did he give you anything secretly before he died?” whispered M.
Bongrand.

“Nothing,” she said; “he spoke only of a letter.”

“Good! it will certainly be found,” said Bongrand. “How fortunate for
you that the heirs demanded the sealing.”

At daybreak Ursula bade adieu to the house where her happy youth was
passed; more particularly, to the modest chamber in which her love
began. So dear to her was it that even in this hour of darkest grief
tears of regret rolled down her face for the dear and peaceful haven.
With one last glance at Savinien’s windows she left the room and the
house, and went to the inn accompanied by La Bougival, who carried the
package, by Monsieur Bongrand, who gave her his arm, and by Savinien,
her true protector.

Thus it happened that in spite of all his efforts and cautions the worst
fears of the justice of peace were realized; he was now to see Ursula
without means and at the mercy of her benefactor’s heirs.

The next afternoon the whole town attended the doctor’s funeral. When
the conduct of the heirs to his adopted daughter was publicly known,
a vast majority of the people thought it natural and necessary. An
inheritance was involved; the good man was known to have hoarded;
Ursula might think she had rights; the heirs were only defending their
property; she had humbled them enough during their uncle’s lifetime, for
he had treated them like dogs and sent them about their business.

Desire Minoret, who was not going to do wonders in life (so said those
who envied his father), came down for the funeral. Ursula was unable to
be present, for she was in bed with a nervous fever, caused partly by
the insults of the heirs and partly by her heavy affliction.

“Look at that hypocrite weeping,” said some of the heirs, pointing to
Savinien, who was deeply affected by the doctor’s death.

“The question is,” said Goupil, “has he any good grounds for weeping.
Don’t laugh too soon, my friends; the seals are not yet removed.”

“Pooh!” said Minoret, who had good reason to know the truth, “you are
always frightening us about nothing.”

As the funeral procession left the church to proceed to the cemetery, a
bitter mortification was inflicted on Goupil; he tried to take Desire’s
arm, but the latter withdrew it and turned away from his former comrade
in presence of all Nemours.

“I won’t be angry, or I couldn’t get revenge,” thought the notary’s
clerk, whose dry heart swelled in his bosom like a sponge.

Before breaking the seals and making the inventory, it took some time
for the procureur du roi, who is the legal guardian of orphans, to
commission Monsieur Bongrand to act in his place. After that was done
the settlement of the Minoret inheritance (nothing else being talked of
in the town for ten days) began with all the legal formalities. Dionis
had his pickings; Goupil enjoyed some mischief-making; and as the
business was profitable the sessions were many. After the first of these
sessions all parties breakfasted together; notary, clerk, heirs, and
witnesses drank the best wines in the doctor’s cellar.

In the provinces, and especially in little towns where every one lives
in his own house, it is sometimes very difficult to find a lodging. When
a man buys a business of any kind the dwelling-house is almost always
included in the purchase. Monsieur Bongrand saw no other way of removing
Ursula from the village inn than to buy a small house on the Grand’Rue
at the corner of the bridge over the Loing. The little building had a
front door opening on a corridor, and one room on the ground-floor with
two windows on the street; behind this came the kitchen, with a glass
door opening to an inner courtyard about thirty feet square. A small
staircase, lighted on the side towards the river by small windows, led
to the first floor where there were three chambers, and above these were
two attic rooms. Monsieur Bongrand borrowed two thousand francs from
La Bougival’s savings to pay the first instalment of the price,--six
thousand francs,--and obtained good terms for payment of the rest.
As Ursula wished to buy her uncle’s books, Bongrand knocked down the
partition between two rooms on the bedroom floor, finding that their
united length was the same as that of the doctor’s library, and gave
room for his bookshelves.

Savinien and Bongrand urged on the workmen who were cleaning, painting,
and otherwise renewing the tiny place, so that before the end of March
Ursula was able to leave the inn and take up her abode in the ugly
house; where, however, she found a bedroom exactly like the one she had
left; for it was filled with all her furniture, claimed by the justice
of peace when the seals were removed. La Bougival, sleeping in the
attic, could be summoned by a bell placed near the head of the
young girl’s bed. The room intended for the books, the salon on the
ground-floor and the kitchen, though still unfurnished, had been hung
with fresh papers and repainted, and only awaited the purchases which
the young girl hoped to make when her godfather’s effects were sold.

Though the strength of Ursula’s character was well known to the abbe and
Monsieur Bongrand, they both feared the sudden change from the comfort
and elegancies to which her uncle had accustomed her to this barren and
denuded life. As for Savinien he wept over it. He did, in fact, make
private payments to the workman and to the upholsterer, so that Ursula
should perceive no difference between the new chamber and the old one.
But the young girl herself, whose happiness now lay in Savinien’s own
eyes, showed the gentlest resignation, which endeared her more and more
to her two old friends, and proved to them for the hundredth time that
no troubles but those of the heart could make her suffer. The grief she
felt for the loss of her godfather was far too deep to let her even feel
the bitterness of her change of fortune, though it added fresh obstacles
to her marriage. Savinien’s distress in seeing her thus reduced did her
so much harm that she whispered to him, as they came from mass on the
morning on the day when she first went to live in her new house:

“Love could not exist without patience; let us wait.”

As soon as the form of the inventory was drawn up, Massin, advised by
Goupil (who turned to him under the influence of his secret hatred to
the post master), summoned Monsieur and Madame de Portenduere to pay off
the mortgage which had now elapsed, together with the interest accruing
thereon. The old lady was bewildered at a summons to pay one hundred
and twenty-nine thousand five hundred and seventeen francs within
twenty-four hours under pain of execution on her house. It was
impossible for her to borrow the money. Savinien went to Fontainebleau
to consult a lawyer.

“You are dealing with a bad set of people who will not compromise,” was
the lawyer’s opinion. “They intend to sue in the matter and get your
farm at Bordieres. The best way for you would be to make a voluntary
sale of it and so escape costs.”

This dreadful news broke down the old lady. Her son very gently
pointed out to her that had she consented to his marriage in Minoret’s
life-time, the doctor would have left his property to Ursula’s husband
and they would to-day have been opulent instead of being, as they now
were, in the depths of poverty. Though said without reproach, this
argument annihilated the poor woman even more than the thought of
her coming ejectment. When Ursula heard of this catastrophe she was
stupefied with grief, having scarcely recovered from her fever, and the
blow which the heirs had already dealt her. To love and be unable to
succor the man she loves,--that is one of the most dreadful of all
sufferings to the soul of a noble and sensitive woman.

“I wished to buy my uncle’s house,” she said, “now I will buy your
mother’s.”

“Can you?” said Savinien. “You are a minor, and you cannot sell out your
Funds without formalities to which the procureur du roi, now your legal
guardian, would not agree. We shall not resist. The whole town will be
glad to see the discomfiture of a noble family. These bourgeois are like
hounds after a quarry. Fortunately, I still have ten thousand francs
left, on which I can support my mother till this deplorable matter is
settled. Besides, the inventory of your godfather’s property is not yet
finished; Monsieur Bongrand still thinks he shall find something for
you. He is as much astonished as I am that you seem to be left without
fortune. The doctor so often spoke both to him and to me of the
future he had prepared for you that neither of us can understand this
conclusion.”

“Pooh!” she said; “so long as I can buy my godfather’s books and
furniture and prevent their being dispersed, I am content.”

“But who knows the price these infamous creatures will set on anything
you want?”

Nothing was talked of from Montargis to Fontainebleau but the million
for which the Minoret heirs were searching. But the most minute search
made in every corner of the house after the seals were removed, brought
no discovery. The one hundred and twenty-nine thousand francs of the
Portenduere debt, the capital of the fifteen thousand a year in the
three per cents (then quoted at 76), the house, valued at forty thousand
francs, and its handsome furniture, produced a total of about six
hundred thousand francs, which to most persons seemed a comforting sum.
But what had become of the money the doctor must have saved?

Minoret began to have gnawing anxieties. La Bougival and Savinien, who
persisted in believing, as did the justice of peace, in the existence
of a will, came every day at the close of each session to find out from
Bongrand the results of the day’s search. The latter would sometimes
exclaim, before the agents and the heirs were fairly out of hearing,
“I can’t understand the thing!” Bongrand, Savinien, and the abbe often
declared to each other that the doctor, who received no interest from
the Portenduere loan, could not have kept his house as he did on fifteen
thousand francs a year. This opinion, openly expressed, made the post
master turn livid more than once.

“Yet they and I have rummaged everywhere,” said Bongrand,--“they to find
money, and I to find a will in favor of Monsieur de Portenduere. They
have sifted the ashes, lifted the marbles, felt of the slippers, bored
into the wood-work of the beds, emptied the mattresses, ripped up the
quilts, turned his eider-down inside-out, examined every inch of paper
piece by piece, searched the drawers, dug up the cellar floor--and I
have urged on their devastations.”

“What do you think about it?” said the abbe.

“The will has been suppressed by one of the heirs.”

“But where’s the property?”

“We may whistle for it!”

“Perhaps the will is hidden in the library,” said Savinien.

“Yes, and for that reason I don’t dissuade Ursula from buying it. If it
were not for that, it would be absurd to let her put every penny of her
ready money into books she will never open.”

At first the whole town believed the doctor’s niece had got possession
of the unfound capital; but when it was known positively that fourteen
hundred francs a year and her gifts constituted her whole fortune the
search of the doctor’s house and furniture excited a more wide-spread
curiosity than before. Some said the money would be found in bank bills
hidden away in the furniture, others that the old man had slipped them
into his books. The sale of the effects exhibited a spectacle of the
most extraordinary precautions on the part of the heirs. Dionis, who was
doing duty as auctioneeer, declared, as each lot was cried out, that
the heirs only sold the article (whatever it was) and not what it might
contain; then, before allowing it to be taken away it was subjected to a
final investigation, being thumped and sounded; and when at last it left
the house the sellers followed with the looks a father might cast upon a
son who was starting for India.

“Ah, mademoiselle,” cried La Bougival, returning from the first session
in despair, “I shall not go again. Monsieur Bongrand is right, you could
never bear the sight. Everything is ticketed. All the town is coming
and going just as in the street; the handsome furniture is being ruined,
they even stand upon it; the whole place is such a muddle that a hen
couldn’t find her chicks. You’d think there had been a fire. Lots of
things are in the courtyard; the closets are all open, and nothing in
them. Oh! the poor dear man, it’s well he died, the sight would have
killed him.”

Bongrand, who bought for Ursula certain articles which her uncle
cherished, and which were suitable for her little house, did not appear
at the sale of the library. Shrewder than the heirs, whose cupidity
might have run up the price of the books had they known he was buying
them for Ursula, he commissioned a dealer in old books living in Melun
to buy them for him. As a result of the heir’s anxiety the whole library
was sold book by book. Three thousand volumes were examined, one by one,
held by the two sides of the binding and shaken so that loose papers
would infallibly fall out. The whole amount of the purchases on Ursula’s
account amounted to six thousand five hundred francs or thereabouts.
The book-cases were not allowed to leave the premises until carefully
examined by a cabinet-maker, brought down from Paris to search for
secret drawers. When at last Monsieur Bongrand gave orders to take the
books and the bookcases to Mademoiselle Mirouet’s house the heirs were
tortured with vague fears, not dissipated until in course of time they
saw how poorly she lived.

Minoret bought up his uncle’s house, the value of which his co-heirs ran
up to fifty thousand francs, imagining that the post master expected
to find a treasure in the walls; in fact the house was sold with a
reservation on this subject. Two weeks later Minoret disposed of his
post establishment, with all the coaches and horses, to the son of
a rich farmer, and went to live in his uncle’s house, where he spent
considerable sums in repairing and refurnishing the rooms. By making
this move he thoughtlessly condemned himself to live within sight of
Ursula.

“I hope,” he said to Dionis the day when Madame de Portenduere was
summoned to pay her debt, “that we shall soon be rid of those nobles;
after they are gone we’ll drive out the rest.”

“That old woman with fourteen quarterings,” said Goupil, “won’t want to
witness her own disaster; she’ll go and die in Brittany, where she can
manage to find a wife for her son.”

“No,” said the notary, who had that morning drawn out a deed of sale at
Bongrand’s request. “Ursula has just bought the house she is living in.”

“That cursed fool does everything she can to annoy me!” cried the post
master imprudently.

“What does it signify to you whether she lives in Nemours or not?” asked
Goupil, surprised at the annoyance which the colossus betrayed.

“Don’t you know,” answered Minoret, turning as red as a poppy, “that my
son is fool enough to be in love with her? I’d give five hundred francs
if I could get Ursula out of this town.”



CHAPTER XVI. THE TWO ADVERSARIES

Perhaps the foregoing conduct on the part of the post master will have
shown already that Ursula, poor and resigned, was destined to be a thorn
in the side of the rich Minoret. The bustle attending the settlement of
an estate, the sale of the property, the going and coming necessitated
by such unusual business, his discussions with his wife about the most
trifling details, the purchase of the doctor’s house, where Zelie wished
to live in bourgeois style to advance her son’s interests,--all this
hurly-burly, contrasting with his usually tranquil life hindered the
huge Minoret from thinking of his victim. But about the middle of May, a
few days after his installation in the doctor’s house, as he was coming
home from a walk, he heard the sound of a piano, saw La Bougival sitting
at a window, like a dragon guarding a treasure, and suddenly became
aware of an importunate voice within him.

To explain why to a man of Minoret’s nature the sight of Ursula, who had
no suspicion of the theft committed upon her, now became intolerable;
why the spectacle of so much fortitude under misfortune impelled him to
a desire to drive the girl out of town; and how and why it was that
this desire took the form of hatred and revenge, would require a whole
treatise on moral philosophy. Perhaps he felt he was not the real
possessor of thirty-six thousand francs a year so long as she to whom
they really belonged lived near him. Perhaps he fancied some mere chance
might betray his theft if the person despoiled was not got rid of.
Perhaps to a nature in some sort primitive, almost uncivilized, and
whose owner up to that time had never done anything illegal, the
presence of Ursula awakened remorse. Possibly this remorse goaded him
the more because he had received his share of the property legitimately
acquired. In his own mind he no doubt attributed these stirrings of his
conscience to the fact of Ursula’s presence, imagining that if she were
removed all his uncomfortable feelings would disappear with her. But
still, after all, perhaps crime has its own doctrine of perfection. A
beginning of evil demands its end; a first stab must be followed by the
blow that kills. Perhaps robbery is doomed to lead to murder. Minoret
had committed the crime without the slightest reflection, so rapidly
had the events taken place; reflection came later. Now, if you have
thoroughly possessed yourself of this man’s nature and bodily presence
you will understand the mighty effect produced on him by a thought.
Remorse is more than a thought; it comes from a feeling which can no
more be hidden than love; like love, it has its own tyranny. But, just
as Minoret had committed the crime against Ursula without the slightest
reflection, so he now blindly longed to drive her from Nemours when he
felt himself disturbed by the sight of that wronged innocence. Being,
in a sense, imbecile, he never thought of the consequences; he went from
danger to danger, driven by a selfish instinct, like a wild animal which
does not foresee the huntsman’s skill, and relies on its own rapidity
or strength. Before long the rich bourgeois, who still met in Dionis’s
salon, noticed a great change in the manners and behavior of the man who
had hitherto been so free of care.

“I don’t know what has come to Minoret, he is all _no how_,” said his
wife, from whom he was resolved to hide his daring deed.

Everybody explained his condition as being, neither more nor less, ennui
(in fact the thought now expressed on his face did resemble ennui),
caused, they said, by the sudden cessation of business and the change
from an active life to one of well-to-do leisure.

While Minoret was thinking only of destroying Ursula’s life in Nemours,
La Bougival never let a day go by without torturing her foster child
with some allusion to the fortune she ought to have had, or without
comparing her miserable lot with the prospects the doctor had promised,
and of which he had often spoken to her, La Bougival.

“It is not for myself I speak,” she said, “but is it likely that
monsieur, good and kind as he was, would have died without leaving me
the merest trifle?--”

“Am I not here?” replied Ursula, forbidding La Bougival to say another
word on the subject.

She could not endure to soil the dear and tender memories that
surrounded that noble head--a sketch of which in black and white hung
in her little salon--with thoughts of selfish interest. To her fresh
and beautiful imagination that sketch sufficed to make her _see_ her
godfather, on whom her thoughts continually dwelt, all the more because
surrounded with the things he loved and used,--his large duchess-sofa,
the furniture from his study, his backgammon-table, and the piano he had
chosen for her. The two old friends who still remained to her, the Abbe
Chaperon and Monsieur Bongrand, the only visitors whom she received,
were, in the midst of these inanimate objects representative of the
past, like two living memories of her former life to which she attached
her present by the love her godfather had blessed.

After a while the sadness of her thoughts, softening gradually, gave
tone to the general tenor of her life and united all its parts in an
indefinable harmony, expressed by the exquisite neatness, the exact
symmetry of her room, the few flowers sent by Savinien, the dainty
nothings of a young girl’s life, the tranquillity which her quiet habits
diffused about her, giving peace and composure to the little home. After
breakfast and after mass she continued her studies and practiced; then
she took her embroidery and sat at the window looking on the street.
At four o’clock Savinien, returning from a walk (which he took in all
weathers), finding the window open, would sit upon the outer casing and
talk with her for half an hour. In the evening the abbe and Monsieur
Bongrand came to see her, but she never allowed Savinien to accompany
them. Neither did she accept Madame de Portenduere’s proposition, which
Savinien had induced his mother to make, that she should visit there.

Ursula and La Bougival lived, moreover, with the strictest economy; they
did not spend, counting everything, more than sixty francs a month. The
old nurse was indefatigable; she washed and ironed; cooked only twice
a week,--mistress and maid eating their food cold on other days; for
Ursula was determined to save the seven hundred francs still due on the
purchase of the house. This rigid conduct, together with her modesty and
her resignation to a life of poverty after the enjoyment of luxury and
the fond indulgence of all her wishes, deeply impressed certain persons.
Ursula won the respect of others, and no voice was raised against her.
Even the heirs, once satisfied, did her justice. Savinien admired the
strength of character of so young a girl. From time to time Madame de
Portenduere, when they met in church, would address a few kind words
to her, and twice she insisted on her coming to dinner and fetched her
herself. If all this was not happiness it was at least tranquillity.
But a benefit which came to Ursula through the legal care and ability of
Bongrand started the smouldering persecution which up to this time had
laid in Minoret’s breast as a dumb desire.

As soon as the legal settlement of the doctor’s estate was finished, the
justice of peace, urged by Ursula, took the cause of the Portendueres in
hand and promised her to get them out of their trouble. In dealing with
the old lady, whose opposition to Ursula’s happiness made him furious,
he did not allow her to be ignorant of the fact that his devotion to her
service was solely to give pleasure to Mademoiselle Mirouet. He chose
one of his former clerks to act for the Portendueres at Fontainebleau,
and himself put in a motion for a stay of proceedings. He intended to
profit by the interval which must elapse between the stoppage of the
present suit and some new step on the part of Massin to renew the lease
at six thousand francs, get a premium from the present tenants and the
payment in full of the rent of the current year.

At this time, when these matters had to be discussed, the former
whist-parties were again organized in Madame de Portenduere’s salon,
between himself, the abbe, Savinien, and Ursula, whom the abbe and he
escorted there and back every evening. In June, Bongrand succeeded
in quashing the proceedings; whereupon the new lease was signed; he
obtained a premium of thirty-two thousand francs from the farmer and a
rent of six thousand a year for eighteen years. The evening of the day
on which this was finally settled he went to see Zelie, whom he knew to
be puzzled as to how to invest her money, and proposed to sell her the
farm at Bordieres for two hundred and twenty thousand francs.

“I’d buy it at once,” said Minoret, “if I were sure the Portendueres
would go and live somewhere else.”

“Why?” said the justice of peace.

“We want to get rid of the nobles in Nemours.”

“I did hear the old lady say that if she could settle her affairs she
should go and live in Brittany, as she would not have means enough left
to live here. She is thinking of selling her house.”

“Well, sell it to me,” said Minoret.

“To you?” said Zelie. “You talk as if you were master of everything.
What do you want with two houses in Nemours?”

“If I don’t settle this matter of the farm with you to-night,” said
Bongrand, “our lease will get known, Massin will put in a fresh claim,
and I shall lose this chance of liquidation which I am anxious to make.
So if you don’t take my offer I shall go at once to Melun, where some
farmers I know are ready to buy the farm with their eyes shut.”

“Why did you come to us, then?” said Zelie.

“Because you can pay me in cash, and my other clients would make me wait
some time for the money. I don’t want difficulties.”

“Get _her_ out of Nemours and I’ll pay it,” exclaimed Minoret.

“You understand that I cannot answer for Madame de Portenduere’s
actions,” said Bongrand. “I can only repeat what I heard her say, but I
feel certain they will not remain in Nemours.”

On this assurance, enforced by a nudge from Zelie, Minoret agreed to
the purchase, and furnished the funds to pay off the mortgage due to the
doctor’s estate. The deed of sale was immediately drawn up by Dionis.
Towards the end of June Bongrand brought the balance of the purchase
money to Madame de Portenduere, advising her to invest it in the Funds,
where, joined to Savinien’s ten thousand, it would give her, at five
per cent, an income of six thousand francs. Thus, so far from losing her
resources, the old lady actually gained by the transaction. But she
did not leave Nemours. Minoret thought he had been tricked,--as though
Bongrand had had an idea that Ursula’s presence was intolerable to him;
and he felt a keen resentment which embittered his hatred to his victim.
Then began a secret drama which was terrible in its effects,--the
struggle of two determinations; one which impelled Minoret to drive his
victim from Nemours, the other which gave Ursula the strength to
bear persecution, the cause of which was for a certain length of time
undiscoverable. The situation was a strange and even unnatural one,
and yet it was led up to by all the preceding events, which served as a
preface to what was now to occur.

Madame Minoret, to whom her husband had given a handsome silver service
costing twenty thousand francs, gave a magnificent dinner every Sunday,
the day on which her son, the deputy procureur, came from Fontainebleau,
bringing with him certain of his friends. On these occasions Zelie
sent to Paris for delicacies--obliging Dionis the notary to emulate
her display. Goupil, whom the Minorets endeavored to ignore as a
questionable person who might tarnish their splendor, was not invited
until the end of July. The clerk, who was fully aware of this intended
neglect, was forced to be respectful to Desire, who, since his entrance
into office, had assumed a haughty and dignified air, even in his own
family.

“You must have forgotten Esther,” Goupil said to him, “as you are so
much in love with Mademoiselle Mirouet.”

“In the first place, Esther is dead, monsieur; and in the next I have
never even thought of Ursula,” said the new magistrate.

“Why, what did you tell me, papa Minoret?” cried Goupil, insolently.

Minoret, caught in a lie by a man whom he feared, would have lost
countenance if it had not been for a project in his head, which was,
in fact, the reason why Goupil was invited to dinner,--Minoret having
remembered the proposition the clerk had once made to prevent the
marriage between Savinien and Ursula. For all answer, he led Goupil
hurriedly to the end of the garden.

“You’ll soon be twenty-eight years old, my good fellow,” said he, “and
I don’t see that you are on the road to fortune. I wish you well, for
after all you were once my son’s companion. Listen to me. If you can
persuade that little Mirouet, who possesses in her own right forty
thousand francs, to marry you, I will give you, as true as my name is
Minoret, the means to buy a notary’s practice at Orleans.”

“No,” said Goupil, “that’s too far out of the way; but Montargis--”

“No,” said Minoret; “Sens.”

“Very good,--Sens,” replied the hideous clerk. “There’s an archbishop at
Sens, and I don’t object to devotion; a little hypocrisy and there
you are, on the way to fortune. Besides, the girl is pious, and she’ll
succeed at Sens.”

“It is to be fully understood,” continued Minoret, “that I shall not pay
the money till you marry my cousin, for whom I wish to provide, out of
consideration for my deceased uncle.”

“Why not for me too?” said Goupil maliciously, instantly suspecting a
secret motive in Minoret’s conduct. “Isn’t it through information you
got from me that you make twenty-four thousand a year from that land,
without a single enclosure, around the Chateau du Rouvre? The fields and
the mill the other side of the Loing make sixteen thousand more. Come,
old fellow, do you mean to play fair with me?”

“Yes.”

“If I wanted to show my teeth I could coax Massin to buy the Rouvre
estate, park, gardens, preserves, and timber--”

“You’d better think twice before you do that,” said Zelie, suddenly
intervening.

“If I choose,” said Goupil, giving her a viperish look; “Massin would
buy the whole for two hundred thousand francs.”

“Leave us, wife,” said the colossus, taking Zelie by the arm, and
shoving her away; “I understand him. We have been so very busy,” he
continued, returning to Goupil, “that we have had no time to think of
you; but I rely on your friendship to buy the Rouvre estate for me.”

“It is a very ancient marquisate,” said Goupil, maliciously; “which will
soon be worth in your hands fifty thousand francs a year; that means a
capital of more than two millions as money is now.”

“My son could then marry the daughter of a marshal of France, or the
daughter of some old family whose influence would get him a fine place
under the government in Paris,” said Minoret, opening his huge snuff-box
and offering a pinch to Goupil.

“Very good; but will you play fair?” cried Goupil, shaking his fingers.

Minoret pressed the clerk’s hands replying:--

“On my word of honor.”



CHAPTER XVII. THE MALIGNITY OF PROVINCIAL MINDS

Like all crafty persons, Goupil, fortunately for Minoret, believed that
the proposed marriage with Ursula was only a pretext on the part of the
colossus and Zelie for making up with him, now that he was opposing them
with Massin.

“It isn’t he,” thought Goupil, “who has invented this scheme; I know my
Zelie,--she taught him his part. Bah! I’ll let Massin go. In three years
time I’ll be deputy from Sens.” Just then he saw Bongrand on his way to
the opposite house for his whist, and he rushed hastily after him.

“You take a great interest in Mademoiselle Mirouet, my dear Monsieur
Bongrand,” he said. “I know you will not be indifferent to her future.
Her relations are considering it, and there is the programme; she ought
to marry a notary whose practice should be in the chief town of an
arrondisement. This notary, who would of course be elected deputy in
three years, should settle on a dower of a hundred thousand francs on
her.”

“She can do better than that,” said Bongrand coldly. “Madame de
Portenduere is greatly changed since her misfortunes; trouble is killing
her. Savinien will have six thousand francs a year, and Ursula has a
capital of forty thousand. I shall show them how to increase it a la
Massin, but honestly, and in ten years they will have a little fortune.

“Savinien will do a foolish thing,” said Goupil; “he can marry
Mademoiselle du Rouvre whenever he likes,--an only daughter to whom the
uncle and aunt intend to leave a fine property.”

“Where love enters farewell prudence, as La Fontaine says--By the bye,
who is your notary?” added Bongrand from curiosity.

“Suppose it were I?” answered Goupil.

“You!” exclaimed Bongrand, without hiding his disgust.

“Well, well!--Adieu, monsieur,” replied Goupil, with a parting glance of
gall and hatred and defiance.

“Do you wish to be the wife of a notary who will settle a hundred
thousand francs on you?” cried Bongrand entering Madame de Portenduere’s
little salon, where Ursula was seated beside the old lady.

Ursula and Savinien trembled and looked at each other,--she smiling, he
not daring to show his uneasiness.

“I am not mistress of myself,” said Ursula, holding out her hand to
Savinien in such a way that the old lady did not perceive the gesture.

“Well, I have refused the offer without consulting you.”

“Why did you do that?” said Madame de Portenduere. “I think the position
of a notary is a very good one.”

“I prefer my peaceful poverty,” said Ursula, “which is really wealth
compared with what my station in life might have given me. Besides, my
old nurse spares me a great deal of care, and I shall not exchange the
present, which I like, for an unknown fate.”

A few weeks later the post poured into two hearts the poison of
anonymous letters,--one addressed to Madame de Portenduere, the other to
Ursula. The following is the one to the old lady:--

  “You love your son, you wish to marry him in a manner conformable
  with the name he bears; and yet you encourage his fancy for an
  ambitious girl without money and the daughter of a regimental
  band-master, by inviting her to your house. You ought to marry him
  to Mademoiselle du Rouvre, on whom her two uncles, the Marquis de
  Ronquerolles and the Chevalier du Rouvre, who are worth money, would
  settle a handsome sum rather than leave it to that old fool the
  Marquis du Rouvre, who runs through everything. Madame de Serizy,
  aunt of Clementine du Rouvre, who has just lost her only son in the
  campaign in Algiers, will no doubt adopt her niece. A person who is
  your well-wisher assures you that Savinien will be accepted.”

The letter to Ursula was as follows:--

  Dear Ursula,--There is a young man in Nemours who idolizes you. He
  cannot see you working at your window without emotions which prove
  to him that his love will last through life. This young man is
  gifted with an iron will and a spirit of perseverance which
  nothing can discourage. Receive his addresses favorably, for his
  intentions are pure, and he humbly asks your hand with a sincere
  desire to make you happy. His fortune, already suitable, is
  nothing to that which he will make for you when you are once his
  wife. You shall be received at court as the wife of a minister and
  one of the first ladies in the land.

  As he sees you every day (without your being able to see him) put
  a pot of La Bougival’s pinks in your window and he will understand
  from that that he has your permission to present himself.

Ursula burned the letter and said nothing about it to Savinien. Two days
later she received another letter in the following language:--

  “You do wrong, my dear Ursula, not to answer one who loves you
  better than life itself. You think you will marry Savinien--you
  are very much mistaken. That marriage will not take place. Madame
  de Portenduere went this morning to Rouvre to ask for the hand of
  Mademoiselle Clementine for her son. Savinien will yield in the
  end. What objection can he make? The uncles of the young lady are
  willing to guarantee their fortune to her; it amounts to over
  sixty thousand francs a year.”

This letter agonized Ursula’s heart and afflicted her with the tortures
of jealousy, a form of suffering hitherto unknown to her, but which
to this fine organization, so sensitive to pain, threw a pall over the
present and over the future, and even over the past. From the moment
when she received this fatal paper she lay on the doctor’s sofa, her
eyes fixed on space, lost in a dreadful dream. In an instant the chill
of death had come upon her warm young life. Alas, worse than that! it
was like the awful awakening of the dead to the sense that there was
no God,--the masterpiece of that strange genius called Jean Paul. Four
times La Bougival called her to breakfast. When the faithful creature
tried to remonstrate, Ursula waved her hand and answered in one harsh
word, “Hush!” said despotically, in strange contrast to her usual gentle
manner. La Bougival, watching her mistress through the glass door, saw
her alternately red with a consuming fever, and blue as if a shudder of
cold had succeeded that unnatural heat. This condition grew worse and
worse up to four o’clock; then she rose to see if Savinien were coming,
but he did not come. Jealousy and distrust tear all reserves from love.
Ursula, who till then had never made one gesture by which her love could
be guessed, now took her hat and shawl and rushed into the passage as if
to go and meet him. But an afterthought of modesty sent her back to her
little salon, where she stayed and wept. When the abbe arrived in the
evening La Bougival met him at the door.

“Ah, monsieur!” she cried; “I don’t know what’s the matter with
mademoiselle; she is--”

“I know,” said the abbe sadly, stopping the words of the poor nurse.

He then told Ursula (what she had not dared to verify) that Madame de
Portenduere had gone to dine at Rouvre.

“And Savinien too?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Ursula was seized with a little nervous tremor which made the abbe
quiver as though a whole Leyden jar had been discharged at him; he felt
moreover a lasting commotion in his heart.

“So we shall not go there to-night,” he said as gently as he could;
“and, my child, it would be better if you did not go there again.
The old lady will receive you in a way to wound your pride. Monsieur
Bongrand and I, who had succeeded in bringing her to consider your
marriage, have no idea from what quarter this new influence has come to
change her, as it were in a moment.”

“I expect the worst; nothing can surprise me now,” said Ursula in a
pained voice. “In such extremities it is a comfort to feel that we have
done nothing to displease God.”

“Submit, dear daughter, and do not seek to fathom the ways of
Providence,” said the abbe.

“I shall not unjustly distrust the character of Monsieur de
Portenduere--”

“Why do you no longer call him Savinien?” asked the priest, who detected
a slight bitterness in Ursula’s tone.

“Of my dear Savinien,” cried the girl, bursting into tears. “Yes, my
good friend,” she said, sobbing, “a voice tells me he is as noble in
heart as he is in race. He has not only told me that he loves me alone,
but he has proved it in a hundred delicate ways, and by restraining
heroically his ardent feelings. Lately when he took the hand I held out
to him, that evening when Monsieur Bongrand proposed to me a husband, it
was the first time, I swear to you, that I had ever given it. He began
with a jest when he blew me a kiss across the street, but since then our
affection has never outwardly passed, as you well know, the narrowest
limits. But I will tell you,--you who read my soul except in this one
region where none but the angels see,--well, I will tell you, this love
has been in me the secret spring of many seeming merits; it made me
accept my poverty; it softened the bitterness of my irreparable loss,
for my mourning is more perhaps in my clothes now than in my heart--Oh,
was I wrong? can it be that love was stronger in me than my gratitude
to my benefactor, and God has punished me for it? But how could it be
otherwise? I respected in myself Savinien’s future wife; yes, perhaps
I was too proud, perhaps it is that pride which God has humbled. God
alone, as you have often told me, should be the end and object of all
our actions.”

The abbe was deeply touched as he watched the tears roll down her pallid
face. The higher her sense of security had been, the lower she was now
to fall.

“But,” she said, continuing, “if I return to my orphaned condition, I
shall know how to take up its feelings. After all, could I have tied a
mill-stone round the neck of him I love? What can he do here? Who am
I to bind him to me? Besides, do I not love him with a friendship so
divine that I can bear the loss of my own happiness and my hopes? You
know I have often blamed myself for letting my hopes rest upon a grave,
and for knowing they were waiting on that poor old lady’s death. If
Savinien is rich and happy with another I have enough to pay for my
entrance to a convent, where I shall go at once. There can no more be
two loves in a woman’s heart than there can be two masters in heaven,
and the life of a religious is attractive to me.”

“He could not let his mother go alone to Rouvre,” said the abbe, gently.

“Do not let us talk of that, my dear good friend,” she answered. “I will
write to-night and set him free. I am glad to have to close the windows
of this room,” she continued, telling her old friend of the anonymous
letters, but declaring that she would not allow any inquiries to be made
as to who her unknown lover might be.

“Why! it was an anonymous letter that first took Madame de Portenduere
to Rouvre,” cried the abbe. “You are annoyed for some object by evil
persons.”

“How can that be? Neither Savinien nor I have injured any one; and I am
no longer an obstacle to the prosperity of others.”

“Well, well, my child,” said the abbe, quietly, “let us profit by this
tempest, which has scattered our little circle, to put the library in
order. The books are still in heaps. Bongrand and I want to get them in
order; we wish to make a search among them. Put your trust in God, and
remember also that in our good Bongrand and in me you have two devoted
friends.”

“That is much, very much,” she said, going with him to the threshold of
the door, where she stretched out her neck like a bird looking over its
nest, hoping against hope to see Savinien.

Just then Minoret and Goupil, returning from a walk in the meadows,
stopped as they passed, and the colossus spoke to Ursula.

“Is anything the matter, cousin; for we are still cousins, are we not?
You seem changed.”

Goupil looked so ardently at Ursula that she was frightened, and went
back into the house without replying.

“She is cross,” said Minoret to the abbe.

“Mademoiselle Mirouet is quite right not to talk to men on the threshold
of her door,” said the abbe; “she is too young--”

“Oh!” said Goupil. “I am told she doesn’t lack lovers.”

The abbe bowed hurriedly and went as fast as he could to the Rue des
Bourgeois.

“Well,” said Goupil to Minoret, “the thing is working. Did you notice
how pale she was. Within a fortnight she’ll have left the town--you’ll
see.”

“Better have you for a friend than an enemy,” cried Minoret, frightened
at the atrocious grin which gave to Goupil’s face the diabolical
expression of the Mephistopheles of Joseph Brideau.

“I should think so!” returned Goupil. “If she doesn’t marry me I’ll make
her die of grief.”

“Do it, my boy, and I’ll GIVE you the money to buy a practice in Paris.
You can then marry a rich woman--”

“Poor Ursula! what makes you so bitter against her? what has she done to
you?” asked the clerk in surprise.

“She annoys me,” said Minoret, gruffly.

“Well, wait till Monday and you shall see how I’ll rasp her,” said
Goupil, studying the expression of the late post master’s face.

The next day La Bougival carried the following letter to Savinien.

“I don’t know what the dear child has written to you,” she said, “but
she is almost dead this morning.”

Who, reading this letter to her lover, could fail to understand the
sufferings the poor girl had gone through during the night.

  My dear Savinien,--Your mother wishes you to marry Mademoiselle du
  Rouvre, and perhaps she is right. You are placed between a life
  that is almost poverty-stricken and a life of opulence; between
  the betrothed of your heart and a wife in conformity with the
  demands of the world; between obedience to your mother and the
  fulfilment of your own choice--for I still believe that you have
  chosen me. Savinien, if you have now to make your decision I wish
  you to do so in absolute freedom; I give you back the promise you
  made to yourself--not to me--in a moment which can never fade from
  my memory, for it was, like other days that have succeeded it, of
  angelic purity and sweetness. That memory will suffice me for my
  life. If you should persist in your pledge to me, a dark and
  terrible idea would henceforth trouble my happiness. In the midst
  of our privations--which we have hitherto accepted so gayly--you
  might reflect, too late, that life would have been to you a better
  thing had you now conformed to the laws of the world. If you were
  a man to express that thought, it would be to me the sentence of
  an agonizing death; if you did not express it, I should watch
  suspiciously every cloud upon your brow.

  Dear Savinien, I have preferred you to all else on earth. I was
  right to do so, for my godfather, though jealous of you, used to
  say to me, “Love him, my child; you will certainly belong to each
  other one of these days.” When I went to Paris I loved you
  hopelessly, and the feeling contented me. I do not know if I can
  now return to it, but I shall try. What are we, after all, at this
  moment? Brother and sister. Let us stay so. Marry that happy girl
  who can have the joy of giving to your name the lustre it ought to
  have, and which your mother thinks I should diminish. You will not
  hear of me again. The world will approve of you; I shall never
  blame you--but I shall love you ever. Adieu, then!

“Wait,” cried the young man. Signing to La Bougival to sit down, he
scratched off hastily the following reply:--

  My dear Ursula,--Your letter cuts me to the heart, inasmuch as you
  have needlessly felt such pain; and also because our hearts, for
  the first time, have failed to understand each other. If you are
  not my wife now, it is solely because I cannot marry without my
  mother’s consent. Dear, eight thousand francs a year and a pretty
  cottage on the Loing, why, that’s a fortune, is it not? You know
  we calculated that if we kept La Bougival we could lay by half our
  income every year. You allowed me that evening, in your uncle’s
  garden, to consider you mine; you cannot now of yourself break
  those ties which are common to both of us.--Ursula, need I tell
  you that I yesterday informed Monsieur du Rouvre that even if I
  were free I could not receive a fortune from a young person whom I
  did not know? My mother refuses to see you again; I must therefore
  lose the happiness of our evenings; but surely you will not
  deprive me of the brief moments I can spend at your window? This
  evening, then--Nothing can separate us.

“Take this to her, my old woman; she must not be unhappy one moment
longer.”

That afternoon at four o’clock, returning from the walk which he
always took expressly to pass before Ursula’s house, Savinien found his
mistress waiting for him, her face a little pallid from these sudden
changes and excitements.

“It seems to me that until now I have never known what the pleasure of
seeing you is,” she said to him.

“You once said to me,” replied Savinien, smiling,--“for I remember all
your words,--‘Love lives by patience; we will wait!’ Dear, you have
separated love from faith. Ah! this shall be the end of our quarrels; we
will never have another. You have claimed to love me better than I love
you, but--did I ever doubt you?” he said, offering her a bouquet of
wild-flowers arranged to express his thoughts.

“You have never had any reason to doubt me,” she replied; “and, besides,
you don’t know all,” she added, in a troubled voice.

Ursula had refused to receive letters by the post. But that afternoon,
without being able even to guess at the nature of the trick, she had
found, a few moments before Savinien’s arrival, a letter tossed on her
sofa which contained the words: “Tremble! a rejected lover can become a
tiger.”

Withstanding Savinien’s entreaties, she refused to tell him, out of
prudence, the secret of her fears. The delight of seeing him again,
after she had thought him lost to her, could alone have made her recover
from the mortal chill of terror. The expectation of indefinite evil is
torture to every one; suffering assumes the proportions of the unknown,
and the unknown is the infinite of the soul. To Ursula the pain was
exquisite. Something without her bounded at the slightest noise; yet she
was afraid of silence, and suspected even the walls of collusion. Even
her sleep was restless. Goupil, who knew nothing of her nature, delicate
as that of a flower, had found, with the instinct of evil, the poison
that could wither and destroy her.

The next day passed without a shock. Ursula sat playing on her piano
till very late; and went to bed easier in mind and very sleepy. About
midnight she was awakened by the music of a band composed of a clarinet,
hautboy, flute, cornet a piston, trombone, bassoon, flageolet, and
triangle. All the neighbours were at their windows. The poor girl,
already frightened at seeing the people in the street, received a
dreadful shock as she heard the coarse, rough voice of a man proclaiming
in loud tones: “For the beautiful Ursula Mirouet, from her lover.”

The next day, Sunday, the whole town had heard of it; and as Ursula
entered and left the church she saw the groups of people who stood
gossiping about her, and felt herself the object of their terrible
curiosity. The serenade set all tongues wagging, and conjectures were
rife on all sides. Ursula reached home more dead than alive, determined
not to leave the house again,--the abbe having advised her to say
vespers in her own room. As she entered the house she saw lying in the
passage, which was floored with brick, a letter which had evidently been
slipped under the door. She picked it up and read it, under the idea
that it would obtain an explanation. It was as follows:--


“Resign yourself to becoming my wife, rich and idolized. I am resolved.
If you are not mine living you shall be mine dead. To your refusal you
may attribute not only your own misfortunes, but those which will fall
on others.

“He who loves you, and whose wife you will be.”


Curiously enough, at the very moment that the gentle victim of this
plot was drooping like a cut flower, Mesdemoiselles Massin, Dionis, and
Cremiere were envying her lot.

“She is a lucky girl,” they were saying; “people talk of her, and court
her, and quarrel about her. The serenade was charming; there was a
cornet-a-piston.”

“What’s a piston?”

“A new musical instrument, as big as this, see!” replied Angelique
Cremiere to Pamela Massin.

Early that morning Savinien had gone to Fontainebleau to endeavor to
find out who had engaged the musicians of the regiment then in garrison.
But as there were two men to each instrument it was impossible to find
out which of them had gone to Nemours. The colonel forbade them to play
for any private person in future without his permission. Savinien had
an interview with the procureur du roi, Ursula’s legal guardian, and
explained to him the injury these scenes would do to a young girl
naturally so delicate and sensitive, begging him to take some action to
discover the author of such wrong.

Three nights later three violins, a flute, a guitar, and a hautboy began
another serenade. This time the musicians fled towards Montargis, where
there happened then to be a company of comic actors. A loud and ringing
voice called out as they left: “To the daughter of the regimental
bandsman Mirouet.” By this means all Nemours came to know the profession
of Ursula’s father, a secret the old doctor had sedulously kept.

Savinien did not go to Montargis. He received in the course of the day
an anonymous letter containing a prophecy:--

  “You will never marry Ursula. If you wish her to live, give her up
  at once to a man who loves her more than you love her. He has made
  himself a musician and an artist to please her, and he would
  rather see her dead than let her be your wife.”

The doctor came to Ursula three times in the course of that day, for
she was really in danger of death from the horror of this mysterious
persecution. Feeling that some infernal hand had plunged her into the
mire, the poor girl lay like a martyr; she said nothing, but lifted her
eyes to heaven, and wept no more; she seemed awaiting other blows, and
prayed fervently.

“I am glad I cannot go down into the salon,” she said to Monsieur
Bongrand and the abbe, who left her as little as possible; “_He_ would
come, and I am now unworthy of the looks with which _he_ blessed me. Do
you think _he_ will suspect me?”

“If Savinien does not discover the author of these infamies he means to
get the assistance of the Paris police,” said Bongrand.

“Whoever it is will know I am dying,” said Ursula; “and will cease to
trouble me.”

The abbe, Bongrand, and Savinien were lost in conjectures and
suspicions. Together with Tiennette, La Bougival, and two persons on
whom the abbe could rely, they kept the closest watch and were on their
guard night and day for a week; but no indiscretion could betray Goupil,
whose machinations were known to himself only. There were no more
serenades and no more letters, and little by little the watch relaxed.
Bongrand thought the author of the wrong was frightened; Savinien
believed that the procureur du roi to whom he had sent the letters
received by Ursula and himself and his mother, had taken steps to put an
end to the persecution.

The armistice was not of long duration, however. When the doctor had
checked the nervous fever from which poor Ursula was suffering, and just
as she was recovering her courage, a rope-ladder was found, early one
morning in July, attached to her window. The postilion of the mail-post
declared that as he drove past the house in the middle of the night a
small man was in the act of coming down the ladder, and though he tried
to pull up, his horses, being startled, carried him down the hill so
fast that he was out of Nemours before he stopped them. Some of the
persons who frequented Dionis’s salon attributed these manoeuvres to
the Marquis du Rouvre, then much hampered in means, for Massin held
his notes to a large amount. It was said that a prompt marriage of his
daughter to Savinien would save Chateau du Rouvre from his creditors;
and Madame de Portenduere, the gossips added, would approve of anything
that would discredit and degrade Ursula and lead to this marriage of her
son.

So far from this being true, the old lady was well-nigh vanquished by
the sufferings of the innocent girl. The abbe was so painfully overcome
by this act of infernal wickedness that he fell ill himself and was kept
to the house for several days. Poor Ursula, to whom this last insult
had caused a relapse, received by post a letter from the abbe, which
was taken in by La Bougival on recognizing the handwriting. It was as
follows:--


My child,--Leave Nemours, and thus evade the malice of your enemies.
Perhaps they are seeking to endanger Savinien’s life. I will tell you
more when I am able to go to you.

Your devoted friend,

Chaperon.


When Savinien, who was almost maddened by these proceedings, carried
this letter to the abbe, the poor priest read it and re-read it; so
amazed and horror-stricken was he to see the perfection with which his
own handwriting and signature were imitated. The dangerous condition
into which this last atrocity threw poor Ursula sent Savinien once more
to the procureur du roi with the forged letter.

“A murder is being committed by means that the law cannot touch,”
 he said, “upon an orphan whom the Code places in your care as legal
guardian. What is to be done?”

“If you can find any means of repression,” said the official, “I will
adopt them; but I know of none. That infamous wretch gives the best
advice. Mademoiselle Mirouet must be sent to the sisters of the
Adoration of the Sacred Heart. Meanwhile the commissary of police at
Fontainebleau shall at my request authorize you to carry arms in your
own defence. I have been myself to Rouvre, and I found Monsieur du
Rouvre justly indignant at the suspicions some of the Nemours people
have put upon him. Minoret, the father of my assistant, is in treaty
for the purchase of the estate. Mademoiselle is to marry a rich Polish
count; and Monsieur du Rouvre himself left the neighbourhood the day I
saw him, to avoid arrest for debt.”

Desire Minoret, when questioned by his chief, dared not tell his
thought. He recognized Goupil. Goupil, he fully believed, was the only
man capable of carrying a persecution to the very verge of the penal
code without infringing a hair’s-breadth upon it.



CHAPTER XVIII. A TWO-FOLD VENGEANCE

Impunity, secrecy, and success increased Goupil’s audacity. He made
Massin, who was completely his dupe, sue the Marquis du Rouvre for
his notes, so as to force him to sell the remainder of his property to
Minoret. Thus prepared, he opened negotiations for a practice at Sens,
and then resolved to strike a last blow to obtain Ursula. He meant
to imitate certain young men in Paris who owed their wives and their
fortunes to abduction. He knew that the services he had rendered to
Minoret, to Massin, and to Cremiere, and the protection of Dionis and
the mayor of Nemours would enable him to hush up the affair. He resolved
to throw off the mask, believing Ursula too feeble in the condition to
which he had reduced her to make any resistance. But before risking this
last throw in the game he thought it best to have an explanation with
Minoret, and he chose his opportunity at Rouvre, where he went with his
patron for the first time after the deeds were signed.

Minoret had that morning received a confidential letter from his son
asking him for information as to what was happening in connection with
Ursula, information that he desired to obtain before going to Nemours
with the procureur du roi to place her under shelter from these
atrocities in the convent of the Adoration. Desire exhorted his father,
in case this persecution should be the work of any of their friends, to
give to whoever it might be warning and good advice; for even if the law
could not punish this crime it would certainly discover the truth and
hold it over the delinquent’s head. Minoret had now attained a great
object. Owner of the chateau du Rouvre, one of the finest estates in the
Gatinais, he had also a rent-roll of some forty odd thousand francs
a year from the rich domains which surrounded the park. He could well
afford to snap his fingers at Goupil. Besides, he intended to live on
the estate, where the sight of Ursula would no longer trouble him.

“My boy,” he said to Goupil, as they walked along the terrace, “let my
young cousin alone, now.”

“Pooh!” said the clerk, unable to imagine what capricious conduct meant.

“Oh! I’m not ungrateful; you have enabled me to get this fine brick
chateau with the stone copings (which couldn’t be built now for two
hundred thousand francs) and those farms and preserves and the park and
gardens and woods, all for two hundred and eighty thousand francs. No,
I’m not ungrateful; I’ll give you ten per cent, twenty thousand francs,
for your services, and you can buy a sheriff’s practice in Nemours. I’ll
guarantee you a marriage with one of Cremiere’s daughters, the eldest.”

“The one who talks piston!” cried Goupil.

“She’ll have thirty thousand francs,” replied Minoret. “Don’t you see,
my dear boy, that you are cut out for a sheriff, just as I was to be a
post master? People should keep to their vocation.”

“Very well, then,” said Goupil, falling from the pinnacle of his hopes;
“here’s a stamped cheque; write me an order for twenty thousand francs;
I want the money in hand at once.”

Minoret had eighteen thousand francs by him at that moment of which his
wife knew nothing. He thought the best way to get rid of Goupil was to
sign the draft. The clerk, seeing the flush of seigniorial fever on the
face of the imbecile and colossal Machiavelli, threw him an “au revoir,”
 by way of farewell, accompanied with a glance which would have made any
one but an idiotic parvenu, lost in contemplation of the magnificent
chateau built in the style in vogue under Louis XIII., tremble in his
shoes.

“Are you not going to wait for me?” he cried, observing that Goupil was
going away on foot.

“You’ll find me on our path, never fear, papa Minoret,” replied Goupil,
athirst for vengeance and resolved to know the meaning of the zigzags of
Minoret’s strange conduct.

Since the day when the last vile calumny had sullied her life Ursula, a
prey to one of those inexplicable maladies the seat of which is in the
soul, seemed to be rapidly nearing death. She was deathly pale, speaking
only at rare intervals and then in slow and feeble words; everything
about her, her glance of gentle indifference, even the expression of her
forehead, all revealed the presence of some consuming thought. She was
thinking how the ideal wreath of chastity, with which throughout all
ages the Peoples crowned their virgins, had fallen from her brow.
She heard in the void and in the silence the dishonoring words, the
malicious comments, the laughter of the little town. The trial was
too heavy, her innocence was too delicate to allow her to survive the
murderous blow. She complained no more; a sorrowful smile was on her
lips; her eyes appealed to heaven, to the Sovereign of angels, against
man’s injustice.

When Goupil reached Nemours, Ursula had just been carried down from her
chamber to the ground-floor in the arms of La Bougival and the doctor.
A great event was about to take place. When Madame de Portenduere became
really aware that the girl was dying like an ermine, though less injured
in her honor than Clarissa Harlowe, she resolved to go to her and
comfort her. The sight of her son’s anguish, who during the whole
preceding night had seemed beside himself, made the Breton soul of the
old woman yield. Moreover, it seemed worthy of her own dignity to revive
the courage of a girl so pure, and she saw in her visit a counterpoise
to all the evil done by the little town. Her opinion, surely more
powerful than that of the crowd, ought to carry with it, she thought,
the influence of race. This step, which the abbe came to announce, made
so great a change in Ursula that the doctor, who was about to ask for a
consultation of Parisian doctors, recovered hope. They placed her on
her uncle’s sofa, and such was the character of her beauty that she
lay there in her mourning garments, pale from suffering, she was
more exquisitely lovely than in the happiest hours of her life. When
Savinien, with his mother on his arm, entered the room she colored
vividly.

“Do not rise, my child,” said the old lady imperatively; “weak and ill
as I am myself, I wished to come and tell you my feelings about what is
happening. I respect you as the purest, the most religious and excellent
girl in the Gatinais; and I think you worthy to make the happiness of a
gentleman.”

At first poor Ursula was unable to answer; she took the withered hands
of Savinien’s mother and kissed them.

“Ah, madame,” she said in a faltering voice, “I should never have had
the boldness to think of rising above my condition if I had not been
encouraged by promises; my only claim was that of an affection without
bounds; but now they have found the means to separate me from him I
love,--they have made me unworthy of him. Never!” she cried, with a ring
in her voice which painfully affected those about her, “never will I
consent to give to any man a degraded hand, a stained reputation. I
loved too well,--yes, I can admit it in my present condition,--I love a
creature almost as I love God, and God--”

“Hush, my child! do not calumniate God. Come, my daughter,” said the old
lady, making an effort, “do not exaggerate the harm done by an infamous
joke in which no one believes. I give you my word, you will live and you
shall be happy.”

“We shall be happy!” cried Savinien, kneeling beside Ursula and kissing
her hand; “my mother has called you her daughter.”

“Enough, enough,” said the doctor feeling his patient’s pulse; “do not
kill her with joy.”

At that moment Goupil, who found the street door ajar, opened that of
the little salon, and showed his hideous face blazing with thoughts of
vengeance which had crowded into his mind as he hurried along.

“Monsieur de Portenduere,” he said, in a voice like the hissing of a
viper forced from its hole.

“What do you want?” said Savinien, rising from his knees.

“I have a word to say to you.”

Savinien left the room, and Goupil took him into the little courtyard.

“Swear to me by Ursula’s life, by your honor as a gentleman, to do by me
as if I had never told you what I am about to tell. Do this, and I
will reveal to you the cause of the persecutions directed against
Mademoiselle Mirouet.”

“Can I put a stop to them?”

“Yes.”

“Can I avenge them?”

“On their author, yes--on his tool, no.”

“Why not?”

“Because--I am the tool.”

Savinien turned pale.

“I have just seen Ursula--” said Goupil.

“Ursula?” said the lover, looking fixedly at the clerk.

“Mademoiselle Mirouet,” continued Goupil, made respectful by Savinien’s
tone; “and I would undo with my blood the wrong that has been done; I
repent of it. If you were to kill me, in a duel or otherwise, what good
would my blood do you? can you drink it? At this moment it would poison
you.”

The cold reasoning of the man, together with a feeling of eager
curiosity, calmed Savinien’s anger. He fixed his eyes on Goupil with a
look which made that moral deformity writhe.

“Who set you at this work?” said the young man.

“Will you swear?”

“What,--to do you no harm?”

“I wish that you and Mademoiselle Mirouet should not forgive me.”

“She will forgive you,--I, never!”

“But at least you will forget?”

What terrible power the reason has when it is used to further
self-interest. Here were two men, longing to tear one another in pieces,
standing in that courtyard within two inches of each other, compelled to
talk together and united by a single sentiment.

“I will forgive you, but I shall not forget.”

“The agreement is off,” said Goupil coldly. Savinien lost patience. He
applied a blow upon the man’s face which echoed through the courtyard
and nearly knocked him down, making Savinien himself stagger.

“It is only what I deserve,” said Goupil, “for committing such a folly.
I thought you more noble than you are. You have abused the advantage I
gave you. You are in my power now,” he added with a look of hatred.

“You are a murderer!” said Savinien.

“No more than a dagger is a murderer.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Savinien.

“Are you revenged enough?” said Goupil, with ferocious irony; “will you
stop here?”

“Reciprocal pardon and forgetfulness,” replied Savinien.

“Give me your hand,” said the clerk, holding out his own.

“It is yours,” said Savinien, swallowing the shame for Ursula’s sake.
“Now speak; who made you do this thing?”

Goupil looked into the scales as it were; on one side was Savinien’s
blow, on the other his hatred against Minoret. For a second he was
undecided; then a voice said to him: “You will be notary!” and he
answered:--

“Pardon and forgetfulness? Yes, on both sides, monsieur--”

“Who is persecuting Ursula?” persisted Savinien.

“Minoret. He would have liked to see her buried. Why? I can’t tell you
that; but we might find out the reason. Don’t mix me up in all this;
I could do nothing to help you if the others distrusted me. Instead of
annoying Ursula I will defend her; instead of serving Minoret I will
try to defeat his schemes. I live only to ruin him, to destroy him--I’ll
crush him under foot, I’ll dance on his carcass, I’ll make his bones
into dominoes! To-morrow, every wall in Nemours and Fontainebleau and
Rouvre shall blaze with the letters, ‘Minoret is a thief!’ Yes, I’ll
burst him like a gun--There! we’re allies now by the imprudence of that
outbreak! If you choose I’ll beg Mademoiselle Mirouet’s pardon and tell
her I curse the madness which impelled me to injure her. It may do her
good; the abbe and the justice are both there; but Monsieur Bongrand
must promise on his honor not to injure my career. I have a career now.”

“Wait a minute;” said Savinien, bewildered by the revelation.

“Ursula, my child,” he said, returning to the salon, “the author of all
your troubles is ashamed of his work; he repents and wishes to ask
your pardon in presence of these gentlemen, on condition that all be
forgotten.”

“What! Goupil?” cried the abbe, the justice, and the doctor, all
together.

“Keep his secret,” said Ursula, putting a finger on her lips.

Goupil heard the words, saw the gesture, and was touched.

“Mademoiselle,” he said in a troubled voice, “I wish that all Nemours
could hear me tell you that a fatal passion has bewildered my brain and
led me to commit a crime punishable by the blame of honest men. What I
say now I would be willing to say everywhere, deploring the harm done
by such miserable tricks--which may have hastened your happiness,” he
added, rather maliciously, “for I see that Madame de Portenduere is with
you.”

“That is all very well, Goupil,” said the abbe, “Mademoiselle forgives
you; but you must not forget that you came near being her murderer.”

“Monsieur Bongrand,” said Goupil, addressing the justice of peace. “I
shall negotiate to-night for Lecoeur’s practice; I hope the reparation
I have now made will not injure me with you, and that you will back my
petition to the bar and the ministry.”

Bongrand made a thoughtful inclination of his head; and Goupil left
the house to negotiate on the best terms he could for the sheriff’s
practice. The others remained with Ursula and did their best to restore
the peace and tranquillity of her mind, already much relieved by
Goupil’s confession.

“You see, my child, that God was not against you,” said the abbe.

Minoret came home late from Rouvre. About nine o’clock he was sitting
in the Chinese pagoda digesting his dinner beside his wife, with whom
he was making plans for Desire’s future. Desire had become very sedate
since entering the magistracy; he worked hard, and it was not unlikely
that he would succeed the present procureur du roi at Fontainebleau,
who, they said, was to be advanced to Melun. His parents felt that they
must find him a wife,--some poor girl belonging to an old and noble
family; he would then make his way to the magistracy of Paris. Perhaps
they could get him elected deputy from Fontainebleau, where Zelie was
proposing to pass the winter after living at Rouvre for the summer
season. Minoret, inwardly congratulating himself for having managed his
affairs so well, no longer thought or cared about Ursula, at the very
moment when the drama so heedlessly begun by him was closing down upon
him in a terrible manner.

“Monsieur de Portenduere is here and wishes to speak to you,” said
Cabirolle.

“Show him in,” answered Zelie.

The twilight shadows prevented Madame Minoret from noticing the sudden
pallor of her husband, who shuddered as he heard Savinien’s boots on
the floor of the gallery, where the doctor’s library used to be. A vague
presentiment of danger ran through the robber’s veins. Savinien entered
and remaining standing, with his hat on his head, his cane in his hand,
and both hands crossed in front of him, motionless before the husband
and wife.

“I have come to ascertain, Monsieur and Madame Minoret,” he said, “your
reasons for tormenting in an infamous manner a young lady who, as the
whole town knows, is to be my wife. Why have you endeavored to tarnish
her honor? why have you wished to kill her? why did you deliver her over
to Goupil’s insults?--Answer!”

“How absurd you are, Monsieur Savinien,” said Zelie, “to come and ask us
the meaning of a thing we think inexplicable. I bother myself as little
about Ursula as I do about the year one. Since Uncle Minoret died I’ve
not thought of her more than I do of my first tooth. I’ve never said
one word about her to Goupil, who is, moreover, a queer rogue whom I
wouldn’t think of consulting about even a dog. Why don’t you speak up,
Minoret? Are you going to let monsieur box your ears in that way
and accuse you of wickedness that’s beneath you? As if a man with
forty-eight thousand francs a year from landed property, and a castle
fit for a prince, would stoop to such things! Get up, and don’t sit
there like a wet rag!”

“I don’t know what monsieur means,” said Minoret in his squeaking voice,
the trembling of which was all the more noticeable because the voice
was clear. “What object could I have in persecuting the girl? I may have
said to Goupil how annoyed I was at seeing her in Nemours. My son Desire
fell in love with her, and I didn’t want him to marry her, that’s all.”

“Goupil has confessed everything, Monsieur Minoret.”

There was a moment’s silence, but it was terrible, when all three
persons examined one another. Zelie saw a nervous quiver on the heavy
face of her colossus.

“Though you are only insects,” said the young nobleman, “I will make
you feel my vengeance. It is not from you, Monsieur Minoret, a
man sixty-eight years of age, but from your son that I shall seek
satisfaction for the insults offered to Mademoiselle Mirouet. The first
time he sets his foot in Nemours we shall meet. He must fight me; he
will do so, or be dishonored and never dare to show his face again. If
he does not come to Nemours I shall go to Fontainebleau, for I will have
satisfaction. It shall never be said that you were tamely allowed to
dishonor a defenceless young girl--”

“But the calumnies of a Goupil--are--not--” began Minoret.

“Do you wish me to bring him face to face with you? Believe me, you had
better hush up this affair; it lies between you and Goupil and me. Leave
it as it is; God will decide between us and when I meet your son.”

“But this sha’n’t go one!” cried Zelie. “Do you suppose I’ll stand
by and let Desire fight you,--a sailor whose business it is to handle
swords and guns? If you’ve got any cause of complaint against Minoret,
there’s Minoret; take Minoret, fight Minoret! But do you think my boy,
who, by your own account, knew nothing of all this, is going to bear
the brunt of it? No, my little gentleman! somebody’s teeth will pin your
legs first! Come, Minoret, don’t stand staring there like a big canary;
you are in your own house, and you allow a man to keep his hat on before
your wife! I say he shall go. Now, monsieur, be off! a man’s house is
his castle. I don’t know what you mean with your nonsense, but show
me your heels, and if you dare touch Desire you’ll have to answer to
_me_,--you and your minx Ursula.”

She rang the bell violently and called to the servants.

“Remember what I have said to you,” repeated Savinien to Minoret, paying
no attention to Zelie’s tirade. Suspending the sword of Damocles over
their heads, he left the room.

“Now, then, Minoret,” said Zelie, “you will explain to me what this all
means. A young man doesn’t rush into a house and make an uproar like
that and demand the blood of a family for nothing.”

“It’s some mischief of that vile Goupil,” said the colossus. “I promised
to help him buy a practice if he would get me the Rouvre property cheap.
I gave him ten per cent on the cost, twenty thousand francs in a note,
and I suppose he isn’t satisfied.”

“Yes, but why did he get up those serenades and the scandals against
Ursula?”

“He wanted to marry her.”

“A girl without a penny! the sly thing! Now Minoret, you are telling me
lies, and you are too much of a fool, my son, to make me believe them.
There is something under all this, and you are going to tell me what it
is.”

“There’s nothing.”

“Nothing? I tell you you lie, and I shall find it out.”

“Do let me alone!”

“I’ll turn the faucet of that fountain of venom, Goupil--whom you’re
afraid of--and we’ll see who gets the best of it then.”

“Just as you choose.”

“I know very well it will be as I choose! and what I choose first and
foremost is that no harm shall come to Desire. If anything happens to
him, mark you, I’ll do something that may send me to the scaffold--and
you, you haven’t any feeling about him--”

A quarrel thus begun between Minoret and his wife was sure not to
end without a long and angry strife. So at the moment of his
self-satisfaction the foolish robber found his inward struggle against
himself and against Ursula revived by his own fault, and complicated
with a new and terrible adversary. The next day, when he left the house
early to find Goupil and try to appease him with additional money, the
walls were already placarded with the words: “Minoret is a thief.” All
those whom he met commiserated him and asked him who was the author of
the anonymous placard. Fortunately for him, everybody made allowance for
his equivocal replies by reflecting on his utter stupidity; fools get
more advantage from their weakness than able men from their strength.
The world looks on at a great man battling against fate, and does not
help him, but it supplies the capital of a grocer who may fail and lose
all. Why? Because men like to feel superior in protecting an incapable,
and are displeased at not feeling themselves the equal of a man of
genius. A clever man would have been lost in public estimation had he
stammered, as Minoret did, evasive and foolish answers with a frightened
air. Zelie sent her servants to efface the vindictive words wherever
they were found; but the effect of them on Minoret’s conscience still
remained.

The result of his interview with his assailant was soon apparent. Though
Goupil had concluded his bargain with the sheriff the night before, he
now impudently refused to fulfil it.

“My dear Lecoeur,” he said, “I am unexpectedly enabled to buy up
Monsieur Dionis’s practice; I am therefore in a position to help you
to sell to others. Tear up the agreement; it’s only the loss of two
stamps,--here are seventy centimes.”

Lecoeur was too much afraid of Goupil to complain. All Nemours knew
before night that Minoret had given Dionis security to enable Goupil
to buy his practice. The latter wrote to Savinien denying his charges
against Minoret, and telling the young nobleman that in his new position
he was forbidden by the rules of the supreme court, and also by his
respect for law, to fight a duel. But he warned Savinien to treat him
well in future; assuring him he was a capital boxer, and would break his
leg at the first offence.

The walls of Nemours were cleared of the inscription; but the quarrel
between Minoret and his wife went on; and Savinien maintained a
threatening silence. Ten days after these events the marriage of
Mademoiselle Massin, the elder, to the future notary was bruited about
the town. Mademoiselle Massin had a dowry of eighty thousand francs and
her own peculiar ugliness; Goupil had his deformities and his practice;
the union therefore seemed suitable and probable. One evening, towards
midnight, two unknown men seized Goupil in the street as he was leaving
Massin’s house, gave him a sound beating, and disappeared. The notary
kept the matter a profound secret, and even contradicted an old woman
who saw the scene from her window and thought that she recognized him.

These great little events were carefully studied by Bongrand, who became
convinced that Goupil held some mysterious power over Minoret, and he
determined to find out its cause.



CHAPTER XIX. APPARITIONS

Though the public opinion of the little town recognized Ursula’s perfect
innocence, she recovered slowly. While in a state of bodily exhaustion,
which left her mind and spirit free, she became the medium of phenomena
the effects of which were astounding, and of a nature to challenge
science, if science had been brought into contact with them.

Ten days after Madame de Portenduere’s visit Ursula had a dream, with
all the characteristics of a supernatural vision, as much in its moral
aspects as in the, so to speak, physical circumstances. Her godfather
appeared to her and made a sign that she should come with him. She
dressed herself and followed him through the darkness to their former
house in the Rue des Bourgeois, where she found everything precisely as
it was on the day of her godfather’s death. The old man wore the clothes
that were on him the evening before his death. His face was pale,
his movements caused no sound; nevertheless, Ursula heard his voice
distinctly, though it was feeble and as if repeated by a distant echo.
The doctor conducted his child as far as the Chinese pagoda, where he
made her lift the marble top of the little Boule cabinet just as she had
raised it on the day of his death; but instead of finding nothing there
she saw the letter her godfather had told her to fetch. She opened it
and read both the letter addressed to herself and the will in favor
of Savinien. The writing, as she afterwards told the abbe, shone as if
traced by sunbeams--“it burned my eyes,” she said. When she looked
at her uncle to thank him she saw the old benevolent smile upon his
discolored lips. Then, in a feeble voice, but still clearly, he told her
to look at Minoret, who was listening in the corridor to what he said to
her; and next, slipping the lock of the library door with his knife, and
taking the papers from the study. With his right hand the old man seized
his goddaughter and obliged her to walk at the pace of death and follow
Minoret to his own house. Ursula crossed the town, entered the post
house and went into Zelie’s old room, where the spectre showed her
Minoret unfolding the letters, reading them and burning them.

“He could not,” said Ursula, telling her dream to the abbe, “light the
first two matches, but the third took fire; he burned the papers and
buried their remains in the ashes. Then my godfather brought me back to
our house, and I saw Minoret-Levrault slipping into the library, where
he took from the third volume of Pandects three certificates of twelve
thousand francs each; also, from the preceding volume, a number of
banknotes. ‘He is,’ said my godfather, ‘the cause of all the trouble
which has brought you to the verge of the tomb; but God wills that you
shall yet be happy. You will not die now; you will marry Savinien.
If you love me, and if you love Savinien, I charge you to demand your
fortune from my nephew. Swear it.’”

Resplendent as though transfigured, the spectre had so powerful an
influence on Ursula’s soul that she promised all her uncle asked, hoping
to put an end to the nightmare. She woke suddenly and found herself
standing in the middle of her bedroom, facing her godfather’s portrait,
which had been placed there during her illness. She went back to bed and
fell asleep after much agitation, and on waking again she remembered all
the particulars of this singular vision; but she dared not speak of it.
Her judgment and her delicacy both shrank from revealing a dream the
end and object of which was her pecuniary benefit. She attributed the
vision, not unnaturally, to remarks made by La Bougival the preceding
evening, when the old woman talked of the doctor’s intended liberality
and of her own convictions on that subject. But the dream returned, with
aggravated circumstances which made it fearful to the poor girl. On
the second occasion the icy hand of her godfather was laid upon her
shoulder, causing her the most horrible distress, an indefinable
sensation. “You must obey the dead,” he said, in a sepulchral voice.
“Tears,” said Ursula, relating her dreams, “fell from his white,
wide-open eyes.”

The third time the vision came the dead man took her by the braids of
her long hair and showed her the post master talking with Goupil and
promising money if he would remove Ursula to Sens. Ursula then decided
to relate the three dreams to the Abbe Chaperon.

“Monsieur l’abbe,” she said, “do you believe that the dead reappear?”

“My child, sacred history, profane history, and modern history, have
much testimony to that effect; but the Church has never made it an
article of faith; and as for science, in France science laughs at the
idea.”

“What do _you_ believe?”

“That the power of God is infinite.”

“Did my godfather ever speak to you of such matters?”

“Yes, often. He had entirely changed his views of them. His conversion,
as he told me at least twenty times, dated from the day when a woman in
Paris heard you praying for him in Nemours, and saw the red dot you made
against Saint-Savinien’s day in your almanac.”

Ursula uttered a piercing cry, which alarmed the priest; she remembered
the scene when, on returning to Nemours, her godfather read her soul,
and took away the almanac.

“If that is so,” she said, “then my visions are possibly true. My
godfather has appeared to me, as Jesus appeared to his disciples. He was
wrapped in yellow light; he spoke to me. I beg you to say a mass for the
repose of his soul and to implore the help of God that these visions may
cease, for they are destroying me.”

She then related the three dreams with all their details, insisting
on the truth of what she said, on her own freedom of action, on the
somnambulism of her inner being, which, she said, detached itself from
her body at the bidding of the spectre and followed him with perfect
ease. The thing that most surprised the abbe, to whom Ursula’s veracity
was known, was the exact description which she gave of the bedroom
formerly occupied by Zelie at the post house, which Ursula had never
entered and about which no one had ever spoken to her.

“By what means can these singular apparitions take place?” asked Ursula.
“What did my godfather think?”

“Your godfather, my dear child, argued my hypothesis. He recognized
the possibility of a spiritual world, a world of ideas. If ideas are of
man’s creation, if they subsist in a life of their own, they must have
forms which our external senses cannot grasp, but which are perceptible
to our inward senses when brought under certain conditions. Thus your
godfather’s ideas might so enfold you that you would clothe them with
his bodily presence. Then, if Minoret really committed those actions,
they too resolve themselves into ideas; for all action is the result
of many ideas. Now, if ideas live and move in a spiritual world, your
spirit must be able to perceive them if it penetrates that world. These
phenomena are not more extraordinary than those of memory; and those of
memory are quite as amazing and inexplicable as those of the perfume of
plants--which are perhaps the ideas of the plants.”

“How you enlarge and magnify the world!” exclaimed Ursula. “But to hear
the dead speak, to see them walk, act--do you think it possible?”

“In Sweden,” replied the abbe, “Swedenborg has proved by evidence that
he communicated with the dead. But come with me into the library and
you shall read in the life of the famous Duc de Montmorency, beheaded
at Toulouse, and who certainly was not a man to invent foolish tales,
an adventure very like yours, which happened a hundred years earlier at
Cardan.”

Ursula and the abbe went upstairs, and the good man hunted up a little
edition in 12mo, printed in Paris in 1666, of the “History of Henri
de Montmorency,” written by a priest of that period who had known the
prince.

“Read it,” said the abbe, giving Ursula the volume, which he had opened
at the 175th page. “Your godfather often re-read that passage,--and see!
here’s a little of his snuff in it.”

“And he not here!” said Ursula, taking the volume to read the passage.

  “The siege of Privat was remarkable for the loss of a great number
  of officers. Two brigadier-generals died there--namely, the
  Marquis d’Uxelles, of a wound received at the outposts, and the
  Marquis de Portes, from a musket-shot through the head. The day
  the latter was killed he was to have been made a marshal of
  France. About the moment when the marquis expired the Duc de
  Montmorency, who was sleeping in his tent, was awakened by a voice
  like that of the marquis bidding him farewell. The affection he
  felt for a friend so near made him attribute the illusion of this
  dream to the force of his own imagination; and owing to the
  fatigues of the night, which he had spent, according to his
  custom, in the trenches, he fell asleep once more without any
  sense of dread. But the same voice disturbed him again, and the
  phantom obliged him to wake up and listen to the same words it had
  said as it first passed. The duke then recollected that he had
  heard the philosopher Pitrat discourse on the possibility of the
  separation of the soul from the body, and that he and the marquis
  had agreed that the first who died should bid adieu to the other.
  On which, not being able to restrain his fears as to the truth of
  this warning, he sent a servant to the marquis’s quarters, which
  were distant from him. But before the man could get back, the king
  sent to inform the duke, by persons fitted to console him, of the
  great loss he had sustained.

  “I leave learned men to discuss the cause of this event, which I
  have frequently heard the Duc de Montmorency relate: I think that
  the truth and singularity of the fact itself ought to be recorded
  and preserved.”

“If all this is so,” said Ursula, “what ought I do do?”

“My child,” said the abbe, “it concerns matters so important, and which
may prove so profitable to you, that you ought to keep absolutely
silent about it. Now that you have confided to me the secret of these
apparitions perhaps they may not return. Besides, you are now strong
enough to come to church; well, then, come to-morrow and thank God and
pray to him for the repose of your godfather’s soul. Feel quite sure
that you have entrusted your secret to prudent hands.”

“If you knew how afraid I am to go to sleep,--what glances my godfather
gives me! The last time he caught hold of my dress--I awoke with my face
all covered with tears.”

“Be at peace; he will not come again,” said the priest.

Without losing a moment the Abbe Chaperon went straight to Minoret and
asked for a few moments interview in the Chinese pagoda, requesting that
they might be entirely alone.

“Can any one hear us?” he asked.

“No one,” replied Minoret.

“Monsieur, my character must be known to you,” said the abbe, fastening
a gentle but attentive look on Minoret’s face. “I have to speak to you
of serious and extraordinary matters, which concern you, and about which
you may be sure that I shall keep the profoundest secrecy; but it is
impossible for me to do otherwise than give you this information. While
your uncle lived, there stood there,” said the priest, pointing to a
certain spot in the room, “a small buffet made by Boule, with a marble
top” (Minoret turned livid), “and beneath the marble your uncle placed
a letter for Ursula--” The abbe then went on to relate, without omitting
the smallest circumstance, Minoret’s conduct to Minoret himself. When
the last post master heard the detail of the two matches refusing to
light he felt his hair begin to writhe on his skull.

“Who invented such nonsense?” he said, in a strangled voice, when the
tale ended.

“The dead man himself.”

This answer made Minoret tremble, for he himself had dreamed of the
doctor.

“God is very good, Monsieur l’abbe, to do miracles for me,” he said,
danger inspiring him to make the sole jest of his life.

“All that God does is natural,” replied the priest.

“Your phantoms don’t frighten me,” said the colossus, recovering his
coolness.

“I did not come to frighten you, for I shall never speak of this to any
one in the world,” said the abbe. “You alone know the truth. The matter
is between you and God.”

“Come now, Monsieur l’abbe, do you really think me capable of such a
horrible abuse of confidence?”

“I believe only in crimes which are confessed to me, and of which the
sinner repents,” said the priest, in an apostolic tone.

“Crime?” cried Minoret.

“A crime frightful in its consequences.”

“What consequences?”

“In the fact that it escapes human justice. The crimes which are not
expiated here below will be punished in another world. God himself
avenges innocence.”

“Do you think God concerns himself with such trifles?”

“If he did not see the worlds in all their details at a glance, as you
take a landscape into your eye, he would not be God.”

“Monsieur l’abbe, will you give me your word of honor that you have had
these facts from my uncle?”

“Your uncle has appeared three times to Ursula and has told them and
repeated them to her. Exhausted by such visions she revealed them to me
privately; she considers them so devoid of reason that she will never
speak of them. You may make yourself easy on that point.”

“I am easy on all points, Monsieur Chaperon.”

“I hope you are,” said the old priest. “Even if I considered these
warnings absurd, I should still feel bound to inform you of them,
considering the singular nature of the details. You are an honest man,
and you have obtained your handsome fortune in too legal a way to wish
to add to it by theft. Besides, you are an almost primitive man, and
you would be tortured by remorse. We have within us, be we savage or
civilized, the sense of what is right, and this will not permit us to
enjoy in peace ill-gotten gains acquired against the laws of the society
in which we live,--for well-constituted societies are modeled on the
system God has ordained for the universe. In this respect societies have
a divine origin. Man does not originate ideas, he invents no form;
he answers to the eternal relations that surround him on all sides.
Therefore, see what happens! Criminals going to the scaffold, and having
it in their power to carry their secret with them, are compelled by the
force of some mysterious power to make confessions before their heads
are taken off. Therefore, Monsieur Minoret, if your mind is at ease, I
go my way satisfied.”

Minoret was so stupefied that he allowed the abbe to find his own way
out. When he thought himself alone he flew into the fury of a choleric
man; the strangest blasphemies escaped his lips, in which Ursula’s name
was mingled with odious language.

“Why, what has she done to you?” cried Zelie, who had slipped in on
tiptoe after seeing the abbe out of the house.

For the first and only time in his life, Minoret, drunk with anger and
driven to extremities by his wife’s reiterated questions, turned
upon her and beat her so violently that he was obliged, when she fell
half-dead on the floor, to take her in his arms and put her to bed
himself, ashamed of his act. He was taken ill and the doctor bled him
twice; when he appeared again in the streets everybody noticed a great
change in him. He walked alone, and often roamed the town as though
uneasy. When any one addressed him he seemed preoccupied in his mind, he
who had never before had two ideas in his head. At last, one evening, he
went up to Monsieur Bongrand in the Grand’Rue, the latter being on his
way to take Ursula to Madame de Portenduere’s, where the whist parties
had begun again.

“Monsieur Bongrand, I have something important to say to my cousin,” he
said, taking the justice by the arm, “and I am very glad you should be
present, for you can advise her.”

They found Ursula studying; she rose, with a cold and dignified air, as
soon as she saw Minoret.

“My child, Monsieur Minoret wants to speak to you on a matter of
business,” said Bongrand. “By the bye, don’t forget to give me your
certificates; I shall go to Paris in the morning and will draw your
dividend and La Bougival’s.”

“Cousin,” said Minoret, “our uncle accustomed you to more luxury than
you have now.”

“We can be very happy with very little money,” she replied.

“I thought money might help your happiness,” continued Minoret, “and I
have come to offer you some, out of respect for the memory of my uncle.”

“You had a natural way of showing respect for him,” said Ursula,
sternly; “you could have left his house as it was, and allowed me to
buy it; instead of that you put it at a high price, hoping to find some
hidden treasure in it.”

“But,” said Minoret, evidently troubled, “if you had twelve thousand
francs a year you would be in a position to marry well.”

“I have not got them.”

“But suppose I give them to you, on condition of your buying an estate
in Brittany near Madame de Portenduere,--you could then marry her son.”

“Monsieur Minoret,” said Ursula, “I have no claim to that money, and I
cannot accept it from you. We are scarcely relations, still less are
we friends. I have suffered too much from calumny to give a handle for
evil-speaking. What have I done to deserve that money? What reason have
you to make me such a present? These questions, which I have a right to
ask, persons will answer as they see fit; some would consider your gift
the reparation of a wrong, and, as such, I choose not to accept it.
Your uncle did not bring me up to ignoble feelings. I can accept nothing
except from friends, and I have no friendship for you.”

“Then you refuse?” cried the colossus, into whose head the idea had
never entered that a fortune could be rejected.

“I refuse,” said Ursula.

“But what grounds have you for offering Mademoiselle Ursula such a
fortune?” asked Bongrand, looking fixedly at Minoret. “You have an
idea--have you an idea?--”

“Well, yes, the idea of getting her out of Nemours, so that my son will
leave me in peace; he is in love with her and wants to marry her.”

“Well, we’ll see about it,” said Bongrand, settling his spectacles.
“Give us time to think it over.”

He walked home with Minoret, applauding the solicitude shown by the
father for his son’s interests, and slightly blaming Ursula for her
hasty decision. As soon as Minoret was within his own gate, Bongrand
went to the post house, borrowed a horse and cabriolet, and started for
Fontainebleau, where he went to see the deputy procureur, and was
told that he was spending the evening at the house of the sub-prefect.
Bongrand, delighted, followed him there. Desire was playing whist with
the wife of the procureur du roi, the wife of the sub-prefect, and the
colonel of the regiment in garrison.

“I come to bring you some good news,” said Bongrand to Desire; “you love
your cousin Ursula, and the marriage can be arranged.”

“I love Ursula Mirouet!” cried Desire, laughing. “Where did you get that
idea? I do remember seeing her sometimes at the late Doctor Minoret’s;
she certainly is a beauty; but she is dreadfully pious. I certainly took
notice of her charms, but I must say I never troubled my head seriously
for that rather insipid little blonde,” he added, smiling at the
sub-prefect’s wife (who was a piquante brunette--to use a term of the
last century). “You are dreaming, my dear Monsieur Bongrand; I thought
every one knew that my father was a lord of a manor, with a rent roll
of forty-five thousand francs a year from lands around his chateau at
Rouvre,--good reasons why I should not love the goddaughter of my late
great-uncle. If I were to marry a girl without a penny these ladies
would consider me a fool.”

“Have you never tormented your father to let you marry Ursula?”

“Never.”

“You hear that, monsieur?” said the justice to the procureur du roi,
who had been listening to the conversation, leading him aside into the
recess of a window, where they remained in conversation for a quarter of
an hour.

An hour later Bongrand was back in Nemours, at Ursula’s house, whence he
sent La Bougival to Minoret to beg his attendance. The colossus came at
once.

“Mademoiselle--” began Bongrand, addressing Minoret as he entered the
room.

“Accepts?” cried Minoret, interrupting him.

“No, not yet,” replied Bongrand, fingering his glasses. “I had scruples
as to your son’s feelings; for Ursula has been much tried lately about a
supposed lover. We know the importance of tranquillity. Can you swear
to me that your son truly loves her and that you have no other intention
than to preserve our dear Ursula from any further Goupilisms?”

“Oh, I’ll swear to that,” cried Minoret.

“Stop, papa Minoret,” said the justice, taking one hand from the pocket
of his trousers to slap Minoret on the shoulder (the colossus trembled);
“Don’t swear falsely.”

“Swear falsely?”

“Yes, either you or your son, who has just sworn at Fontainebleau, in
presence of four persons and the procureur du roi, that he has never
even thought of his cousin Ursula. You have other reasons for offering
this fortune. I saw you were inventing that tale, and went myself to
Fontainebleau to question your son.”

Minoret was dumbfounded at his own folly.

“But where’s the harm, Monsieur Bongrand, in proposing to a young
relative to help on a marriage which seems to be for her happiness, and
to invent pretexts to conquer her reluctance to accept the money.”

Minoret, whose danger suggested to him an excuse which was almost
admissible, wiped his forehead, wet with perspiration.

“You know the cause of my refusal,” said Ursula; “and I request you
never to come here again. Though Monsieur de Portenduere has not told
me his reason, I know that he feels such contempt for you, such dislike
even, that I cannot receive you into my house. My happiness is my only
fortune,--I do not blush to say so; I shall not risk it. Monsieur de
Portenduere is only waiting for my majority to marry me.”

“Then the old saw that ‘Money does all’ is a lie,” said Minoret, looking
at the justice of peace, whose observing eyes annoyed him so much.

He rose and left the house, but, once outside, he found the air as
oppressive as in the little salon.

“There must be an end put to this,” he said to himself as he re-entered
his own home.

When Ursula came down, bring her certificates and those of La Bougival,
she found Monsieur Bongrand walking up and down the salon with great
strides.

“Have you no idea what the conduct of that huge idiot means?” he said.

“None that I can tell,” she replied.

Bongrand looked at her with inquiring surprise.

“Then we have the same idea,” he said. “Here, keep the number of
your certificates, in case I lose them; you should always take that
precaution.”

Bongrand himself wrote the number of the two certificates, hers and that
of La Bougival, and gave them to her.

“Adieu, my child, I shall be gone two days, but you will see me on the
third.”

That night the apparition appeared to Ursula in a singular manner. She
thought her bed was in the cemetery of Nemours, and that her uncle’s
grave was at the foot of it. The white stone, on which she read the
inscription, opened, like the cover of an oblong album. She uttered a
piercing cry, but the doctor’s spectre slowly rose. First she saw his
yellow head, with its fringe of white hair, which shone as if surmounted
by a halo. Beneath the bald forehead the eyes were like two gleams of
light; the dead man rose as if impelled by some superior force or will.
Ursula’s body trembled; her flesh was like a burning garment, and there
was (as she subsequently said) another self moving within her bodily
presence. “Mercy!” she cried, “mercy, godfather!” “It is too late,” he
said, in the voice of death,--to use the poor girl’s own expression when
she related this new dream to the abbe. “He has been warned; he has paid
no heed to the warning. The days of his son are numbered. If he does not
confess all and restore what he has taken within a certain time he must
lose his son, who will die a violent and horrible death. Let him know
this.” The spectre pointed to a line of figures which gleamed upon the
side of the tomb as if written with fire, and said, “There is his doom.”
 When her uncle lay down again in his grave Ursula heard the sound of
the stone falling back into its place, and immediately after, in the
distance, a strange sound of horses and the cries of men.

The next day Ursula was prostrate. She could not rise, so terribly had
the dream overcome her. She begged her nurse to find the Abbe Chaperon
and bring him to her. The good priest came as soon as he had said mass,
but he was not surprised at Ursula’s revelation. He believed the robbery
had been committed, and no longer tried to explain to himself the
abnormal condition of his “little dreamer.” He left Ursula at once and
went directly to Minoret’s.

“Monsieur l’abbe,” said Zelie, “my husband’s temper is so soured I don’t
know what he mightn’t do. Until now he’s been a child; but for the last
two months he’s not the same man. To get angry enough to strike me--me,
so gentle! There must be something dreadful the matter to change him
like that. You’ll find him among the rocks; he spends all his time
there,--doing what, I’d like to know?”

In spite of the heat (it was then September, 1836), the abbe crossed the
canal and took a path which led to the base of one of the rocks, where
he saw Minoret.

“You are greatly troubled, Monsieur Minoret,” said the priest going
up to him. “You belong to me because you suffer. Unhappily, I come to
increase your pain. Ursula had a terrible dream last night. Your uncle
lifted the stone from his grave and came forth to prophecy a great
disaster in your family. I certainly am not here to frighten you; but
you ought to know what he said--”

“I can’t be easy anywhere, Monsieur Chaperon, not even among these
rocks, and I’m sure I don’t want to know anything that is going on in
another world.”

“Then I will leave you, monsieur; I did not take this hot walk for
pleasure,” said the abbe, mopping his forehead.

“Well, what do you want to say?” demanded Minoret.

“You are threatened with the loss of your son. If the dead man told
things that you alone know, one must needs tremble when he tells things
that no one can know till they happen. Make restitution, I say, make
restitution. Don’t damn your soul for a little money.”

“Restitution of what?”

“The fortune the doctor intended for Ursula. You took those three
certificates--I know it now. You began by persecuting that poor girl,
and you end by offering her a fortune; you have stumbled into lies, you
have tangled yourself up in this net, and you are taking false steps
every day. You are very clumsy and unskilful; your accomplice Goupil has
served you ill; he simply laughs at you. Make haste and clear your
mind, for you are watched by intelligent and penetrating eyes,--those of
Ursula’s friends. Make restitution! and if you do not save your son (who
may not really be threatened), you will save your soul, and you will
save your honor. Do you believe that in a society like ours, in a little
town like this, where everybody’s eyes are everywhere, and all things
are guessed and all things are known, you can long hide a stolen
fortune? Come, my son, an innocent man wouldn’t have let me talk so
long.”

“Go to the devil!” cried Minoret. “I don’t know what you _all_ mean by
persecuting me. I prefer these stones--they leave me in peace.”

“Farewell, then; I have warned you. Neither the poor girl nor I have
said a single word about this to any living person. But take care--there
is a man who has his eye upon you. May God have pity upon you!”

The abbe departed; presently he turned back to look at Minoret. The
man was holding his head in his hands as if it troubled him; he was,
in fact, partly crazy. In the first place, he had kept the three
certificates because he did not know what to do with them. He dared not
draw the money himself for fear it should be noticed; he did not wish
to sell them, and was still trying to find some way of transferring the
certificates. In this horrible state of uncertainty he bethought him of
acknowledging all to his wife and getting her advice. Zelie, who always
managed affairs for him so well, she could get him out of his troubles.
The three-per-cent Funds were now selling at eighty. Restitution! why,
that meant, with arrearages, giving up a million! Give up a million,
when there was no one who could know that he had taken it--!

So Minoret continued through September and a part of October irresolute
and a prey to his torturing thoughts. To the great surprise of the
little town he grew thin and haggard.



CHAPTER XX. REMORSE

An alarming circumstance hastened the confession which Minoret was
inclined to make to Zelie; the sword of Damocles began to move above
their heads. Towards the middle of October Monsieur and Madame Minoret
received from their son Desire the following letter:--

  My dear Mother,--If I have not been to see you since vacation, it
  is partly because I have been on duty during the absence of my
  chief, but also because I knew that Monsieur de Portenduere was
  waiting my arrival at Nemours, to pick a quarrel with me. Tired,
  perhaps, of seeing his vengeance on our family delayed, the
  viscount came to Fontainebleau, where he had appointed one of his
  Parisian friends to meet him, having already obtained the help of
  the Vicomte de Soulanges commanding the troop of cavalry here in
  garrison.

  He called upon me, very politely, accompanied by the two
  gentlemen, and told me that my father was undoubtedly the
  instigator of the malignant persecutions against Ursula Mirouet,
  his future wife; he gave me proofs, and told me of Goupil’s
  confession before witnesses. He also told me of my father’s
  conduct, first in refusing to pay Goupil the price agreed on for
  his wicked invention, and next, out of fear of Goupil’s malignity,
  going security to Monsieur Dionis for the price of his practice
  which Goupil is to have.

  The viscount, not being able to fight a man sixty-seven years of
  age, and being determined to have satisfaction for the insults
  offered to Ursula, demanded it formally of me. His determination,
  having been well-weighed and considered, could not be shaken. If I
  refused, he was resolved to meet me in society before persons
  whose esteem I value, and insult me openly. In France, a coward is
  unanimously scorned. Besides, the motives for demanding reparation
  should be explained by honorable men. He said he was sorry to
  resort to such extremities. His seconds declared it would be wiser
  in me to arrange a meeting in the usual manner among men of honor,
  so that Ursula Mirouet might not be known as the cause of the
  quarrel; to avoid all scandal it was better to make a journey to
  the nearest frontier. In short, my seconds met his yesterday, and
  they unanimously agreed that I owed him reparation. A week from
  to-day I leave for Geneva with my two friends. Monsieur de
  Portenduere, Monsieur de Soulanges, and Monsieur de Trailles will
  meet me there.

  The preliminaries of the duel are settled; we shall fight with
  pistols; each fires three times, and after that, no matter what
  happens, the affair terminates. To keep this degrading matter from
  public knowledge (for I find it impossible to justify my father’s
  conduct) I do not go to see you now, because I dread the violence
  of the emotion to which you would yield and which would not be
  seemly. If I am to make my way in the world I must conform to the
  rules of society. If the son of a viscount has a dozen reasons for
  fighting a duel the son of a post master has a hundred. I shall
  pass the night in Nemours on my way to Geneva, and I will bid you
  good-by then.

After the reading of this letter a scene took place between Zelie and
Minoret which ended in the latter confessing the theft and relating
all the circumstances and the strange scenes connected with it, even
Ursula’s dreams. The million fascinated Zelie quite as much as it did
Minoret.

“You stay quietly here,” Zelie said to her husband, without the
slightest remonstrance against his folly. “I’ll manage the whole thing.
We’ll keep the money, and Desire shall not fight a duel.”

Madame Minoret put on her bonnet and shawl and carried her son’s letter
to Ursula, whom she found alone, as it was about midday. In spite of her
assurance Zelie was discomfited by the cold look which the young girl
gave her. But she took herself to task for her cowardice and assumed an
easy air.

“Here, Mademoiselle Mirouet, do me the kindness to read that and tell me
what you think of it,” she cried, giving Ursula her son’s letter.

Ursula went through various conflicting emotions as she read the letter,
which showed her how truly she was loved and what care Savinien took
of the honor of the woman who was to be his wife; but she had too much
charity and true religion to be willing to be the cause of death or
suffering to her most cruel enemy.

“I promise, madame, to prevent the duel; you may feel perfectly
easy,--but I must request you to leave me this letter.”

“My dear little angel, can we not come to some better arrangement.
Monsieur Minoret and I have acquired property about Rouvre,--a really
regal castle, which gives us forty-eight thousand francs a year; we
shall give Desire twenty-four thousand a year which we have in the
Funds; in all, seventy thousand francs a year. You will admit that there
are not many better matches than he. You are an ambitious girl,--and
quite right too,” added Zelie, seeing Ursula’s quick gesture of denial;
“I have therefore come to ask your hand for Desire. You will bear your
godfather’s name, and that will honor it. Desire, as you must have seen,
is a handsome fellow; he is very much thought of at Fontainebleau, and
he will soon be procureur du roi himself. You are a coaxing girl and
can easily persuade him to live in Paris. We will give you a fine house
there; you will shine; you will play a distinguished part; for, with
seventy thousand francs a year and the salary of an office, you and
Desire can enter the highest society. Consult your friends; you’ll see
what they tell you.”

“I need only consult my heart, madame.”

“Ta, ta, ta! now don’t talk to me about that little lady-killer
Savinien. You’d pay too high a price for his name, and for that little
moustache curled up at the points like two hooks, and his black hair.
How do you expect to manage on seven thousand francs a year, with a
man who made two hundred thousand francs of debt in two years?
Besides--though this is a thing you don’t know yet--all men are alike;
and without flattering myself too much, I may say that my Desire is the
equal of a king’s son.”

“You forget, madame, the danger your son is in at this moment; which
can, perhaps, be averted only by Monsieur de Portenduere’s desire to
please me. If he knew that you had made me these unworthy proposals that
danger might not be escaped. Besides, let me tell you, madame, that I
shall be far happier in the moderate circumstances to which you allude
than I should be in the opulence with which you are trying to dazzle me.
For reasons hitherto unknown, but which will yet be made known, Monsieur
Minoret, by persecuting me in an odious manner, strengthened the
affection that exists between Monsieur de Portenduere and myself--which
I can now admit because his mother has blessed it. I will also tell you
that this affection, sanctioned and legitimate, is life itself to me. No
destiny, however brilliant, however lofty, could make me change. I love
without the possibility of changing. It would therefore be a crime if
I married a man to whom I could take nothing but a soul that is
Savinien’s. But, madame, since you force me to be explicit, I must tell
you that even if I did not love Monsieur de Portenduere I could not
bring myself to bear the troubles and joys of life in the company of
your son. If Monsieur Savinien made debts, you have often paid those
of your son. Our characters have neither the similarities nor
the differences which enable two persons to live together without
bitterness. Perhaps I should not have towards him the forbearance a
wife owes to her husband; I should then be a trial to him. Pray cease to
think of an alliance of which I count myself quite unworthy, and which
I feel I can decline without pain to you; for with the great advantages
you name to me, you cannot fail to find some girl of better station,
more wealth, and more beauty than mine.”

“Will you swear to me,” said Zelie, “to prevent these young men from
taking that journey and fighting that duel?”

“It will be, I foresee, the greatest sacrifice that Monsieur de
Portenduere can make to me, but I shall tell him that my bridal crown
must have no blood upon it.”

“Well, I thank you, cousin, and I can only hope you will be happy.”

“And I, madame, sincerely wish that you may realize all your
expectations for the future of your son.”

These words struck a chill to the heart of the mother, who suddenly
remembered the predictions of Ursula’s last dream; she stood still, her
small eyes fixed on Ursula’s face, so white, so pure, so beautiful in
her mourning dress, for Ursula had risen too to hasten her so-called
cousin’s departure.

“Do you believe in dreams?” said Zelie.

“I suffer from them too much not to do so.”

“But if you do--” began Zelie.

“Adieu, madame,” exclaimed Ursula, bowing to Madame Minoret as she heard
the abbe’s entering step.

The priest was surprised to find Madame Minoret with Ursula. The
uneasiness depicted on the thin and wrinkled face of the former post
mistress induced him to take note of the two women.

“Do you believe in spirits?” Zelie asked him.

“What do you believe in?” he answered, smiling.

“They are all sly,” thought Zelie,--“every one of them! They want to
deceive us. That old priest and the old justice and that young scamp
Savinien have got some plan in their heads. Dreams! no more dreams than
there are hairs on the palm of my hand.”

With two stiff, curt bows she left the room.

“I know why Savinien went to Fontainebleau,” said Ursula to the abbe,
telling him about the duel and begging him to use his influence to
prevent it.

“Did Madame Minoret offer you her son’s hand?” asked the abbe.

“Yes.”

“Minoret has no doubt confessed his crime to her,” added the priest.

Monsieur Bongrand, who came in at this moment, was told of the step
taken by Zelie, whose hatred to Ursula was well known to him. He looked
at the abbe as if to say: “Come out, I want to speak to you of Ursula
without her hearing me.”

“Savinien must be told that you refused eighty thousand francs a year
and the dandy of Nemours,” he said aloud.

“Is it, then, a sacrifice?” she answered, laughing. “Are there
sacrifices when one truly loves? Is it any merit to refuse the son of a
man we all despise? Others may make virtues of their dislikes, but that
ought not to be the morality of a girl brought up by a de Jordy, and the
abbe, and my dear godfather,” she said, looking up at his portrait.

Bongrand took Ursula’s hand and kissed it.

“Do you know what Madame Minoret came about?” said the justice as soon
as they were in the street.

“What?” asked the priest, looking at Bongrand with an air that seemed
merely curious.

“She had some plan for restitution.”

“Then you think--” began the abbe.

“I don’t think, I know; I have the certainty--and see there!”

So saying, Bongrand pointed to Minoret, who was coming towards them on
his way home.

“When I was a lawyer in the criminal courts,” continued Bongrand, “I
naturally had many opportunities to study remorse; but I have never
seen any to equal that of this man. What gives him that flaccidity,
that pallor of the cheeks where the skin was once as tight as a drum and
bursting with the good sound health of a man without a care? What has
put those black circles round his eyes and dulled their rustic vivacity?
Did you ever expect to see lines of care on that forehead? Who would
have supposed that the brain of that colossus could be excited? The man
has felt his heart! I am a judge of remorse, just as you are a judge
of repentance, my dear abbe. That which I have hitherto observed has
developed in men who were awaiting punishment, or enduring it to get
quits with the world; they were either resigned, or breathing vengeance;
but here is remorse without expiation, remorse pure and simple,
fastening on its prey and rending him.”

The judge stopped Minoret and said: “Do you know that Mademoiselle
Mirouet has refused your son’s hand?”

“But,” interposed the abbe, “do not be uneasy; she will prevent the
duel.”

“Ah, then my wife succeeded?” said Minoret. “I am very glad, for it
nearly killed me.”

“You are, indeed, so changed that you are no longer like yourself,”
 remarked Bongrand.

Minoret looked alternately at the two men to see if the priest had
betrayed the dreams; but the abbe’s face was unmoved, expressing only a
calm sadness which reassured the guilty man.

“And it is the more surprising,” went on Monsieur Bongrand, “because
you ought to be filled with satisfaction. You are lord of Rouvre and
all those farms and mills and meadows and--with your investments in the
Funds, you have an income of one hundred thousand francs--”

“I haven’t anything in the Funds,” cried Minoret, hastily.

“Pooh,” said Bongrand; “this is just as it was about your son’s love
for Ursula,--first he denied it, and now he asks her in marriage.
After trying to kill Ursula with sorrow you now want her for a
daughter-in-law. My good friend, you have got some secret in your
pouch.”

Minoret tried to answer; he searched for words and could find nothing
better than:--

“You’re very queer, monsieur. Good-day, gentlemen”; and he turned with a
slow step into the Rue des Bourgeois.

“He has stolen the fortune of our poor Ursula,” said Bongrand, “but how
can we ever find the proof?”

“God may--”

“God has put into us the sentiment that is now appealing to that man;
but all that is merely what is called ‘presumptive,’ and human justice
requires something more.”

The abbe maintained the silence of a priest. As often happens in similar
circumstances, he thought much oftener than he wished to think of the
robbery, now almost admitted by Minoret, and of Savinien’s happiness,
delayed only by Ursula’s loss of fortune--for the old lady had privately
owned to him that she knew she had done wrong in not consenting to the
marriage in the doctor’s lifetime.



CHAPTER XXI. SHOWING HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO STEAL THAT WHICH SEEMS
             VERY EASILY STOLEN

The following day, as the abbe was leaving the altar after saying mass,
a thought struck him with such force that it seemed to him the utterance
of a voice. He made a sign to Ursula to wait for him, and accompanied
her home without having breakfasted.

“My child,” he said, “I want to see the two volumes your godfather
showed you in your dreams--where he said that he placed those
certificates and banknotes.”

Ursula and the abbe went up to the library and took down the third
volume of the Pandects. When the old man opened it he noticed, not
without surprise, a mark left by some enclosure upon the pages, which
still kept the outline of the certificate. In the other volume he found
a sort of hollow made by the long-continued presence of a package, which
had left its traces on the two pages next to it.

“Yes, go up, Monsieur Bongrand,” La Bougival was heard to say, and the
justice of the peace came into the library just as the abbe was putting
on his spectacles to read three numbers in Doctor Minoret’s hand-writing
on the fly-leaf of colored paper with which the binder had lined the
cover of the volume,--figures which Ursula had just discovered.

“What’s the meaning of those figures?” said the abbe; “our dear doctor
was too much of a bibliophile to spoil the fly-leaf of a valuable
volume. Here are three numbers written between a first number preceded
by the letter M and a last number preceded by a U.”

“What are you talking of?” said Bongrand. “Let me see that. Good God!”
 he cried, after a moment’s examination; “it would open the eyes of an
atheist as an actual demonstration of Providence! Human justice is, I
believe, the development of the divine thought which hovers over the
worlds.” He seized Ursula and kissed her forehead. “Oh! my child, you
will be rich and happy, and all through me!”

“What is it?” exclaimed the abbe.

“Oh, monsieur,” cried La Bougival, catching Bongrand’s blue overcoat,
“let me kiss you for what you’ve just said.”

“Explain, explain! don’t give us false hopes,” said the abbe.

“If I bring trouble on others by becoming rich,” said Ursula, forseeing
a criminal trial, “I--”

“Remember,” said the justice, interrupting her, “the happiness you will
give to Savinien.”

“Are you mad?” said the abbe.

“No, my dear friend,” said Bongrand. “Listen; the certificates in the
Funds are issued in series,--as many series as there are letters in
the alphabet; and each number bears the letter of its series. But the
certificates which are made out ‘to bearer’ cannot have a letter; they
are not in any person’s name. What you see there shows that the day the
doctor placed his money in the Funds, he noted down, first, the number
of his own certificate for fifteen thousand francs interest which bears
his initial M; next, the numbers of three inscriptions to bearer; these
are without a letter; and thirdly, the certificate of Ursula’s share in
the Funds, the number of which is 23,534, and which follows, as you see,
that of the fifteen-thousand-franc certificate with lettering. This
goes far to prove that those numbers are those of five certificates of
investments made on the same day and noted down by the doctor in case of
loss. I advised him to take certificates to bearer for Ursula’s fortune,
and he must have made his own investment and that of Ursula’s little
property the same day. I’ll go to Dionis’s office and look at the
inventory. If the number of the certificate for his own investment is
23,533, letter M, we may be sure that he invested, through the same
broker on the same day, first his own property on a single certificate;
secondly his savings in three certificates to bearer (numbered, but
without the series letter); thirdly, Ursula’s own property; the transfer
books will show, of course, undeniable proofs of this. Ha! Minoret, you
deceiver, I have you--Motus, my children!”

Whereupon he left them abruptly to reflect with admiration on the ways
by which Providence had brought the innocent to victory.

“The finger of God is in all this,” cried the abbe.

“Will they punish him?” asked Ursula.

“Ah, mademoiselle,” cried La Bougival. “I’d give the rope to hang him.”

Bongrand was already at Goupil’s, now the appointed successor of Dionis,
but he entered the office with a careless air. “I have a little matter
to verify about the Minoret property,” he said to Goupil.

“What is it?” asked the latter.

“The doctor left one or more certificates in the three-per-cent Funds?”

“He left one for fifteen thousand francs a year,” said Goupil; “I
recorded it myself.”

“Then just look on the inventory,” said Bongrand.

Goupil took down a box, hunted through it, drew out a paper, found the
place, and read:--

“‘Item, one certificate’--Here, read for yourself--under the number
23,533, letter M.”

“Do me the kindness to let me have a copy of that clause within an
hour,” said Bongrand.

“What good is it to you?” asked Goupil.

“Do you want to be a notary?” answered the justice of peace, looking
sternly at Dionis’s proposed successor.

“Of course I do,” cried Goupil. “I’ve swallowed too many affronts not to
succeed now. I beg you to believe, monsieur, that the miserable
creature once called Goupil has nothing in common with Maitre
Jean-Sebastien-Marie Goupil, notary of Nemours and husband of
Mademoiselle Massin. The two beings do not know each other. They are no
longer even alike. Look at me!”

Thus adjured Monsieur Bongrand took notice of Goupil’s clothes. The new
notary wore a white cravat, a shirt of dazzling whiteness adorned with
ruby buttons, a waistcoat of red velvet, with trousers and coat of
handsome black broad-cloth, made in Paris. His boots were neat; his
hair, carefully combed, was perfumed--in short he was metamorphosed.

“The fact is you are another man,” said Bongrand.

“Morally as well as physically. Virtue comes with practice--a practice;
besides, money is the source of cleanliness--”

“Morally as well as physically,” returned Bongrand, settling his
spectacles.

“Ha! monsieur, is a man worth a hundred thousand francs a year ever
a democrat? Consider me in future as an honest man who knows what
refinement is, and who intends to love his wife,” said Goupil; “and
what’s more, I shall prevent my clients from ever doing dirty actions.”

“Well, make haste,” said Bongrand. “Let me have that copy in an hour,
and notary Goupil will have undone some of the evil deeds of Goupil the
clerk.”

After asking the Nemours doctor to lend him his horse and cabriolet, he
went back to Ursula’s house for the two important volumes and for
her own certificate of Funds; then, armed with the extract from the
inventory, he drove to Fontainebleau and had an interview with the
procureur du roi. Bongrand easily convinced that official of the theft
of the three certificates by one or other of the heirs,--presumably by
Minoret.

“His conduct is explained,” said the procureur.

As a measure of precaution the magistrate at once notified the Treasury
to withhold transfer of the said certificates, and told Bongrand to go
to Paris and ascertain if the shares had ever been sold. He then wrote a
polite note to Madame Minoret requesting her presence.

Zelie, very uneasy about her son’s duel, dressed herself at once,
had the horses put to her carriage and hurried to Fontainebleau. The
procureur’s plan was simple enough. By separating the wife from the
husband, and bringing the terrors of the law to bear upon her, he
expected to learn the truth. Zelie found the official in his private
office and was utterly annihilated when he addressed her as follows:--

“Madame,” he said; “I do not believe you are an accomplice in a theft
that has been committed upon the Minoret property, on the track of which
the law is now proceeding. But you can spare your husband the shame of
appearing in the prisoner’s dock by making a full confession of what
you know about it. The punishment which your husband has incurred is,
moreover, not the only thing to be dreaded. Your son’s career is to be
thought of; you must avoid destroying that. Half an hour hence will be
too late. The police are already under orders for Nemours, the warrant
is made out.”

Zelie nearly fainted; when she recovered her senses she confessed
everything. After proving to her that she was in point of fact an
accomplice, the magistrate told her that if she did not wish to injure
either son or husband she must behave with the utmost prudence.

“You have now to do with me as an individual, not as a magistrate,” he
said. “No complaint has been lodged by the victim, nor has any publicity
been given to the theft. But your husband has committed a great crime,
which may be brought before a judge less inclined than myself to be
considerate. In the present state of the affair I am obliged to make you
a prisoner--oh, in my own house, on parole,” he added, seeing that
Zelie was about to faint. “You must remember that my official duty would
require me to issue a warrant at once and begin an examination; but I am
acting now individually, as guardian of Mademoiselle Ursula Mirouet, and
her best interests demand a compromise.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Zelie.

“Write to your husband in the following words,” he continued, placing
Zelie at his desk and proceeding to dictate the letter:--

  “My Friend,--I am arrested, and I have told all. Return the
  certificates which uncle left to Monsieur de Portenduere in the
  will which you burned; for the procureur du roi has stopped
  payment at the Treasury.”

“You will thus save him from the denials he would otherwise attempt to
make,” said the magistrate, smiling at Zelie’s orthography. “We will see
that the restitution is properly made. My wife will make your stay in
our house as agreeable as possible. I advise you to say nothing of the
matter and not to appear anxious or unhappy.”

Now that Zelie had confessed and was safely immured, the magistrate sent
for Desire, told him all the particulars of his father’s theft, which
was really to Ursula’s injury, but, as matters stood, legally to that of
his co-heirs, and showed him the letter written by his mother. Desire at
once asked to be allowed to go to Nemours and see that his father made
immediate restitution.

“It is a very serious matter,” said the magistrate. “The will having
been destroyed, if the matter gets wind, the co-heirs, Massin and
Cremiere may put in a claim. I have proof enough against your father.
I will release your mother, for I think the little ceremony that has
already taken place has been sufficient warning as to her duty. To her,
I will seem to have yielded to your entreaties in releasing her. Take
her with you to Nemours, and manage the whole matter as best you can.
Don’t fear any one. Monsieur Bongrand loves Ursula Mirouet too well to
let the matter become known.”

Zelie and Desire started soon after for Nemours. Three hours later the
procureur du roi received by a mounted messenger the following letter,
the orthography of which has been corrected so as not to bring ridicule
on a man crushed by affliction.


To Monsieur le procureur du roi at Fontainebleau:

Monsieur,--God is less kind to us than you; we have met with an
irreparable misfortune. When my wife and son reached the bridge at
Nemours a trace became unhooked. There was no servant behind the
carriage; the horses smelt the stable; my son, fearing their impatience,
jumped down to hook the trace rather than have the coachman leave the
box. As he turned to resume his place in the carriage beside his mother
the horses started; Desire did not step back against the parapet in
time; the step of the carriage cut through both legs and he fell, the
hind wheel passing over his body. The messenger who goes to Paris for
the best surgeon will bring you this letter, which my son in the midst
of his sufferings desires me to write so as to let you know our entire
submission to your decisions in the matter about which he was coming to
speak to me.

I shall be grateful to you to my dying day for the manner in which you
have acted, and I will deserve your goodness.

Francois Minoret.


This cruel event convulsed the whole town of Nemours. The crowds
standing about the gate of the Minoret house were the first to tell
Savinien that his vengeance had been taken by a hand more powerful than
his own. He went at once to Ursula’s house, where he found both the abbe
and the young girl more distressed than surprised.

The next day, after the wounds were dressed, and the doctors and
surgeons from Paris had given their opinion that both legs must be
amputated, Minoret went, pale, humbled, and broken down, accompanied by
the abbe, to Ursula’s house, where he found also Monsieur Bongrand and
Savinien.

“Mademoiselle,” he said; “I am very guilty towards you; but if all the
wrongs I have done you are not wholly reparable, there are some that
I can expiate. My wife and I have made a vow to make over to you in
absolute possession our estate at Rouvre in case our son recovers, and
also in case we have the dreadful sorrow of losing him.”

He burst into tears as he said the last words.

“I can assure you, my dear Ursula,” said the abbe, “that you can and
that you ought to accept a part of this gift.”

“Will you forgive me?” said Minoret, humbly kneeling before the
astonished girl. “The operation is about to be performed by the first
surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu; but I do not trust to human science, I rely
only on the power of God. If you will forgive us, if you ask God to
restore our son to us, he will have strength to bear the agony and we
shall have the joy of saving him.”

“Let us go to the church!” cried Ursula, rising.

But as she gained her feet, a piercing cry came from her lips, and
she fell backward fainting. When her senses returned, she saw her
friends--but not Minoret who had rushed for a doctor--looking at her
with anxious eyes, seeking an explanation. As she gave it, terror filled
their hearts.

“I saw my godfather standing in the doorway,” she said, “and he signed
to me that there was no hope.”

The day after the operation Desire died,--carried off by the fever and
the shock to the system that succeed operations of this nature. Madame
Minoret, whose heart had no other tender feeling than maternity, became
insane after the burial of her son, and was taken by her husband to the
establishment of Doctor Blanche, where she died in 1841.

Three months after these events, in January, 1837, Ursula married
Savinien with Madame de Portenduere’s consent. Minoret took part in the
marriage contract and insisted on giving Mademoiselle Mirouet his estate
at Rouvre and an income of twenty-four thousand francs from the Funds;
keeping for himself only his uncle’s house and ten thousand francs a
year. He has become the most charitable of men, and the most religious;
he is churchwarden of the parish, and has made himself the providence of
the unfortunate.

“The poor take the place of my son,” he said.

If you have ever noticed by the wayside, in countries where they poll
the oaks, some old tree, whitened and as if blasted, still throwing out
its twigs though its trunk is riven and seems to implore the axe, you
will have an idea of the old post master, with his white hair,--broken,
emaciated, in whom the elders of the town can see no trace of the jovial
dullard whom you first saw watching for his son at the beginning of
this history; he does not even take his snuff as he once did; he carries
something more now than the weight of his body. Beholding him, we feel
that the hand of God was laid upon that figure to make it an awful
warning. After hating so violently his uncle’s godchild the old man now,
like Doctor Minoret himself, has concentrated all his affections on her,
and has made himself the manager of her property in Nemours.

Monsieur and Madame de Portenduere pass five months of the year
in Paris, where they have bought a handsome house in the Faubourg
Saint-Germain. Madame de Portenduere the elder, after giving her house
in Nemours to the Sisters of Charity for a free school, went to live
at Rouvre, where La Bougival keeps the porter’s lodge. Cabirolle, the
former conductor of the “Ducler,” a man sixty years of age, has married
La Bougival and the twelve hundred francs a year which she possesses
besides the ample emoluments of her place. Young Cabirolle is Monsieur
de Portenduere’s coachman.

If you happen to see in the Champs-Elysees one of those charming little
low carriages called ‘escargots,’ lined with gray silk and trimmed with
blue, and containing a pretty young woman whom you admire because
her face is wreathed in innumerable fair curls, her eyes luminous as
forget-me-nots and filled with love; if you see her bending slightly
towards a fine young man, and, if you are, for a moment, conscious of
envy--pause and reflect that this handsome couple, beloved of God, have
paid their quota to the sorrows of life in times now past. These married
lovers are the Vicomte de Portenduere and his wife. There is not another
such home in Paris as theirs.

“It is the sweetest happiness I have ever seen,” said the Comtesse de
l’Estorade, speaking of them lately.

Bless them, therefore, and be not envious; seek an Ursula for
yourselves, a young girl brought up by three old men, and by the best of
all mothers--adversity.

Goupil, who does service to everybody and is justly considered the
wittiest man in Nemours, has won the esteem of the little town, but he
is punished in his children, who are rickety and hydrocephalous. Dionis,
his predecessor, flourishes in the Chamber of Deputies, of which he is
one of the finest ornaments, to the great satisfaction of the king
of the French, who sees Madame Dionis at all his balls. Madame Dionis
relates to the whole town of Nemours the particulars of her receptions
at the Tuileries and the splendor of the court of the king of the
French. She lords it over Nemours by means of the throne, which
therefore must be popular in the little town.

Bongrand is chief-justice of the court of appeals at Melun. His son is
in the way of becoming an honest attorney-general.

Madame Cremiere continues to make her delightful speeches. On the
occasion of her daughter’s marriage, she exhorted her to be the working
caterpillar of the household, and to look into everything with the eyes
of a sphinx. Goupil is making a collection of her “slapsus-linquies,”
 which he calls a Cremiereana.

“We have had the great sorrow of losing our good Abbe Chaperon,” said
the Vicomtesse de Portenduere this winter--having nursed him herself
during his illness. “The whole canton came to his funeral. Nemours is
very fortunate, however, for the successor of that dear saint is the
venerable cure of Saint-Lange.”



ADDENDUM

The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

     Bouvard, Doctor
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life

     Dionis
       The Member for Arcis

     Estorade, Madame de l’
       Letters of Two Brides
       The Member for Arcis

     Kergarouet, Comte de
       The Purse
       The Ball at Sceaux

     Lupeaulx, Clement Chardin des
       The Muse of the Department
       Eugenie Grandet
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Government Clerks
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life

     Marsay, Henri de
       The Thirteen
       The Unconscious Humorists
       Another Study of Woman
       The Lily of the Valley
       Father Goriot
       Jealousies of a Country Twon
       A Marriage Settlement
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Letters of Two Brides
       The Ball at Sceaux
       Modeste Mignon
       The Secrets of a Princess
       The Gondreville Mystery
       A Daughter of Eve

     Mirouet, Ursule (see Portenduere, Vicomtesse Savinien de)

     Nathan, Madame Raoul
       The Muse of the Department
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Government Clerks
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Eugenie Grandet
       The Imaginary Mistress
       A Prince of Bohemia
       A Daughter of Eve
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Portenduere, Vicomte Savinien de
       The Ball at Sceaux
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Beatrix

     Portenduere, Vicomtesse Savinien de
       Another Study of Woman
       Beatrix

     Ronquerolles, Marquis de
       The Imaginary Mistress
       The Peasantry
       A Woman of Thirty
       Another Study of Woman
       The Thirteen
       The Member for Arcis

     Rouvre, Marquis du
       The Imaginary Mistress
       A Start in Life

     Rouvre, Chevalier du
       The Imaginary Mistress

     Rubempre, Lucien-Chardon de
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Government Clerks
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life

     Schmucke, Wilhelm
       A Daughter of Eve
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Cousin Pons

     Serizy, Comtesse de
       A Start in Life
       The Thirteen
       A Woman of Thirty
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Another Study of Woman
       The Imaginary Mistress

     Trailles, Comte Maxime de
       Cesar Birotteau
       Father Goriot
       Gobseck
       A Man of Business
       The Member for Arcis
       The Secrets of a Princess
       Cousin Betty
       Beatrix
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Vandenesse, Marquise Charles de
       Cesar Birotteau
       The Ball at Sceaux
       A Daughter of Eve





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