Part 2 out of 5
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
"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
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
"In other words, abbe, I think, and you feel,--that's the whole of
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.
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, as 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
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,
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
"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
"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,"
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."
"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
"You know nothing--though you have lately been uneasy about her
health," answered the woman. "Her heart has followed the dictates of
"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
"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."
"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
"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?"
"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
"You see them?"
"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
"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
"Tell me her words." Minoret took his pencil and wrote, as the sleeper
uttered it, the following prayer, evidently composed by the Abbe
"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
"Does she say more?" he asked.
"'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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Ursula," said Minoret, "if danger ever threatens you, call me, and I
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Suppose she married the lover?" said Goupil, seized by an ambitious
"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
"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
"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
"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
"And now they are quarreling over my fee," replied the notary, smiling
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
"Let us go and speak to him," said Madame Cremiere, approaching the
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,
"Oh, godfather, you have read my heart!" cried Ursula, giving him a
"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
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?"
"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!"
"Dinner is ready!" called La Bougival from the portico, which, on the
garden side, was at the end of the corridor.
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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 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
"Oh, yes!" she said.
"But, my child, you must do more. You must repress these feelings; you
must forget them."
"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.
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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."