Part 3 out of 5
The three young men looked at each other with one and the same thought
and suspicion, but they did not utter it.
"Explain all your resources; show us your hand," said de Marsay.
When Savinien had told of his mother and her old-fashioned ways, and
the little house with three windows in the Rue des Bourgeois, without
other grounds than a court for the well and a shed for the wood; when
he had valued the house, built of sandstone and pointed in reddish
cement, and put a price on the farm at Bordieres, the three dandies
looked at each other, and all three said with a solemn air the word of
the abbe in Alfred de Musset's "Marrons du feu" (which had then just
"Your mother will pay if you write a clever letter," said Rastignac.
"Yes, but afterwards?" cried de Marsay.
"If you had merely been put in the fiacre," said Lucien, "the
government would find you a place in diplomacy, but Saint-Pelagie
isn't the antechamber of an embassy."
"You are not strong enough for Parisian life," said Rastignac.
"Let us consider the matter," said de Marsay, looking Savinien over as
a jockey examines a horse. "You have fine blue eyes, well opened, a
white forehead well shaped, magnificent black hair, a little moustache
which suits those pale cheeks, and a slim figure; you've a foot that
tells race, shoulders and chest not quite those of a porter, but
solid. You are what I call an elegant male brunette. Your face is of
the style Louis XII., hardly any color, well-formed nose; and you have
the thing that pleases women, a something, I don't know what it is,
which men take no account of themselves; it is in the air, the manner,
the tone of the voice, the dart of the eye, the gesture,--in short, in
a number of little things which women see and to which they attach a
meaning which escapes us. You don't know your merits, my dear fellow.
Take a certain tone and style and in six months you'll captivate an
English-woman with a hundred thousand pounds; but you must call
yourself viscount, a title which belongs to you. My charming step-
mother, Lady Dudley, who has not her equal for matching two hearts,
will find you some such woman in the fens of Great Britain. What you
must now do is to get the payment of your debts postponed for ninety
days. Why didn't you tell us about them? The money-lenders at Baden
would have spared you--served you perhaps; but now, after you have
once been in prison, they'll despise you. A money-lender is, like
society, like the masses, down on his knees before the man who is
strong enough to trick him, and pitiless to the lambs. To the eyes of
some persons Sainte-Pelagie is a she-devil who burns the souls of
young men. Do you want my candid advice? I shall tell you as I told
that little d'Esgrignon: 'Arrange to pay your debts leisurely; keep
enough to live on for three years, and marry some girl in the
provinces who can bring you an income of thirty thousand francs.' In
the course of three years you can surely find some virtuous heiress
who is willing to call herself Madame la Vicomtesse de Portenduere.
Such is virtue,--let's drink to it. I give you a toast: 'The girl with
The young men did not leave their ex-friend till the official hour for
parting. The gate was no sooner closed behind them than they said to
each other: "He's not strong enough!" "He's quite crushed." "I don't
believe he'll pull through it?"
The next day Savinien wrote his mother a confession in twenty-two
pages. Madame de Portenduere, after weeping for one whole day, wrote
first to her son, promising to get him out of prison, and then to the
Comte de Portenduere and to Admiral Kergarouet.
The letters the abbe had just read and which the poor mother was
holding in her hand and moistening with tears, were the answers to her
appeal, which had arrived that morning, and had almost broken her
Paris, September, 1829.
To Madame de Portenduere:
Madame,--You cannot doubt the interest which the admiral and I
both feel in your troubles. What you ask of Monsieur de
Kergarouet grieves me all the more because our house was a home to
your son; we were proud of him. If Savinien had had more
confidence in the admiral we could have taken him to live with us,
and he would already have obtained some good situation. But,
unfortunately, he told us nothing; he ran into debt of his own
accord, and even involved himself for me, who knew nothing of his
pecuniary position. It is all the more to be regretted because
Savinien has, for the moment, tied our hands by allowing the
authorities to arrest him.
If my nephew had not shown a foolish passion for me and sacrificed
our relationship to the vanity of a lover, we could have sent him
to travel in Germany while his affairs were being settled here.
Monsieur de Kergarouet intended to get him a place in the War
office; but this imprisonment for debt will paralyze such efforts.
You must pay his debts; let him enter the navy; he will make his
way like the true Portenduere that he is; he has the fire of the
family in his beautiful black eyes, and we will all help him.
Do not be disheartened, madame; you have many friends, among whom
I beg you to consider me as one of the most sincere; I send you our
best wishes, with the respects of
Your very affectionate servant,
Emilie de Kergarouet.
The second letter was as follows:--
Portenduere, August, 1829.
To Madame de Portenduere:
My dear aunt,--I am more annoyed than surprised at Savinien's
pranks. As I am married and the father of two sons and one
daughter, my fortune, already too small for my position and
prospects, cannot be lessened to ransom a Portenduere from the
hands of the Jews. Sell your farm, pay his debts, and come and
live with us at Portenduere. You shall receive the welcome we owe
you, even though our views may not be entirely in accordance with
yours. You shall be made happy, and we will manage to marry
Savinien, whom my wife thinks charming. This little outbreak is
nothing; do not make yourself unhappy; it will never be known in
this part of the country, where there are a number of rich girls
who would be delighted to enter our family.
My wife joins me in assuring you of the happiness you would give
us, and I beg you to accept her wishes for the realization of this
plan, together with my affectionate respects.
Luc-Savinien, Comte de Portenduere.
"What letters for a Kergarouet to receive!" cried the old Breton lady,
wiping her eyes.
"The admiral does not know his nephew is in prison," said the Abbe
Chaperon at last; "the countess alone read your letter, and has
answered it for him. But you must decide at once on some course," he
added after a pause, "and this is what I have the honor to advise. Do
not sell your farm. The lease is just out, having lasted twenty-four
years; in a few months you can raise the rent to six thousand francs
and get a premium for double that amount. Borrow what you need of some
honest man,--not from the townspeople who make a business of
mortgages. Your neighbour here is a most worthy man; a man of good
society, who knew it as it was before the Revolution, who was once an
atheist, and is now an earnest Catholic. Do not let your feelings
debar you from going to his house this very evening; he will fully
understand the step you take; forget for a moment that you are a
"Never!" said the old mother, in a sharp voice.
"Well, then, be an amiable Kergarouet; come when he is alone. He will
lend you the money at three and a half per cent, perhaps even at three
per cent, and will do you this service delicately; you will be pleased
with him. He can go to Paris and release Savinien himself,--for he
will have to go there to sell out his funds,--and he can bring the lad
back to you."
"Are you speaking of that little Minoret?"
"That little Minoret is eighty-three years old," said the abbe,
smiling. "My dear lady, do have a little Christian charity; don't
wound him,--he might be useful to you in other ways."
"He has an angel in his house; a precious young girl--"
"Oh! that little Ursula. What of that?"
The poor abbe did not pursue the subject after these significant
words, the laconic sharpness of which cut through the proposition he
was about to make.
"I think Doctor Minoret is very rich," he said.
"So much the better for him."
"You have indirectly caused your son's misfortunes by refusing to give
him a profession; beware for the future," said the abbe sternly. "Am I
to tell Doctor Minoret that you are coming?"
"Why cannot he come to me if he knows I want him?" she replied.
"Ah, madame, if you go to him you will pay him three per cent; if he
comes to you you will pay him five," said the abbe, inventing this
reason to influence the old lady. "And if you are forced to sell your
farm by Dionis the notary, or by Massin the clerk (who would refuse to
lend you the money, knowing it was more their interest to buy), you
would lose half its value. I have not the slightest influence on the
Dionis, Massins, or Levraults, or any of those rich men who covet your
farm and know that your son is in prison."
"They know it! oh, do they know it?" she exclaimed, throwing up her
arms. "There! my poor abbe, you have let your coffee get cold!
Tiennette, an old Breton servant sixty years of age, wearing a short
gown and a Breton cap, came quickly in and took the abbe's coffee to
"Let be, Monsieur le recteur," she said, seeing that the abbe meant to
drink it, "I'll just put it into the bain-marie, it won't spoil it."
"Well," said the abbe to Madame de Portenduere in his most insinuating
voice, "I shall go and tell the doctor of your visit, and you will
The old mother did not yield till after an hour's discussion, during
which the abbe was forced to repeat his arguments at least ten times.
And even then the proud Kergarouet was not vanquished until he used
the words, "Savinien would go."
"It is better that I should go than he," she said.
The clock was striking nine when the little door made in the large
door of Madame de Portenduere's house closed on the abbe, who
immediately crossed the road and hastily rang the bell at the doctor's
gate. He fell from Tiennette to La Bougival; the one said to him, "Why
do you come so late, Monsieur l'abbe?" as the other had said, "Why do
you leave Madame so early when she is in trouble?"
The abbe found a numerous company assembled in the green and brown
salon; for Dionis had stopped at Massin's on his way home to re-assure
the heirs by repeating their uncle's words.
"I believe Ursula has a love-affair," said he, "which will be nothing
but pain and trouble to her; she seems romantic" (extreme sensibility
is so called by notaries), "and, you'll see, she won't marry soon.
Therefore, don't show her any distrust; be very attentive to her and
very respectful to your uncle, for he is slyer than fifty Goupils,"
added the notary--without being aware that Goupil is a corruption of
the word vulpes, a fox.
So Mesdames Massin and Cremiere with their husbands, the post master
and Desire, together with the Nemours doctor and Bongrand, made an
unusual and noisy party in the doctor's salon. As the abbe entered he
heard the sound of the piano. Poor Ursula was just finishing a sonata
of Beethoven's. With girlish mischief she had chosen that grand music,
which must be studied to be understood, for the purpose of disgusting
these women with the thing they coveted. The finer the music the less
ignorant persons like it. So, when the door opened and the abbe's
venerable head appeared they all cried out: "Ah! here's Monsieur
l'abbe!" in a tone of relief, delighted to jump up and put an end to
The exclamation was echoed at the card-table, where Bongrand, the
Nemours doctor, and old Minoret were victims to the presumption with
which the collector, in order to propitiate his great-uncle, had
proposed to take the fourth hand at whist. Ursula left the piano. The
doctor rose as if to receive the abbe, but really to put an end to the
game. After many compliments to their uncle on the wonderful
proficiency of his goddaughter, the heirs made their bow and retired.
"Good-night, my friends," cried the doctor as the iron gate clanged.
"Ah! that's where the money goes," said Madame Cremiere to Madame
Massin, as they walked on.
"God forbid that I should spend money to teach my little Aline to make
such a din as that!" cried Madame Massin.
"She said it was Beethoven, who is thought to be fine musician," said
the collector; "he has quite a reputation."
"Not in Nemours, I'm sure of that," said Madame Cremiere.
"I believe uncle made her play it expressly to drive us away," said
Massin; "for I saw him give that little minx a wink as she opened the
"If that's the sort of charivari they like," said the post master,
"they are quite right to keep it to themselves."
"Monsieur Bongrand must be fond of whist to stand such a dreadful
racket," said Madame Cremiere.
"I shall never be able to play before persons who don't understand
music," Ursula was saying as she sat down beside the whist-table.
"In natures richly organized," said the abbe, "sentiments can be
developed only in a congenial atmosphere. Just as a priest is unable
to give the blessing in presence of an evil spirit, or as a chestnut-
tree dies in a clay soil, so a musician's genius has a mental eclipse
when he is surrounded by ignorant persons. In all the arts we must
receive from the souls who make the environment of our souls as much
intensity as we convey to them. This axiom, which rules the human
mind, has been made into proverbs: 'Howl with the wolves'; 'Like meets
like.' But the suffering you felt, Ursula, affects delicate and tender
"And so, friends," said the doctor, "a thing which would merely give
pain to most women might kill my Ursula. Ah! when I am no longer here,
I charge you to see that the hedge of which Catullus spoke,--"Ut
flos," etc.,--a protecting hedge is raised between this cherished
flower and the world."
"And yet those ladies flattered you, Ursula," said Monsieur Bongrand,
"Flattered her grossly," remarked the Nemours doctor.
"I have always noticed how vulgar forced flattery is," said old
Minoret. "Why is that?"
"A true thought has its own delicacy," said the abbe.
"Did you dine with Madame de Portenduere?" asked Ursula, with a look
of anxious curiosity.
"Yes; the poor lady is terribly distressed. It is possible she may
come to see you this evening, Monsieur Minoret."
Ursula pressed her godfather's hand under the table.
"Her son," said Bongrand, "was rather too simple-minded to live in
Paris without a mentor. When I heard that inquiries were being made
here about the property of the old lady I feared he was discounting
"Is it possible you think him capable of it?" said Ursula, with such a
terrible glance at Monsieur Bongrand that he said to himself rather
sadly, "Alas! yes, she loves him."
"Yes and no," said the Nemours doctor, replying to Ursula's question.
"There is a great deal of good in Savinien, and that is why he is now
in prison; a scamp wouldn't have got there."
"Don't let us talk about it any more," said old Minoret. "The poor
mother must not be allowed to weep if there's a way to dry her tears."
The four friends rose and went out; Ursula accompanied them to the
gate, saw her godfather and the abbe knock at the opposite door, and
as soon as Tiennette admitted them she sat down on the outer wall with
La Bougival beside her.
"Madame la vicomtesse," said the abbe, who entered first into the
little salon, "Monsieur le docteur Minoret was not willing that you
should have the trouble of coming to him--"
"I am too much of the old school, madame," interrupted the doctor,
"not to know what a man owes to a woman of your rank, and I am very
glad to be able, as Monsieur l'abbe tells me, to be of service to
Madame de Portenduere, who disliked the step the abbe had advised so
much that she had almost decided, after he left her, to apply to the
notary instead, was surprised by Minoret's attention to such a degree
that she rose to receive him and signed to him to take a chair.
"Be seated, monsieur," she said with a regal air. "Our dear abbe has
told you that the viscount is in prison on account of some youthful
debts,--a hundred thousand francs or so. If you could lend them to him
I would secure you on my farm at Bordieres."
"We will talk of that, madame, when I have brought your son back to
you--if you will allow me to be your emissary in the matter."
"Very good, monsieur," she said, bowing her head and looking at the
abbe as if to say, "You were right; he really is a man of good
"You see, madame," said the abbe, "that my friend the doctor is full
of devotion to your family."
"We shall be grateful, monsieur," said Madame de Portenduere, making a
visible effort; "a journey to Paris, at your age, in quest of a
"Madame, I had the honor to meet, in '65, the illustrious Admiral de
Portenduere in the house of that excellent Monsieur de Malesherbes,
and also in that of Monsieur le Comte de Buffon, who was anxious to
question him on some curious results of his voyages. Possibly Monsieur
de Portenduere, your late husband, was present. Those were the
glorious days of the French navy; it bore comparison with that of
Great Britain, and its officers had their full quota of courage. With
what impatience we awaited in '83 and '84 the news from St. Roch. I
came very near serving as surgeon in the king's service. Your great-
uncle, who is still living, Admiral Kergarouet, fought his splendid
battle at that time in the 'Belle-Poule.'"
"Ah! if he did but know his great-nephew is in prison!"
"He would not leave him there a day," said old Minoret, rising.
He held out his hand to take that of the old lady, which she allowed
him to do; then he kissed it respectfully, bowed profoundly, and left
the room; but returned immediately to say:--
"My dear abbe, may I ask you to engage a place in the diligence for me
The abbe stayed behind for half an hour to sing the praises of his
friend, who meant to win and had succeeded in winning the good graces
of the old lady.
"He is an astonishing man for his age," she said. "He talks of going
to Paris and attending to my son's affairs as if he were only twenty-
five. He has certainly seen good society."
"The very best, madame; and to-day more than one son of a peer of
France would be glad to marry his goddaughter with a million. Ah! if
that idea should come into Savinien's head!--times are so changed that
the objections would not come from your side, especially after his
The amazement into which the speech threw the old lady alone enabled
him to finish it.
"You have lost your senses," she said at last.
"Think it over, madame; God grant that your son may conduct himself in
future in a manner to win that old man's respect."
"If it were not you, Monsieur l'abbe," said Madame de Portenduere, "if
it were any one else who spoke to me in that way--"
"You would not see him again," said the abbe, smiling. "Let us hope
that your dear son will enlighten you as to what occurs in Paris in
these days as to marriages. You will think only of Savinien's good; as
you really have helped to compromise his future you will not stand in
the way of his making himself another position."
"And it is you who say that to me?"
"If I did not say it to you, who would?" cried the abbe rising and
making a hasty retreat.
As he left the house he saw Ursula and her godfather standing in their
courtyard. The weak doctor had been so entreated by Ursula that he had
just yielded to her. She wanted to go with him to Paris, and gave a
thousand reasons. He called to the abbe and begged him to engage the
whole coupe for him that very evening if the booking-office were still
The next day at half-past six o'clock the old man and the young girl
reached Paris, and the doctor went at once to consult his notary.
Political events were then very threatening. Monsieur Bongrand had
remarked in the course of the preceding evening that a man must be a
fool to keep a penny in the public funds so long as the quarrel
between the press and the court was not made up. Minoret's notary now
indirectly approved of this opinion. The doctor therefore took
advantage of his journey to sell out his manufacturing stocks and his
shares in the Funds, all of which were then at a high value,
depositing the proceeds in the Bank of France. The notary also advised
his client to sell the stocks left to Ursula by Monsieur de Jordy. He
promised to employ an extremely clever broker to treat with Savinien's
creditors; but said that in order to succeed it would be necessary for
the young man to stay several days longer in prison.
"Haste in such matters always means the loss of at least fifteen per
cent," said the notary. "Besides, you can't get your money under seven
or eight days."
When Ursula heard that Savinien would have to say at least a week
longer in jail she begged her godfather to let her go there, if only
once. Old Minoret refused. The uncle and niece were staying at a hotel
in the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs where the doctor had taken a very
suitable apartment. Knowing the scrupulous honor and propriety of his
goddaughter he made her promise not to go out while he was away; at
other times he took her to see the arcades, the shops, the boulevards;
but nothing seemed to amuse or interest her.
"What do you want to do?" asked the old man.
"See Saint-Pelagie," she answered obstinately.
Minoret called a hackney-coach and took her to the Rue de la Clef,
where the carriage drew up before the shabby front of an old convent
then transformed into a prison. The sight of those high gray walls,
with every window barred, of the wicket through which none can enter
without stooping (horrible lesson!), of the whole gloomy structure in
a quarter full of wretchedness, where it rises amid squalid streets
like a supreme misery,--this assemblage of dismal things so oppressed
Ursula's heart that she burst into tears.
"Oh!" she said, "to imprison young men in this dreadful place for
money! How can a debt to a money-lender have a power the king has not?
HE there!" she cried. "Where, godfather?" she added, looking from
window to window.
"Ursula," said the old man, "you are making me commit great follies.
This is not forgetting him as you promised."
"But," she argued, "if I must renounce him must I also cease to feel
an interest in him? I can love him and not marry at all."
"Ah!" cried the doctor, "there is so much reason in your
unreasonableness that I am sorry I brought you."
Three days later the worthy man had all the receipts signed, and the
legal papers ready for Savinien's release. The payings, including the
notaries' fees, amounted to eighty thousand francs. The doctor went
himself to see Savinien released on Saturday at two o'clock. The young
viscount, already informed of what had happened by his mother, thanked
his liberator with sincere warmth of heart.
"You must return at once to see your mother," the old doctor said to
Savinien answered in a sort of confusion that he had contracted
certain debts of honor while in prison, and related the visit of his
"I suspected there was some personal debt," cried the doctor, smiling.
"Your mother borrowed a hundred thousand francs of me, but I have paid
out only eighty thousand. Here is the rest; be careful how you spend
it, monsieur; consider what you have left of it as your stake on the
green cloth of fortune."
During the last eight days Savinien had made many reflections on the
present conditions of life. Competition in everything necessitated
hard work on the part of whoever sought a fortune. Illegal methods and
underhand dealing demanded more talent than open efforts in face of
day. Success in society, far from giving a man position, wasted his
time and required an immense deal of money. The name of Portenduere,
which his mother considered all-powerful, had no power at all in
Paris. His cousin the deputy, Comte de Portenduere, cut a very poor
figure in the Elective Chamber in presence of the peerage and the
court; and had none too much credit personally. Admiral Kergarouet
existed only as the husband of his wife. Savinien admitted to himself
that he had seen orators, men from the middle classes, or lesser
noblemen, become influential personages. Money was the pivot, the sole
means, the only mechanism of a society which Louis XVIII. had tried to
create in the likeness of that of England.
On his way from the Rue de la Clef to the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs
the young gentleman divulged the upshot of these meditations (which
were certainly in keeping with de Marsay's advice) to the old doctor.
"I ought," he said, "to go into oblivion for three or four years and
seek a career. Perhaps I could make myself a name by writing a book on
statesmanship or morals, or a treatise on some of the great questions
of the day. While I am looking out for a marriage with some young lady
who could make me eligible to the Chamber, I will work hard in silence
and in obscurity."
Studying the young fellow's face with a keen eye, the doctor saw the
serious purpose of a wounded man who was anxious to vindicate himself.
He therefore cordially approved of the scheme.
"My friend," he said, "if you strip off the skin of the old nobility
(which is no longer worn these days) I will undertake, after you have
lived for three or four years in a steady and industrious manner, to
find you a superior young girl, beautiful, amiable, pious, and
possessing from seven to eight hundred thousand francs, who will make
you happy and of whom you will have every reason to be proud,--one
whose only nobility is that of the heart!"
"Ah, doctor!" cried the young man, "there is no longer a nobility in
these days,--nothing but an aristocracy."
"Go and pay your debts of honor and come back here. I shall engage the
coupe of the diligence, for my niece is with me," said the old man.
That evening, at six o'clock, the three travelers started from the Rue
Dauphine. Ursula had put on a veil and did not say a word. Savinien,
who once, in a moment of superficial gallantry, had sent her that kiss
which invaded and conquered her soul like a love-poem, had completely
forgotten the young girl in the hell of his Parisian debts; moreover,
his hopeless love for Emilie de Kergarouet hindered him from bestowing
a thought on a few glances exchanged with a little country girl. He
did not recognize her when the doctor handed her into the coach and
then sat down beside her to separate her from the young viscount.
"I have some bills to give you," said the doctor to the young man. "I
have brought all your papers and documents."
"I came very near not getting off," said Savinien, "for I had to order
linen and clothes; the Philistines took all; I return like a true
However interesting were the subjects of conversation between the
young man and the old one, and however witty and clever were certain
remarks of the viscount, the young girl continued silent till after
dusk, her green veil lowered, and her hands crossed on her shawl.
"Mademoiselle does not seem to have enjoyed Paris very much," said
Savinien at last, somewhat piqued.
"I am glad to return to Nemours," she answered in a trembling voice
raising her veil.
Notwithstanding the dim light Savinien then recognized her by the
heavy braids of her hair and the brilliancy of her blue eyes.
"I, too, leave Paris to bury myself in Nemours without regret now that
I meet my charming neighbour again," he said; "I hope, Monsieur le
docteur that you will receive me in your house; I love music, and I
remember to have listened to Mademoiselle Ursula's piano."
"I do not know," replied the doctor gravely, "whether your mother
would approve of your visits to an old man whose duty it is to care
for this dear child with all the solicitude of a mother."
This reserved answer made Savinien reflect, and he then remembered the
kisses so thoughtlessly wafted. Night came; the heat was great.
Savinien and the doctor went to sleep first. Ursula, whose head was
full of projects, did not succumb till midnight. She had taken off her
straw-bonnet, and her head, covered with a little embroidered cap,
dropped upon her uncle's shoulder. When they reached Bouron at dawn,
Savinien awoke. He then saw Ursula in the slight disarray naturally
caused by the jolting of the vehicle; her cap was rumpled and half
off; the hair, unbound, had fallen each side of her face, which glowed
from the heat of the night; in this situation, dreadful for women to
whom dress is a necessary auxiliary, youth and beauty triumphed. The
sleep of innocence is always lovely. The half-opened lips showed the
pretty teeth; the shawl, unfastened, gave to view, beneath the folds
of her muslin gown and without offence to her modesty, the
gracefulness of her figure. The purity of the virgin spirit shone on
the sleeping countenance all the more plainly because no other
expression was there to interfere with it. Old Minoret, who presently
woke up, placed his child's head in the corner of the carriage that
she might be more at ease; and she let him do it unconsciously, so
deep was her sleep after the many wakeful nights she had spent in
thinking of Savinien's trouble.
"Poor little girl!" said the doctor to his neighbour, "she sleeps like
the child she is."
"You must be proud of her," replied Savinien; "for she seems as good
as she is beautiful."
"Ah! she is the joy of the house. I could not love her better if she
were my own daughter. She will be sixteen on the 5th February. God
grant that I may live long enough to marry her to a man who will make
her happy. I wanted to take her to the theater in Paris, where she was
for the first time, but she refused, the Abbe Chaperon had forbidden
it. 'But,' I said, 'when you are married your husband will want you to
go there.' 'I shall do what my husband wants,' she answered. 'If he
asks me to do evil and I am weak enough to yield, he will be
responsible before God--and so I shall have strength to refuse him,
for his own sake.'"
As the coach entered Nemours, at five in the morning, Ursula woke up,
ashamed at her rumpled condition, and confused by the look of
admiration which she encountered from Savinien. During the hour it had
taken the diligence to come from Bouron to Nemours the young man had
fallen in love with Ursula; he had studied the pure candor of her
soul, the beauty of that body, the whiteness of the skin, the delicacy
of the features; he recalled the charm of the voice which had uttered
but one expressive sentence, in which the poor child said all,
intending to say nothing. A presentiment suddenly seemed to take hold
of him; he saw in Ursula the woman the doctor had pictured to him,
framed in gold by the magic words, "Seven or eight hundred thousand
"In three of four years she will be twenty, and I shall be twenty-
seven," he thought. "The good doctor talked of probation, work, good
conduct! Sly as he is I shall make him tell me the truth."
The three neighbours parted in the street in front of their respective
homes, and Savinien put a little courting into his eyes as he gave
Ursula a parting glance.
Madame de Portenduere let her son sleep till midday; but the doctor
and Ursula, in spite of their fatiguing journey, went to high mass.
Savinien's release and his return in company with the doctor had
explained the reason of the latter's absence to the newsmongers of the
town and to the heirs, who were once more assembled in conventicle on
the square, just as they were two weeks earlier when the doctor
attended his first mass. To the great astonishment of all the groups,
Madame de Portenduere, on leaving the church, stopped old Minoret, who
offered her his arm and took her home. The old lady asked him to
dinner that evening, also asking his niece and assuring him that the
abbe would be the only other guest.
"He must have wished Ursula to see Paris," said Minoret-Levrault.
"Pest!" cried Cremiere; "he can't take a step without that girl!"
"Something must have happened to make old Portenduere accept his arm,"
"So none of you have guessed that your uncle has sold his Funds and
released that little Savinien?" cried Goupil. "He refused Dionis, but
he didn't refuse Madame de Portenduere-- Ha, ha! you are all done for.
The viscount will propose a marriage-contract instead of a mortgage,
and the doctor will make the husband settle on his jewel of a girl the
sum he has now paid to secure the alliance."
"It is not a bad thing to marry Ursula to Savinien," said the butcher.
"The old lady gives a dinner to-day to Monsieur Minoret. Tiennette
came early for a filet."
"Well, Dionis, here's a fine to-do!" said Massin, rushing up to the
notary, who was entering the square.
"What is? It's all going right," returned the notary. "Your uncle has
sold his Funds and Madame de Portenduere has sent for me to witness
the signing of a mortgage on her property for one hundred thousand
francs, lent to her by your uncle."
"Yes, but suppose the young people should marry?"
"That's as if you said Goupil was to be my successor."
"The two things are not so impossible," said Goupil.
On returning from mass Madame de Portenduere told Tiennette to inform
her son that she wished to see him.
The little house had three bedrooms on the first floor. That of Madame
de Portenduere and that of her late husband were separated by a large
dressing-room lighted by a skylight, and connected by a little
antechamber which opened on the staircase. The window of the other
room, occupied by Savinien, looked, like that of his late father, on
the street. The staircase went up at the back of the house, leaving
room for a little study lighted by a small round window opening on the
court. Madame de Portenduere's bedroom, the gloomiest in the house,
also looked into the court; but the widow spent all her time in the
salon on the ground floor, which communicated by a passage with the
kitchen built at the end of the court, so that this salon was made to
answer the double purpose of drawing-room and dining-room combined.
The bedroom of the late Monsieur de Portenduere remained as he had
left it on the day of his death; there was no change except that he
was absent. Madame de Portenduere had made the bed herself; laying
upon it the uniform of a naval captain, his sword, cordon, orders, and
hat. The gold snuff-box from which her late husband had taken snuff
for the last time was on the table, with his prayer-book, his watch,
and the cup from which he drank. His white hair, arranged in one
curled lock and framed, hung above a crucifix and the holy water in
the alcove. All the little ornaments he had worn, his journals, his
furniture, his Dutch spittoon, his spy-glass hanging by the mantel,
were all there. The widow had stopped the hands of the clock at the
hour of his death, to which they always pointed. The room still smelt
of the powder and the tobacco of the deceased. The hearth was as he
left it. To her, entering there, he was again visible in the many
articles which told of his daily habits. His tall cane with its gold
head was where he had last placed it, with his buckskin gloves close
by. On a table against the wall stood a gold vase, of coarse
workmanship but worth three thousand francs, a gift from Havana, which
city, at the time of the American War of Independence, he had
protected from an attack by the British, bringing his convoy safe into
port after an engagement with superior forces. To recompense this
service the King of Spain had made him a knight of his order; the same
event gave him a right to the next promotion to the rank of vice-
admiral, and he also received the red ribbing. He then married his
wife, who had a fortune of about two hundred thousand francs. But the
Revolution hindered his promotion, and Monsieur de Portenduere
"Where is my mother?" said Savinien to Tiennette.
"She is waiting for you in your father's room," said the old Breton
Savinien could not repress a shudder. He knew his mother's rigid
principles, her worship of honor, her loyalty, her faith in nobility,
and he foresaw a scene. He went up to the assault with his heart
beating and his face rather pale. In the dim light which filtered
through the blinds he saw his mother dressed in black, and with an air
of solemnity in keeping with that funereal room.
"Monsieur le vicomte," she said when she saw him, rising and taking
his hand to lead him to his father's bed, "there died your father,--a
man of honor; he died without reproach from his own conscience. His
spirit is there. Surely he groaned in heaven when he saw his son
degraded by imprisonment for debt. Under the old monarchy that stain
could have been spared you by obtaining a lettre de cachet and
shutting you up for a few days in a military prison.--But you are
here; you stand before your father, who hears you. You know all that
you did before you were sent to that ignoble prison. Will you swear to
me before your father's shade, and in presence of God who sees all,
that you have done no dishonorable act; that your debts are the result
of youthful folly, and that your honor is untarnished? If your
blameless father were there, sitting in that armchair, and asking an
explanation of your conduct, could he embrace you after having heard
"Yes, mother," replied the young man, with grave respect.
She opened her arms and pressed him to her heart, shedding a few
"Let us forget it all, my son," she said; "it is only a little less
money. I shall pray God to let us recover it. As you are indeed worthy
of your name, kiss me--for I have suffered much."
"I swear, mother," he said, laying his hand upon the bed, "to give you
no further unhappiness of that kind, and to do all I can to repair
these first faults."
"Come and breakfast, my child," she said, turning to leave the room.
OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE
In 1829 the old noblesse had recovered as to manners and customs
something of the prestige it had irrevocably lost in politics.
Moreover, the sentiment which governs parents and grandparents in all
that relates to matrimonial conventions is an imperishable sentiment,
closely allied to the very existence of civilized societies and
springing from the spirit of family. It rules in Geneva as in Vienna
and in Nemours, where, as we have seen, Zelie Minoret refused her
consent to a possible marriage of her son with the daughter of a
bastard. Still, all social laws have their exceptions. Savinien
thought he might bend his mother's pride before the inborn nobility of
Ursula. The struggle began at once. As soon as they were seated at
table his mother told him of the horrible letters, as she called them,
which the Kergarouets and the Portendueres had written her.
"There is no such thing as family in these days, mother," replied
Savinien, "nothing but individuals! The nobles are no longer a compact
body. No one asks or cares whether I am a Portenduere, or brave, or a
statesmen; all they ask now-a-days is, 'What taxes does he pay?'"
"But the king?" asked the old lady.
"The king is caught between the two Chambers like a man between his
wife and his mistress. So I shall have to marry some rich girl without
regard to family,--the daughter of a peasant if she has a million and
is sufficiently well brought-up--that is to say, if she has been
taught in school."
"Oh! there's no need to talk of that," said the old lady.
Savinien frowned as he heard the words. He knew the granite will,
called Breton obstinacy, that distinguished his mother, and he
resolved to know at once her opinion on this delicate matter.
"So," he went on, "if I loved a young girl,--take for instance your
neighbour's godchild, little Ursula,--would you oppose my marriage?"
"Yes, as long as I live," she replied; "and after my death you would
be responsible for the honor and the blood of the Kergarouets and the
"Would you let me die of hunger and despair for the chimera of
nobility, which has no reality to-day unless it has the lustre of
"You could serve France and put faith in God."
"Would you postpone my happiness till after your death?"
"It would be horrible if you took it then,--that is all I have to
"Louis XIV. came very near marrying the niece of Mazarin, a parvenu."
"Mazarin himself opposed it."
"Remember the widow Scarron."
"She was a d'Aubigne. Besides, the marriage was in secret. But I am
very old, my son," she said, shaking her head. "When I am no more you
can, as you say, marry whom you please."
Savinien both loved and respected his mother; but he instantly, though
silently, set himself in opposition to her with an obstinacy equal to
her own, resolving to have no other wife than Ursula, to whom this
opposition gave, as often happens in similar circumstances, the value
of a forbidden thing.
When, after vespers, the doctor, with Ursula, who was dressed in pink
and white, entered the cold, stiff salon, the girl was seized with
nervous trembling, as though she had entered the presence of the queen
of France and had a favor to beg of her. Since her confession to the
doctor this little house had assumed the proportions of a palace in
her eyes, and the old lady herself the social value which a duchess of
the Middle Ages might have had to the daughter of a serf. Never had
Ursula measured as she did at that moment the distance which separated
Vicomte de Portenduere from the daughter of a regimental musician, a
former opera-singer and the natural son of an organist.
"What is the matter, my dear?" said the old lady, making the girl sit
down beside her.
"Madame, I am confused by the honor you have done me--"
"My little girl," said Madame de Portenduere, in her sharpest tone. "I
know how fond your uncle is of you, and I wished to be agreeable to
him, for he has brought back my prodigal son."
"But, my dear mother," said Savinien cut to the heart by seeing the
color fly into Ursula's face as she struggled to keep back her tears,
"even if we were under no obligations to Monsieur le Chevalier
Minoret, I think we should always be most grateful for the pleasure
Mademoiselle has given us by accepting your invitation."
The young man pressed the doctor's hand in a significant manner,
adding: "I see you wear, monsieur, the order of Saint-Michel, the
oldest order in France, and one which confers nobility."
Ursula's extreme beauty, to which her almost hopeless love gave a
depth which great painters have sometimes conveyed in pictures where
the soul is brought into strong relief, had struck Madame de
Portenduere suddenly, and made her suspect that the doctor's apparent
generosity masked an ambitious scheme. She had made the speech to
which Savinien replied with the intention of wounding the doctor in
that which was dearest to him; and she succeeded, though the old man
could hardly restrain a smile as he heard himself styled a
"chevalier," amused to observe how the eagerness of a lover did not
shrink from absurdity.
"The order of Saint-Michel which in former days men committed follies
to obtain," he said, "has now, Monsieur le vicomte, gone the way of
other privileges! It is given only to doctors and poor artists. The
kings have done well to join it to that of Saint-Lazare who was, I
believe, a poor devil recalled to life by a miracle. From this point
of view the order of Saint-Michel and Saint-Lazare may be, for many of
After this reply, at once sarcastic and dignified, silence reigned,
which, as no one seemed inclined to break it, was becoming awkward,
when there was a rap at the door.
"There is our dear abbe," said the old lady, who rose, leaving Ursula
alone, and advancing to meet the Abbe Chaperon,--an honor she had not
paid to the doctor and his niece.
The old man smiled to himself as he looked from his goddaughter to
Savinien. To show offence or to complain of Madame de Portenduere's
manners was a rock on which a man of small mind might have struck, but
Minoret was too accomplished in the ways of the world not to avoid it.
He began to talk to the viscount of the danger Charles X. was then
running by confiding the affairs of the nation to the Prince de
Polignac. When sufficient time had been spent on the subject to avoid
all appearance of revenging himself by so doing, he handed the old
lady, in an easy, jesting way, a packet of legal papers and receipted
bills, together with the account of his notary.
"Has my son verified them?" she said, giving Savinien a look, to which
he replied by bending his head. "Well, then the rest is my notary's
business," she added, pushing away the papers and treating the affair
with the disdain she wished to show for money.
To abase wealth was, according to Madame de Portenduere's ideas, to
elevate the nobility and rob the bourgeoisie of their importance.
A few moments later Goupil came from his employer, Dionis, to ask for
the accounts of the transaction between the doctor and Savinien.
"Why do you want them?" said the old lady.
"To put the matter in legal form; there have been no cash payments."
Ursula and Savinien, who both for the first time exchanged a glance
with offensive personage, were conscious of a sensation like that of
touching a toad, aggravated by a dark presentiment of evil. They both
had the same indefinable and confused vision into the future, which
has no name in any language, but which is capable of explanation as
the action of the inward being of which the mysterious Swedenborgian
had spoken to Doctor Minoret. The certainty that the venomous Goupil
would in some way be fatal to them made Ursula tremble; but she
controlled herself, conscious of unspeakable pleasure in seeing that
Savinien shared her emotion.
"He is not handsome, that clerk of Monsieur Dionis," said Savinien,
when Goupil had closed the door.
"What does it signify whether such persons are handsome or ugly?" said
Madame de Portenduere.
"I don't complain of his ugliness," said the abbe, "but I do of his
wickedness, which passes all bounds; he is a villain."
The doctor, in spite of his desire to be amiable, grew cold and
dignified. The lovers were embarrassed. If it had not been for the
kindly good-humor of the abbe, whose gentle gayety enlivened the
dinner, the position of the doctor and his niece would have been
almost intolerable. At dessert, seeing Ursula turn pale, he said to
"If you don't feel well, dear child, we have only the street to
"What is the matter, my dear?" said the old lady to the girl.
"Madame," said the doctor severely, "her soul is chilled, accustomed
as she is to be met by smiles."
"A very bad education, monsieur," said Madame de Portenduere. "Is it
not, Monsieur l'abbe?"
"Yes," answered Minoret, with a look at the abbe, who knew not how to
reply. "I have, it is true, rendered life unbearable to an angelic
spirit if she has to pass it in the world; but I trust I shall not die
until I place her in security, safe from coldness, indifference, and
"Oh, godfather--I beg of you--say no more. There is nothing the matter
with me," cried Ursula, meeting Madame de Portenduere's eyes rather
than give too much meaning to her words by looking at Savinien.
"I cannot know, madame," said Savinien to his mother, "whether
Mademoiselle Ursula suffers, but I do know that you are torturing me."
Hearing these words, dragged from the generous young man by his
mother's treatment of herself, Ursula turned pale and begged Madame de
Portenduere to excuse her; then she took her uncle's arm, bowed, left
the room, and returned home. Once there, she rushed to the salon and
sat down to the piano, put her head in her hands, and burst into
"Why don't you leave the management of your affairs to my old
experience, cruel child?" cried the doctor in despair. "Nobles never
think themselves under any obligations to the bourgeoisie. When we do
them a service they consider that we do our duty, and that's all.
Besides, the old lady saw that you looked favorably on Savinien; she
is afraid he will love you."
"At any rate he is saved!" said Ursula. "But ah! to try to humiliate a
man like you!"
"Wait till I return, my child," said the old man leaving her.
When the doctor re-entered Madame de Portenduere's salon he found
Dionis the notary, accompanied by Monsieur Bongrand and the mayor of
Nemours, witnesses required by law for the validity of deeds in all
communes where there is but one notary. Minoret took Monsieur Dionis
aside and said a word in his ear, after which the notary read the
deeds aloud officially; from which it appeared that Madame de
Portenduere gave a mortgage on all her property to secure payment of
the hundred thousand francs, the interest on which was fixed at five
per cent. At the reading of this last clause the abbe looked at
Minoret, who answered with an approving nod. The poor priest whispered
something in the old lady's ear to which she replied,--
"I will owe nothing to such persons."
"My mother leaves me the nobler part," said Savinien to the doctor;
"she will repay the money and charges me to show our gratitude."
"But you will have to pay eleven thousand francs the first year to
meet the interest and the legal costs," said the abbe.
"Monsieur," said Minoret to Dionis, "as Monsieur and Madame de
Portenduere are not in a condition to pay those costs, add them to the
amount of the mortgage and I will pay them."
Dionis made the change and the sum borrowed was fixed at one hundred
and seven thousand francs. When the papers were all signed, Minoret
made his fatigue an excuse to leave the house at the same time as the
notary and witnesses.
"Madame," said the abbe, "why did you affront the excellent Monsieur
Minoret, who saved you at least twenty-five thousand francs on those
debts in Paris, and had the delicacy to give twenty thousand to your
son for his debts of honor?"
"Your Minoret is sly," she said, taking a pinch of snuff. "He knows
what he is about."
"My mother thinks he wishes to force me into marrying his niece by
getting hold of our farm," said Savinien; "as if a Portenduere, son of
a Kergarouet, could be made to marry against his will."
An hour later, Savinien presented himself at the doctor's house, where
all the relatives had assembled, enticed by curiosity. The arrival of
the young viscount produced a lively sensation, all the more because
its effect was different on each person present. Mesdemoiselles
Cremiere and Massin whispered together and looked at Ursula, who
blushed. The mothers said to Desire that Goupil was right about the
marriage. The eyes of all present turned towards the doctor, who did
not rise to receive the young nobleman, but merely bowed his head
without laying down the dice-box, for he was playing a game of
backgammon with Monsieur Bongrand. The doctor's cold manner surprised
"Ursula, my child," he said, "give us a little music."
While the young girl, delighted to have something to do to keep her in
countenance, went to the piano and began to move the green-covered
music-books, the heirs resigned themselves, with many demonstrations
of pleasure, to the torture and the silence about to be inflicted on
them, so eager were they to find out what was going on between their
uncle and the Portendueres.
In sometimes happens that a piece of music, poor in itself, when
played by a young girl under the influence of deep feeling, makes more
impression than a fine overture played by a full orchestra. In all
music there is, besides the thought of the composer, the soul of the
performer, who, by a privilege granted to this art only, can give both
meaning and poetry to passages which are in themselves of no great
value. Chopin proves, for that unresponsive instrument the piano, the
truth of this fact, already proved by Paganini on the violin. That
fine genius is less a musician than a soul which makes itself felt,
and communicates itself through all species of music, even simple
chords. Ursula, by her exquisite and sensitive organization, belonged
to this rare class of beings, and old Schmucke, the master, who came
every Saturday and who, during Ursula's stay in Paris was with her
every day, had brought his pupil's talent to its full perfection.
"Rousseau's Dream," the piece now chosen by Ursula, composed by Herold
in his young days, is not without a certain depth which is capable of
being developed by execution. Ursula threw into it the feelings which
were agitating her being, and justified the term "caprice" given by
Herold to the fragment. With soft and dreamy touch her soul spoke to
the young man's soul and wrapped it, as in a cloud, with ideas that
were almost visible.
Sitting at the end of the piano, his elbow resting on the cover and
his head on his left hand, Savinien admired Ursula, whose eyes, fixed
on the paneling of the wall beyond him, seemed to be questioning
another world. Many a man would have fallen deeply in love for a less
reason. Genuine feelings have a magnetism of their own, and Ursula was
willing to show her soul, as a coquette her dresses to be admired.
Savinien entered that delightful kingdom, led by this pure heart,
which, to interpret its feelings, borrowed the power of the only art
that speaks to thought by thought, without the help of words, or
color, or form. Candor, openness of heart have the same power over a
man that childhood has; the same charm, the same irresistible
seductions. Ursula was never more honest and candid than at this
moment, when she was born again into a new life.
The abbe came to tear Savinien from his dream, requesting him to take
a fourth hand at whist. Ursula went on playing; the heirs departed,
all except Desire, who was resolved to find out the intentions of his
uncle and the viscount and Ursula.
"You have as much talent as soul, mademoiselle," he said, when the
young girl closed the piano and sat down beside her godfather. "Who is
"A German, living close to the Rue Dauphine on the quai Conti," said
the doctor. "If he had not given Ursula a lesson every day during her
stay in Paris he would have been here to-day."
"He is not only a great musician," said Ursula, "but a man of adorable
simplicity of nature."
"Those lessons must cost a great deal," remarked Desire.
The players smiled ironically. When the game was over the doctor, who
had hitherto seemed anxious and pensive, turned to Savinien with the
air of a man who fulfills a duty.
"Monsieur," he said, "I am grateful for the feeling which leads you to
make me this early visit; but your mother attributes unworthy and
underhand motives to what I have done, and I should give her the right
to call them true if I did not request you to refrain from coming
here, in spite of the honor your visits are to me, and the pleasure I
should otherwise feel in cultivating your society. Tell your mother
that if I do not beg her, in my niece's name and my own, to do us the
honor of dining here next Sunday it is because I am very certain that
she would find herself indisposed on that day."
The old man held out his hand to the young viscount, who pressed it
"You are quite right, monsieur."
He then withdrew; but not without a bow to Ursula, in which there was
more of sadness than disappointment.
Desire left the house at the same time; but he found it impossible to
exchange even a word with the young nobleman, who rushed into his own
BETROTHAL OF HEARTS
This rupture between the Portendueres and Doctor Minoret gave talk
among the heirs for a week; they did homage to the genius of Dionis,
and regarded their inheritance as rescued.
So, in an age when ranks are leveled, when the mania for equality
puts everybody on one footing and threatens to destroy all bulwarks,
even military subordination,--that last refuge of power in France,
where passions have now no other obstacles to overcome than personal
antipathies, or differences of fortune,--the obstinacy of an old-
fashioned Breton woman and the dignity of Doctor Minoret created a
barrier between these lovers, which was to end, as such obstacles
often do, not in destroying but in strengthening love. To an ardent
man a woman's value is that which she costs him; Savinien foresaw a
struggle, great efforts, many uncertainties, and already the young
girl was rendered dearer to him; he was resolved to win her. Perhaps
our feelings obey the laws of nature as to the lastingness of her
creations; to a long life a long childhood.
The next morning, when they woke, Ursula and Savinien had the same
thought. An intimate understanding of this kind would create love if
it were not already its most precious proof. When the young girl
parted her curtains just far enough to let her eyes take in Savinien's
window, she saw the face of her lover above the fastening of his. When
one reflects on the immense services that windows render to lovers it
seems natural and right that a tax should be levied on them. Having
thus protested against her godfather's harshness, Ursula dropped the
curtain and opened her window to close the outer blinds, through which
she could continue to see without being seen herself. Seven or eight
times during the day she went up to her room, always to find the young
viscount writing, tearing up what he had written, and then writing
again--to her, no doubt!
The next morning when she woke La Bougival gave her the following
To Mademoiselle Ursula:
Mademoiselle,--I do not conceal from myself the distrust a young
man inspires when he has placed himself in the position from which
your godfather's kindness released me. I know that I must in
future give greater guarantees of good conduct than other men;
therefore, mademoiselle, it is with deep humility that I place
myself at your feet and ask you to consider my love. This
declaration is not dictated by passion; it comes from an inward
certainty which involves the whole of life. A foolish infatuation
for my young aunt, Madame de Kergarouet, was the cause of my going
to prison; will you not regard as a proof of my sincere love the
total disappearance of those wishes, of that image, now effaced
from my heart by yours? No sooner did I see you, asleep and so
engaging in your childlike slumber at Bouron, than you occupied my
soul as a queen takes possession of her empire. I will have no
other wife than you. You have every qualification I desire in her
who is to bear my name. The education you have received and the
dignity of your own mind, place you on the level of the highest
positions. But I doubt myself too much to dare describe you to
yourself; I can only love you. After listening to you yesterday I
recalled certain words which seem as though written for you;
suffer me to transcribe them:--
"Made to draw all hearts and charm all eyes, gentle and
intelligent, spiritual yet able to reason, courteous as though she
had passed her life at court, simple as the hermit who had never
known the world, the fire of her soul is tempered in her eyes by
I feel the value of the noble soul revealed in you by many, even
the most trifling, things. This it is which gives me the courage
to ask you, provided you love no one else, to let me prove to you
by my conduct and my devotion that I am not unworthy of you. It
concerns my very life; you cannot doubt that all my powers will be
employed, not only in trying to please you, but in deserving your
esteem, which is more precious to me than any other upon earth.
With this hope, Ursula--if you will suffer me so to call you in my
heart--Nemours will be to me a paradise, the hardest tasks will
bring me joys derived through you, as life itself is derived from
God. Tell me that I may call myself
Ursula kissed the letter; then, having re-read it and clasped it with
passionate motions, she dressed herself eagerly to carry it to her
"Ah, my God! I nearly forgot to say my prayers!" she exclaimed,
turning back to kneel on her prie-Dieu.
A few moments later she went down to the garden, where she found her
godfather and made him read the letter. They both sat down on a bench
under the arch of climbing plants opposite to the Chinese pagoda.
Ursula awaited the old man's words, and the old man reflected long,
too long for the impatient young girl. At last, the result of their
secret interview appeared in the following answer, part of which the
doctor undoubtedly dictated.
To Monsieur le Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere:
Monsieur,--I cannot be otherwise than greatly honored by the
letter in which you offer me your hand; but, at my age, and
according to the rules of my education, I have felt bound to
communicate it to my godfather, who is all I have, and whom I love
as a father and also as a friend. I must now tell you the painful
objections which he has made to me, and which must be to you my
Monsieur le vicomte, I am a poor girl, whose fortune depends
entirely, not only on my godfather's good-will, but also on the
doubtful success of the measures he may take to elude the schemes
of his relatives against me. Though I am the legitimate daughter
of Joseph Mirouet, band-master of the 45th regiment of infantry,
my father himself was my godfather's natural half-brother; and
therefore these relatives may, though without reason, being a suit
against a young girl who would be defenceless. You see, monsieur,
that the smallness of my fortune is not my greatest misfortune. I
have many things to make me humble. It is for your sake, and not
for my own, that I lay before you these facts, which to loving and
devoted hearts are sometimes of little weight. But I beg you to
consider, monsieur, that if I did not submit them to you, I might
be suspected of leading your tenderness to overlook obstacles
which the world, and more especially your mother, regard as
I shall be sixteen in four months. Perhaps you will admit that we
are both too young and too inexperienced to understand the
miseries of a life entered upon without other fortune than that I
have received from the kindness of the late Monsieur de Jordy. My
godfather desires, moreover, not to marry me until I am twenty.
Who knows what fate may have in store for you in four years, the
finest years of your life? do not sacrifice them to a poor girl.
Having thus explained to you, monsieur, the opinions of my dear
godfather, who, far from opposing my happiness, seeks to
contribute to it in every way, and earnestly desires that his
protection, which must soon fail me, may be replaced by a
tenderness equal to his own; there remains only to tell you how
touched I am by your offer and by the compliments which accompany
it. The prudence which dictates my letter is that of an old man to
whom life is well-known; but the gratitude I express is that of a
young girl, in whose soul no other sentiment has arisen.
Therefore, monsieur, I can sign myself, in all sincerity,
Savinien made no reply. Was he trying to soften his mother? Had this
letter put an end to his love? Many such questions, all insoluble,
tormented poor Ursula, and, by repercussion, the doctor too, who
suffered from every agitation of his darling child. Ursula went often
to her chamber to look at Savinien, whom she usually found sitting
pensively before his table with his eyes turned towards her window. At
the end of the week, but no sooner, she received a letter from him;
the delay was explained by his increasing love.
To Mademoiselle Ursula Mirouet:
Dear Ursula,--I am a Breton, and when my mind is once made up
nothing can change me. Your godfather, whom may God preserve to
us, is right; but does it follow that I am wrong in loving you?
Therefore, all I want to know from you is whether you could love
me. Tell me this, if only by a sign, and then the next four years
will be the finest of my life.
A friend of mine has delivered to my great-uncle, Vice-admiral
Kergarouet, a letter in which I asked his help to enter the navy.
The kind old man, grieved at my misfortune, replies that even the
king's favor would be thwarted by the rules of the service in case
I wanted a certain rank. Nevertheless, if I study three months at
Toulon, the minister of war can send me to sea as master's mate;
then after a cruise against the Algerines, with whom we are now at
war, I can go through an examination and become a midshipman.
Moreover, if I distinguish myself in an expedition they are
fitting out against Algiers, I shall certainly be made ensign--but
how soon? that no one can tell. Only, they will make the rules as
elastic as possible to have the name of Portenduere again in the navy.
I see very plainly that I can only hope to obtain you from your
godfather; and your respect for him makes you still dearer to me.
Before replying to the admiral, I must have an interview with the
doctor; on his reply my whole future will depend. Whatever comes
of it, know this, that rich or poor, the daughter of a band master
or the daughter of a king, you are the woman whom the voice of my
heart points out to me. Dear Ursula, we live in times when
prejudices which might once have separated us have no power to
prevent our marriage. To you, then, I offer the feelings of my
heart, to your uncle the guarantees which secure to him your
happiness. He has not seen that I, in a few hours, came to love
you more than he has loved you in fifteen years.
Until this evening.
"Here, godfather," said Ursula, holding the letter out to him with a
"Ah, my child!" cried the doctor when he had read it, "I am happier
than even you. He repairs all his faults by this resolution."
After dinner Savinien presented himself, and found the doctor walking
with Ursula by the balustrade of the terrace overlooking the river.
The viscount had received his clothes from Paris, and had not missed
heightening his natural advantages by a careful toilet, as elegant as
though he were striving to please the proud and beautiful Comtesse de
Kergarouet. Seeing him approach her from the portico, the poor girl
clung to her uncle's arm as though she were saving herself from a fall
over a precipice, and the doctor heard the beating of her heart, which
made him shudder.
"Leave us, my child," he said to the girl, who went to the pagoda and
sat upon the steps, after allowing Savinien to take her hand and kiss
"Monsieur, will you give this dear hand to a naval captain?" he said
to the doctor in a low voice.
"No," said Minoret, smiling; "we might have to wait too long, but--I
will give her to a lieutenant."
Tears of joy filled the young man's eyes as he pressed the doctor's
"I am about to leave," he said, "to study hard and try to learn in six
months what the pupils of the Naval School take six years to acquire."
"You are going?" said Ursula, springing towards them from the
"Yes, mademoiselle, to deserve you. Therefore the more eager I am to
go, the more I prove to you my affection."
"This is the 3rd of October," she said, looking at him with infinite
tenderness; "do not go till after the 19th."
"Yes," said the old man, "we will celebrate Saint-Savinien's day."
"Good-by, then," cried the young man. "I must spend this week in
Paris, to take the preliminary steps, buy books and mathematical
instruments, and try to conciliate the minister and get the best terms
that I can for myself."
Ursula and her godfather accompanied Savinien to the gate. Soon after
he entered his mother's house they saw him come out again, followed by
Tiennette carrying his valise.
"If you are rich," said Ursula to her uncle, "why do you make him
serve in the navy?"
"Presently it will be I who incurred his debts," said the doctor,
smiling. "I don't oblige him to do anything; but the uniform, my dear,
and the cross of the Legion of honor, won in battle, will wipe out
many stains. Before six years are over he may be in command of a ship,
and that's all I ask of him."
"But he may be killed," she said, turning a pale face upon the doctor.
"Lovers, like drunkards, have a providence of their own," he said,
That night the poor child, with La Bougival's help, cut off a
sufficient quantity of her long and beautiful blond hair to make a
chain; and the next day she persuaded old Schmucke, the music-master,
to take it to Paris and have the chain made and returned by the
following Sunday. When Savinien got back he informed the doctor and
Ursula that he had signed his articles and was to be at Brest on the
25th. The doctor asked him to dinner on the 18th, and he passed nearly
two whole days in the old man's house. Notwithstanding much sage
advice and many resolutions, the lovers could not help betraying their
secret understanding to the watchful eyes of the abbe, Monsieur
Bongrand, the Nemours doctor, and La Bougival.
"Children," said the old man, "you are risking your happiness by not
keeping it to yourselves."
On the fete-day, after mass, during which several glances had been
exchanged, Savinien, watched by Ursula, crossed the road and entered
the little garden where the pair were practically alone; for the kind
old man, by way of indulgence, was reading his newspapers in the
"Dear Ursula," said Savinien; "will you make a gift greater than my
mother could make me even if--"
"I know what you wish to ask me," she said, interrupting him. "See,
here is my answer," she added, taking from the pocket of her apron the
box containing the chain made of her hair, and offering it to him with
a nervous tremor which testified to her illimitable happiness. "Wear
it," she said, "for love of me. May it shield you from all dangers by
reminding you that my life depends on yours."
"Naughty little thing! she is giving him a chain of her hair," said
the doctor to himself. "How did she manage to get it? what a pity to
cut those beautiful fair tresses; she will be giving him my life's
"You will not blame me if I ask you to give me, now that I am leaving
you, a formal promise to have no other husband than me," said
Savinien, kissing the chain and looking at Ursula with tears in his
"Have I not said so too often--I who went to see the walls of Sainte-
Pelagie when you were behind them?--" she replied, blushing. "I repeat
it, Savinien; I shall never love any one but you, and I will be yours
Seeing that Ursula was half-hidden by the creepers, the young man
could not deny himself the happiness of pressing her to his heart and
kissing her forehead; but she gave a feeble cry and dropped upon the
bench, and when Savinien sat beside her, entreating pardon, he saw the
doctor standing before them.
"My friend," said the old man, "Ursula is a born sensitive; too rough
a word might kill her. For her sake you must moderate the enthusiasm
of your love--Ah! if you had loved her for sixteen years as I have,
you would have been satisfied with her word of promise," he added, to
revenge himself for the last sentence in Savinien's second letter.
Two days later the young man departed. In spite of the letters which
he wrote regularly to Ursula, she fell a prey to an illness without
apparent cause. Like a fine fruit with a worm at the core, a single
thought gnawed her heart. She lost both appetite and color. The first
time her godfather asked her what she felt, she replied:--
"I want to see the ocean."
"It is difficult to take you to a sea-port in the depth of winter,"
answered the old man.
"Shall I really go?" she said.
If the wind was high, Ursula was inwardly convulsed, certain, in spite
of the learned assurances of the doctor and the abbe, that Savinien
was being tossed about in a whirlwind. Monsieur Bongrand made her
happy for days with the gift of an engraving representing a midshipman
in uniform. She read the newspapers, imagining that they would give
news of the cruiser on which her lover sailed. She devoured Cooper's
sea-tales and learned to use sea-terms. Such proofs of concentration
of feeling, often assumed by other women, were so genuine in Ursula
that she saw in dreams the coming of Savinien's letters, and never
failed to announce them, relating the dream as a forerunner.
"Now," she said to the doctor the fourth time that this happened, "I
am easy; wherever Savinien may be, if he is wounded I shall know it
The old doctor thought over this remark so anxiously that the abbe and
Monsieur Bongrand were troubled by the sorrowful expression of his
"What pains you?" they said, when Ursula had left them.
"Will she live?" replied the doctor. "Can so tender and delicate a
flower endure the trials of the heart?"
Nevertheless, the "little dreamer," as the abbe called her, was
working hard. She understood the importance of a fine education to a
woman of the world, and all the time she did not give to her singing
and to the study of harmony and composition she spent in reading the
books chosen for her by the abbe from her godfather's rich library.
And yet while leading this busy life she suffered, though without
complaint. Sometimes she would sit for hours looking at Savinien's
window. On Sundays she would leave the church behind Madame de
Portenduere and watch her tenderly; for, in spite of the old lady's
harshness, she loved her as Savinien's mother. Her piety increased;
she went to mass every morning, for she firmly believed that her
dreams were the gift of God.
At last her godfather, frightened by the effects produced by this
nostalgia of love, promised on her birthday to take her to Toulon to
see the departure of the fleet for Algiers. Savinien's ship formed
part of it, but he was not to be informed beforehand of their
intention. The abbe and Monsieur Bongrand kept secret the object of
this journey, said to be for Ursula's health, which disturbed and
greatly puzzled the relations. After beholding Savinien in his naval
uniform, and going on board the fine flag-ship of the admiral, to whom
the minister had given young Portenduere a special recommendation,
Ursula, at her lover's entreaty, went with her godfather to Nice, and
along the shores of the Mediterranean to Genoa, where she heard of the
safe arrival of the fleet at Algiers and the landing of the troops.
The doctor would have liked to continue the journey through Italy, as
much to distract Ursula's mind as to finish, in some sense, her
education, by enlarging her ideas through comparison with other
manners and customs and countries, and by the fascination of a land
where the masterpieces of art can still be seen, and where so many
civilizations have left their brilliant traces. But the tidings of the
opposition by the throne to the newly elected Chamber of 1830 obliged
the doctor to return to France, bringing back his treasure in a
flourishing state of health and possessed of a charming little model
of the ship on which Savinien was serving.
The elections of 1830 united into an active body the various Minoret
relations,--Desire and Goupil having formed a committee in Nemours by
whose efforts a liberal candidate was put in nomination at
Fontainebleau. Massin, as collector of taxes, exercised an enormous
influence over the country electors. Five of the post master's farmers
were electors. Dionis represented eleven votes. After a few meetings
at the notary's, Cremiere, Massin, the post master, and their
adherents took a habit of assembling there. By the time the doctor
returned, Dionis's office and salon were the camp of his heirs. The
justice of peace and the mayor, who had formed an alliance, backed by
the nobility in the neighbouring castles, to resist the liberals of
Nemours, now worsted in their efforts, were more closely united than
ever by their defeat.
By the time Bongrand and the Abbe Chaperon were able to tell the
doctor by word of mouth the result of the antagonism, which was
defined for the first time, between the two classes in Nemours (giving
incidentally such importance to his heirs) Charles X. had left
Rambouillet for Cherbourg. Desire Minoret, whose opinions were those
of the Paris bar, sent for fifteen of his friends, commanded by Goupil
and mounted on horses from his father's stable, who arrived in Paris
on the night of the 28th. With this troop Goupil and Desire took part
in the capture of the Hotel-de-Veille. Desire was decorated with the
Legion of honor and appointed deputy procureur du roi at
Fontainebleau. Goupil received the July cross. Dionis was elected
mayor of Nemours, and the city council was composed of the post master
(now assistant-mayor), Massin, Cremiere, and all the adherents of the
family faction. Bongrand retained his place only through the influence
of his son, procureur du roi at Melun, whose marriage with
Mademoiselle Levrault was then on the tapis.
Seeing the three-per-cents quoted at forty-five, the doctor started by
post for Paris, and invested five hundred and forty thousand francs
in shares to bearer. The rest of his fortune which amounted to about
two hundred and seventy thousand francs, standing in his own name in
the same funds, gave him ostensibly an income of fifteen thousand
francs a year. He made the same disposition of Ursula's little capital
bequeathed to her by de Jordy, together with the accrued interest
thereon, which gave her about fourteen hundred francs a year in her
own right. La Bougival, who had laid by some five thousand francs of
her savings, did the same by the doctor's advice, receiving in future
three hundred and fifty francs a year in dividends. These judicious
transactions, agreed on between the doctor and Monsieur Bongrand, were
carried out in perfect secrecy, thanks to the political troubles of
When quiet was again restored the doctor bought the little house which
adjoined his own and pulled it down so as to build a coach-house and
stables on its side. To employ a capital which would have given him a
thousand francs a year on outbuildings seemed actual folly to the
Minoret heirs. This folly, if it were one, was the beginning of a new
era in the doctor's existence, for he now (at a period when horses and
carriages were almost given away) brought back from Paris three fine
horses and a caleche.
When, in the early part of November, 1830, the old man came to church
on a rainy day in the new carriage, and gave his hand to Ursula to
help her out, all the inhabitants flocked to the square,--as much to
see the caleche and question the coachman, as to criticize the
goddaughter, to whose excessive pride and ambition Massin, Cremiere,
the post master, and their wives attributed this extravagant folly of
the old man.
"A caleche! Hey, Massin!" cried Goupil. "Your inheritance will go at
top speed now!"
"You ought to be getting good wages, Cabirolle," said the post master
to the son of one of his conductors, who stood by the horses; "for it
is to be supposed an old man of eighty-four won't use up many horse-
shoes. What did those horses cost?"
"Four thousand francs. The caleche, though second-hand, was two
thousand; but it's a fine one, the wheels are patent."
"Yes, it's a good carriage," said Cremiere; "and a man must be rich to
buy that style of thing."
"Ursula means to go at a good pace," said Goupil. "She's right; she's
showing you how to enjoy life. Why don't you have fine carriages and
horses, papa Minoret? I wouldn't let myself be humiliated if I were
you--I'd buy a carriage fit for a prince."
"Come, Cabirolle, tell us," said Massin, "is it the girl who drives
our uncle into such luxury?"
"I don't know," said Cabirolle; "but she is almost mistress of the
house. There are masters upon masters down from Paris. They say now
she is going to study painting."
"Then I shall seize the occasion to have my portrait drawn," said
In the provinces they always say a picture is drawn, not painted.
"The old German is not dismissed, is he?" said Madame Massin.
"He was there yesterday," replied Cabirolle.
"Now," said Goupil, "you may as well give up counting on your
inheritance. Ursula is seventeen years old, and she is prettier than
ever. Travel forms young people, and the little minx has got your
uncle in the toils. Five or six parcels come down for her by the
diligence every week, and the dressmakers and milliners come too, to
try on her gowns and all the rest of it. Madame Dionis is furious.
Watch for Ursula as she comes out of church and look at the little
scarf she is wearing round her neck,--real cashmere, and it cost six
If a thunderbolt had fallen in the midst of the heirs the effect would
have been less than that of Goupil's last words; the mischief-maker
stood by rubbing his hands.
The doctor's old green salon had been renovated by a Parisian
upholsterer. Judged by the luxury displayed, he was sometimes accused
of hoarding immense wealth, sometimes of spending his capital on
Ursula. The heirs called him in turn a miser and a spendthrift, but
the saying, "He's an old fool!" summed upon, on the whole, the verdict
of the neighbourhood. These mistaken judgments of the little town had
the one advantage of misleading the heirs, who never suspected the
love between Savinien and Ursula, which was the secret reason of the
doctor's expenditure. The old man took the greatest delights in
accustoming his godchild to her future station in the world.
Possessing an income of over fifty thousand francs a year, it gave him
pleasure to adorn his idol.
In the month of February, 1832, the day when Ursula was eighteen, her
eyes beheld Savinien in the uniform of an ensign as she looked from
her window when she rose in the morning.
"Why didn't I know he was coming?" she said to herself.
After the taking of Algiers, Savinien had distinguished himself by an
act of courage which won him the cross. The corvette on which he was
serving was many months at sea without his being able to communicate
with the doctor; and he did not wish to leave the service without
consulting him. Desirous of retaining in the navy a name already
illustrious in its service, the new government had profited by a
general change of officers to make Savinien an ensign. Having obtained
leave of absence for fifteen days, the new officer arrived from Toulon
by the mail, in time for Ursula's fete, intending to consult the
doctor at the same time.
"He has come!" cried Ursula rushing into her godfather's bedroom.
"Very good," he answered; "I can guess what brings him, and he may now
stay in Nemours."
"Ah! that's my birthday present--it is all in that sentence," she
said, kissing him.
On a sign, which she ran up to make from her window, Savinien came
over at once; she longed to admire him, for he seemed to her so
changed for the better. Military service does, in fact, give a certain
grave decision to the air and carriage and gestures of a man, and an
erect bearing which enables the most superficial observer to recognize
a military man even in plain clothes. The habit of command produces
this result. Ursula loved Savinien the better for it, and took a
childlike pleasure in walking round the garden with him, taking his
arm, and hearing him relate the part he played (as midshipman) in the
taking of Algiers. Evidently Savinien had taken the city. The doctor,
who had been watching them from his window as he dressed, soon came
down. Without telling the viscount everything, he did say that, in
case Madame de Portenduere consented to his marriage with Ursula, the
fortune of his godchild would make his naval pay superfluous.
"Alas!" said Savinien. "It will take a great deal of time to overcome
my mother's opposition. Before I left her to enter the navy she was
placed between two alternatives,--either to consent to my marrying
Ursula or else to see me only from time to time and to know me exposed
to the dangers of the profession; and you see she chose to let me go."
"But, Savinien, we shall be together," said Ursula, taking his hand
and shaking it with a sort of impatience.
To see each other and not to part,--that was the all of love to her;
she saw nothing beyond it; and her pretty gesture and the petulant
tone of her voice expressed such innocence that Savinien and the
doctor were both moved by it. The resignation was written and
despatched, and Ursula's fete received full glory from the presence of
her betrothed. A few months later, towards the month of May, the home-
life of the doctor's household had resumed the quite tenor of its way
but with one welcome visitor the more. The attentions of the young
viscount were soon interpreted in the town as those of a future
husband,--all the more because his manners and those of Ursula,
whether in church, or on the promenade, though dignified and reserved,
betrayed the understanding of their hearts. Dionis pointed out to the
heirs that the doctor had never asked Madame de Portenduere for the
interest of his money, three years of which was now due.
"She'll be forced to yield, and consent to this derogatory marriage of
her son," said the notary. "If such a misfortune happens it is
probable that the greater part of your uncle's fortune will serve for
what Basile calls 'an irresistible argument.'"
URSULA AGAIN ORPHANED
The irritation of the heirs, when convinced that their uncle loved
Ursula too well not to secure her happiness at their expense, became
as underhand as it was bitter. Meeting in Dionis's salon (as they had
done every evening since the revolution of 1830) they inveighed
against the lovers, and seldom separated without discussing some way
of circumventing the old man. Zelie, who had doubtless profited by the
fall in the Funds, as the doctor had done, to invest some, at least,
of her enormous gains, was bitterest of them all against the orphan
girl and the Portendueres. One evening, when Goupil, who usually
avoided the dullness of these meetings, had come in to learn something
of the affairs of the town which were under discussion, Zelie's hatred
was freshly excited; she had seen the doctor, Ursula, and Savinien
returning in the caleche from a country drive, with an air of intimacy
that told all.
"I'd give thirty thousand francs if God would call uncle to himself
before the marriage of young Portenduere with that affected minx can
take place," she said.
Goupil accompanied Monsieur and Madame Minoret to the middle of their
great courtyard, and there said, looking round to see if they were
"Will you give me the means of buying Dionis's practice? If you will,
I will break off the marriage between Portenduere and Ursula."
"How?" asked the colossus.
"Do you think I am such a fool as to tell you my plan?" said the
notary's head clerk.
"Well, my lad, separate them, and we'll see what we can do," said
"I don't embark in any such business on a 'we'll see.' The young man
is a fire-eater who might kill me; I ought to be rough-shod and as
good a hand with a sword or a pistol as he is. Set me up in business,
and I'll keep my word."
"Prevent the marriage and I will set you up," said the post master.
"It is nine months since you have been thinking of lending me a paltry
fifteen thousand francs to buy Lecoeur's practice, and you expect me
to trust you now! Nonsense; you'll lose your uncle's property, and
serve you right."
"It if were only a matter of fifteen thousand francs and Lecoeur's
practice, that might be managed," said Zelie; "but to give security
for you in a hundred and fifty thousand is another thing."
"But I'll do my part," said Goupil, flinging a seductive look at
Zelie, which encountered the imperious glance of the post mistress.
The effect was that of venom on steel.
"We can wait," said Zelie.
"The devil's own spirit is in you," thought Goupil. "If I ever catch
that pair in my power," he said to himself as he left the yard, "I'll
squeeze them like lemons."
By cultivating the society of the doctor, the abbe, and Monsieur
Bongrand, Savinien proved the excellence of his character. The love of
this young man for Ursula, so devoid of self-interest, and so
persistent, interested the three friends deeply, and they now never
separated the lovers in their thoughts. Soon the monotony of this
patriarchal life, and the certainty of a future before them, gave to
their affection a fraternal character. The doctor often left the pair
alone together. He judged the young man rightly; he saw him kiss her
hand on arriving, but he knew he would ask no kiss when alone with
her, so deeply did the lover respect the innocence, the frankness of
the young girl, whose excessive sensibility, often tried, taught him
that a harsh word, a cold look, or the alternations of gentleness and
roughness might kill her. The only freedom between the two took place
before the eyes of the old man in the evenings.
Two years, full of secret happiness, passed thus,--without other
events than the fruitless efforts made by the young man to obtain from
his mother her consent to his marriage. He talked to her sometimes for
hours together. She listened and made no answer to his entreaties,
other than by Breton silence or a positive denial.
At nineteen years of age Ursula, elegant in appearance, a fine
musician, and well brought up, had nothing more to learn; she was
perfected. The fame of her beauty and grace and education spread far.
The doctor was called upon to decline the overtures of Madame
d'Aiglemont, who was thinking of Ursula for her eldest son. Six months
later, in spite of the secrecy the doctor and Ursula maintained on
this subject, Savinien heard of it. Touched by so much delicacy, he
made use of the incident in another attempt to vanquish his mother's
obstinacy; but she merely replied:--
"If the d'Aiglemonts choose to ally themselves ill, is that any reason
why we should do so?"
In December, 1834, the kind and now truly pious old doctor, then
eighty-eight years old, declined visibly. When seen out of doors, his
face pinched and wan and his eyes pale, all the town talked of his
approaching death. "You'll soon know results," said the community to
the heirs. In truth the old man's death had all the attraction of a
problem. But the doctor himself did not know he was ill; he had his
illusions, and neither poor Ursula nor Savinien nor Bongrand nor the
abbe were willing to enlighten him as to his condition. The Nemours
doctor who came to see him every day did not venture to prescribe. Old
Minoret felt no pain; his lamp of life was gently going it. His mind
continued firm and clear and powerful. In old men thus constituted the
soul governs the body, and gives it strength to die erect. The abbe,
anxious not to hasten the fatal end, released his parishioner from the
duty of hearing mass in church, and allowed him to read the services
at home, for the doctor faithfully attended to all his religious
duties. The nearer he came to the grave the more he loved God; the
lights eternal shone upon all difficulties and explained them more and
more clearly to his mind. Early in the year Ursula persuaded him to
sell the carriage and horses and dismiss Cabirolle. Monsieur Bongrand,
whose uneasiness about Ursula's future was far from quieted by the
doctor's half-confidence, boldly opened the subject one evening and
showed his old friend the importance of making Ursula legally of age.
Still the old man, though he had often consulted the justice of peace,
would not reveal to him the secret of his provision for Ursula, though
he agreed to the necessity of securing her independence by majority.
The more Monsieur Bongrand persisted in his efforts to discover the
means selected by his old friend to provide for his darling the more
wary the doctor became.
"Why not secure the thing," said Bongrand, "why run any risks?"
"When you are between two risks," replied the doctor, "avoid the most
Bongrand carried through the business of making Ursula of age so
promptly that the papers were ready by the day she was twenty. That
anniversary was the last pleasure of the old doctor who, seized
perhaps with a presentiment of his end, gave a little ball, to which
he invited all the young people in the families of Dionis, Cremiere,
Minoret, and Massin. Savinien, Bongrand, the abbe and his two
assistant priests, the Nemours doctor, and Mesdames Zelie Minoret,
Massin, and Cremiere, together with old Schmucke, were the guests at a
grand dinner which preceded the ball.
"I feel I am going," said the old man to the notary towards the close
of the evening. "I beg you to come to-morrow and draw up my
guardianship account with Ursula, so as not to complicate my property
after my death. Thank God! I have not withdrawn one penny from my
heirs,--I have disposed of nothing but my income. Messieurs Cremiere,
Massin, and Minoret my nephew are members of the family council
appointed for Ursula, and I wish them to be present at the rendering
of my account."
These words, heard by Massin and quickly passed from one to another
round the ball-room, poured balm into the minds of the three families,
who had lived in perpetual alternations of hope and fear, sometimes
thinking they were certain of wealth, oftener that they were
When, about two in the morning, the guests were all gone and no one
remained in the salon but Savinien, Bongrand, and the abbe, the old
doctor said, pointing to Ursula, who was charming in her ball dress;
"To you, my friends, I confide her! A few days more, and I shall be
here no longer to protect her. Put yourselves between her and the
world until she is married,--I fear for her."
The words made a painful impression. The guardian's account, rendered
a day or two later in presence of the family council, showed that
Doctor Minoret owed a balance to his ward of ten thousand six hundred
francs from the bequest of Monsieur de Jordy, and also from a little
capital of gifts made by the doctor himself to Ursula during the last
fifteen years, on birthdays and other anniversaries.
This formal rendering of the account was insisted on by the justice of
the peace, who feared (unhappily, with too much reason) the results of
Doctor Minoret's death.
The following day the old man was seized with a weakness which
compelled him to keep his bed. In spite of the reserve which always
surrounded the doctor's house and kept it from observation, the news
of his approaching death spread through the town, and the heirs began
to run hither and thither through the streets, like the pearls of a
chaplet when the string is broken. Massin called at the house to learn
the truth, and was told by Ursula herself that the doctor was in bed.
The Nemours doctor had remarked that whenever old Minoret took to his
bed he would die; and therefore in spite of the cold, the heirs took
their stand in the street, on the square, at their own doorsteps,
talking of the event so long looked for, and watching for the moment
when the priests should appear, bearing the sacrament, with all the
paraphernalia customary in the provinces, to the dying man.
Accordingly, two days later, when the Abbe Chaperon, with an assistant
and the choir-boys, preceded by the sacristan bearing the cross,
passed along the Grand'Rue, all the heirs joined the procession, to
get an entrance to the house and see that nothing was abstracted, and
lay their eager hands upon its coveted treasures at the earliest
When the doctor saw, behind the clergy, the row of kneeling heirs, who
instead of praying were looking at him with eyes that were brighter
than the tapers, he could not restrain a smile. The abbe turned round,
saw them, and continued to say the prayers slowly. The post master was
the first to abandon the kneeling posture; his wife followed him.
Massin, fearing that Zelie and her husband might lay hands on some
ornament, joined them in the salon, where all the heirs were presently
assembled one by one.
"He is too honest a man to steal extreme unction," said Cremiere; "we
may be sure of his death now."
"Yes, we shall each get about twenty thousand francs a year," replied
"I have an idea," said Zelie, "that for the last three years he hasn't
invested anything--he grew fond of hoarding."
"Perhaps the money is in the cellar," whispered Massin to Cremiere.
"I hope we shall be able to find it," said Minoret-Levrault.
"But after what he said at the ball we can't have any doubt," cried
"In any case," began Cremiere, "how shall we manage? Shall we divide;
shall we go to law; or could we draw lots? We are adults, you know--"
A discussion, which soon became angry, now arose as to the method of
procedure. At the end of half an hour a perfect uproar of voices,
Zelie's screeching organ detaching itself from the rest, resounded in
the courtyard and even in the street.
The noise reached the doctor's ears; he heard the words, "The house--
the house is worth thirty thousand francs. I'll take it at that,"
said, or rather bellowed by Cremiere.
"Well, we'll take what it's worth," said Zelie, sharply.
"Monsieur l'abbe," said the old man to the priest, who remained beside
his friend after administering the communion, "help me to die in
peace. My heirs, like those of Cardinal Ximenes, are capable of
pillaging the house before my death, and I have no monkey to revive
me. Go and tell them I will have none of them in my house."
The priest and the doctor of the town went downstairs and repeated the