Part 4 out of 5
message of the dying man, adding, in their indignation, strong words
of their own.
"Madame Bougival," said the doctor, "close the iron gate and allow no
one to enter; even the dying, it seems, can have no peace. Prepare
mustard poultices and apply them to the soles of Monsieur's feet."
"Your uncle is not dead," said the abbe, "and he may live some time
longer. He wishes for absolute silence, and no one beside him but his
niece. What a difference between the conduct of that young girl and
"Old hypocrite!" exclaimed Cremiere. "I shall keep watch of him. It is
possible he's plotting something against our interests."
The post master had already disappeared into the garden, intending to
watch there and wait his chance to be admitted to the house as an
assistant. He now returned to it very softly, his boots making no
noise, for there were carpets on the stairs and corridors. He was able
to reach the door of his uncle's room without being heard. The abbe
and the doctor had left the house; La Bougival was making the
"Are we quite alone?" said the old man to his godchild.
Ursula stood on tiptoe and looked into the courtyard.
"Yes," she said; "the abbe has just closed the gate after him."
"My darling child," said the dying man, "my hours, my minutes even,
are counted. I have not been a doctor for nothing; I shall not last
till evening. Do not cry, my Ursula," he said, fearing to be
interrupted by the child's weeping, "but listen to me carefully; it
concerns your marriage to Savinien. As soon as La Bougival comes back
go down to the pagoda,--here is the key,--lift the marble top of the
Boule buffet and you will find a letter beneath it, sealed and
addressed to you; take it and come back here, for I cannot die easy
unless I see it in your hands. When I am dead do not let any one know
of it immediately, but send for Monsieur de Portenduere; read the
letter together; swear to me now, in his name and your own, that you
will carry out my last wishes. When Savinien has obeyed me, then
announce my death, but not till then. The comedy of the heirs will
begin. God grant those monsters may not ill-treat you."
The post master did not listen to the end of this scene; he slipped
away on tip-toe, remembering that the lock of the study was on the
library side of the door. He had been present in former days at an
argument between the architect and a locksmith, the latter declaring
that if the pagoda were entered by the window on the river it would be
much safer to put the lock of the door opening into the library on the
library side. Dazzled by his hopes, and his ears flushed with blood,
Minoret sprang the lock with the point of his knife as rapidly as a
burglar could have done it. He entered the study, followed the
doctor's directions, took the package of papers without opening it,
relocked the door, put everything in order, and went into the dining-
room and sat down, waiting till La Bougival had gone upstairs with the
poultice before he ventured to leave the house. He then made his
escape,--all the more easily because poor Ursula lingered to see that
La Bougival applied the poultice properly.
"The letter! the letter!" cried the old man, in a dying voice. "Obey
me; take the key. I must see you with that letter in your hand."
The words were said with so wild a look that La Bougival exclaimed to
"Do what he asks at once or you will kill him."
She kissed his forehead, took the key and went down. A moment later,
recalled by a cry from La Bougival, she ran back. The old man looked
at her eagerly. Seeing her hands empty, he rose in his bed, tried to
speak, and died with a horrible gasp, his eyes haggard with fear. The
poor girl, who saw death for the first time, fell on her knees and
burst into tears. La Bougival closed the old man's eyes and
straightened him on the bed; then she ran to call Savinien; but the
heirs, who stood at the corner of the street, like crows watching till
a horse is buried before they scratch at the ground and turn it over
with beak and claw, flocked in with the celerity of birds of prey.
THE DOCTOR'S WILL
While these events were taking place the post master had hurried home
to open the mysterious package and know its contents.
To my dear Ursula Mirouet, daughter of my natural half-brother,
Joseph Mirouet, and Dinah Grollman:--
My dear Angel,--The fatherly affection I bear you--and which you
have so fully justified--came not only from the promise I gave
your father to take his place, but also from your resemblance to
my wife, Ursula Mirouet, whose grace, intelligence, frankness, and
charm you constantly recall to my mind. Your position as the
daughter of a natural son of my father-in-law might invalidate all
testamentary bequests made by me in your favor--
"The old rascal!" cried the post master.
Had I adopted you the result might also have been a lawsuit, and I
shrank from the idea of transmitting my fortune to you by
marriage, for I might live years and thus interfere with your
happiness, which is now delayed only by Madame de Portenduere.
Having weighted these difficulties carefully, and wishing to leave
you enough money to secure to you a prosperous existence--
"The scoundrel, he has thought of everything!"
--without injuring my heirs--
"The Jesuit! as if he did not owe us every penny of his money!"
--I intend you to have the savings from my income which I have for
the last eighteen years steadily invested, by the help of my
notary, seeking to make you thereby as happy as any one can be
made by riches. Without means, your education and your lofty ideas
would cause you unhappiness. Besides, you ought to bring a liberal
dowry to the fine young man who loves you. You will therefore find
in the middle of the third volume of Pandects, folio, bound in red
morocco (the last volume on the first shelf above the little table
in the library, on the side of the room next the salon), three
certificates of Funds in the three-per-cents, made out to bearer,
each amounting to twelve thousand francs a year--
"What depths of wickedness!" screamed the post master. "Ah! God would
not permit me to be so defrauded."
Take these at once, and also some uninvested savings made to this
date, which you will find in the preceding volume. Remember, my
darling child, that you must obey a wish that has made the
happiness of my whole life; a wish that will force me to ask the
intervention of God should you disobey me. But, to guard against
all scruples in your dear conscience--for I well know how ready it
is to torture you--you will find herewith a will in due form
bequeathing these certificates to Monsieur Savinien de
Portenduere. So, whether you possess them in your own name, or
whether they come to you from him you love, they will be, in every
sense, your legitimate property.
To this letter was annexed the following paper written on a sheet of
This is my will: I, Denis Minoret, doctor of medicine, settled in
Nemours, being of sound mind and body, as the date of this
document will show, do bequeath my soul to God, imploring him to
pardon my errors in view of my sincere repentance. Next, having
found in Monsieur le Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere a true and
honest affection for me, I bequeath to him the sum of thirty-six
thousand francs a year from the Funds, at three per cent, the said
bequest to take precedence of all inheritance accruing to my
Written by my own hand, at Nemours, on the 11th of January, 1831.
Without an instant's hesitation the post master, who had locked
himself into his wife's bedroom to insure being alone, looked about
for the tinder-box, and received two warnings from heaven by the
extinction of two matches which obstinately refused to light. The
third took fire. He burned the letter and the will on the hearth and
buried the vestiges of paper and sealing-wax in the ashes by way of
superfluous caution. Then, allured by the thought of possessing
thirty-six thousand francs a year of which his wife knew nothing, he
returned at full speed to his uncle's house, spurred by the only idea,
a clear-cut, simple idea, which was able to piece and penetrate his
dull brain. Finding the house invaded by the three families, now
masters of the place, he trembled lest he should be unable to
accomplish a project to which he gave no reflection whatever, except
so far as to fear the obstacles.
"What are you doing here?" he said to Massin and Cremiere. "We can't
leave the house and the property to be pillaged. We are the heirs, but
we can't camp here. You, Cremiere, go to Dionis at once and tell him
to come and certify to the death; I can't draw up the mortuary
certificate for an uncle, though I am assistant-mayor. You, Massin, go
and ask old Bongrand to attach the seals. As for you, ladies," he
added, turning to his wife and Mesdames Cremiere and Massin, "go and
look after Ursula; then nothing can be stolen. Above all, close the
iron gate and don't let any one leave the house."
The women, who felt the justice of this remark, ran to Ursula's
bedroom, where they found the noble girl, so cruelly suspected, on her
knees before God, her face covered with tears. Minoret, suspecting
that the women would not long remain with Ursula, went at once to the
library, found the volume, opened it, took the three certificates, and
found in the other volume about thirty bank notes. In spite of his
brutal nature the colossus felt as though a peal of bells were ringing
in each ear. The blood whistled in his temples as he committed the
theft; cold as the weather was, his shirt was wet on his back; his
legs gave way under him and he fell into a chair in the salon as if an
axe had fallen on his head.
"How the inheritance of money loosens a man's tongue! Did you hear
Minoret?" said Massin to Cremiere as they hurried through the town.
"'Go here, go there,' just as if he knew everything."
"Yes, for a dull beast like him he had a certain air of--"
"Stop!" said Massin, alarmed at a sudden thought. "His wife is there;
they've got some plan! Do you do both errands; I'll go back."
Just as the post master fell into the chair he saw at the gate the
heated face of the clerk of the court who returned to the house of
death with the celerity of a weasel.
"Well, what is it now?" asked the post master, unlocking the gate for
"Nothing; I have come back to be present at the sealing," answered
Massin, giving him a savage look.
"I wish those seals were already on, so that we could go home," said
"We shall have to put a watcher over them," said Massin. "La Bougival
is capable of anything in the interests of that minx. We'll put Goupil
"Goupil!" said the post master; "put a rat in the meal!"
"Well, let's consider," returned Massin. "To-night they'll watch the
body; the seals can be affixed in an hour; our wives could look after
them. To-morrow we'll have the funeral at twelve o'clock. But the
inventory can't be made under a week."
"Let's get rid of that girl at once," said the colossus; "then we can
safely leave the watchman of the town-hall to look after the house and
"Good," cried Massin. "You are the head of the Minoret family."
"Ladies," said Minoret, "be good enough to stay in the salon; we can't
think of our dinner to-day; the seals must be put on at once for the
security of all interests."
He took his wife apart and told her Massin's proposition about Ursula.
The women, whose hearts were full of vengeance against the minx, as
they called her, hailed the idea of turning her out. Bongrand arrived
with his assistants to apply the seals, and was indignant when the
request was made to him, by Zelie and Madame Massin, as a near friend
of the deceased, to tell Ursula to leave the house.
"Go and turn her out of her father's house, her benefactor's house
yourselves," he cried. "Go! you who owe your inheritance to the
generosity of her soul; take her by the shoulders and fling her into
the street before the eyes of the whole town! You think her capable of
robbing you? Well, appoint a watcher of the seals; you have a right to
do that. But I tell you at once I shall put no seals on Ursula's room;
she has a right to that room, and everything in it is her own
property. I shall tell her what her rights are, and tell her too to
put everything that belongs to her in this house in that room-- Oh! in
your presence," he said, hearing a growl of dissatisfaction among the
"What do you think of that?" said the collector to the post master and
the women, who seemed stupefied by the angry address of Bongrand.
"Call HIM a magistrate!" cried the post master.
Ursula meanwhile was sitting on her little sofa in a half-fainting
condition, her head thrown back, her braids unfastened, while every
now and then her sobs broke forth. Her eyes were dim and their lids
swollen; she was, in fact, in a state of moral and physical
prostration which might have softened the hardest hearts--except those
of the heirs.
"Ah! Monsieur Bongrand, after my happy birthday comes death and
mourning," she said, with the poetry natural to her. "You know, YOU,
what he was. In twenty years he never said an impatient word to me. I
believed he would live a hundred years. He has been my mother," she
cried, "my good, kind mother."
These simple thoughts brought torrents of tears from her eyes,
interrupted by sobs; then she fell back exhausted.
"My child," said the justice of peace, hearing the heirs on the
staircase. "You have a lifetime before you in which to weep, but you
have now only a moment to attend to your interests. Gather everything
that belongs to you in this house and put it into your own room at
once. The heirs insist on my affixing the seals."
"Ah! his heirs may take everything if they choose," cried Ursula,
sitting upright under an impulse of savage indignation. "I have
something here," she added, striking her breast, "which is far more
"What is it?" said the post master, who with Massin at his heels now
showed his brutal face.
"The remembrances of his virtues, of his life, of his words--an image
of his celestial soul," she said, her eyes and face glowing as she
raised her hand with a glorious gesture.
"And a key!" cried Massin, creeping up to her like a cat and seizing a
key which fell from the bosom of her dress in her sudden movement.
"Yes," she said, blushing, "that is the key of his study; he sent me
there at the moment he was dying."
The two men glanced at each other with horrid smiles, and then at
Monsieur Bongrand, with a meaning look of degrading suspicion. Ursula
who intercepted it, rose to her feet, pale as if the blood had left
her body. Her eyes sent forth the lightnings that perhaps can issue
only at some cost of life, as she said in a choking voice:--
"Monsieur Bongrand, everything in this room is mine through the
kindness of my godfather; they may have it all; I have nothing on me
but the clothes I wear. I shall leave the house and never return to
She went to her godfather's room, and no entreaties could make her
leave it,--the heirs, who now began to be slightly ashamed of their
conduct, endeavoring to persuade her. She requested Monsieur Bongrand
to engage two rooms for her at the "Vieille Poste" inn until she could
find some lodging in town where she could live with La Bougival. She
returned to her own room for her prayer-book, and spent the night,
with the abbe, his assistant, and Savinien, in weeping and praying
beside her uncle's body. Savinien came, after his mother had gone to
bed, and knelt, without a word, beside his Ursula. She smiled at him
sadly, and thanked him for coming faithfully to share her troubles.
"My child," said Monsieur Bongrand, bring her a large package, "one of
your uncle's heirs has taken these necessary articles from your
drawers, for the seals cannot be opened for several days; after that
you will recover everything that belongs to you. I have, for your own
sake, placed the seals on your room."
"Thank you," she replied, pressing his hand. "Look at him again,--he
seems to sleep, does he not?"
The old man's face wore that flower of fleeting beauty which rests
upon the features of the dead who die a painless death; light appeared
to radiate from it.
"Did he give you anything secretly before he died?" whispered M.
"Nothing," she said; "he spoke only of a letter."
"Good! it will certainly be found," said Bongrand. "How fortunate for
you that the heirs demanded the sealing."
At daybreak Ursula bade adieu to the house where her happy youth was
passed; more particularly, to the modest chamber in which her love
began. So dear to her was it that even in this hour of darkest grief
tears of regret rolled down her face for the dear and peaceful haven.
With one last glance at Savinien's windows she left the room and the
house, and went to the inn accompanied by La Bougival, who carried the
package, by Monsieur Bongrand, who gave her his arm, and by Savinien,
her true protector.
Thus it happened that in spite of all his efforts and cautions the
worst fears of the justice of peace were realized; he was now to see
Ursula without means and at the mercy of her benefactor's heirs.
The next afternoon the whole town attended the doctor's funeral. When
the conduct of the heirs to his adopted daughter was publicly known, a
vast majority of the people thought it natural and necessary. An
inheritance was involved; the good man was known to have hoarded;
Ursula might think she had rights; the heirs were only defending their
property; she had humbled them enough during their uncle's lifetime,
for he had treated them like dogs and sent them about their business.
Desire Minoret, who was not going to do wonders in life (so said those
who envied his father), came down for the funeral. Ursula was unable
to be present, for she was in bed with a nervous fever, caused partly
by the insults of the heirs and partly by her heavy affliction.
"Look at that hypocrite weeping," said some of the heirs, pointing to
Savinien, who was deeply affected by the doctor's death.
"The question is," said Goupil, "has he any good grounds for weeping.
Don't laugh too soon, my friends; the seals are not yet removed."
"Pooh!" said Minoret, who had good reason to know the truth, "you are
always frightening us about nothing."
As the funeral procession left the church to proceed to the cemetery,
a bitter mortification was inflicted on Goupil; he tried to take
Desire's arm, but the latter withdrew it and turned away from his
former comrade in presence of all Nemours.
"I won't be angry, or I couldn't get revenge," thought the notary's
clerk, whose dry heart swelled in his bosom like a sponge.
Before breaking the seals and making the inventory, it took some time
for the procureur du roi, who is the legal guardian of orphans, to
commission Monsieur Bongrand to act in his place. After that was done
the settlement of the Minoret inheritance (nothing else being talked
of in the town for ten days) began with all the legal formalities.
Dionis had his pickings; Goupil enjoyed some mischief-making; and as
the business was profitable the sessions were many. After the first of
these sessions all parties breakfasted together; notary, clerk, heirs,
and witnesses drank the best wines in the doctor's cellar.
In the provinces, and especially in little towns where every one lives
in his own house, it is sometimes very difficult to find a lodging.
When a man buys a business of any kind the dwelling-house is almost
always included in the purchase. Monsieur Bongrand saw no other way of
removing Ursula from the village inn than to buy a small house on the
Grand'Rue at the corner of the bridge over the Loing. The little
building had a front door opening on a corridor, and one room on the
ground-floor with two windows on the street; behind this came the
kitchen, with a glass door opening to an inner courtyard about thirty
feet square. A small staircase, lighted on the side towards the river
by small windows, led to the first floor where there were three
chambers, and above these were two attic rooms. Monsieur Bongrand
borrowed two thousand francs from La Bougival's savings to pay the
first instalment of the price,--six thousand francs,--and obtained
good terms for payment of the rest. As Ursula wished to buy her
uncle's books, Bongrand knocked down the partition between two rooms
on the bedroom floor, finding that their united length was the same as
that of the doctor's library, and gave room for his bookshelves.
Savinien and Bongrand urged on the workmen who were cleaning,
painting, and otherwise renewing the tiny place, so that before the
end of March Ursula was able to leave the inn and take up her abode in
the ugly house; where, however, she found a bedroom exactly like the
one she had left; for it was filled with all her furniture, claimed by
the justice of peace when the seals were removed. La Bougival,
sleeping in the attic, could be summoned by a bell placed near the
head of the young girl's bed. The room intended for the books, the
salon on the ground-floor and the kitchen, though still unfurnished,
had been hung with fresh papers and repainted, and only awaited the
purchases which the young girl hoped to make when her godfather's
effects were sold.
Though the strength of Ursula's character was well known to the abbe
and Monsieur Bongrand, they both feared the sudden change from the
comfort and elegancies to which her uncle had accustomed her to this
barren and denuded life. As for Savinien he wept over it. He did, in
fact, make private payments to the workman and to the upholsterer, so
that Ursula should perceive no difference between the new chamber and
the old one. But the young girl herself, whose happiness now lay in
Savinien's own eyes, showed the gentlest resignation, which endeared
her more and more to her two old friends, and proved to them for the
hundredth time that no troubles but those of the heart could make her
suffer. The grief she felt for the loss of her godfather was far too
deep to let her even feel the bitterness of her change of fortune,
though it added fresh obstacles to her marriage. Savinien's distress
in seeing her thus reduced did her so much harm that she whispered to
him, as they came from mass on the morning on the day when she first
went to live in her new house:
"Love could not exist without patience; let us wait."
As soon as the form of the inventory was drawn up, Massin, advised by
Goupil (who turned to him under the influence of his secret hatred to
the post master), summoned Monsieur and Madame de Portenduere to pay
off the mortgage which had now elapsed, together with the interest
accruing thereon. The old lady was bewildered at a summons to pay one
hundred and twenty-nine thousand five hundred and seventeen francs
within twenty-four hours under pain of execution on her house. It was
impossible for her to borrow the money. Savinien went to
Fontainebleau to consult a lawyer.
"You are dealing with a bad set of people who will not compromise,"
was the lawyer's opinion. "They intend to sue in the matter and get
your farm at Bordieres. The best way for you would be to make a
voluntary sale of it and so escape costs."
This dreadful news broke down the old lady. Her son very gently
pointed out to her that had she consented to his marriage in Minoret's
life-time, the doctor would have left his property to Ursula's husband
and they would to-day have been opulent instead of being, as they now
were, in the depths of poverty. Though said without reproach, this
argument annihilated the poor woman even more than the thought of her
coming ejectment. When Ursula heard of this catastrophe she was
stupefied with grief, having scarcely recovered from her fever, and
the blow which the heirs had already dealt her. To love and be unable
to succor the man she loves,--that is one of the most dreadful of all
sufferings to the soul of a noble and sensitive woman.
"I wished to buy my uncle's house," she said, "now I will buy your
"Can you?" said Savinien. "You are a minor, and you cannot sell out
your Funds without formalities to which the procureur du roi, now your
legal guardian, would not agree. We shall not resist. The whole town
will be glad to see the discomfiture of a noble family. These
bourgeois are like hounds after a quarry. Fortunately, I still have
ten thousand francs left, on which I can support my mother till this
deplorable matter is settled. Besides, the inventory of your
godfather's property is not yet finished; Monsieur Bongrand still
thinks he shall find something for you. He is as much astonished as I
am that you seem to be left without fortune. The doctor so often spoke
both to him and to me of the future he had prepared for you that
neither of us can understand this conclusion."
"Pooh!" she said; "so long as I can buy my godfather's books and
furniture and prevent their being dispersed, I am content."
"But who knows the price these infamous creatures will set on anything
Nothing was talked of from Montargis to Fontainebleau but the million
for which the Minoret heirs were searching. But the most minute search
made in every corner of the house after the seals were removed,
brought no discovery. The one hundred and twenty-nine thousand francs
of the Portenduere debt, the capital of the fifteen thousand a year in
the three per cents (then quoted at 76), the house, valued at forty
thousand francs, and its handsome furniture, produced a total of about
six hundred thousand francs, which to most persons seemed a comforting
sum. But what had become of the money the doctor must have saved?
Minoret began to have gnawing anxieties. La Bougival and Savinien, who
persisted in believing, as did the justice of peace, in the existence
of a will, came every day at the close of each session to find out
from Bongrand the results of the day's search. The latter would
sometimes exclaim, before the agents and the heirs were fairly out of
hearing, "I can't understand the thing!" Bongrand, Savinien, and the
abbe often declared to each other that the doctor, who received no
interest from the Portenduere loan, could not have kept his house as
he did on fifteen thousand francs a year. This opinion, openly
expressed, made the post master turn livid more than once.
"Yet they and I have rummaged everywhere," said Bongrand,--"they to
find money, and I to find a will in favor of Monsieur de Portenduere.
They have sifted the ashes, lifted the marbles, felt of the slippers,
bored into the wood-work of the beds, emptied the mattresses, ripped
up the quilts, turned his eider-down inside-out, examined every inch
of paper piece by piece, searched the drawers, dug up the cellar floor
--and I have urged on their devastations."
"What do you think about it?" said the abbe.
"The will has been suppressed by one of the heirs."
"But where's the property?"
"We may whistle for it!"
"Perhaps the will is hidden in the library," said Savinien.
"Yes, and for that reason I don't dissuade Ursula from buying it. If
it were not for that, it would be absurd to let her put every penny of
her ready money into books she will never open."
At first the whole town believed the doctor's niece had got possession
of the unfound capital; but when it was known positively that fourteen
hundred francs a year and her gifts constituted her whole fortune the
search of the doctor's house and furniture excited a more wide-spread
curiosity than before. Some said the money would be found in bank
bills hidden away in the furniture, others that the old man had
slipped them into his books. The sale of the effects exhibited a
spectacle of the most extraordinary precautions on the part of the
heirs. Dionis, who was doing duty as auctioneeer, declared, as each
lot was cried out, that the heirs only sold the article (whatever it
was) and not what it might contain; then, before allowing it to be
taken away it was subjected to a final investigation, being thumped
and sounded; and when at last it left the house the sellers followed
with the looks a father might cast upon a son who was starting for
"Ah, mademoiselle," cried La Bougival, returning from the first
session in despair, "I shall not go again. Monsieur Bongrand is right,
you could never bear the sight. Everything is ticketed. All the town
is coming and going just as in the street; the handsome furniture is
being ruined, they even stand upon it; the whole place is such a
muddle that a hen couldn't find her chicks. You'd think there had been
a fire. Lots of things are in the courtyard; the closets are all open,
and nothing in them. Oh! the poor dear man, it's well he died, the
sight would have killed him."
Bongrand, who bought for Ursula certain articles which her uncle
cherished, and which were suitable for her little house, did not
appear at the sale of the library. Shrewder than the heirs, whose
cupidity might have run up the price of the books had they known he
was buying them for Ursula, he commissioned a dealer in old books
living in Melun to buy them for him. As a result of the heir's anxiety
the whole library was sold book by book. Three thousand volumes were
examined, one by one, held by the two sides of the binding and shaken
so that loose papers would infallibly fall out. The whole amount of
the purchases on Ursula's account amounted to six thousand five
hundred francs or thereabouts. The book-cases were not allowed to
leave the premises until carefully examined by a cabinet-maker,
brought down from Paris to search for secret drawers. When at last
Monsieur Bongrand gave orders to take the books and the bookcases to
Mademoiselle Mirouet's house the heirs were tortured with vague fears,
not dissipated until in course of time they saw how poorly she lived.
Minoret bought up his uncle's house, the value of which his co-heirs
ran up to fifty thousand francs, imagining that the post master
expected to find a treasure in the walls; in fact the house was sold
with a reservation on this subject. Two weeks later Minoret disposed
of his post establishment, with all the coaches and horses, to the son
of a rich farmer, and went to live in his uncle's house, where he
spent considerable sums in repairing and refurnishing the rooms. By
making this move he thoughtlessly condemned himself to live within
sight of Ursula.
"I hope," he said to Dionis the day when Madame de Portenduere was
summoned to pay her debt, "that we shall soon be rid of those nobles;
after they are gone we'll drive out the rest."
"That old woman with fourteen quarterings," said Goupil, "won't want
to witness her own disaster; she'll go and die in Brittany, where she
can manage to find a wife for her son."
"No," said the notary, who had that morning drawn out a deed of sale
at Bongrand's request. "Ursula has just bought the house she is living
"That cursed fool does everything she can to annoy me!" cried the post
"What does it signify to you whether she lives in Nemours or not?"
asked Goupil, surprised at the annoyance which the colossus betrayed.
"Don't you know," answered Minoret, turning as red as a poppy, "that
my son is fool enough to be in love with her? I'd give five hundred
francs if I could get Ursula out of this town."
THE TWO ADVERSARIES
Perhaps the foregoing conduct on the part of the post master will have
shown already that Ursula, poor and resigned, was destined to be a
thorn in the side of the rich Minoret. The bustle attending the
settlement of an estate, the sale of the property, the going and
coming necessitated by such unusual business, his discussions with his
wife about the most trifling details, the purchase of the doctor's
house, where Zelie wished to live in bourgeois style to advance her
son's interests,--all this hurly-burly, contrasting with his usually
tranquil life hindered the huge Minoret from thinking of his victim.
But about the middle of May, a few days after his installation in the
doctor's house, as he was coming home from a walk, he heard the sound
of a piano, saw La Bougival sitting at a window, like a dragon
guarding a treasure, and suddenly became aware of an importunate voice
To explain why to a man of Minoret's nature the sight of Ursula, who
had no suspicion of the theft committed upon her, now became
intolerable; why the spectacle of so much fortitude under misfortune
impelled him to a desire to drive the girl out of town; and how and
why it was that this desire took the form of hatred and revenge, would
require a whole treatise on moral philosophy. Perhaps he felt he was
not the real possessor of thirty-six thousand francs a year so long as
she to whom they really belonged lived near him. Perhaps he fancied
some mere chance might betray his theft if the person despoiled was
not got rid of. Perhaps to a nature in some sort primitive, almost
uncivilized, and whose owner up to that time had never done anything
illegal, the presence of Ursula awakened remorse. Possibly this
remorse goaded him the more because he had received his share of the
property legitimately acquired. In his own mind he no doubt attributed
these stirrings of his conscience to the fact of Ursula's presence,
imagining that if she were removed all his uncomfortable feelings
would disappear with her. But still, after all, perhaps crime has its
own doctrine of perfection. A beginning of evil demands its end; a
first stab must be followed by the blow that kills. Perhaps robbery is
doomed to lead to murder. Minoret had committed the crime without the
slightest reflection, so rapidly had the events taken place;
reflection came later. Now, if you have thoroughly possessed yourself
of this man's nature and bodily presence you will understand the
mighty effect produced on him by a thought. Remorse is more than a
thought; it comes from a feeling which can no more be hidden than
love; like love, it has its own tyranny. But, just as Minoret had
committed the crime against Ursula without the slightest reflection,
so he now blindly longed to drive her from Nemours when he felt
himself disturbed by the sight of that wronged innocence. Being, in a
sense, imbecile, he never thought of the consequences; he went from
danger to danger, driven by a selfish instinct, like a wild animal
which does not foresee the huntsman's skill, and relies on its own
rapidity or strength. Before long the rich bourgeois, who still met in
Dionis's salon, noticed a great change in the manners and behavior of
the man who had hitherto been so free of care.
"I don't know what has come to Minoret, he is all NO HOW," said his
wife, from whom he was resolved to hide his daring deed.
Everybody explained his condition as being, neither more nor less,
ennui (in fact the thought now expressed on his face did resemble
ennui), caused, they said, by the sudden cessation of business and the
change from an active life to one of well-to-do leisure.
While Minoret was thinking only of destroying Ursula's life in
Nemours, La Bougival never let a day go by without torturing her
foster child with some allusion to the fortune she ought to have had,
or without comparing her miserable lot with the prospects the doctor
had promised, and of which he had often spoken to her, La Bougival.
"It is not for myself I speak," she said, "but is it likely that
monsieur, good and kind as he was, would have died without leaving me
the merest trifle?--"
"Am I not here?" replied Ursula, forbidding La Bougival to say another
word on the subject.
She could not endure to soil the dear and tender memories that
surrounded that noble head--a sketch of which in black and white hung
in her little salon--with thoughts of selfish interest. To her fresh
and beautiful imagination that sketch sufficed to make her SEE her
godfather, on whom her thoughts continually dwelt, all the more
because surrounded with the things he loved and used,--his large
duchess-sofa, the furniture from his study, his backgammon-table, and
the piano he had chosen for her. The two old friends who still
remained to her, the Abbe Chaperon and Monsieur Bongrand, the only
visitors whom she received, were, in the midst of these inanimate
objects representative of the past, like two living memories of her
former life to which she attached her present by the love her
godfather had blessed.
After a while the sadness of her thoughts, softening gradually, gave
tone to the general tenor of her life and united all its parts in an
indefinable harmony, expressed by the exquisite neatness, the exact
symmetry of her room, the few flowers sent by Savinien, the dainty
nothings of a young girl's life, the tranquillity which her quiet
habits diffused about her, giving peace and composure to the little
home. After breakfast and after mass she continued her studies and
practiced; then she took her embroidery and sat at the window looking
on the street. At four o'clock Savinien, returning from a walk (which
he took in all weathers), finding the window open, would sit upon the
outer casing and talk with her for half an hour. In the evening the
abbe and Monsieur Bongrand came to see her, but she never allowed
Savinien to accompany them. Neither did she accept Madame de
Portenduere's proposition, which Savinien had induced his mother to
make, that she should visit there.
Ursula and La Bougival lived, moreover, with the strictest economy;
they did not spend, counting everything, more than sixty francs a
month. The old nurse was indefatigable; she washed and ironed; cooked
only twice a week,--mistress and maid eating their food cold on other
days; for Ursula was determined to save the seven hundred francs still
due on the purchase of the house. This rigid conduct, together with
her modesty and her resignation to a life of poverty after the
enjoyment of luxury and the fond indulgence of all her wishes, deeply
impressed certain persons. Ursula won the respect of others, and no
voice was raised against her. Even the heirs, once satisfied, did her
justice. Savinien admired the strength of character of so young a
girl. From time to time Madame de Portenduere, when they met in
church, would address a few kind words to her, and twice she insisted
on her coming to dinner and fetched her herself. If all this was not
happiness it was at least tranquillity. But a benefit which came to
Ursula through the legal care and ability of Bongrand started the
smouldering persecution which up to this time had laid in Minoret's
breast as a dumb desire.
As soon as the legal settlement of the doctor's estate was finished,
the justice of peace, urged by Ursula, took the cause of the
Portendueres in hand and promised her to get them out of their
trouble. In dealing with the old lady, whose opposition to Ursula's
happiness made him furious, he did not allow her to be ignorant of the
fact that his devotion to her service was solely to give pleasure to
Mademoiselle Mirouet. He chose one of his former clerks to act for the
Portendueres at Fontainebleau, and himself put in a motion for a stay
of proceedings. He intended to profit by the interval which must
elapse between the stoppage of the present suit and some new step on
the part of Massin to renew the lease at six thousand francs, get a
premium from the present tenants and the payment in full of the rent
of the current year.
At this time, when these matters had to be discussed, the former
whist-parties were again organized in Madame de Portenduere's salon,
between himself, the abbe, Savinien, and Ursula, whom the abbe and he
escorted there and back every evening. In June, Bongrand succeeded in
quashing the proceedings; whereupon the new lease was signed; he
obtained a premium of thirty-two thousand francs from the farmer and a
rent of six thousand a year for eighteen years. The evening of the day
on which this was finally settled he went to see Zelie, whom he knew
to be puzzled as to how to invest her money, and proposed to sell her
the farm at Bordieres for two hundred and twenty thousand francs.
"I'd buy it at once," said Minoret, "if I were sure the Portendueres
would go and live somewhere else."
"Why?" said the justice of peace.
"We want to get rid of the nobles in Nemours."
"I did hear the old lady say that if she could settle her affairs she
should go and live in Brittany, as she would not have means enough
left to live her. She is thinking of selling her house."
"Well, sell it to me," said Minoret.
"To you?" said Zelie. "You talk as if you were master of everything.
What do you want with two houses in Nemours?"
"If I don't settle this matter of the farm with you to-night," said
Bongrand, "our lease will get known, Massin will put in a fresh claim,
and I shall lose this chance of liquidation which I am anxious to
make. So if you don't take my offer I shall go at once to Melun, where
some farmers I know are ready to buy the farm with their eyes shut."
"Why did you come to us, then?" said Zelie.
"Because you can pay me in cash, and my other clients would make me
wait some time for the money. I don't want difficulties."
"Get HER out of Nemours and I'll pay it," exclaimed Minoret.
"You understand that I cannot answer for Madame de Portenduere's
actions," said Bongrand. "I can only repeat what I heard her say, but
I feel certain they will not remain in Nemours."
On this assurance, enforced by a nudge from Zelie, Minoret agreed to
the purchase, and furnished the funds to pay off the mortgage due to
the doctor's estate. The deed of sale was immediately drawn up by
Dionis. Towards the end of June Bongrand brought the balance of the
purchase money to Madame de Portenduere, advising her to invest it in
the Funds, where, joined to Savinien's ten thousand, it would give
her, at five per cent, an income of six thousand francs. Thus, so far
from losing her resources, the old lady actually gained by the
transaction. But she did not leave Nemours. Minoret thought he had
been tricked,--as though Bongrand had had an idea that Ursula's
presence was intolerable to him; and he felt a keen resentment which
embittered his hatred to his victim. Then began a secret drama which
was terrible in its effects,--the struggle of two determinations; one
which impelled Minoret to drive his victim from Nemours, the other
which gave Ursula the strength to bear persecution, the cause of which
was for a certain length of time undiscoverable. The situation was a
strange and even unnatural one, and yet it was led up to by all the
preceding events, which served as a preface to what was now to occur.
Madame Minoret, to whom her husband had given a handsome silver
service costing twenty thousand francs, gave a magnificent dinner
every Sunday, the day on which her son, the deputy procureur, came
from Fontainebleau, bringing with him certain of his friends. On these
occasions Zelie sent to Paris for delicacies--obliging Dionis the
notary to emulate her display. Goupil, whom the Minorets endeavored to
ignore as a questionable person who might tarnish their splendor, was
not invited until the end of July. The clerk, who was fully aware of
this intended neglect, was forced to be respectful to Desire, who,
since his entrance into office, had assumed a haughty and dignified
air, even in his own family.
"You must have forgotten Esther," Goupil said to him, "as you are so
much in love with Mademoiselle Mirouet."
"In the first place, Esther is dead, monsieur; and in the next I have
never even thought of Ursula," said the new magistrate.
"Why, what did you tell me, papa Minoret?" cried Goupil, insolently.
Minoret, caught in a lie by a man whom he feared, would have lost
countenance if it had not been for a project in his head, which was,
in fact, the reason why Goupil was invited to dinner,--Minoret having
remembered the proposition the clerk had once made to prevent the
marriage between Savinien and Ursula. For all answer, he led Goupil
hurriedly to the end of the garden.
"You'll soon be twenty-eight years old, my good fellow," said he, "and
I don't see that you are on the road to fortune. I wish you well, for
after all you were once my son's companion. Listen to me. If you can
persuade that little Mirouet, who possesses in her own right forty
thousand francs, to marry you, I will give you, as true as my name is
Minoret, the means to buy a notary's practice at Orleans."
"No," said Goupil, "that's too far out of the way; but Montargis--"
"No," said Minoret; "Sens."
"Very good,--Sens," replied the hideous clerk. "There's an archbishop
at Sens, and I don't object to devotion; a little hypocrisy and there
you are, on the way to fortune. Besides, the girl is pious, and she'll
succeed at Sens."
"It is to be fully understood," continued Minoret, "that I shall not
pay the money till you marry my cousin, for whom I wish to provide,
out of consideration for my deceased uncle."
"Why not for me too?" said Goupil maliciously, instantly suspecting a
secret motive in Minoret's conduct. "Isn't it through information you
got from me that you make twenty-four thousand a year from that land,
without a single enclosure, around the Chateau du Rouvre? The fields
and the mill the other side of the Loing make sixteen thousand more.
Come, old fellow, do you mean to play fair with me?"
"If I wanted to show my teeth I could coax Massin to buy the Rouvre
estate, park, gardens, preserves, and timber--"
"You'd better think twice before you do that," said Zelie, suddenly
"If I choose," said Goupil, giving her a viperish look; "Massin would
buy the whole for two hundred thousand francs."
"Leave us, wife," said the colossus, taking Zelie by the arm, and
shoving her away; "I understand him. We have been so very busy," he
continued, returning to Goupil, "that we have had no time to think of
you; but I rely on your friendship to buy the Rouvre estate for me."
"It is a very ancient marquisate," said Goupil, maliciously; "which
will soon be worth in your hands fifty thousand francs a year; that
means a capital of more than two millions as money is now."
"My son could then marry the daughter of a marshal of France, or the
daughter of some old family whose influence would get him a fine place
under the government in Paris," said Minoret, opening his huge snuff-
box and offering a pinch to Goupil.
"Very good; but will you play fair?" cried Goupil, shaking his
Minoret pressed the clerk's hands replying:--
"On my word of honor."
THE MALIGNITY OF PROVINCIAL MINDS
Like all crafty persons, Goupil, fortunately for Minoret, believed
that the proposed marriage with Ursula was only a pretext on the part
of the colossus and Zelie for making up with him, now that he was
opposing them with Massin.
"It isn't he," thought Goupil, "who has invented this scheme; I know
my Zelie,--she taught him his part. Bah! I'll let Massin go. In three
years time I'll be deputy from Sens." Just then he saw Bongrand on his
way to the opposite house for his whist, and he rushed hastily after
"You take a great interest in Mademoiselle Mirouet, my dear Monsieur
Bongrand," he said. "I know you will not be indifferent to her future.
Her relations are considering it, and there is the programme; she
ought to marry a notary whose practice should be in the chief town of
an arrondisement. This notary, who would of course be elected deputy
in three years, should settle on a dower of a hundred thousand francs
"She can do better than that," said Bongrand coldly. "Madame de
Portenduere is greatly changed since her misfortunes; trouble is
killing her. Savinien will have six thousand francs a year, and Ursula
has a capital of forty thousand. I shall show them how to increase it
a la Massin, but honestly, and in ten years they will have a little
"Savinien will do a foolish thing," said Goupil; "he can marry
Mademoiselle du Rouvre whenever he likes,--an only daughter to whom
the uncle and aunt intend to leave a fine property."
"Where love enters farewell prudence, as La Fontaine says-- By the
bye, who is your notary?" added Bongrand from curiosity.
"Suppose it were I?" answered Goupil.
"You!" exclaimed Bongrand, without hiding his disgust.
"Well, well!--Adieu, monsieur," replied Goupil, with a parting glance
of gall and hatred and defiance.
"Do you wish to be the wife of a notary who will settle a hundred
thousand francs on you?" cried Bongrand entering Madame de
Portenduere's little salon, where Ursula was seated beside the old
Ursula and Savinien trembled and looked at each other,--she smiling,
he not daring to show his uneasiness.
"I am not mistress of myself," said Ursula, holding out her hand to
Savinien in such a way that the old lady did not perceive the gesture.
"Well, I have refused the offer without consulting you."
"Why did you do that?" said Madame de Portenduere. "I think the
position of a notary is a very good one."
"I prefer my peaceful poverty," said Ursula, "which is really wealth
compared with what my station in life might have given me. Besides, my
old nurse spares me a great deal of care, and I shall not exchange the
present, which I like, for an unknown fate."
A few weeks later the post poured into two hearts the poison of
anonymous letters,--one addressed to Madame de Portenduere, the other
to Ursula. The following is the one to the old lady:--
"You love your son, you wish to marry him in a manner conformable
with the name he bears; and yet you encourage his fancy for an
ambitious girl without money and the daughter of a regimental band-
master, by inviting her to your house. You ought to marry him to
Mademoiselle du Rouvre, on whom her two uncles, the Marquis de
Ronquerolles and the Chevalier du Rouvre, who are worth money, would
settle a handsome sum rather than leave it to that old fool the
Marquis du Rouvre, who runs through everything. Madame de Serizy,
aunt of Clementine du Rouvre, who has just lost her only son in the
campaign in Algiers, will no doubt adopt her niece. A person who is
your well-wisher assures you that Savinien will be accepted."
The letter to Ursula was as follows:--
Dear Ursula,--There is a young man in Nemours who idolizes you. He
cannot see you working at your window without emotions which prove
to him that his love will last through life. This young man is
gifted with an iron will and a spirit of perseverance which
nothing can discourage. Receive his addresses favorably, for his
intentions are pure, and he humbly asks your hand with a sincere
desire to make you happy. His fortune, already suitable, is
nothing to that which he will make for you when you are once his
wife. You shall be received at court as the wife of a minister and
one of the first ladies in the land.
As he sees you every day (without your being able to see him) put
a pot of La Bougival's pinks in your window and he will understand
from that that he has your permission to present himself.
Ursula burned the letter and said nothing about it to Savinien. Two
days later she received another letter in the following language:--
"You do wrong, my dear Ursula, not to answer one who loves you
better than life itself. You think you will marry Savinien--you
are very much mistaken. That marriage will not take place. Madame
de Portenduere went this morning to Rouvre to ask for the hand of
Mademoiselle Clementine for her son. Savinien will yield in the
end. What objection can he make? The uncles of the young lady are
willing to guarantee their fortune to her; it amounts to over
sixty thousand francs a year."
This letter agonized Ursula's heart and afflicted her with the
tortures of jealousy, a form of suffering hitherto unknown to her, but
which to this fine organization, so sensitive to pain, threw a pall
over the present and over the future, and even over the past. From the
moment when she received this fatal paper she lay on the doctor's
sofa, her eyes fixed on space, lost in a dreadful dream. In an instant
the chill of death had come upon her warm young life. Alas, worse than
that! it was like the awful awakening of the dead to the sense that
there was no God,--the masterpiece of that strange genius called Jean
Paul. Four times La Bougival called her to breakfast. When the
faithful creature tried to remonstrate, Ursula waved her hand and
answered in one harsh word, "Hush!" said despotically, in strange
contrast to her usual gentle manner. La Bougival, watching her
mistress through the glass door, saw her alternately red with a
consuming fever, and blue as if a shudder of cold had succeeded that
unnatural heat. This condition grew worse and worse up to four
o'clock; then she rose to see if Savinien were coming, but he did not
come. Jealousy and distrust tear all reserves from love. Ursula, who
till then had never made one gesture by which her love could be
guessed, now took her hat and shawl and rushed into the passage as if
to go and meet him. But an afterthought of modesty sent her back to
her little salon, where she stayed and wept. When the abbe arrived in
the evening La Bougival met him at the door.
"Ah, monsieur!" she cried; "I don't know what's the matter with
mademoiselle; she is--"
"I know," said the abbe sadly, stopping the words of the poor nurse.
He then told Ursula (what she had not dared to verify) that Madame de
Portenduere had gone to dine at Rouvre.
"And Savinien too?" she asked.
Ursula was seized with a little nervous tremor which made the abbe
quiver as though a whole Leyden jar had been discharged at him; he
felt moreover a lasting commotion in his heart.
"So we shall not go there to-night," he said as gently as he could;
"and, my child, it would be better if you did not go there again. The
old lady will receive you in a way to wound your pride. Monsieur
Bongrand and I, who had succeeded in bringing her to consider your
marriage, have no idea from what quarter this new influence has come
to change her, as it were in a moment."
"I expect the worst; nothing can surprise me now," said Ursula in a
pained voice. "In such extremities it is a comfort to feel that we
have done nothing to displease God."
"Submit, dear daughter, and do not seek to fathom the ways of
Providence," said the abbe.
"I shall not unjustly distrust the character of Monsieur de
"Why do you no longer call him Savinien?" asked the priest, who
detected a slight bitterness in Ursula's tone.
"Of my dear Savinien," cried the girl, bursting into tears. "Yes, my
good friend," she said, sobbing, "a voice tells me he is as noble in
heart as he is in race. He has not only told me that he loves me
alone, but he has proved it in a hundred delicate ways, and by
restraining heroically his ardent feelings. Lately when he took the
hand I held out to him, that evening when Monsieur Bongrand proposed
to me a husband, it was the first time, I swear to you, that I had
ever given it. He began with a jest when he blew me a kiss across the
street, but since then our affection has never outwardly passed, as
you well know, the narrowest limits. But I will tell you,--you who
read my soul except in this one region where none but the angels see,
--well, I will tell you, this love has been in me the secret spring of
many seeming merits; it made me accept my poverty; it softened the
bitterness of my irreparable loss, for my mourning is more perhaps in
my clothes now than in my heart-- Oh, was I wrong? can it be that love
was stronger in me than my gratitude to my benefactor, and God has
punished me for it? But how could it be otherwise? I respected in
myself Savinien's future wife; yes, perhaps I was too proud, perhaps
it is that pride which God has humbled. God alone, as you have often
told me, should be the end and object of all our actions."
The abbe was deeply touched as he watched the tears roll down her
pallid face. The higher her sense of security had been, the lower she
was now to fall.
"But," she said, continuing, "if I return to my orphaned condition, I
shall know how to take up its feelings. After all, could I have tied a
mill-stone round the neck of him I love? What can he do here? Who am I
to bind him to me? Besides, do I not love him with a friendship so
divine that I can bear the loss of my own happiness and my hopes? You
know I have often blamed myself for letting my hopes rest upon a
grave, and for knowing they were waiting on that poor old lady's
death. If Savinien is rich and happy with another I have enough to pay
for my entrance to a convent, where I shall go at once. There can no
more be two loves in a woman's heart than there can be two masters in
heaven, and the life of a religious is attractive to me."
"He could not let his mother go alone to Rouvre," said the abbe,
"Do not let us talk of that, my dear good friend," she answered. "I
will write to-night and set him free. I am glad to have to close the
windows of this room," she continued, telling her old friend of the
anonymous letters, but declaring that she would not allow any
inquiries to be made as to who her unknown lover might be.
"Why! it was an anonymous letter that first took Madame de Portenduere
to Rouvre," cried the abbe. "You are annoyed for some object by evil
"How can that be? Neither Savinien nor I have injured any one; and I
am no longer an obstacle to the prosperity of others."
"Well, well, my child," said the abbe, quietly, "let us profit by this
tempest, which has scattered our little circle, to put the library in
order. The books are still in heaps. Bongrand and I want to get them
in order; we wish to make a search among them. Put your trust in God,
and remember also that in our good Bongrand and in me you have two
"That is much, very much," she said, going with him to the threshold
of the door, where she stretched out her neck like a bird looking over
its nest, hoping against hope to see Savinien.
Just then Minoret and Goupil, returning from a walk in the meadows,
stopped as they passed, and the colossus spoke to Ursula.
"Is anything the matter, cousin; for we are still cousins, are we not?
You seem changed."
Goupil looked so ardently at Ursula that she was frightened, and went
back into the house without replying.
"She is cross," said Minoret to the abbe.
"Mademoiselle Mirouet is quite right not to talk to men on the
threshold of her door," said the abbe; "she is too young--"
"Oh!" said Goupil. "I am told she doesn't lack lovers."
The abbe bowed hurriedly and went as fast as he could to the Rue des
"Well," said Goupil to Minoret, "the thing is working. Did you notice
how pale she was. Within a fortnight she'll have left the town--you'll
"Better have you for a friend than an enemy," cried Minoret,
frightened at the atrocious grin which gave to Goupil's face the
diabolical expression of the Mephistopheles of Joseph Brideau.
"I should think so!" returned Goupil. "If she doesn't marry me I'll
make her die of grief."
"Do it, my boy, and I'll GIVE you the money to buy a practice in
Paris. You can then marry a rich woman--"
"Poor Ursula! what makes you so bitter against her? what has she done
to you?" asked the clerk in surprise.
"She annoys me," said Minoret, gruffly.
"Well, wait till Monday and you shall see how I'll rasp her," said
Goupil, studying the expression of the late post master's face.
The next day La Bougival carried the following letter to Savinien.
"I don't know what the dear child has written to you," she said, "but
she is almost dead this morning."
Who, reading this letter to her lover, could fail to understand the
sufferings the poor girl had gone through during the night.
My dear Savinien,--Your mother wishes you to marry Mademoiselle du
Rouvre, and perhaps she is right. You are placed between a life
that is almost poverty-stricken and a life of opulence; between
the betrothed of your heart and a wife in conformity with the
demands of the world; between obedience to your mother and the
fulfilment of your own choice--for I still believe that you have
chosen me. Savinien, if you have now to make your decision I wish
you to do so in absolute freedom; I give you back the promise you
made to yourself--not to me--in a moment which can never fade from
my memory, for it was, like other days that have succeeded it, of
angelic purity and sweetness. That memory will suffice me for my
life. If you should persist in your pledge to me, a dark and
terrible idea would henceforth trouble my happiness. In the midst
of our privations--which we have hitherto accepted so gayly--you
might reflect, too late, that life would have been to you a better
thing had you now conformed to the laws of the world. If you were
a man to express that thought, it would be to me the sentence of
an agonizing death; if you did not express it, I should watch
suspiciously every cloud upon your brow.
Dear Savinien, I have preferred you to all else on earth. I was
right to do so, for my godfather, though jealous of you, used to
say to me, "Love him, my child; you will certainly belong to each
other one of these days." When I went to Paris I loved you
hopelessly, and the feeling contented me. I do not know if I can
now return to it, but I shall try. What are we, after all, at this
moment? Brother and sister. Let us stay so. Marry that happy girl
who can have the joy of giving to your name the lustre it ought to
have, and which your mother thinks I should diminish. You will not
hear of me again. The world will approve of you; I shall never
blame you--but I shall love you ever. Adieu, then!
"Wait," cried the young man. Signing to La Bougival to sit down, he
scratched off hastily the following reply:--
My dear Ursula,--Your letter cuts me to the heart, inasmuch as you
have needlessly felt such pain; and also because our hearts, for
the first time, have failed to understand each other. If you are
not my wife now, it is solely because I cannot marry without my
mother's consent. Dear, eight thousand francs a year and a pretty
cottage on the Loing, why, that's a fortune, is it not? You know
we calculated that if we kept La Bougival we could lay by half our
income every year. You allowed me that evening, in your uncle's
garden, to consider you mine; you cannot now of yourself break
those ties which are common to both of us.--Ursula, need I tell
you that I yesterday informed Monsieur du Rouvre that even if I
were free I could not receive a fortune from a young person whom I
did not know? My mother refuses to see you again; I must therefore
lose the happiness of our evenings; but surely you will not
deprive me of the brief moments I can spend at your window? This
evening, then-- Nothing can separate us.
"Take this to her, my old woman; she must not be unhappy one moment
That afternoon at four o'clock, returning from the walk which he
always took expressly to pass before Ursula's house, Savinien found
his mistress waiting for him, her face a little pallid from these
sudden changes and excitements.
"It seems to me that until now I have never known what the pleasure of
seeing you is," she said to him.
"You once said to me," replied Savinien, smiling,--"for I remember all
your words,--'Love lives by patience; we will wait!' Dear, you have
separated love from faith. Ah! this shall be the end of our quarrels;
we will never have another. You have claimed to love me better than I
love you, but--did I ever doubt you?" he said, offering her a bouquet
of wild-flowers arranged to express his thoughts.
"You have never had any reason to doubt me," she replied; "and,
besides, you don't know all," she added, in a troubled voice.
Ursula had refused to receive letters by the post. But that afternoon,
without being able even to guess at the nature of the trick, she had
found, a few moments before Savinien's arrival, a letter tossed on her
sofa which contained the words: "Tremble! a rejected lover can become
Withstanding Savinien's entreaties, she refused to tell him, out of
prudence, the secret of her fears. The delight of seeing him again,
after she had thought him lost to her, could alone have made her
recover from the mortal chill of terror. The expectation of indefinite
evil is torture to every one; suffering assumes the proportions of the
unknown, and the unknown is the infinite of the soul. To Ursula the
pain was exquisite. Something without her bounded at the slightest
noise; yet she was afraid of silence, and suspected even the walls of
collusion. Even her sleep was restless. Goupil, who knew nothing of
her nature, delicate as that of a flower, had found, with the instinct
of evil, the poison that could wither and destroy her.
The next day passed without a shock. Ursula sat playing on her piano
till very late; and went to bed easier in mind and very sleepy. About
midnight she was awakened by the music of a band composed of a
clarinet, hautboy, flute, cornet a piston, trombone, bassoon,
flageolet, and triangle. All the neighbours were at their windows. The
poor girl, already frightened at seeing the people in the street,
received a dreadful shock as she heard the coarse, rough voice of a
man proclaiming in loud tones: "For the beautiful Ursula Mirouet, from
The next day, Sunday, the whole town had heard of it; and as Ursula
entered and left the church she saw the groups of people who stood
gossiping about her, and felt herself the object of their terrible
curiosity. The serenade set all tongues wagging, and conjectures were
rife on all sides. Ursula reached home more dead than alive,
determined not to leave the house again,--the abbe having advised her
to say vespers in her own room. As she entered the house she saw lying
in the passage, which was floored with brick, a letter which had
evidently been slipped under the door. She picked it up and read it,
under the idea that it would obtain an explanation. It was as
"Resign yourself to becoming my wife, rich and idolized. I am
resolved. If you are not mine living you shall be mine dead. To
your refusal you may attribute not only your own misfortunes, but
those which will fall on others.
"He who loves you, and whose wife you will be."
Curiously enough, at the very moment that the gentle victim of this
plot was drooping like a cut flower, Mesdemoiselles Massin, Dionis,
and Cremiere were envying her lot.
"She is a lucky girl," they were saying; "people talk of her, and
court her, and quarrel about her. The serenade was charming; there was
"What's a piston?"
"A new musical instrument, as big as this, see!" replied Angelique
Cremiere to Pamela Massin.
Early that morning Savinien had gone to Fontainebleau to endeavor to
find out who had engaged the musicians of the regiment then in
garrison. But as there were two men to each instrument it was
impossible to find out which of them had gone to Nemours. The colonel
forbade them to play for any private person in future without his
permission. Savinien had an interview with the procureur du roi,
Ursula's legal guardian, and explained to him the injury these scenes
would do to a young girl naturally so delicate and sensitive, begging
him to take some action to discover the author of such wrong.
Three nights later three violins, a flute, a guitar, and a hautboy
began another serenade. This time the musicians fled towards
Montargis, where there happened then to be a company of comic actors.
A loud and ringing voice called out as they left: "To the daughter of
the regimental bandsman Mirouet." By this means all Nemours came to
know the profession of Ursula's father, a secret the old doctor had
Savinien did not go to Montargis. He received in the course of the day
an anonymous letter containing a prophecy:--
"You will never marry Ursula. If you wish her to live, give her up
at once to a man who loves her more than you love her. He has made
himself a musician and an artist to please her, and he would
rather see her dead than let her be your wife."
The doctor came to Ursula three times in the course of that day, for
she was really in danger of death from the horror of this mysterious
persecution. Feeling that some infernal hand had plunged her into the
mire, the poor girl lay like a martyr; she said nothing, but lifted
her eyes to heaven, and wept no more; she seemed awaiting other blows,
and prayed fervently.
"I am glad I cannot go down into the salon," she said to Monsieur
Bongrand and the abbe, who left her as little as possible; "HE would
come, and I am now unworthy of the looks with which HE blessed me. Do
you think HE will suspect me?"
"If Savinien does not discover the author of these infamies he means
to get the assistance of the Paris police," said Bongrand.
"Whoever it is will know I am dying," said Ursula; "and will cease to
The abbe, Bongrand, and Savinien were lost in conjectures and
suspicions. Together with Tiennette, La Bougival, and two persons on
whom the abbe could rely, they kept the closest watch and were on
their guard night and day for a week; but no indiscretion could betray
Goupil, whose machinations were known to himself only. There were no
more serenades and no more letters, and little by little the watch
relaxed. Bongrand thought the author of the wrong was frightened;
Savinien believed that the procureur du roi to whom he had sent the
letters received by Ursula and himself and his mother, had taken steps
to put an end to the persecution.
The armistice was not of long duration, however. When the doctor had
checked the nervous fever from which poor Ursula was suffering, and
just as she was recovering her courage, a rope-ladder was found, early
one morning in July, attached to her window. The postilion of the
mail-post declared that as he drove past the house in the middle of
the night a small man was in the act of coming down the ladder, and
though he tried to pull up, his horses, being startled, carried him
down the hill so fast that he was out of Nemours before he stopped
them. Some of the persons who frequented Dionis's salon attributed
these manoeuvres to the Marquis du Rouvre, then much hampered in
means, for Massin held his notes to a large amount. It was said that a
prompt marriage of his daughter to Savinien would save Chateau du
Rouvre from his creditors; and Madame de Portenduere, the gossips
added, would approve of anything that would discredit and degrade
Ursula and lead to this marriage of her son.
So far from this being true, the old lady was well-nigh vanquished by
the sufferings of the innocent girl. The abbe was so painfully
overcome by this act of infernal wickedness that he fell ill himself
and was kept to the house for several days. Poor Ursula, to whom this
last insult had caused a relapse, received by post a letter from the
abbe, which was taken in by La Bougival on recognizing the
handwriting. It was as follows:--
My child,--Leave Nemours, and thus evade the malice of your
enemies. Perhaps they are seeking to endanger Savinien's life. I
will tell you more when I am able to go to you.
Your devoted friend,
When Savinien, who was almost maddened by these proceedings, carried
this letter to the abbe, the poor priest read it and re-read it; so
amazed and horror-stricken was he to see the perfection with which his
own handwriting and signature were imitated. The dangerous condition
into which this last atrocity threw poor Ursula sent Savinien once
more to the procureur du roi with the forged letter.
"A murder is being committed by means that the law cannot touch," he
said, "upon an orphan whom the Code places in your care as legal
guardian. What is to be done?"
"If you can find any means of repression," said the official, "I will
adopt them; but I know of none. That infamous wretch gives the best
advice. Mademoiselle Mirouet must be sent to the sisters of the
Adoration of the Sacred Heart. Meanwhile the commissary of police at
Fontainebleau shall at my request authorize you to carry arms in your
own defence. I have been myself to Rouvre, and I found Monsieur du
Rouvre justly indignant at the suspicions some of the Nemours people
have put upon him. Minoret, the father of my assistant, is in treaty
for the purchase of the estate. Mademoiselle is to marry a rich Polish
count; and Monsieur du Rouvre himself left the neighbourhood the day I
saw him, to avoid arrest for debt."
Desire Minoret, when questioned by his chief, dared not tell his
thought. He recognized Goupil. Goupil, he fully believed, was the only
man capable of carrying a persecution to the very verge of the penal
code without infringing a hair's-breadth upon it.
A TWO-FOLD VENGEANCE
Impunity, secrecy, and success increased Goupil's audacity. He made
Massin, who was completely his dupe, sue the Marquis du Rouvre for his
notes, so as to force him to sell the remainder of his property to
Minoret. Thus prepared, he opened negotiations for a practice at Sens,
and then resolved to strike a last blow to obtain Ursula. He meant to
imitate certain young men in Paris who owed their wives and their
fortunes to abduction. He knew that the services he had rendered to
Minoret, to Massin, and to Cremiere, and the protection of Dionis and
the mayor of Nemours would enable him to hush up the affair. He
resolved to throw off the mask, believing Ursula too feeble in the
condition to which he had reduced her to make any resistance. But
before risking this last throw in the game he thought it best to have
an explanation with Minoret, and he chose his opportunity at Rouvre,
where he went with his patron for the first time after the deeds were
Minoret had that morning received a confidential letter from his son
asking him for information as to what was happening in connection with
Ursula, information that he desired to obtain before going to Nemours
with the procureur du roi to place her under shelter from these
atrocities in the convent of the Adoration. Desire exhorted his
father, in case this persecution should be the work of any of their
friends, to give to whoever it might be warning and good advice; for
even if the law could not punish this crime it would certainly
discover the truth and hold it over the delinquent's head. Minoret had
now attained a great object. Owner of the chateau du Rouvre, one of
the finest estates in the Gatinais, he had also a rent-roll of some
forty odd thousand francs a year from the rich domains which
surrounded the park. He could well afford to snap his fingers at
Goupil. Besides, he intended to live on the estate, where the sight of
Ursula would no longer trouble him.
"My boy," he said to Goupil, as they walked along the terrace, "let my
young cousin alone, now."
"Pooh!" said the clerk, unable to imagine what capricious conduct
"Oh! I'm not ungrateful; you have enabled me to get this fine brick
chateau with the stone copings (which couldn't be built now for two
hundred thousand francs) and those farms and preserves and the park
and gardens and woods, all for two hundred and eighty thousand francs.
No, I'm not ungrateful; I'll give you ten per cent, twenty thousand
francs, for your services, and you can buy a sheriff's practice in
Nemours. I'll guarantee you a marriage with one of Cremiere's
daughters, the eldest."
"The one who talks piston!" cried Goupil.
"She'll have thirty thousand francs," replied Minoret. "Don't you see,
my dear boy, that you are cut out for a sheriff, just as I was to be a
post master? People should keep to their vocation."
"Very well, then," said Goupil, falling from the pinnacle of his
hopes; "here's a stamped cheque; write me an order for twenty thousand
francs; I want the money in hand at once."
Minoret had eighteen thousand francs by him at that moment of which
his wife knew nothing. He thought the best way to get rid of Goupil
was to sign the draft. The clerk, seeing the flush of seigniorial
fever on the face of the imbecile and colossal Machiavelli, threw him
an "au revoir," by way of farewell, accompanied with a glance which
would have made any one but an idiotic parvenu, lost in contemplation
of the magnificent chateau built in the style in vogue under Louis
XIII., tremble in his shoes.
"Are you not going to wait for me?" he cried, observing that Goupil
was going away on foot.
"You'll find me on our path, never fear, papa Minoret," replied
Goupil, athirst for vengeance and resolved to know the meaning of the
zigzags of Minoret's strange conduct.
Since the day when the last vile calumny had sullied her life Ursula,
a prey to one of those inexplicable maladies the seat of which is in
the soul, seemed to be rapidly nearing death. She was deathly pale,
speaking only at rare intervals and then in slow and feeble words;
everything about her, her glance of gentle indifference, even the
expression of her forehead, all revealed the presence of some
consuming thought. She was thinking how the ideal wreath of chastity,
with which throughout all ages the Peoples crowned their virgins, had
fallen from her brow. She heard in the void and in the silence the
dishonoring words, the malicious comments, the laughter of the little
town. The trial was too heavy, her innocence was too delicate to allow
her to survive the murderous blow. She complained no more; a sorrowful
smile was on her lips; her eyes appealed to heaven, to the Sovereign
of angels, against man's injustice.
When Goupil reached Nemours, Ursula had just been carried down from
her chamber to the ground-floor in the arms of La Bougival and the
doctor. A great event was about to take place. When Madame de
Portenduere became really aware that the girl was dying like an
ermine, though less injured in her honor than Clarissa Harlowe, she
resolved to go to her and comfort her. The sight of her son's anguish,
who during the whole preceding night had seemed beside himself, made
the Breton soul of the old woman yield. Moreover, it seemed worthy of
her own dignity to revive the courage of a girl so pure, and she saw
in her visit a counterpoise to all the evil done by the little town.
Her opinion, surely more powerful than that of the crowd, ought to
carry with it, she thought, the influence of race. This step, which
the abbe came to announce, made so great a change in Ursula that the
doctor, who was about to ask for a consultation of Parisian doctors,
recovered hope. They placed her on her uncle's sofa, and such was the
character of her beauty that she lay there in her mourning garments,
pale from suffering, she was more exquisitely lovely than in the
happiest hours of her life. When Savinien, with his mother on his arm,
entered the room she colored vividly.
"Do not rise, my child," said the old lady imperatively; "weak and ill
as I am myself, I wished to come and tell you my feelings about what
is happening. I respect you as the purest, the most religious and
excellent girl in the Gatinais; and I think you worthy to make the
happiness of a gentleman."
At first poor Ursula was unable to answer; she took the withered hands
of Savinien's mother and kissed them.
"Ah, madame," she said in a faltering voice, "I should never have had
the boldness to think of rising above my condition if I had not been
encouraged by promises; my only claim was that of an affection without
bounds; but now they have found the means to separate me from him I
love,--they have made me unworthy of him. Never!" she cried, with a
ring in her voice which painfully affected those about her, "never
will I consent to give to any man a degraded hand, a stained
reputation. I loved too well,--yes, I can admit it in my present
condition,--I love a creature almost as I love God, and God--"
"Hush, my child! do not calumniate God. Come, my daughter," said the
old lady, making an effort, "do not exaggerate the harm done by an
infamous joke in which no one believes. I give you my word, you will
live and you shall be happy."
"We shall be happy!" cried Savinien, kneeling beside Ursula and
kissing her hand; "my mother has called you her daughter."
"Enough, enough," said the doctor feeling his patient's pulse; "do not
kill her with joy."
At that moment Goupil, who found the street door ajar, opened that of
the little salon, and showed his hideous face blazing with thoughts of
vengeance which had crowded into his mind as he hurried along.
"Monsieur de Portenduere," he said, in a voice like the hissing of a
viper forced from its hole.
"What do you want?" said Savinien, rising from his knees.
"I have a word to say to you."
Savinien left the room, and Goupil took him into the little courtyard.
"Swear to me by Ursula's life, by your honor as a gentleman, to do by
me as if I had never told you what I am about to tell. Do this, and I
will reveal to you the cause of the persecutions directed against
"Can I put a stop to them?"
"Can I avenge them?"
"On their author, yes--on his tool, no."
"Because--I am the tool."
Savinien turned pale.
"I have just seen Ursula--" said Goupil.
"Ursula?" said the lover, looking fixedly at the clerk.
"Mademoiselle Mirouet," continued Goupil, made respectful by
Savinien's tone; "and I would undo with my blood the wrong that has
been done; I repent of it. If you were to kill me, in a duel or
otherwise, what good would my blood do you? can you drink it? At this
moment it would poison you."
The cold reasoning of the man, together with a feeling of eager
curiosity, calmed Savinien's anger. He fixed his eyes on Goupil with a
look which made that moral deformity writhe.
"Who set you at this work?" said the young man.
"Will you swear?"
"What,--to do you no harm?"
"I wish that you and Mademoiselle Mirouet should not forgive me."
"She will forgive you,--I, never!"
"But at least you will forget?"
What terrible power the reason has when it is used to further self-
interest. Here were two men, longing to tear one another in pieces,
standing in that courtyard within two inches of each other, compelled
to talk together and united by a single sentiment.
"I will forgive you, but I shall not forget."
"The agreement is off," said Goupil coldly. Savinien lost patience. He
applied a blow upon the man's face which echoed through the courtyard
and nearly knocked him down, making Savinien himself stagger.
"It is only what I deserve," said Goupil, "for committing such a
folly. I thought you more noble than you are. You have abused the
advantage I gave you. You are in my power now," he added with a look
"You are a murderer!" said Savinien.
"No more than a dagger is a murderer."
"I beg your pardon," said Savinien.
"Are you revenged enough?" said Goupil, with ferocious irony; "will
you stop here?"
"Reciprocal pardon and forgetfulness," replied Savinien.
"Give me your hand," said the clerk, holding out his own.
"It is yours," said Savinien, swallowing the shame for Ursula's sake.
"Now speak; who made you do this thing?"
Goupil looked into the scales as it were; on one side was Savinien's
blow, on the other his hatred against Minoret. For a second he was
undecided; then a voice said to him: "You will be notary!" and he
"Pardon and forgetfulness? Yes, on both sides, monsieur--"
"Who is persecuting Ursula?" persisted Savinien.
"Minoret. He would have liked to see her buried. Why? I can't tell you
that; but we might find out the reason. Don't mix me up in all this; I
could do nothing to help you if the others distrusted me. Instead of
annoying Ursula I will defend her; instead of serving Minoret I will
try to defeat his schemes. I live only to ruin him, to destroy him--
I'll crush him under foot, I'll dance on his carcass, I'll make his
bones into dominoes! To-morrow, every wall in Nemours and
Fontainebleau and Rouvre shall blaze with the letters, 'Minoret is a
thief!' Yes, I'll burst him like a gun--There! we're allies now by the
imprudence of that outbreak! If you choose I'll beg Mademoiselle
Mirouet's pardon and tell her I curse the madness which impelled me to
injure her. It may do her good; the abbe and the justice are both
there; but Monsieur Bongrand must promise on his honor not to injure
my career. I have a career now."
"Wait a minute;" said Savinien, bewildered by the revelation.
"Ursula, my child," he said, returning to the salon, "the author of
all your troubles is ashamed of his work; he repents and wishes to ask
your pardon in presence of these gentlemen, on condition that all be
"What! Goupil?" cried the abbe, the justice, and the doctor, all
"Keep his secret," said Ursula, putting a finger on her lips.
Goupil heard the words, saw the gesture, and was touched.
"Mademoiselle," he said in a troubled voice, "I wish that all Nemours
could hear me tell you that a fatal passion has bewildered my brain
and led me to commit a crime punishable by the blame of honest men.
What I say now I would be willing to say everywhere, deploring the
harm done by such miserable tricks--which may have hastened your
happiness," he added, rather maliciously, "for I see that Madame de
Portenduere is with you."
"That is all very well, Goupil," said the abbe, "Mademoiselle forgives
you; but you must not forget that you came near being her murderer."
"Monsieur Bongrand," said Goupil, addressing the justice of peace. "I
shall negotiate to-night for Lecoeur's practice; I hope the reparation
I have now made will not injure me with you, and that you will back my
petition to the bar and the ministry."
Bongrand made a thoughtful inclination of his head; and Goupil left
the house to negotiate on the best terms he could for the sheriff's
practice. The others remained with Ursula and did their best to
restore the peace and tranquillity of her mind, already much relieved
by Goupil's confession.
"You see, my child, that God was not against you," said the abbe.
Minoret came home late from Rouvre. About nine o'clock he was sitting
in the Chinese pagoda digesting his dinner beside his wife, with whom
he was making plans for Desire's future. Desire had become very sedate
since entering the magistracy; he worked hard, and it was not unlikely
that he would succeed the present procureur du roi at Fontainebleau,
who, they said, was to be advanced to Melun. His parents felt that
they must find him a wife,--some poor girl belonging to an old and
noble family; he would then make his way to the magistracy of Paris.
Perhaps they could get him elected deputy from Fontainebleau, where
Zelie was proposing to pass the winter after living at Rouvre for the
summer season. Minoret, inwardly congratulating himself for having
managed his affairs so well, no longer thought or cared about Ursula,
at the very moment when the drama so heedlessly begun by him was
closing down upon him in a terrible manner.
"Monsieur de Portenduere is here and wishes to speak to you," said
"Show him in," answered Zelie.
The twilight shadows prevented Madame Minoret from noticing the sudden
pallor of her husband, who shuddered as he heard Savinien's boots on
the floor of the gallery, where the doctor's library used to be. A
vague presentiment of danger ran through the robber's veins. Savinien
entered and remaining standing, with his hat on his head, his cane in
his hand, and both hands crossed in front of him, motionless before
the husband and wife.
"I have come to ascertain, Monsieur and Madame Minoret," he said,
"your reasons for tormenting in an infamous manner a young lady who,
as the whole town knows, is to be my wife. Why have you endeavored to
tarnish her honor? why have you wished to kill her? why did you
deliver her over to Goupil's insults?--Answer!"
"How absurd you are, Monsieur Savinien," said Zelie, "to come and ask
us the meaning of a thing we think inexplicable. I bother myself as
little about Ursula as I do about the year one. Since Uncle Minoret
died I've not thought of her more than I do of my first tooth. I've
never said one word about her to Goupil, who is, moreover, a queer
rogue whom I wouldn't think of consulting about even a dog. Why don't
you speak up, Minoret? Are you going to let monsieur box your ears in
that way and accuse you of wickedness that's beneath you? As if a man
with forty-eight thousand francs a year from landed property, and a
castle fit for a prince, would stoop to such things! Get up, and don't
sit there like a wet rag!"
"I don't know what monsieur means," said Minoret in his squeaking
voice, the trembling of which was all the more noticeable because the
voice was clear. "What object could I have in persecuting the girl? I
may have said to Goupil how annoyed I was at seeing her in Nemours. My
son Desire fell in love with her, and I didn't want him to marry her,
"Goupil has confessed everything, Monsieur Minoret."
There was a moment's silence, but it was terrible, when all three
persons examined one another. Zelie saw a nervous quiver on the heavy
face of her colossus.
"Though you are only insects," said the young nobleman, "I will make
you feel my vengeance. It is not from you, Monsieur Minoret, a man
sixty-eight years of age, but from your son that I shall seek
satisfaction for the insults offered to Mademoiselle Mirouet. The
first time he sets his foot in Nemours we shall meet. He must fight
me; he will do so, or be dishonored and never dare to show his face
again. If he does not come to Nemours I shall go to Fontainebleau, for
I will have satisfaction. It shall never be said that you were tamely
allowed to dishonor a defenceless young girl--"
"But the calumnies of a Goupil--are--not--" began Minoret.
"Do you wish me to bring him face to face with you? Believe me, you
had better hush up this affair; it lies between you and Goupil and me.
Leave it as it is; God will decide between us and when I meet your
"But this sha'n't go one!" cried Zelie. "Do you suppose I'll stand by
and let Desire fight you,--a sailor whose business it is to handle
swords and guns? If you've got any cause of complaint against Minoret,
there's Minoret; take Minoret, fight Minoret! But do you think my boy,
who, by your own account, knew nothing of all this, is going to bear
the brunt of it? No, my little gentleman! somebody's teeth will pin
your legs first! Come, Minoret, don't stand staring there like a big
canary; you are in your own house, and you allow a man to keep his hat
on before your wife! I say he shall go. Now, monsieur, be off! a man's
house is his castle. I don't know what you mean with your nonsense,
but show me your heels, and if you dare touch Desire you'll have to
answer to ME,--you and your minx Ursula."
She rang the bell violently and called to the servants.
"Remember what I have said to you," repeated Savinien to Minoret,
paying no attention to Zelie's tirade. Suspending the sword of
Damocles over their heads, he left the room.
"Now, then, Minoret," said Zelie, "you will explain to me what this
all means. A young man doesn't rush into a house and make an uproar
like that and demand the blood of a family for nothing."
"It's some mischief of that vile Goupil," said the colossus. "I
promised to help him buy a practice if he would get me the Rouvre
property cheap. I gave him ten per cent on the cost, twenty thousand
francs in a note, and I suppose he isn't satisfied."
"Yes, but why did he get up those serenades and the scandals against
"He wanted to marry her."
"A girl without a penny! the sly thing! Now Minoret, you are telling
me lies, and you are too much of a fool, my son, to make me believe
them. There is something under all this, and you are going to tell me
what it is."
"Nothing? I tell you you lie, and I shall find it out."
"Do let me alone!"
"I'll turn the faucet of that fountain of venom, Goupil--whom you're
afraid of--and we'll see who gets the best of it then."
"Just as you choose."
"I know very well it will be as I choose! and what I choose first and
foremost is that no harm shall come to Desire. If anything happens to
him, mark you, I'll do something that may send me to the scaffold--and
you, you haven't any feeling about him--"
A quarrel thus begun between Minoret and his wife was sure not to end
without a long and angry strife. So at the moment of his self-
satisfaction the foolish robber found his inward struggle against
himself and against Ursula revived by his own fault, and complicated
with a new and terrible adversary. The next day, when he left the
house early to find Goupil and try to appease him with additional
money, the walls were already placarded with the words: "Minoret is a
thief." All those whom he met commiserated him and asked him who was
the author of the anonymous placard. Fortunately for him, everybody
made allowance for his equivocal replies by reflecting on his utter
stupidity; fools get more advantage from their weakness than able men
from their strength. The world looks on at a great man battling
against fate, and does not help him, but it supplies the capital of a
grocer who may fail and lose all. Why? Because men like to feel
superior in protecting an incapable, and are displeased at not feeling
themselves the equal of a man of genius. A clever man would have been
lost in public estimation had he stammered, as Minoret did, evasive
and foolish answers with a frightened air. Zelie sent her servants to
efface the vindictive words wherever they were found; but the effect
of them on Minoret's conscience still remained.
The result of his interview with his assailant was soon apparent.
Though Goupil had concluded his bargain with the sheriff the night
before, he now impudently refused to fulfil it.
"My dear Lecoeur," he said, "I am unexpectedly enabled to buy up
Monsieur Dionis's practice; I am therefore in a position to help you
to sell to others. Tear up the agreement; it's only the loss of two
stamps,--here are seventy centimes."
Lecoeur was too much afraid of Goupil to complain. All Nemours knew
before night that Minoret had given Dionis security to enable Goupil
to buy his practice. The latter wrote to Savinien denying his charges
against Minoret, and telling the young nobleman that in his new
position he was forbidden by the rules of the supreme court, and also
by his respect for law, to fight a duel. But he warned Savinien to
treat him well in future; assuring him he was a capital boxer, and
would break his leg at the first offence.
The walls of Nemours were cleared of the inscription; but the quarrel
between Minoret and his wife went on; and Savinien maintained a
threatening silence. Ten days after these events the marriage of
Mademoiselle Massin, the elder, to the future notary was bruited about
the town. Mademoiselle Massin had a dowry of eighty thousand francs
and her own peculiar ugliness; Goupil had his deformities and his
practice; the union therefore seemed suitable and probable. One
evening, towards midnight, two unknown men seized Goupil in the street
as he was leaving Massin's house, gave him a sound beating, and
disappeared. The notary kept the matter a profound secret, and even
contradicted an old woman who saw the scene from her window and
thought that she recognized him.
These great little events were carefully studied by Bongrand, who
became convinced that Goupil held some mysterious power over Minoret,
and he determined to find out its cause.
Though the public opinion of the little town recognized Ursula's
perfect innocence, she recovered slowly. While in a state of bodily
exhaustion, which left her mind and spirit free, she became the medium
of phenomena the effects of which were astounding, and of a nature to
challenge science, if science had been brought into contact with them.
Ten days after Madame de Portenduere's visit Ursula had a dream, with
all the characteristics of a supernatural vision, as much in its moral
aspects as in the, so to speak, physical circumstances. Her godfather
appeared to her and made a sign that she should come with him. She
dressed herself and followed him through the darkness to their former
house in the Rue des Bourgeois, where she found everything precisely
as it was on the day of her godfather's death. The old man wore the
clothes that were on him the evening before his death. His face was
pale, his movements caused no sound; nevertheless, Ursula heard his
voice distinctly, though it was feeble and as if repeated by a distant
echo. The doctor conducted his child as far as the Chinese pagoda,
where he made her lift the marble top of the little Boule cabinet just
as she had raised it on the day of his death; but instead of finding
nothing there she saw the letter her godfather had told her to fetch.
She opened it and read both the letter addressed to herself and the
will in favor of Savinien. The writing, as she afterwards told the
abbe, shone as if traced by sunbeams--"it burned my eyes," she said.
When she looked at her uncle to thank him she saw the old benevolent
smile upon his discolored lips. Then, in a feeble voice, but still
clearly, he told her to look at Minoret, who was listening in the
corridor to what he said to her; and next, slipping the lock of the
library door with his knife, and taking the papers from the study.
With his right hand the old man seized his goddaughter and obliged her
to walk at the pace of death and follow Minoret to his own house.
Ursula crossed the town, entered the post house and went into Zelie's
old room, where the spectre showed her Minoret unfolding the letters,
reading them and burning them.
"He could not," said Ursula, telling her dream to the abbe, "light the
first two matches, but the third took fire; he burned the papers and
buried their remains in the ashes. Then my godfather brought me back
to our house, and I saw Minoret-Levrault slipping into the library,
where he took from the third volume of Pandects three certificates of
twelve thousand francs each; also, from the preceding volume, a number
of banknotes. 'He is,' said my godfather, 'the cause of all the
trouble which has brought you to the verge of the tomb; but God wills
that you shall yet be happy. You will not die now; you will marry
Savinien. If you love me, and if you love Savinien, I charge you to
demand your fortune from my nephew. Swear it.'"
Resplendent as though transfigured, the spectre had so powerful an
influence on Ursula's soul that she promised all her uncle asked,
hoping to put an end to the nightmare. She woke suddenly and found
herself standing in the middle of her bedroom, facing her godfather's
portrait, which had been placed there during her illness. She went
back to bed and fell asleep after much agitation, and on waking again
she remembered all the particulars of this singular vision; but she
dared not speak of it. Her judgment and her delicacy both shrank from
revealing a dream the end and object of which was her pecuniary
benefit. She attributed the vision, not unnaturally, to remarks made
by La Bougival the preceding evening, when the old woman talked of the
doctor's intended liberality and of her own convictions on that
subject. But the dream returned, with aggravated circumstances which
made it fearful to the poor girl. On the second occasion the icy hand