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message of the dying man, adding, in their indignation, strong words of their own.

“Madame Bougival,” said the doctor, “close the iron gate and allow no one to enter; even the dying, it seems, can have no peace. Prepare mustard poultices and apply them to the soles of Monsieur’s feet.”

“Your uncle is not dead,” said the abbe, “and he may live some time longer. He wishes for absolute silence, and no one beside him but his niece. What a difference between the conduct of that young girl and yours!”

“Old hypocrite!” exclaimed Cremiere. “I shall keep watch of him. It is possible he’s plotting something against our interests.”

The post master had already disappeared into the garden, intending to watch there and wait his chance to be admitted to the house as an assistant. He now returned to it very softly, his boots making no noise, for there were carpets on the stairs and corridors. He was able to reach the door of his uncle’s room without being heard. The abbe and the doctor had left the house; La Bougival was making the poultices.

“Are we quite alone?” said the old man to his godchild.

Ursula stood on tiptoe and looked into the courtyard.

“Yes,” she said; “the abbe has just closed the gate after him.”

“My darling child,” said the dying man, “my hours, my minutes even, are counted. I have not been a doctor for nothing; I shall not last till evening. Do not cry, my Ursula,” he said, fearing to be interrupted by the child’s weeping, “but listen to me carefully; it concerns your marriage to Savinien. As soon as La Bougival comes back go down to the pagoda,–here is the key,–lift the marble top of the Boule buffet and you will find a letter beneath it, sealed and addressed to you; take it and come back here, for I cannot die easy unless I see it in your hands. When I am dead do not let any one know of it immediately, but send for Monsieur de Portenduere; read the letter together; swear to me now, in his name and your own, that you will carry out my last wishes. When Savinien has obeyed me, then announce my death, but not till then. The comedy of the heirs will begin. God grant those monsters may not ill-treat you.”

“Yes godfather.”

The post master did not listen to the end of this scene; he slipped away on tip-toe, remembering that the lock of the study was on the library side of the door. He had been present in former days at an argument between the architect and a locksmith, the latter declaring that if the pagoda were entered by the window on the river it would be much safer to put the lock of the door opening into the library on the library side. Dazzled by his hopes, and his ears flushed with blood, Minoret sprang the lock with the point of his knife as rapidly as a burglar could have done it. He entered the study, followed the doctor’s directions, took the package of papers without opening it, relocked the door, put everything in order, and went into the dining- room and sat down, waiting till La Bougival had gone upstairs with the poultice before he ventured to leave the house. He then made his escape,–all the more easily because poor Ursula lingered to see that La Bougival applied the poultice properly.

“The letter! the letter!” cried the old man, in a dying voice. “Obey me; take the key. I must see you with that letter in your hand.”

The words were said with so wild a look that La Bougival exclaimed to Ursula:–

“Do what he asks at once or you will kill him.”

She kissed his forehead, took the key and went down. A moment later, recalled by a cry from La Bougival, she ran back. The old man looked at her eagerly. Seeing her hands empty, he rose in his bed, tried to speak, and died with a horrible gasp, his eyes haggard with fear. The poor girl, who saw death for the first time, fell on her knees and burst into tears. La Bougival closed the old man’s eyes and straightened him on the bed; then she ran to call Savinien; but the heirs, who stood at the corner of the street, like crows watching till a horse is buried before they scratch at the ground and turn it over with beak and claw, flocked in with the celerity of birds of prey.

CHAPTER XV

THE DOCTOR’S WILL

While these events were taking place the post master had hurried home to open the mysterious package and know its contents.

To my dear Ursula Mirouet, daughter of my natural half-brother, Joseph Mirouet, and Dinah Grollman:–

My dear Angel,–The fatherly affection I bear you–and which you have so fully justified–came not only from the promise I gave your father to take his place, but also from your resemblance to my wife, Ursula Mirouet, whose grace, intelligence, frankness, and charm you constantly recall to my mind. Your position as the daughter of a natural son of my father-in-law might invalidate all testamentary bequests made by me in your favor–

“The old rascal!” cried the post master.

Had I adopted you the result might also have been a lawsuit, and I shrank from the idea of transmitting my fortune to you by marriage, for I might live years and thus interfere with your happiness, which is now delayed only by Madame de Portenduere. Having weighted these difficulties carefully, and wishing to leave you enough money to secure to you a prosperous existence–

“The scoundrel, he has thought of everything!”

–without injuring my heirs–

“The Jesuit! as if he did not owe us every penny of his money!”

–I intend you to have the savings from my income which I have for the last eighteen years steadily invested, by the help of my notary, seeking to make you thereby as happy as any one can be made by riches. Without means, your education and your lofty ideas would cause you unhappiness. Besides, you ought to bring a liberal dowry to the fine young man who loves you. You will therefore find in the middle of the third volume of Pandects, folio, bound in red morocco (the last volume on the first shelf above the little table in the library, on the side of the room next the salon), three certificates of Funds in the three-per-cents, made out to bearer, each amounting to twelve thousand francs a year–

“What depths of wickedness!” screamed the post master. “Ah! God would not permit me to be so defrauded.”

Take these at once, and also some uninvested savings made to this date, which you will find in the preceding volume. Remember, my darling child, that you must obey a wish that has made the happiness of my whole life; a wish that will force me to ask the intervention of God should you disobey me. But, to guard against all scruples in your dear conscience–for I well know how ready it is to torture you–you will find herewith a will in due form bequeathing these certificates to Monsieur Savinien de Portenduere. So, whether you possess them in your own name, or whether they come to you from him you love, they will be, in every sense, your legitimate property.

Your godfather,
Denis Minoret.

To this letter was annexed the following paper written on a sheet of stamped paper.

This is my will: I, Denis Minoret, doctor of medicine, settled in Nemours, being of sound mind and body, as the date of this document will show, do bequeath my soul to God, imploring him to pardon my errors in view of my sincere repentance. Next, having found in Monsieur le Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere a true and honest affection for me, I bequeath to him the sum of thirty-six thousand francs a year from the Funds, at three per cent, the said bequest to take precedence of all inheritance accruing to my heirs.

Written by my own hand, at Nemours, on the 11th of January, 1831.

Denis Minoret.

Without an instant’s hesitation the post master, who had locked himself into his wife’s bedroom to insure being alone, looked about for the tinder-box, and received two warnings from heaven by the extinction of two matches which obstinately refused to light. The third took fire. He burned the letter and the will on the hearth and buried the vestiges of paper and sealing-wax in the ashes by way of superfluous caution. Then, allured by the thought of possessing thirty-six thousand francs a year of which his wife knew nothing, he returned at full speed to his uncle’s house, spurred by the only idea, a clear-cut, simple idea, which was able to piece and penetrate his dull brain. Finding the house invaded by the three families, now masters of the place, he trembled lest he should be unable to accomplish a project to which he gave no reflection whatever, except so far as to fear the obstacles.

“What are you doing here?” he said to Massin and Cremiere. “We can’t leave the house and the property to be pillaged. We are the heirs, but we can’t camp here. You, Cremiere, go to Dionis at once and tell him to come and certify to the death; I can’t draw up the mortuary certificate for an uncle, though I am assistant-mayor. You, Massin, go and ask old Bongrand to attach the seals. As for you, ladies,” he added, turning to his wife and Mesdames Cremiere and Massin, “go and look after Ursula; then nothing can be stolen. Above all, close the iron gate and don’t let any one leave the house.”

The women, who felt the justice of this remark, ran to Ursula’s bedroom, where they found the noble girl, so cruelly suspected, on her knees before God, her face covered with tears. Minoret, suspecting that the women would not long remain with Ursula, went at once to the library, found the volume, opened it, took the three certificates, and found in the other volume about thirty bank notes. In spite of his brutal nature the colossus felt as though a peal of bells were ringing in each ear. The blood whistled in his temples as he committed the theft; cold as the weather was, his shirt was wet on his back; his legs gave way under him and he fell into a chair in the salon as if an axe had fallen on his head.

“How the inheritance of money loosens a man’s tongue! Did you hear Minoret?” said Massin to Cremiere as they hurried through the town. “‘Go here, go there,’ just as if he knew everything.”

“Yes, for a dull beast like him he had a certain air of–“

“Stop!” said Massin, alarmed at a sudden thought. “His wife is there; they’ve got some plan! Do you do both errands; I’ll go back.”

Just as the post master fell into the chair he saw at the gate the heated face of the clerk of the court who returned to the house of death with the celerity of a weasel.

“Well, what is it now?” asked the post master, unlocking the gate for his co-heir.

“Nothing; I have come back to be present at the sealing,” answered Massin, giving him a savage look.

“I wish those seals were already on, so that we could go home,” said Minoret.

“We shall have to put a watcher over them,” said Massin. “La Bougival is capable of anything in the interests of that minx. We’ll put Goupil there.”

“Goupil!” said the post master; “put a rat in the meal!”

“Well, let’s consider,” returned Massin. “To-night they’ll watch the body; the seals can be affixed in an hour; our wives could look after them. To-morrow we’ll have the funeral at twelve o’clock. But the inventory can’t be made under a week.”

“Let’s get rid of that girl at once,” said the colossus; “then we can safely leave the watchman of the town-hall to look after the house and the seals.”

“Good,” cried Massin. “You are the head of the Minoret family.”

“Ladies,” said Minoret, “be good enough to stay in the salon; we can’t think of our dinner to-day; the seals must be put on at once for the security of all interests.”

He took his wife apart and told her Massin’s proposition about Ursula. The women, whose hearts were full of vengeance against the minx, as they called her, hailed the idea of turning her out. Bongrand arrived with his assistants to apply the seals, and was indignant when the request was made to him, by Zelie and Madame Massin, as a near friend of the deceased, to tell Ursula to leave the house.

“Go and turn her out of her father’s house, her benefactor’s house yourselves,” he cried. “Go! you who owe your inheritance to the generosity of her soul; take her by the shoulders and fling her into the street before the eyes of the whole town! You think her capable of robbing you? Well, appoint a watcher of the seals; you have a right to do that. But I tell you at once I shall put no seals on Ursula’s room; she has a right to that room, and everything in it is her own property. I shall tell her what her rights are, and tell her too to put everything that belongs to her in this house in that room– Oh! in your presence,” he said, hearing a growl of dissatisfaction among the heirs.

“What do you think of that?” said the collector to the post master and the women, who seemed stupefied by the angry address of Bongrand.

“Call HIM a magistrate!” cried the post master.

Ursula meanwhile was sitting on her little sofa in a half-fainting condition, her head thrown back, her braids unfastened, while every now and then her sobs broke forth. Her eyes were dim and their lids swollen; she was, in fact, in a state of moral and physical prostration which might have softened the hardest hearts–except those of the heirs.

“Ah! Monsieur Bongrand, after my happy birthday comes death and mourning,” she said, with the poetry natural to her. “You know, YOU, what he was. In twenty years he never said an impatient word to me. I believed he would live a hundred years. He has been my mother,” she cried, “my good, kind mother.”

These simple thoughts brought torrents of tears from her eyes, interrupted by sobs; then she fell back exhausted.

“My child,” said the justice of peace, hearing the heirs on the staircase. “You have a lifetime before you in which to weep, but you have now only a moment to attend to your interests. Gather everything that belongs to you in this house and put it into your own room at once. The heirs insist on my affixing the seals.”

“Ah! his heirs may take everything if they choose,” cried Ursula, sitting upright under an impulse of savage indignation. “I have something here,” she added, striking her breast, “which is far more precious–“

“What is it?” said the post master, who with Massin at his heels now showed his brutal face.

“The remembrances of his virtues, of his life, of his words–an image of his celestial soul,” she said, her eyes and face glowing as she raised her hand with a glorious gesture.

“And a key!” cried Massin, creeping up to her like a cat and seizing a key which fell from the bosom of her dress in her sudden movement.

“Yes,” she said, blushing, “that is the key of his study; he sent me there at the moment he was dying.”

The two men glanced at each other with horrid smiles, and then at Monsieur Bongrand, with a meaning look of degrading suspicion. Ursula who intercepted it, rose to her feet, pale as if the blood had left her body. Her eyes sent forth the lightnings that perhaps can issue only at some cost of life, as she said in a choking voice:–

“Monsieur Bongrand, everything in this room is mine through the kindness of my godfather; they may have it all; I have nothing on me but the clothes I wear. I shall leave the house and never return to it.”

She went to her godfather’s room, and no entreaties could make her leave it,–the heirs, who now began to be slightly ashamed of their conduct, endeavoring to persuade her. She requested Monsieur Bongrand to engage two rooms for her at the “Vieille Poste” inn until she could find some lodging in town where she could live with La Bougival. She returned to her own room for her prayer-book, and spent the night, with the abbe, his assistant, and Savinien, in weeping and praying beside her uncle’s body. Savinien came, after his mother had gone to bed, and knelt, without a word, beside his Ursula. She smiled at him sadly, and thanked him for coming faithfully to share her troubles.

“My child,” said Monsieur Bongrand, bring her a large package, “one of your uncle’s heirs has taken these necessary articles from your drawers, for the seals cannot be opened for several days; after that you will recover everything that belongs to you. I have, for your own sake, placed the seals on your room.”

“Thank you,” she replied, pressing his hand. “Look at him again,–he seems to sleep, does he not?”

The old man’s face wore that flower of fleeting beauty which rests upon the features of the dead who die a painless death; light appeared to radiate from it.

“Did he give you anything secretly before he died?” whispered M. Bongrand.

“Nothing,” she said; “he spoke only of a letter.”

“Good! it will certainly be found,” said Bongrand. “How fortunate for you that the heirs demanded the sealing.”

At daybreak Ursula bade adieu to the house where her happy youth was passed; more particularly, to the modest chamber in which her love began. So dear to her was it that even in this hour of darkest grief tears of regret rolled down her face for the dear and peaceful haven. With one last glance at Savinien’s windows she left the room and the house, and went to the inn accompanied by La Bougival, who carried the package, by Monsieur Bongrand, who gave her his arm, and by Savinien, her true protector.

Thus it happened that in spite of all his efforts and cautions the worst fears of the justice of peace were realized; he was now to see Ursula without means and at the mercy of her benefactor’s heirs.

The next afternoon the whole town attended the doctor’s funeral. When the conduct of the heirs to his adopted daughter was publicly known, a vast majority of the people thought it natural and necessary. An inheritance was involved; the good man was known to have hoarded; Ursula might think she had rights; the heirs were only defending their property; she had humbled them enough during their uncle’s lifetime, for he had treated them like dogs and sent them about their business.

Desire Minoret, who was not going to do wonders in life (so said those who envied his father), came down for the funeral. Ursula was unable to be present, for she was in bed with a nervous fever, caused partly by the insults of the heirs and partly by her heavy affliction.

“Look at that hypocrite weeping,” said some of the heirs, pointing to Savinien, who was deeply affected by the doctor’s death.

“The question is,” said Goupil, “has he any good grounds for weeping. Don’t laugh too soon, my friends; the seals are not yet removed.”

“Pooh!” said Minoret, who had good reason to know the truth, “you are always frightening us about nothing.”

As the funeral procession left the church to proceed to the cemetery, a bitter mortification was inflicted on Goupil; he tried to take Desire’s arm, but the latter withdrew it and turned away from his former comrade in presence of all Nemours.

“I won’t be angry, or I couldn’t get revenge,” thought the notary’s clerk, whose dry heart swelled in his bosom like a sponge.

Before breaking the seals and making the inventory, it took some time for the procureur du roi, who is the legal guardian of orphans, to commission Monsieur Bongrand to act in his place. After that was done the settlement of the Minoret inheritance (nothing else being talked of in the town for ten days) began with all the legal formalities. Dionis had his pickings; Goupil enjoyed some mischief-making; and as the business was profitable the sessions were many. After the first of these sessions all parties breakfasted together; notary, clerk, heirs, and witnesses drank the best wines in the doctor’s cellar.

In the provinces, and especially in little towns where every one lives in his own house, it is sometimes very difficult to find a lodging. When a man buys a business of any kind the dwelling-house is almost always included in the purchase. Monsieur Bongrand saw no other way of removing Ursula from the village inn than to buy a small house on the Grand’Rue at the corner of the bridge over the Loing. The little building had a front door opening on a corridor, and one room on the ground-floor with two windows on the street; behind this came the kitchen, with a glass door opening to an inner courtyard about thirty feet square. A small staircase, lighted on the side towards the river by small windows, led to the first floor where there were three chambers, and above these were two attic rooms. Monsieur Bongrand borrowed two thousand francs from La Bougival’s savings to pay the first instalment of the price,–six thousand francs,–and obtained good terms for payment of the rest. As Ursula wished to buy her uncle’s books, Bongrand knocked down the partition between two rooms on the bedroom floor, finding that their united length was the same as that of the doctor’s library, and gave room for his bookshelves.

Savinien and Bongrand urged on the workmen who were cleaning, painting, and otherwise renewing the tiny place, so that before the end of March Ursula was able to leave the inn and take up her abode in the ugly house; where, however, she found a bedroom exactly like the one she had left; for it was filled with all her furniture, claimed by the justice of peace when the seals were removed. La Bougival, sleeping in the attic, could be summoned by a bell placed near the head of the young girl’s bed. The room intended for the books, the salon on the ground-floor and the kitchen, though still unfurnished, had been hung with fresh papers and repainted, and only awaited the purchases which the young girl hoped to make when her godfather’s effects were sold.

Though the strength of Ursula’s character was well known to the abbe and Monsieur Bongrand, they both feared the sudden change from the comfort and elegancies to which her uncle had accustomed her to this barren and denuded life. As for Savinien he wept over it. He did, in fact, make private payments to the workman and to the upholsterer, so that Ursula should perceive no difference between the new chamber and the old one. But the young girl herself, whose happiness now lay in Savinien’s own eyes, showed the gentlest resignation, which endeared her more and more to her two old friends, and proved to them for the hundredth time that no troubles but those of the heart could make her suffer. The grief she felt for the loss of her godfather was far too deep to let her even feel the bitterness of her change of fortune, though it added fresh obstacles to her marriage. Savinien’s distress in seeing her thus reduced did her so much harm that she whispered to him, as they came from mass on the morning on the day when she first went to live in her new house:

“Love could not exist without patience; let us wait.”

As soon as the form of the inventory was drawn up, Massin, advised by Goupil (who turned to him under the influence of his secret hatred to the post master), summoned Monsieur and Madame de Portenduere to pay off the mortgage which had now elapsed, together with the interest accruing thereon. The old lady was bewildered at a summons to pay one hundred and twenty-nine thousand five hundred and seventeen francs within twenty-four hours under pain of execution on her house. It was impossible for her to borrow the money. Savinien went to Fontainebleau to consult a lawyer.

“You are dealing with a bad set of people who will not compromise,” was the lawyer’s opinion. “They intend to sue in the matter and get your farm at Bordieres. The best way for you would be to make a voluntary sale of it and so escape costs.”

This dreadful news broke down the old lady. Her son very gently pointed out to her that had she consented to his marriage in Minoret’s life-time, the doctor would have left his property to Ursula’s husband and they would to-day have been opulent instead of being, as they now were, in the depths of poverty. Though said without reproach, this argument annihilated the poor woman even more than the thought of her coming ejectment. When Ursula heard of this catastrophe she was stupefied with grief, having scarcely recovered from her fever, and the blow which the heirs had already dealt her. To love and be unable to succor the man she loves,–that is one of the most dreadful of all sufferings to the soul of a noble and sensitive woman.

“I wished to buy my uncle’s house,” she said, “now I will buy your mother’s.”

“Can you?” said Savinien. “You are a minor, and you cannot sell out your Funds without formalities to which the procureur du roi, now your legal guardian, would not agree. We shall not resist. The whole town will be glad to see the discomfiture of a noble family. These bourgeois are like hounds after a quarry. Fortunately, I still have ten thousand francs left, on which I can support my mother till this deplorable matter is settled. Besides, the inventory of your godfather’s property is not yet finished; Monsieur Bongrand still thinks he shall find something for you. He is as much astonished as I am that you seem to be left without fortune. The doctor so often spoke both to him and to me of the future he had prepared for you that neither of us can understand this conclusion.”

“Pooh!” she said; “so long as I can buy my godfather’s books and furniture and prevent their being dispersed, I am content.”

“But who knows the price these infamous creatures will set on anything you want?”

Nothing was talked of from Montargis to Fontainebleau but the million for which the Minoret heirs were searching. But the most minute search made in every corner of the house after the seals were removed, brought no discovery. The one hundred and twenty-nine thousand francs of the Portenduere debt, the capital of the fifteen thousand a year in the three per cents (then quoted at 76), the house, valued at forty thousand francs, and its handsome furniture, produced a total of about six hundred thousand francs, which to most persons seemed a comforting sum. But what had become of the money the doctor must have saved?

Minoret began to have gnawing anxieties. La Bougival and Savinien, who persisted in believing, as did the justice of peace, in the existence of a will, came every day at the close of each session to find out from Bongrand the results of the day’s search. The latter would sometimes exclaim, before the agents and the heirs were fairly out of hearing, “I can’t understand the thing!” Bongrand, Savinien, and the abbe often declared to each other that the doctor, who received no interest from the Portenduere loan, could not have kept his house as he did on fifteen thousand francs a year. This opinion, openly expressed, made the post master turn livid more than once.

“Yet they and I have rummaged everywhere,” said Bongrand,–“they to find money, and I to find a will in favor of Monsieur de Portenduere. They have sifted the ashes, lifted the marbles, felt of the slippers, bored into the wood-work of the beds, emptied the mattresses, ripped up the quilts, turned his eider-down inside-out, examined every inch of paper piece by piece, searched the drawers, dug up the cellar floor –and I have urged on their devastations.”

“What do you think about it?” said the abbe.

“The will has been suppressed by one of the heirs.”

“But where’s the property?”

“We may whistle for it!”

“Perhaps the will is hidden in the library,” said Savinien.

“Yes, and for that reason I don’t dissuade Ursula from buying it. If it were not for that, it would be absurd to let her put every penny of her ready money into books she will never open.”

At first the whole town believed the doctor’s niece had got possession of the unfound capital; but when it was known positively that fourteen hundred francs a year and her gifts constituted her whole fortune the search of the doctor’s house and furniture excited a more wide-spread curiosity than before. Some said the money would be found in bank bills hidden away in the furniture, others that the old man had slipped them into his books. The sale of the effects exhibited a spectacle of the most extraordinary precautions on the part of the heirs. Dionis, who was doing duty as auctioneeer, declared, as each lot was cried out, that the heirs only sold the article (whatever it was) and not what it might contain; then, before allowing it to be taken away it was subjected to a final investigation, being thumped and sounded; and when at last it left the house the sellers followed with the looks a father might cast upon a son who was starting for India.

“Ah, mademoiselle,” cried La Bougival, returning from the first session in despair, “I shall not go again. Monsieur Bongrand is right, you could never bear the sight. Everything is ticketed. All the town is coming and going just as in the street; the handsome furniture is being ruined, they even stand upon it; the whole place is such a muddle that a hen couldn’t find her chicks. You’d think there had been a fire. Lots of things are in the courtyard; the closets are all open, and nothing in them. Oh! the poor dear man, it’s well he died, the sight would have killed him.”

Bongrand, who bought for Ursula certain articles which her uncle cherished, and which were suitable for her little house, did not appear at the sale of the library. Shrewder than the heirs, whose cupidity might have run up the price of the books had they known he was buying them for Ursula, he commissioned a dealer in old books living in Melun to buy them for him. As a result of the heir’s anxiety the whole library was sold book by book. Three thousand volumes were examined, one by one, held by the two sides of the binding and shaken so that loose papers would infallibly fall out. The whole amount of the purchases on Ursula’s account amounted to six thousand five hundred francs or thereabouts. The book-cases were not allowed to leave the premises until carefully examined by a cabinet-maker, brought down from Paris to search for secret drawers. When at last Monsieur Bongrand gave orders to take the books and the bookcases to Mademoiselle Mirouet’s house the heirs were tortured with vague fears, not dissipated until in course of time they saw how poorly she lived.

Minoret bought up his uncle’s house, the value of which his co-heirs ran up to fifty thousand francs, imagining that the post master expected to find a treasure in the walls; in fact the house was sold with a reservation on this subject. Two weeks later Minoret disposed of his post establishment, with all the coaches and horses, to the son of a rich farmer, and went to live in his uncle’s house, where he spent considerable sums in repairing and refurnishing the rooms. By making this move he thoughtlessly condemned himself to live within sight of Ursula.

“I hope,” he said to Dionis the day when Madame de Portenduere was summoned to pay her debt, “that we shall soon be rid of those nobles; after they are gone we’ll drive out the rest.”

“That old woman with fourteen quarterings,” said Goupil, “won’t want to witness her own disaster; she’ll go and die in Brittany, where she can manage to find a wife for her son.”

“No,” said the notary, who had that morning drawn out a deed of sale at Bongrand’s request. “Ursula has just bought the house she is living in.”

“That cursed fool does everything she can to annoy me!” cried the post master imprudently.

“What does it signify to you whether she lives in Nemours or not?” asked Goupil, surprised at the annoyance which the colossus betrayed.

“Don’t you know,” answered Minoret, turning as red as a poppy, “that my son is fool enough to be in love with her? I’d give five hundred francs if I could get Ursula out of this town.”

CHAPTER XVI

THE TWO ADVERSARIES

Perhaps the foregoing conduct on the part of the post master will have shown already that Ursula, poor and resigned, was destined to be a thorn in the side of the rich Minoret. The bustle attending the settlement of an estate, the sale of the property, the going and coming necessitated by such unusual business, his discussions with his wife about the most trifling details, the purchase of the doctor’s house, where Zelie wished to live in bourgeois style to advance her son’s interests,–all this hurly-burly, contrasting with his usually tranquil life hindered the huge Minoret from thinking of his victim. But about the middle of May, a few days after his installation in the doctor’s house, as he was coming home from a walk, he heard the sound of a piano, saw La Bougival sitting at a window, like a dragon guarding a treasure, and suddenly became aware of an importunate voice within him.

To explain why to a man of Minoret’s nature the sight of Ursula, who had no suspicion of the theft committed upon her, now became intolerable; why the spectacle of so much fortitude under misfortune impelled him to a desire to drive the girl out of town; and how and why it was that this desire took the form of hatred and revenge, would require a whole treatise on moral philosophy. Perhaps he felt he was not the real possessor of thirty-six thousand francs a year so long as she to whom they really belonged lived near him. Perhaps he fancied some mere chance might betray his theft if the person despoiled was not got rid of. Perhaps to a nature in some sort primitive, almost uncivilized, and whose owner up to that time had never done anything illegal, the presence of Ursula awakened remorse. Possibly this remorse goaded him the more because he had received his share of the property legitimately acquired. In his own mind he no doubt attributed these stirrings of his conscience to the fact of Ursula’s presence, imagining that if she were removed all his uncomfortable feelings would disappear with her. But still, after all, perhaps crime has its own doctrine of perfection. A beginning of evil demands its end; a first stab must be followed by the blow that kills. Perhaps robbery is doomed to lead to murder. Minoret had committed the crime without the slightest reflection, so rapidly had the events taken place; reflection came later. Now, if you have thoroughly possessed yourself of this man’s nature and bodily presence you will understand the mighty effect produced on him by a thought. Remorse is more than a thought; it comes from a feeling which can no more be hidden than love; like love, it has its own tyranny. But, just as Minoret had committed the crime against Ursula without the slightest reflection, so he now blindly longed to drive her from Nemours when he felt himself disturbed by the sight of that wronged innocence. Being, in a sense, imbecile, he never thought of the consequences; he went from danger to danger, driven by a selfish instinct, like a wild animal which does not foresee the huntsman’s skill, and relies on its own rapidity or strength. Before long the rich bourgeois, who still met in Dionis’s salon, noticed a great change in the manners and behavior of the man who had hitherto been so free of care.

“I don’t know what has come to Minoret, he is all NO HOW,” said his wife, from whom he was resolved to hide his daring deed.

Everybody explained his condition as being, neither more nor less, ennui (in fact the thought now expressed on his face did resemble ennui), caused, they said, by the sudden cessation of business and the change from an active life to one of well-to-do leisure.

While Minoret was thinking only of destroying Ursula’s life in Nemours, La Bougival never let a day go by without torturing her foster child with some allusion to the fortune she ought to have had, or without comparing her miserable lot with the prospects the doctor had promised, and of which he had often spoken to her, La Bougival.

“It is not for myself I speak,” she said, “but is it likely that monsieur, good and kind as he was, would have died without leaving me the merest trifle?–“

“Am I not here?” replied Ursula, forbidding La Bougival to say another word on the subject.

She could not endure to soil the dear and tender memories that surrounded that noble head–a sketch of which in black and white hung in her little salon–with thoughts of selfish interest. To her fresh and beautiful imagination that sketch sufficed to make her SEE her godfather, on whom her thoughts continually dwelt, all the more because surrounded with the things he loved and used,–his large duchess-sofa, the furniture from his study, his backgammon-table, and the piano he had chosen for her. The two old friends who still remained to her, the Abbe Chaperon and Monsieur Bongrand, the only visitors whom she received, were, in the midst of these inanimate objects representative of the past, like two living memories of her former life to which she attached her present by the love her godfather had blessed.

After a while the sadness of her thoughts, softening gradually, gave tone to the general tenor of her life and united all its parts in an indefinable harmony, expressed by the exquisite neatness, the exact symmetry of her room, the few flowers sent by Savinien, the dainty nothings of a young girl’s life, the tranquillity which her quiet habits diffused about her, giving peace and composure to the little home. After breakfast and after mass she continued her studies and practiced; then she took her embroidery and sat at the window looking on the street. At four o’clock Savinien, returning from a walk (which he took in all weathers), finding the window open, would sit upon the outer casing and talk with her for half an hour. In the evening the abbe and Monsieur Bongrand came to see her, but she never allowed Savinien to accompany them. Neither did she accept Madame de Portenduere’s proposition, which Savinien had induced his mother to make, that she should visit there.

Ursula and La Bougival lived, moreover, with the strictest economy; they did not spend, counting everything, more than sixty francs a month. The old nurse was indefatigable; she washed and ironed; cooked only twice a week,–mistress and maid eating their food cold on other days; for Ursula was determined to save the seven hundred francs still due on the purchase of the house. This rigid conduct, together with her modesty and her resignation to a life of poverty after the enjoyment of luxury and the fond indulgence of all her wishes, deeply impressed certain persons. Ursula won the respect of others, and no voice was raised against her. Even the heirs, once satisfied, did her justice. Savinien admired the strength of character of so young a girl. From time to time Madame de Portenduere, when they met in church, would address a few kind words to her, and twice she insisted on her coming to dinner and fetched her herself. If all this was not happiness it was at least tranquillity. But a benefit which came to Ursula through the legal care and ability of Bongrand started the smouldering persecution which up to this time had laid in Minoret’s breast as a dumb desire.

As soon as the legal settlement of the doctor’s estate was finished, the justice of peace, urged by Ursula, took the cause of the Portendueres in hand and promised her to get them out of their trouble. In dealing with the old lady, whose opposition to Ursula’s happiness made him furious, he did not allow her to be ignorant of the fact that his devotion to her service was solely to give pleasure to Mademoiselle Mirouet. He chose one of his former clerks to act for the Portendueres at Fontainebleau, and himself put in a motion for a stay of proceedings. He intended to profit by the interval which must elapse between the stoppage of the present suit and some new step on the part of Massin to renew the lease at six thousand francs, get a premium from the present tenants and the payment in full of the rent of the current year.

At this time, when these matters had to be discussed, the former whist-parties were again organized in Madame de Portenduere’s salon, between himself, the abbe, Savinien, and Ursula, whom the abbe and he escorted there and back every evening. In June, Bongrand succeeded in quashing the proceedings; whereupon the new lease was signed; he obtained a premium of thirty-two thousand francs from the farmer and a rent of six thousand a year for eighteen years. The evening of the day on which this was finally settled he went to see Zelie, whom he knew to be puzzled as to how to invest her money, and proposed to sell her the farm at Bordieres for two hundred and twenty thousand francs.

“I’d buy it at once,” said Minoret, “if I were sure the Portendueres would go and live somewhere else.”

“Why?” said the justice of peace.

“We want to get rid of the nobles in Nemours.”

“I did hear the old lady say that if she could settle her affairs she should go and live in Brittany, as she would not have means enough left to live 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?”

“Yes.”

“If I wanted to show my teeth I could coax Massin to buy the Rouvre estate, park, gardens, preserves, and timber–“

“You’d better think twice before you do that,” said Zelie, suddenly intervening.

“If I choose,” said Goupil, giving her a viperish look; “Massin would buy the whole for two hundred thousand francs.”

“Leave us, wife,” said the colossus, taking Zelie by the arm, and shoving her away; “I understand him. We have been so very busy,” he continued, returning to Goupil, “that we have had no time to think of you; but I rely on your friendship to buy the Rouvre estate for me.”

“It is a very ancient marquisate,” said Goupil, maliciously; “which will soon be worth in your hands fifty thousand francs a year; that means a capital of more than two millions as money is now.”

“My son could then marry the daughter of a marshal of France, or the daughter of some old family whose influence would get him a fine place under the government in Paris,” said Minoret, opening his huge snuff- box and offering a pinch to Goupil.

“Very good; but will you play fair?” cried Goupil, shaking his fingers.

Minoret pressed the clerk’s hands replying:–

“On my word of honor.”

CHAPTER XVII

THE MALIGNITY OF PROVINCIAL MINDS

Like all crafty persons, Goupil, fortunately for Minoret, believed that the proposed marriage with Ursula was only a pretext on the part of the colossus and Zelie for making up with him, now that he was opposing them with Massin.

“It isn’t he,” thought Goupil, “who has invented this scheme; I know my Zelie,–she taught him his part. Bah! I’ll let Massin go. In three years time I’ll be deputy from Sens.” Just then he saw Bongrand on his way to the opposite house for his whist, and he rushed hastily after him.

“You take a great interest in Mademoiselle Mirouet, my dear Monsieur Bongrand,” he said. “I know you will not be indifferent to her future. Her relations are considering it, and there is the programme; she ought to marry a notary whose practice should be in the chief town of an arrondisement. This notary, who would of course be elected deputy in three years, should settle on a dower of a hundred thousand francs on her.”

“She can do better than that,” said Bongrand coldly. “Madame de Portenduere is greatly changed since her misfortunes; trouble is killing her. Savinien will have six thousand francs a year, and Ursula has a capital of forty thousand. I shall show them how to increase it a la Massin, but honestly, and in ten years they will have a little fortune.

“Savinien will do a foolish thing,” said Goupil; “he can marry Mademoiselle du Rouvre whenever he likes,–an only daughter to whom the uncle and aunt intend to leave a fine property.”

“Where love enters farewell prudence, as La Fontaine says– By the bye, who is your notary?” added Bongrand from curiosity.

“Suppose it were I?” answered Goupil.

“You!” exclaimed Bongrand, without hiding his disgust.

“Well, well!–Adieu, monsieur,” replied Goupil, with a parting glance of gall and hatred and defiance.

“Do you wish to be the wife of a notary who will settle a hundred thousand francs on you?” cried Bongrand entering Madame de Portenduere’s little salon, where Ursula was seated beside the old lady.

Ursula and Savinien trembled and looked at each other,–she smiling, he not daring to show his uneasiness.

“I am not mistress of myself,” said Ursula, holding out her hand to Savinien in such a way that the old lady did not perceive the gesture.

“Well, I have refused the offer without consulting you.”

“Why did you do that?” said Madame de Portenduere. “I think the position of a notary is a very good one.”

“I prefer my peaceful poverty,” said Ursula, “which is really wealth compared with what my station in life might have given me. Besides, my old nurse spares me a great deal of care, and I shall not exchange the present, which I like, for an unknown fate.”

A few weeks later the post poured into two hearts the poison of anonymous letters,–one addressed to Madame de Portenduere, the other to Ursula. The following is the one to the old lady:–

“You love your son, you wish to marry him in a manner conformable with the name he bears; and yet you encourage his fancy for an ambitious girl without money and the daughter of a regimental band- master, by inviting her to your house. You ought to marry him to Mademoiselle du Rouvre, on whom her two uncles, the Marquis de Ronquerolles and the Chevalier du Rouvre, who are worth money, would settle a handsome sum rather than leave it to that old fool the Marquis du Rouvre, who runs through everything. Madame de Serizy, aunt of Clementine du Rouvre, who has just lost her only son in the campaign in Algiers, will no doubt adopt her niece. A person who is your well-wisher assures you that Savinien will be accepted.”

The letter to Ursula was as follows:–

Dear Ursula,–There is a young man in Nemours who idolizes you. He cannot see you working at your window without emotions which prove to him that his love will last through life. This young man is gifted with an iron will and a spirit of perseverance which nothing can discourage. Receive his addresses favorably, for his intentions are pure, and he humbly asks your hand with a sincere desire to make you happy. His fortune, already suitable, is nothing to that which he will make for you when you are once his wife. You shall be received at court as the wife of a minister and one of the first ladies in the land.

As he sees you every day (without your being able to see him) put a pot of La Bougival’s pinks in your window and he will understand from that that he has your permission to present himself.

Ursula burned the letter and said nothing about it to Savinien. Two days later she received another letter in the following language:–

“You do wrong, my dear Ursula, not to answer one who loves you better than life itself. You think you will marry Savinien–you are very much mistaken. That marriage will not take place. Madame de Portenduere went this morning to Rouvre to ask for the hand of Mademoiselle Clementine for her son. Savinien will yield in the end. What objection can he make? The uncles of the young lady are willing to guarantee their fortune to her; it amounts to over sixty thousand francs a year.”

This letter agonized Ursula’s heart and afflicted her with the tortures of jealousy, a form of suffering hitherto unknown to her, but which to this fine organization, so sensitive to pain, threw a pall over the present and over the future, and even over the past. From the moment when she received this fatal paper she lay on the doctor’s sofa, her eyes fixed on space, lost in a dreadful dream. In an instant the chill of death had come upon her warm young life. Alas, worse than that! it was like the awful awakening of the dead to the sense that there was no God,–the masterpiece of that strange genius called Jean Paul. Four times La Bougival called her to breakfast. When the faithful creature tried to remonstrate, Ursula waved her hand and answered in one harsh word, “Hush!” said despotically, in strange contrast to her usual gentle manner. La Bougival, watching her mistress through the glass door, saw her alternately red with a consuming fever, and blue as if a shudder of cold had succeeded that unnatural heat. This condition grew worse and worse up to four o’clock; then she rose to see if Savinien were coming, but he did not come. Jealousy and distrust tear all reserves from love. Ursula, who till then had never made one gesture by which her love could be guessed, now took her hat and shawl and rushed into the passage as if to go and meet him. But an afterthought of modesty sent her back to her little salon, where she stayed and wept. When the abbe arrived in the evening La Bougival met him at the door.

“Ah, monsieur!” she cried; “I don’t know what’s the matter with mademoiselle; she is–“

“I know,” said the abbe sadly, stopping the words of the poor nurse.

He then told Ursula (what she had not dared to verify) that Madame de Portenduere had gone to dine at Rouvre.

“And Savinien too?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Ursula was seized with a little nervous tremor which made the abbe quiver as though a whole Leyden jar had been discharged at him; he felt moreover a lasting commotion in his heart.

“So we shall not go there to-night,” he said as gently as he could; “and, my child, it would be better if you did not go there again. The old lady will receive you in a way to wound your pride. Monsieur Bongrand and I, who had succeeded in bringing her to consider your marriage, have no idea from what quarter this new influence has come to change her, as it were in a moment.”

“I expect the worst; nothing can surprise me now,” said Ursula in a pained voice. “In such extremities it is a comfort to feel that we have done nothing to displease God.”

“Submit, dear daughter, and do not seek to fathom the ways of Providence,” said the abbe.

“I shall not unjustly distrust the character of Monsieur de Portenduere–“

“Why do you no longer call him Savinien?” asked the priest, who detected a slight bitterness in Ursula’s tone.

“Of my dear Savinien,” cried the girl, bursting into tears. “Yes, my good friend,” she said, sobbing, “a voice tells me he is as noble in heart as he is in race. He has not only told me that he loves me alone, but he has proved it in a hundred delicate ways, and by restraining heroically his ardent feelings. Lately when he took the hand I held out to him, that evening when Monsieur Bongrand proposed to me a husband, it was the first time, I swear to you, that I had ever given it. He began with a jest when he blew me a kiss across the street, but since then our affection has never outwardly passed, as you well know, the narrowest limits. But I will tell you,–you who read my soul except in this one region where none but the angels see, –well, I will tell you, this love has been in me the secret spring of many seeming merits; it made me accept my poverty; it softened the bitterness of my irreparable loss, for my mourning is more perhaps in my clothes now than in my heart– Oh, was I wrong? can it be that love was stronger in me than my gratitude to my benefactor, and God has punished me for it? But how could it be otherwise? I respected in myself Savinien’s future wife; yes, perhaps I was too proud, perhaps it is that pride which God has humbled. God alone, as you have often told me, should be the end and object of all our actions.”

The abbe was deeply touched as he watched the tears roll down her pallid face. The higher her sense of security had been, the lower she was now to fall.

“But,” she said, continuing, “if I return to my orphaned condition, I shall know how to take up its feelings. After all, could I have tied a mill-stone round the neck of him I love? What can he do here? Who am I to bind him to me? Besides, do I not love him with a friendship so divine that I can bear the loss of my own happiness and my hopes? You know I have often blamed myself for letting my hopes rest upon a grave, and for knowing they were waiting on that poor old lady’s death. If Savinien is rich and happy with another I have enough to pay for my entrance to a convent, where I shall go at once. There can no more be two loves in a woman’s heart than there can be two masters in heaven, and the life of a religious is attractive to me.”

“He could not let his mother go alone to Rouvre,” said the abbe, gently.

“Do not let us talk of that, my dear good friend,” she answered. “I will write to-night and set him free. I am glad to have to close the windows of this room,” she continued, telling her old friend of the anonymous letters, but declaring that she would not allow any inquiries to be made as to who her unknown lover might be.

“Why! it was an anonymous letter that first took Madame de Portenduere to Rouvre,” cried the abbe. “You are annoyed for some object by evil persons.”

“How can that be? Neither Savinien nor I have injured any one; and I am no longer an obstacle to the prosperity of others.”

“Well, well, my child,” said the abbe, quietly, “let us profit by this tempest, which has scattered our little circle, to put the library in order. The books are still in heaps. Bongrand and I want to get them in order; we wish to make a search among them. Put your trust in God, and remember also that in our good Bongrand and in me you have two devoted friends.”

“That is much, very much,” she said, going with him to the threshold of the door, where she stretched out her neck like a bird looking over its nest, hoping against hope to see Savinien.

Just then Minoret and Goupil, returning from a walk in the meadows, stopped as they passed, and the colossus spoke to Ursula.

“Is anything the matter, cousin; for we are still cousins, are we not? You seem changed.”

Goupil looked so ardently at Ursula that she was frightened, and went back into the house without replying.

“She is cross,” said Minoret to the abbe.

“Mademoiselle Mirouet is quite right not to talk to men on the threshold of her door,” said the abbe; “she is too young–“

“Oh!” said Goupil. “I am told she doesn’t lack lovers.”

The abbe bowed hurriedly and went as fast as he could to the Rue des Bourgeois.

“Well,” said Goupil to Minoret, “the thing is working. Did you notice how pale she was. Within a fortnight she’ll have left the town–you’ll see.”

“Better have you for a friend than an enemy,” cried Minoret, frightened at the atrocious grin which gave to Goupil’s face the diabolical expression of the Mephistopheles of Joseph Brideau.

“I should think so!” returned Goupil. “If she doesn’t marry me I’ll make her die of grief.”

“Do it, my boy, and I’ll GIVE you the money to buy a practice in Paris. You can then marry a rich woman–“

“Poor Ursula! what makes you so bitter against her? what has she done to you?” asked the clerk in surprise.

“She annoys me,” said Minoret, gruffly.

“Well, wait till Monday and you shall see how I’ll rasp her,” said Goupil, studying the expression of the late post master’s face.

The next day La Bougival carried the following letter to Savinien.

“I don’t know what the dear child has written to you,” she said, “but she is almost dead this morning.”

Who, reading this letter to her lover, could fail to understand the sufferings the poor girl had gone through during the night.

My dear Savinien,–Your mother wishes you to marry Mademoiselle du Rouvre, and perhaps she is right. You are placed between a life that is almost poverty-stricken and a life of opulence; between the betrothed of your heart and a wife in conformity with the demands of the world; between obedience to your mother and the fulfilment of your own choice–for I still believe that you have chosen me. Savinien, if you have now to make your decision I wish you to do so in absolute freedom; I give you back the promise you made to yourself–not to me–in a moment which can never fade from my memory, for it was, like other days that have succeeded it, of angelic purity and sweetness. That memory will suffice me for my life. If you should persist in your pledge to me, a dark and terrible idea would henceforth trouble my happiness. In the midst of our privations–which we have hitherto accepted so gayly–you might reflect, too late, that life would have been to you a better thing had you now conformed to the laws of the world. If you were a man to express that thought, it would be to me the sentence of an agonizing death; if you did not express it, I should watch suspiciously every cloud upon your brow.

Dear Savinien, I have preferred you to all else on earth. I was right to do so, for my godfather, though jealous of you, used to say to me, “Love him, my child; you will certainly belong to each other one of these days.” When I went to Paris I loved you hopelessly, and the feeling contented me. I do not know if I can now return to it, but I shall try. What are we, after all, at this moment? Brother and sister. Let us stay so. Marry that happy girl who can have the joy of giving to your name the lustre it ought to have, and which your mother thinks I should diminish. You will not hear of me again. The world will approve of you; I shall never blame you–but I shall love you ever. Adieu, then!

“Wait,” cried the young man. Signing to La Bougival to sit down, he scratched off hastily the following reply:–

My dear Ursula,–Your letter cuts me to the heart, inasmuch as you have needlessly felt such pain; and also because our hearts, for the first time, have failed to understand each other. If you are not my wife now, it is solely because I cannot marry without my mother’s consent. Dear, eight thousand francs a year and a pretty cottage on the Loing, why, that’s a fortune, is it not? You know we calculated that if we kept La Bougival we could lay by half our income every year. You allowed me that evening, in your uncle’s garden, to consider you mine; you cannot now of yourself break those ties which are common to both of us.–Ursula, need I tell you that I yesterday informed Monsieur du Rouvre that even if I were free I could not receive a fortune from a young person whom I did not know? My mother refuses to see you again; I must therefore lose the happiness of our evenings; but surely you will not deprive me of the brief moments I can spend at your window? This evening, then– Nothing can separate us.

“Take this to her, my old woman; she must not be unhappy one moment longer.”

That afternoon at four o’clock, returning from the walk which he always took expressly to pass before Ursula’s house, Savinien found his mistress waiting for him, her face a little pallid from these sudden changes and excitements.

“It seems to me that until now I have never known what the pleasure of seeing you is,” she said to him.

“You once said to me,” replied Savinien, smiling,–“for I remember all your words,–‘Love lives by patience; we will wait!’ Dear, you have separated love from faith. Ah! this shall be the end of our quarrels; we will never have another. You have claimed to love me better than I love you, but–did I ever doubt you?” he said, offering her a bouquet of wild-flowers arranged to express his thoughts.

“You have never had any reason to doubt me,” she replied; “and, besides, you don’t know all,” she added, in a troubled voice.

Ursula had refused to receive letters by the post. But that afternoon, without being able even to guess at the nature of the trick, she had found, a few moments before Savinien’s arrival, a letter tossed on her sofa which contained the words: “Tremble! a rejected lover can become a tiger.”

Withstanding Savinien’s entreaties, she refused to tell him, out of prudence, the secret of her fears. The delight of seeing him again, after she had thought him lost to her, could alone have made her recover from the mortal chill of terror. The expectation of indefinite evil is torture to every one; suffering assumes the proportions of the unknown, and the unknown is the infinite of the soul. To Ursula the pain was exquisite. Something without her bounded at the slightest noise; yet she was afraid of silence, and suspected even the walls of collusion. Even her sleep was restless. Goupil, who knew nothing of her nature, delicate as that of a flower, had found, with the instinct of evil, the poison that could wither and destroy her.

The next day passed without a shock. Ursula sat playing on her piano till very late; and went to bed easier in mind and very sleepy. About midnight she was awakened by the music of a band composed of a clarinet, hautboy, flute, cornet a piston, trombone, bassoon, flageolet, and triangle. All the neighbours were at their windows. The poor girl, already frightened at seeing the people in the street, received a dreadful shock as she heard the coarse, rough voice of a man proclaiming in loud tones: “For the beautiful Ursula Mirouet, from her lover.”

The next day, Sunday, the whole town had heard of it; and as Ursula entered and left the church she saw the groups of people who stood gossiping about her, and felt herself the object of their terrible curiosity. The serenade set all tongues wagging, and conjectures were rife on all sides. Ursula reached home more dead than alive, determined not to leave the house again,–the abbe having advised her to say vespers in her own room. As she entered the house she saw lying in the passage, which was floored with brick, a letter which had evidently been slipped under the door. She picked it up and read it, under the idea that it would obtain an explanation. It was as follows:–

“Resign yourself to becoming my wife, rich and idolized. I am resolved. If you are not mine living you shall be mine dead. To your refusal you may attribute not only your own misfortunes, but those which will fall on others.

“He who loves you, and whose wife you will be.”

Curiously enough, at the very moment that the gentle victim of this plot was drooping like a cut flower, Mesdemoiselles Massin, Dionis, and Cremiere were envying her lot.

“She is a lucky girl,” they were saying; “people talk of her, and court her, and quarrel about her. The serenade was charming; there was a cornet-a-piston.”

“What’s a piston?”

“A new musical instrument, as big as this, see!” replied Angelique Cremiere to Pamela Massin.

Early that morning Savinien had gone to Fontainebleau to endeavor to find out who had engaged the musicians of the regiment then in garrison. But as there were two men to each instrument it was impossible to find out which of them had gone to Nemours. The colonel forbade them to play for any private person in future without his permission. Savinien had an interview with the procureur du roi, Ursula’s legal guardian, and explained to him the injury these scenes would do to a young girl naturally so delicate and sensitive, begging him to take some action to discover the author of such wrong.

Three nights later three violins, a flute, a guitar, and a hautboy began another serenade. This time the musicians fled towards Montargis, where there happened then to be a company of comic actors. A loud and ringing voice called out as they left: “To the daughter of the regimental bandsman Mirouet.” By this means all Nemours came to know the profession of Ursula’s father, a secret the old doctor had sedulously kept.

Savinien did not go to Montargis. He received in the course of the day an anonymous letter containing a prophecy:–

“You will never marry Ursula. If you wish her to live, give her up at once to a man who loves her more than you love her. He has made himself a musician and an artist to please her, and he would rather see her dead than let her be your wife.”

The doctor came to Ursula three times in the course of that day, for she was really in danger of death from the horror of this mysterious persecution. Feeling that some infernal hand had plunged her into the mire, the poor girl lay like a martyr; she said nothing, but lifted her eyes to heaven, and wept no more; she seemed awaiting other blows, and prayed fervently.

“I am glad I cannot go down into the salon,” she said to Monsieur Bongrand and the abbe, who left her as little as possible; “HE would come, and I am now unworthy of the looks with which HE blessed me. Do you think HE will suspect me?”

“If Savinien does not discover the author of these infamies he means to get the assistance of the Paris police,” said Bongrand.

“Whoever it is will know I am dying,” said Ursula; “and will cease to trouble me.”

The abbe, Bongrand, and Savinien were lost in conjectures and suspicions. Together with Tiennette, La Bougival, and two persons on whom the abbe could rely, they kept the closest watch and were on their guard night and day for a week; but no indiscretion could betray Goupil, whose machinations were known to himself only. There were no more serenades and no more letters, and little by little the watch relaxed. Bongrand thought the author of the wrong was frightened; Savinien believed that the procureur du roi to whom he had sent the letters received by Ursula and himself and his mother, had taken steps to put an end to the persecution.

The armistice was not of long duration, however. When the doctor had checked the nervous fever from which poor Ursula was suffering, and just as she was recovering her courage, a rope-ladder was found, early one morning in July, attached to her window. The postilion of the mail-post declared that as he drove past the house in the middle of the night a small man was in the act of coming down the ladder, and though he tried to pull up, his horses, being startled, carried him down the hill so fast that he was out of Nemours before he stopped them. Some of the persons who frequented Dionis’s salon attributed these manoeuvres to the Marquis du Rouvre, then much hampered in means, for Massin held his notes to a large amount. It was said that a prompt marriage of his daughter to Savinien would save Chateau du Rouvre from his creditors; and Madame de Portenduere, the gossips added, would approve of anything that would discredit and degrade Ursula and lead to this marriage of her son.

So far from this being true, the old lady was well-nigh vanquished by the sufferings of the innocent girl. The abbe was so painfully overcome by this act of infernal wickedness that he fell ill himself and was kept to the house for several days. Poor Ursula, to whom this last insult had caused a relapse, received by post a letter from the abbe, which was taken in by La Bougival on recognizing the handwriting. It was as follows:–

My child,–Leave Nemours, and thus evade the malice of your enemies. Perhaps they are seeking to endanger Savinien’s life. I will tell you more when I am able to go to you.

Your devoted friend,

Chaperon.

When Savinien, who was almost maddened by these proceedings, carried this letter to the abbe, the poor priest read it and re-read it; so amazed and horror-stricken was he to see the perfection with which his own handwriting and signature were imitated. The dangerous condition into which this last atrocity threw poor Ursula sent Savinien once more to the procureur du roi with the forged letter.

“A murder is being committed by means that the law cannot touch,” he said, “upon an orphan whom the Code places in your care as legal guardian. What is to be done?”

“If you can find any means of repression,” said the official, “I will adopt them; but I know of none. That infamous wretch gives the best advice. Mademoiselle Mirouet must be sent to the sisters of the Adoration of the Sacred Heart. Meanwhile the commissary of police at Fontainebleau shall at my request authorize you to carry arms in your own defence. I have been myself to Rouvre, and I found Monsieur du Rouvre justly indignant at the suspicions some of the Nemours people have put upon him. Minoret, the father of my assistant, is in treaty for the purchase of the estate. Mademoiselle is to marry a rich Polish count; and Monsieur du Rouvre himself left the neighbourhood the day I saw him, to avoid arrest for debt.”

Desire Minoret, when questioned by his chief, dared not tell his thought. He recognized Goupil. Goupil, he fully believed, was the only man capable of carrying a persecution to the very verge of the penal code without infringing a hair’s-breadth upon it.

CHAPTER XVIII

A TWO-FOLD VENGEANCE

Impunity, secrecy, and success increased Goupil’s audacity. He made Massin, who was completely his dupe, sue the Marquis du Rouvre for his notes, so as to force him to sell the remainder of his property to Minoret. Thus prepared, he opened negotiations for a practice at Sens, and then resolved to strike a last blow to obtain Ursula. He meant to imitate certain young men in Paris who owed their wives and their fortunes to abduction. He knew that the services he had rendered to Minoret, to Massin, and to Cremiere, and the protection of Dionis and the mayor of Nemours would enable him to hush up the affair. He resolved to throw off the mask, believing Ursula too feeble in the condition to which he had reduced her to make any resistance. But before risking this last throw in the game he thought it best to have an explanation with Minoret, and he chose his opportunity at Rouvre, where he went with his patron for the first time after the deeds were signed.

Minoret had that morning received a confidential letter from his son asking him for information as to what was happening in connection with Ursula, information that he desired to obtain before going to Nemours with the procureur du roi to place her under shelter from these atrocities in the convent of the Adoration. Desire exhorted his father, in case this persecution should be the work of any of their friends, to give to whoever it might be warning and good advice; for even if the law could not punish this crime it would certainly discover the truth and hold it over the delinquent’s head. Minoret had now attained a great object. Owner of the chateau du Rouvre, one of the finest estates in the Gatinais, he had also a rent-roll of some forty odd thousand francs a year from the rich domains which surrounded the park. He could well afford to snap his fingers at Goupil. Besides, he intended to live on the estate, where the sight of Ursula would no longer trouble him.

“My boy,” he said to Goupil, as they walked along the terrace, “let my young cousin alone, now.”

“Pooh!” said the clerk, unable to imagine what capricious conduct meant.

“Oh! I’m not ungrateful; you have enabled me to get this fine brick chateau with the stone copings (which couldn’t be built now for two hundred thousand francs) and those farms and preserves and the park and gardens and woods, all for two hundred and eighty thousand francs. No, I’m not ungrateful; I’ll give you ten per cent, twenty thousand francs, for your services, and you can buy a sheriff’s practice in Nemours. I’ll guarantee you a marriage with one of Cremiere’s daughters, the eldest.”

“The one who talks piston!” cried Goupil.

“She’ll have thirty thousand francs,” replied Minoret. “Don’t you see, my dear boy, that you are cut out for a sheriff, just as I was to be a post master? People should keep to their vocation.”

“Very well, then,” said Goupil, falling from the pinnacle of his hopes; “here’s a stamped cheque; write me an order for twenty thousand francs; I want the money in hand at once.”

Minoret had eighteen thousand francs by him at that moment of which his wife knew nothing. He thought the best way to get rid of Goupil was to sign the draft. The clerk, seeing the flush of seigniorial fever on the face of the imbecile and colossal Machiavelli, threw him an “au revoir,” by way of farewell, accompanied with a glance which would have made any one but an idiotic parvenu, lost in contemplation of the magnificent chateau built in the style in vogue under Louis XIII., tremble in his shoes.

“Are you not going to wait for me?” he cried, observing that Goupil was going away on foot.

“You’ll find me on our path, never fear, papa Minoret,” replied Goupil, athirst for vengeance and resolved to know the meaning of the zigzags of Minoret’s strange conduct.

Since the day when the last vile calumny had sullied her life Ursula, a prey to one of those inexplicable maladies the seat of which is in the soul, seemed to be rapidly nearing death. She was deathly pale, speaking only at rare intervals and then in slow and feeble words; everything about her, her glance of gentle indifference, even the expression of her forehead, all revealed the presence of some consuming thought. She was thinking how the ideal wreath of chastity, with which throughout all ages the Peoples crowned their virgins, had fallen from her brow. She heard in the void and in the silence the dishonoring words, the malicious comments, the laughter of the little town. The trial was too heavy, her innocence was too delicate to allow her to survive the murderous blow. She complained no more; a sorrowful smile was on her lips; her eyes appealed to heaven, to the Sovereign of angels, against man’s injustice.

When Goupil reached Nemours, Ursula had just been carried down from her chamber to the ground-floor in the arms of La Bougival and the doctor. A great event was about to take place. When Madame de Portenduere became really aware that the girl was dying like an ermine, though less injured in her honor than Clarissa Harlowe, she resolved to go to her and comfort her. The sight of her son’s anguish, who during the whole preceding night had seemed beside himself, made the Breton soul of the old woman yield. Moreover, it seemed worthy of her own dignity to revive the courage of a girl so pure, and she saw in her visit a counterpoise to all the evil done by the little town. Her opinion, surely more powerful than that of the crowd, ought to carry with it, she thought, the influence of race. This step, which the abbe came to announce, made so great a change in Ursula that the doctor, who was about to ask for a consultation of Parisian doctors, recovered hope. They placed her on her uncle’s sofa, and such was the character of her beauty that she lay there in her mourning garments, pale from suffering, she was more exquisitely lovely than in the happiest hours of her life. When Savinien, with his mother on his arm, entered the room she colored vividly.

“Do not rise, my child,” said the old lady imperatively; “weak and ill as I am myself, I wished to come and tell you my feelings about what is happening. I respect you as the purest, the most religious and excellent girl in the Gatinais; and I think you worthy to make the happiness of a gentleman.”

At first poor Ursula was unable to answer; she took the withered hands of Savinien’s mother and kissed them.

“Ah, madame,” she said in a faltering voice, “I should never have had the boldness to think of rising above my condition if I had not been encouraged by promises; my only claim was that of an affection without bounds; but now they have found the means to separate me from him I love,–they have made me unworthy of him. Never!” she cried, with a ring in her voice which painfully affected those about her, “never will I consent to give to any man a degraded hand, a stained reputation. I loved too well,–yes, I can admit it in my present condition,–I love a creature almost as I love God, and God–“

“Hush, my child! do not calumniate God. Come, my daughter,” said the old lady, making an effort, “do not exaggerate the harm done by an infamous joke in which no one believes. I give you my word, you will live and you shall be happy.”

“We shall be happy!” cried Savinien, kneeling beside Ursula and kissing her hand; “my mother has called you her daughter.”

“Enough, enough,” said the doctor feeling his patient’s pulse; “do not kill her with joy.”

At that moment Goupil, who found the street door ajar, opened that of the little salon, and showed his hideous face blazing with thoughts of vengeance which had crowded into his mind as he hurried along.

“Monsieur de Portenduere,” he said, in a voice like the hissing of a viper forced from its hole.

“What do you want?” said Savinien, rising from his knees.

“I have a word to say to you.”

Savinien left the room, and Goupil took him into the little courtyard.

“Swear to me by Ursula’s life, by your honor as a gentleman, to do by me as if I had never told you what I am about to tell. Do this, and I will reveal to you the cause of the persecutions directed against Mademoiselle Mirouet.”

“Can I put a stop to them?”

“Yes.”

“Can I avenge them?”

“On their author, yes–on his tool, no.”

“Why not?”

“Because–I am the tool.”

Savinien turned pale.

“I have just seen Ursula–” said Goupil.

“Ursula?” said the lover, looking fixedly at the clerk.

“Mademoiselle Mirouet,” continued Goupil, made respectful by Savinien’s tone; “and I would undo with my blood the wrong that has been done; I repent of it. If you were to kill me, in a duel or otherwise, what good would my blood do you? can you drink it? At this moment it would poison you.”

The cold reasoning of the man, together with a feeling of eager curiosity, calmed Savinien’s anger. He fixed his eyes on Goupil with a look which made that moral deformity writhe.

“Who set you at this work?” said the young man.

“Will you swear?”

“What,–to do you no harm?”

“I wish that you and Mademoiselle Mirouet should not forgive me.”

“She will forgive you,–I, never!”

“But at least you will forget?”

What terrible power the reason has when it is used to further self- interest. Here were two men, longing to tear one another in pieces, standing in that courtyard within two inches of each other, compelled to talk together and united by a single sentiment.

“I will forgive you, but I shall not forget.”

“The agreement is off,” said Goupil coldly. Savinien lost patience. He applied a blow upon the man’s face which echoed through the courtyard and nearly knocked him down, making Savinien himself stagger.

“It is only what I deserve,” said Goupil, “for committing such a folly. I thought you more noble than you are. You have abused the advantage I gave you. You are in my power now,” he added with a look of hatred.

“You are a murderer!” said Savinien.

“No more than a dagger is a murderer.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Savinien.

“Are you revenged enough?” said Goupil, with ferocious irony; “will you stop here?”

“Reciprocal pardon and forgetfulness,” replied Savinien.

“Give me your hand,” said the clerk, holding out his own.

“It is yours,” said Savinien, swallowing the shame for Ursula’s sake. “Now speak; who made you do this thing?”

Goupil looked into the scales as it were; on one side was Savinien’s blow, on the other his hatred against Minoret. For a second he was undecided; then a voice said to him: “You will be notary!” and he answered:–

“Pardon and forgetfulness? Yes, on both sides, monsieur–“

“Who is persecuting Ursula?” persisted Savinien.

“Minoret. He would have liked to see her buried. Why? I can’t tell you that; but we might find out the reason. Don’t mix me up in all this; I could do nothing to help you if the others distrusted me. Instead of annoying Ursula I will defend her; instead of serving Minoret I will try to defeat his schemes. I live only to ruin him, to destroy him– I’ll crush him under foot, I’ll dance on his carcass, I’ll make his bones into dominoes! To-morrow, every wall in Nemours and Fontainebleau and Rouvre shall blaze with the letters, ‘Minoret is a thief!’ Yes, I’ll burst him like a gun–There! we’re allies now by the imprudence of that outbreak! If you choose I’ll beg Mademoiselle Mirouet’s pardon and tell her I curse the madness which impelled me to injure her. It may do her good; the abbe and the justice are both there; but Monsieur Bongrand must promise on his honor not to injure my career. I have a career now.”

“Wait a minute;” said Savinien, bewildered by the revelation.

“Ursula, my child,” he said, returning to the salon, “the author of all your troubles is ashamed of his work; he repents and wishes to ask your pardon in presence of these gentlemen, on condition that all be forgotten.”

“What! Goupil?” cried the abbe, the justice, and the doctor, all together.

“Keep his secret,” said Ursula, putting a finger on her lips.

Goupil heard the words, saw the gesture, and was touched.

“Mademoiselle,” he said in a troubled voice, “I wish that all Nemours could hear me tell you that a fatal passion has bewildered my brain and led me to commit a crime punishable by the blame of honest men. What I say now I would be willing to say everywhere, deploring the harm done by such miserable tricks–which may have hastened your happiness,” he added, rather maliciously, “for I see that Madame de Portenduere is with you.”

“That is all very well, Goupil,” said the abbe, “Mademoiselle forgives you; but you must not forget that you came near being her murderer.”

“Monsieur Bongrand,” said Goupil, addressing the justice of peace. “I shall negotiate to-night for Lecoeur’s practice; I hope the reparation I have now made will not injure me with you, and that you will back my petition to the bar and the ministry.”

Bongrand made a thoughtful inclination of his head; and Goupil left the house to negotiate on the best terms he could for the sheriff’s practice. The others remained with Ursula and did their best to restore the peace and tranquillity of her mind, already much relieved by Goupil’s confession.

“You see, my child, that God was not against you,” said the abbe.

Minoret came home late from Rouvre. About nine o’clock he was sitting in the Chinese pagoda digesting his dinner beside his wife, with whom he was making plans for Desire’s future. Desire had become very sedate since entering the magistracy; he worked hard, and it was not unlikely that he would succeed the present procureur du roi at Fontainebleau, who, they said, was to be advanced to Melun. His parents felt that they must find him a wife,–some poor girl belonging to an old and noble family; he would then make his way to the magistracy of Paris. Perhaps they could get him elected deputy from Fontainebleau, where Zelie was proposing to pass the winter after living at Rouvre for the summer season. Minoret, inwardly congratulating himself for having managed his affairs so well, no longer thought or cared about Ursula, at the very moment when the drama so heedlessly begun by him was closing down upon him in a terrible manner.

“Monsieur de Portenduere is here and wishes to speak to you,” said Cabirolle.

“Show him in,” answered Zelie.

The twilight shadows prevented Madame Minoret from noticing the sudden pallor of her husband, who shuddered as he heard Savinien’s boots on the floor of the gallery, where the doctor’s library used to be. A vague presentiment of danger ran through the robber’s veins. Savinien entered and remaining standing, with his hat on his head, his cane in his hand, and both hands crossed in front of him, motionless before the husband and wife.

“I have come to ascertain, Monsieur and Madame Minoret,” he said, “your reasons for tormenting in an infamous manner a young lady who, as the whole town knows, is to be my wife. Why have you endeavored to tarnish her honor? why have you wished to kill her? why did you deliver her over to Goupil’s insults?–Answer!”

“How absurd you are, Monsieur Savinien,” said Zelie, “to come and ask us the meaning of a thing we think inexplicable. I bother myself as little about Ursula as I do about the year one. Since Uncle Minoret died I’ve not thought of her more than I do of my first tooth. I’ve never said one word about her to Goupil, who is, moreover, a queer rogue whom I wouldn’t think of consulting about even a dog. Why don’t you speak up, Minoret? Are you going to let monsieur box your ears in that way and accuse you of wickedness that’s beneath you? As if a man with forty-eight thousand francs a year from landed property, and a castle fit for a prince, would stoop to such things! Get up, and don’t sit there like a wet rag!”

“I don’t know what monsieur means,” said Minoret in his squeaking voice, the trembling of which was all the more noticeable because the voice was clear. “What object could I have in persecuting the girl? I may have said to Goupil how annoyed I was at seeing her in Nemours. My son Desire fell in love with her, and I didn’t want him to marry her, that’s all.”

“Goupil has confessed everything, Monsieur Minoret.”

There was a moment’s silence, but it was terrible, when all three persons examined one another. Zelie saw a nervous quiver on the heavy face of her colossus.

“Though you are only insects,” said the young nobleman, “I will make you feel my vengeance. It is not from you, Monsieur Minoret, a man sixty-eight years of age, but from your son that I shall seek satisfaction for the insults offered to Mademoiselle Mirouet. The first time he sets his foot in Nemours we shall meet. He must fight me; he will do so, or be dishonored and never dare to show his face again. If he does not come to Nemours I shall go to Fontainebleau, for I will have satisfaction. It shall never be said that you were tamely allowed to dishonor a defenceless young girl–“

“But the calumnies of a Goupil–are–not–” began Minoret.

“Do you wish me to bring him face to face with you? Believe me, you had better hush up this affair; it lies between you and Goupil and me. Leave it as it is; God will decide between us and when I meet your son.”

“But this sha’n’t go one!” cried Zelie. “Do you suppose I’ll stand by and let Desire fight you,–a sailor whose business it is to handle swords and guns? If you’ve got any cause of complaint against Minoret, there’s Minoret; take Minoret, fight Minoret! But do you think my boy, who, by your own account, knew nothing of all this, is going to bear the brunt of it? No, my little gentleman! somebody’s teeth will pin your legs first! Come, Minoret, don’t stand staring there like a big canary; you are in your own house, and you allow a man to keep his hat on before your wife! I say he shall go. Now, monsieur, be off! a man’s house is his castle. I don’t know what you mean with your nonsense, but show me your heels, and if you dare touch Desire you’ll have to answer to ME,–you and your minx Ursula.”

She rang the bell violently and called to the servants.

“Remember what I have said to you,” repeated Savinien to Minoret, paying no attention to Zelie’s tirade. Suspending the sword of Damocles over their heads, he left the room.

“Now, then, Minoret,” said Zelie, “you will explain to me what this all means. A young man doesn’t rush into a house and make an uproar like that and demand the blood of a family for nothing.”

“It’s some mischief of that vile Goupil,” said the colossus. “I promised to help him buy a practice if he would get me the Rouvre property cheap. I gave him ten per cent on the cost, twenty thousand francs in a note, and I suppose he isn’t satisfied.”

“Yes, but why did he get up those serenades and the scandals against Ursula?”

“He wanted to marry her.”

“A girl without a penny! the sly thing! Now Minoret, you are telling me lies, and you are too much of a fool, my son, to make me believe them. There is something under all this, and you are going to tell me what it is.”

“There’s nothing.”

“Nothing? I tell you you lie, and I shall find it out.”

“Do let me alone!”

“I’ll turn the faucet of that fountain of venom, Goupil–whom you’re afraid of–and we’ll see who gets the best of it then.”

“Just as you choose.”

“I know very well it will be as I choose! and what I choose first and foremost is that no harm shall come to Desire. If anything happens to him, mark you, I’ll do something that may send me to the scaffold–and you, you haven’t any feeling about him–“

A quarrel thus begun between Minoret and his wife was sure not to end without a long and angry strife. So at the moment of his self- satisfaction the foolish robber found his inward struggle against himself and against Ursula revived by his own fault, and complicated with a new and terrible adversary. The next day, when he left the house early to find Goupil and try to appease him with additional money, the walls were already placarded with the words: “Minoret is a thief.” All those whom he met commiserated him and asked him who was the author of the anonymous placard. Fortunately for him, everybody made allowance for his equivocal replies by reflecting on his utter stupidity; fools get more advantage from their weakness than able men from their strength. The world looks on at a great man battling against fate, and does not help him, but it supplies the capital of a grocer who may fail and lose all. Why? Because men like to feel superior in protecting an incapable, and are displeased at not feeling themselves the equal of a man of genius. A clever man would have been lost in public estimation had he stammered, as Minoret did, evasive and foolish answers with a frightened air. Zelie sent her servants to efface the vindictive words wherever they were found; but the effect of them on Minoret’s conscience still remained.

The result of his interview with his assailant was soon apparent. Though Goupil had concluded his bargain with the sheriff the night before, he now impudently refused to fulfil it.

“My dear Lecoeur,” he said, “I am unexpectedly enabled to buy up Monsieur Dionis’s practice; I am therefore in a position to help you to sell to others. Tear up the agreement; it’s only the loss of two stamps,–here are seventy centimes.”

Lecoeur was too much afraid of Goupil to complain. All Nemours knew before night that Minoret had given Dionis security to enable Goupil to buy his practice. The latter wrote to Savinien denying his charges against Minoret, and telling the young nobleman that in his new position he was forbidden by the rules of the supreme court, and also by his respect for law, to fight a duel. But he warned Savinien to treat him well in future; assuring him he was a capital boxer, and would break his leg at the first offence.

The walls of Nemours were cleared of the inscription; but the quarrel between Minoret and his wife went on; and Savinien maintained a threatening silence. Ten days after these events the marriage of Mademoiselle Massin, the elder, to the future notary was bruited about the town. Mademoiselle Massin had a dowry of eighty thousand francs and her own peculiar ugliness; Goupil had his deformities and his practice; the union therefore seemed suitable and probable. One evening, towards midnight, two unknown men seized Goupil in the street as he was leaving Massin’s house, gave him a sound beating, and disappeared. The notary kept the matter a profound secret, and even contradicted an old woman who saw the scene from her window and thought that she recognized him.

These great little events were carefully studied by Bongrand, who became convinced that Goupil held some mysterious power over Minoret, and he determined to find out its cause.

CHAPTER XIX

APPARITIONS

Though the public opinion of the little town recognized Ursula’s perfect innocence, she recovered slowly. While in a state of bodily exhaustion, which left her mind and spirit free, she became the medium of phenomena the effects of which were astounding, and of a nature to challenge science, if science had been brought into contact with them.

Ten days after Madame de Portenduere’s visit Ursula had a dream, with all the characteristics of a supernatural vision, as much in its moral aspects as in the, so to speak, physical circumstances. Her godfather appeared to her and made a sign that she should come with him. She dressed herself and followed him through the darkness to their former house in the Rue des Bourgeois, where she found everything precisely as it was on the day of her godfather’s death. The old man wore the clothes that were on him the evening before his death. His face was pale, his movements caused no sound; nevertheless, Ursula heard his voice distinctly, though it was feeble and as if repeated by a distant echo. The doctor conducted his child as far as the Chinese pagoda, where he made her lift the marble top of the little Boule cabinet just as she had raised it on the day of his death; but instead of finding nothing there she saw the letter her godfather had told her to fetch. She opened it and read both the letter addressed to herself and the will in favor of Savinien. The writing, as she afterwards told the abbe, shone as if traced by sunbeams–“it burned my eyes,” she said. When she looked at her uncle to thank him she saw the old benevolent smile upon his discolored lips. Then, in a feeble voice, but still clearly, he told her to look at Minoret, who was listening in the corridor to what he said to her; and next, slipping the lock of the library door with his knife, and taking the papers from the study. With his right hand the old man seized his goddaughter and obliged her to walk at the pace of death and follow Minoret to his own house. Ursula crossed the town, entered the post house and went into Zelie’s old room, where the spectre showed her Minoret unfolding the letters, reading them and burning them.

“He could not,” said Ursula, telling her dream to the abbe, “light the first two matches, but the third took fire; he burned the papers and buried their remains in the ashes. Then my godfather brought me back to our house, and I saw Minoret-Levrault slipping into the library, where he took from the third volume of Pandects three certificates of twelve thousand francs each; also, from the preceding volume, a number of banknotes. ‘He is,’ said my godfather, ‘the cause of all the trouble which has brought you to the verge of the tomb; but God wills that you shall yet be happy. You will not die now; you will marry Savinien. If you love me, and if you love Savinien, I charge you to demand your fortune from my nephew. Swear it.'”

Resplendent as though transfigured, the spectre had so powerful an influence on Ursula’s soul that she promised all her uncle asked, hoping to put an end to the nightmare. She woke suddenly and found herself standing in the middle of her bedroom, facing her godfather’s portrait, which had been placed there during her illness. She went back to bed and fell asleep after much agitation, and on waking again she remembered all the particulars of this singular vision; but she dared not speak of it. Her judgment and her delicacy both shrank from revealing a dream the end and object of which was her pecuniary benefit. She attributed the vision, not unnaturally, to remarks made by La Bougival the preceding evening, when the old woman talked of the doctor’s intended liberality and of her own convictions on that subject. But the dream returned, with aggravated circumstances which made it fearful to the poor girl. On the second occasion the icy hand