"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?"
"Can I avenge them?"
"On their author, yes—on his tool, no."
"Because—I am the tool."
Savinien turned pale.
"I have just seen Ursula—" said Goupil.
"Ursula?" said the lover, looking fixedly at the clerk.
"Mademoiselle Mirouet," continued Goupil, made respectful by Savinien's tone; "and I would undo with my blood the wrong that has been done; I repent of it. If you were to kill me, in a duel or otherwise, what good would my blood do you? can you drink it? At this moment it would poison you."
The cold reasoning of the man, together with a feeling of eager curiosity, calmed Savinien's anger. He fixed his eyes on Goupil with a look which made that moral deformity writhe.
"Who set you at this work?" said the young man.
"Will you swear?"
"What,—to do you no harm?"
"I wish that you and Mademoiselle Mirouet should not forgive me."
"She will forgive you,—I, never!"
"But at least you will forget?"
What terrible power the reason has when it is used to further self-interest. Here were two men, longing to tear one another in pieces, standing in that courtyard within two inches of each other, compelled to talk together and united by a single sentiment.
"I will forgive you, but I shall not forget."
"The agreement is off," said Goupil coldly. Savinien lost patience. He applied a blow upon the man's face which echoed through the courtyard and nearly knocked him down, making Savinien himself stagger.
"It is only what I deserve," said Goupil, "for committing such a folly. I thought you more noble than you are. You have abused the advantage I gave you. You are in my power now," he added with a look 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."
"Nothing? I tell you you lie, and I shall find it out."
"Do let me alone!"
"I'll turn the faucet of that fountain of venom, Goupil—whom you're afraid of—and we'll see who gets the best of it then."
"Just as you choose."
"I know very well it will be as I choose! and what I choose first and foremost is that no harm shall come to Desire. If anything happens to him, mark you, I'll do something that may send me to the scaffold—and you, you haven't any feeling about him—"
A quarrel thus begun between Minoret and his wife was sure not to end without a long and angry strife. So at the moment of his self-satisfaction the foolish robber found his inward struggle against himself and against Ursula revived by his own fault, and complicated with a new and terrible adversary. The next day, when he left the house early to find Goupil and try to appease him with additional money, the walls were already placarded with the words: "Minoret is a thief." All those whom he met commiserated him and asked him who was the author of the anonymous placard. Fortunately for him, everybody made allowance for his equivocal replies by reflecting on his utter stupidity; fools get more advantage from their weakness than able men from their strength. The world looks on at a great man battling against fate, and does not help him, but it supplies the capital of a grocer who may fail and lose all. Why? Because men like to feel superior in protecting an incapable, and are displeased at not feeling themselves the equal of a man of genius. A clever man would have been lost in public estimation had he stammered, as Minoret did, evasive and foolish answers with a frightened air. Zelie sent her servants to efface the vindictive words wherever they were found; but the effect of them on Minoret's conscience still remained.
The result of his interview with his assailant was soon apparent. Though Goupil had concluded his bargain with the sheriff the night before, he now impudently refused to fulfil it.
"My dear Lecoeur," he said, "I am unexpectedly enabled to buy up Monsieur Dionis's practice; I am therefore in a position to help you to sell to others. Tear up the agreement; it's only the loss of two stamps,—here are seventy centimes."
Lecoeur was too much afraid of Goupil to complain. All Nemours knew before night that Minoret had given Dionis security to enable Goupil to buy his practice. The latter wrote to Savinien denying his charges against Minoret, and telling the young nobleman that in his new position he was forbidden by the rules of the supreme court, and also by his respect for law, to fight a duel. But he warned Savinien to treat him well in future; assuring him he was a capital boxer, and would break his leg at the first offence.
The walls of Nemours were cleared of the inscription; but the quarrel between Minoret and his wife went on; and Savinien maintained a threatening silence. Ten days after these events the marriage of Mademoiselle Massin, the elder, to the future notary was bruited about the town. Mademoiselle Massin had a dowry of eighty thousand francs and her own peculiar ugliness; Goupil had his deformities and his practice; the union therefore seemed suitable and probable. One evening, towards midnight, two unknown men seized Goupil in the street as he was leaving Massin's house, gave him a sound beating, and disappeared. The notary kept the matter a profound secret, and even contradicted an old woman who saw the scene from her window and thought that she recognized him.
These great little events were carefully studied by Bongrand, who became convinced that Goupil held some mysterious power over Minoret, and he determined to find out its cause.
CHAPTER XIX. APPARITIONS
Though the public opinion of the little town recognized Ursula's perfect innocence, she recovered slowly. While in a state of bodily exhaustion, which left her mind and spirit free, she became the medium of phenomena the effects of which were astounding, and of a nature to challenge science, if science had been brought into contact with them.
Ten days after Madame de Portenduere's visit Ursula had a dream, with all the characteristics of a supernatural vision, as much in its moral aspects as in the, so to speak, physical circumstances. Her godfather appeared to her and made a sign that she should come with him. She dressed herself and followed him through the darkness to their former house in the Rue des Bourgeois, where she found everything precisely as it was on the day of her godfather's death. The old man wore the clothes that were on him the evening before his death. His face was pale, his movements caused no sound; nevertheless, Ursula heard his voice distinctly, though it was feeble and as if repeated by a distant echo. The doctor conducted his child as far as the Chinese pagoda, where he made her lift the marble top of the little Boule cabinet just as she had raised it on the day of his death; but instead of finding nothing there she saw the letter her godfather had told her to fetch. She opened it and read both the letter addressed to herself and the will in favor of Savinien. The writing, as she afterwards told the abbe, shone as if traced by sunbeams—"it burned my eyes," she said. When she looked at her uncle to thank him she saw the old benevolent smile upon his discolored lips. Then, in a feeble voice, but still clearly, he told her to look at Minoret, who was listening in the corridor to what he said to her; and next, slipping the lock of the library door with his knife, and taking the papers from the study. With his right hand the old man seized his goddaughter and obliged her to walk at the pace of death and follow Minoret to his own house. Ursula crossed the town, entered the post house and went into Zelie's old room, where the spectre showed her Minoret unfolding the letters, reading them and burning them.
"He could not," said Ursula, telling her dream to the abbe, "light the first two matches, but the third took fire; he burned the papers and buried their remains in the ashes. Then my godfather brought me back to our house, and I saw Minoret-Levrault slipping into the library, where he took from the third volume of Pandects three certificates of twelve thousand francs each; also, from the preceding volume, a number of banknotes. 'He is,' said my godfather, 'the cause of all the trouble which has brought you to the verge of the tomb; but God wills that you shall yet be happy. You will not die now; you will marry Savinien. If you love me, and if you love Savinien, I charge you to demand your fortune from my nephew. Swear it.'"
Resplendent as though transfigured, the spectre had so powerful an influence on Ursula's soul that she promised all her uncle asked, hoping to put an end to the nightmare. She woke suddenly and found herself standing in the middle of her bedroom, facing her godfather's portrait, which had been placed there during her illness. She went back to bed and fell asleep after much agitation, and on waking again she remembered all the particulars of this singular vision; but she dared not speak of it. Her judgment and her delicacy both shrank from revealing a dream the end and object of which was her pecuniary benefit. She attributed the vision, not unnaturally, to remarks made by La Bougival the preceding evening, when the old woman talked of the doctor's intended liberality and of her own convictions on that subject. But the dream returned, with aggravated circumstances which made it fearful to the poor girl. On the second occasion the icy hand of her godfather was laid upon her shoulder, causing her the most horrible distress, an indefinable sensation. "You must obey the dead," he said, in a sepulchral voice. "Tears," said Ursula, relating her dreams, "fell from his white, wide-open eyes."
The third time the vision came the dead man took her by the braids of her long hair and showed her the post master talking with Goupil and promising money if he would remove Ursula to Sens. Ursula then decided to relate the three dreams to the Abbe Chaperon.
"Monsieur l'abbe," she said, "do you believe that the dead reappear?"
"My child, sacred history, profane history, and modern history, have much testimony to that effect; but the Church has never made it an article of faith; and as for science, in France science laughs at the idea."
"What do you believe?"
"That the power of God is infinite."
"Did my godfather ever speak to you of such matters?"
"Yes, often. He had entirely changed his views of them. His conversion, as he told me at least twenty times, dated from the day when a woman in Paris heard you praying for him in Nemours, and saw the red dot you made against Saint-Savinien's day in your almanac."
Ursula uttered a piercing cry, which alarmed the priest; she remembered the scene when, on returning to Nemours, her godfather read her soul, and took away the almanac.
"If that is so," she said, "then my visions are possibly true. My godfather has appeared to me, as Jesus appeared to his disciples. He was wrapped in yellow light; he spoke to me. I beg you to say a mass for the repose of his soul and to implore the help of God that these visions may cease, for they are destroying me."
She then related the three dreams with all their details, insisting on the truth of what she said, on her own freedom of action, on the somnambulism of her inner being, which, she said, detached itself from her body at the bidding of the spectre and followed him with perfect ease. The thing that most surprised the abbe, to whom Ursula's veracity was known, was the exact description which she gave of the bedroom formerly occupied by Zelie at the post house, which Ursula had never entered and about which no one had ever spoken to her.
"By what means can these singular apparitions take place?" asked Ursula. "What did my godfather think?"
"Your godfather, my dear child, argued my hypothesis. He recognized the possibility of a spiritual world, a world of ideas. If ideas are of man's creation, if they subsist in a life of their own, they must have forms which our external senses cannot grasp, but which are perceptible to our inward senses when brought under certain conditions. Thus your godfather's ideas might so enfold you that you would clothe them with his bodily presence. Then, if Minoret really committed those actions, they too resolve themselves into ideas; for all action is the result of many ideas. Now, if ideas live and move in a spiritual world, your spirit must be able to perceive them if it penetrates that world. These phenomena are not more extraordinary than those of memory; and those of memory are quite as amazing and inexplicable as those of the perfume of plants—which are perhaps the ideas of the plants."
"How you enlarge and magnify the world!" exclaimed Ursula. "But to hear the dead speak, to see them walk, act—do you think it possible?"
"In Sweden," replied the abbe, "Swedenborg has proved by evidence that he communicated with the dead. But come with me into the library and you shall read in the life of the famous Duc de Montmorency, beheaded at Toulouse, and who certainly was not a man to invent foolish tales, an adventure very like yours, which happened a hundred years earlier at Cardan."
Ursula and the abbe went upstairs, and the good man hunted up a little edition in 12mo, printed in Paris in 1666, of the "History of Henri de Montmorency," written by a priest of that period who had known the prince.
"Read it," said the abbe, giving Ursula the volume, which he had opened at the 175th page. "Your godfather often re-read that passage,—and see! here's a little of his snuff in it."
"And he not here!" said Ursula, taking the volume to read the passage.
"The siege of Privat was remarkable for the loss of a great number of officers. Two brigadier-generals died there—namely, the Marquis d'Uxelles, of a wound received at the outposts, and the Marquis de Portes, from a musket-shot through the head. The day the latter was killed he was to have been made a marshal of France. About the moment when the marquis expired the Duc de Montmorency, who was sleeping in his tent, was awakened by a voice like that of the marquis bidding him farewell. The affection he felt for a friend so near made him attribute the illusion of this dream to the force of his own imagination; and owing to the fatigues of the night, which he had spent, according to his custom, in the trenches, he fell asleep once more without any sense of dread. But the same voice disturbed him again, and the phantom obliged him to wake up and listen to the same words it had said as it first passed. The duke then recollected that he had heard the philosopher Pitrat discourse on the possibility of the separation of the soul from the body, and that he and the marquis had agreed that the first who died should bid adieu to the other. On which, not being able to restrain his fears as to the truth of this warning, he sent a servant to the marquis's quarters, which were distant from him. But before the man could get back, the king sent to inform the duke, by persons fitted to console him, of the great loss he had sustained.
"I leave learned men to discuss the cause of this event, which I have frequently heard the Duc de Montmorency relate: I think that the truth and singularity of the fact itself ought to be recorded and preserved."
"If all this is so," said Ursula, "what ought I do do?"
"My child," said the abbe, "it concerns matters so important, and which may prove so profitable to you, that you ought to keep absolutely silent about it. Now that you have confided to me the secret of these apparitions perhaps they may not return. Besides, you are now strong enough to come to church; well, then, come to-morrow and thank God and pray to him for the repose of your godfather's soul. Feel quite sure that you have entrusted your secret to prudent hands."
"If you knew how afraid I am to go to sleep,—what glances my godfather gives me! The last time he caught hold of my dress—I awoke with my face all covered with tears."
"Be at peace; he will not come again," said the priest.
Without losing a moment the Abbe Chaperon went straight to Minoret and asked for a few moments interview in the Chinese pagoda, requesting that they might be entirely alone.
"Can any one hear us?" he asked.
"No one," replied Minoret.
"Monsieur, my character must be known to you," said the abbe, fastening a gentle but attentive look on Minoret's face. "I have to speak to you of serious and extraordinary matters, which concern you, and about which you may be sure that I shall keep the profoundest secrecy; but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than give you this information. While your uncle lived, there stood there," said the priest, pointing to a certain spot in the room, "a small buffet made by Boule, with a marble top" (Minoret turned livid), "and beneath the marble your uncle placed a letter for Ursula—" The abbe then went on to relate, without omitting the smallest circumstance, Minoret's conduct to Minoret himself. When the last post master heard the detail of the two matches refusing to light he felt his hair begin to writhe on his skull.
"Who invented such nonsense?" he said, in a strangled voice, when the tale ended.
"The dead man himself."
This answer made Minoret tremble, for he himself had dreamed of the doctor.
"God is very good, Monsieur l'abbe, to do miracles for me," he said, danger inspiring him to make the sole jest of his life.
"All that God does is natural," replied the priest.
"Your phantoms don't frighten me," said the colossus, recovering his coolness.
"I did not come to frighten you, for I shall never speak of this to any one in the world," said the abbe. "You alone know the truth. The matter is between you and God."
"Come now, Monsieur l'abbe, do you really think me capable of such a horrible abuse of confidence?"
"I believe only in crimes which are confessed to me, and of which the sinner repents," said the priest, in an apostolic tone.
"Crime?" cried Minoret.
"A crime frightful in its consequences."
"In the fact that it escapes human justice. The crimes which are not expiated here below will be punished in another world. God himself avenges innocence."
"Do you think God concerns himself with such trifles?"
"If he did not see the worlds in all their details at a glance, as you take a landscape into your eye, he would not be God."
"Monsieur l'abbe, will you give me your word of honor that you have had these facts from my uncle?"
"Your uncle has appeared three times to Ursula and has told them and repeated them to her. Exhausted by such visions she revealed them to me privately; she considers them so devoid of reason that she will never speak of them. You may make yourself easy on that point."
"I am easy on all points, Monsieur Chaperon."
"I hope you are," said the old priest. "Even if I considered these warnings absurd, I should still feel bound to inform you of them, considering the singular nature of the details. You are an honest man, and you have obtained your handsome fortune in too legal a way to wish to add to it by theft. Besides, you are an almost primitive man, and you would be tortured by remorse. We have within us, be we savage or civilized, the sense of what is right, and this will not permit us to enjoy in peace ill-gotten gains acquired against the laws of the society in which we live,—for well-constituted societies are modeled on the system God has ordained for the universe. In this respect societies have a divine origin. Man does not originate ideas, he invents no form; he answers to the eternal relations that surround him on all sides. Therefore, see what happens! Criminals going to the scaffold, and having it in their power to carry their secret with them, are compelled by the force of some mysterious power to make confessions before their heads are taken off. Therefore, Monsieur Minoret, if your mind is at ease, I go my way satisfied."
Minoret was so stupefied that he allowed the abbe to find his own way out. When he thought himself alone he flew into the fury of a choleric man; the strangest blasphemies escaped his lips, in which Ursula's name was mingled with odious language.
"Why, what has she done to you?" cried Zelie, who had slipped in on tiptoe after seeing the abbe out of the house.
For the first and only time in his life, Minoret, drunk with anger and driven to extremities by his wife's reiterated questions, turned upon her and beat her so violently that he was obliged, when she fell half-dead on the floor, to take her in his arms and put her to bed himself, ashamed of his act. He was taken ill and the doctor bled him twice; when he appeared again in the streets everybody noticed a great change in him. He walked alone, and often roamed the town as though uneasy. When any one addressed him he seemed preoccupied in his mind, he who had never before had two ideas in his head. At last, one evening, he went up to Monsieur Bongrand in the Grand'Rue, the latter being on his way to take Ursula to Madame de Portenduere's, where the whist parties had begun again.
"Monsieur Bongrand, I have something important to say to my cousin," he said, taking the justice by the arm, "and I am very glad you should be present, for you can advise her."
They found Ursula studying; she rose, with a cold and dignified air, as soon as she saw Minoret.
"My child, Monsieur Minoret wants to speak to you on a matter of business," said Bongrand. "By the bye, don't forget to give me your certificates; I shall go to Paris in the morning and will draw your dividend and La Bougival's."
"Cousin," said Minoret, "our uncle accustomed you to more luxury than you have now."
"We can be very happy with very little money," she replied.
"I thought money might help your happiness," continued Minoret, "and I have come to offer you some, out of respect for the memory of my uncle."
"You had a natural way of showing respect for him," said Ursula, sternly; "you could have left his house as it was, and allowed me to buy it; instead of that you put it at a high price, hoping to find some hidden treasure in it."
"But," said Minoret, evidently troubled, "if you had twelve thousand francs a year you would be in a position to marry well."
"I have not got them."
"But suppose I give them to you, on condition of your buying an estate in Brittany near Madame de Portenduere,—you could then marry her son."
"Monsieur Minoret," said Ursula, "I have no claim to that money, and I cannot accept it from you. We are scarcely relations, still less are we friends. I have suffered too much from calumny to give a handle for evil-speaking. What have I done to deserve that money? What reason have you to make me such a present? These questions, which I have a right to ask, persons will answer as they see fit; some would consider your gift the reparation of a wrong, and, as such, I choose not to accept it. Your uncle did not bring me up to ignoble feelings. I can accept nothing except from friends, and I have no friendship for you."
"Then you refuse?" cried the colossus, into whose head the idea had never entered that a fortune could be rejected.
"I refuse," said Ursula.
"But what grounds have you for offering Mademoiselle Ursula such a fortune?" asked Bongrand, looking fixedly at Minoret. "You have an idea—have you an idea?—"
"Well, yes, the idea of getting her out of Nemours, so that my son will leave me in peace; he is in love with her and wants to marry her."
"Well, we'll see about it," said Bongrand, settling his spectacles. "Give us time to think it over."
He walked home with Minoret, applauding the solicitude shown by the father for his son's interests, and slightly blaming Ursula for her hasty decision. As soon as Minoret was within his own gate, Bongrand went to the post house, borrowed a horse and cabriolet, and started for Fontainebleau, where he went to see the deputy procureur, and was told that he was spending the evening at the house of the sub-prefect. Bongrand, delighted, followed him there. Desire was playing whist with the wife of the procureur du roi, the wife of the sub-prefect, and the colonel of the regiment in garrison.
"I come to bring you some good news," said Bongrand to Desire; "you love your cousin Ursula, and the marriage can be arranged."
"I love Ursula Mirouet!" cried Desire, laughing. "Where did you get that idea? I do remember seeing her sometimes at the late Doctor Minoret's; she certainly is a beauty; but she is dreadfully pious. I certainly took notice of her charms, but I must say I never troubled my head seriously for that rather insipid little blonde," he added, smiling at the sub-prefect's wife (who was a piquante brunette—to use a term of the last century). "You are dreaming, my dear Monsieur Bongrand; I thought every one knew that my father was a lord of a manor, with a rent roll of forty-five thousand francs a year from lands around his chateau at Rouvre,—good reasons why I should not love the goddaughter of my late great-uncle. If I were to marry a girl without a penny these ladies would consider me a fool."
"Have you never tormented your father to let you marry Ursula?"
"You hear that, monsieur?" said the justice to the procureur du roi, who had been listening to the conversation, leading him aside into the recess of a window, where they remained in conversation for a quarter of an hour.
An hour later Bongrand was back in Nemours, at Ursula's house, whence he sent La Bougival to Minoret to beg his attendance. The colossus came at once.
"Mademoiselle—" began Bongrand, addressing Minoret as he entered the room.
"Accepts?" cried Minoret, interrupting him.
"No, not yet," replied Bongrand, fingering his glasses. "I had scruples as to your son's feelings; for Ursula has been much tried lately about a supposed lover. We know the importance of tranquillity. Can you swear to me that your son truly loves her and that you have no other intention than to preserve our dear Ursula from any further Goupilisms?"
"Oh, I'll swear to that," cried Minoret.
"Stop, papa Minoret," said the justice, taking one hand from the pocket of his trousers to slap Minoret on the shoulder (the colossus trembled); "Don't swear falsely."
"Yes, either you or your son, who has just sworn at Fontainebleau, in presence of four persons and the procureur du roi, that he has never even thought of his cousin Ursula. You have other reasons for offering this fortune. I saw you were inventing that tale, and went myself to Fontainebleau to question your son."
Minoret was dumbfounded at his own folly.
"But where's the harm, Monsieur Bongrand, in proposing to a young relative to help on a marriage which seems to be for her happiness, and to invent pretexts to conquer her reluctance to accept the money."
Minoret, whose danger suggested to him an excuse which was almost admissible, wiped his forehead, wet with perspiration.
"You know the cause of my refusal," said Ursula; "and I request you never to come here again. Though Monsieur de Portenduere has not told me his reason, I know that he feels such contempt for you, such dislike even, that I cannot receive you into my house. My happiness is my only fortune,—I do not blush to say so; I shall not risk it. Monsieur de Portenduere is only waiting for my majority to marry me."
"Then the old saw that 'Money does all' is a lie," said Minoret, looking at the justice of peace, whose observing eyes annoyed him so much.
He rose and left the house, but, once outside, he found the air as oppressive as in the little salon.
"There must be an end put to this," he said to himself as he re-entered his own home.
When Ursula came down, bring her certificates and those of La Bougival, she found Monsieur Bongrand walking up and down the salon with great strides.
"Have you no idea what the conduct of that huge idiot means?" he said.
"None that I can tell," she replied.
Bongrand looked at her with inquiring surprise.
"Then we have the same idea," he said. "Here, keep the number of your certificates, in case I lose them; you should always take that precaution."
Bongrand himself wrote the number of the two certificates, hers and that of La Bougival, and gave them to her.
"Adieu, my child, I shall be gone two days, but you will see me on the third."
That night the apparition appeared to Ursula in a singular manner. She thought her bed was in the cemetery of Nemours, and that her uncle's grave was at the foot of it. The white stone, on which she read the inscription, opened, like the cover of an oblong album. She uttered a piercing cry, but the doctor's spectre slowly rose. First she saw his yellow head, with its fringe of white hair, which shone as if surmounted by a halo. Beneath the bald forehead the eyes were like two gleams of light; the dead man rose as if impelled by some superior force or will. Ursula's body trembled; her flesh was like a burning garment, and there was (as she subsequently said) another self moving within her bodily presence. "Mercy!" she cried, "mercy, godfather!" "It is too late," he said, in the voice of death,—to use the poor girl's own expression when she related this new dream to the abbe. "He has been warned; he has paid no heed to the warning. The days of his son are numbered. If he does not confess all and restore what he has taken within a certain time he must lose his son, who will die a violent and horrible death. Let him know this." The spectre pointed to a line of figures which gleamed upon the side of the tomb as if written with fire, and said, "There is his doom." When her uncle lay down again in his grave Ursula heard the sound of the stone falling back into its place, and immediately after, in the distance, a strange sound of horses and the cries of men.
The next day Ursula was prostrate. She could not rise, so terribly had the dream overcome her. She begged her nurse to find the Abbe Chaperon and bring him to her. The good priest came as soon as he had said mass, but he was not surprised at Ursula's revelation. He believed the robbery had been committed, and no longer tried to explain to himself the abnormal condition of his "little dreamer." He left Ursula at once and went directly to Minoret's.
"Monsieur l'abbe," said Zelie, "my husband's temper is so soured I don't know what he mightn't do. Until now he's been a child; but for the last two months he's not the same man. To get angry enough to strike me—me, so gentle! There must be something dreadful the matter to change him like that. You'll find him among the rocks; he spends all his time there,—doing what, I'd like to know?"
In spite of the heat (it was then September, 1836), the abbe crossed the canal and took a path which led to the base of one of the rocks, where he saw Minoret.
"You are greatly troubled, Monsieur Minoret," said the priest going up to him. "You belong to me because you suffer. Unhappily, I come to increase your pain. Ursula had a terrible dream last night. Your uncle lifted the stone from his grave and came forth to prophecy a great disaster in your family. I certainly am not here to frighten you; but you ought to know what he said—"
"I can't be easy anywhere, Monsieur Chaperon, not even among these rocks, and I'm sure I don't want to know anything that is going on in another world."
"Then I will leave you, monsieur; I did not take this hot walk for pleasure," said the abbe, mopping his forehead.
"Well, what do you want to say?" demanded Minoret.
"You are threatened with the loss of your son. If the dead man told things that you alone know, one must needs tremble when he tells things that no one can know till they happen. Make restitution, I say, make restitution. Don't damn your soul for a little money."
"Restitution of what?"
"The fortune the doctor intended for Ursula. You took those three certificates—I know it now. You began by persecuting that poor girl, and you end by offering her a fortune; you have stumbled into lies, you have tangled yourself up in this net, and you are taking false steps every day. You are very clumsy and unskilful; your accomplice Goupil has served you ill; he simply laughs at you. Make haste and clear your mind, for you are watched by intelligent and penetrating eyes,—those of Ursula's friends. Make restitution! and if you do not save your son (who may not really be threatened), you will save your soul, and you will save your honor. Do you believe that in a society like ours, in a little town like this, where everybody's eyes are everywhere, and all things are guessed and all things are known, you can long hide a stolen fortune? Come, my son, an innocent man wouldn't have let me talk so long."
"Go to the devil!" cried Minoret. "I don't know what you all mean by persecuting me. I prefer these stones—they leave me in peace."
"Farewell, then; I have warned you. Neither the poor girl nor I have said a single word about this to any living person. But take care—there is a man who has his eye upon you. May God have pity upon you!"
The abbe departed; presently he turned back to look at Minoret. The man was holding his head in his hands as if it troubled him; he was, in fact, partly crazy. In the first place, he had kept the three certificates because he did not know what to do with them. He dared not draw the money himself for fear it should be noticed; he did not wish to sell them, and was still trying to find some way of transferring the certificates. In this horrible state of uncertainty he bethought him of acknowledging all to his wife and getting her advice. Zelie, who always managed affairs for him so well, she could get him out of his troubles. The three-per-cent Funds were now selling at eighty. Restitution! why, that meant, with arrearages, giving up a million! Give up a million, when there was no one who could know that he had taken it—!
So Minoret continued through September and a part of October irresolute and a prey to his torturing thoughts. To the great surprise of the little town he grew thin and haggard.
CHAPTER XX. REMORSE
An alarming circumstance hastened the confession which Minoret was inclined to make to Zelie; the sword of Damocles began to move above their heads. Towards the middle of October Monsieur and Madame Minoret received from their son Desire the following letter:—
My dear Mother,—If I have not been to see you since vacation, it is partly because I have been on duty during the absence of my chief, but also because I knew that Monsieur de Portenduere was waiting my arrival at Nemours, to pick a quarrel with me. Tired, perhaps, of seeing his vengeance on our family delayed, the viscount came to Fontainebleau, where he had appointed one of his Parisian friends to meet him, having already obtained the help of the Vicomte de Soulanges commanding the troop of cavalry here in garrison.
He called upon me, very politely, accompanied by the two gentlemen, and told me that my father was undoubtedly the instigator of the malignant persecutions against Ursula Mirouet, his future wife; he gave me proofs, and told me of Goupil's confession before witnesses. He also told me of my father's conduct, first in refusing to pay Goupil the price agreed on for his wicked invention, and next, out of fear of Goupil's malignity, going security to Monsieur Dionis for the price of his practice which Goupil is to have.
The viscount, not being able to fight a man sixty-seven years of age, and being determined to have satisfaction for the insults offered to Ursula, demanded it formally of me. His determination, having been well-weighed and considered, could not be shaken. If I refused, he was resolved to meet me in society before persons whose esteem I value, and insult me openly. In France, a coward is unanimously scorned. Besides, the motives for demanding reparation should be explained by honorable men. He said he was sorry to resort to such extremities. His seconds declared it would be wiser in me to arrange a meeting in the usual manner among men of honor, so that Ursula Mirouet might not be known as the cause of the quarrel; to avoid all scandal it was better to make a journey to the nearest frontier. In short, my seconds met his yesterday, and they unanimously agreed that I owed him reparation. A week from to-day I leave for Geneva with my two friends. Monsieur de Portenduere, Monsieur de Soulanges, and Monsieur de Trailles will meet me there.
The preliminaries of the duel are settled; we shall fight with pistols; each fires three times, and after that, no matter what happens, the affair terminates. To keep this degrading matter from public knowledge (for I find it impossible to justify my father's conduct) I do not go to see you now, because I dread the violence of the emotion to which you would yield and which would not be seemly. If I am to make my way in the world I must conform to the rules of society. If the son of a viscount has a dozen reasons for fighting a duel the son of a post master has a hundred. I shall pass the night in Nemours on my way to Geneva, and I will bid you good-by then.
After the reading of this letter a scene took place between Zelie and Minoret which ended in the latter confessing the theft and relating all the circumstances and the strange scenes connected with it, even Ursula's dreams. The million fascinated Zelie quite as much as it did Minoret.
"You stay quietly here," Zelie said to her husband, without the slightest remonstrance against his folly. "I'll manage the whole thing. We'll keep the money, and Desire shall not fight a duel."
Madame Minoret put on her bonnet and shawl and carried her son's letter to Ursula, whom she found alone, as it was about midday. In spite of her assurance Zelie was discomfited by the cold look which the young girl gave her. But she took herself to task for her cowardice and assumed an easy air.
"Here, Mademoiselle Mirouet, do me the kindness to read that and tell me what you think of it," she cried, giving Ursula her son's letter.
Ursula went through various conflicting emotions as she read the letter, which showed her how truly she was loved and what care Savinien took of the honor of the woman who was to be his wife; but she had too much charity and true religion to be willing to be the cause of death or suffering to her most cruel enemy.
"I promise, madame, to prevent the duel; you may feel perfectly easy,—but I must request you to leave me this letter."
"My dear little angel, can we not come to some better arrangement. Monsieur Minoret and I have acquired property about Rouvre,—a really regal castle, which gives us forty-eight thousand francs a year; we shall give Desire twenty-four thousand a year which we have in the Funds; in all, seventy thousand francs a year. You will admit that there are not many better matches than he. You are an ambitious girl,—and quite right too," added Zelie, seeing Ursula's quick gesture of denial; "I have therefore come to ask your hand for Desire. You will bear your godfather's name, and that will honor it. Desire, as you must have seen, is a handsome fellow; he is very much thought of at Fontainebleau, and he will soon be procureur du roi himself. You are a coaxing girl and can easily persuade him to live in Paris. We will give you a fine house there; you will shine; you will play a distinguished part; for, with seventy thousand francs a year and the salary of an office, you and Desire can enter the highest society. Consult your friends; you'll see what they tell you."
"I need only consult my heart, madame."
"Ta, ta, ta! now don't talk to me about that little lady-killer Savinien. You'd pay too high a price for his name, and for that little moustache curled up at the points like two hooks, and his black hair. How do you expect to manage on seven thousand francs a year, with a man who made two hundred thousand francs of debt in two years? Besides—though this is a thing you don't know yet—all men are alike; and without flattering myself too much, I may say that my Desire is the equal of a king's son."
"You forget, madame, the danger your son is in at this moment; which can, perhaps, be averted only by Monsieur de Portenduere's desire to please me. If he knew that you had made me these unworthy proposals that danger might not be escaped. Besides, let me tell you, madame, that I shall be far happier in the moderate circumstances to which you allude than I should be in the opulence with which you are trying to dazzle me. For reasons hitherto unknown, but which will yet be made known, Monsieur Minoret, by persecuting me in an odious manner, strengthened the affection that exists between Monsieur de Portenduere and myself—which I can now admit because his mother has blessed it. I will also tell you that this affection, sanctioned and legitimate, is life itself to me. No destiny, however brilliant, however lofty, could make me change. I love without the possibility of changing. It would therefore be a crime if I married a man to whom I could take nothing but a soul that is Savinien's. But, madame, since you force me to be explicit, I must tell you that even if I did not love Monsieur de Portenduere I could not bring myself to bear the troubles and joys of life in the company of your son. If Monsieur Savinien made debts, you have often paid those of your son. Our characters have neither the similarities nor the differences which enable two persons to live together without bitterness. Perhaps I should not have towards him the forbearance a wife owes to her husband; I should then be a trial to him. Pray cease to think of an alliance of which I count myself quite unworthy, and which I fell I can decline without pain to you; for with the great advantages you name to me, you cannot fail to find some girl of better station, more wealth, and more beauty than mine."
"Will you swear to me," said Zelie, "to prevent these young men from taking that journey and fighting that duel?"
"It will be, I foresee, the greatest sacrifice that Monsieur de Portenduere can make to me, but I shall tell him that my bridal crown must have no blood upon it."
"Well, I thank you, cousin, and I can only hope you will be happy."
"And I, madame, sincerely wish that you may realize all your expectations for the future of your son."
These words struck a chill to the heart of the mother, who suddenly remembered the predictions of Ursula's last dream; she stood still, her small eyes fixed on Ursula's face, so white, so pure, so beautiful in her mourning dress, for Ursula had risen too to hasten her so-called cousin's departure.
"Do you believe in dreams?" said Zelie.
"I suffer from them too much not to do so."
"But if you do—" began Zelie.
"Adieu, madame," exclaimed Ursula, bowing to Madame Minoret as she heard the abbe's entering step.
The priest was surprised to find Madame Minoret with Ursula. The uneasiness depicted on the thin and wrinkled face of the former post mistress induced him to take note of the two women.
"Do you believe in spirits?" Zelie asked him.
"What do you believe in?" he answered, smiling.
"They are all sly," thought Zelie,—"every one of them! They want to deceive us. That old priest and the old justice and that young scamp Savinien have got some plan in their heads. Dreams! no more dreams than there are hairs on the palm of my hand."
With two stiff, curt bows she left the room.
"I know why Savinien went to Fontainebleau," said Ursula to the abbe, telling him about the duel and begging him to use his influence to prevent it.
"Did Madame Minoret offer you her son's hand?" asked the abbe.
"Minoret has no doubt confessed his crime to her," added the priest.
Monsieur Bongrand, who came in at this moment, was told of the step taken by Zelie, whose hatred to Ursula was well known to him. He looked at the abbe as if to say: "Come out, I want to speak to you of Ursula without her hearing me."
"Savinien must be told that you refused eighty thousand francs a year and the dandy of Nemours," he said aloud.
"Is it, then, a sacrifice?" she answered, laughing. "Are there sacrifices when one truly loves? Is it any merit to refuse the son of a man we all despise? Others may make virtues of their dislikes, but that ought not to be the morality of a girl brought up by a de Jordy, and the abbe, and my dear godfather," she said, looking up at his portrait.
Bongrand took Ursula's hand and kissed it.
"Do you know what Madame Minoret came about?" said the justice as soon as they were in the street.
"What?" asked the priest, looking at Bongrand with an air that seemed merely curious.
"She had some plan for restitution."
"Then you think—" began the abbe.
"I don't think, I know; I have the certainty—and see there!"
So saying, Bongrand pointed to Minoret, who was coming towards them on his way home.
"When I was a lawyer in the criminal courts," continued Bongrand, "I naturally had many opportunities to study remorse; but I have never seen any to equal that of this man. What gives him that flaccidity, that pallor of the cheeks where the skin was once as tight as a drum and bursting with the good sound health of a man without a care? What has put those black circles round his eyes and dulled their rustic vivacity? Did you ever expect to see lines of care on that forehead? Who would have supposed that the brain of that colossus could be excited? The man has felt his heart! I am a judge of remorse, just as you are a judge of repentance, my dear abbe. That which I have hitherto observed has developed in men who were awaiting punishment, or enduring it to get quits with the world; they were either resigned, or breathing vengeance; but here is remorse without expiation, remorse pure and simple, fastening on its prey and rending him."
The judge stopped Minoret and said: "Do you know that Mademoiselle Mirouet has refused your son's hand?"
"But," interposed the abbe, "do not be uneasy; she will prevent the duel."
"Ah, then my wife succeeded?" said Minoret. "I am very glad, for it nearly killed me."
"You are, indeed, so changed that you are no longer like yourself," remarked Bongrand.
Minoret looked alternately at the two men to see if the priest had betrayed the dreams; but the abbe's face was unmoved, expressing only a calm sadness which reassured the guilty man.
"And it is the more surprising," went on Monsieur Bongrand, "because you ought to be filled with satisfaction. You are lord of Rouvre and all those farms and mills and meadows and—with your investments in the Funds, you have an income of one hundred thousand francs—"
"I haven't anything in the Funds," cried Minoret, hastily.
"Pooh," said Bongrand; "this is just as it was about your son's love for Ursula,—first he denied it, and now he asks her in marriage. After trying to kill Ursula with sorrow you now want her for a daughter-in-law. My good friend, you have got some secret in your pouch."
Minoret tried to answer; he searched for words and could find nothing better than:—
"You're very queer, monsieur. Good-day, gentlemen"; and he turned with a slow step into the Rue des Bourgeois.
"He has stolen the fortune of our poor Ursula," said Bongrand, "but how can we ever find the proof?"
"God has put into us the sentiment that is now appealing to that man; but all that is merely what is called 'presumptive,' and human justice requires something more."
The abbe maintained the silence of a priest. As often happens in similar circumstances, he thought much oftener than he wished to think of the robbery, now almost admitted by Minoret, and of Savinien's happiness, delayed only by Ursula's loss of fortune—for the old lady had privately owned to him that she knew she had done wrong in not consenting to the marriage in the doctor's lifetime.
CHAPTER XXI. SHOWING HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO STEAL THAT WHICH SEEMS VERY EASILY STOLEN
The following day, as the abbe was leaving the altar after saying mass, a thought struck him with such force that it seemed to him the utterance of a voice. He made a sign to Ursula to wait for him, and accompanied her home without having breakfasted.
"My child," he said, "I want to see the two volumes your godfather showed you in your dreams—where he said that he placed those certificates and banknotes."
Ursula and the abbe went up to the library and took down the third volume of the Pandects. When the old man opened it he noticed, not without surprise, a mark left by some enclosure upon the pages, which still kept the outline of the certificate. In the other volume he found a sort of hollow made by the long-continued presence of a package, which had left its traces on the two pages next to it.
"Yes, go up, Monsieur Bongrand," La Bougival was heard to say, and the justice of the peace came into the library just as the abbe was putting on his spectacles to read three numbers in Doctor Minoret's hand-writing on the fly-leaf of colored paper with which the binder had lined the cover of the volume,—figures which Ursula had just discovered.
"What's the meaning of those figures?" said the abbe; "our dear doctor was too much of a bibliophile to spoil the fly-leaf of a valuable volume. Here are three numbers written between a first number preceded by the letter M and a last number preceded by a U."
"What are you talking of?" said Bongrand. "Let me see that. Good God!" he cried, after a moment's examination; "it would open the eyes of an atheist as an actual demonstration of Providence! Human justice is, I believe, the development of the divine thought which hovers over the worlds." He seized Ursula and kissed her forehead. "Oh! my child, you will be rich and happy, and all through me!"
"What is it?" exclaimed the abbe.
"Oh, monsieur," cried La Bougival, catching Bongrand's blue overcoat, "let me kiss you for what you've just said."
"Explain, explain! don't give us false hopes," said the abbe.
"If I bring trouble on others by becoming rich," said Ursula, forseeing a criminal trial, "I—"
"Remember," said the justice, interrupting her, "the happiness you will give to Savinien."
"Are you mad?" said the abbe.
"No, my dear friend," said Bongrand. "Listen; the certificates in the Funds are issued in series,—as many series as there are letters in the alphabet; and each number bears the letter of its series. But the certificates which are made out 'to bearer' cannot have a letter; they are not in any person's name. What you see there shows that the day the doctor placed his money in the Funds, he noted down, first, the number of his own certificate for fifteen thousand francs interest which bears his initial M; next, the numbers of three inscriptions to bearer; these are without a letter; and thirdly, the certificate of Ursula's share in the Funds, the number of which is 23,534, and which follows, as you see, that of the fifteen-thousand-franc certificate with lettering. This goes far to prove that those numbers are those of five certificates of investments made on the same day and noted down by the doctor in case of loss. I advised him to take certificates to bearer for Ursula's fortune, and he must have made his own investment and that of Ursula's little property the same day. I'll go to Dionis's office and look at the inventory. If the number of the certificate for his own investment is 23,533, letter M, we may be sure that he invested, through the same broker on the same day, first his own property on a single certificate; secondly his savings in three certificates to bearer (numbered, but without the series letter); thirdly, Ursula's own property; the transfer books will show, of course, undeniable proofs of this. Ha! Minoret, you deceiver, I have you—Motus, my children!"
Whereupon he left them abruptly to reflect with admiration on the ways by which Providence had brought the innocent to victory.
"The finger of God is in all this," cried the abbe.
"Will they punish him?" asked Ursula.
"Ah, mademoiselle," cried La Bougival. "I'd give the rope to hang him."
Bongrand was already at Goupil's, now the appointed successor of Dionis, but he entered the office with a careless air. "I have a little matter to verify about the Minoret property," he said to Goupil.
"What is it?" asked the latter.
"The doctor left one or more certificates in the three-per-cent Funds?"
"He left one for fifteen thousand francs a year," said Goupil; "I recorded it myself."
"Then just look on the inventory," said Bongrand.
Goupil took down a box, hunted through it, drew out a paper, found the place, and read:—
"'Item, one certificate'—Here, read for yourself—under the number 23,533, letter M."
"Do me the kindness to let me have a copy of that clause within an hour," said Bongrand.
"What good is it to you?" asked Goupil.
"Do you want to be a notary?" answered the justice of peace, looking sternly at Dionis's proposed successor.
"Of course I do," cried Goupil. "I've swallowed too many affronts not to succeed now. I beg you to believe, monsieur, that the miserable creature once called Goupil has nothing in common with Maitre Jean-Sebastien-Marie Goupil, notary of Nemours and husband of Mademoiselle Massin. The two beings do not know each other. They are no longer even alike. Look at me!"
Thus adjured Monsieur Bongrand took notice of Goupil's clothes. The new notary wore a white cravat, a shirt of dazzling whiteness adorned with ruby buttons, a waistcoat of red velvet, with trousers and coat of handsome black broad-cloth, made in Paris. His boots were neat; his hair, carefully combed, was perfumed—in short he was metamorphosed.
"The fact is you are another man," said Bongrand.
"Morally as well as physically. Virtue comes with practice—a practice; besides, money is the source of cleanliness—"
"Morally as well as physically," returned Bongrand, settling his spectacles.
"Ha! monsieur, is a man worth a hundred thousand francs a year ever a democrat? Consider me in future as an honest man who knows what refinement is, and who intends to love his wife," said Goupil; "and what's more, I shall prevent my clients from ever doing dirty actions."
"Well, make haste," said Bongrand. "Let me have that copy in an hour, and notary Goupil will have undone some of the evil deeds of Goupil the clerk."
After asking the Nemours doctor to lend him his horse and cabriolet, he went back to Ursula's house for the two important volumes and for her own certificate of Funds; then, armed with the extract from the inventory, he drove to Fontainebleau and had an interview with the procureur du roi. Bongrand easily convinced that official of the theft of the three certificates by one or other of the heirs,—presumably by Minoret.
"His conduct is explained," said the procureur.
As a measure of precaution the magistrate at once notified the Treasury to withhold transfer of the said certificates, and told Bongrand to go to Paris and ascertain if the shares had ever been sold. He then wrote a polite note to Madame Minoret requesting her presence.
Zelie, very uneasy about her son's duel, dressed herself at once, had the horses put to her carriage and hurried to Fontainebleau. The procureur's plan was simple enough. By separating the wife from the husband, and bringing the terrors of the law to bear upon her, he expected to learn the truth. Zelie found the official in his private office and was utterly annihilated when he addressed her as follows:—
"Madame," he said; "I do not believe you are an accomplice in a theft that has been committed upon the Minoret property, on the track of which the law is now proceeding. But you can spare your husband the shame of appearing in the prisoner's dock by making a full confession of what you know about it. The punishment which your husband has incurred is, moreover, not the only thing to be dreaded. Your son's career is to be thought of; you must avoid destroying that. Half an hour hence will be too late. The police are already under orders for Nemours, the warrant is made out."
Zelie nearly fainted; when she recovered her senses she confessed everything. After proving to her that she was in point of fact an accomplice, the magistrate told her that if she did not wish to injure either son or husband she must behave with the utmost prudence.
"You have now to do with me as an individual, not as a magistrate," he said. "No complaint has been lodged by the victim, nor has any publicity been given to the theft. But your husband has committed a great crime, which may be brought before a judge less inclined than myself to be considerate. In the present state of the affair I am obliged to make you a prisoner—oh, in my own house, on parole," he added, seeing that Zelie was about to faint. "You must remember that my official duty would require me to issue a warrant at once and begin an examination; but I am acting now individually, as guardian of Mademoiselle Ursula Mirouet, and her best interests demand a compromise."
"Ah!" exclaimed Zelie.
"Write to your husband in the following words," he continued, placing Zelie at his desk and proceeding to dictate the letter:—
"My Friend,—I am arrested, and I have told all. Return the certificates which uncle left to Monsieur de Portenduere in the will which you burned; for the procureur du roi has stopped payment at the Treasury."
"You will thus save him from the denials he would otherwise attempt to make," said the magistrate, smiling at Zelie's orthography. "We will see that the restitution is properly made. My wife will make your stay in our house as agreeable as possible. I advise you to say nothing of the matter and not to appear anxious or unhappy."
Now that Zelie had confessed and was safely immured, the magistrate sent for Desire, told him all the particulars of his father's theft, which was really to Ursula's injury, but, as matters stood, legally to that of his co-heirs, and showed him the letter written by his mother. Desire at once asked to be allowed to go to Nemours and see that his father made immediate restitution.
"It is a very serious matter," said the magistrate. "The will having been destroyed, if the matter gets wind, the co-heirs, Massin and Cremiere may put in a claim. I have proof enough against your father. I will release your mother, for I think the little ceremony that has already taken place has been sufficient warning as to her duty. To her, I will seem to have yielded to your entreaties in releasing her. Take her with you to Nemours, and manage the whole matter as best you can. Don't fear any one. Monsieur Bongrand loves Ursula Mirouet too well to let the matter become known."
Zelie and Desire started soon after for Nemours. Three hours later the procureur du roi received by a mounted messenger the following letter, the orthography of which has been corrected so as not to bring ridicule on a man crushed by affliction.
To Monsieur le procureur du roi at Fontainebleau:
Monsieur,—God is less kind to us than you; we have met with an irreparable misfortune. When my wife and son reached the bridge at Nemours a trace became unhooked. There was no servant behind the carriage; the horses smelt the stable; my son, fearing their impatience, jumped down to hook the trace rather than have the coachman leave the box. As he turned to resume his place in the carriage beside his mother the horses started; Desire did not step back against the parapet in time; the step of the carriage cut through both legs and he fell, the hind wheel passing over his body. The messenger who goes to Paris for the best surgeon will bring you this letter, which my son in the midst of his sufferings desires me to write so as to let you know our entire submission to your decisions in the matter about which he was coming to speak to me.
I shall be grateful to you to my dying day for the manner in which you have acted, and I will deserve your goodness.
This cruel event convulsed the whole town of Nemours. The crowds standing about the gate of the Minoret house were the first to tell Savinien that his vengeance had been taken by a hand more powerful than his own. He went at once to Ursula's house, where he found both the abbe and the young girl more distressed than surprised.
The next day, after the wounds were dressed, and the doctors and surgeons from Paris had given their opinion that both legs must be amputated, Minoret went, pale, humbled, and broken down, accompanied by the abbe, to Ursula's house, where he found also Monsieur Bongrand and Savinien.
"Mademoiselle," he said; "I am very guilty towards you; but if all the wrongs I have done you are not wholly reparable, there are some that I can expiate. My wife and I have made a vow to make over to you in absolute possession our estate at Rouvre in case our son recovers, and also in case we have the dreadful sorrow of losing him."
He burst into tears as he said the last words.
"I can assure you, my dear Ursula," said the abbe, "that you can and that you ought to accept a part of this gift."
"Will you forgive me?" said Minoret, humbly kneeling before the astonished girl. "The operation is about to be performed by the first surgeon of the Hotel-Dieu; but I do not trust to human science, I rely only on the power of God. If you will forgive us, if you ask God to restore our son to us, he will have strength to bear the agony and we shall have the joy of saving him."
"Let us go to the church!" cried Ursula, rising.
But as she gained her feet, a piercing cry came from her lips, and she fell backward fainting. When her senses returned, she saw her friends—but not Minoret who had rushed for a doctor—looking at her with anxious eyes, seeking an explanation. As she gave it, terror filled their hearts.
"I saw my godfather standing in the doorway," she said, "and he signed to me that there was no hope."
The day after the operation Desire died,—carried off by the fever and the shock to the system that succeed operations of this nature. Madame Minoret, whose heart had no other tender feeling than maternity, became insane after the burial of her son, and was taken by her husband to the establishment of Doctor Blanche, where she died in 1841.
Three months after these events, in January, 1837, Ursula married Savinien with Madame de Portenduere's consent. Minoret took part in the marriage contract and insisted on giving Mademoiselle Mirouet his estate at Rouvre and an income of twenty-four thousand francs from the Funds; keeping for himself only his uncle's house and ten thousand francs a year. He has become the most charitable of men, and the most religious; he is churchwarden of the parish, and has made himself the providence of the unfortunate.
"The poor take the place of my son," he said.
If you have ever noticed by the wayside, in countries where they poll the oaks, some old tree, whitened and as if blasted, still throwing out its twigs though its trunk is riven and seems to implore the axe, you will have an idea of the old post master, with his white hair,—broken, emaciated, in whom the elders of the town can see no trace of the jovial dullard whom you first saw watching for his son at the beginning of this history; he does not even take his snuff as he once did; he carries something more now than the weight of his body. Beholding him, we feel that the hand of God was laid upon that figure to make it an awful warning. After hating so violently his uncle's godchild the old man now, like Doctor Minoret himself, has concentrated all his affections on her, and has made himself the manager of her property in Nemours.
Monsieur and Madame de Portenduere pass five months of the year in Paris, where they have bought a handsome house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. Madame de Portenduere the elder, after giving her house in Nemours to the Sisters of Charity for a free school, went to live at Rouvre, where La Bougival keeps the porter's lodge. Cabirolle, the former conductor of the "Ducler," a man sixty years of age, has married La Bougival and the twelve hundred francs a year which she possesses besides the ample emoluments of her place. Young Cabirolle is Monsieur de Portenduere's coachman.
If you happen to see in the Champs-Elysees one of those charming little low carriages called 'escargots,' lined with gray silk and trimmed with blue, and containing a pretty young woman whom you admire because her face is wreathed in innumerable fair curls, her eyes luminous as forget-me-nots and filled with love; if you see her bending slightly towards a fine young man, and, if you are, for a moment, conscious of envy—pause and reflect that this handsome couple, beloved of God, have paid their quota to the sorrows of life in times now past. These married lovers are the Vicomte de Portenduere and his wife. There is not another such home in Paris as theirs.
"It is the sweetest happiness I have ever seen," said the Comtesse de l'Estorade, speaking of them lately.
Bless them, therefore, and be not envious; seek an Ursula for yourselves, a young girl brought up by three old men, and by the best of all mothers—adversity.
Goupil, who does service to everybody and is justly considered the wittiest man in Nemours, has won the esteem of the little town, but he is punished in his children, who are rickety and hydrocephalous. Dionis, his predecessor, flourishes in the Chamber of Deputies, of which he is one of the finest ornaments, to the great satisfaction of the king of the French, who sees Madame Dionis at all his balls. Madame Dionis relates to the whole town of Nemours the particulars of her receptions at the Tuileries and the splendor of the court of the king of the French. She lords it over Nemours by means of the throne, which therefore must be popular in the little town.
Bongrand is chief-justice of the court of appeals at Melun. His son is in the way of becoming an honest attorney-general.
Madame Cremiere continues to make her delightful speeches. On the occasion of her daughter's marriage, she exhorted her to be the working caterpillar of the household, and to look into everything with the eyes of a sphinx. Goupil is making a collection of her "slapsus-linquies," which he calls a Cremiereana.
"We have had the great sorrow of losing our good Abbe Chaperon," said the Vicomtesse de Portenduere this winter—having nursed him herself during his illness. "The whole canton came to his funeral. Nemours is very fortunate, however, for the successor of that dear saint is the venerable cure of Saint-Lange."
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Bouvard, Doctor Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Dionis The Member for Arcis
Estorade, Madame de l' Letters of Two Brides The Member for Arcis
Kergarouet, Comte de The Purse The Ball at Sceaux
Lupeaulx, Clement Chardin des The Muse of the Department Eugenie Grandet A Bachelor's Establishment A Distinguished Provincial at Paris The Government Clerks Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Marsay, Henri de The Thirteen The Unconscious Humorists Another Study of Woman The Lily of the Valley Father Goriot Jealousies of a Country Twon A Marriage Settlement Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris Letters of Two Brides The Ball at Sceaux Modeste Mignon The Secrets of a Princess The Gondreville Mystery A Daughter of Eve
Mirouet, Ursule (see Portenduere, Vicomtesse Savinien de)
Nathan, Madame Raoul The Muse of the Department Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Government Clerks A Bachelor's Establishment Eugenie Grandet The Imaginary Mistress A Prince of Bohemia A Daughter of Eve The Unconscious Humorists
Portenduere, Vicomte Savinien de The Ball at Sceaux Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Beatrix
Portenduere, Vicomtesse Savinien de Another Study of Woman Beatrix
Ronquerolles, Marquis de The Imaginary Mistress The Peasantry A Woman of Thirty Another Study of Woman The Thirteen The Member for Arcis
Rouvre, Marquis du The Imaginary Mistress A Start in Life
Rouvre, Chevalier du The Imaginary Mistress
Rubempre, Lucien-Chardon de Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris The Government Clerks Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Schmucke, Wilhelm A Daughter of Eve Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Cousin Pons
Serizy, Comtesse de A Start in Life The Thirteen A Woman of Thirty Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Another Study of Woman The Imaginary Mistress
Trailles, Comte Maxime de Cesar Birotteau Father Goriot Gobseck A Man of Business The Member for Arcis The Secrets of a Princess Cousin Betty Beatrix The Unconscious Humorists
Vandenesse, Marquise Charles de Cesar Birotteau The Ball at Sceaux A Daughter of Eve