"It is a feather in your cap, Mademoiselle," said Madame Cremiere,
putting in her word with a humble bow,--"a miracle which will not cost
"It is God's doing, madame," replied Ursula.
"God!" exclaimed Minoret-Levrault; "my father-in-law used to say he
served to blanket many horses."
"Your father-in-law had the mind of a jockey," said the doctor
"Come," said Minoret to his wife and son, "why don't you bow to my
"I shouldn't be mistress of myself before that little hypocrite,"
cried Zelie, carrying off her son.
"I advise you, uncle, not to go to mass without a velvet cap," said
Madame Massin; "the church is very damp."
"Pooh, niece," said the doctor, looking round on the assembly, "the
sooner I'm put to bed the sooner you'll flourish."
He walked on quickly, drawing Ursula with him, and seemed in such a
hurry that the others dropped behind.
"Why do you say such harsh things to them? it isn't right," said
Ursula, shaking his arm in a coaxing way.
"I shall always hate hypocrites, as much after as before I became
religious. I have done good to them all, and I asked no gratitude; but
not one of my relatives sent you a flower on your birthday, which they
know is the only day I celebrate."
At some distance behind the doctor and Ursula came Madame de
Portenduere, dragging herself along as if overcome with trouble. She
belonged to the class of old women whose dress recalls the style of
the last century. They wear puce-colored gowns with flat sleeves, the
cut of which can be seen in the portraits of Madame Lebrun; they all
have black lace mantles and bonnets of a shape gone by, in keeping
with their slow and dignified deportment; one might almost fancy that
they still wore paniers under their petticoats or felt them there, as
persons who have lost a leg are said to fancy that the foot is moving.
They swathe their heads in old lace which declines to drape gracefully
about their cheeks. Their wan and elongated faces, their haggard eyes
and faded brows, are not without a certain melancholy grace, in spite
of the false fronts with flattened curls to which they cling,--and yet
these ruins are all subordinate to an unspeakable dignity of look and
The red and wrinkled eyes of this old lady showed plainly that she had
been crying during the service. She walked like a person in trouble,
seemed to be expecting some one, and looked behind her from time to
time. Now, the fact of Madame de Portenduere looking behind her was
really as remarkable in its way as the conversion of Doctor Minoret.
"Who can Madame de Portenduere be looking for?" said Madame Massin,
rejoining the other heirs, who were for the moment struck dumb by the
"For the cure," said Dionis, the notary, suddenly striking his
forehead as if some forgotten thought or memory had occurred to him.
"I have an idea! I'll save your inheritance! Let us go and breakfast
gayly with Madame Minoret."
We can well imagine the alacrity with which the heirs followed the
notary to the post house. Goupil, who accompanied his friend Desire,
locked arm in arm with him, whispered something in the youth's ear
with an odious smile.
"What do I care?" answered the son of the house, shrugging his
shoulders. "I am madly in love with Florine, the most celestial
creature in the world."
"Florine! and who may she be?" demanded Goupil. "I'm too fond of you
to let you make a goose of yourself wish such creatures."
"Florine is the idol of the famous Nathan; my passion is wasted, I
know that. She has positively refused to marry me."
"Sometimes those girls who are fools with their bodies are wise with
their heads," responded Goupil.
"If you could but see her--only once," said Desire, lackadaisically,
"you wouldn't say such things."
"If I saw you throwing away your whole future for nothing better than
a fancy," said Goupil, with a warmth which might even have deceived
his master, "I would break your doll as Varney served Amy Robsart in
'Kenilworth.' Your wife must be a d'Aiglement or a Mademoiselle du
Rouvre, and get you made a deputy. My future depends on yours, and I
sha'n't let you commit any follies."
"I am rich enough to care only for happiness," replied Desire.
"What are you two plotting together?" cried Zelie, beckoning to the
two friends, who were standing in the middle of the courtyard, to come
into the house.
The doctor disappeared into the Rue des Bourgeois with the activity of
a young man, and soon reached his own house, where strange events had
lately taken place, the visible results of which now filled the minds
of the whole community of Nemours. A few explanations are needed to
make this history and the notary's remark to the heirs perfectly
intelligible to the reader.
The father-in-law of Doctor Minoret, the famous harpsichordist and
maker of instruments, Valentin Mirouet, also one of our most
celebrated organists, died in 1785 leaving a natural son, the child of
his old age, whom he acknowledged and called by his own name, but who
turned out a worthless fellow. He was deprived on his death bed of the
comfort of seeing this petted son. Joseph Mirouet, a singer and
composer, having made his debut at the Italian opera under a feigned
name, ran away with a young lady in Germany. The dying father
commended the young man, who was really full of talent, to his son-in-
law, proving to him, at the same time, that he had refused to marry
the mother that he might not injure Madame Minoret. The doctor
promised to give the unfortunate Joseph half of whatever his wife
inherited from her father, whose business was purchased by the Erards.
He made due search for his illegitimate brother-in-law; but Grimm
informed him one day that after enlisting in a Prussian regiment
Joseph had deserted and taken a false name and that all efforts to
find him would be frustrated.
Joseph Mirouet, gifted by nature with a delightful voice, a fine
figure, a handsome face, and being moreover a composer of great taste
and much brilliancy, led for over fifteen years the Bohemian life
which Hoffman has so well described. So, by the time he was forty, he
was reduced to such depths of poverty that he took advantage of the
events of 1806 to make himself once more a Frenchman. He settled in
Hamburg, where he married the daughter of a bourgeois, a girl devoted
to music, who fell in love with the singer (whose fame was ever
prospective) and chose to devote her life to him. But after fifteen
years of Bohemia, Joseph Mirouet was unable to bear prosperity; he was
naturally a spendthrift, and though kind to his wife, he wasted her
fortune in a very few years. The household must have dragged on a
wretched existence before Joseph Mirouet reached the point of
enlisting as a musician in a French regiment. In 1813 the surgeon-
major of the regiment, by the merest chance, heard the name of
Mirouet, was struck by it, and wrote to Doctor Minoret, to whom he was
The answer was not long in coming. As a result, in 1814, before the
allied occupation, Joseph Mirouet had a home in Paris, where his wife
died giving birth to a little girl, whom the doctor desired should be
called Ursula after his wife. The father did not long survive the
mother, worn out, as she was, by hardship and poverty. When dying the
unfortunate musician bequeathed his daughter to the doctor, who was
already her godfather, in spite of his repugnance for what he called
the mummeries of the Church. Having seen his own children die in
succession either in dangerous confinements or during the first year
of their lives, the doctor had awaited with anxiety the result of a
last hope. When a nervous, delicate, and sickly woman begins with a
miscarriage it is not unusual to see her go through a series of such
pregnancies as Ursula Minoret did, in spite of the care and
watchfulness and science of her husband. The poor man often blamed
himself for their mutual persistence in desiring children. The last
child, born after a rest of nearly two years, died in 1792, a victim
of its mother's nervous condition--if we listen to physiologists, who
tell us that in the inexplicable phenomenon of generation the child
derives from the father by blood and from the mother in its nervous
Compelled to renounce the joys of a feeling all powerful within him,
the doctor turned to benevolence as a substitute for his denied
paternity. During his married life, thus cruelly disappointed, he had
longed more especially for a fair little daughter, a flower to bring
joy to the house; he therefore gladly accepted Joseph Mirouet's
legacy, and gave to the orphan all the hopes of his vanished dreams.
For two years he took part, as Cato for Pompey, in the most minute
particulars of Ursula's life; he would not allow the nurse to suckle
her or to take her up or put her to bed without him. His medical
science and his experience were all put to use in her service. After
going through many trials, alternations of hope and fear, and the joys
and labors of a mother, he had the happiness of seeing this child of
the fair German woman and the French singer a creature of vigorous
health and profound sensibility.
With all the eager feelings of a mother the happy old man watched the
growth of the pretty hair, first down, then silk, at last hair, fine
and soft and clinging to the fingers that caressed it. He often kissed
the little naked feet the toes of which, covered with a pellicle
through which the blood was seen, were like rosebuds. He was
passionately fond of the child. When she tried to speak, or when she
fixed her beautiful blue eyes upon some object with that serious,
reflective look which seems the dawn of thought, and which she ended
with a laugh, he would stay by her side for hours, seeking, with
Jordy's help, to understand the reasons (which most people call
caprices) underlying the phenomena of this delicious phase of life,
when childhood is both flower and fruit, a confused intelligence, a
perpetual movement, a powerful desire.