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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 14)


"You have come here solely from curiosity, monsieur," he said at last. "It is not my habit to prostitute a power which, according to my conviction, emanates from God; if I made a frivolous or unworthy use of it, it would be taken from me. Nevertheless, there is some hope, Monsieur Bouvard tells me, of changing the opinions of one who has opposed us, of enlightening a scientific man whose mind is candid; I have therefore determined to satisfy you. That woman whom you see there," he continued, pointing to her, "is now in a somnambulic sleep. The statements and manifestations of somnambulists declare that this state is a delightful other life, during which the inner being, freed from the trammels laid upon the exercise of our faculties by the visible world, moves in a world which we mistakenly term invisible. Sight and hearing are then exercised in a manner far more perfect than any we know of here, possibly without the help of the organs we now employ, which are the scabbard of the luminous blades called sight and hearing. To a person in that state, distance and material obstacles do not exist, or they can be traversed by a life within us for which our body is a mere receptacle, a necessary shelter, a casing. Terms fail to describe effects that have lately been rediscovered, for to-day the words imponderable, intangible, invisible have no meaning to the fluid whose action is demonstrated by magnetism. Light is ponderable by its heat, which, by penetrating bodies, increases their volume; and certainly electricity is only too tangible. We have condemned things themselves instead of blaming the imperfection of our instruments."

"She sleeps," said Minoret, examining the woman, who seemed to him to belong to an inferior class.

"Her body is for the time being in abeyance," said the Swedenborgian. "Ignorant persons suppose that condition to be sleep. But she will prove to you that there is a spiritual universe, and that the mind when there does not obey the laws of this material universe. I will send her wherever you wish to go,--a hundred miles from here or to China, as you will. She will tell you what is happening there."

"Send her to my house in Nemours, Rue des Bourgeois; that will do," said Minoret.

He took Minoret's hand, which the doctor let him take, and held it for a moment seeming to collect himself; then with his other hand he took that of the woman sitting in the arm-chair and placed the hand of the doctor in it, making a sign to the old sceptic to seat himself beside this oracle without a tripod. Minoret observed a slight tremor on the absolutely calm features of the woman when their hands were thus united by the Swedenborgian, but the action, though marvelous in its effects, was very simply done.

"Obey him," said the unknown personage, extending his hand above the head of the sleeping woman, who seemed to imbibe both light and life from him, "and remember that what you do for him will please me.--You can now speak to her," he added, addressing Minoret.

"Go to Nemours, to my house, Rue des Bourgeois," said the doctor.

"Give her time; put your hand in hers until she proves to you by what she tells you that she is where you wish her to be," said Bouvard to his old friend.

"I see a river," said the woman in a feeble voice, seeming to look within herself with deep attention, notwithstanding her closed eyelids. "I see a pretty garden--"

"Why do you enter by the river and the garden?" said Minoret.

"Because they are there."

"Who?"

"The young girl and her nurse, whom you are thinking of."

"What is the garden like?" said Minoret.

"Entering by the steps which go down to the river, there is the right, a long brick gallery, in which I see books; it ends in a singular building,--there are wooden bells, and a pattern of red eggs. To the left, the wall is covered with climbing plants, wild grapes, Virginia jessamine. In the middle is a sun-dial. There are many plants in pots. Your child is looking at the flowers. She shows them to her nurse--she is making holes in the earth with her trowel, and planting seeds. The nurse is raking the path. The young girl is pure as an angel, but the beginning of love is there, faint as the dawn--"

"Love for whom?" asked the doctor, who, until now, would have listened to no word said to him by somnambulists. He considered it all jugglery.

"You know nothing--though you have lately been uneasy about her health," answered the woman. "Her heart has followed the dictates of nature."

"A woman of the people to talk like this!" cried the doctor.

"In the state she is in all persons speak with extraordinary perception," said Bouvard.

"But who is it that Ursula loves?"

"Ursula does not know that she loves," said the woman with a shake of the head; "she is too angelic to know what love is; but her mind is occupied by him; she thinks of him; she tries to escape the thought; but she returns to it in spite of her will to abstain.--She is at the piano--"

"But who is he?"

"The son of a lady who lives opposite."

"Madame de Portenduere?"

"Portenduere, did you say?" replied the sleeper. "Perhaps so. But there's no danger; he is not in the neighbourhood."

"Have they spoken to each other?" asked the doctor.

"Never. They have looked at one another. She thinks him charming. He is, in fact, a fine man; he has a good heart. She sees him from her window; they see each other in church. But the young man no longer thinks of her."

"His name?"

"Ah! to tell you that I must read it, or hear it. He is named Savinien; she has just spoken his name; she thinks it sweet to say; she has looked in the almanac for his fete-day and marked a red dot against it,--child's play, that. Ah! she will love well, with as much strength as purity; she is not a girl to love twice; love will so dye her soul and fill it that she will reject all other sentiments."

"Where do you see that?"

"In her. She will know how to suffer; she inherits that; her father and her mother suffered much."

The last words overcame the doctor, who felt less shaken than surprised. It is proper to state that between her sentences the woman paused for several minutes, during which time her attention became more and more concentrated. She was seen to see; her forehead had a singular aspect; an inward effort appeared there; it seemed to clear or cloud by some mysterious power, the effects of which Minoret had seen in dying persons at moments when they appeared to have the gift of prophecy. Several times she made gestures which resembled those of Ursula.

"Question her," said the mysterious stranger, to Minoret, "she will tell you secrets you alone can know."

"Does Ursula love me?" asked Minoret.

"Almost as much as she loves God," was the answer. "But she is very unhappy at your unbelief. You do not believe in God; as if you could prevent his existence! His word fills the universe. You are the cause of her only sorrow.--Hear! she is playing scales; she longs to be a better musician than she is; she is provoked with herself. She is thinking, 'If I could sing, if my voice were fine, it would reach his ear when he is with his mother.'"

Doctor Minoret took out his pocket-book and noted the hour.

"Tell me what seeds she planted?"

"Mignonette, sweet-peas, balsams--"

"And what else?"

"Larkspur."

"Where is my money?"

"With your notary; but you invest it so as not to lose the interest of a single day."

"Yes, but where is the money that I keep for my monthly expenses?"

"You put it in a large book bound in red, entitled 'Pandects of Justinian, Vol. II.' between the last two leaves; the book is on the shelf of folios above the glass buffet. You have a whole row of them. Your money is in the last volume next to the salon-- See! Vol. III. is before Vol. II.--but you have no money, it is all in--"

"--thousand-franc notes," said the doctor.

"I cannot see, they are folded. No, there are two notes of five hundred francs."

"You see them?"

"Yes."

"How do they look?"

"One is old and yellow, the other white and new."

This last phase of the inquiry petrified the doctor. He looked at Bouvard with a bewildered air; but Bouvard and the Swedenborgian, who were accustomed to the amazement of sceptics, were speaking together in a low voice and appeared not to notice him. Minoret begged them to allow him to return after dinner. The old philosopher wished to compose his mind and shake off this terror, so as to put this vast power to some new test, to subject it to more decisive experiments and obtain answers to certain questions, the truth of which should do away with every sort of doubt.

"Be here at nine o'clock this evening," said the stranger. "I will return to meet you."

Doctor Minoret was in so convulsed a state that he left the room without bowing, followed by Bouvard, who called to him from behind. "Well, what do you say? what do you say?"

"I think I am mad, Bouvard," answered Minoret from the steps of the porte-cochere. "If that woman tells the truth about Ursula,--and none but Ursula can know the things that sorceress has told me,--I shall say that YOU ARE RIGHT. I wish I had wings to fly to Nemours this minute and verify her words. But I shall hire a carriage and start at ten o'clock to-night. Ah! am I losing my senses?"

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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