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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 15)


"What would you say if you knew of a life-long incurable disease healed in a moment; if you saw that great magnetizer bring sweat in torrents from an herpetic patient, or make a paralyzed woman walk?"

"Come and dine, Bouvard; stay with me till nine o'clock. I must find some decisive, undeniable test!"

"So be it, old comrade," answered the other.

The reconciled enemies dined in the Palais-Royal. After a lively conversation, which helped Minoret to evade the fever of the ideas which were ravaging his brain, Bouvard said to him:--

"If you admit in that woman the faculty of annihilating or of traversing space, if you obtain a certainty that here, in Paris, she sees and hears what is said and done in Nemours, you must admit all other magnetic facts; they are not more incredible than these. Ask her for some one proof which you know will satisfy you--for you might suppose that we obtained information to deceive you; but we cannot know, for instance, what will happen at nine o'clock in your goddaughter's bedroom. Remember, or write down, what the sleeper will see and hear, and then go home. Your little Ursula, whom I do not know, is not our accomplice, and if she tells you that she has said and done what you have written down--lower thy head, proud Hun!"

The two friends returned to the house opposite to the Assumption and found the somnambulist, who in her waking state did not recognize Doctor Minoret. The eyes of this woman closed gently before the hand of the Swedenborgian, which was stretched towards her at a little distance, and she took the attitude in which Minoret had first seen her. When her hand and that of the doctor were again joined, he asked her to tell him what was happening in his house at Nemours at that instant. "What is Ursula doing?" he said.

"She is undressed; she has just curled her hair; she is kneeling on her prie-Dieu, before an ivory crucifix fastened to a red velvet background."

"What is she saying?"

"Her evening prayers; she is commending herself to God; she implores him to save her soul from evil thoughts; she examines her conscience and recalls what she has done during the day; that she may know if she has failed to obey his commands and those of the church--poor dear little soul, she lays bare her breast!" Tears were in the sleeper's eyes. "She has done no sin, but she blames herself for thinking too much of Savinien. She stops to wonder what he is doing in Paris; she prays to God to make him happy. She speaks of you; she is praying aloud."

"Tell me her words." Minoret took his pencil and wrote, as the sleeper uttered it, the following prayer, evidently composed by the Abbe Chaperon.

"My God, if thou art content with thine handmaid, who worships thee and prays to thee with a love that is equal to her devotion, who strives not to wander from thy sacred paths, who would gladly die as thy Son died to glorify thy name, who desires to live in the shadow of thy will--O God, who knoweth the heart, open the eyes of my godfather, lead him in the way of salvation, grant him thy Divine grace, that he may live for thee in his last days; save him from evil, and let me suffer in his stead. Kind Saint Ursula, dear protectress, and you, Mother of God, queen of heaven, archangels, and saints in Paradise, hear me! join your intercessions to mine and have mercy upon us."

The sleeper imitated so perfectly the artless gestures and the inspired manner of his child that Doctor Minoret's eyes were filled with tears.

"Does she say more?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Repeat it."

"'My dear godfather; I wonder who plays backgammon with him in Paris.' She has blown out the light--her head is on the pillow--she turns to sleep! Ah! she is off! How pretty she looks in her little night-cap."

Minoret bowed to the great Unknown, wrung Bouvard by the hand, ran downstairs and hastened to a cab-stand which at that time was near the gates of a house since pulled down to make room for the Rue d'Alger. There he found a coachman who was willing to start immediately for Fontainebleau. The moment the price was agreed on, the old man, who seemed to have renewed his youth, jumped into the carriage and started. According to agreement, he stopped to rest the horse at Essonne, but arrived at Fontainebleau in time for the diligence to Nemours, on which he secured a seat, and dismissed his coachman. He reached home at five in the morning, and went to bed, with his life- long ideas of physiology, nature, and metaphysics in ruins about him, and slept till nine o'clock, so wearied was he with the events of his journey.

CHAPTER VII

A TWO-FOLD CONVERSION

On rising, the doctor, sure that no one had crossed the threshold of his house since he re-entered it, proceeded (but not without extreme trepidation) to verify his facts. He was himself ignorant of any difference in the bank-notes and also of the misplacement of the Pandect volumes. The somnambulist was right. The doctor rang for La Bougival.

"Tell Ursula to come and speak to me," he said, seating himself in the center of his library.

The girl came; she ran up to him and kissed him. The doctor took her on his knee, where she sat contentedly, mingling her soft fair curls with the white hair of her old friend.

"Do you want something, godfather?"

"Yes; but promise me, on your salvation, to answer frankly, without evasion, the questions that I shall put to you."

Ursula colored to the temples.

"Oh! I'll ask nothing that you cannot speak of," he said, noticing how the bashfulness of young love clouded the hitherto childlike purity of the girl's blue eyes.

"Ask me, godfather."

"What thought was in your mind when you ended your prayers last evening, and what time was it when you said them."

"It was a quarter-past or half-past nine."

"Well, repeat your last prayer."

The girl fancied that her voice might convey her faith to the sceptic; she slid from his knee and knelt down, clasping her hands fervently; a brilliant light illumined her face as she turned it on the old man and said:--

"What I asked of God last night I asked again this morning, and I shall ask it till he vouchsafes to grant it."

Then she repeated her prayer with new and still more powerful expression. To her great astonishment her godfather took the last words from her mouth and finished the prayer.

"Good, Ursula," said the doctor, taking her again on his knee. "When you laid your head on the pillow and went to sleep did you think to yourself, 'That dear godfather; I wonder who is playing backgammon with him in Paris'?"

Ursula sprang up as if the last trumpet had sounded in her ears. She gave a cry of terror; her eyes, wide open, gazed at the old man with awful fixity.

"Who are you, godfather? From whom do you get such power?" she asked, imagining that in his desire to deny God he had made some compact with the devil.

"What seeds did you plant yesterday in the garden?"

"Mignonette, sweet-peas, balsams--"

"And the last were larkspur?"

She fell on her knees.

"Do not terrify me!" she exclaimed. "Oh you must have been here--you were here, were you not?"

"Am I not always with you?" replied the doctor, evading her question, to save the strain on the young girl's mind. "Let us go to your room."

"Your legs are trembling," she said.

"Yes, I am confounded, as it were."

"Can it be that you believe in God?" she cried, with artless joy, letting fall the tears that gathered in her eyes.

The old man looked round the simple but dainty little room he had given to his Ursula. On the floor was a plain green carpet, very inexpensive, which she herself kept exquisitely clean; the walls were hung with a gray paper strewn with roses and green leaves; at the windows, which looked to the court, were calico curtains edged with a band of some pink material; between the windows and beneath a tall mirror was a pier-table topped with marble, on which stood a Sevres vase in which she put her nosegays; opposite the chimney was a little bureau-desk of charming marquetry. The bed, of chintz, with chintz curtains lined with pink, was one of those duchess beds so common in the eighteenth century, which had a tuft of carved feathers at the top of each of the four posts, which were fluted on the sides. An old clock, inclosed in a sort of monument made of tortoise-shell inlaid with arabesques of ivory, decorated the mantelpiece, the marble shelf of which, with the candlesticks and the mirror in a frame painted in cameo on a gray ground, presented a remarkable harmony of color, tone, and style. A large wardrobe, the doors of which were inlaid with landscapes in different woods (some having a green tint which are no longer to be found for sale) contained, no doubt, her linen and her dresses. The air of the room was redolent of heaven. The precise arrangement of everything showed a sense of order, a feeling for harmony, which would certainly have influenced any one, even a Minoret-Levrault. It was plain that the things about her were dear to Ursula, and that she loved a room which contained, as it were, her childhood and the whole of her girlish life.

Looking the room well over that he might seem to have a reason for his visit, the doctor saw at once how the windows looked into those of Madame de Portenduere. During the night he had meditated as to the course he ought to pursue with Ursula about his discovery of this dawning passion. To question her now would commit him to some course. He must either approve or disapprove of her love; in either case his position would be a false one. He therefore resolved to watch and examine into the state of things between the two young people, and learn whether it were his duty to check the inclination before it was irresistible. None but an old man could have shown such deliberate wisdom. Still panting from the discovery of the truth of these magnetic facts, he turned about and looked at all the various little things around the room; he wished to examine the almanac which was hanging at a corner of the chimney-piece.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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