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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 18)


The heirs, struck with the truth of this argument (much cleverer than that of Monsieur Josse), murmured approval.

"You must be careful," said the notary in conclusion, "to keep your uncle in Nemours, where his habits are known, and where you can watch him. Find him a lover for the girl and you'll prevent his marrying her himself."

"Suppose she married the lover?" said Goupil, seized by an ambitious desire.

"That wouldn't be a bad thing; then you could figure up the loss; the old man would have to say how much he gives her," replied the notary. "But if you set Desire at her he could keep the girl dangling on till the old man died. Marriages are made and unmade."

"The shortest way," said Goupil, "if the doctor is likely to live much longer, is to marry her to some worthy young man who will get her out of your way by settling at Sens, or Montargis, or Orleans with a hundred thousand francs in hand."

Dionis, Massin, Zelie, and Goupil, the only intelligent heads in the company, exchanged four thoughtful smiles.

"He'd be a worm at the core," whispered Zelie to Massin.

"How did he get here?" returned the clerk.

"That will just suit you!" cried Desire to Goupil. "But do you think you can behave decently enough to satisfy the old man and the girl?"

"In these days," whispered Zelie again in Massin's year, "notaries look out for no interests but their own. Suppose Dionis went over to Ursula just to get the old man's business?"

"I am sure of him," said the clerk of the court, giving her a sly look out of his spiteful little eyes. He was just going to add, "because I hold something over him," but he withheld the words.

"I am quite of Dionis's opinion," he said aloud.

"So am I," cried Zelie, who now suspected the notary of collusion with the clerk.

"My wife has voted!" said the post master, sipping his brandy, though his face was already purple from digesting his meal and absorbing a notable quantity of liquids.

"And very properly," remarked the collector.

"I shall go and see the doctor after dinner," said Dionis.

"If Monsieur Dionis's advice is good," said Madame Cremiere to Madame Massin, "we had better go and call on our uncle, as we used to do, every Sunday evening, and behave exactly as Monsieur Dionis has told us."

"Yes, and be received as he received us!" cried Zelie. "Minoret and I have more than forty thousand francs a year, and yet he refused our invitations! We are quite his equals. If I don't know how to write prescriptions I know how to paddle my boat as well as he--I can tell him that!"

"As I am far from having forty thousand francs a year," said Madame Massin, rather piqued, "I don't want to lose ten thousand."

"We are his nieces; we ought to take care of him, and then besides we shall see how things are going," said Madame Cremiere; "you'll thank us some day, cousin."

"Treat Ursula kindly," said the notary, lifting his right forefinger to the level of his lips; "remember old Jordy left her his savings."

"You have managed those fools as well as Desroches, the best lawyer in Paris, could have done," said Goupil to his patron as they left the post-house.

"And now they are quarreling over my fee," replied the notary, smiling bitterly.

The heirs, after parting with Dionis and his clerk, met again in the square, with face rather flushed from their breakfast, just as vespers were over. As the notary predicted, the Abbe Chaperon had Madame de Portenduere on his arm.

"She dragged him to vespers, see!" cried Madame Massin to Madame Cremiere, pointing to Ursula and the doctor, who were leaving the church.

"Let us go and speak to him," said Madame Cremiere, approaching the old man.

The change in the faces of his relatives (produced by the conference) did not escape Doctor Minoret. He tried to guess the reason of this sudden amiability, and out of sheer curiosity encouraged Ursula to stop and speak to the two women, who were eager to greet her with exaggerated affection and forced smiles.

"Uncle, will you permit me to come and see you to-night?" said Madame Cremiere. "We feared sometimes we were in your way--but it is such a long time since our children have paid you their respects; our girls are old enough now to make dear Ursula's acquaintance."

"Ursula is a little bear, like her name," replied the doctor.

"Let us tame her," said Madame Massin. "And besides, uncle," added the good housewife, trying to hide her real motive under a mask of economy, "they tell us the dear girl has such talent for the forte that we are very anxious to hear her. Madame Cremiere and I are inclined to take her music-master for our children. If there were six or eight scholars in a class it would bring the price of his lessons within our means."

"Certainly," said the old man, "and it will be all the better for me because I want to give Ursula a singing-master."

"Well, to-night then, uncle. We will bring your great-nephew Desire to see you; he is now a lawyer."

"Yes, to-night," echoed Minoret, meaning to fathom the motives of these petty souls.

The two nieces pressed Ursula's hand, saying, with affected eagerness, "Au revoir."

"Oh, godfather, you have read my heart!" cried Ursula, giving him a grateful look.

"You are going to have a voice," he said; "and I shall give you masters of drawing and Italian also. A woman," added the doctor, looking at Ursula as he unfastened the gate of his house, "ought to be educated to the height of every position in which her marriage may place her."

Ursula grew red as a cherry; her godfather's thoughts evidently turned in the same direction as her own. Feeling that she was too near confessing to the doctor the involuntary attraction which led her to think about Savinien and to center all her ideas of affection upon him, she turned aside and sat down in front of a great cluster of climbing plants, on the dark background of which she looked at a distance like a blue and white flower.

"Now you see, godfather, that your nieces were very kind to me; yes, they were very kind," she repeated as he approached her, to change the thoughts that made him pensive.

"Poor little girl!" cried the old man.

He laid Ursula's hand upon his arm, tapping it gently, and took her to the terraces beside the river, where no one could hear them.

"Why do you say, 'Poor little girl'?"

"Don't you see how they fear you?"

"Fear me,--why?"

"My next of kin are very uneasy about my conversion. They no doubt attribute it to your influence over me; they fancy I deprive them of their inheritance to enrich you."

"But you won't do that?" said Ursula naively, looking up at him.

"Oh, divine consolation of my old age!" said the doctor, taking his godchild in his arms and kissing her on both cheeks. "It was for her and not for myself, oh God! that I besought thee just now to let me live until the day I give her to some good being who is worthy of her! --You will see comedies, my little angel, comedies which the Minorets and Cremieres and Massins will come and play here. You want to brighten and prolong my life; they are longing for my death."

"God forbids us to hate any one, but if that is-- Ah! I despise them!" exclaimed Ursula.

"Dinner is ready!" called La Bougival from the portico, which, on the garden side, was at the end of the corridor.

CHAPTER IX

A FIRST CONFIDENCE

Ursula and her godfather were sitting at dessert in the pretty dining- room decorated with Chinese designs in black and gold lacquer (the folly of Levrault-Levrault) when the justice of peace arrived. The doctor offered him (and this was a great mark of intimacy) a cup of his coffee, a mixture of Mocha with Bourbon and Martinique, roasted, ground, and made by himself in a silver apparatus called a Chaptal.

"Well," said Bongrand, pushing up his glasses and looking slyly at the old man, "the town is in commotion; your appearance in church has put your relatives beside themselves. You have left your fortune to the priests, to the poor. You have roused the families, and they are bestirring themselves. Ha! ha! I saw their first irruption into the square; they were as busy as ants who have lost their eggs."

"What did I tell you, Ursula?" cried the doctor. "At the risk of grieving you, my child, I must teach you to know the world and put you on your guard against undeserved enmity."

"I should like to say a word to you on this subject," said Bongrand, seizing the occasion to speak to his old friend of Ursula's future.

The doctor put a black velvet cap on his white head, the justice of peace wore his hat to protect him from the night air, and they walked up and down the terrace discussing the means of securing to Ursula what her godfather intended to bequeath her. Bongrand knew Dionis's opinion as to the invalidity of a will made by the doctor in favor of Ursula; for Nemours was so preoccupied with the Minoret affairs that the matter had been much discussed among the lawyers of the little town. Bongrand considered that Ursula was not a relative of Doctor Minoret, but he felt that the whole spirit of legislation was against the foisting into families of illegitimate off-shoots. The makers of the Code had foreseen only the weakness of fathers and mothers for their natural children, without considering that uncles and aunts might have a like tenderness and a desire to provide for such children. Evidently there was a gap in the law.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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