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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 20)


"Surely you are not afraid of your father, your friend, mother, doctor, and godfather, whose heart is now more tender than it ever has been."

"No, no, dear godfather," she said. "I will open my heart to you. Last May, Monsieur Savinien came to see his mother. Until then I had never taken notice of him. When he left home to live in Paris I was a child, and I did not see any difference between him and--all of you--except perhaps that I loved you, and never thought of loving any one else. Monsieur Savinien came by the mail-post the night before his mother's fete-day; but we did not know it. At seven the next morning, after I had said my prayers, I opened the window to air my room and I saw the windows in Monsieur Savinien's room open; and Monsieur Savinien was there, in a dressing gown, arranging his beard; in all his movements there was such grace--I mean, he seemed to me so charming. He combed his black moustache and the little tuft on his chin, and I saw his white throat--so round!--must I tell you all? I noticed that his throat and face and that beautiful black hair were all so different from yours when I watch you arranging your beard. There came--I don't know how--a sort of glow into my heart, and up into my throat, my head; it came so violently that I sat down--I couldn't stand, I trembled so. But I longed to see him again, and presently I got up; he saw me then, and, just for play, he sent me a kiss from the tips of his fingers and--"

"And?"

"And then," she continued, "I hid myself--I was ashamed, but happy-- why should I be ashamed of being happy? That feeling--it dazzled my soul and gave it some power, but I don't know what--it came again each time I saw within me the same young face. I loved this feeling, violent as it was. Going to mass, some unconquerable power made me look at Monsieur Savinien with his mother on his arm; his walk, his clothes, even the tap of his boots on the pavement, seemed to me so charming. The least little thing about him--his hand with the delicate glove--acted like a spell upon me; and yet I had strength enough not to think of him during mass. When the service was over I stayed in the church to let Madame de Portenduere go first, and then I walked behind him. I couldn't tell you how these little things excited me. When I reached home, I turned round to fasten the iron gate--"

"Where was La Bougival?" asked the doctor.

"Oh, I let her go to the kitchen," said Ursula simply. "Then I saw Monsieur Savinien standing quite still and looking at me. Oh! godfather, I was so proud, for I thought I saw a look in his eyes of surprise and admiration--I don't know what I would not do to make him look at me again like that. It seemed to me I ought to think of nothing forevermore but pleasing him. That glance is now the best reward I have for any good I do. From that moment I have thought of him incessantly, in spite of myself. Monsieur Savinien went back to Paris that evening, and I have not seen him since. The street seems empty; he took my heart away with him--but he does not know it."

"Is that all?" asked the old man.

"All, dear godfather," she said, with a sigh of regret that there was not more to tell.

"My little girl," said the doctor, putting her on his knee; "you are nearly sixteen and your womanhood is beginning. You are now between your blessed childhood, which is ending, and the emotions of love, which will make your life a tumultuous one; for you have a nervous system of exquisite sensibility. What has happened to you, my child, is love," said the old man with an expression of deepest sadness,-- "love in its holy simplicity; love as it ought to be; involuntary, sudden, coming like a thief who takes all--yes, all! I expected it. I have studied women; many need proofs and miracles of affection before love conquers them; but others there are, under the influence of sympathies explainable to-day by magnetic fluids, who are possessed by it in an instant. To you I can now tell all--as soon as I saw the charming woman whose name you bear, I felt that I should love her forever, solely and faithfully, without knowing whether our characters or persons suited each other. Is there a second-sight in love? What answer can I give to that, I who have seen so many unions formed under celestial auspices only to be ruptured later, giving rise to hatreds that are well-nigh eternal, to repugnances that are unconquerable. The senses sometimes harmonize while ideas are at variance; and some persons live more by their minds than by their bodies. The contrary is also true; often minds agree and persons displease. These phenomena, the varying and secret cause of many sorrows, show the wisdom of laws which give parents supreme power over the marriages of their children; for a young girl is often duped by one or other of these hallucinations. Therefore I do not blame you. The sensations you feel, the rush of sensibility which has come from its hidden source upon your heart and upon your mind, the happiness with which you think of Savinien, are all natural. But, my darling child, society demands, as our good abbe has told us, the sacrifice of many natural inclinations. The destinies of men and women differ. I was able to choose Ursula Mirouet for my wife; I could go to her and say that I loved her; but a young girl is false to herself if she asks the love of the man she loves. A woman has not the right which men have to seek the accomplishment of her hopes in open day. Modesty is to her--above all to you, my Ursula,--the insurmountable barrier which protects the secrets of her heart. Your hesitation in confiding to me these first emotions shows me you would suffer cruel torture rather than admit to Savinien--"

"Oh, yes!" she said.

"But, my child, you must do more. You must repress these feelings; you must forget them."

"Why?"

"Because, my darling, you must love only the man you marry; and, even if Monsieur Savinien de Portenduere loved you--"

"I never thought of it."

"But listen: even if he loved you, even if his mother asked me to give him your hand, I should not consent to the marriage until I had subjected him to a long and thorough probation. His conduct has been such as to make families distrust him and to put obstacles between himself and heiresses which cannot be easily overcome."

A soft smile came in place of tears on Ursula's sweet face as she said, "Then poverty is good sometimes."

The doctor could find no answer to such innocence.

"What has he done, godfather?" she asked.

"In two years, my treasure, he has incurred one hundred and twenty thousand francs of debt. He has had the folly to get himself locked up in Saint-Pelagie, the debtor's prison; an impropriety which will always be, in these days, a discredit to him. A spendthrift who is willing to plunge his poor mother into poverty and distress might cause his wife, as your poor father did, to die of despair."

"Don't you think he will do better?" she asked.

"If his mother pays his debts he will be penniless, and I don't know a worse punishment than to be a nobleman without means."

This answer made Ursula thoughtful; she dried her tears, and said:--

"If you can save him, save him, godfather; that service will give you a right to advise him; you can remonstrate--"

"Yes," said the doctor, imitating her, "and then he can come here, and the old lady will come here, and we shall see them, and--"

"I was thinking only of him," said Ursula, blushing.

"Don't think of him, my child; it would be folly," said the doctor gravely. "Madame de Portenduere, who was a Kergarouet, would never consent, even if she had to live on three hundred francs a year, to the marriage of her son, the Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere, with whom?--with Ursula Mirouet, daughter of a bandsman in a regiment, without money, and whose father--alas! I must now tell you all--was the bastard son of an organist, my father-in-law."

"O godfather! you are right; we are equal only in the sight of God. I will not think of him again--except in my prayers," she said, amid the sobs which this painful revelation excited. "Give him what you meant to give me--what can a poor girl like me want?--ah, in prison, he!--"

"Offer to God your disappointments, and perhaps he will help us."

There was silence for some minutes. When Ursula, who at first did not dare to look at her godfather, raised her eyes, her heart was deeply moved to see the tears which were rolling down his withered cheeks. The tears of old men are as terrible as those of children are natural.

"Oh what is it?" cried Ursula, flinging herself at his feet and kissing his hands. "Are you not sure of me?"

"I, who longed to gratify all your wishes, it is I who am obliged to cause the first great sorrow of your life!" he said. "I suffer as much as you. I never wept before, except when I lost my children--and, Ursula-- Yes," he cried suddenly, "I will do all you desire!"

Ursula gave him, through her tears a look that was vivid as lightning. She smiled.

"Let us go into the salon, darling," said the doctor. "Try to keep the secret of all this to yourself," he added, leaving her alone for a moment in his study.

He felt himself so weak before that heavenly smile that he feared he might say a word of hope and thus mislead her.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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