"Ah, madame, if you go to him you will pay him three per cent; if he
comes to you you will pay him five," said the abbe, inventing this
reason to influence the old lady. "And if you are forced to sell your
farm by Dionis the notary, or by Massin the clerk (who would refuse to
lend you the money, knowing it was more their interest to buy), you
would lose half its value. I have not the slightest influence on the
Dionis, Massins, or Levraults, or any of those rich men who covet your
farm and know that your son is in prison."
"They know it! oh, do they know it?" she exclaimed, throwing up her
arms. "There! my poor abbe, you have let your coffee get cold!
Tiennette, an old Breton servant sixty years of age, wearing a short
gown and a Breton cap, came quickly in and took the abbe's coffee to
"Let be, Monsieur le recteur," she said, seeing that the abbe meant to
drink it, "I'll just put it into the bain-marie, it won't spoil it."
"Well," said the abbe to Madame de Portenduere in his most insinuating
voice, "I shall go and tell the doctor of your visit, and you will
The old mother did not yield till after an hour's discussion, during
which the abbe was forced to repeat his arguments at least ten times.
And even then the proud Kergarouet was not vanquished until he used
the words, "Savinien would go."
"It is better that I should go than he," she said.
The clock was striking nine when the little door made in the large
door of Madame de Portenduere's house closed on the abbe, who
immediately crossed the road and hastily rang the bell at the doctor's
gate. He fell from Tiennette to La Bougival; the one said to him, "Why
do you come so late, Monsieur l'abbe?" as the other had said, "Why do
you leave Madame so early when she is in trouble?"
The abbe found a numerous company assembled in the green and brown
salon; for Dionis had stopped at Massin's on his way home to re-assure
the heirs by repeating their uncle's words.
"I believe Ursula has a love-affair," said he, "which will be nothing
but pain and trouble to her; she seems romantic" (extreme sensibility
is so called by notaries), "and, you'll see, she won't marry soon.
Therefore, don't show her any distrust; be very attentive to her and
very respectful to your uncle, for he is slyer than fifty Goupils,"
added the notary--without being aware that Goupil is a corruption of
the word vulpes, a fox.
So Mesdames Massin and Cremiere with their husbands, the post master
and Desire, together with the Nemours doctor and Bongrand, made an
unusual and noisy party in the doctor's salon. As the abbe entered he
heard the sound of the piano. Poor Ursula was just finishing a sonata
of Beethoven's. With girlish mischief she had chosen that grand music,
which must be studied to be understood, for the purpose of disgusting
these women with the thing they coveted. The finer the music the less
ignorant persons like it. So, when the door opened and the abbe's
venerable head appeared they all cried out: "Ah! here's Monsieur
l'abbe!" in a tone of relief, delighted to jump up and put an end to
The exclamation was echoed at the card-table, where Bongrand, the
Nemours doctor, and old Minoret were victims to the presumption with
which the collector, in order to propitiate his great-uncle, had
proposed to take the fourth hand at whist. Ursula left the piano. The
doctor rose as if to receive the abbe, but really to put an end to the
game. After many compliments to their uncle on the wonderful
proficiency of his goddaughter, the heirs made their bow and retired.
"Good-night, my friends," cried the doctor as the iron gate clanged.
"Ah! that's where the money goes," said Madame Cremiere to Madame
Massin, as they walked on.
"God forbid that I should spend money to teach my little Aline to make
such a din as that!" cried Madame Massin.
"She said it was Beethoven, who is thought to be fine musician," said
the collector; "he has quite a reputation."
"Not in Nemours, I'm sure of that," said Madame Cremiere.
"I believe uncle made her play it expressly to drive us away," said
Massin; "for I saw him give that little minx a wink as she opened the
"If that's the sort of charivari they like," said the post master,
"they are quite right to keep it to themselves."
"Monsieur Bongrand must be fond of whist to stand such a dreadful
racket," said Madame Cremiere.
"I shall never be able to play before persons who don't understand
music," Ursula was saying as she sat down beside the whist-table.
"In natures richly organized," said the abbe, "sentiments can be
developed only in a congenial atmosphere. Just as a priest is unable
to give the blessing in presence of an evil spirit, or as a chestnut-
tree dies in a clay soil, so a musician's genius has a mental eclipse
when he is surrounded by ignorant persons. In all the arts we must
receive from the souls who make the environment of our souls as much
intensity as we convey to them. This axiom, which rules the human
mind, has been made into proverbs: 'Howl with the wolves'; 'Like meets
like.' But the suffering you felt, Ursula, affects delicate and tender
"And so, friends," said the doctor, "a thing which would merely give
pain to most women might kill my Ursula. Ah! when I am no longer here,
I charge you to see that the hedge of which Catullus spoke,--"Ut
flos," etc.,--a protecting hedge is raised between this cherished
flower and the world."
"And yet those ladies flattered you, Ursula," said Monsieur Bongrand,
"Flattered her grossly," remarked the Nemours doctor.
"I have always noticed how vulgar forced flattery is," said old
Minoret. "Why is that?"
"A true thought has its own delicacy," said the abbe.
"Did you dine with Madame de Portenduere?" asked Ursula, with a look
of anxious curiosity.
"Yes; the poor lady is terribly distressed. It is possible she may
come to see you this evening, Monsieur Minoret."
Ursula pressed her godfather's hand under the table.
"Her son," said Bongrand, "was rather too simple-minded to live in
Paris without a mentor. When I heard that inquiries were being made
here about the property of the old lady I feared he was discounting
"Is it possible you think him capable of it?" said Ursula, with such a
terrible glance at Monsieur Bongrand that he said to himself rather
sadly, "Alas! yes, she loves him."
"Yes and no," said the Nemours doctor, replying to Ursula's question.
"There is a great deal of good in Savinien, and that is why he is now
in prison; a scamp wouldn't have got there."
"Don't let us talk about it any more," said old Minoret. "The poor
mother must not be allowed to weep if there's a way to dry her tears."
The four friends rose and went out; Ursula accompanied them to the
gate, saw her godfather and the abbe knock at the opposite door, and
as soon as Tiennette admitted them she sat down on the outer wall with
La Bougival beside her.
"Madame la vicomtesse," said the abbe, who entered first into the
little salon, "Monsieur le docteur Minoret was not willing that you
should have the trouble of coming to him--"
"I am too much of the old school, madame," interrupted the doctor,
"not to know what a man owes to a woman of your rank, and I am very
glad to be able, as Monsieur l'abbe tells me, to be of service to
Madame de Portenduere, who disliked the step the abbe had advised so
much that she had almost decided, after he left her, to apply to the
notary instead, was surprised by Minoret's attention to such a degree
that she rose to receive him and signed to him to take a chair.
"Be seated, monsieur," she said with a regal air. "Our dear abbe has
told you that the viscount is in prison on account of some youthful
debts,--a hundred thousand francs or so. If you could lend them to him
I would secure you on my farm at Bordieres."
"We will talk of that, madame, when I have brought your son back to
you--if you will allow me to be your emissary in the matter."
"Very good, monsieur," she said, bowing her head and looking at the
abbe as if to say, "You were right; he really is a man of good
"You see, madame," said the abbe, "that my friend the doctor is full
of devotion to your family."
"We shall be grateful, monsieur," said Madame de Portenduere, making a
visible effort; "a journey to Paris, at your age, in quest of a
"Madame, I had the honor to meet, in '65, the illustrious Admiral de
Portenduere in the house of that excellent Monsieur de Malesherbes,
and also in that of Monsieur le Comte de Buffon, who was anxious to
question him on some curious results of his voyages. Possibly Monsieur
de Portenduere, your late husband, was present. Those were the
glorious days of the French navy; it bore comparison with that of
Great Britain, and its officers had their full quota of courage. With
what impatience we awaited in '83 and '84 the news from St. Roch. I
came very near serving as surgeon in the king's service. Your great-
uncle, who is still living, Admiral Kergarouet, fought his splendid
battle at that time in the 'Belle-Poule.'"