"Monsieur le vicomte," she said when she saw him, rising and taking
his hand to lead him to his father's bed, "there died your father,--a
man of honor; he died without reproach from his own conscience. His
spirit is there. Surely he groaned in heaven when he saw his son
degraded by imprisonment for debt. Under the old monarchy that stain
could have been spared you by obtaining a lettre de cachet and
shutting you up for a few days in a military prison.--But you are
here; you stand before your father, who hears you. You know all that
you did before you were sent to that ignoble prison. Will you swear to
me before your father's shade, and in presence of God who sees all,
that you have done no dishonorable act; that your debts are the result
of youthful folly, and that your honor is untarnished? If your
blameless father were there, sitting in that armchair, and asking an
explanation of your conduct, could he embrace you after having heard
"Yes, mother," replied the young man, with grave respect.
She opened her arms and pressed him to her heart, shedding a few
"Let us forget it all, my son," she said; "it is only a little less
money. I shall pray God to let us recover it. As you are indeed worthy
of your name, kiss me--for I have suffered much."
"I swear, mother," he said, laying his hand upon the bed, "to give you
no further unhappiness of that kind, and to do all I can to repair
these first faults."
"Come and breakfast, my child," she said, turning to leave the room.
OBSTACLES TO YOUNG LOVE
In 1829 the old noblesse had recovered as to manners and customs
something of the prestige it had irrevocably lost in politics.
Moreover, the sentiment which governs parents and grandparents in all
that relates to matrimonial conventions is an imperishable sentiment,
closely allied to the very existence of civilized societies and
springing from the spirit of family. It rules in Geneva as in Vienna
and in Nemours, where, as we have seen, Zelie Minoret refused her
consent to a possible marriage of her son with the daughter of a
bastard. Still, all social laws have their exceptions. Savinien
thought he might bend his mother's pride before the inborn nobility of
Ursula. The struggle began at once. As soon as they were seated at
table his mother told him of the horrible letters, as she called them,
which the Kergarouets and the Portendueres had written her.
"There is no such thing as family in these days, mother," replied
Savinien, "nothing but individuals! The nobles are no longer a compact
body. No one asks or cares whether I am a Portenduere, or brave, or a
statesmen; all they ask now-a-days is, 'What taxes does he pay?'"
"But the king?" asked the old lady.
"The king is caught between the two Chambers like a man between his
wife and his mistress. So I shall have to marry some rich girl without
regard to family,--the daughter of a peasant if she has a million and
is sufficiently well brought-up--that is to say, if she has been
taught in school."
"Oh! there's no need to talk of that," said the old lady.
Savinien frowned as he heard the words. He knew the granite will,
called Breton obstinacy, that distinguished his mother, and he
resolved to know at once her opinion on this delicate matter.
"So," he went on, "if I loved a young girl,--take for instance your
neighbour's godchild, little Ursula,--would you oppose my marriage?"
"Yes, as long as I live," she replied; "and after my death you would
be responsible for the honor and the blood of the Kergarouets and the
"Would you let me die of hunger and despair for the chimera of
nobility, which has no reality to-day unless it has the lustre of
"You could serve France and put faith in God."
"Would you postpone my happiness till after your death?"
"It would be horrible if you took it then,--that is all I have to
"Louis XIV. came very near marrying the niece of Mazarin, a parvenu."
"Mazarin himself opposed it."
"Remember the widow Scarron."
"She was a d'Aubigne. Besides, the marriage was in secret. But I am
very old, my son," she said, shaking her head. "When I am no more you
can, as you say, marry whom you please."
Savinien both loved and respected his mother; but he instantly, though
silently, set himself in opposition to her with an obstinacy equal to
her own, resolving to have no other wife than Ursula, to whom this
opposition gave, as often happens in similar circumstances, the value
of a forbidden thing.
When, after vespers, the doctor, with Ursula, who was dressed in pink
and white, entered the cold, stiff salon, the girl was seized with
nervous trembling, as though she had entered the presence of the queen
of France and had a favor to beg of her. Since her confession to the
doctor this little house had assumed the proportions of a palace in
her eyes, and the old lady herself the social value which a duchess of
the Middle Ages might have had to the daughter of a serf. Never had
Ursula measured as she did at that moment the distance which separated
Vicomte de Portenduere from the daughter of a regimental musician, a
former opera-singer and the natural son of an organist.
"What is the matter, my dear?" said the old lady, making the girl sit
down beside her.
"Madame, I am confused by the honor you have done me--"
"My little girl," said Madame de Portenduere, in her sharpest tone. "I
know how fond your uncle is of you, and I wished to be agreeable to
him, for he has brought back my prodigal son."
"But, my dear mother," said Savinien cut to the heart by seeing the
color fly into Ursula's face as she struggled to keep back her tears,
"even if we were under no obligations to Monsieur le Chevalier
Minoret, I think we should always be most grateful for the pleasure
Mademoiselle has given us by accepting your invitation."
The young man pressed the doctor's hand in a significant manner,
adding: "I see you wear, monsieur, the order of Saint-Michel, the
oldest order in France, and one which confers nobility."
Ursula's extreme beauty, to which her almost hopeless love gave a
depth which great painters have sometimes conveyed in pictures where
the soul is brought into strong relief, had struck Madame de
Portenduere suddenly, and made her suspect that the doctor's apparent
generosity masked an ambitious scheme. She had made the speech to
which Savinien replied with the intention of wounding the doctor in
that which was dearest to him; and she succeeded, though the old man
could hardly restrain a smile as he heard himself styled a
"chevalier," amused to observe how the eagerness of a lover did not
shrink from absurdity.
"The order of Saint-Michel which in former days men committed follies
to obtain," he said, "has now, Monsieur le vicomte, gone the way of
other privileges! It is given only to doctors and poor artists. The
kings have done well to join it to that of Saint-Lazare who was, I
believe, a poor devil recalled to life by a miracle. From this point
of view the order of Saint-Michel and Saint-Lazare may be, for many of
After this reply, at once sarcastic and dignified, silence reigned,
which, as no one seemed inclined to break it, was becoming awkward,
when there was a rap at the door.
"There is our dear abbe," said the old lady, who rose, leaving Ursula
alone, and advancing to meet the Abbe Chaperon,--an honor she had not
paid to the doctor and his niece.
The old man smiled to himself as he looked from his goddaughter to
Savinien. To show offence or to complain of Madame de Portenduere's
manners was a rock on which a man of small mind might have struck, but
Minoret was too accomplished in the ways of the world not to avoid it.
He began to talk to the viscount of the danger Charles X. was then
running by confiding the affairs of the nation to the Prince de
Polignac. When sufficient time had been spent on the subject to avoid
all appearance of revenging himself by so doing, he handed the old
lady, in an easy, jesting way, a packet of legal papers and receipted
bills, together with the account of his notary.
"Has my son verified them?" she said, giving Savinien a look, to which
he replied by bending his head. "Well, then the rest is my notary's
business," she added, pushing away the papers and treating the affair
with the disdain she wished to show for money.
To abase wealth was, according to Madame de Portenduere's ideas, to
elevate the nobility and rob the bourgeoisie of their importance.
A few moments later Goupil came from his employer, Dionis, to ask for
the accounts of the transaction between the doctor and Savinien.
"Why do you want them?" said the old lady.
"To put the matter in legal form; there have been no cash payments."
Ursula and Savinien, who both for the first time exchanged a glance
with offensive personage, were conscious of a sensation like that of
touching a toad, aggravated by a dark presentiment of evil. They both
had the same indefinable and confused vision into the future, which
has no name in any language, but which is capable of explanation as
the action of the inward being of which the mysterious Swedenborgian
had spoken to Doctor Minoret. The certainty that the venomous Goupil
would in some way be fatal to them made Ursula tremble; but she
controlled herself, conscious of unspeakable pleasure in seeing that
Savinien shared her emotion.