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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 28)


The old man held out his hand to the young viscount, who pressed it respectfully, saying:--

"You are quite right, monsieur."

He then withdrew; but not without a bow to Ursula, in which there was more of sadness than disappointment.

Desire left the house at the same time; but he found it impossible to exchange even a word with the young nobleman, who rushed into his own house precipitately.

CHAPTER XIII

BETROTHAL OF HEARTS

This rupture between the Portendueres and Doctor Minoret gave talk among the heirs for a week; they did homage to the genius of Dionis, and regarded their inheritance as rescued.

So, in an age when ranks are leveled, when the mania for equality puts everybody on one footing and threatens to destroy all bulwarks, even military subordination,--that last refuge of power in France, where passions have now no other obstacles to overcome than personal antipathies, or differences of fortune,--the obstinacy of an old- fashioned Breton woman and the dignity of Doctor Minoret created a barrier between these lovers, which was to end, as such obstacles often do, not in destroying but in strengthening love. To an ardent man a woman's value is that which she costs him; Savinien foresaw a struggle, great efforts, many uncertainties, and already the young girl was rendered dearer to him; he was resolved to win her. Perhaps our feelings obey the laws of nature as to the lastingness of her creations; to a long life a long childhood.

The next morning, when they woke, Ursula and Savinien had the same thought. An intimate understanding of this kind would create love if it were not already its most precious proof. When the young girl parted her curtains just far enough to let her eyes take in Savinien's window, she saw the face of her lover above the fastening of his. When one reflects on the immense services that windows render to lovers it seems natural and right that a tax should be levied on them. Having thus protested against her godfather's harshness, Ursula dropped the curtain and opened her window to close the outer blinds, through which she could continue to see without being seen herself. Seven or eight times during the day she went up to her room, always to find the young viscount writing, tearing up what he had written, and then writing again--to her, no doubt!

The next morning when she woke La Bougival gave her the following letter:--

To Mademoiselle Ursula:

Mademoiselle,--I do not conceal from myself the distrust a young man inspires when he has placed himself in the position from which your godfather's kindness released me. I know that I must in future give greater guarantees of good conduct than other men; therefore, mademoiselle, it is with deep humility that I place myself at your feet and ask you to consider my love. This declaration is not dictated by passion; it comes from an inward certainty which involves the whole of life. A foolish infatuation for my young aunt, Madame de Kergarouet, was the cause of my going to prison; will you not regard as a proof of my sincere love the total disappearance of those wishes, of that image, now effaced from my heart by yours? No sooner did I see you, asleep and so engaging in your childlike slumber at Bouron, than you occupied my soul as a queen takes possession of her empire. I will have no other wife than you. You have every qualification I desire in her who is to bear my name. The education you have received and the dignity of your own mind, place you on the level of the highest positions. But I doubt myself too much to dare describe you to yourself; I can only love you. After listening to you yesterday I recalled certain words which seem as though written for you; suffer me to transcribe them:--

"Made to draw all hearts and charm all eyes, gentle and intelligent, spiritual yet able to reason, courteous as though she had passed her life at court, simple as the hermit who had never known the world, the fire of her soul is tempered in her eyes by sacred modesty."

I feel the value of the noble soul revealed in you by many, even the most trifling, things. This it is which gives me the courage to ask you, provided you love no one else, to let me prove to you by my conduct and my devotion that I am not unworthy of you. It concerns my very life; you cannot doubt that all my powers will be employed, not only in trying to please you, but in deserving your esteem, which is more precious to me than any other upon earth. With this hope, Ursula--if you will suffer me so to call you in my heart--Nemours will be to me a paradise, the hardest tasks will bring me joys derived through you, as life itself is derived from God. Tell me that I may call myself

Your Savinien.

Ursula kissed the letter; then, having re-read it and clasped it with passionate motions, she dressed herself eagerly to carry it to her uncle.

"Ah, my God! I nearly forgot to say my prayers!" she exclaimed, turning back to kneel on her prie-Dieu.

A few moments later she went down to the garden, where she found her godfather and made him read the letter. They both sat down on a bench under the arch of climbing plants opposite to the Chinese pagoda. Ursula awaited the old man's words, and the old man reflected long, too long for the impatient young girl. At last, the result of their secret interview appeared in the following answer, part of which the doctor undoubtedly dictated.

To Monsieur le Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere:

Monsieur,--I cannot be otherwise than greatly honored by the letter in which you offer me your hand; but, at my age, and according to the rules of my education, I have felt bound to communicate it to my godfather, who is all I have, and whom I love as a father and also as a friend. I must now tell you the painful objections which he has made to me, and which must be to you my answer.

Monsieur le vicomte, I am a poor girl, whose fortune depends entirely, not only on my godfather's good-will, but also on the doubtful success of the measures he may take to elude the schemes of his relatives against me. Though I am the legitimate daughter of Joseph Mirouet, band-master of the 45th regiment of infantry, my father himself was my godfather's natural half-brother; and therefore these relatives may, though without reason, being a suit against a young girl who would be defenceless. You see, monsieur, that the smallness of my fortune is not my greatest misfortune. I have many things to make me humble. It is for your sake, and not for my own, that I lay before you these facts, which to loving and devoted hearts are sometimes of little weight. But I beg you to consider, monsieur, that if I did not submit them to you, I might be suspected of leading your tenderness to overlook obstacles which the world, and more especially your mother, regard as insuperable.

I shall be sixteen in four months. Perhaps you will admit that we are both too young and too inexperienced to understand the miseries of a life entered upon without other fortune than that I have received from the kindness of the late Monsieur de Jordy. My godfather desires, moreover, not to marry me until I am twenty. Who knows what fate may have in store for you in four years, the finest years of your life? do not sacrifice them to a poor girl.

Having thus explained to you, monsieur, the opinions of my dear godfather, who, far from opposing my happiness, seeks to contribute to it in every way, and earnestly desires that his protection, which must soon fail me, may be replaced by a tenderness equal to his own; there remains only to tell you how touched I am by your offer and by the compliments which accompany it. The prudence which dictates my letter is that of an old man to whom life is well-known; but the gratitude I express is that of a young girl, in whose soul no other sentiment has arisen.

Therefore, monsieur, I can sign myself, in all sincerity,

Your servant, Ursula Mirouet.

Savinien made no reply. Was he trying to soften his mother? Had this letter put an end to his love? Many such questions, all insoluble, tormented poor Ursula, and, by repercussion, the doctor too, who suffered from every agitation of his darling child. Ursula went often to her chamber to look at Savinien, whom she usually found sitting pensively before his table with his eyes turned towards her window. At the end of the week, but no sooner, she received a letter from him; the delay was explained by his increasing love.

To Mademoiselle Ursula Mirouet:

Dear Ursula,--I am a Breton, and when my mind is once made up nothing can change me. Your godfather, whom may God preserve to us, is right; but does it follow that I am wrong in loving you? Therefore, all I want to know from you is whether you could love me. Tell me this, if only by a sign, and then the next four years will be the finest of my life.

A friend of mine has delivered to my great-uncle, Vice-admiral Kergarouet, a letter in which I asked his help to enter the navy. The kind old man, grieved at my misfortune, replies that even the king's favor would be thwarted by the rules of the service in case I wanted a certain rank. Nevertheless, if I study three months at Toulon, the minister of war can send me to sea as master's mate; then after a cruise against the Algerines, with whom we are now at war, I can go through an examination and become a midshipman. Moreover, if I distinguish myself in an expedition they are fitting out against Algiers, I shall certainly be made ensign--but how soon? that no one can tell. Only, they will make the rules as elastic as possible to have the name of Portenduere again in the navy.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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