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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 30)


The elections of 1830 united into an active body the various Minoret relations,--Desire and Goupil having formed a committee in Nemours by whose efforts a liberal candidate was put in nomination at Fontainebleau. Massin, as collector of taxes, exercised an enormous influence over the country electors. Five of the post master's farmers were electors. Dionis represented eleven votes. After a few meetings at the notary's, Cremiere, Massin, the post master, and their adherents took a habit of assembling there. By the time the doctor returned, Dionis's office and salon were the camp of his heirs. The justice of peace and the mayor, who had formed an alliance, backed by the nobility in the neighbouring castles, to resist the liberals of Nemours, now worsted in their efforts, were more closely united than ever by their defeat.

By the time Bongrand and the Abbe Chaperon were able to tell the doctor by word of mouth the result of the antagonism, which was defined for the first time, between the two classes in Nemours (giving incidentally such importance to his heirs) Charles X. had left Rambouillet for Cherbourg. Desire Minoret, whose opinions were those of the Paris bar, sent for fifteen of his friends, commanded by Goupil and mounted on horses from his father's stable, who arrived in Paris on the night of the 28th. With this troop Goupil and Desire took part in the capture of the Hotel-de-Veille. Desire was decorated with the Legion of honor and appointed deputy procureur du roi at Fontainebleau. Goupil received the July cross. Dionis was elected mayor of Nemours, and the city council was composed of the post master (now assistant-mayor), Massin, Cremiere, and all the adherents of the family faction. Bongrand retained his place only through the influence of his son, procureur du roi at Melun, whose marriage with Mademoiselle Levrault was then on the tapis.

Seeing the three-per-cents quoted at forty-five, the doctor started by post for Paris, and invested five hundred and forty thousand francs in shares to bearer. The rest of his fortune which amounted to about two hundred and seventy thousand francs, standing in his own name in the same funds, gave him ostensibly an income of fifteen thousand francs a year. He made the same disposition of Ursula's little capital bequeathed to her by de Jordy, together with the accrued interest thereon, which gave her about fourteen hundred francs a year in her own right. La Bougival, who had laid by some five thousand francs of her savings, did the same by the doctor's advice, receiving in future three hundred and fifty francs a year in dividends. These judicious transactions, agreed on between the doctor and Monsieur Bongrand, were carried out in perfect secrecy, thanks to the political troubles of the time.

When quiet was again restored the doctor bought the little house which adjoined his own and pulled it down so as to build a coach-house and stables on its side. To employ a capital which would have given him a thousand francs a year on outbuildings seemed actual folly to the Minoret heirs. This folly, if it were one, was the beginning of a new era in the doctor's existence, for he now (at a period when horses and carriages were almost given away) brought back from Paris three fine horses and a caleche.

When, in the early part of November, 1830, the old man came to church on a rainy day in the new carriage, and gave his hand to Ursula to help her out, all the inhabitants flocked to the square,--as much to see the caleche and question the coachman, as to criticize the goddaughter, to whose excessive pride and ambition Massin, Cremiere, the post master, and their wives attributed this extravagant folly of the old man.

"A caleche! Hey, Massin!" cried Goupil. "Your inheritance will go at top speed now!"

"You ought to be getting good wages, Cabirolle," said the post master to the son of one of his conductors, who stood by the horses; "for it is to be supposed an old man of eighty-four won't use up many horse- shoes. What did those horses cost?"

"Four thousand francs. The caleche, though second-hand, was two thousand; but it's a fine one, the wheels are patent."

"Yes, it's a good carriage," said Cremiere; "and a man must be rich to buy that style of thing."

"Ursula means to go at a good pace," said Goupil. "She's right; she's showing you how to enjoy life. Why don't you have fine carriages and horses, papa Minoret? I wouldn't let myself be humiliated if I were you--I'd buy a carriage fit for a prince."

"Come, Cabirolle, tell us," said Massin, "is it the girl who drives our uncle into such luxury?"

"I don't know," said Cabirolle; "but she is almost mistress of the house. There are masters upon masters down from Paris. They say now she is going to study painting."

"Then I shall seize the occasion to have my portrait drawn," said Madame Cremiere.

In the provinces they always say a picture is drawn, not painted.

"The old German is not dismissed, is he?" said Madame Massin.

"He was there yesterday," replied Cabirolle.

"Now," said Goupil, "you may as well give up counting on your inheritance. Ursula is seventeen years old, and she is prettier than ever. Travel forms young people, and the little minx has got your uncle in the toils. Five or six parcels come down for her by the diligence every week, and the dressmakers and milliners come too, to try on her gowns and all the rest of it. Madame Dionis is furious. Watch for Ursula as she comes out of church and look at the little scarf she is wearing round her neck,--real cashmere, and it cost six hundred francs!"

If a thunderbolt had fallen in the midst of the heirs the effect would have been less than that of Goupil's last words; the mischief-maker stood by rubbing his hands.

The doctor's old green salon had been renovated by a Parisian upholsterer. Judged by the luxury displayed, he was sometimes accused of hoarding immense wealth, sometimes of spending his capital on Ursula. The heirs called him in turn a miser and a spendthrift, but the saying, "He's an old fool!" summed upon, on the whole, the verdict of the neighbourhood. These mistaken judgments of the little town had the one advantage of misleading the heirs, who never suspected the love between Savinien and Ursula, which was the secret reason of the doctor's expenditure. The old man took the greatest delights in accustoming his godchild to her future station in the world. Possessing an income of over fifty thousand francs a year, it gave him pleasure to adorn his idol.

In the month of February, 1832, the day when Ursula was eighteen, her eyes beheld Savinien in the uniform of an ensign as she looked from her window when she rose in the morning.

"Why didn't I know he was coming?" she said to herself.

After the taking of Algiers, Savinien had distinguished himself by an act of courage which won him the cross. The corvette on which he was serving was many months at sea without his being able to communicate with the doctor; and he did not wish to leave the service without consulting him. Desirous of retaining in the navy a name already illustrious in its service, the new government had profited by a general change of officers to make Savinien an ensign. Having obtained leave of absence for fifteen days, the new officer arrived from Toulon by the mail, in time for Ursula's fete, intending to consult the doctor at the same time.

"He has come!" cried Ursula rushing into her godfather's bedroom.

"Very good," he answered; "I can guess what brings him, and he may now stay in Nemours."

"Ah! that's my birthday present--it is all in that sentence," she said, kissing him.

On a sign, which she ran up to make from her window, Savinien came over at once; she longed to admire him, for he seemed to her so changed for the better. Military service does, in fact, give a certain grave decision to the air and carriage and gestures of a man, and an erect bearing which enables the most superficial observer to recognize a military man even in plain clothes. The habit of command produces this result. Ursula loved Savinien the better for it, and took a childlike pleasure in walking round the garden with him, taking his arm, and hearing him relate the part he played (as midshipman) in the taking of Algiers. Evidently Savinien had taken the city. The doctor, who had been watching them from his window as he dressed, soon came down. Without telling the viscount everything, he did say that, in case Madame de Portenduere consented to his marriage with Ursula, the fortune of his godchild would make his naval pay superfluous.

"Alas!" said Savinien. "It will take a great deal of time to overcome my mother's opposition. Before I left her to enter the navy she was placed between two alternatives,--either to consent to my marrying Ursula or else to see me only from time to time and to know me exposed to the dangers of the profession; and you see she chose to let me go."

"But, Savinien, we shall be together," said Ursula, taking his hand and shaking it with a sort of impatience.

To see each other and not to part,--that was the all of love to her; she saw nothing beyond it; and her pretty gesture and the petulant tone of her voice expressed such innocence that Savinien and the doctor were both moved by it. The resignation was written and despatched, and Ursula's fete received full glory from the presence of her betrothed. A few months later, towards the month of May, the home- life of the doctor's household had resumed the quite tenor of its way but with one welcome visitor the more. The attentions of the young viscount were soon interpreted in the town as those of a future husband,--all the more because his manners and those of Ursula, whether in church, or on the promenade, though dignified and reserved, betrayed the understanding of their hearts. Dionis pointed out to the heirs that the doctor had never asked Madame de Portenduere for the interest of his money, three years of which was now due.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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