"She'll be forced to yield, and consent to this derogatory marriage of
her son," said the notary. "If such a misfortune happens it is
probable that the greater part of your uncle's fortune will serve for
what Basile calls 'an irresistible argument.'"
URSULA AGAIN ORPHANED
The irritation of the heirs, when convinced that their uncle loved
Ursula too well not to secure her happiness at their expense, became
as underhand as it was bitter. Meeting in Dionis's salon (as they had
done every evening since the revolution of 1830) they inveighed
against the lovers, and seldom separated without discussing some way
of circumventing the old man. Zelie, who had doubtless profited by the
fall in the Funds, as the doctor had done, to invest some, at least,
of her enormous gains, was bitterest of them all against the orphan
girl and the Portendueres. One evening, when Goupil, who usually
avoided the dullness of these meetings, had come in to learn something
of the affairs of the town which were under discussion, Zelie's hatred
was freshly excited; she had seen the doctor, Ursula, and Savinien
returning in the caleche from a country drive, with an air of intimacy
that told all.
"I'd give thirty thousand francs if God would call uncle to himself
before the marriage of young Portenduere with that affected minx can
take place," she said.
Goupil accompanied Monsieur and Madame Minoret to the middle of their
great courtyard, and there said, looking round to see if they were
"Will you give me the means of buying Dionis's practice? If you will,
I will break off the marriage between Portenduere and Ursula."
"How?" asked the colossus.
"Do you think I am such a fool as to tell you my plan?" said the
notary's head clerk.
"Well, my lad, separate them, and we'll see what we can do," said
"I don't embark in any such business on a 'we'll see.' The young man
is a fire-eater who might kill me; I ought to be rough-shod and as
good a hand with a sword or a pistol as he is. Set me up in business,
and I'll keep my word."
"Prevent the marriage and I will set you up," said the post master.
"It is nine months since you have been thinking of lending me a paltry
fifteen thousand francs to buy Lecoeur's practice, and you expect me
to trust you now! Nonsense; you'll lose your uncle's property, and
serve you right."
"It if were only a matter of fifteen thousand francs and Lecoeur's
practice, that might be managed," said Zelie; "but to give security
for you in a hundred and fifty thousand is another thing."
"But I'll do my part," said Goupil, flinging a seductive look at
Zelie, which encountered the imperious glance of the post mistress.
The effect was that of venom on steel.
"We can wait," said Zelie.
"The devil's own spirit is in you," thought Goupil. "If I ever catch
that pair in my power," he said to himself as he left the yard, "I'll
squeeze them like lemons."
By cultivating the society of the doctor, the abbe, and Monsieur
Bongrand, Savinien proved the excellence of his character. The love of
this young man for Ursula, so devoid of self-interest, and so
persistent, interested the three friends deeply, and they now never
separated the lovers in their thoughts. Soon the monotony of this
patriarchal life, and the certainty of a future before them, gave to
their affection a fraternal character. The doctor often left the pair
alone together. He judged the young man rightly; he saw him kiss her
hand on arriving, but he knew he would ask no kiss when alone with
her, so deeply did the lover respect the innocence, the frankness of
the young girl, whose excessive sensibility, often tried, taught him
that a harsh word, a cold look, or the alternations of gentleness and
roughness might kill her. The only freedom between the two took place
before the eyes of the old man in the evenings.
Two years, full of secret happiness, passed thus,--without other
events than the fruitless efforts made by the young man to obtain from
his mother her consent to his marriage. He talked to her sometimes for
hours together. She listened and made no answer to his entreaties,
other than by Breton silence or a positive denial.
At nineteen years of age Ursula, elegant in appearance, a fine
musician, and well brought up, had nothing more to learn; she was
perfected. The fame of her beauty and grace and education spread far.
The doctor was called upon to decline the overtures of Madame
d'Aiglemont, who was thinking of Ursula for her eldest son. Six months
later, in spite of the secrecy the doctor and Ursula maintained on
this subject, Savinien heard of it. Touched by so much delicacy, he
made use of the incident in another attempt to vanquish his mother's
obstinacy; but she merely replied:--
"If the d'Aiglemonts choose to ally themselves ill, is that any reason
why we should do so?"
In December, 1834, the kind and now truly pious old doctor, then
eighty-eight years old, declined visibly. When seen out of doors, his
face pinched and wan and his eyes pale, all the town talked of his
approaching death. "You'll soon know results," said the community to
the heirs. In truth the old man's death had all the attraction of a
problem. But the doctor himself did not know he was ill; he had his
illusions, and neither poor Ursula nor Savinien nor Bongrand nor the
abbe were willing to enlighten him as to his condition. The Nemours
doctor who came to see him every day did not venture to prescribe. Old
Minoret felt no pain; his lamp of life was gently going it. His mind
continued firm and clear and powerful. In old men thus constituted the
soul governs the body, and gives it strength to die erect. The abbe,
anxious not to hasten the fatal end, released his parishioner from the
duty of hearing mass in church, and allowed him to read the services
at home, for the doctor faithfully attended to all his religious
duties. The nearer he came to the grave the more he loved God; the
lights eternal shone upon all difficulties and explained them more and
more clearly to his mind. Early in the year Ursula persuaded him to
sell the carriage and horses and dismiss Cabirolle. Monsieur Bongrand,
whose uneasiness about Ursula's future was far from quieted by the
doctor's half-confidence, boldly opened the subject one evening and
showed his old friend the importance of making Ursula legally of age.
Still the old man, though he had often consulted the justice of peace,
would not reveal to him the secret of his provision for Ursula, though
he agreed to the necessity of securing her independence by majority.
The more Monsieur Bongrand persisted in his efforts to discover the
means selected by his old friend to provide for his darling the more
wary the doctor became.
"Why not secure the thing," said Bongrand, "why run any risks?"
"When you are between two risks," replied the doctor, "avoid the most
Bongrand carried through the business of making Ursula of age so
promptly that the papers were ready by the day she was twenty. That
anniversary was the last pleasure of the old doctor who, seized
perhaps with a presentiment of his end, gave a little ball, to which
he invited all the young people in the families of Dionis, Cremiere,
Minoret, and Massin. Savinien, Bongrand, the abbe and his two
assistant priests, the Nemours doctor, and Mesdames Zelie Minoret,
Massin, and Cremiere, together with old Schmucke, were the guests at a
grand dinner which preceded the ball.
"I feel I am going," said the old man to the notary towards the close
of the evening. "I beg you to come to-morrow and draw up my
guardianship account with Ursula, so as not to complicate my property
after my death. Thank God! I have not withdrawn one penny from my
heirs,--I have disposed of nothing but my income. Messieurs Cremiere,
Massin, and Minoret my nephew are members of the family council
appointed for Ursula, and I wish them to be present at the rendering
of my account."
These words, heard by Massin and quickly passed from one to another
round the ball-room, poured balm into the minds of the three families,
who had lived in perpetual alternations of hope and fear, sometimes
thinking they were certain of wealth, oftener that they were
When, about two in the morning, the guests were all gone and no one
remained in the salon but Savinien, Bongrand, and the abbe, the old
doctor said, pointing to Ursula, who was charming in her ball dress;
"To you, my friends, I confide her! A few days more, and I shall be
here no longer to protect her. Put yourselves between her and the
world until she is married,--I fear for her."
The words made a painful impression. The guardian's account, rendered
a day or two later in presence of the family council, showed that
Doctor Minoret owed a balance to his ward of ten thousand six hundred
francs from the bequest of Monsieur de Jordy, and also from a little
capital of gifts made by the doctor himself to Ursula during the last
fifteen years, on birthdays and other anniversaries.
This formal rendering of the account was insisted on by the justice of
the peace, who feared (unhappily, with too much reason) the results of
Doctor Minoret's death.
The following day the old man was seized with a weakness which
compelled him to keep his bed. In spite of the reserve which always
surrounded the doctor's house and kept it from observation, the news
of his approaching death spread through the town, and the heirs began
to run hither and thither through the streets, like the pearls of a
chaplet when the string is broken. Massin called at the house to learn
the truth, and was told by Ursula herself that the doctor was in bed.
The Nemours doctor had remarked that whenever old Minoret took to his
bed he would die; and therefore in spite of the cold, the heirs took
their stand in the street, on the square, at their own doorsteps,
talking of the event so long looked for, and watching for the moment
when the priests should appear, bearing the sacrament, with all the
paraphernalia customary in the provinces, to the dying man.
Accordingly, two days later, when the Abbe Chaperon, with an assistant
and the choir-boys, preceded by the sacristan bearing the cross,
passed along the Grand'Rue, all the heirs joined the procession, to
get an entrance to the house and see that nothing was abstracted, and
lay their eager hands upon its coveted treasures at the earliest