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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 33)


Written by my own hand, at Nemours, on the 11th of January, 1831.

Denis Minoret.

Without an instant's hesitation the post master, who had locked himself into his wife's bedroom to insure being alone, looked about for the tinder-box, and received two warnings from heaven by the extinction of two matches which obstinately refused to light. The third took fire. He burned the letter and the will on the hearth and buried the vestiges of paper and sealing-wax in the ashes by way of superfluous caution. Then, allured by the thought of possessing thirty-six thousand francs a year of which his wife knew nothing, he returned at full speed to his uncle's house, spurred by the only idea, a clear-cut, simple idea, which was able to piece and penetrate his dull brain. Finding the house invaded by the three families, now masters of the place, he trembled lest he should be unable to accomplish a project to which he gave no reflection whatever, except so far as to fear the obstacles.

"What are you doing here?" he said to Massin and Cremiere. "We can't leave the house and the property to be pillaged. We are the heirs, but we can't camp here. You, Cremiere, go to Dionis at once and tell him to come and certify to the death; I can't draw up the mortuary certificate for an uncle, though I am assistant-mayor. You, Massin, go and ask old Bongrand to attach the seals. As for you, ladies," he added, turning to his wife and Mesdames Cremiere and Massin, "go and look after Ursula; then nothing can be stolen. Above all, close the iron gate and don't let any one leave the house."

The women, who felt the justice of this remark, ran to Ursula's bedroom, where they found the noble girl, so cruelly suspected, on her knees before God, her face covered with tears. Minoret, suspecting that the women would not long remain with Ursula, went at once to the library, found the volume, opened it, took the three certificates, and found in the other volume about thirty bank notes. In spite of his brutal nature the colossus felt as though a peal of bells were ringing in each ear. The blood whistled in his temples as he committed the theft; cold as the weather was, his shirt was wet on his back; his legs gave way under him and he fell into a chair in the salon as if an axe had fallen on his head.

"How the inheritance of money loosens a man's tongue! Did you hear Minoret?" said Massin to Cremiere as they hurried through the town. "'Go here, go there,' just as if he knew everything."

"Yes, for a dull beast like him he had a certain air of--"

"Stop!" said Massin, alarmed at a sudden thought. "His wife is there; they've got some plan! Do you do both errands; I'll go back."

Just as the post master fell into the chair he saw at the gate the heated face of the clerk of the court who returned to the house of death with the celerity of a weasel.

"Well, what is it now?" asked the post master, unlocking the gate for his co-heir.

"Nothing; I have come back to be present at the sealing," answered Massin, giving him a savage look.

"I wish those seals were already on, so that we could go home," said Minoret.

"We shall have to put a watcher over them," said Massin. "La Bougival is capable of anything in the interests of that minx. We'll put Goupil there."

"Goupil!" said the post master; "put a rat in the meal!"

"Well, let's consider," returned Massin. "To-night they'll watch the body; the seals can be affixed in an hour; our wives could look after them. To-morrow we'll have the funeral at twelve o'clock. But the inventory can't be made under a week."

"Let's get rid of that girl at once," said the colossus; "then we can safely leave the watchman of the town-hall to look after the house and the seals."

"Good," cried Massin. "You are the head of the Minoret family."

"Ladies," said Minoret, "be good enough to stay in the salon; we can't think of our dinner to-day; the seals must be put on at once for the security of all interests."

He took his wife apart and told her Massin's proposition about Ursula. The women, whose hearts were full of vengeance against the minx, as they called her, hailed the idea of turning her out. Bongrand arrived with his assistants to apply the seals, and was indignant when the request was made to him, by Zelie and Madame Massin, as a near friend of the deceased, to tell Ursula to leave the house.

"Go and turn her out of her father's house, her benefactor's house yourselves," he cried. "Go! you who owe your inheritance to the generosity of her soul; take her by the shoulders and fling her into the street before the eyes of the whole town! You think her capable of robbing you? Well, appoint a watcher of the seals; you have a right to do that. But I tell you at once I shall put no seals on Ursula's room; she has a right to that room, and everything in it is her own property. I shall tell her what her rights are, and tell her too to put everything that belongs to her in this house in that room-- Oh! in your presence," he said, hearing a growl of dissatisfaction among the heirs.

"What do you think of that?" said the collector to the post master and the women, who seemed stupefied by the angry address of Bongrand.

"Call HIM a magistrate!" cried the post master.

Ursula meanwhile was sitting on her little sofa in a half-fainting condition, her head thrown back, her braids unfastened, while every now and then her sobs broke forth. Her eyes were dim and their lids swollen; she was, in fact, in a state of moral and physical prostration which might have softened the hardest hearts--except those of the heirs.

"Ah! Monsieur Bongrand, after my happy birthday comes death and mourning," she said, with the poetry natural to her. "You know, YOU, what he was. In twenty years he never said an impatient word to me. I believed he would live a hundred years. He has been my mother," she cried, "my good, kind mother."

These simple thoughts brought torrents of tears from her eyes, interrupted by sobs; then she fell back exhausted.

"My child," said the justice of peace, hearing the heirs on the staircase. "You have a lifetime before you in which to weep, but you have now only a moment to attend to your interests. Gather everything that belongs to you in this house and put it into your own room at once. The heirs insist on my affixing the seals."

"Ah! his heirs may take everything if they choose," cried Ursula, sitting upright under an impulse of savage indignation. "I have something here," she added, striking her breast, "which is far more precious--"

"What is it?" said the post master, who with Massin at his heels now showed his brutal face.

"The remembrances of his virtues, of his life, of his words--an image of his celestial soul," she said, her eyes and face glowing as she raised her hand with a glorious gesture.

"And a key!" cried Massin, creeping up to her like a cat and seizing a key which fell from the bosom of her dress in her sudden movement.

"Yes," she said, blushing, "that is the key of his study; he sent me there at the moment he was dying."

The two men glanced at each other with horrid smiles, and then at Monsieur Bongrand, with a meaning look of degrading suspicion. Ursula who intercepted it, rose to her feet, pale as if the blood had left her body. Her eyes sent forth the lightnings that perhaps can issue only at some cost of life, as she said in a choking voice:--

"Monsieur Bongrand, everything in this room is mine through the kindness of my godfather; they may have it all; I have nothing on me but the clothes I wear. I shall leave the house and never return to it."

She went to her godfather's room, and no entreaties could make her leave it,--the heirs, who now began to be slightly ashamed of their conduct, endeavoring to persuade her. She requested Monsieur Bongrand to engage two rooms for her at the "Vieille Poste" inn until she could find some lodging in town where she could live with La Bougival. She returned to her own room for her prayer-book, and spent the night, with the abbe, his assistant, and Savinien, in weeping and praying beside her uncle's body. Savinien came, after his mother had gone to bed, and knelt, without a word, beside his Ursula. She smiled at him sadly, and thanked him for coming faithfully to share her troubles.

"My child," said Monsieur Bongrand, bring her a large package, "one of your uncle's heirs has taken these necessary articles from your drawers, for the seals cannot be opened for several days; after that you will recover everything that belongs to you. I have, for your own sake, placed the seals on your room."

"Thank you," she replied, pressing his hand. "Look at him again,--he seems to sleep, does he not?"

The old man's face wore that flower of fleeting beauty which rests upon the features of the dead who die a painless death; light appeared to radiate from it.

"Did he give you anything secretly before he died?" whispered M. Bongrand.

"Nothing," she said; "he spoke only of a letter."

"Good! it will certainly be found," said Bongrand. "How fortunate for you that the heirs demanded the sealing."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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