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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 37)


"Leave us, wife," said the colossus, taking Zelie by the arm, and shoving her away; "I understand him. We have been so very busy," he continued, returning to Goupil, "that we have had no time to think of you; but I rely on your friendship to buy the Rouvre estate for me."

"It is a very ancient marquisate," said Goupil, maliciously; "which will soon be worth in your hands fifty thousand francs a year; that means a capital of more than two millions as money is now."

"My son could then marry the daughter of a marshal of France, or the daughter of some old family whose influence would get him a fine place under the government in Paris," said Minoret, opening his huge snuff- box and offering a pinch to Goupil.

"Very good; but will you play fair?" cried Goupil, shaking his fingers.

Minoret pressed the clerk's hands replying:--

"On my word of honor."

CHAPTER XVII

THE MALIGNITY OF PROVINCIAL MINDS

Like all crafty persons, Goupil, fortunately for Minoret, believed that the proposed marriage with Ursula was only a pretext on the part of the colossus and Zelie for making up with him, now that he was opposing them with Massin.

"It isn't he," thought Goupil, "who has invented this scheme; I know my Zelie,--she taught him his part. Bah! I'll let Massin go. In three years time I'll be deputy from Sens." Just then he saw Bongrand on his way to the opposite house for his whist, and he rushed hastily after him.

"You take a great interest in Mademoiselle Mirouet, my dear Monsieur Bongrand," he said. "I know you will not be indifferent to her future. Her relations are considering it, and there is the programme; she ought to marry a notary whose practice should be in the chief town of an arrondisement. This notary, who would of course be elected deputy in three years, should settle on a dower of a hundred thousand francs on her."

"She can do better than that," said Bongrand coldly. "Madame de Portenduere is greatly changed since her misfortunes; trouble is killing her. Savinien will have six thousand francs a year, and Ursula has a capital of forty thousand. I shall show them how to increase it a la Massin, but honestly, and in ten years they will have a little fortune.

"Savinien will do a foolish thing," said Goupil; "he can marry Mademoiselle du Rouvre whenever he likes,--an only daughter to whom the uncle and aunt intend to leave a fine property."

"Where love enters farewell prudence, as La Fontaine says-- By the bye, who is your notary?" added Bongrand from curiosity.

"Suppose it were I?" answered Goupil.

"You!" exclaimed Bongrand, without hiding his disgust.

"Well, well!--Adieu, monsieur," replied Goupil, with a parting glance of gall and hatred and defiance.

"Do you wish to be the wife of a notary who will settle a hundred thousand francs on you?" cried Bongrand entering Madame de Portenduere's little salon, where Ursula was seated beside the old lady.

Ursula and Savinien trembled and looked at each other,--she smiling, he not daring to show his uneasiness.

"I am not mistress of myself," said Ursula, holding out her hand to Savinien in such a way that the old lady did not perceive the gesture.

"Well, I have refused the offer without consulting you."

"Why did you do that?" said Madame de Portenduere. "I think the position of a notary is a very good one."

"I prefer my peaceful poverty," said Ursula, "which is really wealth compared with what my station in life might have given me. Besides, my old nurse spares me a great deal of care, and I shall not exchange the present, which I like, for an unknown fate."

A few weeks later the post poured into two hearts the poison of anonymous letters,--one addressed to Madame de Portenduere, the other to Ursula. The following is the one to the old lady:--

"You love your son, you wish to marry him in a manner conformable with the name he bears; and yet you encourage his fancy for an ambitious girl without money and the daughter of a regimental band- master, by inviting her to your house. You ought to marry him to Mademoiselle du Rouvre, on whom her two uncles, the Marquis de Ronquerolles and the Chevalier du Rouvre, who are worth money, would settle a handsome sum rather than leave it to that old fool the Marquis du Rouvre, who runs through everything. Madame de Serizy, aunt of Clementine du Rouvre, who has just lost her only son in the campaign in Algiers, will no doubt adopt her niece. A person who is your well-wisher assures you that Savinien will be accepted."

The letter to Ursula was as follows:--

Dear Ursula,--There is a young man in Nemours who idolizes you. He cannot see you working at your window without emotions which prove to him that his love will last through life. This young man is gifted with an iron will and a spirit of perseverance which nothing can discourage. Receive his addresses favorably, for his intentions are pure, and he humbly asks your hand with a sincere desire to make you happy. His fortune, already suitable, is nothing to that which he will make for you when you are once his wife. You shall be received at court as the wife of a minister and one of the first ladies in the land.

As he sees you every day (without your being able to see him) put a pot of La Bougival's pinks in your window and he will understand from that that he has your permission to present himself.

Ursula burned the letter and said nothing about it to Savinien. Two days later she received another letter in the following language:--

"You do wrong, my dear Ursula, not to answer one who loves you better than life itself. You think you will marry Savinien--you are very much mistaken. That marriage will not take place. Madame de Portenduere went this morning to Rouvre to ask for the hand of Mademoiselle Clementine for her son. Savinien will yield in the end. What objection can he make? The uncles of the young lady are willing to guarantee their fortune to her; it amounts to over sixty thousand francs a year."

This letter agonized Ursula's heart and afflicted her with the tortures of jealousy, a form of suffering hitherto unknown to her, but which to this fine organization, so sensitive to pain, threw a pall over the present and over the future, and even over the past. From the moment when she received this fatal paper she lay on the doctor's sofa, her eyes fixed on space, lost in a dreadful dream. In an instant the chill of death had come upon her warm young life. Alas, worse than that! it was like the awful awakening of the dead to the sense that there was no God,--the masterpiece of that strange genius called Jean Paul. Four times La Bougival called her to breakfast. When the faithful creature tried to remonstrate, Ursula waved her hand and answered in one harsh word, "Hush!" said despotically, in strange contrast to her usual gentle manner. La Bougival, watching her mistress through the glass door, saw her alternately red with a consuming fever, and blue as if a shudder of cold had succeeded that unnatural heat. This condition grew worse and worse up to four o'clock; then she rose to see if Savinien were coming, but he did not come. Jealousy and distrust tear all reserves from love. Ursula, who till then had never made one gesture by which her love could be guessed, now took her hat and shawl and rushed into the passage as if to go and meet him. But an afterthought of modesty sent her back to her little salon, where she stayed and wept. When the abbe arrived in the evening La Bougival met him at the door.

"Ah, monsieur!" she cried; "I don't know what's the matter with mademoiselle; she is--"

"I know," said the abbe sadly, stopping the words of the poor nurse.

He then told Ursula (what she had not dared to verify) that Madame de Portenduere had gone to dine at Rouvre.

"And Savinien too?" she asked.

"Yes."

Ursula was seized with a little nervous tremor which made the abbe quiver as though a whole Leyden jar had been discharged at him; he felt moreover a lasting commotion in his heart.

"So we shall not go there to-night," he said as gently as he could; "and, my child, it would be better if you did not go there again. The old lady will receive you in a way to wound your pride. Monsieur Bongrand and I, who had succeeded in bringing her to consider your marriage, have no idea from what quarter this new influence has come to change her, as it were in a moment."

"I expect the worst; nothing can surprise me now," said Ursula in a pained voice. "In such extremities it is a comfort to feel that we have done nothing to displease God."

"Submit, dear daughter, and do not seek to fathom the ways of Providence," said the abbe.

"I shall not unjustly distrust the character of Monsieur de Portenduere--"

"Why do you no longer call him Savinien?" asked the priest, who detected a slight bitterness in Ursula's tone.

"Of my dear Savinien," cried the girl, bursting into tears. "Yes, my good friend," she said, sobbing, "a voice tells me he is as noble in heart as he is in race. He has not only told me that he loves me alone, but he has proved it in a hundred delicate ways, and by restraining heroically his ardent feelings. Lately when he took the hand I held out to him, that evening when Monsieur Bongrand proposed to me a husband, it was the first time, I swear to you, that I had ever given it. He began with a jest when he blew me a kiss across the street, but since then our affection has never outwardly passed, as you well know, the narrowest limits. But I will tell you,--you who read my soul except in this one region where none but the angels see, --well, I will tell you, this love has been in me the secret spring of many seeming merits; it made me accept my poverty; it softened the bitterness of my irreparable loss, for my mourning is more perhaps in my clothes now than in my heart-- Oh, was I wrong? can it be that love was stronger in me than my gratitude to my benefactor, and God has punished me for it? But how could it be otherwise? I respected in myself Savinien's future wife; yes, perhaps I was too proud, perhaps it is that pride which God has humbled. God alone, as you have often told me, should be the end and object of all our actions."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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