"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
Minoret pressed the clerk's hands replying:--
"On my word of honor."
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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."