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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 38)


The abbe was deeply touched as he watched the tears roll down her pallid face. The higher her sense of security had been, the lower she was now to fall.

"But," she said, continuing, "if I return to my orphaned condition, I shall know how to take up its feelings. After all, could I have tied a mill-stone round the neck of him I love? What can he do here? Who am I to bind him to me? Besides, do I not love him with a friendship so divine that I can bear the loss of my own happiness and my hopes? You know I have often blamed myself for letting my hopes rest upon a grave, and for knowing they were waiting on that poor old lady's death. If Savinien is rich and happy with another I have enough to pay for my entrance to a convent, where I shall go at once. There can no more be two loves in a woman's heart than there can be two masters in heaven, and the life of a religious is attractive to me."

"He could not let his mother go alone to Rouvre," said the abbe, gently.

"Do not let us talk of that, my dear good friend," she answered. "I will write to-night and set him free. I am glad to have to close the windows of this room," she continued, telling her old friend of the anonymous letters, but declaring that she would not allow any inquiries to be made as to who her unknown lover might be.

"Why! it was an anonymous letter that first took Madame de Portenduere to Rouvre," cried the abbe. "You are annoyed for some object by evil persons."

"How can that be? Neither Savinien nor I have injured any one; and I am no longer an obstacle to the prosperity of others."

"Well, well, my child," said the abbe, quietly, "let us profit by this tempest, which has scattered our little circle, to put the library in order. The books are still in heaps. Bongrand and I want to get them in order; we wish to make a search among them. Put your trust in God, and remember also that in our good Bongrand and in me you have two devoted friends."

"That is much, very much," she said, going with him to the threshold of the door, where she stretched out her neck like a bird looking over its nest, hoping against hope to see Savinien.

Just then Minoret and Goupil, returning from a walk in the meadows, stopped as they passed, and the colossus spoke to Ursula.

"Is anything the matter, cousin; for we are still cousins, are we not? You seem changed."

Goupil looked so ardently at Ursula that she was frightened, and went back into the house without replying.

"She is cross," said Minoret to the abbe.

"Mademoiselle Mirouet is quite right not to talk to men on the threshold of her door," said the abbe; "she is too young--"

"Oh!" said Goupil. "I am told she doesn't lack lovers."

The abbe bowed hurriedly and went as fast as he could to the Rue des Bourgeois.

"Well," said Goupil to Minoret, "the thing is working. Did you notice how pale she was. Within a fortnight she'll have left the town--you'll see."

"Better have you for a friend than an enemy," cried Minoret, frightened at the atrocious grin which gave to Goupil's face the diabolical expression of the Mephistopheles of Joseph Brideau.

"I should think so!" returned Goupil. "If she doesn't marry me I'll make her die of grief."

"Do it, my boy, and I'll GIVE you the money to buy a practice in Paris. You can then marry a rich woman--"

"Poor Ursula! what makes you so bitter against her? what has she done to you?" asked the clerk in surprise.

"She annoys me," said Minoret, gruffly.

"Well, wait till Monday and you shall see how I'll rasp her," said Goupil, studying the expression of the late post master's face.

The next day La Bougival carried the following letter to Savinien.

"I don't know what the dear child has written to you," she said, "but she is almost dead this morning."

Who, reading this letter to her lover, could fail to understand the sufferings the poor girl had gone through during the night.

My dear Savinien,--Your mother wishes you to marry Mademoiselle du Rouvre, and perhaps she is right. You are placed between a life that is almost poverty-stricken and a life of opulence; between the betrothed of your heart and a wife in conformity with the demands of the world; between obedience to your mother and the fulfilment of your own choice--for I still believe that you have chosen me. Savinien, if you have now to make your decision I wish you to do so in absolute freedom; I give you back the promise you made to yourself--not to me--in a moment which can never fade from my memory, for it was, like other days that have succeeded it, of angelic purity and sweetness. That memory will suffice me for my life. If you should persist in your pledge to me, a dark and terrible idea would henceforth trouble my happiness. In the midst of our privations--which we have hitherto accepted so gayly--you might reflect, too late, that life would have been to you a better thing had you now conformed to the laws of the world. If you were a man to express that thought, it would be to me the sentence of an agonizing death; if you did not express it, I should watch suspiciously every cloud upon your brow.

Dear Savinien, I have preferred you to all else on earth. I was right to do so, for my godfather, though jealous of you, used to say to me, "Love him, my child; you will certainly belong to each other one of these days." When I went to Paris I loved you hopelessly, and the feeling contented me. I do not know if I can now return to it, but I shall try. What are we, after all, at this moment? Brother and sister. Let us stay so. Marry that happy girl who can have the joy of giving to your name the lustre it ought to have, and which your mother thinks I should diminish. You will not hear of me again. The world will approve of you; I shall never blame you--but I shall love you ever. Adieu, then!

"Wait," cried the young man. Signing to La Bougival to sit down, he scratched off hastily the following reply:--

My dear Ursula,--Your letter cuts me to the heart, inasmuch as you have needlessly felt such pain; and also because our hearts, for the first time, have failed to understand each other. If you are not my wife now, it is solely because I cannot marry without my mother's consent. Dear, eight thousand francs a year and a pretty cottage on the Loing, why, that's a fortune, is it not? You know we calculated that if we kept La Bougival we could lay by half our income every year. You allowed me that evening, in your uncle's garden, to consider you mine; you cannot now of yourself break those ties which are common to both of us.--Ursula, need I tell you that I yesterday informed Monsieur du Rouvre that even if I were free I could not receive a fortune from a young person whom I did not know? My mother refuses to see you again; I must therefore lose the happiness of our evenings; but surely you will not deprive me of the brief moments I can spend at your window? This evening, then-- Nothing can separate us.

"Take this to her, my old woman; she must not be unhappy one moment longer."

That afternoon at four o'clock, returning from the walk which he always took expressly to pass before Ursula's house, Savinien found his mistress waiting for him, her face a little pallid from these sudden changes and excitements.

"It seems to me that until now I have never known what the pleasure of seeing you is," she said to him.

"You once said to me," replied Savinien, smiling,--"for I remember all your words,--'Love lives by patience; we will wait!' Dear, you have separated love from faith. Ah! this shall be the end of our quarrels; we will never have another. You have claimed to love me better than I love you, but--did I ever doubt you?" he said, offering her a bouquet of wild-flowers arranged to express his thoughts.

"You have never had any reason to doubt me," she replied; "and, besides, you don't know all," she added, in a troubled voice.

Ursula had refused to receive letters by the post. But that afternoon, without being able even to guess at the nature of the trick, she had found, a few moments before Savinien's arrival, a letter tossed on her sofa which contained the words: "Tremble! a rejected lover can become a tiger."

Withstanding Savinien's entreaties, she refused to tell him, out of prudence, the secret of her fears. The delight of seeing him again, after she had thought him lost to her, could alone have made her recover from the mortal chill of terror. The expectation of indefinite evil is torture to every one; suffering assumes the proportions of the unknown, and the unknown is the infinite of the soul. To Ursula the pain was exquisite. Something without her bounded at the slightest noise; yet she was afraid of silence, and suspected even the walls of collusion. Even her sleep was restless. Goupil, who knew nothing of her nature, delicate as that of a flower, had found, with the instinct of evil, the poison that could wither and destroy her.

The next day passed without a shock. Ursula sat playing on her piano till very late; and went to bed easier in mind and very sleepy. About midnight she was awakened by the music of a band composed of a clarinet, hautboy, flute, cornet a piston, trombone, bassoon, flageolet, and triangle. All the neighbours were at their windows. The poor girl, already frightened at seeing the people in the street, received a dreadful shock as she heard the coarse, rough voice of a man proclaiming in loud tones: "For the beautiful Ursula Mirouet, from her lover."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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