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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 40)


"Pooh!" said the clerk, unable to imagine what capricious conduct meant.

"Oh! I'm not ungrateful; you have enabled me to get this fine brick chateau with the stone copings (which couldn't be built now for two hundred thousand francs) and those farms and preserves and the park and gardens and woods, all for two hundred and eighty thousand francs. No, I'm not ungrateful; I'll give you ten per cent, twenty thousand francs, for your services, and you can buy a sheriff's practice in Nemours. I'll guarantee you a marriage with one of Cremiere's daughters, the eldest."

"The one who talks piston!" cried Goupil.

"She'll have thirty thousand francs," replied Minoret. "Don't you see, my dear boy, that you are cut out for a sheriff, just as I was to be a post master? People should keep to their vocation."

"Very well, then," said Goupil, falling from the pinnacle of his hopes; "here's a stamped cheque; write me an order for twenty thousand francs; I want the money in hand at once."

Minoret had eighteen thousand francs by him at that moment of which his wife knew nothing. He thought the best way to get rid of Goupil was to sign the draft. The clerk, seeing the flush of seigniorial fever on the face of the imbecile and colossal Machiavelli, threw him an "au revoir," by way of farewell, accompanied with a glance which would have made any one but an idiotic parvenu, lost in contemplation of the magnificent chateau built in the style in vogue under Louis XIII., tremble in his shoes.

"Are you not going to wait for me?" he cried, observing that Goupil was going away on foot.

"You'll find me on our path, never fear, papa Minoret," replied Goupil, athirst for vengeance and resolved to know the meaning of the zigzags of Minoret's strange conduct.

Since the day when the last vile calumny had sullied her life Ursula, a prey to one of those inexplicable maladies the seat of which is in the soul, seemed to be rapidly nearing death. She was deathly pale, speaking only at rare intervals and then in slow and feeble words; everything about her, her glance of gentle indifference, even the expression of her forehead, all revealed the presence of some consuming thought. She was thinking how the ideal wreath of chastity, with which throughout all ages the Peoples crowned their virgins, had fallen from her brow. She heard in the void and in the silence the dishonoring words, the malicious comments, the laughter of the little town. The trial was too heavy, her innocence was too delicate to allow her to survive the murderous blow. She complained no more; a sorrowful smile was on her lips; her eyes appealed to heaven, to the Sovereign of angels, against man's injustice.

When Goupil reached Nemours, Ursula had just been carried down from her chamber to the ground-floor in the arms of La Bougival and the doctor. A great event was about to take place. When Madame de Portenduere became really aware that the girl was dying like an ermine, though less injured in her honor than Clarissa Harlowe, she resolved to go to her and comfort her. The sight of her son's anguish, who during the whole preceding night had seemed beside himself, made the Breton soul of the old woman yield. Moreover, it seemed worthy of her own dignity to revive the courage of a girl so pure, and she saw in her visit a counterpoise to all the evil done by the little town. Her opinion, surely more powerful than that of the crowd, ought to carry with it, she thought, the influence of race. This step, which the abbe came to announce, made so great a change in Ursula that the doctor, who was about to ask for a consultation of Parisian doctors, recovered hope. They placed her on her uncle's sofa, and such was the character of her beauty that she lay there in her mourning garments, pale from suffering, she was more exquisitely lovely than in the happiest hours of her life. When Savinien, with his mother on his arm, entered the room she colored vividly.

"Do not rise, my child," said the old lady imperatively; "weak and ill as I am myself, I wished to come and tell you my feelings about what is happening. I respect you as the purest, the most religious and excellent girl in the Gatinais; and I think you worthy to make the happiness of a gentleman."

At first poor Ursula was unable to answer; she took the withered hands of Savinien's mother and kissed them.

"Ah, madame," she said in a faltering voice, "I should never have had the boldness to think of rising above my condition if I had not been encouraged by promises; my only claim was that of an affection without bounds; but now they have found the means to separate me from him I love,--they have made me unworthy of him. Never!" she cried, with a ring in her voice which painfully affected those about her, "never will I consent to give to any man a degraded hand, a stained reputation. I loved too well,--yes, I can admit it in my present condition,--I love a creature almost as I love God, and God--"

"Hush, my child! do not calumniate God. Come, my daughter," said the old lady, making an effort, "do not exaggerate the harm done by an infamous joke in which no one believes. I give you my word, you will live and you shall be happy."

"We shall be happy!" cried Savinien, kneeling beside Ursula and kissing her hand; "my mother has called you her daughter."

"Enough, enough," said the doctor feeling his patient's pulse; "do not kill her with joy."

At that moment Goupil, who found the street door ajar, opened that of the little salon, and showed his hideous face blazing with thoughts of vengeance which had crowded into his mind as he hurried along.

"Monsieur de Portenduere," he said, in a voice like the hissing of a viper forced from its hole.

"What do you want?" said Savinien, rising from his knees.

"I have a word to say to you."

Savinien left the room, and Goupil took him into the little courtyard.

"Swear to me by Ursula's life, by your honor as a gentleman, to do by me as if I had never told you what I am about to tell. Do this, and I will reveal to you the cause of the persecutions directed against Mademoiselle Mirouet."

"Can I put a stop to them?"

"Yes."

"Can I avenge them?"

"On their author, yes--on his tool, no."

"Why not?"

"Because--I am the tool."

Savinien turned pale.

"I have just seen Ursula--" said Goupil.

"Ursula?" said the lover, looking fixedly at the clerk.

"Mademoiselle Mirouet," continued Goupil, made respectful by Savinien's tone; "and I would undo with my blood the wrong that has been done; I repent of it. If you were to kill me, in a duel or otherwise, what good would my blood do you? can you drink it? At this moment it would poison you."

The cold reasoning of the man, together with a feeling of eager curiosity, calmed Savinien's anger. He fixed his eyes on Goupil with a look which made that moral deformity writhe.

"Who set you at this work?" said the young man.

"Will you swear?"

"What,--to do you no harm?"

"I wish that you and Mademoiselle Mirouet should not forgive me."

"She will forgive you,--I, never!"

"But at least you will forget?"

What terrible power the reason has when it is used to further self- interest. Here were two men, longing to tear one another in pieces, standing in that courtyard within two inches of each other, compelled to talk together and united by a single sentiment.

"I will forgive you, but I shall not forget."

"The agreement is off," said Goupil coldly. Savinien lost patience. He applied a blow upon the man's face which echoed through the courtyard and nearly knocked him down, making Savinien himself stagger.

"It is only what I deserve," said Goupil, "for committing such a folly. I thought you more noble than you are. You have abused the advantage I gave you. You are in my power now," he added with a look of hatred.

"You are a murderer!" said Savinien.

"No more than a dagger is a murderer."

"I beg your pardon," said Savinien.

"Are you revenged enough?" said Goupil, with ferocious irony; "will you stop here?"

"Reciprocal pardon and forgetfulness," replied Savinien.

"Give me your hand," said the clerk, holding out his own.

"It is yours," said Savinien, swallowing the shame for Ursula's sake. "Now speak; who made you do this thing?"

Goupil looked into the scales as it were; on one side was Savinien's blow, on the other his hatred against Minoret. For a second he was undecided; then a voice said to him: "You will be notary!" and he answered:--

"Pardon and forgetfulness? Yes, on both sides, monsieur--"

"Who is persecuting Ursula?" persisted Savinien.

"Minoret. He would have liked to see her buried. Why? I can't tell you that; but we might find out the reason. Don't mix me up in all this; I could do nothing to help you if the others distrusted me. Instead of annoying Ursula I will defend her; instead of serving Minoret I will try to defeat his schemes. I live only to ruin him, to destroy him-- I'll crush him under foot, I'll dance on his carcass, I'll make his bones into dominoes! To-morrow, every wall in Nemours and Fontainebleau and Rouvre shall blaze with the letters, 'Minoret is a thief!' Yes, I'll burst him like a gun--There! we're allies now by the imprudence of that outbreak! If you choose I'll beg Mademoiselle Mirouet's pardon and tell her I curse the madness which impelled me to injure her. It may do her good; the abbe and the justice are both there; but Monsieur Bongrand must promise on his honor not to injure my career. I have a career now."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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