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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 41)


"Wait a minute;" said Savinien, bewildered by the revelation.

"Ursula, my child," he said, returning to the salon, "the author of all your troubles is ashamed of his work; he repents and wishes to ask your pardon in presence of these gentlemen, on condition that all be forgotten."

"What! Goupil?" cried the abbe, the justice, and the doctor, all together.

"Keep his secret," said Ursula, putting a finger on her lips.

Goupil heard the words, saw the gesture, and was touched.

"Mademoiselle," he said in a troubled voice, "I wish that all Nemours could hear me tell you that a fatal passion has bewildered my brain and led me to commit a crime punishable by the blame of honest men. What I say now I would be willing to say everywhere, deploring the harm done by such miserable tricks--which may have hastened your happiness," he added, rather maliciously, "for I see that Madame de Portenduere is with you."

"That is all very well, Goupil," said the abbe, "Mademoiselle forgives you; but you must not forget that you came near being her murderer."

"Monsieur Bongrand," said Goupil, addressing the justice of peace. "I shall negotiate to-night for Lecoeur's practice; I hope the reparation I have now made will not injure me with you, and that you will back my petition to the bar and the ministry."

Bongrand made a thoughtful inclination of his head; and Goupil left the house to negotiate on the best terms he could for the sheriff's practice. The others remained with Ursula and did their best to restore the peace and tranquillity of her mind, already much relieved by Goupil's confession.

"You see, my child, that God was not against you," said the abbe.

Minoret came home late from Rouvre. About nine o'clock he was sitting in the Chinese pagoda digesting his dinner beside his wife, with whom he was making plans for Desire's future. Desire had become very sedate since entering the magistracy; he worked hard, and it was not unlikely that he would succeed the present procureur du roi at Fontainebleau, who, they said, was to be advanced to Melun. His parents felt that they must find him a wife,--some poor girl belonging to an old and noble family; he would then make his way to the magistracy of Paris. Perhaps they could get him elected deputy from Fontainebleau, where Zelie was proposing to pass the winter after living at Rouvre for the summer season. Minoret, inwardly congratulating himself for having managed his affairs so well, no longer thought or cared about Ursula, at the very moment when the drama so heedlessly begun by him was closing down upon him in a terrible manner.

"Monsieur de Portenduere is here and wishes to speak to you," said Cabirolle.

"Show him in," answered Zelie.

The twilight shadows prevented Madame Minoret from noticing the sudden pallor of her husband, who shuddered as he heard Savinien's boots on the floor of the gallery, where the doctor's library used to be. A vague presentiment of danger ran through the robber's veins. Savinien entered and remaining standing, with his hat on his head, his cane in his hand, and both hands crossed in front of him, motionless before the husband and wife.

"I have come to ascertain, Monsieur and Madame Minoret," he said, "your reasons for tormenting in an infamous manner a young lady who, as the whole town knows, is to be my wife. Why have you endeavored to tarnish her honor? why have you wished to kill her? why did you deliver her over to Goupil's insults?--Answer!"

"How absurd you are, Monsieur Savinien," said Zelie, "to come and ask us the meaning of a thing we think inexplicable. I bother myself as little about Ursula as I do about the year one. Since Uncle Minoret died I've not thought of her more than I do of my first tooth. I've never said one word about her to Goupil, who is, moreover, a queer rogue whom I wouldn't think of consulting about even a dog. Why don't you speak up, Minoret? Are you going to let monsieur box your ears in that way and accuse you of wickedness that's beneath you? As if a man with forty-eight thousand francs a year from landed property, and a castle fit for a prince, would stoop to such things! Get up, and don't sit there like a wet rag!"

"I don't know what monsieur means," said Minoret in his squeaking voice, the trembling of which was all the more noticeable because the voice was clear. "What object could I have in persecuting the girl? I may have said to Goupil how annoyed I was at seeing her in Nemours. My son Desire fell in love with her, and I didn't want him to marry her, that's all."

"Goupil has confessed everything, Monsieur Minoret."

There was a moment's silence, but it was terrible, when all three persons examined one another. Zelie saw a nervous quiver on the heavy face of her colossus.

"Though you are only insects," said the young nobleman, "I will make you feel my vengeance. It is not from you, Monsieur Minoret, a man sixty-eight years of age, but from your son that I shall seek satisfaction for the insults offered to Mademoiselle Mirouet. The first time he sets his foot in Nemours we shall meet. He must fight me; he will do so, or be dishonored and never dare to show his face again. If he does not come to Nemours I shall go to Fontainebleau, for I will have satisfaction. It shall never be said that you were tamely allowed to dishonor a defenceless young girl--"

"But the calumnies of a Goupil--are--not--" began Minoret.

"Do you wish me to bring him face to face with you? Believe me, you had better hush up this affair; it lies between you and Goupil and me. Leave it as it is; God will decide between us and when I meet your son."

"But this sha'n't go one!" cried Zelie. "Do you suppose I'll stand by and let Desire fight you,--a sailor whose business it is to handle swords and guns? If you've got any cause of complaint against Minoret, there's Minoret; take Minoret, fight Minoret! But do you think my boy, who, by your own account, knew nothing of all this, is going to bear the brunt of it? No, my little gentleman! somebody's teeth will pin your legs first! Come, Minoret, don't stand staring there like a big canary; you are in your own house, and you allow a man to keep his hat on before your wife! I say he shall go. Now, monsieur, be off! a man's house is his castle. I don't know what you mean with your nonsense, but show me your heels, and if you dare touch Desire you'll have to answer to ME,--you and your minx Ursula."

She rang the bell violently and called to the servants.

"Remember what I have said to you," repeated Savinien to Minoret, paying no attention to Zelie's tirade. Suspending the sword of Damocles over their heads, he left the room.

"Now, then, Minoret," said Zelie, "you will explain to me what this all means. A young man doesn't rush into a house and make an uproar like that and demand the blood of a family for nothing."

"It's some mischief of that vile Goupil," said the colossus. "I promised to help him buy a practice if he would get me the Rouvre property cheap. I gave him ten per cent on the cost, twenty thousand francs in a note, and I suppose he isn't satisfied."

"Yes, but why did he get up those serenades and the scandals against Ursula?"

"He wanted to marry her."

"A girl without a penny! the sly thing! Now Minoret, you are telling me lies, and you are too much of a fool, my son, to make me believe them. There is something under all this, and you are going to tell me what it is."

"There's nothing."

"Nothing? I tell you you lie, and I shall find it out."

"Do let me alone!"

"I'll turn the faucet of that fountain of venom, Goupil--whom you're afraid of--and we'll see who gets the best of it then."

"Just as you choose."

"I know very well it will be as I choose! and what I choose first and foremost is that no harm shall come to Desire. If anything happens to him, mark you, I'll do something that may send me to the scaffold--and you, you haven't any feeling about him--"

A quarrel thus begun between Minoret and his wife was sure not to end without a long and angry strife. So at the moment of his self- satisfaction the foolish robber found his inward struggle against himself and against Ursula revived by his own fault, and complicated with a new and terrible adversary. The next day, when he left the house early to find Goupil and try to appease him with additional money, the walls were already placarded with the words: "Minoret is a thief." All those whom he met commiserated him and asked him who was the author of the anonymous placard. Fortunately for him, everybody made allowance for his equivocal replies by reflecting on his utter stupidity; fools get more advantage from their weakness than able men from their strength. The world looks on at a great man battling against fate, and does not help him, but it supplies the capital of a grocer who may fail and lose all. Why? Because men like to feel superior in protecting an incapable, and are displeased at not feeling themselves the equal of a man of genius. A clever man would have been lost in public estimation had he stammered, as Minoret did, evasive and foolish answers with a frightened air. Zelie sent her servants to efface the vindictive words wherever they were found; but the effect of them on Minoret's conscience still remained.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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