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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 44)


"I have not got them."

"But suppose I give them to you, on condition of your buying an estate in Brittany near Madame de Portenduere,--you could then marry her son."

"Monsieur Minoret," said Ursula, "I have no claim to that money, and I cannot accept it from you. We are scarcely relations, still less are we friends. I have suffered too much from calumny to give a handle for evil-speaking. What have I done to deserve that money? What reason have you to make me such a present? These questions, which I have a right to ask, persons will answer as they see fit; some would consider your gift the reparation of a wrong, and, as such, I choose not to accept it. Your uncle did not bring me up to ignoble feelings. I can accept nothing except from friends, and I have no friendship for you."

"Then you refuse?" cried the colossus, into whose head the idea had never entered that a fortune could be rejected.

"I refuse," said Ursula.

"But what grounds have you for offering Mademoiselle Ursula such a fortune?" asked Bongrand, looking fixedly at Minoret. "You have an idea--have you an idea?--"

"Well, yes, the idea of getting her out of Nemours, so that my son will leave me in peace; he is in love with her and wants to marry her."

"Well, we'll see about it," said Bongrand, settling his spectacles. "Give us time to think it over."

He walked home with Minoret, applauding the solicitude shown by the father for his son's interests, and slightly blaming Ursula for her hasty decision. As soon as Minoret was within his own gate, Bongrand went to the post house, borrowed a horse and cabriolet, and started for Fontainebleau, where he went to see the deputy procureur, and was told that he was spending the evening at the house of the sub-prefect. Bongrand, delighted, followed him there. Desire was playing whist with the wife of the procureur du roi, the wife of the sub-prefect, and the colonel of the regiment in garrison.

"I come to bring you some good news," said Bongrand to Desire; "you love your cousin Ursula, and the marriage can be arranged."

"I love Ursula Mirouet!" cried Desire, laughing. "Where did you get that idea? I do remember seeing her sometimes at the late Doctor Minoret's; she certainly is a beauty; but she is dreadfully pious. I certainly took notice of her charms, but I must say I never troubled my head seriously for that rather insipid little blonde," he added, smiling at the sub-prefect's wife (who was a piquante brunette--to use a term of the last century). "You are dreaming, my dear Monsieur Bongrand; I thought every one knew that my father was a lord of a manor, with a rent roll of forty-five thousand francs a year from lands around his chateau at Rouvre,--good reasons why I should not love the goddaughter of my late great-uncle. If I were to marry a girl without a penny these ladies would consider me a fool."

"Have you never tormented your father to let you marry Ursula?"

"Never."

"You hear that, monsieur?" said the justice to the procureur du roi, who had been listening to the conversation, leading him aside into the recess of a window, where they remained in conversation for a quarter of an hour.

An hour later Bongrand was back in Nemours, at Ursula's house, whence he sent La Bougival to Minoret to beg his attendance. The colossus came at once.

"Mademoiselle--" began Bongrand, addressing Minoret as he entered the room.

"Accepts?" cried Minoret, interrupting him.

"No, not yet," replied Bongrand, fingering his glasses. "I had scruples as to your son's feelings; for Ursula has been much tried lately about a supposed lover. We know the importance of tranquillity. Can you swear to me that your son truly loves her and that you have no other intention than to preserve our dear Ursula from any further Goupilisms?"

"Oh, I'll swear to that," cried Minoret.

"Stop, papa Minoret," said the justice, taking one hand from the pocket of his trousers to slap Minoret on the shoulder (the colossus trembled); "Don't swear falsely."

"Swear falsely?"

"Yes, either you or your son, who has just sworn at Fontainebleau, in presence of four persons and the procureur du roi, that he has never even thought of his cousin Ursula. You have other reasons for offering this fortune. I saw you were inventing that tale, and went myself to Fontainebleau to question your son."

Minoret was dumbfounded at his own folly.

"But where's the harm, Monsieur Bongrand, in proposing to a young relative to help on a marriage which seems to be for her happiness, and to invent pretexts to conquer her reluctance to accept the money."

Minoret, whose danger suggested to him an excuse which was almost admissible, wiped his forehead, wet with perspiration.

"You know the cause of my refusal," said Ursula; "and I request you never to come here again. Though Monsieur de Portenduere has not told me his reason, I know that he feels such contempt for you, such dislike even, that I cannot receive you into my house. My happiness is my only fortune,--I do not blush to say so; I shall not risk it. Monsieur de Portenduere is only waiting for my majority to marry me."

"Then the old saw that 'Money does all' is a lie," said Minoret, looking at the justice of peace, whose observing eyes annoyed him so much.

He rose and left the house, but, once outside, he found the air as oppressive as in the little salon.

"There must be an end put to this," he said to himself as he re- entered his own home.

When Ursula came down, bring her certificates and those of La Bougival, she found Monsieur Bongrand walking up and down the salon with great strides.

"Have you no idea what the conduct of that huge idiot means?" he said.

"None that I can tell," she replied.

Bongrand looked at her with inquiring surprise.

"Then we have the same idea," he said. "Here, keep the number of your certificates, in case I lose them; you should always take that precaution."

Bongrand himself wrote the number of the two certificates, hers and that of La Bougival, and gave them to her.

"Adieu, my child, I shall be gone two days, but you will see me on the third."

That night the apparition appeared to Ursula in a singular manner. She thought her bed was in the cemetery of Nemours, and that her uncle's grave was at the foot of it. The white stone, on which she read the inscription, opened, like the cover of an oblong album. She uttered a piercing cry, but the doctor's spectre slowly rose. First she saw his yellow head, with its fringe of white hair, which shone as if surmounted by a halo. Beneath the bald forehead the eyes were like two gleams of light; the dead man rose as if impelled by some superior force or will. Ursula's body trembled; her flesh was like a burning garment, and there was (as she subsequently said) another self moving within her bodily presence. "Mercy!" she cried, "mercy, godfather!" "It is too late," he said, in the voice of death,--to use the poor girl's own expression when she related this new dream to the abbe. "He has been warned; he has paid no heed to the warning. The days of his son are numbered. If he does not confess all and restore what he has taken within a certain time he must lose his son, who will die a violent and horrible death. Let him know this." The spectre pointed to a line of figures which gleamed upon the side of the tomb as if written with fire, and said, "There is his doom." When her uncle lay down again in his grave Ursula heard the sound of the stone falling back into its place, and immediately after, in the distance, a strange sound of horses and the cries of men.

The next day Ursula was prostrate. She could not rise, so terribly had the dream overcome her. She begged her nurse to find the Abbe Chaperon and bring him to her. The good priest came as soon as he had said mass, but he was not surprised at Ursula's revelation. He believed the robbery had been committed, and no longer tried to explain to himself the abnormal condition of his "little dreamer." He left Ursula at once and went directly to Minoret's.

"Monsieur l'abbe," said Zelie, "my husband's temper is so soured I don't know what he mightn't do. Until now he's been a child; but for the last two months he's not the same man. To get angry enough to strike me--me, so gentle! There must be something dreadful the matter to change him like that. You'll find him among the rocks; he spends all his time there,--doing what, I'd like to know?"

In spite of the heat (it was then September, 1836), the abbe crossed the canal and took a path which led to the base of one of the rocks, where he saw Minoret.

"You are greatly troubled, Monsieur Minoret," said the priest going up to him. "You belong to me because you suffer. Unhappily, I come to increase your pain. Ursula had a terrible dream last night. Your uncle lifted the stone from his grave and came forth to prophecy a great disaster in your family. I certainly am not here to frighten you; but you ought to know what he said--"

"I can't be easy anywhere, Monsieur Chaperon, not even among these rocks, and I'm sure I don't want to know anything that is going on in another world."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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