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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 45)


"Then I will leave you, monsieur; I did not take this hot walk for pleasure," said the abbe, mopping his forehead.

"Well, what do you want to say?" demanded Minoret.

"You are threatened with the loss of your son. If the dead man told things that you alone know, one must needs tremble when he tells things that no one can know till they happen. Make restitution, I say, make restitution. Don't damn your soul for a little money."

"Restitution of what?"

"The fortune the doctor intended for Ursula. You took those three certificates--I know it now. You began by persecuting that poor girl, and you end by offering her a fortune; you have stumbled into lies, you have tangled yourself up in this net, and you are taking false steps every day. You are very clumsy and unskilful; your accomplice Goupil has served you ill; he simply laughs at you. Make haste and clear your mind, for you are watched by intelligent and penetrating eyes,--those of Ursula's friends. Make restitution! and if you do not save your son (who may not really be threatened), you will save your soul, and you will save your honor. Do you believe that in a society like ours, in a little town like this, where everybody's eyes are everywhere, and all things are guessed and all things are known, you can long hide a stolen fortune? Come, my son, an innocent man wouldn't have let me talk so long."

"Go to the devil!" cried Minoret. "I don't know what you ALL mean by persecuting me. I prefer these stones--they leave me in peace."

"Farewell, then; I have warned you. Neither the poor girl nor I have said a single word about this to any living person. But take care-- there is a man who has his eye upon you. May God have pity upon you!"

The abbe departed; presently he turned back to look at Minoret. The man was holding his head in his hands as if it troubled him; he was, in fact, partly crazy. In the first place, he had kept the three certificates because he did not know what to do with them. He dared not draw the money himself for fear it should be noticed; he did not wish to sell them, and was still trying to find some way of transferring the certificates. In this horrible state of uncertainty he bethought him of acknowledging all to his wife and getting her advice. Zelie, who always managed affairs for him so well, she could get him out of his troubles. The three-per-cent Funds were now selling at eighty. Restitution! why, that meant, with arrearages, giving up a million! Give up a million, when there was no one who could know that he had taken it!--

So Minoret continued through September and a part of October irresolute and a prey to his torturing thoughts. To the great surprise of the little town he grew thin and haggard.

CHAPTER XX

REMORSE

An alarming circumstance hastened the confession which Minoret was inclined to make to Zelie; the sword of Damocles began to move above their heads. Towards the middle of October Monsieur and Madame Minoret received from their son Desire the following letter:--

My dear Mother,--If I have not been to see you since vacation, it is partly because I have been on duty during the absence of my chief, but also because I knew that Monsieur de Portenduere was waiting my arrival at Nemours, to pick a quarrel with me. Tired, perhaps, of seeing his vengeance on our family delayed, the viscount came to Fontainebleau, where he had appointed one of his Parisian friends to meet him, having already obtained the help of the Vicomte de Soulanges commanding the troop of cavalry here in garrison.

He called upon me, very politely, accompanied by the two gentlemen, and told me that my father was undoubtedly the instigator of the malignant persecutions against Ursula Mirouet, his future wife; he gave me proofs, and told me of Goupil's confession before witnesses. He also told me of my father's conduct, first in refusing to pay Goupil the price agreed on for his wicked invention, and next, out of fear of Goupil's malignity, going security to Monsieur Dionis for the price of his practice which Goupil is to have.

The viscount, not being able to fight a man sixty-seven years of age, and being determined to have satisfaction for the insults offered to Ursula, demanded it formally of me. His determination, having been well-weighed and considered, could not be shaken. If I refused, he was resolved to meet me in society before persons whose esteem I value, and insult me openly. In France, a coward is unanimously scorned. Besides, the motives for demanding reparation should be explained by honorable men. He said he was sorry to resort to such extremities. His seconds declared it would be wiser in me to arrange a meeting in the usual manner among men of honor, so that Ursula Mirouet might not be known as the cause of the quarrel; to avoid all scandal it was better to make a journey to the nearest frontier. In short, my seconds met his yesterday, and they unanimously agreed that I owed him reparation. A week from to-day I leave for Geneva with my two friends. Monsieur de Portenduere, Monsieur de Soulanges, and Monsieur de Trailles will meet me there.

The preliminaries of the duel are settled; we shall fight with pistols; each fires three times, and after that, no matter what happens, the affair terminates. To keep this degrading matter from public knowledge (for I find it impossible to justify my father's conduct) I do not go to see you now, because I dread the violence of the emotion to which you would yield and which would not be seemly. If I am to make my way in the world I must conform to the rules of society. If the son of a viscount has a dozen reasons for fighting a duel the son of a post master has a hundred. I shall pass the night in Nemours on my way to Geneva, and I will bid you good-by then.

After the reading of this letter a scene took place between Zelie and Minoret which ended in the latter confessing the theft and relating all the circumstances and the strange scenes connected with it, even Ursula's dreams. The million fascinated Zelie quite as much as it did Minoret.

"You stay quietly here," Zelie said to her husband, without the slightest remonstrance against his folly. "I'll manage the whole thing. We'll keep the money, and Desire shall not fight a duel."

Madame Minoret put on her bonnet and shawl and carried her son's letter to Ursula, whom she found alone, as it was about midday. In spite of her assurance Zelie was discomfited by the cold look which the young girl gave her. But she took herself to task for her cowardice and assumed an easy air.

"Here, Mademoiselle Mirouet, do me the kindness to read that and tell me what you think of it," she cried, giving Ursula her son's letter.

Ursula went through various conflicting emotions as she read the letter, which showed her how truly she was loved and what care Savinien took of the honor of the woman who was to be his wife; but she had too much charity and true religion to be willing to be the cause of death or suffering to her most cruel enemy.

"I promise, madame, to prevent the duel; you may feel perfectly easy, --but I must request you to leave me this letter."

"My dear little angel, can we not come to some better arrangement. Monsieur Minoret and I have acquired property about Rouvre,--a really regal castle, which gives us forty-eight thousand francs a year; we shall give Desire twenty-four thousand a year which we have in the Funds; in all, seventy thousand francs a year. You will admit that there are not many better matches than he. You are an ambitious girl, --and quite right too," added Zelie, seeing Ursula's quick gesture of denial; "I have therefore come to ask your hand for Desire. You will bear your godfather's name, and that will honor it. Desire, as you must have seen, is a handsome fellow; he is very much thought of at Fontainebleau, and he will soon be procureur du roi himself. You are a coaxing girl and can easily persuade him to live in Paris. We will give you a fine house there; you will shine; you will play a distinguished part; for, with seventy thousand francs a year and the salary of an office, you and Desire can enter the highest society. Consult your friends; you'll see what they tell you."

"I need only consult my heart, madame."

"Ta, ta, ta! now don't talk to me about that little lady-killer Savinien. You'd pay too high a price for his name, and for that little moustache curled up at the points like two hooks, and his black hair. How do you expect to manage on seven thousand francs a year, with a man who made two hundred thousand francs of debt in two years? Besides --though this is a thing you don't know yet--all men are alike; and without flattering myself too much, I may say that my Desire is the equal of a king's son."

"You forget, madame, the danger your son is in at this moment; which can, perhaps, be averted only by Monsieur de Portenduere's desire to please me. If he knew that you had made me these unworthy proposals that danger might not be escaped. Besides, let me tell you, madame, that I shall be far happier in the moderate circumstances to which you allude than I should be in the opulence with which you are trying to dazzle me. For reasons hitherto unknown, but which will yet be made known, Monsieur Minoret, by persecuting me in an odious manner, strengthened the affection that exists between Monsieur de Portenduere and myself--which I can now admit because his mother has blessed it. I will also tell you that this affection, sanctioned and legitimate, is life itself to me. No destiny, however brilliant, however lofty, could make me change. I love without the possibility of changing. It would therefore be a crime if I married a man to whom I could take nothing but a soul that is Savinien's. But, madame, since you force me to be explicit, I must tell you that even if I did not love Monsieur de Portenduere I could not bring myself to bear the troubles and joys of life in the company of your son. If Monsieur Savinien made debts, you have often paid those of your son. Our characters have neither the similarities nor the differences which enable two persons to live together without bitterness. Perhaps I should not have towards him the forbearance a wife owes to her husband; I should then be a trial to him. Pray cease to think of an alliance of which I count myself quite unworthy, and which I fell I can decline without pain to you; for with the great advantages you name to me, you cannot fail to find some girl of better station, more wealth, and more beauty than mine."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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