"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.
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
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
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
"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."