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Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 46)


"Will you swear to me," said Zelie, "to prevent these young men from taking that journey and fighting that duel?"

"It will be, I foresee, the greatest sacrifice that Monsieur de Portenduere can make to me, but I shall tell him that my bridal crown must have no blood upon it."

"Well, I thank you, cousin, and I can only hope you will be happy."

"And I, madame, sincerely wish that you may realize all your expectations for the future of your son."

These words struck a chill to the heart of the mother, who suddenly remembered the predictions of Ursula's last dream; she stood still, her small eyes fixed on Ursula's face, so white, so pure, so beautiful in her mourning dress, for Ursula had risen too to hasten her so- called cousin's departure.

"Do you believe in dreams?" said Zelie.

"I suffer from them too much not to do so."

"But if you do--" began Zelie.

"Adieu, madame," exclaimed Ursula, bowing to Madame Minoret as she heard the abbe's entering step.

The priest was surprised to find Madame Minoret with Ursula. The uneasiness depicted on the thin and wrinkled face of the former post mistress induced him to take note of the two women.

"Do you believe in spirits?" Zelie asked him.

"What do you believe in?" he answered, smiling.

"They are all sly," thought Zelie,--"every one of them! They want to deceive us. That old priest and the old justice and that young scamp Savinien have got some plan in their heads. Dreams! no more dreams than there are hairs on the palm of my hand."

With two stiff, curt bows she left the room.

"I know why Savinien went to Fontainebleau," said Ursula to the abbe, telling him about the duel and begging him to use his influence to prevent it.

"Did Madame Minoret offer you her son's hand?" asked the abbe.

"Yes."

"Minoret has no doubt confessed his crime to her," added the priest.

Monsieur Bongrand, who came in at this moment, was told of the step taken by Zelie, whose hatred to Ursula was well known to him. He looked at the abbe as if to say: "Come out, I want to speak to you of Ursula without her hearing me."

"Savinien must be told that you refused eighty thousand francs a year and the dandy of Nemours," he said aloud.

"Is it, then, a sacrifice?" she answered, laughing. "Are there sacrifices when one truly loves? Is it any merit to refuse the son of a man we all despise? Others may make virtues of their dislikes, but that ought not to be the morality of a girl brought up by a de Jordy, and the abbe, and my dear godfather," she said, looking up at his portrait.

Bongrand took Ursula's hand and kissed it.

"Do you know what Madame Minoret came about?" said the justice as soon as they were in the street.

"What?" asked the priest, looking at Bongrand with an air that seemed merely curious.

"She had some plan for restitution."

"Then you think--" began the abbe.

"I don't think, I know; I have the certainty--and see there!"

So saying, Bongrand pointed to Minoret, who was coming towards them on his way home.

"When I was a lawyer in the criminal courts," continued Bongrand, "I naturally had many opportunities to study remorse; but I have never seen any to equal that of this man. What gives him that flaccidity, that pallor of the cheeks where the skin was once as tight as a drum and bursting with the good sound health of a man without a care? What has put those black circles round his eyes and dulled their rustic vivacity? Did you ever expect to see lines of care on that forehead? Who would have supposed that the brain of that colossus could be excited? The man has felt his heart! I am a judge of remorse, just as you are a judge of repentance, my dear abbe. That which I have hitherto observed has developed in men who were awaiting punishment, or enduring it to get quits with the world; they were either resigned, or breathing vengeance; but here is remorse without expiation, remorse pure and simple, fastening on its prey and rending him."

The judge stopped Minoret and said: "Do you know that Mademoiselle Mirouet has refused your son's hand?"

"But," interposed the abbe, "do not be uneasy; she will prevent the duel."

"Ah, then my wife succeeded?" said Minoret. "I am very glad, for it nearly killed me."

"You are, indeed, so changed that you are no longer like yourself," remarked Bongrand.

Minoret looked alternately at the two men to see if the priest had betrayed the dreams; but the abbe's face was unmoved, expressing only a calm sadness which reassured the guilty man.

"And it is the more surprising," went on Monsieur Bongrand, "because you ought to be filled with satisfaction. You are lord of Rouvre and all those farms and mills and meadows and--with your investments in the Funds, you have an income of one hundred thousand francs--"

"I haven't anything in the Funds," cried Minoret, hastily.

"Pooh," said Bongrand; "this is just as it was about your son's love for Ursula,--first he denied it, and now he asks her in marriage. After trying to kill Ursula with sorrow you now want her for a daughter-in-law. My good friend, you have got some secret in your pouch."

Minoret tried to answer; he searched for words and could find nothing better than:--

"You're very queer, monsieur. Good-day, gentlemen"; and he turned with a slow step into the Rue des Bourgeois.

"He has stolen the fortune of our poor Ursula," said Bongrand, "but how can we ever find the proof?"

"God may--"

"God has put into us the sentiment that is now appealing to that man; but all that is merely what is called 'presumptive,' and human justice requires something more."

The abbe maintained the silence of a priest. As often happens in similar circumstances, he thought much oftener than he wished to think of the robbery, now almost admitted by Minoret, and of Savinien's happiness, delayed only by Ursula's loss of fortune--for the old lady had privately owned to him that she knew she had done wrong in not consenting to the marriage in the doctor's lifetime.

CHAPTER XXI

SHOWING HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO STEAL THAT WHICH SEEMS VERY EASILY STOLEN

The following day, as the abbe was leaving the altar after saying mass, a thought struck him with such force that it seemed to him the utterance of a voice. He made a sign to Ursula to wait for him, and accompanied her home without having breakfasted.

"My child," he said, "I want to see the two volumes your godfather showed you in your dreams--where he said that he placed those certificates and banknotes."

Ursula and the abbe went up to the library and took down the third volume of the Pandects. When the old man opened it he noticed, not without surprise, a mark left by some enclosure upon the pages, which still kept the outline of the certificate. In the other volume he found a sort of hollow made by the long-continued presence of a package, which had left its traces on the two pages next to it.

"Yes, go up, Monsieur Bongrand," La Bougival was heard to say, and the justice of the peace came into the library just as the abbe was putting on his spectacles to read three numbers in Doctor Minoret's hand-writing on the fly-leaf of colored paper with which the binder had lined the cover of the volume,--figures which Ursula had just discovered.

"What's the meaning of those figures?" said the abbe; "our dear doctor was too much of a bibliophile to spoil the fly-leaf of a valuable volume. Here are three numbers written between a first number preceded by the letter M and a last number preceded by a U."

"What are you talking of?" said Bongrand. "Let me see that. Good God!" he cried, after a moment's examination; "it would open the eyes of an atheist as an actual demonstration of Providence! Human justice is, I believe, the development of the divine thought which hovers over the worlds." He seized Ursula and kissed her forehead. "Oh! my child, you will be rich and happy, and all through me!"

"What is it?" exclaimed the abbe.

"Oh, monsieur," cried La Bougival, catching Bongrand's blue overcoat, "let me kiss you for what you've just said."

"Explain, explain! don't give us false hopes," said the abbe.

"If I bring trouble on others by becoming rich," said Ursula, forseeing a criminal trial, "I--"

"Remember," said the justice, interrupting her, "the happiness you will give to Savinien."

"Are you mad?" said the abbe.

"No, my dear friend," said Bongrand. "Listen; the certificates in the Funds are issued in series,--as many series as there are letters in the alphabet; and each number bears the letter of its series. But the certificates which are made out 'to bearer' cannot have a letter; they are not in any person's name. What you see there shows that the day the doctor placed his money in the Funds, he noted down, first, the number of his own certificate for fifteen thousand francs interest which bears his initial M; next, the numbers of three inscriptions to bearer; these are without a letter; and thirdly, the certificate of Ursula's share in the Funds, the number of which is 23,534, and which follows, as you see, that of the fifteen-thousand-franc certificate with lettering. This goes far to prove that those numbers are those of five certificates of investments made on the same day and noted down by the doctor in case of loss. I advised him to take certificates to bearer for Ursula's fortune, and he must have made his own investment and that of Ursula's little property the same day. I'll go to Dionis's office and look at the inventory. If the number of the certificate for his own investment is 23,533, letter M, we may be sure that he invested, through the same broker on the same day, first his own property on a single certificate; secondly his savings in three certificates to bearer (numbered, but without the series letter); thirdly, Ursula's own property; the transfer books will show, of course, undeniable proofs of this. Ha! Minoret, you deceiver, I have you-- Motus, my children!"

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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