Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 29)

I see very plainly that I can only hope to obtain you from your godfather; and your respect for him makes you still dearer to me. Before replying to the admiral, I must have an interview with the doctor; on his reply my whole future will depend. Whatever comes of it, know this, that rich or poor, the daughter of a band master or the daughter of a king, you are the woman whom the voice of my heart points out to me. Dear Ursula, we live in times when prejudices which might once have separated us have no power to prevent our marriage. To you, then, I offer the feelings of my heart, to your uncle the guarantees which secure to him your happiness. He has not seen that I, in a few hours, came to love you more than he has loved you in fifteen years.

Until this evening. Savinien.

"Here, godfather," said Ursula, holding the letter out to him with a proud gesture.

"Ah, my child!" cried the doctor when he had read it, "I am happier than even you. He repairs all his faults by this resolution."

After dinner Savinien presented himself, and found the doctor walking with Ursula by the balustrade of the terrace overlooking the river. The viscount had received his clothes from Paris, and had not missed heightening his natural advantages by a careful toilet, as elegant as though he were striving to please the proud and beautiful Comtesse de Kergarouet. Seeing him approach her from the portico, the poor girl clung to her uncle's arm as though she were saving herself from a fall over a precipice, and the doctor heard the beating of her heart, which made him shudder.

"Leave us, my child," he said to the girl, who went to the pagoda and sat upon the steps, after allowing Savinien to take her hand and kiss it respectfully.

"Monsieur, will you give this dear hand to a naval captain?" he said to the doctor in a low voice.

"No," said Minoret, smiling; "we might have to wait too long, but--I will give her to a lieutenant."

Tears of joy filled the young man's eyes as he pressed the doctor's hand affectionately.

"I am about to leave," he said, "to study hard and try to learn in six months what the pupils of the Naval School take six years to acquire."

"You are going?" said Ursula, springing towards them from the pavilion.

"Yes, mademoiselle, to deserve you. Therefore the more eager I am to go, the more I prove to you my affection."

"This is the 3rd of October," she said, looking at him with infinite tenderness; "do not go till after the 19th."

"Yes," said the old man, "we will celebrate Saint-Savinien's day."

"Good-by, then," cried the young man. "I must spend this week in Paris, to take the preliminary steps, buy books and mathematical instruments, and try to conciliate the minister and get the best terms that I can for myself."

Ursula and her godfather accompanied Savinien to the gate. Soon after he entered his mother's house they saw him come out again, followed by Tiennette carrying his valise.

"If you are rich," said Ursula to her uncle, "why do you make him serve in the navy?"

"Presently it will be I who incurred his debts," said the doctor, smiling. "I don't oblige him to do anything; but the uniform, my dear, and the cross of the Legion of honor, won in battle, will wipe out many stains. Before six years are over he may be in command of a ship, and that's all I ask of him."

"But he may be killed," she said, turning a pale face upon the doctor.

"Lovers, like drunkards, have a providence of their own," he said, laughing.

That night the poor child, with La Bougival's help, cut off a sufficient quantity of her long and beautiful blond hair to make a chain; and the next day she persuaded old Schmucke, the music-master, to take it to Paris and have the chain made and returned by the following Sunday. When Savinien got back he informed the doctor and Ursula that he had signed his articles and was to be at Brest on the 25th. The doctor asked him to dinner on the 18th, and he passed nearly two whole days in the old man's house. Notwithstanding much sage advice and many resolutions, the lovers could not help betraying their secret understanding to the watchful eyes of the abbe, Monsieur Bongrand, the Nemours doctor, and La Bougival.

"Children," said the old man, "you are risking your happiness by not keeping it to yourselves."

On the fete-day, after mass, during which several glances had been exchanged, Savinien, watched by Ursula, crossed the road and entered the little garden where the pair were practically alone; for the kind old man, by way of indulgence, was reading his newspapers in the pagoda.

"Dear Ursula," said Savinien; "will you make a gift greater than my mother could make me even if--"

"I know what you wish to ask me," she said, interrupting him. "See, here is my answer," she added, taking from the pocket of her apron the box containing the chain made of her hair, and offering it to him with a nervous tremor which testified to her illimitable happiness. "Wear it," she said, "for love of me. May it shield you from all dangers by reminding you that my life depends on yours."

"Naughty little thing! she is giving him a chain of her hair," said the doctor to himself. "How did she manage to get it? what a pity to cut those beautiful fair tresses; she will be giving him my life's blood next."

"You will not blame me if I ask you to give me, now that I am leaving you, a formal promise to have no other husband than me," said Savinien, kissing the chain and looking at Ursula with tears in his eyes.

"Have I not said so too often--I who went to see the walls of Sainte- Pelagie when you were behind them?--" she replied, blushing. "I repeat it, Savinien; I shall never love any one but you, and I will be yours alone."

Seeing that Ursula was half-hidden by the creepers, the young man could not deny himself the happiness of pressing her to his heart and kissing her forehead; but she gave a feeble cry and dropped upon the bench, and when Savinien sat beside her, entreating pardon, he saw the doctor standing before them.

"My friend," said the old man, "Ursula is a born sensitive; too rough a word might kill her. For her sake you must moderate the enthusiasm of your love--Ah! if you had loved her for sixteen years as I have, you would have been satisfied with her word of promise," he added, to revenge himself for the last sentence in Savinien's second letter.

Two days later the young man departed. In spite of the letters which he wrote regularly to Ursula, she fell a prey to an illness without apparent cause. Like a fine fruit with a worm at the core, a single thought gnawed her heart. She lost both appetite and color. The first time her godfather asked her what she felt, she replied:--

"I want to see the ocean."

"It is difficult to take you to a sea-port in the depth of winter," answered the old man.

"Shall I really go?" she said.

If the wind was high, Ursula was inwardly convulsed, certain, in spite of the learned assurances of the doctor and the abbe, that Savinien was being tossed about in a whirlwind. Monsieur Bongrand made her happy for days with the gift of an engraving representing a midshipman in uniform. She read the newspapers, imagining that they would give news of the cruiser on which her lover sailed. She devoured Cooper's sea-tales and learned to use sea-terms. Such proofs of concentration of feeling, often assumed by other women, were so genuine in Ursula that she saw in dreams the coming of Savinien's letters, and never failed to announce them, relating the dream as a forerunner.

"Now," she said to the doctor the fourth time that this happened, "I am easy; wherever Savinien may be, if he is wounded I shall know it instantly."

The old doctor thought over this remark so anxiously that the abbe and Monsieur Bongrand were troubled by the sorrowful expression of his face.

"What pains you?" they said, when Ursula had left them.

"Will she live?" replied the doctor. "Can so tender and delicate a flower endure the trials of the heart?"

Nevertheless, the "little dreamer," as the abbe called her, was working hard. She understood the importance of a fine education to a woman of the world, and all the time she did not give to her singing and to the study of harmony and composition she spent in reading the books chosen for her by the abbe from her godfather's rich library. And yet while leading this busy life she suffered, though without complaint. Sometimes she would sit for hours looking at Savinien's window. On Sundays she would leave the church behind Madame de Portenduere and watch her tenderly; for, in spite of the old lady's harshness, she loved her as Savinien's mother. Her piety increased; she went to mass every morning, for she firmly believed that her dreams were the gift of God.

At last her godfather, frightened by the effects produced by this nostalgia of love, promised on her birthday to take her to Toulon to see the departure of the fleet for Algiers. Savinien's ship formed part of it, but he was not to be informed beforehand of their intention. The abbe and Monsieur Bongrand kept secret the object of this journey, said to be for Ursula's health, which disturbed and greatly puzzled the relations. After beholding Savinien in his naval uniform, and going on board the fine flag-ship of the admiral, to whom the minister had given young Portenduere a special recommendation, Ursula, at her lover's entreaty, went with her godfather to Nice, and along the shores of the Mediterranean to Genoa, where she heard of the safe arrival of the fleet at Algiers and the landing of the troops. The doctor would have liked to continue the journey through Italy, as much to distract Ursula's mind as to finish, in some sense, her education, by enlarging her ideas through comparison with other manners and customs and countries, and by the fascination of a land where the masterpieces of art can still be seen, and where so many civilizations have left their brilliant traces. But the tidings of the opposition by the throne to the newly elected Chamber of 1830 obliged the doctor to return to France, bringing back his treasure in a flourishing state of health and possessed of a charming little model of the ship on which Savinien was serving.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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