Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 32)

When the doctor saw, behind the clergy, the row of kneeling heirs, who instead of praying were looking at him with eyes that were brighter than the tapers, he could not restrain a smile. The abbe turned round, saw them, and continued to say the prayers slowly. The post master was the first to abandon the kneeling posture; his wife followed him. Massin, fearing that Zelie and her husband might lay hands on some ornament, joined them in the salon, where all the heirs were presently assembled one by one.

"He is too honest a man to steal extreme unction," said Cremiere; "we may be sure of his death now."

"Yes, we shall each get about twenty thousand francs a year," replied Madame Massin.

"I have an idea," said Zelie, "that for the last three years he hasn't invested anything--he grew fond of hoarding."

"Perhaps the money is in the cellar," whispered Massin to Cremiere.

"I hope we shall be able to find it," said Minoret-Levrault.

"But after what he said at the ball we can't have any doubt," cried Madame Massin.

"In any case," began Cremiere, "how shall we manage? Shall we divide; shall we go to law; or could we draw lots? We are adults, you know--"

A discussion, which soon became angry, now arose as to the method of procedure. At the end of half an hour a perfect uproar of voices, Zelie's screeching organ detaching itself from the rest, resounded in the courtyard and even in the street.

The noise reached the doctor's ears; he heard the words, "The house-- the house is worth thirty thousand francs. I'll take it at that," said, or rather bellowed by Cremiere.

"Well, we'll take what it's worth," said Zelie, sharply.

"Monsieur l'abbe," said the old man to the priest, who remained beside his friend after administering the communion, "help me to die in peace. My heirs, like those of Cardinal Ximenes, are capable of pillaging the house before my death, and I have no monkey to revive me. Go and tell them I will have none of them in my house."

The priest and the doctor of the town went downstairs and repeated the message of the dying man, adding, in their indignation, strong words of their own.

"Madame Bougival," said the doctor, "close the iron gate and allow no one to enter; even the dying, it seems, can have no peace. Prepare mustard poultices and apply them to the soles of Monsieur's feet."

"Your uncle is not dead," said the abbe, "and he may live some time longer. He wishes for absolute silence, and no one beside him but his niece. What a difference between the conduct of that young girl and yours!"

"Old hypocrite!" exclaimed Cremiere. "I shall keep watch of him. It is possible he's plotting something against our interests."

The post master had already disappeared into the garden, intending to watch there and wait his chance to be admitted to the house as an assistant. He now returned to it very softly, his boots making no noise, for there were carpets on the stairs and corridors. He was able to reach the door of his uncle's room without being heard. The abbe and the doctor had left the house; La Bougival was making the poultices.

"Are we quite alone?" said the old man to his godchild.

Ursula stood on tiptoe and looked into the courtyard.

"Yes," she said; "the abbe has just closed the gate after him."

"My darling child," said the dying man, "my hours, my minutes even, are counted. I have not been a doctor for nothing; I shall not last till evening. Do not cry, my Ursula," he said, fearing to be interrupted by the child's weeping, "but listen to me carefully; it concerns your marriage to Savinien. As soon as La Bougival comes back go down to the pagoda,--here is the key,--lift the marble top of the Boule buffet and you will find a letter beneath it, sealed and addressed to you; take it and come back here, for I cannot die easy unless I see it in your hands. When I am dead do not let any one know of it immediately, but send for Monsieur de Portenduere; read the letter together; swear to me now, in his name and your own, that you will carry out my last wishes. When Savinien has obeyed me, then announce my death, but not till then. The comedy of the heirs will begin. God grant those monsters may not ill-treat you."

"Yes godfather."

The post master did not listen to the end of this scene; he slipped away on tip-toe, remembering that the lock of the study was on the library side of the door. He had been present in former days at an argument between the architect and a locksmith, the latter declaring that if the pagoda were entered by the window on the river it would be much safer to put the lock of the door opening into the library on the library side. Dazzled by his hopes, and his ears flushed with blood, Minoret sprang the lock with the point of his knife as rapidly as a burglar could have done it. He entered the study, followed the doctor's directions, took the package of papers without opening it, relocked the door, put everything in order, and went into the dining- room and sat down, waiting till La Bougival had gone upstairs with the poultice before he ventured to leave the house. He then made his escape,--all the more easily because poor Ursula lingered to see that La Bougival applied the poultice properly.

"The letter! the letter!" cried the old man, in a dying voice. "Obey me; take the key. I must see you with that letter in your hand."

The words were said with so wild a look that La Bougival exclaimed to Ursula:--

"Do what he asks at once or you will kill him."

She kissed his forehead, took the key and went down. A moment later, recalled by a cry from La Bougival, she ran back. The old man looked at her eagerly. Seeing her hands empty, he rose in his bed, tried to speak, and died with a horrible gasp, his eyes haggard with fear. The poor girl, who saw death for the first time, fell on her knees and burst into tears. La Bougival closed the old man's eyes and straightened him on the bed; then she ran to call Savinien; but the heirs, who stood at the corner of the street, like crows watching till a horse is buried before they scratch at the ground and turn it over with beak and claw, flocked in with the celerity of birds of prey.



While these events were taking place the post master had hurried home to open the mysterious package and know its contents.

To my dear Ursula Mirouet, daughter of my natural half-brother, Joseph Mirouet, and Dinah Grollman:--

My dear Angel,--The fatherly affection I bear you--and which you have so fully justified--came not only from the promise I gave your father to take his place, but also from your resemblance to my wife, Ursula Mirouet, whose grace, intelligence, frankness, and charm you constantly recall to my mind. Your position as the daughter of a natural son of my father-in-law might invalidate all testamentary bequests made by me in your favor--

"The old rascal!" cried the post master.

Had I adopted you the result might also have been a lawsuit, and I shrank from the idea of transmitting my fortune to you by marriage, for I might live years and thus interfere with your happiness, which is now delayed only by Madame de Portenduere. Having weighted these difficulties carefully, and wishing to leave you enough money to secure to you a prosperous existence--

"The scoundrel, he has thought of everything!"

--without injuring my heirs--

"The Jesuit! as if he did not owe us every penny of his money!"

--I intend you to have the savings from my income which I have for the last eighteen years steadily invested, by the help of my notary, seeking to make you thereby as happy as any one can be made by riches. Without means, your education and your lofty ideas would cause you unhappiness. Besides, you ought to bring a liberal dowry to the fine young man who loves you. You will therefore find in the middle of the third volume of Pandects, folio, bound in red morocco (the last volume on the first shelf above the little table in the library, on the side of the room next the salon), three certificates of Funds in the three-per-cents, made out to bearer, each amounting to twelve thousand francs a year--

"What depths of wickedness!" screamed the post master. "Ah! God would not permit me to be so defrauded."

Take these at once, and also some uninvested savings made to this date, which you will find in the preceding volume. Remember, my darling child, that you must obey a wish that has made the happiness of my whole life; a wish that will force me to ask the intervention of God should you disobey me. But, to guard against all scruples in your dear conscience--for I well know how ready it is to torture you--you will find herewith a will in due form bequeathing these certificates to Monsieur Savinien de Portenduere. So, whether you possess them in your own name, or whether they come to you from him you love, they will be, in every sense, your legitimate property.

Your godfather, Denis Minoret.

To this letter was annexed the following paper written on a sheet of stamped paper.

This is my will: I, Denis Minoret, doctor of medicine, settled in Nemours, being of sound mind and body, as the date of this document will show, do bequeath my soul to God, imploring him to pardon my errors in view of my sincere repentance. Next, having found in Monsieur le Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere a true and honest affection for me, I bequeath to him the sum of thirty-six thousand francs a year from the Funds, at three per cent, the said bequest to take precedence of all inheritance accruing to my heirs.

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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