"Yet they and I have rummaged everywhere," said Bongrand,--"they to
find money, and I to find a will in favor of Monsieur de Portenduere.
They have sifted the ashes, lifted the marbles, felt of the slippers,
bored into the wood-work of the beds, emptied the mattresses, ripped
up the quilts, turned his eider-down inside-out, examined every inch
of paper piece by piece, searched the drawers, dug up the cellar floor
--and I have urged on their devastations."
"What do you think about it?" said the abbe.
"The will has been suppressed by one of the heirs."
"But where's the property?"
"We may whistle for it!"
"Perhaps the will is hidden in the library," said Savinien.
"Yes, and for that reason I don't dissuade Ursula from buying it. If
it were not for that, it would be absurd to let her put every penny of
her ready money into books she will never open."
At first the whole town believed the doctor's niece had got possession
of the unfound capital; but when it was known positively that fourteen
hundred francs a year and her gifts constituted her whole fortune the
search of the doctor's house and furniture excited a more wide-spread
curiosity than before. Some said the money would be found in bank
bills hidden away in the furniture, others that the old man had
slipped them into his books. The sale of the effects exhibited a
spectacle of the most extraordinary precautions on the part of the
heirs. Dionis, who was doing duty as auctioneeer, declared, as each
lot was cried out, that the heirs only sold the article (whatever it
was) and not what it might contain; then, before allowing it to be
taken away it was subjected to a final investigation, being thumped
and sounded; and when at last it left the house the sellers followed
with the looks a father might cast upon a son who was starting for
"Ah, mademoiselle," cried La Bougival, returning from the first
session in despair, "I shall not go again. Monsieur Bongrand is right,
you could never bear the sight. Everything is ticketed. All the town
is coming and going just as in the street; the handsome furniture is
being ruined, they even stand upon it; the whole place is such a
muddle that a hen couldn't find her chicks. You'd think there had been
a fire. Lots of things are in the courtyard; the closets are all open,
and nothing in them. Oh! the poor dear man, it's well he died, the
sight would have killed him."
Bongrand, who bought for Ursula certain articles which her uncle
cherished, and which were suitable for her little house, did not
appear at the sale of the library. Shrewder than the heirs, whose
cupidity might have run up the price of the books had they known he
was buying them for Ursula, he commissioned a dealer in old books
living in Melun to buy them for him. As a result of the heir's anxiety
the whole library was sold book by book. Three thousand volumes were
examined, one by one, held by the two sides of the binding and shaken
so that loose papers would infallibly fall out. The whole amount of
the purchases on Ursula's account amounted to six thousand five
hundred francs or thereabouts. The book-cases were not allowed to
leave the premises until carefully examined by a cabinet-maker,
brought down from Paris to search for secret drawers. When at last
Monsieur Bongrand gave orders to take the books and the bookcases to
Mademoiselle Mirouet's house the heirs were tortured with vague fears,
not dissipated until in course of time they saw how poorly she lived.
Minoret bought up his uncle's house, the value of which his co-heirs
ran up to fifty thousand francs, imagining that the post master
expected to find a treasure in the walls; in fact the house was sold
with a reservation on this subject. Two weeks later Minoret disposed
of his post establishment, with all the coaches and horses, to the son
of a rich farmer, and went to live in his uncle's house, where he
spent considerable sums in repairing and refurnishing the rooms. By
making this move he thoughtlessly condemned himself to live within
sight of Ursula.
"I hope," he said to Dionis the day when Madame de Portenduere was
summoned to pay her debt, "that we shall soon be rid of those nobles;
after they are gone we'll drive out the rest."
"That old woman with fourteen quarterings," said Goupil, "won't want
to witness her own disaster; she'll go and die in Brittany, where she
can manage to find a wife for her son."
"No," said the notary, who had that morning drawn out a deed of sale
at Bongrand's request. "Ursula has just bought the house she is living
"That cursed fool does everything she can to annoy me!" cried the post
"What does it signify to you whether she lives in Nemours or not?"
asked Goupil, surprised at the annoyance which the colossus betrayed.
"Don't you know," answered Minoret, turning as red as a poppy, "that
my son is fool enough to be in love with her? I'd give five hundred
francs if I could get Ursula out of this town."
THE TWO ADVERSARIES
Perhaps the foregoing conduct on the part of the post master will have
shown already that Ursula, poor and resigned, was destined to be a
thorn in the side of the rich Minoret. The bustle attending the
settlement of an estate, the sale of the property, the going and
coming necessitated by such unusual business, his discussions with his
wife about the most trifling details, the purchase of the doctor's
house, where Zelie wished to live in bourgeois style to advance her
son's interests,--all this hurly-burly, contrasting with his usually
tranquil life hindered the huge Minoret from thinking of his victim.
But about the middle of May, a few days after his installation in the
doctor's house, as he was coming home from a walk, he heard the sound
of a piano, saw La Bougival sitting at a window, like a dragon
guarding a treasure, and suddenly became aware of an importunate voice
To explain why to a man of Minoret's nature the sight of Ursula, who
had no suspicion of the theft committed upon her, now became
intolerable; why the spectacle of so much fortitude under misfortune
impelled him to a desire to drive the girl out of town; and how and
why it was that this desire took the form of hatred and revenge, would
require a whole treatise on moral philosophy. Perhaps he felt he was
not the real possessor of thirty-six thousand francs a year so long as
she to whom they really belonged lived near him. Perhaps he fancied
some mere chance might betray his theft if the person despoiled was
not got rid of. Perhaps to a nature in some sort primitive, almost
uncivilized, and whose owner up to that time had never done anything
illegal, the presence of Ursula awakened remorse. Possibly this
remorse goaded him the more because he had received his share of the
property legitimately acquired. In his own mind he no doubt attributed
these stirrings of his conscience to the fact of Ursula's presence,
imagining that if she were removed all his uncomfortable feelings
would disappear with her. But still, after all, perhaps crime has its
own doctrine of perfection. A beginning of evil demands its end; a
first stab must be followed by the blow that kills. Perhaps robbery is
doomed to lead to murder. Minoret had committed the crime without the
slightest reflection, so rapidly had the events taken place;
reflection came later. Now, if you have thoroughly possessed yourself
of this man's nature and bodily presence you will understand the
mighty effect produced on him by a thought. Remorse is more than a
thought; it comes from a feeling which can no more be hidden than
love; like love, it has its own tyranny. But, just as Minoret had
committed the crime against Ursula without the slightest reflection,
so he now blindly longed to drive her from Nemours when he felt
himself disturbed by the sight of that wronged innocence. Being, in a
sense, imbecile, he never thought of the consequences; he went from
danger to danger, driven by a selfish instinct, like a wild animal
which does not foresee the huntsman's skill, and relies on its own
rapidity or strength. Before long the rich bourgeois, who still met in
Dionis's salon, noticed a great change in the manners and behavior of
the man who had hitherto been so free of care.
"I don't know what has come to Minoret, he is all NO HOW," said his
wife, from whom he was resolved to hide his daring deed.
Everybody explained his condition as being, neither more nor less,
ennui (in fact the thought now expressed on his face did resemble
ennui), caused, they said, by the sudden cessation of business and the
change from an active life to one of well-to-do leisure.
While Minoret was thinking only of destroying Ursula's life in
Nemours, La Bougival never let a day go by without torturing her
foster child with some allusion to the fortune she ought to have had,
or without comparing her miserable lot with the prospects the doctor
had promised, and of which he had often spoken to her, La Bougival.
"It is not for myself I speak," she said, "but is it likely that
monsieur, good and kind as he was, would have died without leaving me
the merest trifle?--"
"Am I not here?" replied Ursula, forbidding La Bougival to say another
word on the subject.
She could not endure to soil the dear and tender memories that
surrounded that noble head--a sketch of which in black and white hung
in her little salon--with thoughts of selfish interest. To her fresh
and beautiful imagination that sketch sufficed to make her SEE her
godfather, on whom her thoughts continually dwelt, all the more
because surrounded with the things he loved and used,--his large
duchess-sofa, the furniture from his study, his backgammon-table, and
the piano he had chosen for her. The two old friends who still
remained to her, the Abbe Chaperon and Monsieur Bongrand, the only
visitors whom she received, were, in the midst of these inanimate
objects representative of the past, like two living memories of her
former life to which she attached her present by the love her
godfather had blessed.