Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 39)

The next day, Sunday, the whole town had heard of it; and as Ursula entered and left the church she saw the groups of people who stood gossiping about her, and felt herself the object of their terrible curiosity. The serenade set all tongues wagging, and conjectures were rife on all sides. Ursula reached home more dead than alive, determined not to leave the house again,--the abbe having advised her to say vespers in her own room. As she entered the house she saw lying in the passage, which was floored with brick, a letter which had evidently been slipped under the door. She picked it up and read it, under the idea that it would obtain an explanation. It was as follows:--

"Resign yourself to becoming my wife, rich and idolized. I am resolved. If you are not mine living you shall be mine dead. To your refusal you may attribute not only your own misfortunes, but those which will fall on others.

"He who loves you, and whose wife you will be."

Curiously enough, at the very moment that the gentle victim of this plot was drooping like a cut flower, Mesdemoiselles Massin, Dionis, and Cremiere were envying her lot.

"She is a lucky girl," they were saying; "people talk of her, and court her, and quarrel about her. The serenade was charming; there was a cornet-a-piston."

"What's a piston?"

"A new musical instrument, as big as this, see!" replied Angelique Cremiere to Pamela Massin.

Early that morning Savinien had gone to Fontainebleau to endeavor to find out who had engaged the musicians of the regiment then in garrison. But as there were two men to each instrument it was impossible to find out which of them had gone to Nemours. The colonel forbade them to play for any private person in future without his permission. Savinien had an interview with the procureur du roi, Ursula's legal guardian, and explained to him the injury these scenes would do to a young girl naturally so delicate and sensitive, begging him to take some action to discover the author of such wrong.

Three nights later three violins, a flute, a guitar, and a hautboy began another serenade. This time the musicians fled towards Montargis, where there happened then to be a company of comic actors. A loud and ringing voice called out as they left: "To the daughter of the regimental bandsman Mirouet." By this means all Nemours came to know the profession of Ursula's father, a secret the old doctor had sedulously kept.

Savinien did not go to Montargis. He received in the course of the day an anonymous letter containing a prophecy:--

"You will never marry Ursula. If you wish her to live, give her up at once to a man who loves her more than you love her. He has made himself a musician and an artist to please her, and he would rather see her dead than let her be your wife."

The doctor came to Ursula three times in the course of that day, for she was really in danger of death from the horror of this mysterious persecution. Feeling that some infernal hand had plunged her into the mire, the poor girl lay like a martyr; she said nothing, but lifted her eyes to heaven, and wept no more; she seemed awaiting other blows, and prayed fervently.

"I am glad I cannot go down into the salon," she said to Monsieur Bongrand and the abbe, who left her as little as possible; "HE would come, and I am now unworthy of the looks with which HE blessed me. Do you think HE will suspect me?"

"If Savinien does not discover the author of these infamies he means to get the assistance of the Paris police," said Bongrand.

"Whoever it is will know I am dying," said Ursula; "and will cease to trouble me."

The abbe, Bongrand, and Savinien were lost in conjectures and suspicions. Together with Tiennette, La Bougival, and two persons on whom the abbe could rely, they kept the closest watch and were on their guard night and day for a week; but no indiscretion could betray Goupil, whose machinations were known to himself only. There were no more serenades and no more letters, and little by little the watch relaxed. Bongrand thought the author of the wrong was frightened; Savinien believed that the procureur du roi to whom he had sent the letters received by Ursula and himself and his mother, had taken steps to put an end to the persecution.

The armistice was not of long duration, however. When the doctor had checked the nervous fever from which poor Ursula was suffering, and just as she was recovering her courage, a rope-ladder was found, early one morning in July, attached to her window. The postilion of the mail-post declared that as he drove past the house in the middle of the night a small man was in the act of coming down the ladder, and though he tried to pull up, his horses, being startled, carried him down the hill so fast that he was out of Nemours before he stopped them. Some of the persons who frequented Dionis's salon attributed these manoeuvres to the Marquis du Rouvre, then much hampered in means, for Massin held his notes to a large amount. It was said that a prompt marriage of his daughter to Savinien would save Chateau du Rouvre from his creditors; and Madame de Portenduere, the gossips added, would approve of anything that would discredit and degrade Ursula and lead to this marriage of her son.

So far from this being true, the old lady was well-nigh vanquished by the sufferings of the innocent girl. The abbe was so painfully overcome by this act of infernal wickedness that he fell ill himself and was kept to the house for several days. Poor Ursula, to whom this last insult had caused a relapse, received by post a letter from the abbe, which was taken in by La Bougival on recognizing the handwriting. It was as follows:--

My child,--Leave Nemours, and thus evade the malice of your enemies. Perhaps they are seeking to endanger Savinien's life. I will tell you more when I am able to go to you.

Your devoted friend,


When Savinien, who was almost maddened by these proceedings, carried this letter to the abbe, the poor priest read it and re-read it; so amazed and horror-stricken was he to see the perfection with which his own handwriting and signature were imitated. The dangerous condition into which this last atrocity threw poor Ursula sent Savinien once more to the procureur du roi with the forged letter.

"A murder is being committed by means that the law cannot touch," he said, "upon an orphan whom the Code places in your care as legal guardian. What is to be done?"

"If you can find any means of repression," said the official, "I will adopt them; but I know of none. That infamous wretch gives the best advice. Mademoiselle Mirouet must be sent to the sisters of the Adoration of the Sacred Heart. Meanwhile the commissary of police at Fontainebleau shall at my request authorize you to carry arms in your own defence. I have been myself to Rouvre, and I found Monsieur du Rouvre justly indignant at the suspicions some of the Nemours people have put upon him. Minoret, the father of my assistant, is in treaty for the purchase of the estate. Mademoiselle is to marry a rich Polish count; and Monsieur du Rouvre himself left the neighbourhood the day I saw him, to avoid arrest for debt."

Desire Minoret, when questioned by his chief, dared not tell his thought. He recognized Goupil. Goupil, he fully believed, was the only man capable of carrying a persecution to the very verge of the penal code without infringing a hair's-breadth upon it.



Impunity, secrecy, and success increased Goupil's audacity. He made Massin, who was completely his dupe, sue the Marquis du Rouvre for his notes, so as to force him to sell the remainder of his property to Minoret. Thus prepared, he opened negotiations for a practice at Sens, and then resolved to strike a last blow to obtain Ursula. He meant to imitate certain young men in Paris who owed their wives and their fortunes to abduction. He knew that the services he had rendered to Minoret, to Massin, and to Cremiere, and the protection of Dionis and the mayor of Nemours would enable him to hush up the affair. He resolved to throw off the mask, believing Ursula too feeble in the condition to which he had reduced her to make any resistance. But before risking this last throw in the game he thought it best to have an explanation with Minoret, and he chose his opportunity at Rouvre, where he went with his patron for the first time after the deeds were signed.

Minoret had that morning received a confidential letter from his son asking him for information as to what was happening in connection with Ursula, information that he desired to obtain before going to Nemours with the procureur du roi to place her under shelter from these atrocities in the convent of the Adoration. Desire exhorted his father, in case this persecution should be the work of any of their friends, to give to whoever it might be warning and good advice; for even if the law could not punish this crime it would certainly discover the truth and hold it over the delinquent's head. Minoret had now attained a great object. Owner of the chateau du Rouvre, one of the finest estates in the Gatinais, he had also a rent-roll of some forty odd thousand francs a year from the rich domains which surrounded the park. He could well afford to snap his fingers at Goupil. Besides, he intended to live on the estate, where the sight of Ursula would no longer trouble him.

"My boy," he said to Goupil, as they walked along the terrace, "let my young cousin alone, now."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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