"Wait a minute;" said Savinien, bewildered by the revelation.
"Ursula, my child," he said, returning to the salon, "the author of
all your troubles is ashamed of his work; he repents and wishes to ask
your pardon in presence of these gentlemen, on condition that all be
"What! Goupil?" cried the abbe, the justice, and the doctor, all
"Keep his secret," said Ursula, putting a finger on her lips.
Goupil heard the words, saw the gesture, and was touched.
"Mademoiselle," he said in a troubled voice, "I wish that all Nemours
could hear me tell you that a fatal passion has bewildered my brain
and led me to commit a crime punishable by the blame of honest men.
What I say now I would be willing to say everywhere, deploring the
harm done by such miserable tricks--which may have hastened your
happiness," he added, rather maliciously, "for I see that Madame de
Portenduere is with you."
"That is all very well, Goupil," said the abbe, "Mademoiselle forgives
you; but you must not forget that you came near being her murderer."
"Monsieur Bongrand," said Goupil, addressing the justice of peace. "I
shall negotiate to-night for Lecoeur's practice; I hope the reparation
I have now made will not injure me with you, and that you will back my
petition to the bar and the ministry."
Bongrand made a thoughtful inclination of his head; and Goupil left
the house to negotiate on the best terms he could for the sheriff's
practice. The others remained with Ursula and did their best to
restore the peace and tranquillity of her mind, already much relieved
by Goupil's confession.
"You see, my child, that God was not against you," said the abbe.
Minoret came home late from Rouvre. About nine o'clock he was sitting
in the Chinese pagoda digesting his dinner beside his wife, with whom
he was making plans for Desire's future. Desire had become very sedate
since entering the magistracy; he worked hard, and it was not unlikely
that he would succeed the present procureur du roi at Fontainebleau,
who, they said, was to be advanced to Melun. His parents felt that
they must find him a wife,--some poor girl belonging to an old and
noble family; he would then make his way to the magistracy of Paris.
Perhaps they could get him elected deputy from Fontainebleau, where
Zelie was proposing to pass the winter after living at Rouvre for the
summer season. Minoret, inwardly congratulating himself for having
managed his affairs so well, no longer thought or cared about Ursula,
at the very moment when the drama so heedlessly begun by him was
closing down upon him in a terrible manner.
"Monsieur de Portenduere is here and wishes to speak to you," said
"Show him in," answered Zelie.
The twilight shadows prevented Madame Minoret from noticing the sudden
pallor of her husband, who shuddered as he heard Savinien's boots on
the floor of the gallery, where the doctor's library used to be. A
vague presentiment of danger ran through the robber's veins. Savinien
entered and remaining standing, with his hat on his head, his cane in
his hand, and both hands crossed in front of him, motionless before
the husband and wife.
"I have come to ascertain, Monsieur and Madame Minoret," he said,
"your reasons for tormenting in an infamous manner a young lady who,
as the whole town knows, is to be my wife. Why have you endeavored to
tarnish her honor? why have you wished to kill her? why did you
deliver her over to Goupil's insults?--Answer!"
"How absurd you are, Monsieur Savinien," said Zelie, "to come and ask
us the meaning of a thing we think inexplicable. I bother myself as
little about Ursula as I do about the year one. Since Uncle Minoret
died I've not thought of her more than I do of my first tooth. I've
never said one word about her to Goupil, who is, moreover, a queer
rogue whom I wouldn't think of consulting about even a dog. Why don't
you speak up, Minoret? Are you going to let monsieur box your ears in
that way and accuse you of wickedness that's beneath you? As if a man
with forty-eight thousand francs a year from landed property, and a
castle fit for a prince, would stoop to such things! Get up, and don't
sit there like a wet rag!"
"I don't know what monsieur means," said Minoret in his squeaking
voice, the trembling of which was all the more noticeable because the
voice was clear. "What object could I have in persecuting the girl? I
may have said to Goupil how annoyed I was at seeing her in Nemours. My
son Desire fell in love with her, and I didn't want him to marry her,
"Goupil has confessed everything, Monsieur Minoret."
There was a moment's silence, but it was terrible, when all three
persons examined one another. Zelie saw a nervous quiver on the heavy
face of her colossus.
"Though you are only insects," said the young nobleman, "I will make
you feel my vengeance. It is not from you, Monsieur Minoret, a man
sixty-eight years of age, but from your son that I shall seek
satisfaction for the insults offered to Mademoiselle Mirouet. The
first time he sets his foot in Nemours we shall meet. He must fight
me; he will do so, or be dishonored and never dare to show his face
again. If he does not come to Nemours I shall go to Fontainebleau, for
I will have satisfaction. It shall never be said that you were tamely
allowed to dishonor a defenceless young girl--"
"But the calumnies of a Goupil--are--not--" began Minoret.
"Do you wish me to bring him face to face with you? Believe me, you
had better hush up this affair; it lies between you and Goupil and me.
Leave it as it is; God will decide between us and when I meet your
"But this sha'n't go one!" cried Zelie. "Do you suppose I'll stand by
and let Desire fight you,--a sailor whose business it is to handle
swords and guns? If you've got any cause of complaint against Minoret,
there's Minoret; take Minoret, fight Minoret! But do you think my boy,
who, by your own account, knew nothing of all this, is going to bear
the brunt of it? No, my little gentleman! somebody's teeth will pin
your legs first! Come, Minoret, don't stand staring there like a big
canary; you are in your own house, and you allow a man to keep his hat
on before your wife! I say he shall go. Now, monsieur, be off! a man's
house is his castle. I don't know what you mean with your nonsense,
but show me your heels, and if you dare touch Desire you'll have to
answer to ME,--you and your minx Ursula."
She rang the bell violently and called to the servants.
"Remember what I have said to you," repeated Savinien to Minoret,
paying no attention to Zelie's tirade. Suspending the sword of
Damocles over their heads, he left the room.
"Now, then, Minoret," said Zelie, "you will explain to me what this
all means. A young man doesn't rush into a house and make an uproar
like that and demand the blood of a family for nothing."
"It's some mischief of that vile Goupil," said the colossus. "I
promised to help him buy a practice if he would get me the Rouvre
property cheap. I gave him ten per cent on the cost, twenty thousand
francs in a note, and I suppose he isn't satisfied."
"Yes, but why did he get up those serenades and the scandals against
"He wanted to marry her."
"A girl without a penny! the sly thing! Now Minoret, you are telling
me lies, and you are too much of a fool, my son, to make me believe
them. There is something under all this, and you are going to tell me
what it is."
"Nothing? I tell you you lie, and I shall find it out."
"Do let me alone!"
"I'll turn the faucet of that fountain of venom, Goupil--whom you're
afraid of--and we'll see who gets the best of it then."
"Just as you choose."
"I know very well it will be as I choose! and what I choose first and
foremost is that no harm shall come to Desire. If anything happens to
him, mark you, I'll do something that may send me to the scaffold--and
you, you haven't any feeling about him--"
A quarrel thus begun between Minoret and his wife was sure not to end
without a long and angry strife. So at the moment of his self-
satisfaction the foolish robber found his inward struggle against
himself and against Ursula revived by his own fault, and complicated
with a new and terrible adversary. The next day, when he left the
house early to find Goupil and try to appease him with additional
money, the walls were already placarded with the words: "Minoret is a
thief." All those whom he met commiserated him and asked him who was
the author of the anonymous placard. Fortunately for him, everybody
made allowance for his equivocal replies by reflecting on his utter
stupidity; fools get more advantage from their weakness than able men
from their strength. The world looks on at a great man battling
against fate, and does not help him, but it supplies the capital of a
grocer who may fail and lose all. Why? Because men like to feel
superior in protecting an incapable, and are displeased at not feeling
themselves the equal of a man of genius. A clever man would have been
lost in public estimation had he stammered, as Minoret did, evasive
and foolish answers with a frightened air. Zelie sent her servants to
efface the vindictive words wherever they were found; but the effect
of them on Minoret's conscience still remained.