Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 42)

The result of his interview with his assailant was soon apparent. Though Goupil had concluded his bargain with the sheriff the night before, he now impudently refused to fulfil it.

"My dear Lecoeur," he said, "I am unexpectedly enabled to buy up Monsieur Dionis's practice; I am therefore in a position to help you to sell to others. Tear up the agreement; it's only the loss of two stamps,--here are seventy centimes."

Lecoeur was too much afraid of Goupil to complain. All Nemours knew before night that Minoret had given Dionis security to enable Goupil to buy his practice. The latter wrote to Savinien denying his charges against Minoret, and telling the young nobleman that in his new position he was forbidden by the rules of the supreme court, and also by his respect for law, to fight a duel. But he warned Savinien to treat him well in future; assuring him he was a capital boxer, and would break his leg at the first offence.

The walls of Nemours were cleared of the inscription; but the quarrel between Minoret and his wife went on; and Savinien maintained a threatening silence. Ten days after these events the marriage of Mademoiselle Massin, the elder, to the future notary was bruited about the town. Mademoiselle Massin had a dowry of eighty thousand francs and her own peculiar ugliness; Goupil had his deformities and his practice; the union therefore seemed suitable and probable. One evening, towards midnight, two unknown men seized Goupil in the street as he was leaving Massin's house, gave him a sound beating, and disappeared. The notary kept the matter a profound secret, and even contradicted an old woman who saw the scene from her window and thought that she recognized him.

These great little events were carefully studied by Bongrand, who became convinced that Goupil held some mysterious power over Minoret, and he determined to find out its cause.



Though the public opinion of the little town recognized Ursula's perfect innocence, she recovered slowly. While in a state of bodily exhaustion, which left her mind and spirit free, she became the medium of phenomena the effects of which were astounding, and of a nature to challenge science, if science had been brought into contact with them.

Ten days after Madame de Portenduere's visit Ursula had a dream, with all the characteristics of a supernatural vision, as much in its moral aspects as in the, so to speak, physical circumstances. Her godfather appeared to her and made a sign that she should come with him. She dressed herself and followed him through the darkness to their former house in the Rue des Bourgeois, where she found everything precisely as it was on the day of her godfather's death. The old man wore the clothes that were on him the evening before his death. His face was pale, his movements caused no sound; nevertheless, Ursula heard his voice distinctly, though it was feeble and as if repeated by a distant echo. The doctor conducted his child as far as the Chinese pagoda, where he made her lift the marble top of the little Boule cabinet just as she had raised it on the day of his death; but instead of finding nothing there she saw the letter her godfather had told her to fetch. She opened it and read both the letter addressed to herself and the will in favor of Savinien. The writing, as she afterwards told the abbe, shone as if traced by sunbeams--"it burned my eyes," she said. When she looked at her uncle to thank him she saw the old benevolent smile upon his discolored lips. Then, in a feeble voice, but still clearly, he told her to look at Minoret, who was listening in the corridor to what he said to her; and next, slipping the lock of the library door with his knife, and taking the papers from the study. With his right hand the old man seized his goddaughter and obliged her to walk at the pace of death and follow Minoret to his own house. Ursula crossed the town, entered the post house and went into Zelie's old room, where the spectre showed her Minoret unfolding the letters, reading them and burning them.

"He could not," said Ursula, telling her dream to the abbe, "light the first two matches, but the third took fire; he burned the papers and buried their remains in the ashes. Then my godfather brought me back to our house, and I saw Minoret-Levrault slipping into the library, where he took from the third volume of Pandects three certificates of twelve thousand francs each; also, from the preceding volume, a number of banknotes. 'He is,' said my godfather, 'the cause of all the trouble which has brought you to the verge of the tomb; but God wills that you shall yet be happy. You will not die now; you will marry Savinien. If you love me, and if you love Savinien, I charge you to demand your fortune from my nephew. Swear it.'"

Resplendent as though transfigured, the spectre had so powerful an influence on Ursula's soul that she promised all her uncle asked, hoping to put an end to the nightmare. She woke suddenly and found herself standing in the middle of her bedroom, facing her godfather's portrait, which had been placed there during her illness. She went back to bed and fell asleep after much agitation, and on waking again she remembered all the particulars of this singular vision; but she dared not speak of it. Her judgment and her delicacy both shrank from revealing a dream the end and object of which was her pecuniary benefit. She attributed the vision, not unnaturally, to remarks made by La Bougival the preceding evening, when the old woman talked of the doctor's intended liberality and of her own convictions on that subject. But the dream returned, with aggravated circumstances which made it fearful to the poor girl. On the second occasion the icy hand of her godfather was laid upon her shoulder, causing her the most horrible distress, an indefinable sensation. "You must obey the dead," he said, in a sepulchral voice. "Tears," said Ursula, relating her dreams, "fell from his white, wide-open eyes."

The third time the vision came the dead man took her by the braids of her long hair and showed her the post master talking with Goupil and promising money if he would remove Ursula to Sens. Ursula then decided to relate the three dreams to the Abbe Chaperon.

"Monsieur l'abbe," she said, "do you believe that the dead reappear?"

"My child, sacred history, profane history, and modern history, have much testimony to that effect; but the Church has never made it an article of faith; and as for science, in France science laughs at the idea."

"What do YOU believe?"

"That the power of God is infinite."

"Did my godfather ever speak to you of such matters?"

"Yes, often. He had entirely changed his views of them. His conversion, as he told me at least twenty times, dated from the day when a woman in Paris heard you praying for him in Nemours, and saw the red dot you made against Saint-Savinien's day in your almanac."

Ursula uttered a piercing cry, which alarmed the priest; she remembered the scene when, on returning to Nemours, her godfather read her soul, and took away the almanac.

"If that is so," she said, "then my visions are possibly true. My godfather has appeared to me, as Jesus appeared to his disciples. He was wrapped in yellow light; he spoke to me. I beg you to say a mass for the repose of his soul and to implore the help of God that these visions may cease, for they are destroying me."

She then related the three dreams with all their details, insisting on the truth of what she said, on her own freedom of action, on the somnambulism of her inner being, which, she said, detached itself from her body at the bidding of the spectre and followed him with perfect ease. The thing that most surprised the abbe, to whom Ursula's veracity was known, was the exact description which she gave of the bedroom formerly occupied by Zelie at the post house, which Ursula had never entered and about which no one had ever spoken to her.

"By what means can these singular apparitions take place?" asked Ursula. "What did my godfather think?"

"Your godfather, my dear child, argued my hypothesis. He recognized the possibility of a spiritual world, a world of ideas. If ideas are of man's creation, if they subsist in a life of their own, they must have forms which our external senses cannot grasp, but which are perceptible to our inward senses when brought under certain conditions. Thus your godfather's ideas might so enfold you that you would clothe them with his bodily presence. Then, if Minoret really committed those actions, they too resolve themselves into ideas; for all action is the result of many ideas. Now, if ideas live and move in a spiritual world, your spirit must be able to perceive them if it penetrates that world. These phenomena are not more extraordinary than those of memory; and those of memory are quite as amazing and inexplicable as those of the perfume of plants--which are perhaps the ideas of the plants."

"How you enlarge and magnify the world!" exclaimed Ursula. "But to hear the dead speak, to see them walk, act--do you think it possible?"

"In Sweden," replied the abbe, "Swedenborg has proved by evidence that he communicated with the dead. But come with me into the library and you shall read in the life of the famous Duc de Montmorency, beheaded at Toulouse, and who certainly was not a man to invent foolish tales, an adventure very like yours, which happened a hundred years earlier at Cardan."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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