Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 43)

Ursula and the abbe went upstairs, and the good man hunted up a little edition in 12mo, printed in Paris in 1666, of the "History of Henri de Montmorency," written by a priest of that period who had known the prince.

"Read it," said the abbe, giving Ursula the volume, which he had opened at the 175th page. "Your godfather often re-read that passage, --and see! here's a little of his snuff in it."

"And he not here!" said Ursula, taking the volume to read the passage.

"The siege of Privat was remarkable for the loss of a great number of officers. Two brigadier-generals died there--namely, the Marquis d'Uxelles, of a wound received at the outposts, and the Marquis de Portes, from a musket-shot through the head. The day the latter was killed he was to have been made a marshal of France. About the moment when the marquis expired the Duc de Montmorency, who was sleeping in his tent, was awakened by a voice like that of the marquis bidding him farewell. The affection he felt for a friend so near made him attribute the illusion of this dream to the force of his own imagination; and owing to the fatigues of the night, which he had spent, according to his custom, in the trenches, he fell asleep once more without any sense of dread. But the same voice disturbed him again, and the phantom obliged him to wake up and listen to the same words it had said as it first passed. The duke then recollected that he had heard the philosopher Pitrat discourse on the possibility of the separation of the soul from the body, and that he and the marquis had agreed that the first who died should bid adieu to the other. On which, not being able to restrain his fears as to the truth of this warning, he sent a servant to the marquis's quarters, which were distant from him. But before the man could get back, the king sent to inform the duke, by persons fitted to console him, of the great loss he had sustained.

"I leave learned men to discuss the cause of this event, which I have frequently heard the Duc de Montmorency relate: I think that the truth and singularity of the fact itself ought to be recorded and preserved."

"If all this is so," said Ursula, "what ought I do do?"

"My child," said the abbe, "it concerns matters so important, and which may prove so profitable to you, that you ought to keep absolutely silent about it. Now that you have confided to me the secret of these apparitions perhaps they may not return. Besides, you are now strong enough to come to church; well, then, come to-morrow and thank God and pray to him for the repose of your godfather's soul. Feel quite sure that you have entrusted your secret to prudent hands."

"If you knew how afraid I am to go to sleep,--what glances my godfather gives me! The last time he caught hold of my dress--I awoke with my face all covered with tears."

"Be at peace; he will not come again," said the priest.

Without losing a moment the Abbe Chaperon went straight to Minoret and asked for a few moments interview in the Chinese pagoda, requesting that they might be entirely alone.

"Can any one hear us?" he asked.

"No one," replied Minoret.

"Monsieur, my character must be known to you," said the abbe, fastening a gentle but attentive look on Minoret's face. "I have to speak to you of serious and extraordinary matters, which concern you, and about which you may be sure that I shall keep the profoundest secrecy; but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than give you this information. While your uncle lived, there stood there," said the priest, pointing to a certain spot in the room, "a small buffet made by Boule, with a marble top" (Minoret turned livid), "and beneath the marble your uncle placed a letter for Ursula--" The abbe then went on to relate, without omitting the smallest circumstance, Minoret's conduct to Minoret himself. When the last post master heard the detail of the two matches refusing to light he felt his hair begin to writhe on his skull.

"Who invented such nonsense?" he said, in a strangled voice, when the tale ended.

"The dead man himself."

This answer made Minoret tremble, for he himself had dreamed of the doctor.

"God is very good, Monsieur l'abbe, to do miracles for me," he said, danger inspiring him to make the sole jest of his life.

"All that God does is natural," replied the priest.

"Your phantoms don't frighten me," said the colossus, recovering his coolness.

"I did not come to frighten you, for I shall never speak of this to any one in the world," said the abbe. "You alone know the truth. The matter is between you and God."

"Come now, Monsieur l'abbe, do you really think me capable of such a horrible abuse of confidence?"

"I believe only in crimes which are confessed to me, and of which the sinner repents," said the priest, in an apostolic tone.

"Crime?" cried Minoret.

"A crime frightful in its consequences."

"What consequences?"

"In the fact that it escapes human justice. The crimes which are not expiated here below will be punished in another world. God himself avenges innocence."

"Do you think God concerns himself with such trifles?"

"If he did not see the worlds in all their details at a glance, as you take a landscape into your eye, he would not be God."

"Monsieur l'abbe, will you give me your word of honor that you have had these facts from my uncle?"

"Your uncle has appeared three times to Ursula and has told them and repeated them to her. Exhausted by such visions she revealed them to me privately; she considers them so devoid of reason that she will never speak of them. You may make yourself easy on that point."

"I am easy on all points, Monsieur Chaperon."

"I hope you are," said the old priest. "Even if I considered these warnings absurd, I should still feel bound to inform you of them, considering the singular nature of the details. You are an honest man, and you have obtained your handsome fortune in too legal a way to wish to add to it by theft. Besides, you are an almost primitive man, and you would be tortured by remorse. We have within us, be we savage or civilized, the sense of what is right, and this will not permit us to enjoy in peace ill-gotten gains acquired against the laws of the society in which we live,--for well-constituted societies are modeled on the system God has ordained for the universe. In this respect societies have a divine origin. Man does not originate ideas, he invents no form; he answers to the eternal relations that surround him on all sides. Therefore, see what happens! Criminals going to the scaffold, and having it in their power to carry their secret with them, are compelled by the force of some mysterious power to make confessions before their heads are taken off. Therefore, Monsieur Minoret, if your mind is at ease, I go my way satisfied."

Minoret was so stupefied that he allowed the abbe to find his own way out. When he thought himself alone he flew into the fury of a choleric man; the strangest blasphemies escaped his lips, in which Ursula's name was mingled with odious language.

"Why, what has she done to you?" cried Zelie, who had slipped in on tiptoe after seeing the abbe out of the house.

For the first and only time in his life, Minoret, drunk with anger and driven to extremities by his wife's reiterated questions, turned upon her and beat her so violently that he was obliged, when she fell half- dead on the floor, to take her in his arms and put her to bed himself, ashamed of his act. He was taken ill and the doctor bled him twice; when he appeared again in the streets everybody noticed a great change in him. He walked alone, and often roamed the town as though uneasy. When any one addressed him he seemed preoccupied in his mind, he who had never before had two ideas in his head. At last, one evening, he went up to Monsieur Bongrand in the Grand'Rue, the latter being on his way to take Ursula to Madame de Portenduere's, where the whist parties had begun again.

"Monsieur Bongrand, I have something important to say to my cousin," he said, taking the justice by the arm, "and I am very glad you should be present, for you can advise her."

They found Ursula studying; she rose, with a cold and dignified air, as soon as she saw Minoret.

"My child, Monsieur Minoret wants to speak to you on a matter of business," said Bongrand. "By the bye, don't forget to give me your certificates; I shall go to Paris in the morning and will draw your dividend and La Bougival's."

"Cousin," said Minoret, "our uncle accustomed you to more luxury than you have now."

"We can be very happy with very little money," she replied.

"I thought money might help your happiness," continued Minoret, "and I have come to offer you some, out of respect for the memory of my uncle."

"You had a natural way of showing respect for him," said Ursula, sternly; "you could have left his house as it was, and allowed me to buy it; instead of that you put it at a high price, hoping to find some hidden treasure in it."

"But," said Minoret, evidently troubled, "if you had twelve thousand francs a year you would be in a position to marry well."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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