Honore de Balzac >> Ursula (page 47)

Whereupon he left them abruptly to reflect with admiration on the ways by which Providence had brought the innocent to victory.

"The finger of God is in all this," cried the abbe.

"Will they punish him?" asked Ursula.

"Ah, mademoiselle," cried La Bougival. "I'd give the rope to hang him."

Bongrand was already at Goupil's, now the appointed successor of Dionis, but he entered the office with a careless air. "I have a little matter to verify about the Minoret property," he said to Goupil.

"What is it?" asked the latter.

"The doctor left one or more certificates in the three-per-cent Funds?"

"He left one for fifteen thousand francs a year," said Goupil; "I recorded it myself."

"Then just look on the inventory," said Bongrand.

Goupil took down a box, hunted through it, drew out a paper, found the place, and read:--

"'Item, one certificate'-- Here, read for yourself--under the number 23,533, letter M."

"Do me the kindness to let me have a copy of that clause within an hour," said Bongrand.

"What good is it to you?" asked Goupil.

"Do you want to be a notary?" answered the justice of peace, looking sternly at Dionis's proposed successor.

"Of course I do," cried Goupil. "I've swallowed too many affronts not to succeed now. I beg you to believe, monsieur, that the miserable creature once called Goupil has nothing in common with Maitre Jean- Sebastien-Marie Goupil, notary of Nemours and husband of Mademoiselle Massin. The two beings do not know each other. They are no longer even alike. Look at me!"

Thus adjured Monsieur Bongrand took notice of Goupil's clothes. The new notary wore a white cravat, a shirt of dazzling whiteness adorned with ruby buttons, a waistcoat of red velvet, with trousers and coat of handsome black broad-cloth, made in Paris. His boots were neat; his hair, carefully combed, was perfumed--in short he was metamorphosed.

"The fact is you are another man," said Bongrand.

"Morally as well as physically. Virtue comes with practice--a practice; besides, money is the source of cleanliness--"

"Morally as well as physically," returned Bongrand, settling his spectacles.

"Ha! monsieur, is a man worth a hundred thousand francs a year ever a democrat? Consider me in future as an honest man who knows what refinement is, and who intends to love his wife," said Goupil; "and what's more, I shall prevent my clients from ever doing dirty actions."

"Well, make haste," said Bongrand. "Let me have that copy in an hour, and notary Goupil will have undone some of the evil deeds of Goupil the clerk."

After asking the Nemours doctor to lend him his horse and cabriolet, he went back to Ursula's house for the two important volumes and for her own certificate of Funds; then, armed with the extract from the inventory, he drove to Fontainebleau and had an interview with the procureur du roi. Bongrand easily convinced that official of the theft of the three certificates by one or other of the heirs,--presumably by Minoret.

"His conduct is explained," said the procureur.

As a measure of precaution the magistrate at once notified the Treasury to withhold transfer of the said certificates, and told Bongrand to go to Paris and ascertain if the shares had ever been sold. He then wrote a polite note to Madame Minoret requesting her presence.

Zelie, very uneasy about her son's duel, dressed herself at once, had the horses put to her carriage and hurried to Fontainebleau. The procureur's plan was simple enough. By separating the wife from the husband, and bringing the terrors of the law to bear upon her, he expected to learn the truth. Zelie found the official in his private office and was utterly annihilated when he addressed her as follows:--

"Madame," he said; "I do not believe you are an accomplice in a theft that has been committed upon the Minoret property, on the track of which the law is now proceeding. But you can spare your husband the shame of appearing in the prisoner's dock by making a full confession of what you know about it. The punishment which your husband has incurred is, moreover, not the only thing to be dreaded. Your son's career is to be thought of; you must avoid destroying that. Half an hour hence will be too late. The police are already under orders for Nemours, the warrant is made out."

Zelie nearly fainted; when she recovered her senses she confessed everything. After proving to her that she was in point of fact an accomplice, the magistrate told her that if she did not wish to injure either son or husband she must behave with the utmost prudence.

"You have now to do with me as an individual, not as a magistrate," he said. "No complaint has been lodged by the victim, nor has any publicity been given to the theft. But your husband has committed a great crime, which may be brought before a judge less inclined than myself to be considerate. In the present state of the affair I am obliged to make you a prisoner--oh, in my own house, on parole," he added, seeing that Zelie was about to faint. "You must remember that my official duty would require me to issue a warrant at once and begin an examination; but I am acting now individually, as guardian of Mademoiselle Ursula Mirouet, and her best interests demand a compromise."

"Ah!" exclaimed Zelie.

"Write to your husband in the following words," he continued, placing Zelie at his desk and proceeding to dictate the letter:--

"My Friend,--I am arrested, and I have told all. Return the certificates which uncle left to Monsieur de Portenduere in the will which you burned; for the procureur du roi has stopped payment at the Treasury."

"You will thus save him from the denials he would otherwise attempt to make," said the magistrate, smiling at Zelie's orthography. "We will see that the restitution is properly made. My wife will make your stay in our house as agreeable as possible. I advise you to say nothing of the matter and not to appear anxious or unhappy."

Now that Zelie had confessed and was safely immured, the magistrate sent for Desire, told him all the particulars of his father's theft, which was really to Ursula's injury, but, as matters stood, legally to that of his co-heirs, and showed him the letter written by his mother. Desire at once asked to be allowed to go to Nemours and see that his father made immediate restitution.

"It is a very serious matter," said the magistrate. "The will having been destroyed, if the matter gets wind, the co-heirs, Massin and Cremiere may put in a claim. I have proof enough against your father. I will release your mother, for I think the little ceremony that has already taken place has been sufficient warning as to her duty. To her, I will seem to have yielded to your entreaties in releasing her. Take her with you to Nemours, and manage the whole matter as best you can. Don't fear any one. Monsieur Bongrand loves Ursula Mirouet too well to let the matter become known."

Zelie and Desire started soon after for Nemours. Three hours later the procureur du roi received by a mounted messenger the following letter, the orthography of which has been corrected so as not to bring ridicule on a man crushed by affliction.

To Monsieur le procureur du roi at Fontainebleau:

Monsieur,--God is less kind to us than you; we have met with an irreparable misfortune. When my wife and son reached the bridge at Nemours a trace became unhooked. There was no servant behind the carriage; the horses smelt the stable; my son, fearing their impatience, jumped down to hook the trace rather than have the coachman leave the box. As he turned to resume his place in the carriage beside his mother the horses started; Desire did not step back against the parapet in time; the step of the carriage cut through both legs and he fell, the hind wheel passing over his body. The messenger who goes to Paris for the best surgeon will bring you this letter, which my son in the midst of his sufferings desires me to write so as to let you know our entire submission to your decisions in the matter about which he was coming to speak to me.

I shall be grateful to you to my dying day for the manner in which you have acted, and I will deserve your goodness.

Francois Minoret.

This cruel event convulsed the whole town of Nemours. The crowds standing about the gate of the Minoret house were the first to tell Savinien that his vengeance had been taken by a hand more powerful than his own. He went at once to Ursula's house, where he found both the abbe and the young girl more distressed than surprised.

The next day, after the wounds were dressed, and the doctors and surgeons from Paris had given their opinion that both legs must be amputated, Minoret went, pale, humbled, and broken down, accompanied by the abbe, to Ursula's house, where he found also Monsieur Bongrand and Savinien.

"Mademoiselle," he said; "I am very guilty towards you; but if all the wrongs I have done you are not wholly reparable, there are some that I can expiate. My wife and I have made a vow to make over to you in absolute possession our estate at Rouvre in case our son recovers, and also in case we have the dreadful sorrow of losing him."

Title: Ursula
Author: Honore de Balzac
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