Honoré de Balzac.

Ursule Mirouët online

. (page 1 of 20)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacUrsule Mirouët → online text (page 1 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook








tie Balzac







Savinien was the first to awaken. He then
noticed Ursule with the disordered head caused
by the jolting ; the cap was crumpled, turned up ;
the unrolled plaits fell on both sides of her face,
flushed with the heat of the carriage ; but, in this
situation, which would be dreadful for women who
depend upon toilette, youth and beauty triumph.











& : - :* "<

>*..:-..: . : ..

- i









It is a real pleasure, my dear niece, to dedicate
to you a book, the subject and details of which have
gained the hard-earned approval of a young girl
who, as yet, knows nothing of the world and does
not compromise with any of the lofty principles of
a pious education. You young girls are a formid-
able public; for you ought to be allowed to read
only books that are as pure as your minds, and you
are forbidden certain literature as you are pre-
vented from seeing society such as it is. May not
an author therefore take pride in having pleased
you? God grant that fondness has not deceived
you ! Who can say ? That future which, I trust,
you may see, and which may no longer behold

Your uncle




In entering Nemours, on the Paris side, one
crosses the canal of the Loing, the banks of which
make both rustic ramparts and picturesque walks for
this pretty little town. Since 1830, several houses
have, unfortunately, been built on this side of the
bridge. If this species of suburb increases, the
appearance of the town will lose its charming origi-
nality. But, in 1829, the sides of the way being
clear, the postmaster, a big, stout man about sixty
years of age, seated at the highest point of this
bridge, could perfectly well, on a fine morning, em-
brace that which, in the terms of his profession, is
called a highroad. The month of September was
putting forth its treasures, the atmosphere burning
above the grass and stones, no cloud disturbing the
blue of the ether whose purity, everywhere intense,
even on the horizon, told of the exceeding rarefac-
tion of the air. So that Minoret-Levrault, as the
postmaster was called, was obliged to make a screen



of one hand to avoid being dazzled. Like a man
provoked at waiting, he looked now at the delightful
fields that spread to the right of the road, and where
the aftermath was growing, now at the wood-cov-
ered hill which, on the left, stretches from Nemours
to Bouron. In the valley of the Loing, where
echoed the noises of the road, thrown back by the
hill, he could hear the gallop of his own horses and
the crack of his postilions' whips. Could any but a
postmaster grow impatient before a field full of Paul
Potter cattle, under a Raphael sky, over a canal
shaded by trees in Hobbema's style? Anyone
acquainted with Nemours knows that there nature
is as beautiful as art, whose mission is to spirit-
ualize her; there, the scenery holds ideas and rouses
thought. But, at sight of Minoret-Levrault, an
artist would have forsaken the view to sketch this
bourgeois, so original did his very coarseness render
him. Combine all the conditions of the brute, and
you get Caliban, which certainly is a great thing.
Where form predominates, sentiment disappears.
The postmaster, living proof of this axiom, pre-
sented one of those countenances in which a thinker
can with difficulty trace the mind beneath the vio-
lent complexion produced by a rude development of
the flesh. His blue cloth cap, small peaked and
ribbed like a melon, outlined a head whose large
dimensions proved that Gall's science has not yet
attacked the subject of exceptions. The gray and
almost glossy hair projecting beyond the cap would
have told you that other causes than intellectual


fatigue or sorrow whiten the hair. On each side
of the head, one saw large ears, almost scarred along
the edges by the erosions of an over-abundant blood
which seemed ready to gush out at the slightest
exertion. The complexion was violet-hued under a
brown coating, due to the habit of facing the sun.
The eyes, gray, alert, sunken and hidden beneath
two black bushes, resembled the eyes of the Kal-
mucks, who arrived in 1815; if at moments they
sparkled, it could only be under the strain of some
covetous thought The nose, depressed at the root,
suddenly turned up like the leg of a copper pot
Thick lips harmonizing with an almost repulsive
double chin, the beard of which, shaved hardly
twice a week, kept a wretched silk handkerchief
in a threadbare condition ; a neck creased with fat,
though very short; and huge cheeks, completing the
characteristics of stupid power that sculptors impart
to their caryatids. Minoret-Levrault resembled
these statues with this difference merely, that they
support a building, and he had enough to do to sup-
port himself. One may meet many such an Atlas
without a world. This man's head and shoulders
were like a block; one might have said, those of a
bull raised on his hind legs. The stalwart arms
terminated in thick, hard hands, big and powerful,
that could and did handle a whip, the reins, or the
pitchfork, and with which no postilion ever trifled.
This giant's enormous stomach was supported by
thighs as thick as an adult's body, and by the feet
of an elephant Anger must have been rare with


this man, but terrible and apoplectic when he gave
vent to it. Although violent and incapable of re-
flection, this man had done nothing to justify the
sinister prophecies of his physiognomy. His pos-
tilions would say to those who quaked before the

"Oh! he is not bad!"

The master of Nemours, to use an abbreviation
employed in many countries, wore a bottle-green
velvet shooting-jacket, green drill trousers with
green stripes, an ample yellow mohair waistcoat, in
the pocket of which could be seen a monstrous snuff-
box outlined by a black circle. A big snuff-box for
a snub nose, is a law almost without exception.

Minoret-Levrault, offspring of the Revolution and
spectator of the Empire, had never mixed himself
up with politics; as for his religious opinions, he
had never set foot inside a church except to be mar-
ried; as for his principles in private life, they
existed in the Civil Code; all that was not forbid-
den or unattainable by the law he believed to be
feasible. He had never read anything but the
newspaper of the department of Seine-et-Oise, or a
few instructions referring to his profession. He
was considered to be a skilful farmer; but his
knowledge was purely practical. Thus, with Mi-
noret-Levrault, the mind did not belie the body. It
was seldom, too, that he talked ; and, before begin-
ning to speak, he always took a pinch of snuff to
give himself time to seek, not ideas, but words.
As a talker, he would have struck one as a failure.


Considering that this species of trunkless and unin-
telligent elephant was named Minor et-Levrault, must
one not admit with Sterne the occult power of names
that sometimes mock and sometimes foretell charac-
ter? In spite of his obvious incapacity, in thirty-
six years he had with the help of the Revolution,
acquired an income of thirty thousand francs, in
fields, arable land, and forest If Minoret, with an
interest in the Nemours stage, and those running
between Gatinais and Paris, still worked, he was in
this acting less through habit than for the sake of
an only son for whom he wished to prepare a fine
future. This son, who had become a gentleman
as the peasants termed it had just finished reading
for the bar, and when the courts re-opened, was to
take the oath as lawyer's licentiate. Monsieur and
Madame Minoret-Levrault, for, through this giant
everyone discovered a wife without whom such a
handsome fortune was impossible, left their son
free to choose a profession for himself: notary in
Paris, attorney for the crown somewhere, receiver-
general no matter where, exchange agent or post-
master. What whim could be denied, what calling
above the aspirations of the son of a man of whom
it was said from Montargis to Essonnethat "Father
Minoret cannot count his income." This saying,
four years before, had acquired further authority
when, after having sold his inn, Minoret had built
himself a magnificent house and stables by trans-
ferring the stage from the Grand 'Rue to the har-
bor. This new establishment had cost two hundred


thousand francs, that the gossips for thirty miles
round doubled. The Nemours stage requires a large
number of horses, it goes toward Paris as far as
Fontainebleau and runs beyond the Montargis and
Montereau roads; on both sides the stage is slow,
and the sands of the Montargis road warrant that
chimerical third horse which is always paid for and
never seen. So a man built like Minoret, as rich
as Minoret, and at the head of such an establish-
ment could call himself without antiphrasis, the
master of Nemours. Although he had never given
a thought to God or the devil, and was as practical
a materialist as he was a practical farmer, prac-
tical egotist, and practical miser, Minoret had, up
till then, enjoyed unmixed happiness, if one may
consider a purely material life as happiness. A
physiologist, beholding the cushion of bare flesh
enveloping the last vertebra and compressing this
man's hind brain, and, above all, hearing the clear,
shrill voice which contrasted so ludicrously with
his chest and shoulders, would have perfectly under-
stood why this big, stout, thickset farmer adored
his only son, and why, perhaps, he had waited so
long for him, as the child's name of Desire suffi-
ciently explained. In short, if love, by betraying a
rich organization, is, in man, a promise of the
grandest things, then philosophers will understand
the causes of Minoret's incapacity. The mother,
whom the son fortunately resembled, vied with the
father in spoiling him. No natural child could have
resisted this idolatry. So Desire, knowing the


extent of his power, knew how to drain his mother's
money-box and take from his father's purse whilst
pretending to both authors of his being that he was
only applying to the one. Desire, who, at Nemours
bore a part infinitely superior to that of a royal
prince in his father's capital, had wished to gratify
all his caprices in Paris as he had gratified them
in his own small town, and, every year, he had
there spent more than twelve thousand francs. But,
for this sum, he had also acquired ideas that would
never have come to him in Nemours; he had
sloughed off the provincial skin, he had understood
the power of money and foresaw a means of prefer-
ment in the bench. During this last year, he had
spent an additional ten thousand francs, by forming
connections with artists, with journalists and their
mistresses. A somewhat disquieting confidential
letter to the postmaster, whose help his son had
asked in a marriage, would, at a pinch, have ex-
plained his mounting guard; but Mother Minoret-
Levrault, busy preparing a sumptuous luncheon to
celebrate the triumph and the return of the licentiate
in law, had sent her husband on the road, bidding
him ride on if he did not see the diligence. The
coach which was to bring this only son, usually
arrives at Nemours about five o'clock in the morn-
ing, and nine o'clock was striking!

What could cause such delay ? Had there been an
upset? Was Desire alive? Had he merely a
broken leg?

Three thundering cracks of a whip explode and


rend the air like musket-shots, the red waistcoats
of the postilions appear, the horses neigh! the
master takes off his cap and waves it, he is seen.
The best mounted postilion, the one who was
bringing back two dapple-gray road horses, sets
spurs to his near-horse, outstrips five great coach
horses, the Minorets of the stable, three carriage
horses, and arrives in front of the master.

"Have you seen la Dueler? "

On the highroads, coaches are given rather
fanciful names; they say la Caillard, la Dueler
the coach from Nemours to Paris le Grand-Bureau.
Every fresh undertaking is called la Concurrence.
At the time of the Lecomtes* enterprise, their car-
riages were called la Comtesse. "Caillard has not
overtaken la Comtesse, but the Grand-Bureau has
fairly taken the shine out of her all the same!
La Caillard and the Grand-Bureau have sunk les
Frangaises the French stage coaches." If you see
the postilion going at a breakneck speed and refus-
ing a glass of wine, question the guard; he will
answer, sniffing the wind and looking into space:
"La Concurrence is ahead!" "And we do not see
it !" says the postilion. "The villain, he can't have
allowed the passengers to eat!" "Has he any?"
replies the guard. "Then whip up Polignac!" All
bad horses are called Polignac. Such are the jokes
and the stock of conversation between the postilions
and guards on top of the coaches. Every profession
has its slang in France.

"Did you look inside la Dueler?"


"Monsieur Desire?" replied the postilion, inter-
rupting his master. "Eh ! you must have heard us,
our whips must have told you enough, we quite
thought you were on the road."

"Then why is the coach four hours late?"

"The tire of one of the back wheels fell off be-
tween Essonne and Ponthierry. But there was no
accident; at the hill, Cabirolle happily noticed the

At this moment, a woman dressed in her Sunday
clothes, for the pealing of the Nemours bell was
summoning the inhabitants to the Sunday mass a
woman about thirty-six years old approached the

"Well, cousin," she said, "you never would be-
lieve me! Our uncle is in the Grand'Rue with
Ursule and they are going to High Mass."

In spite of the rules of modern poetry about local
color, it is impossible to carry truth so far as to re-
peat the frightful abuse mingled with oaths that
this news, apparently so little dramatic, called forth
from Minoret-Levrault's great mouth; his shrill
voice hissed and his face presented the effect so
ingeniously termed by the people, a Sunstroke.

"Are you sure?" he said after the first explosion
of anger.

The postilions passed with their horses, saluting
their master, who seemed neither to see nor to hear
them. Instead of waiting for his son, Minoret-
Levrault turned back up the Grand'Rue with his'


"Have I not always told you so?" she resumed,
"when Doctor Minoret has lost his mind, this de-
mure little chit will make him take to religion; and
as whoever holds the mind holds the purse-strings,
she will have our inheritance."

"But, Madame Massin !" said the postmaster,

"Ah! you too," replied Madame Massin, inter-
rupting her cousin, "you are going to tell me like
Massin: 'Can a little girl of fifteen invent such
plans and execute them ? shake the opinions of a
man of eighty-three years of age, who has never
set foot in a church but to be married, who holds
the priests in such horror that he did not even ac-
company this child to the parish church the day of
her first Communion ?' Well then, why, if Doctor
Minoret detests the priests, has he for fifteen years
spent nearly every evening in the week with the
Abbe Chaperon? The old hypocrite has never
failed to give Ursule twenty francs for candles when
she gives back the consecrated bread. Then you
have forgotten the gift Ursule gave the church as
thanks to the cure for having prepared her for her
first Communion ? She spent all her money on it,
and her godfather gave it back to her, but doubled.
You men notice nothing! When I heard these par-
ticulars, I said, 'Good-bye our hopes! all is over!'
An uncle with an inheritance does not act like this
purposelessly, toward a little sniveller picked out
of the street."

"Bah! cousin," replied the postmaster, "perhaps


the old man is taking Ursule accidentally to church.
It is fine, and our uncle is going for a walk."

"Cousin, our uncle holds a prayer-book; and he
has a hypocritical look! In short, you will see

"They were hiding their game very well,"
answered the big postmaster, "for La Bougival told
me that there was never any question of religion
between the doctor and the Abbe Chaperon. Be-
sides, the cure of Nemours is the most honest man
in the world, he would give his last shirt to a beg-
gar; he is incapable of a mean action; and dissipat-
ing an inheritance is "

"But it is robbery," said Madame Massin.

"It's worse!" cried Minoret-Levrault, exasper-
ated by his garrulous cousin's remark.

"I know," replied Madame Massin, "that the
Abbe Chaperon, although a priest, is an honest man ;
but he is capable of anything for the poor ! He will
have bored, and bored, and bored beneath my uncle,
and the doctor will have sunk into bigotry. We
were quite easy, and here he is perverted. A man
who has never believed in anything and who had
principles! Oh! we are all done for. My husband
is all upset about it"

Madame Massin, whose words were like so many
arrows stinging her big cousin, made him walk
along, in spite of his embonpoint, as rapidly as her-
self to the great astonishment of the people who
were going to mass. She wanted to overtake this
uncle Minoret and point him out to the postmaster.


On the Gatinais side, Nemours is overlooked by
a hill, along which extends the road of Montargis
and the Loing. The church, over whose stones
time has spread its rich black cloak for it was
undoubtedly rebuilt in the fourteenth century by
the Guises for whom Nemours was erected into a
duchy-peerage, stands up at the end of the little
town, enframed at the base of a great arch. For
public buildings as for men, position is everything.
Shaded by several trees, and thrown up by a neat
square, this solitary church produced an imposing
effect In emerging on the square, the master of
Nemours could see his uncle giving his arm to the
young girl called Ursule, each holding a prayer-
book and going into the church. The old man
removed his hat in the porch, and his head, entirely
white, like a snow-capped pinnacle, shone in the
soft shadows of the facade.

"Well, Minoret, what do you say to your uncle's
conversion?" cried the tax-collector of Nemours,
named Cremiere.

"What would you have me say?" replied the
postmaster, offering him a pinch of snuff.

"Well answered, pere Levrault! you cannot say
what you think, if a famous author was right in
writing that man is obliged to think his words
before speaking his thought," maliciously cried a
young man who had come up, and who, in Nemours,
played the r61e of Mephistopheles in Faust.

This horrid fellow, called Goupil, was the head
clerk of Monsieur Cremiere-Dionis, the notary of


The master of Nemours could see Jus uncle giving
his arm to tlie young girl called Ursule, each holding
a prayer-book and going into the church. The old
man removed his hat in the porch, and his head,
entirely white, like a snow-capped pinnacle, shone in
the soft shadows of the facade.

" Well, Minor et, what do you say to your uncle's
conversion ? " cried the tax-collector of Nemours.


Nemours. In spite of past behavior of an almost
debauched lowness, Dionis had taken Goupil into
his office, when further sojourn in Paris, where the
clerk had dissipated the inheritance of his father,
a well-to-do farmer who had destined him for a
notary, was forbidden him by absolute poverty.
Upon seeing Goupil, you would at once have under-
stood that he had lost no time in enjoying life; for,
to obtain enjoyment, he must have paid dearly. In
spite of his small stature, at twenty-seven years old
the clerk's chest and shoulders were as developed
as those of a man of forty. Slender, short legs, a
large face the color of a sky before a storm and
crowned by a bald forehead, still further brought
out this strange conformation. His face also seemed
to belong to a humpback whose hump must have
been inside. One peculiarity of this sharp, pale
face confirmed the existence of this invisible hunch-
back. Curved and twisted like that of so many
hunchbacks, the nose bent from right to left instead
of accurately dividing the face. The mouth, con-
tracted at both corners like those of the Sardinians,
was always on the lookout for irony. Thin red-
dish hair fell in straight locks, and in places dis-
closed the skull. The hands, coarse and badly set
at the end of over-long arms, were crooked and
rarely clean. Goupil was wearing shoes only fit to
throw into a rubbish heap, and thread stockings of
a reddish black; his trousers and black coat, worn
threadbare and almost thick with dirt; his pitiful
waistcoats, several buttons of which were short of


covering; the old silk handkerchief which did duty
for a tie, his whole dress told of the cynical wretch-
edness to which his passions condemned him.

Two eyes like goats', with the eyeballs encircled
with yellow, both lascivious and cowardly, rose
about this ensemble of forbidding things. Nobody
was more feared or respected in Nemours than Gou-
pil. Armed with pretensions allowed by his ugliness,
he had that detestable intelligence peculiar to those
who give themselves free license, and he used it to
avenge the disappointments of a ceaseless jealousy.
He rhymed satirical couplets that are sung at carni-
vals, he organized mock serenades, he alone wrote
the little newspaper of the town. Dionis, a cun-
ning, insincere man, but timid for all that, kept
Goupil as much from fear as on account of his ex-
ceeding intelligence and his sound knowledge of the
concerns of the country. But the master so much
distrusted the clerk, that he kept the accounts him-
self, did not lodge him in his own house, kept him
at a distance, and never entrusted him with any
secret or delicate affair. Therefore the clerk flat-
tered his employer by hiding the resentment that
this behavior caused him, and he watched Madame
Dionis with an idea of vengeance. Being gifted
with keen apprehension, work was no labor to him.

"Oh! you, you are already mocking our misfor-
tune," replied the postmaster to the clerk, who was
rubbing his hands.

As Goupil meanly humored all the passions of
Desire, who for five years had made a companion of


him, the postmaster treated him rather roughly,
without suspecting what terrible hoard of ill-will
was accumulating at the bottom of Goupil's heart at
every fresh injury. After having reckoned that
money was more necessary to himself than to any-
one else, the clerk, who knew himself to be superior
to all the bourgeoisie of Nemours, wanted to make a
fortune, and counted on Desire's friendship to be
able to buy one of the three offices of the town, that
of clerk to the justice of the peace, one of the sheriff's
offices or that occupied by Dionis. And so he
patiently bore the postmaster's tirades and Madame
Minoret-Levrault's contempt, and he played an in-
famous part with Desire, who for two years had
left him to console the Ariadnes, victims of the close
of the holidays. In this way, Goupil devoured the
crumbs of the feasts he had prepared.

"Had I been the old man's nephew, he would not
have made God my joint-heir," replied the clerk,
displaying scant, black, menacing teeth in a hideous

At this moment, Massin-Levrault junior, clerk of
the justice of the peace, joined his wife, bringing
with him Madame Cremiere, wife of the tax-gath-
erer of Nemours. This person, one of the sharpest
citizens in the little town, had the physiognomy of
a Tartar; little round eyes like sloes, under a low
forehead, woolly hair, an oily skin, big ears without
edges, a mouth with hardly any lip, and a scanty
beard. His manner had the merciless humility of
a usurer, whose line of conduct rests upon fixed


principles. He spoke like a man who suffers from
loss of voice. In short, in order to portray him, it

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacUrsule Mirouët → online text (page 1 of 20)