“O godfather! you are right; we are equal only in the sight of God. I will not think of him again—except in my prayers,” she said, amid the sobs which this painful revelation excited. “Give him what you meant to give me—what can a poor girl like me want?—ah, in prison, he!—”
“Offer to God your disappointments, and perhaps he will help us.”
There was silence for some minutes. When Ursula, who at first did not dare to look at her godfather, raised her eyes, her heart was deeply moved to see the tears which were rolling down his withered cheeks. The tears of old men are as terrible as those of children are natural.
“Oh what is it?” cried Ursula, flinging herself at his feet and kissing his hands. “Are you not sure of me?”
“I, who longed to gratify all your wishes, it is I who am obliged to cause the first great sorrow of your life!” he said. “I suffer as much as you. I never wept before, except when I lost my children—and, Ursula— Yes,” he cried suddenly, “I will do all you desire!”
Ursula gave him, through her tears a look that was vivid as lightning. She smiled.
“Let us go into the salon, darling,” said the doctor. “Try to keep the secret of all this to yourself,” he added, leaving her alone for a moment in his study.
He felt himself so weak before that heavenly smile that he feared he might say a word of hope and thus mislead her.
The family of Portenduere
Madame de Portenduere was at this moment alone with the abbe in her frigid little salon on the ground floor, having finished the recital of her troubles to the good priest, her only friend. She held in her hand some letters which he had just returned to her after reading them; these letters had brought her troubles to a climax. Seated on her sofa beside a square table covered with the remains of a dessert, the old lady was looking at the abbe, who sat on the other side of the table, doubled up in his armchair and stroking his chin with the gesture common to valets on the stage, mathematicians, and priests,—a sign of profound meditation on a problem that was difficult to solve.
This little salon, lighted by two windows on the street and finished with a wainscot painted gray, was so damp that the lower panels showed the geometrical cracks of rotten wood when the paint no longer binds it. The red-tiled floor, polished by the old lady’s one servant, required, for comfort’s sake, before each seat small round mats of brown straw, on one of which the abbe was now resting his feet. The old damask curtains of light green with green flowers were drawn, and the outside blinds had been closed. Two wax candles lighted the table, leaving the rest of the room in semi-obscurity. Is it necessary to say that between the two windows was a fine pastel by Latour representing the famous Admiral de Portenduere, the rival of the Suffren, Guichen, Kergarouet and Simeuse naval heroes? On the paneled wall opposite to the fireplace were portraits of the Vicomte de Portenduere and of the mother of the old lady, a Kergarouet-Ploegat. Savinien’s great-uncle was therefore the Vice-admiral de Kergarouet, and his cousin was the Comte de Portenduere, grandson of the admiral,—both of them very rich.