Part 4 out of 8
Newman inquired with interest about Mademoiselle Noemie;
and M. Nioche, at first, for answer, simply looked at him
in lachrymose silence.
"Don't ask me, sir," he said at last. "I sit and watch her,
but I can do nothing."
"Do you mean that she misconducts herself?"
"I don't know, I am sure. I can't follow her. I don't understand her.
She has something in her head; I don't know what she is trying to do.
She is too deep for me."
"Does she continue to go to the Louvre? Has she made any
of those copies for me?"
"She goes to the Louvre, but I see nothing of the copies. She has
something on her easel; I suppose it is one of the pictures you ordered.
Such a magnificent order ought to give her fairy-fingers. But she
is not in earnest. I can't say anything to her; I am afraid of her.
One evening, last summer, when I took her to walk in the Champs Elysees,
she said some things to me that frightened me."
"What were they?"
"Excuse an unhappy father from telling you," said M. Nioche,
unfolding his calico pocket-handkerchief.
Newman promised himself to pay Mademoiselle Noemie another visit
at the Louvre. He was curious about the progress of his copies,
but it must be added that he was still more curious about the progress
of the young lady herself. He went one afternoon to the great museum,
and wandered through several of the rooms in fruitless quest of her.
He was bending his steps to the long hall of the Italian masters,
when suddenly he found himself face to face with Valentin de Bellegarde.
The young Frenchman greeted him with ardor, and assured him that he was
a godsend. He himself was in the worst of humors and he wanted some
one to contradict.
"In a bad humor among all these beautiful things?" said Newman.
"I thought you were so fond of pictures, especially the old black ones.
There are two or three here that ought to keep you in spirits."
"Oh, to-day," answered Valentin, "I am not in a mood for pictures,
and the more beautiful they are the less I like them.
Their great staring eyes and fixed positions irritate me.
I feel as if I were at some big, dull party, in a room full
of people I shouldn't wish to speak to. What should I care for
their beauty? It's a bore, and, worse still, it's a reproach.
I have a great many ennuis; I feel vicious."
"If the Louvre has so little comfort for you, why in the world
did you come here?" Newman asked.
"That is one of my ennuis. I came to meet my cousin--
a dreadful English cousin, a member of my mother's family--
who is in Paris for a week for her husband, and who wishes
me to point out the 'principal beauties.' Imagine a woman
who wears a green crape bonnet in December and has straps
sticking out of the ankles of her interminable boots!
My mother begged I would do something to oblige them.
I have undertaken to play valet de place this afternoon.
They were to have met me here at two o'clock, and I have been
waiting for them twenty minutes. Why doesn't she arrive?
She has at least a pair of feet to carry her.
I don't know whether to be furious at their playing me false,
or delighted to have escaped them."
"I think in your place I would be furious," said Newman, "because they
may arrive yet, and then your fury will still be of use to you.
Whereas if you were delighted and they were afterwards to turn up,
you might not know what to do with your delight."
"You give me excellent advice, and I already feel better.
I will be furious; I will let them go to the deuce and I myself
will go with you--unless by chance you too have a rendezvous."
"It is not exactly a rendezvous," said Newman. "But I have in fact
come to see a person, not a picture."
"A woman, presumably?"
"A young lady."
"Well," said Valentin, "I hope for you with all my heart that she
is not clothed in green tulle and that her feet are not too much
out of focus."
"I don't know much about her feet, but she has very pretty hands."
Valentin gave a sigh. "And on that assurance I must part with you?"
"I am not certain of finding my young lady," said Newman,
"and I am not quite prepared to lose your company on the chance.
It does not strike me as particularly desirable to introduce you
to her, and yet I should rather like to have your opinion of her."
"Is she pretty?"
"I guess you will think so."
Bellegarde passed his arm into that of his companion.
"Conduct me to her on the instant! I should be ashamed to make
a pretty woman wait for my verdict."
Newman suffered himself to be gently propelled in the direction
in which he had been walking, but his step was not rapid.
He was turning something over in his mind. The two men passed
into the long gallery of the Italian masters, and Newman,
after having scanned for a moment its brilliant vista,
turned aside into the smaller apartment devoted to the same school,
on the left. It contained very few persons, but at the farther
end of it sat Mademoiselle Nioche, before her easel.
She was not at work; her palette and brushes had been
laid down beside her, her hands were folded in her lap,
and she was leaning back in her chair and looking intently
at two ladies on the other side of the hall, who, with their
backs turned to her, had stopped before one of the pictures.
These ladies were apparently persons of high fashion;
they were dressed with great splendor, and their long silken
trains and furbelows were spread over the polished floor.
It was at their dresses Mademoiselle Noemie was looking,
though what she was thinking of I am unable to say.
I hazard the supposition that she was saying to herself
that to be able to drag such a train over a polished floor
was a felicity worth any price. Her reflections, at any rate,
were disturbed by the advent of Newman and his companion.
She glanced at them quickly, and then, coloring a little,
rose and stood before her easel.
"I came here on purpose to see you," said Newman in his bad French,
offering to shake hands. And then, like a good American, he introduced
Valentin formally: "Allow me to make you acquainted with the Comte
Valentin de Bellegarde."
Valentin made a bow which must have seemed to Mademoiselle Noemie quite
in harmony with the impressiveness of his title, but the graceful
brevity of her own response made no concession to underbred surprise.
She turned to Newman, putting up her hands to her hair and smoothing its
delicately-felt roughness. Then, rapidly, she turned the canvas that was
on her easel over upon its face. "You have not forgotten me?" she asked.
"I shall never forget you," said Newman. "You may be sure of that."
"Oh," said the young girl, "there are a great many different
ways of remembering a person." And she looked straight at
Valentin de Bellegarde, who was looking at her as a gentleman
may when a "verdict" is expected of him.
"Have you painted anything for me?" said Newman.
"Have you been industrious?"
"No, I have done nothing." And taking up her palette,
she began to mix her colors at hazard.
"But your father tells me you have come here constantly."
"I have nowhere else to go! Here, all summer, it was cool, at least."
"Being here, then," said Newman, "you might have tried something."
"I told you before," she answered, softly, "that I don't know
how to paint."
"But you have something charming on your easel, now," said Valentin,
"if you would only let me see it."
She spread out her two hands, with the fingers expanded, over the back
of the canvas--those hands which Newman had called pretty, and which,
in spite of several paint-stains, Valentin could now admire.
"My painting is not charming," she said.
"It is the only thing about you that is not, then, mademoiselle,"
quoth Valentin, gallantly.
She took up her little canvas and silently passed it to him.
He looked at it, and in a moment she said, "I am sure you
are a judge."
"Yes," he answered, "I am."
"You know, then, that that is very bad."
"Mon Dieu," said Valentin, shrugging his shoulders "let us distinguish."
"You know that I ought not to attempt to paint," the young girl continued.
"Frankly, then, mademoiselle, I think you ought not."
She began to look at the dresses of the two splendid ladies again--
a point on which, having risked one conjecture, I think I may risk another.
While she was looking at the ladies she was seeing Valentin de Bellegarde.
He, at all events, was seeing her. He put down the roughly-besmeared canvas
and addressed a little click with his tongue, accompanied by an elevation
of the eyebrows, to Newman.
"Where have you been all these months?" asked Mademoiselle
Noemie of our hero. "You took those great journeys,
you amused yourself well?"
"Oh, yes," said Newman. "I amused myself well enough."
"I am very glad," said Mademoiselle Noemie with extreme gentleness,
and she began to dabble in her colors again. She was singularly pretty,
with the look of serious sympathy that she threw into her face.
Valentin took advantage of her downcast eyes to telegraph again to
his companion. He renewed his mysterious physiognomical play, making at
the same time a rapid tremulous movement in the air with his fingers.
He was evidently finding Mademoiselle Noemie extremely interesting;
the blue devils had departed, leaving the field clear.
"Tell me something about your travels," murmured the young girl.
"Oh, I went to Switzerland,--to Geneva and Zermatt and Zurich and all
those places you know; and down to Venice, and all through Germany,
and down the Rhine, and into Holland and Belgium--the regular round.
How do you say that, in French--the regular round?"
Newman asked of Valentin.
Mademoiselle Nioche fixed her eyes an instant on Bellegarde,
and then with a little smile, "I don't understand monsieur,"
she said, "when he says so much at once. Would you be so good
as to translate?"
"I would rather talk to you out of my own head," Valentin declared.
"No," said Newman, gravely, still in his bad French, "you must not
talk to Mademoiselle Nioche, because you say discouraging things.
You ought to tell her to work, to persevere."
"And we French, mademoiselle," said Valentin, "are accused
of being false flatterers!"
"I don't want any flattery, I want only the truth.
But I know the truth."
"All I say is that I suspect there are some things that you can
do better than paint," said Valentin.
"I know the truth--I know the truth," Mademoiselle Noemie repeated.
And, dipping a brush into a clot of red paint, she drew a great horizontal
daub across her unfinished picture.
"What is that?" asked Newman.
Without answering, she drew another long crimson daub,
in a vertical direction, down the middle of her canvas, and so,
in a moment, completed the rough indication of a cross.
"It is the sign of the truth," she said at last.
The two men looked at each other, and Valentin indulged in another flash
of physiognomical eloquence. "You have spoiled your picture," said Newman.
"I know that very well. It was the only thing to do with it.
I had sat looking at it all day without touching it.
I had begun to hate it. It seemed to me something was
going to happen."
"I like it better that way than as it was before," said Valentin.
"Now it is more interesting. It tells a story. Is it for sale?"
"Everything I have is for sale," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
"How much is this thing?"
"Ten thousand francs," said the young girl, without a smile.
"Everything that Mademoiselle Nioche may do at present is mine in advance,"
said Newman. "It makes part of an order I gave her some months ago.
So you can't have this."
"Monsieur will lose nothing by it," said the young girl, looking at Valentin.
And she began to put up her utensils.
"I shall have gained a charming memory," said Valentin.
"You are going away? your day is over?"
"My father is coming to fetch me," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
She had hardly spoken when, through the door behind her,
which opens on one of the great white stone staircases of the Louvre,
M. Nioche made his appearance. He came in with his usual even,
patient shuffle, and he made a low salute to the two
gentlemen who were standing before his daughter's easel.
Newman shook his hands with muscular friendliness, and Valentin
returned his greeting with extreme deference. While the old man
stood waiting for Noemie to make a parcel of her implements,
he let his mild, oblique gaze hover toward Bellegarde, who was
watching Mademoiselle Noemie put on her bonnet and mantle.
Valentin was at no pains to disguise his scrutiny.
He looked at a pretty girl as he would have listened to a piece
of music. Attention, in each case, was simple good manners.
M. Nioche at last took his daughter's paint-box in one
hand and the bedaubed canvas, after giving it a solemn,
puzzled stare, in the other, and led the way to the door.
Mademoiselle Noemie made the young men the salute of a duchess,
and followed her father.
"Well," said Newman, "what do you think of her?"
"She is very remarkable. Diable, diable, diable!" repeated M. de
Bellegarde, reflectively; "she is very remarkable."
"I am afraid she is a sad little adventuress," said Newman.
"Not a little one--a great one. She has the material."
And Valentin began to walk away slowly, looking vaguely at the
pictures on the walls, with a thoughtful illumination in his eye.
Nothing could have appealed to his imagination more than the
possible adventures of a young lady endowed with the "material"
of Mademoiselle Nioche. "She is very interesting," he went on.
"She is a beautiful type."
"A beautiful type? What the deuce do you mean?" asked Newman.
"I mean from the artistic point of view. She is an artist,--
outside of her painting, which obviously is execrable."
"But she is not beautiful. I don't even think her very pretty."
"She is quite pretty enough for her purposes, and it is a face and figure on
which everything tells. If she were prettier she would be less intelligent,
and her intelligence is half of her charm."
"In what way," asked Newman, who was much amused at his
companion's immediate philosophization of Mademoiselle Nioche,
"does her intelligence strike you as so remarkable?"
"She has taken the measure of life, and she has determined
to BE something--to succeed at any cost. Her painting,
of course, is a mere trick to gain time. She is waiting for
her chance; she wishes to launch herself, and to do it well.
She knows her Paris. She is one of fifty thousand, so far
as the mere ambition goes; but I am very sure that in the way
of resolution and capacity she is a rarity. And in one gift--
perfect heartlessness--I will warrant she is unsurpassed.
She has not as much heart as will go on the point of a needle.
That is an immense virtue. Yes, she is one of the celebrities
of the future."
"Heaven help us!" said Newman, "how far the artistic point
of view may take a man! But in this case I must request that you
don't let it take you too far. You have learned a wonderful
deal about Mademoiselle Noemie in a quarter of an hour.
Let that suffice; don't follow up your researches."
"My dear fellow," cried Bellegarde with warmth, "I hope I
have too good manners to intrude."
"You are not intruding. The girl is nothing to me.
In fact, I rather dislike her. But I like her poor old father,
and for his sake I beg you to abstain from any attempt
to verify your theories."
"For the sake of that seedy old gentleman who came to fetch her?"
demanded Valentin, stopping short. And on Newman's assenting, "Ah no,
ah no," he went on with a smile. "You are quite wrong, my dear fellow;
you needn't mind him."
"I verily believe that you are accusing the poor gentleman of being
capable of rejoicing in his daughter's dishonor."
"Voyons," said Valentin; "who is he? what is he?"
"He is what he looks like: as poor as a rat, but very high-toned."
"Exactly. I noticed him perfectly; be sure I do him justice.
He has had losses, des malheurs, as we say.
He is very low-spirited, and his daughter is too much for him.
He is the pink of respectability, and he has sixty years
of honesty on his back. All this I perfectly appreciate.
But I know my fellow-men and my fellow-Parisians, and I will make
a bargain with you." Newman gave ear to his bargain and he went on.
"He would rather his daughter were a good girl than a bad one,
but if the worst comes to the worst, the old man will not
do what Virginius did. Success justifies everything.
If Mademoiselle Noemie makes a figure, her papa will feel--
well, we will call it relieved. And she will make a figure.
The old gentleman's future is assured."
"I don't know what Virginius did, but M. Nioche will shoot Miss Noemie,"
said Newman. "After that, I suppose his future will be assured
in some snug prison."
"I am not a cynic; I am simply an observer," Valentin rejoined.
"Mademoiselle Noemie interests me; she is extremely remarkable.
If there is a good reason, in honor or decency, for dismissing
her from my thoughts forever, I am perfectly willing to do it.
Your estimate of the papa's sensibilities is a good reason until it
is invalidated. I promise you not to look at the young girl again
until you tell me that you have changed your mind about the papa.
When he has given distinct proof of being a philosopher, you will
raise your interdict. Do you agree to that?"
"Do you mean to bribe him?"
"Oh, you admit, then, that he is bribable? No, he would ask too much,
and it would not be exactly fair. I mean simply to wait.
You will continue, I suppose, to see this interesting couple,
and you will give me the news yourself."
"Well," said Newman, "if the old man turns out a humbug,
you may do what you please. I wash my hands of the matter.
For the girl herself, you may be at rest. I don't know
what harm she may do to me, but I certainly can't hurt her.
It seems to me," said Newman, "that you are very well matched.
You are both hard cases, and M. Nioche and I, I believe,
are the only virtuous men to be found in Paris."
Soon after this M. de Bellegarde, in punishment for his levity,
received a stern poke in the back from a pointed instrument.
Turning quickly round he found the weapon to be a parasol wielded
by a lady in green gauze bonnet. Valentin's English cousins had been
drifting about unpiloted, and evidently deemed that they had a grievance.
Newman left him to their mercies, but with a boundless faith in his
power to plead his cause.
Three days after his introduction to the family of Madame
de Cintre, Newman, coming in toward evening, found upon his table
the card of the Marquis de Bellegarde. On the following day
he received a note informing him that the Marquise de Bellegarde
would be grateful for the honor of his company at dinner.
He went, of course, though he had to break another engagement
to do it. He was ushered into the room in which Madame
de Bellegarde had received him before, and here he found
his venerable hostess, surrounded by her entire family.
The room was lighted only by the crackling fire,
which illuminated the very small pink slippers of a lady who,
seated in a low chair, was stretching out her toes before it.
This lady was the younger Madame de Bellegarde. Madame de
Cintre was seated at the other end of the room, holding a little
girl against her knee, the child of her brother Urbain,
to whom she was apparently relating a wonderful story.
Valentin was sitting on a puff, close to his sister-in-law,
into whose ear he was certainly distilling the finest nonsense.
The marquis was stationed before the fire, with his head erect
and his hands behind him, in an attitude of formal expectancy.
Old Madame de Bellegarde stood up to give Newman her greeting,
and there was that in the way she did so which seemed
to measure narrowly the extent of her condescension.
"We are all alone, you see, we have asked no one else,"
she said, austerely.
"I am very glad you didn't; this is much more sociable," said Newman.
"Good evening, sir," and he offered his hand to the marquis.
M. de Bellegarde was affable, but in spite of his dignity he was restless.
He began to pace up and down the room, he looked out of the long windows,
he took up books and laid them down again. Young Madame de Bellegarde gave
Newman her hand without moving and without looking at him.
"You may think that is coldness," exclaimed Valentin; "but it is not,
it is warmth. It shows she is treating you as an intimate.
Now she detests me, and yet she is always looking at me."
"No wonder I detest you if I am always looking at you!" cried the lady.
"If Mr. Newman does not like my way of shaking hands, I will do it again."
But this charming privilege was lost upon our hero, who was
already making his way across the room to Madame de Cintre.
She looked at him as she shook hands, but she went on with
the story she was telling her little niece. She had only two or
three phrases to add, but they were apparently of great moment.
She deepened her voice, smiling as she did so, and the little
girl gazed at her with round eyes.
"But in the end the young prince married the beautiful Florabella,"
said Madame de Cintre, "and carried her off to live with him in the Land
of the Pink Sky. There she was so happy that she forgot all her troubles,
and went out to drive every day of her life in an ivory coach drawn
by five hundred white mice. Poor Florabella," she exclaimed to Newman,
"had suffered terribly."
"She had had nothing to eat for six months," said little Blanche.
"Yes, but when the six months were over, she had a
plum-cake as big as that ottoman," said Madame de Cintre.
"That quite set her up again."
"What a checkered career!" said Newman. "Are you very fond of children?"
He was certain that she was, but he wished to make her say it.
"I like to talk with them," she answered; "we can talk
with them so much more seriously than with grown persons.
That is great nonsense that I have been telling Blanche,
but it is a great deal more serious than most of what we
say in society."
"I wish you would talk to me, then, as if I were Blanche's age,"
said Newman, laughing. "Were you happy at your ball,
the other night?"
"Now you are talking the nonsense that we talk in society," said Newman.
"I don't believe that."
"It was my own fault if I was not happy. The ball was very pretty,
and every one very amiable."
"It was on your conscience," said Newman, "that you had annoyed
your mother and your brother."
Madame de Cintre looked at him a moment without answering.
"That is true," she replied at last. "I had undertaken
more than I could carry out. I have very little courage;
I am not a heroine." She said this with a certain soft emphasis;
but then, changing her tone, "I could never have gone through
the sufferings of the beautiful Florabella," she added,
not even for her prospective rewards.
Dinner was announced, and Newman betook himself to the side
of the old Madame de Bellegarde. The dining-room, at the end
of a cold corridor, was vast and sombre; the dinner was
simple and delicately excellent. Newman wondered whether
Madame de Cintre had had something to do with ordering
the repast and greatly hoped she had. Once seated at table,
with the various members of the ancient house of Bellegarde
around him, he asked himself the meaning of his position.
Was the old lady responding to his advances? Did the fact
that he was a solitary guest augment his credit or diminish it?
Were they ashamed to show him to other people, or did they wish to
give him a sign of sudden adoption into their last reserve of favor?
Newman was on his guard; he was watchful and conjectural;
and yet at the same time he was vaguely indifferent.
Whether they gave him a long rope or a short one he was
there now, and Madame de Cintre was opposite to him.
She had a tall candlestick on each side of her;
she would sit there for the next hour, and that was enough.
The dinner was extremely solemn and measured; he wondered
whether this was always the state of things in "old families."
Madame de Bellegarde held her head very high, and fixed her eyes,
which looked peculiarly sharp in her little, finely-wrinkled
white face, very intently upon the table-service. The marquis
appeared to have decided that the fine arts offered a safe subject
of conversation, as not leading to startling personal revelations.
Every now and then, having learned from Newman that he had been
through the museums of Europe, he uttered some polished aphorism
upon the flesh-tints of Rubens and the good taste of Sansovino.
His manners seemed to indicate a fine, nervous dread that
something disagreeable might happen if the atmosphere were
not purified by allusions of a thoroughly superior cast.
"What under the sun is the man afraid of?" Newman asked himself.
"Does he think I am going to offer to swap jack-knives with him?"
It was useless to shut his eyes to the fact that the marquis
was profoundly disagreeable to him. He had never been
a man of strong personal aversions; his nerves had not been
at the mercy of the mystical qualities of his neighbors.
But here was a man towards whom he was irresistibly in opposition;
a man of forms and phrases and postures; a man full of possible
impertinences and treacheries. M. de Bellegarde made him feel
as if he were standing bare-footed on a marble floor; and yet,
to gain his desire, Newman felt perfectly able to stand.
He wondered what Madame de Cintre thought of his being accepted,
if accepted it was. There was no judging from her face,
which expressed simply the desire to be gracious in a manner
which should require as little explicit recognition as possible.
Young Madame de Bellegarde had always the same manners;
she was always preoccupied, distracted, listening to everything
and hearing nothing, looking at her dress, her rings,
her finger-nails, seeming rather bored, and yet puzzling
you to decide what was her ideal of social diversion.
Newman was enlightened on this point later. Even Valentin did
not quite seem master of his wits; his vivacity was fitful
and forced, yet Newman observed that in the lapses of his talk
he appeared excited. His eyes had an intenser spark than usual.
The effect of all this was that Newman, for the first time
in his life, was not himself; that he measured his movements,
and counted his words, and resolved that if the occasion
demanded that he should appear to have swallowed a ramrod,
he would meet the emergency.
After dinner M. de Bellegarde proposed to his guest that they
should go into the smoking-room, and he led the way toward a small,
somewhat musty apartment, the walls of which were ornamented
with old hangings of stamped leather and trophies of rusty arms.
Newman refused a cigar, but he established himself upon one
of the divans, while the marquis puffed his own weed before
the fire-place, and Valentin sat looking through the light fumes
of a cigarette from one to the other.
"I can't keep quiet any longer," said Valentin, at last.
"I must tell you the news and congratulate you.
My brother seems unable to come to the point; he revolves
around his announcement like the priest around the altar.
You are accepted as a candidate for the hand of our sister."
"Valentin, be a little proper!" murmured the marquis, with a look of the most
delicate irritation contracting the bridge of his high nose.
"There has been a family council," the young man continued;
"my mother and Urbain have put their heads together,
and even my testimony has not been altogether excluded.
My mother and the marquis sat at a table covered with green cloth;
my sister-in-law and I were on a bench against the wall.
It was like a committee at the Corps Legislatif.
We were called up, one after the other, to testify.
We spoke of you very handsomely. Madame de Bellegarde said
that if she had not been told who you were, she would have taken
you for a duke--an American duke, the Duke of California.
I said that I could warrant you grateful for the smallest favors--
modest, humble, unassuming. I was sure that you would know
your own place, always, and never give us occasion to remind
you of certain differences. After all, you couldn't help it
if you were not a duke. There were none in your country;
but if there had been, it was certain that, smart and active
as you are, you would have got the pick of the titles.
At this point I was ordered to sit down, but I think I made
an impression in your favor."
M. de Bellegarde looked at his brother with dangerous coldness,
and gave a smile as thin as the edge of a knife. Then he removed
a spark of cigar-ash from the sleeve of his coat; he fixed his eyes
for a while on the cornice of the room, and at last he inserted
one of his white hands into the breast of his waistcoat.
"I must apologize to you for the deplorable levity of my brother,"
he said, "and I must notify you that this is probably not the last
time that his want of tact will cause you serious embarrassment."
"No, I confess I have no tact," said Valentin. "Is your embarrassment
really painful, Newman? The marquis will put you right again;
his own touch is deliciously delicate."
"Valentin, I am sorry to say," the marquis continued,
"has never possessed the tone, the manner, that belongs to a
young man in his position. It has been a great affliction
to his mother, who is very fond of the old traditions.
But you must remember that he speaks for no one but himself."
"Oh, I don't mind him, sir," said Newman, good-humoredly. "I
know what he amounts to."
"In the good old times," said Valentin, "marquises and counts used to have
their appointed fools and jesters, to crack jokes for them. Nowadays we
see a great strapping democrat keeping a count about him to play the fool.
It's a good situation, but I certainly am very degenerate."
M. de Bellegarde fixed his eyes for some time on the floor.
"My mother informed me," he said presently, "of the announcement
that you made to her the other evening."
"That I desired to marry your sister?" said Newman.
"That you wished to arrange a marriage," said the marquis, slowly,
"with my sister, the Comtesse de Cintre. The proposal was serious,
and required, on my mother's part, a great deal of reflection.
She naturally took me into her counsels, and I gave my most zealous
attention to the subject. There was a great deal to be considered;
more than you appear to imagine. We have viewed the question
on all its faces, we have weighed one thing against another.
Our conclusion has been that we favor your suit.
My mother has desired me to inform you of our decision.
She will have the honor of saying a few words to you on
the subject, herself. Meanwhile, by us, the heads of the family,
you are accepted."
Newman got up and came nearer to the marquis. "You will do nothing
to hinder me, and all you can to help me, eh?"
"I will recommend my sister to accept you."
Newman passed his hand over his face, and pressed it for
a moment upon his eyes. This promise had a great sound,
and yet the pleasure he took in it was embittered by his having
to stand there so and receive his passport from M. de Bellegarde.
The idea of having this gentleman mixed up with his wooing
and wedding was more and more disagreeable to him.
But Newman had resolved to go through the mill, as he imagined it,
and he would not cry out at the first turn of the wheel.
He was silent a while, and then he said, with a certain dryness
which Valentin told him afterwards had a very grand air,
"I am much obliged to you."
"I take note of the promise," said Valentin, "I register the vow."
M. de Bellegarde began to gaze at the cornice again; he apparently
had something more to say. "I must do my mother the justice,"
he resumed, "I must do myself the justice, to say that our decision
was not easy. Such an arrangement was not what we had expected.
The idea that my sister should marry a gentleman--ah--in business
was something of a novelty."
"So I told you, you know," said Valentin raising his finger at Newman.
"The novelty has not quite worn away, I confess," the marquis went on;
"perhaps it never will, entirely. But possibly that is not altogether
to be regretted," and he gave his thin smile again. "It may be that
the time has come when we should make some concession to novelty.
There had been no novelties in our house for a great many years.
I made the observation to my mother, and she did me the honor to admit
that it was worthy of attention."
"My dear brother," interrupted Valentin, "is not your memory just
here leading you the least bit astray? Our mother is, I may say,
distinguished for her small respect of abstract reasoning. Are you
very sure that she replied to your striking proposition in the gracious
manner you describe? You know how terribly incisive she is sometimes.
Didn't she, rather, do you the honor to say, 'A fiddlestick for your phrases!
There are better reasons than that'?"
"Other reasons were discussed," said the marquis, without looking at Valentin,
but with an audible tremor in his voice; "some of them possibly were better.
We are conservative, Mr. Newman, but we are not also bigots. We judged
the matter liberally. We have no doubt that everything will be comfortable."
Newman had stood listening to these remarks with his arms folded and his
eyes fastened upon M. de Bellegarde, "Comfortable?" he said, with a sort
of grim flatness of intonation. "Why shouldn't we be comfortable?
If you are not, it will be your own fault; I have everything to make ME so."
"My brother means that with the lapse of time you may get used to the change"--
and Valentin paused, to light another cigarette.
"What change?" asked Newman in the same tone.
"Urbain," said Valentin, very gravely, "I am afraid that Mr. Newman does
not quite realize the change. We ought to insist upon that."
"My brother goes too far," said M. de Bellegarde.
"It is his fatal want of tact again. It is my mother's wish,
and mine, that no such allusions should be made.
Pray never make them yourself. We prefer to assume that
the person accepted as the possible husband of my sister is one
of ourselves, and that he should have no explanations to make.
With a little discretion on both sides, everything, I think,
will be easy. That is exactly what I wished to say--
that we quite understand what we have undertaken, and that you
may depend upon our adhering to our resolution."
Valentin shook his hands in the air and then buried his face in them.
"I have less tact than I might have, no doubt; but oh,
my brother, if you knew what you yourself were saying!"
And he went off into a long laugh.
M. de Bellegarde's face flushed a little, but he held his head higher,
as if to repudiate this concession to vulgar perturbability.
"I am sure you understand me," he said to Newman.
"Oh no, I don't understand you at all," said Newman.
"But you needn't mind that. I don't care. In fact, I think
I had better not understand you. I might not like it.
That wouldn't suit me at all, you know. I want to marry
your sister, that's all; to do it as quickly as possible,
and to find fault with nothing. I don't care how I do it.
I am not marrying you, you know, sir. I have got my leave,
and that is all I want."
"You had better receive the last word from my mother,"
said the marquis.
"Very good; I will go and get it," said Newman; and he prepared
to return to the drawing-room.
M. de Bellegarde made a motion for him to pass first, and when
Newman had gone out he shut himself into the room with Valentin.
Newman had been a trifle bewildered by the audacious irony
of the younger brother, and he had not needed its aid to point
the moral of M. de Bellegarde's transcendent patronage.
He had wit enough to appreciate the force of that civility
which consists in calling your attention to the impertinences
it spares you. But he had felt warmly the delicate sympathy
with himself that underlay Valentin's fraternal irreverence,
and he was most unwilling that his friend should pay a tax upon it.
He paused a moment in the corridor, after he had gone a few steps,
expecting to hear the resonance of M. de Bellegarde's displeasure;
but he detected only a perfect stillness. The stillness
itself seemed a trifle portentous; he reflected however that
he had no right to stand listening, and he made his way back
to the salon. In his absence several persons had come in.
They were scattered about the room in groups, two or three of them
having passed into a small boudoir, next to the drawing-room,
which had now been lighted and opened. Old Madame de Bellegarde
was in her place by the fire, talking to a very old gentleman
in a wig and a profuse white neck cloth of the fashion of 1820.
Madame de Cintre was bending a listening head to the historic
confidences of an old lady who was presumably the wife
of the old gentleman in the neckcloth, an old lady in a red
satin dress and an ermine cape, who wore across her forehead
a band with a topaz set in it. Young Madame de Bellegarde,
when Newman came in, left some people among whom she was sitting,
and took the place that she had occupied before dinner.
Then she gave a little push to the puff that stood near her,
and by a glance at Newman seemed to indicate that she had placed
it in position for him. He went and took possession of it;
the marquis's wife amused and puzzled him.
"I know your secret," she said, in her bad but charming English;
"you need make no mystery of it. You wish to marry my sister-in-law.
C'est un beau choix. A man like you ought to marry a tall, thin woman.
You must know that I have spoken in your favor; you owe me a famous taper!"
"You have spoken to Madame de Cintre?" said Newman.
"Oh no, not that. You may think it strange, but my sister-in-law and I are
not so intimate as that. No; I spoke to my husband and my mother-in-law;
I said I was sure we could do what we chose with you."
"I am much, obliged to you," said Newman, laughing; "but you can't."
"I know that very well; I didn't believe a word of it.
But I wanted you to come into the house; I thought we
should be friends."
"I am very sure of it," said Newman.
"Don't be too sure. If you like Madame de Cintre so much,
perhaps you will not like me. We are as different as blue and pink.
But you and I have something in common. I have come into this
family by marriage; you want to come into it in the same way."
"Oh no, I don't!" interrupted Newman. "I only want to take Madame
de Cintre out of it."
"Well, to cast your nets you have to go into the water.
Our positions are alike; we shall be able to compare notes.
What do you think of my husband? It's a strange question, isn't it?
But I shall ask you some stranger ones yet."
"Perhaps a stranger one will be easier to answer," said Newman.
"You might try me."
"Oh, you get off very well; the old Comte de la Rochefidele,
yonder, couldn't do it better. I told them that if we only
gave you a chance you would be a perfect talon rouge. I know
something about men. Besides, you and I belong to the same camp.
I am a ferocious democrat. By birth I am vieille roche; a good
little bit of the history of France is the history of my family.
Oh, you never heard of us, of course! Ce que c'est que la gloire!
We are much better than the Bellegardes, at any rate.
But I don't care a pin for my pedigree; I want to belong to my time.
I'm a revolutionist, a radical, a child of the age!
I am sure I go beyond you. I like clever people, wherever they
come from, and I take my amusement wherever I find it.
I don't pout at the Empire; here all the world pouts at the Empire.
Of course I have to mind what I say; but I expect to take my
revenge with you." Madame de Bellegarde discoursed for some
time longer in this sympathetic strain, with an eager abundance
which seemed to indicate that her opportunities for revealing
her esoteric philosophy were indeed rare. She hoped that Newman
would never be afraid of her, however he might be with the others,
for, really, she went very far indeed. "Strong people"--
le gens forts--were in her opinion equal, all the world over.
Newman listened to her with an attention at once beguiled and irritated.
He wondered what the deuce she, too, was driving at, with her hope
that he would not be afraid of her and her protestations of equality.
In so far as he could understand her, she was wrong; a silly,
rattling woman was certainly not the equal of a sensible man,
preoccupied with an ambitious passion. Madame de Bellegarde
stopped suddenly, and looked at him sharply, shaking her fan.
"I see you don't believe me," she said, "you are too much on your guard.
You will not form an alliance, offensive or defensive?
You are very wrong; I could help you."
Newman answered that he was very grateful and that he would certainly ask
for help; she should see. "But first of all," he said, "I must help myself."
And he went to join Madame de Cintre.
"I have been telling Madame de la Rochefidele that you are
an American," she said, as he came up. "It interests her greatly.
Her father went over with the French troops to help you
in your battles in the last century, and she has always,
in consequence, wanted greatly to see an American.
But she has never succeeded till to-night. You are the first--
to her knowledge--that she has ever looked at."
Madame de la Rochefidele had an aged, cadaverous face,
with a falling of the lower jaw which prevented her from
bringing her lips together, and reduced her conversations
to a series of impressive but inarticulate gutturals.
She raised an antique eyeglass, elaborately mounted
in chased silver, and looked at Newman from head to foot.
Then she said something to which he listened deferentially,
but which he completely failed to understand.
"Madame de la Rochefidele says that she is convinced that she must
have seen Americans without knowing it," Madame de Cintre explained.
Newman thought it probable she had seen a great many things
without knowing it; and the old lady, again addressing herself
to utterance, declared--as interpreted by Madame de Cintre--
that she wished she had known it.
At this moment the old gentleman who had been talking to the elder
Madame de Bellegarde drew near, leading the marquise on his arm.
His wife pointed out Newman to him, apparently explaining his
remarkable origin. M. de la Rochefidele, whose old age was rosy
and rotund, spoke very neatly and clearly, almost as prettily,
Newman thought, as M. Nioche. When he had been enlightened,
he turned to Newman with an inimitable elderly grace.
"Monsieur is by no means the first American that I have seen," he said.
"Almost the first person I ever saw--to notice him--was an American."
"Ah?" said Newman, sympathetically.
"The great Dr. Franklin," said M. de la Rochefidele.
"Of course I was very young. He was received very well
in our monde."
"Not better than Mr. Newman," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"I beg he will offer his arm into the other room.
I could have offered no higher privilege to Dr. Franklin."
Newman, complying with Madame de Bellegarde's request, perceived that
her two sons had returned to the drawing-room. He scanned their
faces an instant for traces of the scene that had followed his
separation from them, but the marquise seemed neither more nor
less frigidly grand than usual, and Valentin was kissing ladies'
hands with at least his habitual air of self-abandonment to the act.
Madame de Bellegarde gave a glance at her eldest son, and by the time
she had crossed the threshold of her boudoir he was at her side.
The room was now empty and offered a sufficient degree of privacy.
The old lady disengaged herself from Newman's arm and rested her hand
on the arm of the marquis; and in this position she stood a moment,
holding her head high and biting her small under-lip. I am afraid
the picture was lost upon Newman, but Madame de Bellegarde was,
in fact, at this moment a striking image of the dignity which--
even in the case of a little time-shrunken old lady--may reside
in the habit of unquestioned authority and the absoluteness of a
social theory favorable to yourself.
"My son has spoken to you as I desired," she said, "and you understand
that we shall not interfere. The rest will lie with yourself."
"M. de Bellegarde told me several things I didn't understand,"
said Newman, "but I made out that. You will leave me open field.
I am much obliged."
"I wish to add a word that my son probably did not feel at liberty to say,"
the marquise rejoined. "I must say it for my own peace of mind.
We are stretching a point; we are doing you a great favor."
"Oh, your son said it very well; didn't you?" said Newman.
"Not so well as my mother," declared the marquis.
"I can only repeat--I am much obliged."
"It is proper I should tell you," Madame de Bellegarde went on,
"that I am very proud, and that I hold my head very high.
I may be wrong, but I am too old to change.
At least I know it, and I don't pretend to anything else.
Don't flatter yourself that my daughter is not proud.
She is proud in her own way--a somewhat different way from mine.
You will have to make your terms with that. Even Valentin
is proud, if you touch the right spot--or the wrong one.
Urbain is proud; that you see for yourself. Sometimes I
think he is a little too proud; but I wouldn't change him.
He is the best of my children; he cleaves to his old mother.
But I have said enough to show you that we are all proud together.
It is well that you should know the sort of people you
have come among."
"Well," said Newman, "I can only say, in return, that I am NOT proud;
I shan't mind you! But you speak as if you intended to be very disagreeable."
"I shall not enjoy having my daughter marry you, and I shall not pretend
to enjoy it. If you don't mind that, so much the better."
"If you stick to your own side of the contract we shall
not quarrel; that is all I ask of you," said Newman.
"Keep your hands off, and give me an open field.
I am very much in earnest, and there is not the slightest
danger of my getting discouraged or backing out.
You will have me constantly before your eyes; if you don't
like it, I am sorry for you. I will do for your daughter,
if she will accept me everything that a man can do for a woman.
I am happy to tell you that, as a promise--a pledge.
I consider that on your side you make me an equal pledge.
You will not back out, eh?"
"I don't know what you mean by 'backing out,' " said the marquise.
"It suggests a movement of which I think no Bellegarde has
ever been guilty."
"Our word is our word," said Urbain. "We have given it."
"Well, now," said Newman, "I am very glad you are so proud.
It makes me believe that you will keep it."
The marquise was silent a moment, and then, suddenly, "I shall
always be polite to you, Mr. Newman," she declared, "but, decidedly,
I shall never like you."
"Don't be too sure," said Newman, laughing.
"I am so sure that I will ask you to take me back to my arm-chair without the
least fear of having my sentiments modified by the service you render me."
And Madame de Bellegarde took his arm, and returned to the salon and to
her customary place.
M. de la Rochefidele and his wife were preparing to take their leave,
and Madame de Cintre's interview with the mumbling old lady was at an end.
She stood looking about her, asking herself, apparently to whom she
should next speak, when Newman came up to her.
"Your mother has given me leave--very solemnly--to come here often," he said.
"I mean to come often."
"I shall be glad to see you," she answered, simply. And then, in a moment.
"You probably think it very strange that there should be such a solemnity--
as you say--about your coming."
"Well, yes; I do, rather."
"Do you remember what my brother Valentin said, the first time
you came to see me--that we were a strange, strange family?"
"It was not the first time I came, but the second," said Newman.
"Very true. Valentin annoyed me at the time, but now I know you better,
I may tell you he was right. If you come often, you will see!"
and Madame de Cintre turned away.
Newman watched her a while, talking with other people,
and then he took his leave. He shook hands last with Valentin
de Bellegarde, who came out with him to the top of the staircase.
"Well, you have got your permit," said Valentin.
"I hope you liked the process."
"I like your sister, more than ever. But don't worry your
brother any more for my sake," Newman added. "I don't mind him.
I am afraid he came down on you in the smoking-room, after
I went out."
"When my brother comes down on me," said Valentin, "he falls hard.
I have a peculiar way of receiving him. I must say," he continued,
"that they came up to the mark much sooner than I expected.
I don't understand it, they must have had to turn the screw pretty tight.
It's a tribute to your millions."
"Well, it's the most precious one they have ever received," said Newman.
He was turning away when Valentin stopped him, looking at him with
a brilliant, softly-cynical glance. "I should like to know whether,
within a few days, you have seen your venerable friend M. Nioche."
"He was yesterday at my rooms," Newman answered.
"What did he tell you?"
"You didn't see the muzzle of a pistol sticking out of his pocket?"
"What are you driving at?" Newman demanded. "I thought he seemed
rather cheerful for him."
Valentin broke into a laugh. "I am delighted to hear it!
I win my bet. Mademoiselle Noemie has thrown her cap over
the mill, as we say. She has left the paternal domicile.
She is launched! And M. Nioche is rather cheerful--FOR HIM!
Don't brandish your tomahawk at that rate; I have not seen
her nor communicated with her since that day at the Louvre.
Andromeda has found another Perseus than I. My information is exact;
on such matters it always is. I suppose that now you will
raise your protest."
"My protest be hanged!" murmured Newman, disgustedly.
But his tone found no echo in that in which Valentin,
with his hand on the door, to return to his mother's apartment,
exclaimed, "But I shall see her now! She is very remarkable--
she is very remarkable!"
Newman kept his promise, or his menace, of going often to
the Rue de l'Universite, and during the next six weeks he saw
Madame de Cintre more times than he could have numbered.
He flattered himself that he was not in love, but his biographer
may be supposed to know better. He claimed, at least,
none of the exemptions and emoluments of the romantic passion.
Love, he believed, made a fool of a man, and his present emotion
was not folly but wisdom; wisdom sound, serene, well-directed.
What he felt was an intense, all-consuming tenderness,
which had for its object an extraordinarily graceful
and delicate, and at the same time impressive, woman who
lived in a large gray house on the left bank of the Seine.
This tenderness turned very often into a positive heart-ache;
a sign in which, certainly, Newman ought to have read
the appellation which science has conferred upon his sentiment.
When the heart has a heavy weight upon it, it hardly matters
whether the weight be of gold or of lead; when, at any rate,
happiness passes into that place in which it becomes identical
with pain, a man may admit that the reign of wisdom is
temporarily suspended. Newman wished Madame de Cintre so well
that nothing he could think of doing for her in the future rose
to the high standard which his present mood had set itself.
She seemed to him so felicitous a product of nature and circumstance
that his invention, musing on future combinations, was constantly
catching its breath with the fear of stumbling into some brutal
compression or mutilation of her beautiful personal harmony.
This is what I mean by Newman's tenderness: Madame de Cintre
pleased him so, exactly as she was, that his desire to interpose
between her and the troubles of life had the quality of a young
mother's eagerness to protect the sleep of her first-born child.
Newman was simply charmed, and he handled his charm as if
it were a music-box which would stop if one shook it.
There can be no better proof of the hankering epicure that
is hidden in every man's temperament, waiting for a signal
from some divine confederate that he may safely peep out.
Newman at last was enjoying, purely, freely, deeply.
Certain of Madame de Cintre's personal qualities--the luminous
sweetness of her eyes, the delicate mobility of her face,
the deep liquidity of her voice--filled all his consciousness.
A rose-crowned Greek of old, gazing at a marble goddess
with his whole bright intellect resting satisfied in the act,
could not have been a more complete embodiment of the wisdom
that loses itself in the enjoyment of quiet harmonies.
He made no violent love to her--no sentimental speeches.
He never trespassed on what she had made him understand was for
the present forbidden ground. But he had, nevertheless, a comfortable
sense that she knew better from day to day how much he admired her.
Though in general he was no great talker, he talked much,
and he succeeded perfectly in making her say many things.
He was not afraid of boring her, either by his discourse
or by his silence; and whether or no he did occasionally
bore her, it is probable that on the whole she liked him
only the better for his absense of embarrassed scruples.
Her visitors, coming in often while Newman sat there,
found a tall, lean, silent man in a half-lounging attitude,
who laughed out sometimes when no one had meant to be droll,
and remained grave in the presence of calculated witticisms,
for appreciation of which he had apparently not the proper culture.
It must be confessed that the number of subjects upon which Newman
had no ideas was extremely large, and it must be added that as regards
those subjects upon which he was without ideas he was also perfectly
without words. He had little of the small change of conversation,
and his stock of ready-made formulas and phrases was the scantiest.
On the other hand he had plenty of attention to bestow, and his
estimate of the importance of a topic did not depend upon the number
of clever things he could say about it. He himself was almost
never bored, and there was no man with whom it would have been
a greater mistake to suppose that silence meant displeasure.
What it was that entertained him during some of his speechless
sessions I must, however, confess myself unable to determine.
We know in a general way that a great many things which were old
stories to a great many people had the charm of novelty to him,
but a complete list of his new impressions would probably contain
a number of surprises for us. He told Madame de Cintre a hundred
long stories; he explained to her, in talking of the United States,
the working of various local institutions and mercantile customs.
Judging by the sequel she was interested, but one would not have
been sure of it beforehand. As regards her own talk, Newman was
very sure himself that she herself enjoyed it: this was as a sort
of amendment to the portrait that Mrs. Tristram had drawn of her.
He discovered that she had naturally an abundance of gayety.
He had been right at first in saying she was shy; her shyness,
in a woman whose circumstances and tranquil beauty afforded every
facility for well-mannered hardihood, was only a charm the more.
For Newman it had lasted some time, and even when it went it left
something behind it which for a while performed the same office.
Was this the tearful secret of which Mrs. Tristram had had a glimpse,
and of which, as of her friend's reserve, her high-breeding,
and her profundity, she had given a sketch of which the
outlines were, perhaps, rather too heavy? Newman supposed so,
but he found himself wondering less every day what Madame de
Cintre's secrets might be, and more convinced that secrets were,
in themselves, hateful things to her. She was a woman for the light,
not for the shade; and her natural line was not picturesque reserve
and mysterious melancholy, but frank, joyous, brilliant action,
with just so much meditation as was necessary, and not a grain more.
To this, apparently, he had succeeded in bringing her back.
He felt, himself, that he was an antidote to oppressive secrets;
what he offered her was, in fact, above all things a vast,
sunny immunity from the need of having any.
He often passed his evenings, when Madame de Cintre had so appointed it,
at the chilly fireside of Madame de Bellegarde, contenting himself
with looking across the room, through narrowed eyelids, at his mistress,
who always made a point, before her family, of talking to some one else.
Madame de Bellegarde sat by the fire conversing neatly and coldly
with whomsoever approached her, and glancing round the room with her
slowly-restless eye, the effect of which, when it lighted upon him,
was to Newman's sense identical with that of a sudden spurt of damp air.
When he shook hands with her he always asked her with a laugh whether
she could "stand him" another evening, and she replied, without a laugh,
that thank God she had always been able to do her duty. Newman, talking once
of the marquise to Mrs. Tristram, said that after all it was very easy
to get on with her; it always was easy to get on with out-and-out rascals.
"And is it by that elegant term," said Mrs. Tristram, "that you
designate the Marquise de Bellegarde?"
"Well," said Newman, "she is wicked, she is an old sinner."
"What is her crime?" asked Mrs. Tristram.
"I shouldn't wonder if she had murdered some one--all from a sense
of duty, of course."
"How can you be so dreadful?" sighed Mrs. Tristram.
"I am not dreadful. I am speaking of her favorably."
"Pray what will you say when you want to be severe?"
"I shall keep my severity for some one else--for the marquis.
There's a man I can't swallow, mix the drink as I will."
"And what has HE done?"
"I can't quite make out; it is something dreadfully bad,
something mean and underhand, and not redeemed by audacity,
as his mother's misdemeanors may have been. If he has never
committed murder, he has at least turned his back and looked
the other way while some one else was committing it."
In spite of this invidious hypothesis, which must be taken
for nothing more than an example of the capricious play
of "American humor," Newman did his best to maintain an easy
and friendly style of communication with M. de Bellegarde.
So long as he was in personal contact with people he disliked
extremely to have anything to forgive them, and he was capable
of a good deal of unsuspected imaginative effort (for the sake
of his own personal comfort) to assume for the time that they
were good fellows. He did his best to treat the marquis
as one; he believed honestly, moreover, that he could not,
in reason, be such a confounded fool as he seemed.
Newman's familiarity was never importunate; his sense of human
equality was not an aggressive taste or an aesthetic theory,
but something as natural and organic as a physical
appetite which had never been put on a scanty allowance
and consequently was innocent of ungraceful eagerness.
His tranquil unsuspectingness of the relativity of his own place
in the social scale was probably irritating to M. de Bellegarde,
who saw himself reflected in the mind of his potential brother-in-law
in a crude and colorless form, unpleasantly dissimilar to the
impressive image projected upon his own intellectual mirror.
He never forgot himself for an instant, and replied to what he must
have considered Newman's "advances" with mechanical politeness.
Newman, who was constantly forgetting himself, and indulging
in an unlimited amount of irresponsible inquiry and conjecture,
now and then found himself confronted by the conscious,
ironical smile of his host. What the deuce M. de
Bellegarde was smiling at he was at a loss to divine.
M. de Bellegarde's smile may be supposed to have been,
for himself, a compromise between a great many emotions.
So long as he smiled he was polite, and it was proper he should
be polite. A smile, moreover, committed him to nothing more
than politeness, and left the degree of politeness agreeably vague.
A smile, too, was neither dissent--which was too serious--
nor agreement, which might have brought on terrible complications.
And then a smile covered his own personal dignity, which in this
critical situation he was resolved to keep immaculate; it was quite
enough that the glory of his house should pass into eclipse.
Between him and Newman, his whole manner seemed to declare
there could be no interchange of opinion; he was holding
his breath so as not to inhale the odor of democracy.
Newman was far from being versed in European politics,
but he liked to have a general idea of what was going
on about him, and he accordingly asked M. de Bellegarde
several times what he thought of public affairs.
M. de Bellegarde answered with suave concision that he thought
as ill of them as possible, that they were going from bad to worse,
and that the age was rotten to its core. This gave Newman,
for the moment, an almost kindly feeling for the marquis;
he pitied a man for whom the world was so cheerless a place,
and the next time he saw M. de Bellegarde he attempted to call
his attention to some of the brilliant features of the time.
The marquis presently replied that he had but a single
political conviction, which was enough for him:
he believed in the divine right of Henry of Bourbon,
Fifth of his name, to the throne of France. Newman stared,
and after this he ceased to talk politics with M. de Bellegarde.
He was not horrified nor scandalized, he was not even amused;
he felt as he should have felt if he had discovered
in M. de Bellegarde a taste for certain oddities of diet;
an appetite, for instance, for fishbones or nutshells.
Under these circumstances, of course, he would never have
broached dietary questions with him.
One afternoon, on his calling on Madame de Cintre, Newman was
requested by the servant to wait a few moments, as his hostess
was not at liberty. He walked about the room a while, taking up
her books, smelling her flowers, and looking at her prints
and photographs (which he thought prodigiously pretty), and at
last he heard the opening of a door to which his back was turned.
On the threshold stood an old woman whom he remembered
to have met several times in entering and leaving the house.
She was tall and straight and dressed in black, and she wore
a cap which, if Newman had been initiated into such mysteries,
would have been a sufficient assurance that she was not a Frenchwoman;
a cap of pure British composition. She had a pale, decent,
depressed-looking face, and a clear, dull, English eye.
She looked at Newman a moment, both intently and timidly,
and then she dropped a short, straight English curtsey.
"Madame de Cintre begs you will kindly wait," she said.
"She has just come in; she will soon have finished dressing."
"Oh, I will wait as long as she wants," said Newman.
"Pray tell her not to hurry."
"Thank you, sir," said the woman, softly; and then, instead of retiring
with her message, she advanced into the room. She looked about her
for a moment, and presently went to a table and began to arrange certain
books and knick-knacks. Newman was struck with the high respectability
of her appearance; he was afraid to address her as a servant.
She busied herself for some moments with putting the table in order
and pulling the curtains straight, while Newman walked slowly to and fro.
He perceived at last from her reflection in the mirror, as he was passing
that her hands were idle and that she was looking at him intently.
She evidently wished to say something, and Newman, perceiving it,
helped her to begin.
"You are English?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, please," she answered, quickly and softly;
"I was born in Wiltshire."
"And what do you think of Paris?"
"Oh, I don't think of Paris, sir," she said in the same tone.
"It is so long since I have been here."
"Ah, you have been here very long?"
"It is more than forty years, sir. I came over with Lady Emmeline."
"You mean with old Madame de Bellegarde?"
"Yes, sir. I came with her when she was married.
I was my lady's own woman."
"And you have been with her ever since?"
"I have been in the house ever since. My lady has taken a younger person.
You see I am very old. I do nothing regular now. But I keep about."
"You look very strong and well," said Newman, observing the erectness
of her figure, and a certain venerable rosiness in her cheek.
"Thank God I am not ill, sir; I hope I know my duty
too well to go panting and coughing about the house.
But I am an old woman, sir, and it is as an old woman that I
venture to speak to you."
"Oh, speak out," said Newman, curiously. "You needn't be afraid of me."
"Yes, sir. I think you are kind. I have seen you before."
"On the stairs, you mean?"
"Yes, sir. When you have been coming to see the countess.
I have taken the liberty of noticing that you come often."
"Oh yes; I come very often," said Newman, laughing. "You need
not have been wide-awake to notice that."
"I have noticed it with pleasure, sir," said the ancient tire-woman, gravely.
And she stood looking at Newman with a strange expression of face.
The old instinct of deference and humility was there; the habit of decent
self-effacement and knowledge of her "own place." But there mingled
with it a certain mild audacity, born of the occasion and of a sense,
probably, of Newman's unprecedented approachableness, and, beyond this,
a vague indifference to the old proprieties; as if my lady's own woman
had at last begun to reflect that, since my lady had taken another person,
she had a slight reversionary property in herself.
"You take a great interest in the family?" said Newman.
"A deep interest, sir. Especially in the countess."
"I am glad of that," said Newman. And in a moment he added,
smiling, "So do I!"
"So I suppose, sir. We can't help noticing these things and having our ideas;
can we, sir?"
"You mean as a servant?" said Newman.
"Ah, there it is, sir. I am afraid that when I let my
thoughts meddle with such matters I am no longer a servant.
But I am so devoted to the countess; if she were my own child I
couldn't love her more. That is how I come to be so bold, sir.
They say you want to marry her."
Newman eyed his interlocutress and satisfied himself that she was not
a gossip, but a zealot; she looked anxious, appealing, discreet.
"It is quite true," he said. "I want to marry Madame de Cintre."
"And to take her away to America?"
"I will take her wherever she wants to go."
"The farther away the better, sir!" exclaimed the old woman,
with sudden intensity. But she checked herself, and, taking up
a paper-weight in mosaic, began to polish it with her black apron.
"I don't mean anything against the house or the family, sir.
But I think a great change would do the poor countess good.
It is very sad here."
"Yes, it's not very lively," said Newman. "But Madame de Cintre
is gay herself."
"She is everything that is good. You will not be vexed to hear
that she has been gayer for a couple of months past than she
had been in many a day before."
Newman was delighted to gather this testimony to the prosperity
of his suit, but he repressed all violent marks of elation.
"Has Madame de Cintre been in bad spirits before this?" he asked.
"Poor lady, she had good reason. M. de Cintre was no husband for a sweet
young lady like that. And then, as I say, it has been a sad house.
It is better, in my humble opinion, that she were out of it. So, if you
will excuse me for saying so, I hope she will marry you."
"I hope she will!" said Newman.
"But you must not lose courage, sir, if she doesn't
make up her mind at once. That is what I wanted to beg
of you, sir. Don't give it up, sir. You will not take it
ill if I say it's a great risk for any lady at any time;
all the more when she has got rid of one bad bargain.
But if she can marry a good, kind, respectable gentleman,
I think she had better make up her mind to it. They speak
very well of you, sir, in the house, and, if you will allow me
to say so, I like your face. You have a very different appearance
from the late count, he wasn't five feet high. And they say
your fortune is beyond everything. There's no harm in that.
So I beseech you to be patient, sir,, and bide your time.
If I don't say this to you, sir, perhaps no one will.
Of course it is not for me to make any promises. I can answer
for nothing. But I think your chance is not so bad, sir.
I am nothing but a weary old woman in my quiet corner, but one
woman understands another, and I think I make out the countess.
I received her in my arms when she came into the world
and her first wedding day was the saddest of my life.
She owes it to me to show me another and a brighter one.
If you will hold firm, sir--and you look as if you would--
I think we may see it."
"I am much obliged to you for your encouragement," said Newman, heartily.
"One can't have too much. I mean to hold firm. And if Madame de Cintre
marries me you must come and live with her."
The old woman looked at him strangely, with her soft, lifeless eyes.
"It may seem a heartless thing to say, sir, when one has been forty years
in a house, but I may tell you that I should like to leave this place."
"Why, it's just the time to say it," said Newman, fervently.
"After forty years one wants a change."
"You are very kind, sir;" and this faithful servant
dropped another curtsey and seemed disposed to retire.
But she lingered a moment and gave a timid, joyless smile.
Newman was disappointed, and his fingers stole half shyly half
irritably into his waistcoat-pocket. His informant noticed
the movement. "Thank God I am not a Frenchwoman," she said.
"If I were, I would tell you with a brazen simper, old as I am,
that if you please, monsieur, my information is worth something.
Let me tell you so in my own decent English way.
It IS worth something."
"How much, please?" said Newman.
"Simply this: a promise not to hint to the countess that I
have said these things."
"If that is all, you have it," said Newman.
"That is all, sir. Thank you, sir. Good day, sir." And having once more
slid down telescope-wise into her scanty petticoats, the old woman departed.
At the same moment Madame de Cintre came in by an opposite door.
She noticed the movement of the other portiere and asked Newman who had
been entertaining him.
"The British female!" said Newman. "An old lady in a black dress and a cap,
who curtsies up and down, and expresses herself ever so well."
"An old lady who curtsies and expresses herself?.... Ah,
you mean poor Mrs. Bread. I happen to know that you have made
a conquest of her."
"Mrs. Cake, she ought to be called," said Newman. "She is very sweet.
She is a delicious old woman."
Madame de Cintre looked at him a moment. "What can she have said to you?
She is an excellent creature, but we think her rather dismal."
"I suppose," Newman answered presently, "that I like her
because she has lived near you so long. Since your birth,
she told me."
"Yes," said Madame de Cintre, simply; "she is very faithful;
I can trust her."
Newman had never made any reflections to this lady upon her mother
and her brother Urbain; had given no hint of the impression
they made upon him. But, as if she had guessed his thoughts,
she seemed careful to avoid all occasion for making him speak
of them. She never alluded to her mother's domestic decrees;
she never quoted the opinions of the marquis.
They had talked, however, of Valentin, and she had made
no secret of her extreme affection for her younger brother.
Newman listened sometimes with a certain harmless jealousy;
he would have liked to divert some of her tender allusions
to his own credit. Once Madame de Cintre told him with a
little air of triumph about something that Valentin had done
which she thought very much to his honor. It was a service
he had rendered to an old friend of the family; something more
"serious" than Valentin was usually supposed capable of being.
Newman said he was glad to hear of it, and then began
to talk about something which lay upon his own heart.
Madame de Cintre listened, but after a while she said,
"I don't like the way you speak of my brother Valentin."
Hereupon Newman, surprised, said that he had never spoken
of him but kindly.
"It is too kindly," said Madame de Cintre. "It is a kindness
that costs nothing; it is the kindness you show to a child.
It is as if you didn't respect him."
"Respect him? Why I think I do."
"You think? If you are not sure, it is no respect."
"Do you respect him?" said Newman. "If you do, I do."
"If one loves a person, that is a question one is not bound to answer,"
said Madame de Cintre.
"You should not have asked it of me, then. I am very fond
of your brother."
"He amuses you. But you would not like to resemble him."
"I shouldn't like to resemble any one. It is hard enough work
resembling one's self."
"What do you mean," asked Madame de Cintre, "by resembling one's self?"
"Why, doing what is expected of one. Doing one's duty."
"But that is only when one is very good."
"Well, a great many people are good," said Newman.
"Valentin is quite good enough for me."
Madame de Cintre was silent for a short time. "He is not good enough for me,"
she said at last. "I wish he would do something."
"What can he do?" asked Newman.
"Nothing. Yet he is very clever."
"It is a proof of cleverness," said Newman, "to be happy
without doing anything."
"I don't think Valentin is happy, in reality. He is clever, generous, brave;
but what is there to show for it? To me there is something sad
in his life, and sometimes I have a sort of foreboding about him.
I don't know why, but I fancy he will have some great trouble--
perhaps an unhappy end."
"Oh, leave him to me," said Newman, jovially. "I will watch
over him and keep harm away."
One evening, in Madame de Bellegarde's salon, the conversation
had flagged most sensibly. The marquis walked up and down
in silence, like a sentinel at the door of some smooth-fronted
citadel of the proprieties; his mother sat staring at the fire;
young Madame de Bellegarde worked at an enormous band of tapestry.
Usually there were three or four visitors, but on this occasion
a violent storm sufficiently accounted for the absence of even
the most devoted habitues. In the long silences the howling
of the wind and the beating of the rain were distinctly audible.
Newman sat perfectly still, watching the clock, determined to
stay till the stroke of eleven, but not a moment longer.
Madame de Cintre had turned her back to the circle, and had been
standing for some time within the uplifted curtain of a window,
with her forehead against the pane, gazing out into the deluged darkness.
Suddenly she turned round toward her sister-in-law.
"For Heaven's sake," she said, with peculiar eagerness,
"go to the piano and play something."
Madame de Bellegarde held up her tapestry and pointed
to a little white flower. "Don't ask me to leave this.
I am in the midst of a masterpiece. My flower is going
to smell very sweet; I am putting in the smell with this
gold-colored silk. I am holding my breath; I can't leave off.
Play something yourself."
"It is absurd for me to play when you are present," said Madame de Cintre.
But the next moment she went to the piano and began to strike the keys
with vehemence. She played for some time, rapidly and brilliantly;
when she stopped, Newman went to the piano and asked her to begin again.
She shook her head, and, on his insisting, she said, "I have not been playing
for you; I have been playing for myself." She went back to the window again
and looked out, and shortly afterwards left the room. When Newman took leave,
Urbain de Bellegarde accompanied him, as he always did, just three steps
down the staircase. At the bottom stood a servant with his overcoat.
He had just put it on when he saw Madame de Cintre coming towards him
across the vestibule.
"Shall you be at home on Friday?" Newman asked.
She looked at him a moment before answering his question.
"You don't like my mother and my brother," she said.
He hesitated a moment, and then he said softly, "No."
She laid her hand on the balustrade and prepared to ascend the stairs,
fixing her eyes on the first step.
"Yes, I shall be at home on Friday," and she passed up
the wide dusky staircase.
On the Friday, as soon as he came in, she asked him to please
to tell her why he disliked her family.
"Dislike your family?" he exclaimed. "That has a horrid sound.
I didn't say so, did I? I didn't mean it, if I did."
"I wish you would tell me what you think of them," said Madame de Cintre.
"I don't think of any of them but you."
"That is because you dislike them. Speak the truth;
you can't offend me."
"Well, I don't exactly love your brother," said Newman.
"I remember now. But what is the use of my saying so?
I had forgotten it."
"You are too good-natured," said Madame de Cintre gravely.
Then, as if to avoid the appearance of inviting him to speak ill
of the marquis, she turned away, motioning him to sit down.
But he remained standing before her and said presently,
"What is of much more importance is that they don't like me."
"No--they don't," she said.
"And don't you think they are wrong?" Newman asked.
"I don't believe I am a man to dislike."
"I suppose that a man who may be liked may also be disliked.
And my brother--my mother," she added, "have not made you angry?"
"You have never shown it."
"So much the better."
"Yes, so much the better. They think they have treated you very well."
"I have no doubt they might have handled me much more roughly," said Newman.
"I am much obliged to them. Honestly."
"You are generous," said Madame de Cintre. "It's a disagreeable position."
"For them, you mean. Not for me."
"For me," said Madame de Cintre.
"Not when their sins are forgiven!" said Newman.
"They don't think I am as good as they are. I do.
But we shan't quarrel about it."
"I can't even agree with you without saying something that has
a disagreeable sound. The presumption was against you.
That you probably don't understand."
Newman sat down and looked at her for some time.
"I don't think I really understand it. But when you say it,
I believe it."
"That's a poor reason," said Madame de Cintre, smiling.
"No, it's a very good one. You have a high spirit, a high standard;
but with you it's all natural and unaffected; you don't seem
to have stuck your head into a vise, as if you were sitting for
the photograph of propriety. You think of me as a fellow who has
had no idea in life but to make money and drive sharp bargains.
That's a fair description of me, but it is not the whole story.
A man ought to care for something else, though I don't know exactly what.
I cared for money-making, but I never cared particularly for the money.
There was nothing else to do, and it was impossible to be idle.
I have been very easy to others, and to myself. I have done
most of the things that people asked me--I don't mean rascals.
As regards your mother and your brother," Newman added, "there is
only one point upon which I feel that I might quarrel with them.
I don't ask them to sing my praises to you, but I ask them to let
you alone. If I thought they talked ill of me to you, I should come
down upon them."
"They have let me alone, as you say. They have not talked ill of you."
"In that case," cried Newman, "I declare they are only too good
for this world!"
Madame de Cintre appeared to find something startling in his exclamation.
She would, perhaps, have replied, but at this moment the door was
thrown open and Urbain de Bellegarde stepped across the threshold.
He appeared surprised at finding Newman, but his surprise was but
a momentary shadow across the surface of an unwonted joviality.
Newman had never seen the marquis so exhilarated; his pale,
unlighted countenance had a sort of thin transfiguration.
He held open the door for some one else to enter, and presently
appeared old Madame de Bellegarde, leaning on the arm of a
gentleman whom Newman had not seen before. He had already risen,
and Madame de Cintre rose, as she always did before her mother.
The marquis, who had greeted Newman almost genially, stood apart,
slowly rubbing his hands. His mother came forward with her companion.
She gave a majestic little nod at Newman, and then she released
the strange gentleman, that he might make his bow to her daughter.
"My daughter," she said, "I have brought you an unknown relative,
Lord Deepmere. Lord Deepmere is our cousin, but he has
done only to-day what he ought to have done long ago--
come to make our acquaintance."
Madame de Cintre smiled, and offered Lord Deepmere her hand.
"It is very extraordinary," said this noble laggard, "but this
is the first time that I have ever been in Paris for more than
three or four weeks."
"And how long have you been here now?" asked Madame de Cintre.
"Oh, for the last two months," said Lord Deepmere.
These two remarks might have constituted an impertinence; but a glance
at Lord Deepmere's face would have satisfied you, as it apparently
satisfied Madame de Cintre, that they constituted only a naivete.
When his companions were seated, Newman, who was out of the conversation,
occupied himself with observing the newcomer. Observation, however,
as regards Lord Deepmere's person; had no great range.
He was a small, meagre man, of some three and thirty years of age,
with a bald head, a short nose and no front teeth in the upper jaw;
he had round, candid blue eyes, and several pimples on his chin.
He was evidently very shy, and he laughed a great deal, catching his breath
with an odd, startling sound, as the most convenient imitation of repose.
His physiognomy denoted great simplicity, a certain amount of brutality,
and probable failure in the past to profit by rare educational advantages.
He remarked that Paris was awfully jolly, but that for real,
thorough-paced entertainment it was nothing to Dublin.
He even preferred Dublin to London. Had Madame de Cintre
ever been to Dublin? They must all come over there some day,
and he would show them some Irish sport. He always went to Ireland
for the fishing, and he came to Paris for the new Offenbach things.
They always brought them out in Dublin, but he couldn't wait.
He had been nine times to hear La Pomme de Paris. Madame de Cintre,
leaning back, with her arms folded, looked at Lord Deepmere with
a more visibly puzzled face than she usually showed to society.
Madame de Bellegarde, on the other hand, wore a fixed smile.
The marquis said that among light operas his favorite was the Gazza Ladra.
The marquise then began a series of inquiries about the duke and
the cardinal, the old countess and Lady Barbara, after listening
to which, and to Lord Deepmere's somewhat irreverent responses,
for a quarter of an hour, Newman rose to take his leave.
The marquis went with him three steps into the hall.
"Is he Irish?" asked Newman, nodding in the direction of the visitor.
"His mother was the daughter of Lord Finucane," said the marquis;
"he has great Irish estates. Lady Bridget, in the complete
absence of male heirs, either direct or collateral--
a most extraordinary circumstance--came in for everything.
But Lord Deepmere's title is English and his English property
is immense. He is a charming young man."
Newman answered nothing, but he detained the marquis as the latter was
beginning gracefully to recede. "It is a good time for me to thank you,"
he said, "for sticking so punctiliously to our bargain, for doing so much
to help me on with your sister."
The marquis stared. "Really, I have done nothing that I can
boast of," he said.
"Oh don't be modest," Newman answered, laughing. "I can't
flatter myself that I am doing so well simply by my own merit.
And thank your mother for me, too!" And he turned away,
leaving M. de Bellegarde looking after him.
The next time Newman came to the Rue de l'Universite
he had the good fortune to find Madame de Cintre alone.
He had come with a definite intention, and he lost no time
in executing it. She wore, moreover, a look which he eagerly
interpreted as expectancy.
"I have been coming to see you for six months, now," he said,
"and I have never spoken to you a second time of marriage.
That was what you asked me; I obeyed. Could any man
have done better?"
"You have acted with great delicacy," said Madame de Cintre.
"Well, I'm going to change, now," said Newman. "I don't mean that I
am going to be indelicate; but I'm going to go back to where I began.
I AM back there. I have been all round the circle.
Or rather, I have never been away from here. I have never ceased
to want what I wanted then. Only now I am more sure of it,
if possible; I am more sure of myself, and more sure of you.
I know you better, though I don't know anything I didn't believe
three months ago. You are everything--you are beyond everything--
I can imagine or desire. You know me now; you MUST know me.
I won't say that you have seen the best--but you have seen the worst.
I hope you have been thinking all this while. You must have seen
that I was only waiting; you can't suppose that I was changing.
What will you say to me, now? Say that everything is clear
and reasonable, and that I have been very patient and considerate,
and deserve my reward. And then give me your hand.
Madame de Cintre do that. Do it."
"I knew you were only waiting," she said; "and I was very sure
this day would come. I have thought about it a great deal.
At first I was half afraid of it. But I am not afraid of it now."
She paused a moment, and then she added, "It's a relief."
She was sitting on a low chair, and Newman was on an ottoman, near her.
He leaned a little and took her hand, which for an instant she let
him keep. "That means that I have not waited for nothing," he said.
She looked at him for a moment, and he saw her eyes fill with tears.
"With me," he went on, "you will be as safe--as safe"--and even in his
ardor he hesitated a moment for a comparison--"as safe," he said,
with a kind of simple solemnity, "as in your father's arms."
Still she looked at him and her tears increased.
Then, abruptly, she buried her face on the cushioned arm
of the sofa beside her chair, and broke into noiseless sobs.
"I am weak--I am weak," he heard her say.
"All the more reason why you should give yourself up to me,"
he answered. "Why are you troubled? There is nothing but happiness.
Is that so hard to believe?"
"To you everything seems so simple," she said, raising her head.
"But things are not so. I like you extremely. I liked you six
months ago, and now I am sure of it, as you say you are sure.
But it is not easy, simply for that, to decide to marry you.
There are a great many things to think about."
"There ought to be only one thing to think about--that we love each other,"
said Newman. And as she remained silent he quickly added, "Very good,
if you can't accept that, don't tell me so."
"I should be very glad to think of nothing," she said at last;
"not to think at all; only to shut both my eyes and give myself up.
But I can't. I'm cold, I'm old, I'm a coward; I never supposed
I should marry again, and it seems to me very strange l should
ever have listened to you. When I used to think, as a girl,
of what I should do if I were to marry freely, by my own choice,
I thought of a very different man from you."
"That's nothing against me," said Newman with an immense smile;
"your taste was not formed."
His smile made Madame de Cintre smile. "Have you formed it?" she asked.
And then she said, in a different tone, "Where do you wish to live?"
"Anywhere in the wide world you like. We can easily settle that."
"I don't know why I ask you," she presently continued.
"I care very little. I think if I were to marry you I could
live almost anywhere. You have some false ideas about me;
you think that I need a great many things--that I must
have a brilliant, worldly life. I am sure you are prepared
to take a great deal of trouble to give me such things.
But that is very arbitrary; I have done nothing to prove that."
She paused again, looking at him, and her mingled sound and
silence were so sweet to him that he had no wish to hurry her,
any more than he would have had a wish to hurry a golden sunrise.
"Your being so different, which at first seemed a difficulty,
a trouble, began one day to seem to me a pleasure,
a great pleasure. I was glad you were different.
And yet if I had said so, no one would have understood me;
I don't mean simply to my family."
"They would have said I was a queer monster, eh?" said Newman.
"They would have said I could never be happy with you--
you were too different; and I would have said it was just
BECAUSE you were so different that I might be happy.
But they would have given better reasons than I. My only reason"--
and she paused again.
But this time, in the midst of his golden sunrise, Newman felt the impulse
to grasp at a rosy cloud. "Your only reason is that you love me!"
he murmured with an eloquent gesture, and for want of a better reason
Madame de Cintre reconciled herself to this one.
Newman came back the next day, and in the vestibule,
as he entered the house, he encountered his friend Mrs. Bread.
She was wandering about in honorable idleness, and when his eyes
fell upon her she delivered him one of her curtsies. Then turning
to the servant who had admitted him, she said, with the combined
majesty of her native superiority and of a rugged English accent,
"You may retire; I will have the honor of conducting monsieur.
In spite of this combination, however, it appeared to Newman
that her voice had a slight quaver, as if the tone of command
were not habitual to it. The man gave her an impertinent stare,
but he walked slowly away, and she led Newman up-stairs. At half
its course the staircase gave a bend, forming a little platform.
In the angle of the wall stood an indifferent statue of an
eighteenth-century nymph, simpering, sallow, and cracked.
Here Mrs. Bread stopped and looked with shy kindness at her companion.
"I know the good news, sir," she murmured.
"You have a good right to be first to know it," said Newman.
"You have taken such a friendly interest."
Mrs. Bread turned away and began to blow the dust off the statue,
as if this might be mockery.
"I suppose you want to congratulate me," said Newman.
"I am greatly obliged." And then he added, "You gave me much
pleasure the other day."
She turned around, apparently reassured. "You are not to think
that I have been told anything," she said; "I have only guessed.
But when I looked at you, as you came in, I was sure I
had guessed aright."
"You are very sharp," said Newman. "I am sure that in your quiet
way you see everything."
"I am not a fool, sir, thank God. I have guessed something else beside,"
said Mrs. Bread.
"I needn't tell you that, sir; I don't think you would believe it.
At any rate it wouldn't please you."
"Oh, tell me nothing but what will please me," laughed Newman.
"That is the way you began."
"Well, sir, I suppose you won't be vexed to hear that the sooner
everything is over the better."
"The sooner we are married, you mean? The better for me, certainly."
"The better for every one."
"The better for you, perhaps. You know you are coming to live
with us," said Newman.
"I'm extremely obliged to you, sir, but it is not of myself I was thinking.
I only wanted, if I might take the liberty, to recommend you to lose no time."
"Whom are you afraid of?"
Mrs. Bread looked up the staircase and then down and then she looked
at the undusted nymph, as if she possibly had sentient ears.
"I am afraid of every one," she said.
"What an uncomfortable state of mind!" said Newman.
"Does 'every one' wish to prevent my marriage?"
"I am afraid of already having said too much," Mrs. Bread replied.
"I won't take it back, but I won't say any more." And she took her way
up the staircase again and led him into Madame de Cintre's salon.
Newman indulged in a brief and silent imprecation when he found that Madame
de Cintre was not alone. With her sat her mother, and in the middle
of the room stood young Madame de Bellegarde, in her bonnet and mantle.
The old marquise, who was leaning back in her chair with a hand clasping
the knob of each arm, looked at him fixedly without moving. She seemed
barely conscious of his greeting; she appeared to be musing intently.
Newman said to himself that her daughter had been announcing her
engagement and that the old lady found the morsel hard to swallow.
But Madame de Cintre, as she gave him her hand gave him also a look
by which she appeared to mean that he should understand something.
Was it a warning or a request? Did she wish to enjoin speech or silence?