Part 5 out of 8
He was puzzled, and young Madame de Bellegarde's pretty grin gave
him no information.
"I have not told my mother," said Madame de Cintre abruptly,
looking at him.
"Told me what?" demanded the marquise. "You tell me too little;
you should tell me everything."
"That is what I do," said Madame Urbain, with a little laugh.
"Let ME tell your mother," said Newman.
The old lady stared at him again, and then turned to her daughter.
"You are going to marry him?" she cried, softly.
"Oui ma mere," said Madame de Cintre.
"Your daughter has consented, to my great happiness," said Newman.
"And when was this arrangement made?" asked Madame de Bellegarde.
"I seem to be picking up the news by chance!"
"My suspense came to an end yesterday," said Newman.
"And how long was mine to have lasted?" said the marquise to her daughter.
She spoke without irritation; with a sort of cold, noble displeasure.
Madame de Cintre stood silent, with her eyes on the ground.
"It is over now," she said.
"Where is my son--where is Urbain?" asked the marquise.
"Send for your brother and inform him."
Young Madame de Bellegarde laid her hand on the bell-rope. "He was
to make some visits with me, and I was to go and knock--very softly,
very softly--at the door of his study. But he can come to me!"
She pulled the bell, and in a few moments Mrs. Bread appeared,
with a face of calm inquiry.
"Send for your brother," said the old lady.
But Newman felt an irresistible impulse to speak, and to speak in a
certain way. "Tell the marquis we want him," he said to Mrs. Bread,
who quietly retired.
Young Madame de Bellegarde went to her sister-in-law and embraced her.
Then she turned to Newman, with an intense smile. "She is charming.
I congratulate you."
"I congratulate you, sir," said Madame de Bellegarde, with extreme solemnity.
"My daughter is an extraordinarily good woman. She may have faults,
but I don't know them."
"My mother does not often make jokes," said Madame de Cintre;
"but when she does they are terrible."
"She is ravishing," the Marquise Urbain resumed,
looking at her sister-in-law, with her head on one side.
"Yes, I congratulate you."
Madame de Cintre turned away, and, taking up a piece of tapestry,
began to ply the needle. Some minutes of silence elapsed,
which were interrupted by the arrival of M. de Bellegarde.
He came in with his hat in his hand, gloved, and was followed by his
brother Valentin, who appeared to have just entered the house.
M. de Bellegarde looked around the circle and greeted Newman
with his usual finely-measured courtesy. Valentin saluted
his mother and his sisters, and, as he shook hands with Newman,
gave him a glance of acute interrogation.
"Arrivez donc, messieurs!" cried young Madame de Bellegarde.
"We have great news for you."
"Speak to your brother, my daughter," said the old lady.
Madame de Cintre had been looking at her tapestry.
She raised her eyes to her brother. "I have accepted Mr. Newman."
"Your sister has consented," said Newman. "You see after all,
I knew what I was about."
"I am charmed!" said M. de Bellegarde, with superior benignity.
"So am I," said Valentin to Newman. "The marquis and I
are charmed. I can't marry, myself, but I can understand it.
I can't stand on my head, but I can applaud a clever acrobat.
My dear sister, I bless your union."
The marquis stood looking for a while into the crown of his hat.
"We have been prepared," he said at last "but it is inevitable
that in face of the event one should experience a certain emotion."
And he gave a most unhilarious smile.
"I feel no emotion that I was not perfectly prepared for,"
said his mother.
"I can't say that for myself," said Newman, smiling but differently
from the marquis. "I am happier than I expected to be.
I suppose it's the sight of your happiness!"
"Don't exaggerate that," said Madame de Bellegarde,
getting up and laying her hand upon her daughter's arm.
"You can't expect an honest old woman to thank you for taking
away her beautiful, only daughter."
"You forgot me, dear madame," said the young marquise demurely.
"Yes, she is very beautiful," said Newman.
"And when is the wedding, pray?" asked young Madame de Bellegarde;
"I must have a month to think over a dress."
"That must be discussed," said the marquise.
"Oh, we will discuss it, and let you know!" Newman exclaimed.
"I have no doubt we shall agree," said Urbain.
"If you don't agree with Madame de Cintre, you will be very unreasonable."
"Come, come, Urbain," said young Madame de Bellegarde,
"I must go straight to my tailor's."
The old lady had been standing with her hand on her daughter's arm,
looking at her fixedly. She gave a little sigh, and murmured,
"No, I did NOT expect it! You are a fortunate man," she added,
turning to Newman, with an expressive nod.
"Oh, I know that!" he answered. "I feel tremendously proud.
I feel like crying it on the housetops,--like stopping people
in the street to tell them."
Madame de Bellegarde narrowed her lips. "Pray don't," she said.
"The more people that know it, the better," Newman declared.
"I haven't yet announced it here, but I telegraphed it this
morning to America."
"Telegraphed it to America?" the old lady murmured.
"To New York, to St. Louis, and to San Francisco; those are
the principal cities, you know. To-morrow I shall tell
my friends here."
"Have you many?" asked Madame de Bellegarde, in a tone of which I
am afraid that Newman but partly measured the impertinence.
"Enough to bring me a great many hand-shakes and congratulations.
To say nothing," he added, in a moment, "of those I shall receive
from your friends."
"They will not use the telegraph," said the marquise, taking her departure.
M. de Bellegarde, whose wife, her imagination having apparently taken
flight to the tailor's, was fluttering her silken wings in emulation,
shook hands with Newman, and said with a more persuasive accent
than the latter had ever heard him use, "You may count upon me."
Then his wife led him away.
Valentin stood looking from his sister to our hero.
"I hope you both reflected seriously," he said.
Madame de Cintre smiled. "We have neither your powers of reflection
nor your depth of seriousness; but we have done our best."
"Well, I have a great regard for each of you," Valentin continued.
"You are charming young people. But I am not satisfied, on the whole,
that you belong to that small and superior class--that exquisite
group composed of persons who are worthy to remain unmarried.
These are rare souls; they are the salt of the earth. But I don't
mean to be invidious; the marrying people are often very nice."
"Valentin holds that women should marry, and that men should not,"
said Madame de Cintre. "I don't know how he arranges it."
"I arrange it by adoring you, my sister," said Valentin ardently.
"Adore some one whom you can marry," said Newman.
"I will arrange that for you some day. I foresee that I am
going to turn apostle."
Valentin was on the threshold; he looked back a moment with a face
that had turned grave. "I adore some one I can't marry!" he said.
And he dropped the portiere and departed.
"They don't like it," said Newman, standing alone before Madame de Cintre.
"No," she said, after a moment; "they don't like it."
"Well, now, do you mind that?" asked Newman.
"Yes!" she said, after another interval.
"That's a mistake."
"I can't help it. I should prefer that my mother were pleased."
"Why the deuce," demanded Newman, "is she not pleased?
She gave you leave to marry me."
"Very true; I don't understand it. And yet I do 'mind it,' as you say.
You will call it superstitious."
"That will depend upon how much you let it bother you.
Then I shall call it an awful bore."
"I will keep it to myself," said Madame de Cintre, "It shall not bother you."
And then they talked of their marriage-day, and Madame de Cintre assented
unreservedly to Newman's desire to have it fixed for an early date.
Newman's telegrams were answered with interest.
Having dispatched but three electric missives, he received
no less than eight gratulatory bulletins in return.
He put them into his pocket-book, and the next time he encountered
old Madame de Bellegarde drew them forth and displayed them to her.
This, it must be confessed, was a slightly malicious stroke;
the reader must judge in what degree the offense was venial.
Newman knew that the marquise disliked his telegrams, though he could
see no sufficient reason for it. Madame de Cintre, on the other hand,
liked them, and, most of them being of a humorous cast,
laughed at them immoderately, and inquired into the character
of their authors. Newman, now that his prize was gained,
felt a peculiar desire that his triumph should be manifest.
He more than suspected that the Bellegardes were keeping
quiet about it, and allowing it, in their select circle,
but a limited resonance; and it pleased him to think that
if he were to take the trouble he might, as he phrased it,
break all the windows. No man likes being repudiated,
and yet Newman, if he was not flattered, was not exactly offended.
He had not this good excuse for his somewhat aggressive impulse
to promulgate his felicity; his sentiment was of another quality.
He wanted for once to make the heads of the house of Bellegarde
FEEL him; he knew not when he should have another chance.
He had had for the past six months a sense of the old lady
and her son looking straight over his head, and he was now
resolved that they should toe a mark which he would give
himself the satisfaction of drawing.
"It is like seeing a bottle emptied when the wine is poured too slowly,"
he said to Mrs. Tristram. "They make me want to joggle their elbows
and force them to spill their wine."
To this Mrs. Tristram answered that he had better leave them alone and let
them do things in their own way. "You must make allowances for them,"
she said. "It is natural enough that they should hang fire a little.
They thought they accepted you when you made your application;
but they are not people of imagination, they could not project
themselves into the future, and now they will have to begin again.
But they are people of honor, and they will do whatever is necessary."
Newman spent a few moments in narrow-eyed meditation.
"I am not hard on them," he presently said, "and to prove it
I will invite them all to a festival."
"To a festival?"
"You have been laughing at my great gilded rooms all winter;
I will show you that they are good for something.
I will give a party. What is the grandest thing one can do here?
I will hire all the great singers from the opera, and all
the first people from the Theatre Francais, and I will
give an entertainment."
"And whom will you invite?"
"You, first of all. And then the old lady and her son.
And then every one among her friends whom I have met
at her house or elsewhere, every one who has shown me
the minimum of politeness, every duke of them and his wife.
And then all my friends, without exception: Miss Kitty Upjohn,
Miss Dora Finch, General Packard, C. P Hatch, and all the rest.
And every one shall know what it is about, that is,
to celebrate my engagement to the Countess de Cintre.
What do you think of the idea?"
"I think it is odious!" said Mrs. Tristram. And then in a moment:
"I think it is delicious!"
The very next evening Newman repaired to Madame de Bellegarde's salon.
where he found her surrounded by her children, and invited her to honor
his poor dwelling by her presence on a certain evening a fortnight distant.
The marquise stared a moment. "My dear sir," she cried,
"what do you want to do to me?"
"To make you acquainted with a few people, and then to place you in a very
easy chair and ask you to listen to Madame Frezzolini's singing."
"You mean to give a concert?"
"Something of that sort."
"And to have a crowd of people?"
"All my friends, and I hope some of yours and your daughter's.
I want to celebrate my engagement."
It seemed to Newman that Madame de Bellegarde turned pale.
She opened her fan, a fine old painted fan of the last century,
and looked at the picture, which represented a fete champetre--
a lady with a guitar, singing, and a group of dancers round
a garlanded Hermes.
"We go out so little," murmured the marquis, "since my poor father's death."
"But MY dear father is still alive, my friend," said his wife.
"I am only waiting for my invitation to accept it,"
and she glanced with amiable confidence at Newman.
"It will be magnificent; I am very sure of that."
I am sorry to say, to the discredit of Newman's gallantry,
that this lady's invitation was not then and there bestowed;
he was giving all his attention to the old marquise.
She looked up at last, smiling. "I can't think of letting you
offer me a fete," she said, "until I have offered you one.
We want to present you to our friends; we will invite them all.
We have it very much at heart. We must do things in order.
Come to me about the 25th; I will let you know the exact
day immediately. We shall not have any one so fine as
Madame Frezzolini, but we shall have some very good people.
After that you may talk of your own fete." The old lady
spoke with a certain quick eagerness, smiling more agreeably
as she went on.
It seemed to Newman a handsome proposal, and such proposals always
touched the sources of his good-nature. He said to Madame de Bellegarde
that he should be glad to come on the 25th or any other day, and that it
mattered very little whether he met his friends at her house or at his own.
I have said that Newman was observant, but it must be admitted that on
this occasion he failed to notice a certain delicate glance which passed
between Madame de Bellegarde and the marquis, and which we may presume
to have been a commentary upon the innocence displayed in that latter
clause of his speech.
Valentin de Bellegarde walked away with Newman that evening,
and when they had left the Rue de l'Universite some distance behind
them he said reflectively, "My mother is very strong--very strong."
Then in answer to an interrogative movement of Newman's he continued,
"She was driven to the wall, but you would never have thought it.
Her fete of the 25th was an invention of the moment.
She had no idea whatever of giving a fete, but finding it the only
issue from your proposal, she looked straight at the dose--
excuse the expression--and bolted it, as you saw, without winking.
She is very strong."
"Dear me!" said Newman, divided between relish and compassion.
"I don't care a straw for her fete, I am willing to take the will
for the deed."
"No, no," said Valentin, with a little inconsequent touch of family pride.
"The thing will be done now, and done handsomely."
Valentin de Bellegarde's announcement of the secession of Mademoiselle
Nioche from her father's domicile and his irreverent reflections
upon the attitude of this anxious parent in so grave a catastrophe,
received a practical commentary in the fact that M. Nioche was slow
to seek another interview with his late pupil. It had cost Newman
some disgust to be forced to assent to Valentin's somewhat cynical
interpretation of the old man's philosophy, and, though circumstances
seemed to indicate that he had not given himself up to a noble despair,
Newman thought it very possible he might be suffering more keenly
than was apparent. M. Nioche had been in the habit of paying him
a respectful little visit every two or three weeks and his absence
might be a proof quite as much of extreme depression as of a desire
to conceal the success with which he had patched up his sorrow.
Newman presently learned from Valentin several details touching this
new phase of Mademoiselle Noemie's career.
"I told you she was remarkable," this unshrinking observer declared,
"and the way she has managed this performance proves it. She has
had other chances, but she was resolved to take none but the best.
She did you the honor to think for a while that you might be such a chance.
You were not; so she gathered up her patience and waited a while longer.
At last her occasion came along, and she made her move with her eyes
wide open. I am very sure she had no innocence to lose, but she had
all her respectability. Dubious little damsel as you thought her,
she had kept a firm hold of that; nothing could be proved against her,
and she was determined not to let her reputation go till she had
got her equivalent. About her equivalent she had high ideas.
Apparently her ideal has been satisfied. It is fifty years old,
bald-headed, and deaf, but it is very easy about money."
"And where in the world," asked Newman, "did you pick up
this valuable information?"
"In conversation. Remember my frivolous habits.
In conversation with a young woman engaged in the humble trade
of glove-cleaner, who keeps a small shop in the Rue St. Roch.
M. Nioche lives in the same house, up six pair of stairs,
across the court, in and out of whose ill-swept doorway
Miss Noemie has been flitting for the last five years.
The little glove-cleaner was an old acquaintance;
she used to be the friend of a friend of mine, who has married
and dropped such friends. I often saw her in his society.
As soon as I espied her behind her clear little window-pane, I
recollected her. I had on a spotlessly fresh pair of gloves,
but I went in and held up my hands, and said to her,
'Dear mademoiselle, what will you ask me for cleaning these?'
'Dear count,' she answered immediately, 'I will clean them
for you for nothing.' She had instantly recognized me,
and I had to hear her history for the last six years.
But after that, I put her upon that of her neighbors.
She knows and admires Noemie, and she told me what I
have just repeated."
A month elapsed without M. Nioche reappearing, and Newman,
who every morning read two or three suicides in the "Figaro,"
began to suspect that, mortification proving stubborn, he had
sought a balm for his wounded pride in the waters of the Seine.
He had a note of M. Nioche's address in his pocket-book,
and finding himself one day in the quartier, he determined
in so far as he might to clear up his doubts. He repaired
to the house in the Rue St. Roch which bore the recorded number,
and observed in a neighboring basement, behind a dangling
row of neatly inflated gloves, the attentive physiognomy
of Bellegarde's informant--a sallow person in a dressing-gown--
peering into the street as if she were expecting that amiable
nobleman to pass again. But it was not to her that Newman applied;
he simply asked of the portress if M. Nioche were at home.
The portress replied, as the portress invariably replies,
that her lodger had gone out barely three minutes before;
but then, through the little square hole of her lodge-window
taking the measure of Newman's fortunes, and seeing them,
by an unspecified process, refresh the dry places
of servitude to occupants of fifth floors on courts,
she added that M. Nioche would have had just time to reach
the Cafe de la Patrie, round the second corner to the left,
at which establishment he regularly spent his afternoons.
Newman thanked her for the information, took the second
turning to the left, and arrived at the Cafe de la Patrie.
He felt a momentary hesitation to go in; was it not rather
mean to "follow up" poor old Nioche at that rate?
But there passed across his vision an image of a haggard little
septuagenarian taking measured sips of a glass of sugar and water
and finding them quite impotent to sweeten his desolation.
He opened the door and entered, perceiving nothing at first
but a dense cloud of tobacco smoke. Across this, however,
in a corner, he presently descried the figure of M. Nioche,
stirring the contents of a deep glass, with a lady seated
in front of him. The lady's back was turned to Newman,
but M. Nioche very soon perceived and recognized his visitor.
Newman had gone toward him, and the old man rose slowly,
gazing at him with a more blighted expression even than usual.
"If you are drinking hot punch," said Newman, "I suppose you are not dead.
That's all right. Don't move."
M. Nioche stood staring, with a fallen jaw, not daring to put out his hand.
The lady, who sat facing him, turned round in her place and glanced upward
with a spirited toss of her head, displaying the agreeable features
of his daughter. She looked at Newman sharply, to see how he was looking
at her, then--I don't know what she discovered--she said graciously, "How d'
ye do, monsieur? won't you come into our little corner?"
"Did you come--did you come after ME?" asked M. Nioche very softly.
"I went to your house to see what had become of you.
I thought you might be sick," said Newman.
"It is very good of you, as always," said the old man.
"No, I am not well. Yes, I am SEEK."
"Ask monsieur to sit down," said Mademoiselle Nioche.
"Garcon, bring a chair."
"Will you do us the honor to SEAT?" said M. Nioche, timorously, and with
a double foreignness of accent.
Newman said to himself that he had better see the thing out and he took
a chair at the end of the table, with Mademoiselle Nioche on his
left and her father on the other side. "You will take something,
of course," said Miss Noemie, who was sipping a glass of madeira.
Newman said that he believed not, and then she turned to her papa
with a smile. "What an honor, eh? he has come only for us."
M. Nioche drained his pungent glass at a long draught,
and looked out from eyes more lachrymose in consequence.
"But you didn't come for me, eh?" Mademoiselle Noemie went on.
"You didn't expect to find me here?"
Newman observed the change in her appearance. She was very elegant
and prettier than before; she looked a year or two older, and it was
noticeable that, to the eye, she had only gained in respectability.
She looked "lady-like." She was dressed in quiet colors, and wore her
expensively unobtrusive toilet with a grace that might have come from
years of practice. Her present self-possession and aplomb struck Newman
as really infernal, and he inclined to agree with Valentin de Bellegarde
that the young lady was very remarkable. "No, to tell the truth,
I didn't come for you," he said, "and I didn't expect to find you.
I was told," he added in a moment "that you had left your father."
"Quelle horreur!" cried Mademoiselle Nioche with a smile.
"Does one leave one's father? You have the proof of the contrary."
"Yes, convincing proof," said Newman glancing at M. Nioche.
The old man caught his glance obliquely, with his faded,
deprecating eye, and then, lifting his empty glass,
pretended to drink again.
"Who told you that?" Noemie demanded. "I know very well.
It was M. de Bellegarde. Why don't you say yes?
You are not polite."
"I am embarrassed," said Newman.
"I set you a better example. I know M. de Bellegarde told you.
He knows a great deal about me--or he thinks he does. He has taken
a great deal of trouble to find out, but half of it isn't true.
In the first place, I haven't left my father; I am much too fond of him.
Isn't it so, little father? M. de Bellegarde is a charming young man;
it is impossible to be cleverer. I know a good deal about him too;
you can tell him that when you next see him."
"No," said Newman, with a sturdy grin; "I won't carry any messages for you."
"Just as you please," said Mademoiselle Nioche, "I don't
depend upon you, nor does M. de Bellegarde either.
He is very much interested in me; he can be left to his own devices.
He is a contrast to you."
"Oh, he is a great contrast to me, I have no doubt" said Newman.
"But I don't exactly know how you mean it."
"I mean it in this way. First of all, he never offered to help me
to a dot and a husband." And Mademoiselle Nioche paused, smiling.
"I won't say that is in his favor, for I do you justice.
What led you, by the way, to make me such a queer offer?
You didn't care for me."
"Oh yes, I did," said Newman.
"It would have given me real pleasure to see you married
to a respectable young fellow."
"With six thousand francs of income!" cried Mademoiselle Nioche.
"Do you call that caring for me? I'm afraid you know little about women.
You were not galant; you were not what you might have been."
Newman flushed a trifle fiercely. "Come!" he exclaimed "that's
rather strong. I had no idea I had been so shabby."
Mademoiselle Nioche smiled as she took up her muff.
"It is something, at any rate, to have made you angry."
Her father had leaned both his elbows on the table,
and his head, bent forward, was supported in his hands,
the thin white fingers of which were pressed over his ears.
In his position he was staring fixedly at the bottom of
his empty glass, and Newman supposed he was not hearing.
Mademoiselle Noemie buttoned her furred jacket and pushed back
her chair, casting a glance charged with the consciousness
of an expensive appearance first down over her flounces and then
up at Newman.
"You had better have remained an honest girl," Newman said, quietly.
M. Nioche continued to stare at the bottom of his glass,
and his daughter got up, still bravely smiling.
"You mean that I look so much like one? That's more than most
women do nowadays. Don't judge me yet a while," she added.
"I mean to succeed; that's what I mean to do. I leave you;
I don't mean to be seen in cafes, for one thing. I can't think
what you want of my poor father; he's very comfortable now.
It isn't his fault, either. Au revoir, little father."
And she tapped the old man on the head with her muff.
Then she stopped a minute, looking at Newman. "Tell M. de Bellegarde,
when he wants news of me, to come and get it from ME!"
And she turned and departed, the white-aproned waiter,
with a bow, holding the door wide open for her.
M. Nioche sat motionless, and Newman hardly knew what to say to him.
The old man looked dismally foolish. "So you determined not to shoot her,
after all," Newman said, presently.
M. Nioche, without moving, raised his eyes and gave him a long,
peculiar look. It seemed to confess everything, and yet not to ask for pity,
nor to pretend, on the other hand, to a rugged ability to do without it.
It might have expressed the state of mind of an innocuous insect,
flat in shape and conscious of the impending pressure of a boot-sole,
and reflecting that he was perhaps too flat to be crushed. M. Nioche's
gaze was a profession of moral flatness. "You despise me terribly,"
he said, in the weakest possible voice.
"Oh no," said Newman, "it is none of my business.
It's a good plan to take things easily."
"I made you too many fine speeches," M. Nioche added.
"I meant them at the time."
"I am sure I am very glad you didn't shoot her," said Newman.
"I was afraid you might have shot yourself. That is why I came
to look you up." And he began to button his coat.
"Neither," said M. Nioche. "You despise me, and I can't explain to you.
I hoped I shouldn't see you again."
"Why, that's rather shabby," said Newman. "You shouldn't drop
your friends that way. Besides, the last time you came to see
me I thought you particularly jolly."
"Yes, I remember," said M. Nioche, musingly; "I was in a fever.
I didn't know what I said, what I did. It was delirium."
"Ah, well, you are quieter now."
M. Nioche was silent a moment. "As quiet as the grave,"
he whispered softly.
"Are you very unhappy?"
M. Nioche rubbed his forehead slowly, and even pushed back his
wig a little, looking askance at his empty glass. "Yes--yes.
But that's an old story. I have always been unhappy. My daughter
does what she will with me. I take what she gives me, good or bad.
I have no spirit, and when you have no spirit you must keep quiet.
I shan't trouble you any more."
"Well," said Newman, rather disgusted at the smooth operation
of the old man's philosophy, "that's as you please."
M. Nioche seemed to have been prepared to be despised but nevertheless
he made a feeble movement of appeal from Newman's faint praise.
"After all," he said, "she is my daughter, and I can still look after her.
If she will do wrong, why she will. But there are many different paths,
there are degrees. I can give her the benefit--give her the benefit"--
and M. Nioche paused, staring vaguely at Newman, who began to suspect
that his brain had softened--"the benefit of my experience,"
M. Nioche added.
"Your experience?" inquired Newman, both amused and amazed.
"My experience of business," said M. Nioche, gravely.
"Ah, yes," said Newman, laughing, "that will be a great advantage to her!"
And then he said good-by, and offered the poor, foolish old man his hand.
M. Nioche took it and leaned back against the wall, holding it a moment
and looking up at him. "I suppose you think my wits are going,"
he said. "Very likely; I have always a pain in my head.
That's why I can't explain, I can't tell you. And she's so strong,
she makes me walk as she will, anywhere! But there's this--
there's this." And he stopped, still staring up at Newman.
His little white eyes expanded and glittered for a moment
like those of a cat in the dark. "It's not as it seems.
I haven't forgiven her. Oh, no!"
"That's right; don't," said Newman. "She's a bad case."
"It's horrible, it's horrible," said M. Nioche; "but do you
want to know the truth? I hate her! I take what she gives me,
and I hate her more. To-day she brought me three hundred francs;
they are here in my waistcoat pocket. Now I hate her almost cruelly.
No, I haven't forgiven her."
"Why did you accept the money?" Newman asked.
"If I hadn't," said M. Nioche, "I should have hated her still more.
That's what misery is. No, I haven't forgiven her."
"Take care you don't hurt her!" said Newman, laughing again.
And with this he took his leave. As he passed along
the glazed side of the cafe, on reaching the street, he saw
the old man motioning the waiter, with a melancholy gesture,
to replenish his glass.
One day, a week after his visit to the Cafe de la Patrie, he called
upon Valentin de Bellegarde, and by good fortune found him at home.
Newman spoke of his interview with M. Nioche and his daughter,
and said he was afraid Valentin had judged the old man correctly.
He had found the couple hobnobbing together in all amity;
the old gentleman's rigor was purely theoretic. Newman confessed
that he was disappointed; he should have expected to see M. Nioche
take high ground.
"High ground, my dear fellow," said Valentin, laughing; "there is
no high ground for him to take. The only perceptible eminence in
M. Nioche's horizon is Montmartre, which is not an edifying quarter.
You can't go mountaineering in a flat country."
"He remarked, indeed," said Newman, "that he has not forgiven her.
But she'll never find it out."
"We must do him the justice to suppose he doesn't like the thing,"
Valentin rejoined. "Mademoiselle Nioche is like the great artists
whose biographies we read, who at the beginning of their career have
suffered opposition in the domestic circle. Their vocation has not
been recognized by their families, but the world has done it justice.
Mademoiselle Nioche has a vocation."
"Oh, come," said Newman, impatiently, "you take the little
baggage too seriously."
"I know I do; but when one has nothing to think about,
one must think of little baggages. I suppose it is better
to be serious about light things than not to be serious at all.
This little baggage entertains me."
"Oh, she has discovered that. She knows you have been hunting her up
and asking questions about her. She is very much tickled by it.
That's rather annoying."
"Annoying, my dear fellow," laughed Valentin; "not the least!"
"Hanged if I should want to have a greedy little adventuress like that know
I was giving myself such pains about her!" said Newman.
"A pretty woman is always worth one's pains," objected Valentin.
"Mademoiselle Nioche is welcome to be tickled by my curiosity,
and to know that I am tickled that she is tickled.
She is not so much tickled, by the way."
"You had better go and tell her," Newman rejoined.
"She gave me a message for you of some such drift."
"Bless your quiet imagination," said Valentin, "I have been to see her--
three times in five days. She is a charming hostess; we talk
of Shakespeare and the musical glasses. She is extremely clever
and a very curious type; not at all coarse or wanting to be coarse;
determined not to be. She means to take very good care of herself.
She is extremely perfect; she is as hard and clear-cut as some little
figure of a sea-nymph in an antique intaglio, and I will warrant that she
has not a grain more of sentiment or heart than if she was scooped
out of a big amethyst. You can't scratch her even with a diamond.
Extremely pretty,--really, when you know her, she is wonderfully pretty,--
intelligent, determined, ambitious, unscrupulous, capable of
looking at a man strangled without changing color, she is upon
my honor, extremely entertaining."
"It's a fine list of attractions," said Newman; "they would serve
as a police-detective's description of a favorite criminal.
I should sum them up by another word than 'entertaining.' "
"Why, that is just the word to use. I don't say she is laudable
or lovable. I don't want her as my wife or my sister.
But she is a very curious and ingenious piece of machinery;
I like to see it in operation."
"Well, I have seen some very curious machines too," said Newman;
"and once, in a needle factory, I saw a gentleman from the city,
who had stopped too near one of them, picked up as neatly
as if he had been prodded by a fork, swallowed down straight,
and ground into small pieces."
Reentering his domicile, late in the evening, three days
after Madame de Bellegarde had made her bargain with him--
the expression is sufficiently correct--touching the entertainment
at which she was to present him to the world, he found on his table
a card of goodly dimensions bearing an announcement that this
lady would be at home on the 27th of the month, at ten o'clock
in the evening. He stuck it into the frame of his mirror
and eyed it with some complacency; it seemed an agreeable emblem
of triumph, documentary evidence that his prize was gained.
Stretched out in a chair, he was looking at it lovingly,
when Valentin de Bellegarde was shown into the room.
Valentin's glance presently followed the direction of Newman's,
and he perceived his mother's invitation.
"And what have they put into the corner?" he asked.
"Not the customary 'music,' 'dancing,' or 'tableaux vivants'?
They ought at least to put 'An American.'"
"Oh, there are to be several of us," said Newman.
"Mrs. Tristram told me to-day that she had received a card
and sent an acceptance."
"Ah, then, with Mrs. Tristram and her husband you will have support.
My mother might have put on her card 'Three Americans.' But I suspect you
will not lack amusement. You will see a great many of the best people
in France. I mean the long pedigrees and the high noses, and all that.
Some of them are awful idiots; I advise you to take them up cautiously."
"Oh, I guess I shall like them," said Newman.
"I am prepared to like every one and everything in these days;
I am in high good-humor."
Valentin looked at him a moment in silence and then dropped himself
into a chair with an unwonted air of weariness.
"Happy man!" he said with a sigh. "Take care you don't become offensive."
"If any one chooses to take offense, he may. I have a
good conscience," said Newman.
"So you are really in love with my sister."
"Yes, sir!" said Newman, after a pause.
"And she also?"
"I guess she likes me," said Newman.
"What is the witchcraft you have used?" Valentin asked.
"How do YOU make love?"
"Oh, I haven't any general rules," said Newman.
"In any way that seems acceptable."
"I suspect that, if one knew it," said Valentin, laughing, "you are
a terrible customer. You walk in seven-league boots."
"There is something the matter with you to-night,"
Newman said in response to this. "You are vicious.
Spare me all discordant sounds until after my marriage.
Then, when I have settled down for life, I shall be better
able to take things as they come."
"And when does your marriage take place?"
"About six weeks hence."
Valentin was silent a while, and then he said, "And you feel
very confident about the future?"
"Confident. I knew what I wanted, exactly, and I know what I have got."
"You are sure you are going to be happy?"
"Sure?" said Newman. "So foolish a question deserves a foolish answer. Yes!"
"You are not afraid of anything?"
"What should I be afraid of? You can't hurt me unless you
kill me by some violent means. That I should indeed consider
a tremendous sell. I want to live and I mean to live.
I can't die of illness, I am too ridiculously tough;
and the time for dying of old age won't come round yet a while.
I can't lose my wife, I shall take too good care of her.
I may lose my money, or a large part of it; but that
won't matter, for I shall make twice as much again.
So what have I to be afraid of?"
"You are not afraid it may be rather a mistake for an American
man of business to marry a French countess?"
"For the countess, possibly; but not for the man of business, if you mean me!
But my countess shall not be disappointed; I answer for her happiness!"
And as if he felt the impulse to celebrate his happy certitude by a bonfire,
he got up to throw a couple of logs upon the already blazing hearth.
Valentin watched for a few moments the quickened flame, and then,
with his head leaning on his hand, gave a melancholy sigh.
"Got a headache?" Newman asked.
"Je suis triste," said Valentin, with Gallic simplicity.
"You are sad, eh? It is about the lady you said the other night
that you adored and that you couldn't marry?"
"Did I really say that? It seemed to me afterwards that
the words had escaped me. Before Claire it was bad taste.
But I felt gloomy as I spoke, and I feel gloomy still.
Why did you ever introduce me to that girl?"
"Oh, it's Noemie, is it? Lord deliver us! You don't mean to say
you are lovesick about her?"
"Lovesick, no; it's not a grand passion. But the cold-blooded little
demon sticks in my thoughts; she has bitten me with those even little
teeth of hers; I feel as if I might turn rabid and do something
crazy in consequence. It's very low, it's disgustingly low.
She's the most mercenary little jade in Europe. Yet she really
affects my peace of mind; she is always running in my head.
It's a striking contrast to your noble and virtuous attachment--
a vile contrast! It is rather pitiful that it should be the best
I am able to do for myself at my present respectable age.
I am a nice young man, eh, en somme? You can't warrant my future,
as you do your own."
"Drop that girl, short," said Newman; "don't go near her again,
and your future will do. Come over to America and I will get
you a place in a bank."
"It is easy to say drop her," said Valentin, with a light laugh.
"You can't drop a pretty woman like that. One must be polite,
even with Noemie. Besides, I'll not have her suppose I am
afraid of her."
"So, between politeness and vanity, you will get deeper into the mud?
Keep them both for something better. Remember, too, that I didn't
want to introduce you to her: you insisted. I had a sort of uneasy
feeling about it."
"Oh, I don't reproach you," said Valentin. "Heaven forbid!
I wouldn't for the world have missed knowing her.
She is really extraordinary. The way she has already spread her
wings is amazing. I don't know when a woman has amused me more.
But excuse me," he added in an instant; "she doesn't amuse you,
at second hand, and the subject is an impure one.
Let us talk of something else." Valentin introduced another topic,
but within five minutes Newman observed that, by a bold transition,
he had reverted to Mademoiselle Nioche, and was giving
pictures of her manners and quoting specimens of her mots.
These were very witty, and, for a young woman who six months before
had been painting the most artless madonnas, startlingly cynical.
But at last, abruptly, he stopped, became thoughtful, and for some
time afterwards said nothing. When he rose to go it was evident
that his thoughts were still running upon Mademoiselle Nioche.
"Yes, she's a frightful little monster!" he said.
The next ten days were the happiest that Newman had ever known.
He saw Madame de Cintre every day, and never saw either old Madame
de Bellegarde or the elder of his prospective brothers-in-law.
Madame de Cintre at last seemed to think it becoming to apologize
for their never being present. "They are much taken up,"
she said, "with doing the honors of Paris to Lord Deepmere."
There was a smile in her gravity as she made this declaration,
and it deepened as she added, "He is our seventh cousin, you know,
and blood is thicker than water. And then, he is so interesting!"
And with this she laughed.
Newman met young Madame de Bellegarde two or three times,
always roaming about with graceful vagueness, as if in search
of an unattainable ideal of amusement. She always reminded
him of a painted perfume-bottle with a crack in it; but he had
grown to have a kindly feeling for her, based on the fact
of her owing conjugal allegiance to Urbain de Bellegarde.
He pitied M. de Bellegarde's wife, especially since she was
a silly, thirstily-smiling little brunette, with a suggestion
of an unregulated heart. The small marquise sometimes looked
at him with an intensity too marked not to be innocent,
for coquetry is more finely shaded. She apparently wanted to ask
him something or tell him something; he wondered what it was.
But he was shy of giving her an opportunity, because, if her
communication bore upon the aridity of her matrimonial lot,
he was at a loss to see how he could help her. He had
a fancy, however, of her coming up to him some day and saying
(after looking around behind her) with a little passionate hiss,
"I know you detest my husband; let me have the pleasure of assuring
you for once that you are right. Pity a poor woman who is married
to a clock-image in papier-mache!" Possessing, however, in default
of a competent knowledge of the principles of etiquette,
a very downright sense of the "meanness" of certain actions,
it seemed to him to belong to his position to keep on his guard;
he was not going to put it into the power of these people
to say that in their house he had done anything unpleasant.
As it was, Madame de Bellegarde used to give him news of the dress
she meant to wear at his wedding, and which had not yet,
in her creative imagination, in spite of many interviews
with the tailor, resolved itself into its composite totality.
"I told you pale blue bows on the sleeves, at the elbows,"
she said. "But to-day I don't see my blue bows at all.
I don't know what has become of them. To-day I see pink--
a tender pink. And then I pass through strange, dull phases
in which neither blue nor pink says anything to me.
And yet I must have the bows."
"Have them green or yellow," said Newman.
"Malheureux!" the little marquise would cry. "Green bows would
break your marriage--your children would be illegitimate!"
Madame de Cintre was calmly happy before the world,
and Newman had the felicity of fancying that before him,
when the world was absent, she was almost agitatedly happy.
She said very tender things. "I take no pleasure in you.
You never give me a chance to scold you, to correct you.
I bargained for that, I expected to enjoy it. But you
won't do anything dreadful; you are dismally inoffensive.
It is very stupid; there is no excitement for me; I might
as well be marrying some one else."
"I am afraid it's the worst I can do," Newman would say in answer
to this. "Kindly overlook the deficiency." He assured her that he,
at least, would never scold her; she was perfectly satisfactory.
"If you only knew," he said, "how exactly you are what I coveted!
And I am beginning to understand why I coveted it;
the having it makes all the difference that I expected.
Never was a man so pleased with his good fortune.
You have been holding your head for a week past just as I wanted
my wife to hold hers. You say just the things I want her to say.
You walk about the room just as I want her to walk.
You have just the taste in dress that I want her to have.
In short, you come up to the mark, and, I can tell you,
my mark was high."
These observations seemed to make Madame de Cintre rather grave.
At last she said, "Depend upon it, I don't come up to the mark;
your mark is too high. I am not all that you suppose; I am
a much smaller affair. She is a magnificent woman, your ideal.
Pray, how did she come to such perfection?"
"She was never anything else," Newman said.
"I really believe," Madame de Cintre went on, "that she is better
than my own ideal. Do you know that is a very handsome compliment?
Well, sir, I will make her my own!"
Mrs. Tristram came to see her dear Claire after Newman had announced
his engagement, and she told our hero the next day that his good
fortune was simply absurd. "For the ridiculous part of it is,"
she said, "that you are evidently going to be as happy as if you
were marrying Miss Smith or Miss Thompson. I call it a brilliant
match for you, but you get brilliancy without paying any tax upon it.
Those things are usually a compromise, but here you have everything,
and nothing crowds anything else out. You will be brilliantly happy
as well." Newman thanked her for her pleasant, encouraging way
of saying things; no woman could encourage or discourage better.
Tristram's way of saying things was different; he had been taken
by his wife to call upon Madame de Cintre, and he gave an account
of the expedition.
"You don't catch me giving an opinion on your countess this time,"
he said; "I put my foot in it once. That's a d--d underhand
thing to do, by the way--coming round to sound a fellow upon
the woman you are going to marry. You deserve anything you get.
Then of course you rush and tell her, and she takes care to make
it pleasant for the poor spiteful wretch the first time he calls.
I will do you the justice to say, however, that you don't seem to have
told Madame de Cintre; or if you have she's uncommonly magnanimous.
She was very nice; she was tremendously polite.
She and Lizzie sat on the sofa, pressing each other's hands
and calling each other chere belle, and Madame de Cintre sent
me with every third word a magnificent smile, as if to give me
to understand that I too was a handsome dear. She quite made up
for past neglect, I assure you; she was very pleasant and sociable.
Only in an evil hour it came into her head to say that she must
present us to her mother--her mother wished to know your friends.
I didn't want to know her mother, and I was on the point of
telling Lizzie to go in alone and let me wait for her outside.
But Lizzie, with her usual infernal ingenuity,
guessed my purpose and reduced me by a glance of her eye.
So they marched off arm in arm, and I followed as I could.
We found the old lady in her arm-chair, twiddling her
aristocratic thumbs. She looked at Lizzie from head to foot;
but at that game Lizzie, to do her justice, was a match for her.
My wife told her we were great friends of Mr. Newman.
The marquise started a moment, and then said, 'Oh, Mr. Newman!
My daughter has made up her mind to marry a Mr. Newman.'
Then Madame de Cintre began to fondle Lizzie again,
and said it was this dear lady that had planned the match
and brought them together. 'Oh, 'tis you I have to thank for
my American son-in-law,' the old lady said to Mrs. Tristram.
'It was a very clever thought of yours. Be sure of my gratitude.'
And then she began to look at me and presently said,
'Pray, are you engaged in some species of manufacture?'
I wanted to say that I manufactured broom-sticks for old
witches to ride on, but Lizzie got in ahead of me.
'My husband, Madame la Marquise,' she said, 'belongs to
that unfortunate class of persons who have no profession
and no business, and do very little good in the world.'
To get her poke at the old woman she didn't care where she shoved me.
'Dear me,' said the marquise, 'we all have our duties.'
'I am sorry mine compel me to take leave of you,' said Lizzie.
And we bundled out again. But you have a mother-in-law,
in all the force of the term."
"Oh," said Newman, "my mother-in-law desires nothing better
than to let me alone."
Betimes, on the evening of the 27th, he went to Madame de Bellegarde's ball.
The old house in the Rue de l'Universite looked strangely brilliant.
In the circle of light projected from the outer gate a detachment
of the populace stood watching the carriages roll in; the court was
illumined with flaring torches and the portico carpeted with crimson.
When Newman arrived there were but a few people present.
The marquise and her two daughters were at the top of the staircase,
where the sallow old nymph in the angle peeped out from a bower of plants.
Madame de Bellegarde, in purple and fine laces, looked like an old
lady painted by Vandyke; Madame de Cintre was dressed in white.
The old lady greeted Newman with majestic formality, and looking
round her, called several of the persons who were standing near.
They were elderly gentlemen, of what Valentin de Bellegarde had designated
as the high-nosed category; two or three of them wore cordons and stars.
They approached with measured alertness, and the marquise said that she
wished to present them to Mr. Newman, who was going to marry her daughter.
Then she introduced successively three dukes, three counts, and a baron.
These gentlemen bowed and smiled most agreeably, and Newman indulged
in a series of impartial hand-shakes, accompanied by a "Happy to make
your acquaintance, sir." He looked at Madame de Cintre, but she was
not looking at him. If his personal self-consciousness had been of a
nature to make him constantly refer to her, as the critic before whom,
in company, he played his part, he might have found it a flattering
proof of her confidence that he never caught her eyes resting upon him.
It is a reflection Newman did not make, but we nevertheless risk it,
that in spite of this circumstance she probably saw every movement
of his little finger. Young Madame de Bellegarde was dressed in an
audacious toilet of crimson crape, bestrewn with huge silver moons--
thin crescent and full disks.
"You don't say anything about my dress," she said to Newman.
"I feel," he answered, "as if I were looking at you through a telescope.
It is very strange."
"If it is strange it matches the occasion. But I am not a heavenly body."
"I never saw the sky at midnight that particular shade
of crimson," said Newman.
"That is my originality; any one could have chosen blue.
My sister-in-law would have chosen a lovely shade of blue, with a dozen
little delicate moons. But I think crimson is much more amusing.
And I give my idea, which is moonshine."
"Moonshine and bloodshed," said Newman.
"A murder by moonlight," laughed Madame de Bellegarde.
"What a delicious idea for a toilet! To make it complete,
there is the silver dagger, you see, stuck into my hair.
But here comes Lord Deepmere," she added in a moment.
"I must find out what he thinks of it." Lord Deepmere came up,
looking very red in the face, and laughing. "Lord Deepmere
can't decide which he prefers, my sister-in-law or me,"
said Madame de Bellegarde. "He likes Claire because she
is his cousin, and me because I am not. But he has no right
to make love to Claire, whereas I am perfectly disponible.
It is very wrong to make love to a woman who is engaged,
but it is very wrong not to make love to a woman who is married."
"Oh, it's very jolly making love to married women," said Lord Deepmere,
"because they can't ask you to marry them."
"Is that what the others do, the spinsters?" Newman inquired.
"Oh dear, yes," said Lord Deepmere; "in England all the girls
ask a fellow to marry them."
"And a fellow brutally refuses," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"Why, really, you know, a fellow can't marry any girl that asks him,"
said his lordship.
"Your cousin won't ask you. She is going to marry Mr. Newman."
"Oh, that's a very different thing!" laughed Lord Deepmere.
"You would have accepted HER, I suppose. That makes me hope
that after all you prefer me."
"Oh, when things are nice I never prefer one to the other,"
said the young Englishman. "I take them all."
"Ah, what a horror! I won't be taken in that way; I must be kept apart,"
cried Madame de Bellegarde. "Mr. Newman is much better; he knows
how to choose. Oh, he chooses as if he were threading a needle.
He prefers Madame de Cintre to any conceivable creature or thing."
"Well, you can't help my being her cousin," said Lord Deepmere to Newman,
with candid hilarity.
"Oh, no, I can't help that," said Newman, laughing back;
"neither can she!"
"And you can't help my dancing with her," said Lord Deepmere,
with sturdy simplicity.
"I could prevent that only by dancing with her myself," said Newman.
"But unfortunately I don't know how to dance."
"Oh, you may dance without knowing how; may you not, milord?" said Madame
de Bellegarde. But to this Lord Deepmere replied that a fellow ought
to know how to dance if he didn't want to make an ass of himself;
and at this moment Urbain de Bellegarde joined the group, slow-stepping and
with his hands behind him.
"This is a very splendid entertainment," said Newman, cheerfully.
"The old house looks very bright."
"If YOU are pleased, we are content," said the marquis,
lifting his shoulders and bending them forward.
"Oh, I suspect every one is pleased," said Newman.
"How can they help being pleased when the first thing they see
as they come in is your sister, standing there as beautiful
as an angel?"
"Yes, she is very beautiful," rejoined the marquis, solemnly.
"But that is not so great a source of satisfaction to other people,
naturally, as to you."
"Yes, I am satisfied, marquis, I am satisfied," said Newman,
with his protracted enunciation. "And now tell me," he added,
looking round, "who some of your friends are."
M. de Bellegarde looked about him in silence, with his head bent and his
hand raised to his lower lip, which he slowly rubbed. A stream of people
had been pouring into the salon in which Newman stood with his host,
the rooms were filling up and the spectacle had become brilliant.
It borrowed its splendor chiefly from the shining shoulders and profuse
jewels of the women, and from the voluminous elegance of their dresses.
There were no uniforms, as Madame de Bellegarde's door was inexorably closed
against the myrmidons of the upstart power which then ruled the fortunes
of France, and the great company of smiling and chattering faces was not
graced by any very frequent suggestions of harmonious beauty. It is
a pity, nevertheless, that Newman had not been a physiognomist, for a great
many of the faces were irregularly agreeable, expressive, and suggestive.
If the occasion had been different they would hardly have pleased him;
he would have thought the women not pretty enough and the men too smirking;
but he was now in a humor to receive none but agreeable impressions,
and he looked no more narrowly than to perceive that every one was brilliant,
and to feel that the sun of their brilliancy was a part of his credit.
"I will present you to some people," said M. de Bellegarde after a while.
"I will make a point of it, in fact. You will allow me?"
"Oh, I will shake hands with any one you want," said Newman.
"Your mother just introduced me to half a dozen old gentlemen.
Take care you don't pick up the same parties again."
"Who are the gentlemen to whom my mother presented you?"
"Upon my word, I forgot them," said Newman, laughing.
"The people here look very much alike."
"I suspect they have not forgotten you," said the marquis.
And he began to walk through the rooms. Newman, to keep near
him in the crowd, took his arm; after which for some time,
the marquis walked straight along, in silence. At last,
reaching the farther end of the suite of reception-rooms,
Newman found himself in the presence of a lady of
monstrous proportions, seated in a very capacious arm-chair,
with several persons standing in a semicircle round her.
This little group had divided as the marquis came up,
and M. de Bellegarde stepped forward and stood for an instant
silent and obsequious, with his hat raised to his lips,
as Newman had seen some gentlemen stand in churches as soon
as they entered their pews. The lady, indeed, bore a very fair
likeness to a reverend effigy in some idolatrous shrine.
She was monumentally stout and imperturbably serene.
Her aspect was to Newman almost formidable; he had a troubled
consciousness of a triple chin, a small piercing eye, a vast
expanse of uncovered bosom, a nodding and twinkling tiara of plumes
and gems, and an immense circumference of satin petticoat.
With her little circle of beholders this remarkable woman
reminded him of the Fat Lady at a fair. She fixed her small,
unwinking eyes at the new-comers.
"Dear duchess," said the marquis, "let me present you our
good friend Mr. Newman, of whom you have heard us speak.
Wishing to make Mr. Newman known to those who are dear to us,
I could not possibly fail to begin with you."
"Charmed, dear friend; charmed, monsieur," said the duchess
in a voice which, though small and shrill, was not disagreeable,
while Newman executed his obeisance. "I came on purpose
to see monsieur. I hope he appreciates the compliment.
You have only to look at me to do so, sir," she continued,
sweeping her person with a much-encompassing glance.
Newman hardly knew what to say, though it seemed that to a duchess
who joked about her corpulence one might say almost anything.
On hearing that the duchess had come on purpose to see Newman,
the gentlemen who surrounded her turned a little and looked at him
with sympathetic curiosity. The marquis with supernatural gravity
mentioned to him the name of each, while the gentleman who bore
it bowed; they were all what are called in France beaux noms.
"I wanted extremely to see you," the duchess went on.
"C'est positif. In the first place, I am very fond of the person you
are going to marry; she is the most charming creature in France.
Mind you treat her well, or you shall hear some news of me.
But you look as if you were good. I am told you are very remarkable.
I have heard all sorts of extraordinary things about you.
Voyons, are they true?"
"I don't know what you can have heard," said Newman.
"Oh, you have your legende. We have heard that you
have had a career the most checkered, the most bizarre.
What is that about your having founded a city some ten years
ago in the great West, a city which contains to-day half
a million of inhabitants? Isn't it half a million, messieurs?
You are exclusive proprietor of this flourishing settlement,
and are consequently fabulously rich, and you would be richer
still if you didn't grant lands and houses free of rent to all
newcomers who will pledge themselves never to smoke cigars.
At this game, in three years, we are told, you are going
to be made president of America."
The duchess recited this amazing "legend" with a smooth self-possession
which gave the speech to Newman's mind, the air of being a bit of amusing
dialogue in a play, delivered by a veteran comic actress. Before she
had ceased speaking he had burst into loud, irrepressible laughter.
"Dear duchess, dear duchess," the marquis began to murmur, soothingly.
Two or three persons came to the door of the room to see who was laughing
at the duchess. But the lady continued with the soft, serene assurance
of a person who, as a duchess, was certain of being listened to, and,
as a garrulous woman, was independent of the pulse of her auditors.
"But I know you are very remarkable. You must be, to have endeared yourself
to this good marquis and to his admirable world. They are very exacting.
I myself am not very sure at this hour of really possessing it.
Eh, Bellegarde? To please you, I see, one must be an American millionaire.
But your real triumph, my dear sir, is pleasing the countess; she is
as difficult as a princess in a fairy tale. Your success is a miracle.
What is your secret? I don't ask you to reveal it before all these gentlemen,
but come and see me some day and give me a specimen of your talents."
"The secret is with Madame de Cintre," said Newman.
"You must ask her for it. It consists in her having a great
deal of charity."
"Very pretty!" said the duchess. "That's a very nice specimen,
to begin with. What, Bellegarde, are you already taking monsieur away?"
"I have a duty to perform, dear friend," said the marquis,
pointing to the other groups.
"Ah, for you I know what that means. Well, I have seen monsieur;
that is what I wanted. He can't persuade me that he isn't
very clever. Farewell."
As Newman passed on with his host, he asked who the duchess was.
"The greatest lady in France," said the marquis.
M. de Bellegarde then presented his prospective brother-in-law
to some twenty other persons of both sexes, selected apparently
for their typically august character. In some cases this character
was written in good round hand upon the countenance of the wearer;
in others Newman was thankful for such help as his companion's
impressively brief intimation contributed to the discovery of it.
There were large, majestic men, and small demonstrative men;
there were ugly ladies in yellow lace and quaint jewels,
and pretty ladies with white shoulders from which jewels and every
thing else were absent. Every one gave Newman extreme attention,
every one smiled, every one was charmed to make his acquaintance,
every one looked at him with that soft hardness of good society
which puts out its hand but keeps its fingers closed over
the coin. If the marquis was going about as a bear-leader,
if the fiction of Beauty and the Beast was supposed to have
found its companion-piece, the general impression appeared
to be that the bear was a very fair imitation of humanity.
Newman found his reception among the marquis's friends
very "pleasant;" he could not have said more for it.
It was pleasant to be treated with so much explicit politeness;
it was pleasant to hear neatly turned civilities, with a flavor
of wit, uttered from beneath carefully-shaped mustaches;
it was pleasant to see clever Frenchwomen--they all seemed clever--
turn their backs to their partners to get a good look at the
strange American whom Claire de Cintre was to marry, and reward
the object of the exhibition with a charming smile. At last,
as he turned away from a battery of smiles and other amenities,
Newman caught the eye of the marquis looking at him heavily;
and thereupon, for a single instant, he checked himself.
"Am I behaving like a d--d fool?" he asked himself.
"Am I stepping about like a terrier on his hind legs?"
At this moment he perceived Mrs. Tristram at the other side
of the room, and he waved his hand in farewell to M. de
Bellegarde and made his way toward her.
"Am I holding my head too high?" he asked. "Do I look as if I
had the lower end of a pulley fastened to my chin?"
"You look like all happy men, very ridiculous," said Mrs. Tristram.
"It's the usual thing, neither better nor worse. I have been watching
you for the last ten minutes, and I have been watching M. de Bellegarde.
He doesn't like it."
"The more credit to him for putting it through," replied Newman.
"But I shall be generous. I shan't trouble him any more.
But I am very happy. I can't stand still here.
Please to take my arm and we will go for a walk."
He led Mrs. Tristram through all the rooms. There were a great
many of them, and, decorated for the occasion and filled with a
stately crowd, their somewhat tarnished nobleness recovered its lustre.
Mrs. Tristram, looking about her, dropped a series of softly-incisive
comments upon her fellow-guests. But Newman made vague answers;
he hardly heard her, his thoughts were elsewhere. They were lost
in a cheerful sense of success, of attainment and victory.
His momentary care as to whether he looked like a fool
passed away, leaving him simply with a rich contentment.
He had got what he wanted. The savor of success had always been highly
agreeable to him, and it had been his fortune to know it often.
But it had never before been so sweet, been associated with
so much that was brilliant and suggestive and entertaining.
The lights, the flowers, the music, the crowd, the splendid women,
the jewels, the strangeness even of the universal murmur of a
clever foreign tongue were all a vivid symbol and assurance
of his having grasped his purpose and forced along his groove.
If Newman's smile was larger than usual, it was not tickled
vanity that pulled the strings; he had no wish to be shown
with the finger or to achieve a personal success. If he could
have looked down at the scene, invisible, from a hole in the roof,
he would have enjoyed it quite as much. It would have spoken to him
about his own prosperity and deepened that easy feeling about life
to which, sooner or later, he made all experience contribute.
Just now the cup seemed full.
"It is a very pretty party," said Mrs. Tristram, after they had walked
a while. "I have seen nothing objectionable except my husband leaning against
the wall and talking to an individual whom I suppose he takes for a duke,
but whom I more than suspect to be the functionary who attends to the lamps.
Do you think you could separate them? Knock over a lamp!"
I doubt whether Newman, who saw no harm in Tristram's conversing with an
ingenious mechanic, would have complied with this request; but at this
moment Valentin de Bellegarde drew near. Newman, some weeks previously,
had presented Madame de Cintre's youngest brother to Mrs. Tristram,
for whose merits Valentin professed a discriminating relish and to whom
he had paid several visits.
"Did you ever read Keats's Belle Dame sans Merci?" asked Mrs. Tristram.
"You remind me of the hero of the ballad:--
'Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?'"
"If I am alone, it is because I have been deprived of your society,"
said Valentin. "Besides it is good manners for no man
except Newman to look happy. This is all to his address.
It is not for you and me to go before the curtain."
"You promised me last spring," said Newman to Mrs. Tristram,
"that six months from that time I should get into a monstrous rage.
It seems to me the time's up, and yet the nearest I can come
to doing anything rough now is to offer you a cafe glace."
"I told you we should do things grandly," said Valentin.
"I don't allude to the cafes glaces. But every one is here,
and my sister told me just now that Urbain had been adorable."
"He's a good fellow, he's a good fellow," said Newman.
"I love him as a brother. That reminds me that I ought to go
and say something polite to your mother."
"Let it be something very polite indeed," said Valentin.
"It may be the last time you will feel so much like it!"
Newman walked away, almost disposed to clasp old Madame de Bellegarde round
the waist. He passed through several rooms and at last found the old
marquise in the first saloon, seated on a sofa, with her young kinsman,
Lord Deepmere, beside her. The young man looked somewhat bored;
his hands were thrust into his pockets and his eyes were fixed upon
the toes of his shoes, his feet being thrust out in front of him.
Madame de Bellegarde appeared to have been talking to him with some
intensity and to be waiting for an answer to what she had said,
or for some sign of the effect of her words. Her hands were folded
in her lap, and she was looking at his lordship's simple physiognomy
with an air of politely suppressed irritation.
Lord Deepmere looked up as Newman approached, met his eyes,
and changed color.
"I am afraid I disturb an interesting interview," said Newman.
Madame de Bellegarde rose, and her companion rising at the same time,
she put her hand into his arm. She answered nothing for an instant,
and then, as he remained silent, she said with a smile, "It would
be polite for Lord Deepmere to say it was very interesting."
"Oh, I'm not polite!" cried his lordship. "But it was interesting."
"Madame de Bellegarde was giving you some good advice, eh?" said Newman;
"toning you down a little?"
"I was giving him some excellent advice," said the marquise,
fixing her fresh, cold eyes upon our hero. "It's for him
to take it."
"Take it, sir--take it," Newman exclaimed. "Any advice the marquise
gives you to-night must be good. For to-night, marquise, you must
speak from a cheerful, comfortable spirit, and that makes good advice.
You see everything going on so brightly and successfully round you.
Your party is magnificent; it was a very happy thought.
It is much better than that thing of mine would have been."
"If you are pleased I am satisfied," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"My desire was to please you."
"Do you want to please me a little more?" said Newman. "Just drop our
lordly friend; I am sure he wants to be off and shake his heels a little.
Then take my arm and walk through the rooms."
"My desire was to please you," the old lady repeated.
And she liberated Lord Deepmere, Newman rather wondering
at her docility. "If this young man is wise," she added,
"he will go and find my daughter and ask her to dance."
"I have been indorsing your advice," said Newman, bending over
her and laughing, "I suppose I must swallow that!"
Lord Deepmere wiped his forehead and departed, and Madame de Bellegarde
took Newman's arm. "Yes, it's a very pleasant, sociable entertainment,"
the latter declared, as they proceeded on their circuit.
"Every one seems to know every one and to be glad to see every one.
The marquis has made me acquainted with ever so many people, and I feel
quite like one of the family. It's an occasion," Newman continued,
wanting to say something thoroughly kind and comfortable, "that I
shall always remember, and remember very pleasantly."
"I think it is an occasion that we shall none of us forget,"
said the marquise, with her pure, neat enunciation.
People made way for her as she passed, others turned round and looked
at her, and she received a great many greetings and pressings of
the hand, all of which she accepted with the most delicate dignity.
But though she smiled upon every one, she said nothing until she
reached the last of the rooms, where she found her elder son.
Then, "This is enough, sir," she declared with measured softness to Newman,
and turned to the marquis. He put out both his hands and took both hers,
drawing her to a seat with an air of the tenderest veneration.
It was a most harmonious family group, and Newman discreetly retired.
He moved through the rooms for some time longer, circulating freely,
overtopping most people by his great height, renewing acquaintance
with some of the groups to which Urbain de Bellegarde had presented him,
and expending generally the surplus of his equanimity. He continued to find
it all extremely agreeable; but the most agreeable things have an end,
and the revelry on this occasion began to deepen to a close. The music
was sounding its ultimate strains and people were looking for the marquise,
to make their farewells. There seemed to be some difficulty in finding her,
and Newman heard a report that she had left the ball, feeling faint.
"She has succumbed to the emotions of the evening," he heard a lady say.
"Poor, dear marquise; I can imagine all that they may have been for her!"
But he learned immediately afterwards that she had recovered herself
and was seated in an armchair near the doorway, receiving parting
compliments from great ladies who insisted upon her not rising.
He himself set out in quest of Madame de Cintre. He had seen her move
past him many times in the rapid circles of a waltz, but in accordance
with her explicit instructions he had exchanged no words with her since
the beginning of the evening. The whole house having been thrown open,
the apartments of the rez-de-chaussee were also accessible, though a smaller
number of persons had gathered there. Newman wandered through them,
observing a few scattered couples to whom this comparative seclusion appeared
grateful and reached a small conservatory which opened into the garden.
The end of the conservatory was formed by a clear sheet of glass,
unmasked by plants, and admitting the winter starlight so directly that
a person standing there would seem to have passed into the open air.
Two persons stood there now, a lady and a gentleman; the lady Newman,
from within the room and although she had turned her back to it,
immediately recognized as Madame de Cintre. He hesitated as to whether
he would advance, but as he did so she looked round, feeling apparently
that he was there. She rested her eyes on him a moment and then turned
again to her companion.
"It is almost a pity not to tell Mr. Newman," she said softly,
but in a tone that Newman could hear.
"Tell him if you like!" the gentleman answered, in the voice
of Lord Deepmere.
"Oh, tell me by all means!" said Newman advancing.
Lord Deepmere, he observed, was very red in the face, and he had twisted
his gloves into a tight cord as if he had been squeezing them dry.
These, presumably, were tokens of violent emotion, and it seemed
to Newman that the traces of corresponding agitation were visible in
Madame de Cintre's face. The two had been talking with much vivacity.
"What I should tell you is only to my lord's credit," said Madame de Cintre,
smiling frankly enough.
"He wouldn't like it any better for that!" said my lord,
with his awkward laugh.
"Come; what's the mystery?" Newman demanded. "Clear it up.
I don't like mysteries."
"We must have some things we don't like, and go without some we do,"
said the ruddy young nobleman, laughing still.
"It's to Lord Deepmere's credit, but it is not to every one's,"
said Madam de Cintre. "So I shall say nothing about it.
You may be sure," she added; and she put out her hand to
the Englishman, who took it half shyly, half impetuously.
"And now go and dance!" she said.
"Oh yes, I feel awfully like dancing!" he answered. "I shall
go and get tipsy." And he walked away with a gloomy guffaw.
"What has happened between you?" Newman asked.
"I can't tell you--now," said Madame de Cintre.
"Nothing that need make you unhappy."
"Has the little Englishman been trying to make love to you?"
She hesitated, and then she uttered a grave "No! he's a very
honest little fellow."
"But you are agitated. Something is the matter."
"Nothing, I repeat, that need make you unhappy. My agitation is over.
Some day I will tell you what it was; not now. I can't now!"
"Well, I confess," remarked Newman, "I don't want to hear
anything unpleasant. I am satisfied with everything--
most of all with you. I have seen all the ladies and talked
with a great many of them; but I am satisfied with you."
Madame de Cintre covered him for a moment with her large,
soft glance, and then turned her eyes away into the starry night.
So they stood silent a moment, side by side. "Say you are
satisfied with me," said Newman.
He had to wait a moment for the answer; but it came at last,
low yet distinct: "I am very happy."
It was presently followed by a few words from another source,
which made them both turn round. "I am sadly afraid Madame de
Cintre will take a chill. I have ventured to bring a shawl."
Mrs. Bread stood there softly solicitous, holding a white drapery
in her hand.
"Thank you," said Madame de Cintre, "the sight of those cold
stars gives one a sense of frost. I won't take your shawl,
but we will go back into the house."
She passed back and Newman followed her, Mrs. Bread standing
respectfully aside to make way for them. Newman paused an instant
before the old woman, and she glanced up at him with a silent greeting.
"Oh, yes," he said, "you must come and live with us."
"Well then, sir, if you will," she answered, "you have not seen
the last of me!"
Newman was fond of music and went often to the opera. A couple of evenings
after Madame de Bellegarde's ball he sat listening to "Don Giovanni,"
having in honor of this work, which he had never yet seen represented,
come to occupy his orchestra-chair before the rising of the curtain.
Frequently he took a large box and invited a party of his compatriots;
this was a mode of recreation to which he was much addicted.
He liked making up parties of his friends and conducting them to the theatre,
and taking them to drive on high drags or to dine at remote restaurants.
He liked doing things which involved his paying for people; the vulgar
truth is that he enjoyed "treating" them. This was not because he was
what is called purse-proud; handling money in public was on the contrary
positively disagreeable to him; he had a sort of personal modesty about it,
akin to what he would have felt about making a toilet before spectators.
But just as it was a gratification to him to be handsomely dressed, just so
it was a private satisfaction to him (he enjoyed it very clandestinely)
to have interposed, pecuniarily, in a scheme of pleasure.
To set a large group of people in motion and transport them to a distance,
to have special conveyances, to charter railway-carriages and steamboats,
harmonized with his relish for bold processes, and made hospitality seem
more active and more to the purpose. A few evenings before the occasion
of which I speak he had invited several ladies and gentlemen to the opera
to listen to Madame Alboni--a party which included Miss Dora Finch.
It befell, however, that Miss Dora Finch, sitting near Newman in the box,
discoursed brilliantly, not only during the entr'actes, but during many of
the finest portions of the performance, so that Newman had really come away
with an irritated sense that Madame Alboni had a thin, shrill voice, and that
her musical phrase was much garnished with a laugh of the giggling order.
After this he promised himself to go for a while to the opera alone.
When the curtain had fallen upon the first act of "Don Giovanni"
he turned round in his place to observe the house. Presently, in one
of the boxes, he perceived Urbain de Bellegarde and his wife.
The little marquise was sweeping the house very busily with a glass,
and Newman, supposing that she saw him, determined to go and bid
her good evening. M. de Bellegarde was leaning against a column,
motionless, looking straight in front of him, with one hand in the breast
of his white waistcoat and the other resting his hat on his thigh.
Newman was about to leave his place when he noticed in that obscure region
devoted to the small boxes which in France are called, not inaptly,
"bathing-tubs," a face which even the dim light and the distance could
not make wholly indistinct. It was the face of a young and pretty woman,
and it was surmounted with a coiffure of pink roses and diamonds.
This person was looking round the house, and her fan was moving to and fro
with the most practiced grace; when she lowered it, Newman perceived
a pair of plump white shoulders and the edge of a rose-colored dress.
Beside her, very close to the shoulders and talking, apparently with
an earnestness which it pleased her scantily to heed, sat a young man
with a red face and a very low shirt-collar. A moment's gazing left
Newman with no doubts; the pretty young woman was Noemie Nioche.
He looked hard into the depths of the box, thinking her father might
perhaps be in attendance, but from what he could see the young man's
eloquence had no other auditor. Newman at last made his way out,
and in doing so he passed beneath the baignoire of Mademoiselle Noemie.
She saw him as he approached and gave him a nod and smile which seemed
meant as an assurance that she was still a good-natured girl, in spite
of her enviable rise in the world. Newman passed into the foyer
and walked through it. Suddenly he paused in front of a gentleman
seated on one of the divans. The gentleman's elbows were on his knees;
he was leaning forward and staring at the pavement, lost apparently
in meditations of a somewhat gloomy cast. But in spite of his bent
head Newman recognized him, and in a moment sat down beside him.
Then the gentleman looked up and displayed the expressive countenance
of Valentin de Bellegarde.
"What in the world are you thinking of so hard?" asked Newman.
"A subject that requires hard thinking to do it justice," said Valentin.
"My immeasurable idiocy."
"What is the matter now?"
"The matter now is that I am a man again, and no more a fool than usual.
But I came within an inch of taking that girl au serieux."
"You mean the young lady below stairs, in a baignoire in a
pink dress?" said Newman.
"Did you notice what a brilliant kind of pink it was?"
Valentin inquired, by way of answer. "It makes her look
as white as new milk."
"White or black, as you please. But you have stopped going to see her?"
"Oh, bless you, no. Why should I stop? I have changed, but she hasn't,"
said Valentin. "I see she is a vulgar little wretch, after all.
But she is as amusing as ever, and one MUST be amused."
"Well, I am glad she strikes you so unpleasantly," Newman rejoiced.
"I suppose you have swallowed all those fine words you used about
her the other night. You compared her to a sapphire, or a topaz,
or an amethyst--some precious stone; what was it?"
"I don't remember," said Valentin, "it may have been to a carbuncle!
But she won't make a fool of me now. She has no real charm.
It's an awfully low thing to make a mistake about a person
of that sort."
"I congratulate you," Newman declared, "upon the scales having
fallen from your eyes. It's a great triumph; it ought to make
you feel better."
"Yes, it makes me feel better!" said Valentin, gayly. Then, checking himself,
he looked askance at Newman. "I rather think you are laughing at me.
If you were not one of the family I would take it up."
"Oh, no, I'm not laughing, any more than I am one of the family.
You make me feel badly. You are too clever a fellow, you are made
of too good stuff, to spend your time in ups and downs over that
class of goods. The idea of splitting hairs about Miss Nioche!
It seems to me awfully foolish. You say you have given up taking
her seriously; but you take her seriously so long as you take
her at all."
Valentin turned round in his place and looked a while
at Newman, wrinkling his forehead and rubbing his knees.
"Vous parlez d'or. But she has wonderfully pretty arms.
Would you believe I didn't know it till this evening?"
"But she is a vulgar little wretch, remember, all the same," said Newman.
"Yes; the other day she had the bad taste to begin to abuse her father,
to his face, in my presence. I shouldn't have expected it of her;
it was a disappointment; heigho!"
"Why, she cares no more for her father than for her door-mat," said Newman.
"I discovered that the first time I saw her."
"Oh, that's another affair; she may think of the poor old beggar
what she pleases. But it was low in her to call him bad names;
it quite threw me off. It was about a frilled petticoat that he was
to have fetched from the washer-woman's; he appeared to have neglected
this graceful duty. She almost boxed his ears. He stood there staring
at her with his little blank eyes and smoothing his old hat with his
coat-tail. At last he turned round and went out without a word.
Then I told her it was in very bad taste to speak so to one's papa.
She said she should be so thankful to me if I would mention it to her
whenever her taste was at fault; she had immense confidence in mine.
I told her I couldn't have the bother of forming her manners;
I had had an idea they were already formed, after the best models.
She had disappointed me. But I shall get over it," said Valentin, gayly.
"Oh, time's a great consoler!" Newman answered with humorous sobriety.
He was silent a moment, and then he added, in another tone, "I wish you
would think of what I said to you the other day. Come over to America
with us, and I will put you in the way of doing some business.
You have a very good head, if you will only use it."
Valentin made a genial grimace. "My head is much obliged to you.
Do you mean the place in a bank?"
"There are several places, but I suppose you would consider the bank
the most aristocratic."
Valentin burst into a laugh. "My dear fellow, at night all cats are gray!
When one derogates there are no degrees."
Newman answered nothing for a minute. Then, "I think you will find
there are degrees in success," he said with a certain dryness.
Valentin had leaned forward again, with his elbows on his knees,
and he was scratching the pavement with his stick.
At last he said, looking up, "Do you really think I ought
to do something?"
Newman laid his hand on his companion's arm and looked at him
a moment through sagaciously-narrowed eyelids. "Try it and see.
You are not good enough for it, but we will stretch a point."
"Do you really think I can make some money? I should like to see
how it feels to have a little."
"Do what I tell you, and you shall be rich," said Newman.
"Think of it." And he looked at his watch and prepared to resume
his way to Madame de Bellegarde's box.
"Upon my word I will think of it," said Valentin. "I will go and listen
to Mozart another half hour--I can always think better to music--
and profoundly meditate upon it."
The marquis was with his wife when Newman entered their box;
he was bland, remote, and correct as usual; or, as it seemed
to Newman, even more than usual.
"What do you think of the opera?" asked our hero.
"What do you think of the Don?"
"We all know what Mozart is," said the marquis; "our impressions don't
date from this evening. Mozart is youth, freshness, brilliancy, facility--
a little too great facility, perhaps. But the execution is here and
there deplorably rough."
"I am very curious to see how it ends," said Newman.
"You speak as if it were a feuilleton in the 'Figaro,' " observed
the marquis. "You have surely seen the opera before?"
"Never," said Newman. "I am sure I should have remembered it.
Donna Elvira reminds me of Madame de Cintre; I don't mean
in her circumstances, but in the music she sings."
"It is a very nice distinction," laughed the marquis lightly.
"There is no great possibility, I imagine, of Madame de
Cintre being forsaken."
"Not much!" said Newman. "But what becomes of the Don?"
"The devil comes down--or comes up," said Madame de Bellegarde,
"and carries him off. I suppose Zerlina reminds you of me."
"I will go to the foyer for a few moments," said the marquis, "and give
you a chance to say that the commander--the man of stone--resembles me."
And he passed out of the box.
The little marquise stared an instant at the velvet ledge
of the balcony, and then murmured, "Not a man of stone,
a man of wood." Newman had taken her husband's empty chair.
She made no protest, and then she turned suddenly and laid her
closed fan upon his arm. "I am very glad you came in," she said.
"I want to ask you a favor. I wanted to do so on Thursday,
at my mother-in-law's ball, but you would give me no chance.
You were in such very good spirits that I thought you might grant
my little favor then; not that you look particularly doleful now.
It is something you must promise me; now is the time to take you;
after you are married you will be good for nothing. Come, promise!"
"I never sign a paper without reading it first," said Newman.
"Show me your document."
"No, you must sign with your eyes shut; I will hold your hand.
Come, before you put your head into the noose. You ought to be
thankful to me for giving you a chance to do something amusing."
"If it is so amusing," said Newman, "it will be in even better
season after I am married."
"In other words," cried Madame de Bellegarde, "you will not do it at all.
You will be afraid of your wife."
"Oh, if the thing is intrinsically improper," said Newman, "I won't
go into it. If it is not, I will do it after my marriage."
"You talk like a treatise on logic, and English logic into the bargain!"
exclaimed Madame de Bellegarde. "Promise, then, after you are married.
After all, I shall enjoy keeping you to it."
"Well, then, after I am married," said Newman serenely.
The little marquise hesitated a moment, looking at him, and he
wondered what was coming. "I suppose you know what my life is,"
she presently said. "I have no pleasure, I see nothing,
I do nothing. I live in Paris as I might live at Poitiers.
My mother-in-law calls me--what is the pretty word?--
a gad-about? accuses me of going to unheard-of places,
and thinks it ought to be joy enough for me to sit
at home and count over my ancestors on my fingers.
But why should I bother about my ancestors? I am sure they
never bothered about me. I don't propose to live with a green
shade on my eyes; I hold that things were made to look at.
My husband, you know, has principles, and the first on
the list is that the Tuileries are dreadfully vulgar.
If the Tuileries are vulgar, his principles are tiresome.
If I chose I might have principles quite as well as he.
If they grew on one's family tree I should only have to
give mine a shake to bring down a shower of the finest.
At any rate, I prefer clever Bonapartes to stupid Bourbons."
"Oh, I see; you want to go to court," said Newman, vaguely conjecturing
that she might wish him to appeal to the United States legation to smooth
her way to the imperial halls.
The marquise gave a little sharp laugh. "You are a thousand
miles away. I will take care of the Tuileries myself;
the day I decide to go they will be very glad to have me.
Sooner or later I shall dance in an imperial quadrille.
I know what you are going to say: 'How will you dare?'
But I SHALL dare. I am afraid of my husband;
he is soft, smooth, irreproachable; everything that you know;
but I am afraid of him--horribly afraid of him.
And yet I shall arrive at the Tuileries. But that will not
be this winter, nor perhaps next, and meantime I must live.
For the moment, I want to go somewhere else; it's my dream.
I want to go to the Bal Bullier."
"To the Bal Bullier?" repeated Newman, for whom the words
at first meant nothing.
"The ball in the Latin Quarter, where the students dance with
their mistresses. Don't tell me you have not heard of it."
"Oh yes," said Newman; "I have heard of it; I remember now.
I have even been there. And you want to go there?"
"It is silly, it is low, it is anything you please. But I want to go.
Some of my friends have been, and they say it is awfully drole.
My friends go everywhere; it is only I who sit moping at home."
"It seems to me you are not at home now," said Newman,
"and I shouldn't exactly say you were moping."
"I am bored to death. I have been to the opera twice a week
for the last eight years. Whenever I ask for anything my mouth
is stopped with that: Pray, madam, haven't you an opera box?
Could a woman of taste want more? In the first place,
my opera box was down in my contrat; they have to give it to me.
To-night, for instance, I should have preferred a thousand times
to go to the Palais Royal. But my husband won't go to the Palais
Royal because the ladies of the court go there so much.
You may imagine, then, whether he would take me to Bullier's;
he says it is a mere imitation--and a bad one--of what
they do at the Princess Kleinfuss's. But as I don't go
to the Princess Kleinfuss's, the next best thing is to go
to Bullier's. It is my dream, at any rate, it's a fixed idea.
All I ask of you is to give me your arm; you are less
compromising than any one else. I don't know why, but you are.
I can arrange it. I shall risk something, but that is my
own affair. Besides, fortune favors the bold. Don't refuse me;
it is my dream!"
Newman gave a loud laugh. It seemed to him hardly worth while to be
the wife of the Marquis de Bellegarde, a daughter of the crusaders,
heiress of six centuries of glories and traditions, to have centred
one's aspirations upon the sight of a couple of hundred young ladies
kicking off young men's hats. It struck him as a theme for the moralist;
but he had no time to moralize upon it. The curtain rose again;
M. de Bellegarde returned, and Newman went back to his seat.
He observed that Valentin de Bellegarde had taken his place
in the baignoire of Mademoiselle Nioche, behind this young lady
and her companion, where he was visible only if one carefully
looked for him. In the next act Newman met him in the lobby
and asked him if he had reflected upon possible emigration.
"If you really meant to meditate," he said, "you might have
chosen a better place for it."
"Oh, the place was not bad," said Valentin. "I was not
thinking of that girl. I listened to the music, and,
without thinking of the play or looking at the stage, I turned
over your proposal. At first it seemed quite fantastic.
And then a certain fiddle in the orchestra--I could distinguish it--
began to say as it scraped away, 'Why not, why not?'
And then, in that rapid movement, all the fiddles took it
up and the conductor's stick seemed to beat it in the air:
'Why not, why not?' I'm sure I can't say! I don't see why not.
I don't see why I shouldn't do something. It appears to me really
a very bright idea. This sort of thing is certainly very stale.
And then I could come back with a trunk full of dollars.
Besides, I might possibly find it amusing. They call me a raffine;
who knows but that I might discover an unsuspected charm
in shop-keeping? It would really have a certain romantic,
picturesque side; it would look well in my biography.
It would look as if I were a strong man, a first-rate man,
a man who dominated circumstances."
"Never mind how it would look," said Newman.
"It always looks well to have half a million of dollars.
There is no reason why you shouldn't have them if you will mind
what I tell you--I alone--and not talk to other parties."
He passed his arm into that of his companion, and the two walked
for some time up and down one of the less frequented corridors.
Newman's imagination began to glow with the idea of converting
his bright, impracticable friend into a first-class man
of business. He felt for the moment a sort of spiritual zeal,
the zeal of the propagandist. Its ardor was in part
the result of that general discomfort which the sight of all
uninvested capital produced in him; so fine an intelligence
as Bellegarde's ought to be dedicated to high uses.
The highest uses known to Newman's experience were certain
transcendent sagacities in the handling of railway stock.
And then his zeal was quickened by his personal kindness
for Valentin; he had a sort of pity for him which he was well aware
he never could have made the Comte de Bellegarde understand.
He never lost a sense of its being pitiable that Valentin