Part 7 out of 8
I don't know why--don't ask me. We must all bear it.
I have been too selfish; I wanted to escape from it.
You offered me a great chance--besides my liking you.
It seemed good to change completely, to break, to go away.
And then I admired you. But I can't--it has overtaken
and come back to me." Her self-control had now completely
abandoned her, and her words were broken with long sobs.
"Why do such dreadful things happen to us--why is my brother
Valentin killed, like a beast in the midst of his youth and
his gayety and his brightness and all that we loved him for?
Why are there things I can't ask about--that I am afraid to know?
Why are there places I can't look at, sounds I can't hear?
Why is it given to me to choose, to decide, in a case
so hard and so terrible as this? I am not meant for that--
I am not made for boldness and defiance. I was made
to be happy in a quiet, natural way." At this Newman gave
a most expressive groan, but Madame de Cintre went on.
"I was made to do gladly and gratefully what is expected of me.
My mother has always been very good to me; that's all I can say.
I must not judge her; I must not criticize her. If I did,
it would come back to me. I can't change!"
"No," said Newman, bitterly; "I must change--if I break in two
in the effort!"
"You are different. You are a man; you will get over it.
You have all kinds of consolation. You were born--you were trained,
to changes. Besides--besides, I shall always think of you."
"I don't care for that!" cried Newman. "You are cruel--you are
terribly cruel. God forgive you! You may have the best reasons
and the finest feelings in the world; that makes no difference.
You are a mystery to me; I don't see how such hardness can go
with such loveliness."
Madame de Cintre fixed him a moment with her swimming eyes.
"You believe I am hard, then?"
Newman answered her look, and then broke out, "You are a perfect,
faultless creature! Stay by me!"
"Of course I am hard," she went on. "Whenever we give pain
we are hard. And we MUST give pain; that's the world,--
the hateful, miserable world! Ah!" and she gave a long, deep sigh,
"I can't even say I am glad to have known you--though I am.
That too is to wrong you. I can say nothing that is not cruel.
Therefore let us part, without more of this. Good-by!" And she
put out her hand.
Newman stood and looked at it without taking it, and raised his
eyes to her face. He felt, himself, like shedding tears of rage.
"What are you going to do?" he asked. "Where are you going?"
"Where I shall give no more pain and suspect no more evil.
I am going out of the world."
"Out of the world?"
"I am going into a convent."
"Into a convent!" Newman repeated the words with the deepest dismay;
it was as if she had said she was going into an hospital.
"Into a convent--YOU!"
"I told you that it was not for my worldly advantage or pleasure
I was leaving you."
But still Newman hardly understood. "You are going to be a nun,"
he went on, "in a cell--for life--with a gown and white veil?"
"A nun--a Carmelite nun," said Madame de Cintre. "For life,
with God's leave."
The idea struck Newman as too dark and horrible for belief, and made him
feel as he would have done if she had told him that she was going to
mutilate her beautiful face, or drink some potion that would make her mad.
He clasped his hands and began to tremble, visibly.
"Madame de Cintre, don't, don't!" he said. "I beseech you!
On my knees, if you like, I'll beseech you."
She laid her hand upon his arm, with a tender, pitying,
almost reassuring gesture. "You don't understand,"
she said. "You have wrong ideas. It's nothing horrible.
It is only peace and safety. It is to be out of the world,
where such troubles as this come to the innocent, to the best.
And for life--that's the blessing of it! They can't begin again."
Newman dropped into a chair and sat looking at her with a long,
inarticulate murmur. That this superb woman, in whom he had
seen all human grace and household force, should turn from him
and all the brightness that he offered her--him and his future
and his fortune and his fidelity--to muffle herself in ascetic
rags and entomb herself in a cell was a confounding combination
of the inexorable and the grotesque. As the image deepened
before him the grotesque seemed to expand and overspread it;
it was a reduction to the absurd of the trial to which he was subjected.
"You--you a nun!" he exclaimed; "you with your beauty defaced--
you behind locks and bars! Never, never, if I can prevent it!"
And he sprang to his feet with a violent laugh.
"You can't prevent it," said Madame de Cintre, "and it ought--
a little--to satisfy you. Do you suppose I will go on living
in the world, still beside you, and yet not with you?
It is all arranged. Good-by, good-by."
This time he took her hand, took it in both his own. "Forever?" he said.
Her lips made an inaudible movement and his own uttered a deep imprecation.
She closed her eyes, as if with the pain of hearing it; then he drew
her towards him and clasped her to his breast. He kissed her white face;
for an instant she resisted and for a moment she submitted; then, with force,
she disengaged herself and hurried away over the long shining floor.
The next moment the door closed behind her.
Newman made his way out as he could.
There is a pretty public walk at Poitiers, laid out upon
the crest of the high hill around which the little city clusters,
planted with thick trees and looking down upon the fertile fields
in which the old English princes fought for their right and held it.
Newman paced up and down this quiet promenade for the greater part
of the next day and let his eyes wander over the historic prospect;
but he would have been sadly at a loss to tell you afterwards
whether the latter was made up of coal-fields or of vineyards.
He was wholly given up to his grievance, or which reflection
by no means diminished the weight. He feared that Madame
de Cintre was irretrievably lost; and yet, as he would have
said himself, he didn't see his way clear to giving her up.
He found it impossible to turn his back upon Fleurieres
and its inhabitants; it seemed to him that some germ of hope
or reparation must lurk there somewhere, if he could only stretch
his arm out far enough to pluck it. It was as if he had his hand
on a door-knob and were closing his clenched fist upon it:
he had thumped, he had called, he had pressed the door
with his powerful knee and shaken it with all his strength,
and dead, damning silence had answered him. And yet something
held him there--something hardened the grasp of his fingers.
Newman's satisfaction had been too intense, his whole plan too
deliberate and mature, his prospect of happiness too rich and
comprehensive for this fine moral fabric to crumble at a stroke.
The very foundation seemed fatally injured, and yet he felt
a stubborn desire still to try to save the edifice.
He was filled with a sorer sense of wrong than he had ever known,
or than he had supposed it possible he should know.
To accept his injury and walk away without looking behind him
was a stretch of good-nature of which he found himself incapable.
He looked behind him intently and continually,
and what he saw there did not assuage his resentment.
He saw himself trustful, generous, liberal, patient, easy,
pocketing frequent irritation and furnishing unlimited modesty.
To have eaten humble pie, to have been snubbed and patronized
and satirized and have consented to take it as one of
the conditions of the bargain--to have done this, and done
it all for nothing, surely gave one a right to protest.
And to be turned off because one was a commercial person!
As if he had ever talked or dreamt of the commercial
since his connection with the Bellegardes began--
as if he had made the least circumstance of the commercial--
as if he would not have consented to confound the commercial
fifty times a day, if it might have increased by a hair's
breadth the chance of the Bellegardes' not playing him a trick!
Granted that being commercial was fair ground for having a trick
played upon one, how little they knew about the class so designed
and its enterprising way of not standing upon trifles!
It was in the light of his injury that the weight of Newman's
past endurance seemed so heavy; his actual irritation had not
been so great, merged as it was in his vision of the cloudless
blue that overarched his immediate wooing. But now his sense
of outrage was deep, rancorous, and ever present; he felt that
he was a good fellow wronged. As for Madame de Cintre's conduct,
it struck him with a kind of awe, and the fact that he was
powerless to understand it or feel the reality of its motives
only deepened the force with which he had attached himself to her.
He had never let the fact of her Catholicism trouble him;
Catholicism to him was nothing but a name, and to express
a mistrust of the form in which her religious feelings
had moulded themselves would have seemed to him on his own
part a rather pretentious affectation of Protestant zeal.
If such superb white flowers as that could bloom in Catholic soil,
the soil was not insalubrious. But it was one thing
to be a Catholic, and another to turn nun--on your hand!
There was something lugubriously comical in the way Newman's
thoroughly contemporaneous optimism was confronted with this
dusky old-world expedient. To see a woman made for him and for
motherhood to his children juggled away in this tragic travesty--
it was a thing to rub one's eyes over, a nightmare, an illusion,
a hoax. But the hours passed away without disproving the thing,
and leaving him only the after-sense of the vehemence with which
he had embraced Madame de Cintre. He remembered her words
and her looks; he turned them over and tried to shake the mystery
out of them and to infuse them with an endurable meaning.
What had she meant by her feeling being a kind of religion?
It was the religion simply of the family laws, the religion
of which her implacable little mother was the high priestess.
Twist the thing about as her generosity would, the one
certain fact was that they had used force against her.
Her generosity had tried to screen them, but Newman's heart rose
into his throat at the thought that they should go scot-free.
The twenty-four hours wore themselves away, and the next morning
Newman sprang to his feet with the resolution to return to
Fleurieres and demand another interview with Madame de Bellegarde
and her son. He lost no time in putting it into practice.
As he rolled swiftly over the excellent road in the little
caleche furnished him at the inn at Poitiers, he drew forth,
as it were, from the very safe place in his mind to which he had
consigned it, the last information given him by poor Valentin.
Valentin had told him he could do something with it,
and Newman thought it would be well to have it at hand.
This was of course not the first time, lately, that Newman
had given it his attention. It was information in the rough,--
it was dark and puzzling; but Newman was neither helpless nor afraid.
Valentin had evidently meant to put him in possession of a
powerful instrument, though he could not be said to have placed
the handle very securely within his grasp. But if he had not really
told him the secret, he had at least given him the clew to it--
a clew of which that queer old Mrs. Bread held the other end.
Mrs. Bread had always looked to Newman as if she knew secrets;
and as he apparently enjoyed her esteem, he suspected
she might be induced to share her knowledge with him.
So long as there was only Mrs. Bread to deal with, he felt easy.
As to what there was to find out, he had only one fear--
that it might not be bad enough. Then, when the image
of the marquise and her son rose before him again,
standing side by side, the old woman's hand in Urbain's arm,
and the same cold, unsociable fixedness in the eyes of each,
he cried out to himself that the fear was groundless.
There was blood in the secret at the very last! He arrived at
Fleurieres almost in a state of elation; he had satisfied himself,
logically, that in the presence of his threat of exposure they would,
as he mentally phrased it, rattle down like unwound buckets.
He remembered indeed that he must first catch his hare--
first ascertain what there was to expose; but after that,
why shouldn't his happiness be as good as new again?
Mother and son would drop their lovely victim in terror
and take to hiding, and Madame de Cintre, left to herself,
would surely come back to him. Give her a chance
and she would rise to the surface, return to the light.
How could she fail to perceive that his house would be much
the most comfortable sort of convent?
Newman, as he had done before, left his conveyance at the inn
and walked the short remaining distance to the chateau.
When he reached the gate, however, a singular feeling took
possession of him--a feeling which, strange as it may seem,
had its source in its unfathomable good nature. He stood there
a while, looking through the bars at the large, time-stained face
of the edifice, and wondering to what crime it was that the dark
old house, with its flowery name, had given convenient occasion.
It had given occasion, first and last, to tyrannies and
sufferings enough, Newman said to himself; it was an evil-looking
place to live in. Then, suddenly, came the reflection--
What a horrible rubbish-heap of iniquity to fumble in! The attitude
of inquisitor turned its ignobler face, and with the same movement
Newman declared that the Bellegardes should have another chance.
He would appeal once more directly to their sense of fairness,
and not to their fear, and if they should be accessible to reason,
he need know nothing worse about them than what he already knew.
That was bad enough.
The gate-keeper let him in through the same stiff crevice as before,
and he passed through the court and over the little rustic bridge
on the moat. The door was opened before he had reached it,
and, as if to put his clemency to rout with the suggestion
of a richer opportunity, Mrs. Bread stood there awaiting him.
Her face, as usual, looked as hopelessly blank as the tide-smoothed
sea-sand, and her black garments seemed of an intenser sable.
Newman had already learned that her strange inexpressiveness could
be a vehicle for emotion, and he was not surprised at the muffled
vivacity with which she whispered, "I thought you would try again, sir.
I was looking out for you."
"I am glad to see you," said Newman; "I think you are my friend."
Mrs. Bread looked at him opaquely. "I wish you well sir;
but it's vain wishing now."
"You know, then, how they have treated me?"
"Oh, sir," said Mrs. Bread, dryly, "I know everything."
Newman hesitated a moment. "Everything?"
Mrs. Bread gave him a glance somewhat more lucent.
"I know at least too much, sir."
"One can never know too much. I congratulate you.
I have come to see Madame de Bellegarde and her son," Newman added.
"Are they at home? If they are not, I will wait."
"My lady is always at home," Mrs. Bread replied, "and the marquis
is mostly with her."
"Please then tell them--one or the other, or both--that I am
here and that I desire to see them."
Mrs. Bread hesitated. "May I take a great liberty, sir?"
"You have never taken a liberty but you have justified it,"
said Newman, with diplomatic urbanity.
Mrs. Bread dropped her wrinkled eyelids as if she were curtseying;
but the curtsey stopped there; the occasion was too grave.
"You have come to plead with them again, sir? Perhaps you don't
know this--that Madame de Cintre returned this morning to Paris."
"Ah, she's gone!" And Newman, groaning, smote the pavement
with his stick.
"She has gone straight to the convent--the Carmelites they call it.
I see you know, sir. My lady and the marquis take it very ill.
It was only last night she told them."
"Ah, she had kept it back, then?" cried Newman. "Good, good!
And they are very fierce?"
"They are not pleased," said Mrs. Bread. "But they may well dislike it.
They tell me it's most dreadful, sir; of all the nuns in Christendom
the Carmelites are the worst. You may say they are really not human, sir;
they make you give up everything--forever. And to think of HER there!
If I was one that cried, sir, I could cry."
Newman looked at her an instant. "We mustn't cry, Mrs. Bread; we must act.
Go and call them!" And he made a movement to enter farther.
But Mrs. Bread gently checked him. "May I take another liberty?
I am told you were with my dearest Mr. Valentin,
in his last hours. If you would tell me a word about him!
The poor count was my own boy, sir; for the first year of his
life he was hardly out of my arms; I taught him to speak.
And the count spoke so well, sir! He always spoke well to
his poor old Bread. When he grew up and took his pleasure
he always had a kind word for me. And to die in that wild way!
They have a story that he fought with a wine-merchant. I can't
believe that, sir! And was he in great pain?"
"You are a wise, kind old woman, Mrs. Bread," said Newman.
"I hoped I might see you with my own children in your arms.
Perhaps I shall, yet." And he put out his hand. Mrs. Bread
looked for a moment at his open palm, and then, as if fascinated
by the novelty of the gesture, extended her own ladylike fingers.
Newman held her hand firmly and deliberately, fixing his eyes upon her.
"You want to know all about Mr. Valentin?" he said.
"It would be a sad pleasure, sir."
"I can tell you everything. Can you sometimes leave this place?"
"The chateau, sir? I really don't know. I never tried."
"Try, then; try hard. Try this evening, at dusk. Come to me
in the old ruin there on the hill, in the court before the church.
I will wait for you there; I have something very important to tell you.
An old woman like you can do as she pleases."
Mrs. Bread stared, wondering, with parted lips.
"Is it from the count, sir?" she asked.
"From the count--from his death-bed," said Newman.
"I will come, then. I will be bold, for once, for HIM."
She led Newman into the great drawing-room with which he had
already made acquaintance, and retired to execute his commands.
Newman waited a long time; at last he was on the point of
ringing and repeating his request. He was looking round him
for a bell when the marquis came in with his mother on his arm.
It will be seen that Newman had a logical mind when I
say that he declared to himself, in perfect good faith,
as a result of Valentin's dark hints, that his adversaries
looked grossly wicked. "There is no mistake about it now,"
he said to himself as they advanced. "They're a bad lot;
they have pulled off the mask." Madame de Bellegarde and her son
certainly bore in their faces the signs of extreme perturbation;
they looked like people who had passed a sleepless night.
Confronted, moreover, with an annoyance which they hoped they
had disposed of, it was not natural that they should have any
very tender glances to bestow upon Newman. He stood before them,
and such eye-beams as they found available they leveled at him;
Newman feeling as if the door of a sepulchre had suddenly
been opened, and the damp darkness were being exhaled.
"You see I have come back," he said. "I have come to try again."
"It would be ridiculous," said M. de Bellegarde, "to pretend that we are glad
to see you or that we don't question the taste of your visit."
"Oh, don't talk about taste," said Newman, with a laugh, "or that will
bring us round to yours! If I consulted my taste I certainly shouldn't
come to see you. Besides, I will make as short work as you please.
Promise me to raise the blockade--to set Madame de Cintre at liberty--
and I will retire instantly."
"We hesitated as to whether we would see you," said Madame
de Bellegarde; "and we were on the point of declining the honor.
But it seemed to me that we should act with civility,
as we have always done, and I wished to have the satisfaction
of informing you that there are certain weaknesses that people
of our way of feeling can be guilty of but once."
"You may be weak but once, but you will be audacious many times, madam,''
Newman answered. "I didn't come however, for conversational purposes.
I came to say this, simply: that if you will write immediately
to your daughter that you withdraw your opposition to her marriage,
I will take care of the rest. You don't want her to turn nun--
you know more about the horrors of it than I do. Marrying a commercial
person is better than that. Give me a letter to her, signed and sealed,
saying you retract and that she may marry me with your blessing,
and I will take it to her at the convent and bring her out.
There's your chance--I call those easy terms."
"We look at the matter otherwise, you know.
We call them very hard terms," said Urbain de Bellegarde.
They had all remained standing rigidly in the middle of the room.
"I think my mother will tell you that she would rather her
daughter should become Soeur Catherine than Mrs. Newman."
But the old lady, with the serenity of supreme power,
let her son make her epigrams for her. She only smiled,
almost sweetly, shaking her head and repeating, "But once,
Mr. Newman; but once!"
Nothing that Newman had ever seen or heard gave him such a sense
of marble hardness as this movement and the tone that accompanied it.
"Could anything compel you?" he asked. "Do you know of anything
that would force you?"
"This language, sir," said the marquis, "addressed to people
in bereavement and grief is beyond all qualification."
"In most cases," Newman answered, "your objection would have
some weight, even admitting that Madame de Cintre's present intentions
make time precious. But I have thought of what you speak of,
and I have come here to-day without scruple simply because I
consider your brother and you two very different parties.
I see no connection between you. Your brother was ashamed of you.
Lying there wounded and dying, the poor fellow apologized to me
for your conduct. He apologized to me for that of his mother."
For a moment the effect of these words was as if Newman had struck
a physical blow. A quick flush leaped into the faces of Madame de
Bellegarde and her son, and they exchanged a glance like a twinkle
of steel. Urbain uttered two words which Newman but half heard,
but of which the sense came to him as it were in the reverberation
of the sound, "Le miserable!"
"You show little respect for the living," said Madame de Bellegarde,
"but at least respect the dead. Don't profane--don't insult--
the memory of my innocent son."
"I speak the simple truth," Newman declared, "and I speak it for a purpose.
I repeat it--distinctly. Your son was utterly disgusted--
your son apologized."
Urbain de Bellegarde was frowning portentously, and Newman supposed he was
frowning at poor Valentin's invidious image. Taken by surprise, his scant
affection for his brother had made a momentary concession to dishonor.
But not for an appreciable instant did his mother lower her flag.
"You are immensely mistaken, sir," she said. "My son was sometimes light,
but he was never indecent. He died faithful to his name."
"You simply misunderstood him," said the marquis, beginning to rally.
"You affirm the impossible!"
"Oh, I don't care for poor Valentin's apology," said Newman.
"It was far more painful than pleasant to me. This atrocious
thing was not his fault; he never hurt me, or any one else;
he was the soul of honor. But it shows how he took it."
"If you wish to prove that my poor brother, in his
last moments, was out of his head, we can only say that under
the melancholy circumstances nothing was more possible.
But confine yourself to that."
"He was quite in his right mind," said Newman, with gentle but
dangerous doggedness; "I have never seen him so bright and clever.
It was terrible to see that witty, capable fellow dying such a death.
You know I was very fond of your brother. And I have further proof
of his sanity," Newman concluded.
The marquise gathered herself together majestically.
"This is too gross!" she cried. "We decline to accept
your story, sir--we repudiate it. Urbain, open the door."
She turned away, with an imperious motion to her son,
and passed rapidly down the length of the room.
The marquis went with her and held the door open.
Newman was left standing.
He lifted his finger, as a sign to M. de Bellegarde,
who closed the door behind his mother and stood waiting.
Newman slowly advanced, more silent, for the moment, than life.
The two men stood face to face. Then Newman had a singular sensation;
he felt his sense of injury almost brimming over into jocularity.
"Come," he said, "you don't treat me well; at least admit that."
M. de Bellegarde looked at him from head to foot, and then, in the
most delicate, best-bred voice, "I detest you, personally," he said.
"That's the way I feel to you, but for politeness sake I
don't say it," said Newman. "It's singular I should want
so much to be your brother-in-law, but I can't give it up.
Let me try once more." And he paused a moment.
"You have a secret--you have a skeleton in the closet."
M. de Bellegarde continued to look at him hard, but Newman
could not see whether his eyes betrayed anything; the look
of his eyes was always so strange. Newman paused again,
and then went on. "You and your mother have committed a crime."
At this M. de Bellegarde's eyes certainly did change;
they seemed to flicker, like blown candles. Newman could
see that he was profoundly startled; but there was something
admirable in his self-control.
"Continue," said M. de Bellegarde.
Newman lifted a finger and made it waver a little in the air.
"Need I continue? You are trembling."
"Pray where did you obtain this interesting information?"
M. de Bellegarde asked, very softly.
"I shall be strictly accurate," said Newman. "I won't pretend
to know more than I do. At present that is all I know.
You have done something that you must hide, something that would
damn you if it were known, something that would disgrace the name
you are so proud of. I don't know what it is, but I can find out.
Persist in your present course and I WILL find out. Change it,
let your sister go in peace, and I will leave you alone.
It's a bargain?"
The marquis almost succeeded in looking untroubled; the breaking up of the ice
in his handsome countenance was an operation that was necessarily gradual.
But Newman's mildly-syllabled argumentation seemed to press, and press,
and presently he averted his eyes. He stood some moments, reflecting.
"My brother told you this," he said, looking up.
Newman hesitated a moment. "Yes, your brother told me."
The marquis smiled, handsomely. "Didn't I say that he was out of his mind?"
"He was out of his mind if I don't find out. He was very much
in it if I do."
M. de Bellegarde gave a shrug. "Eh, sir, find out or not,
as you please."
"I don't frighten you?" demanded Newman.
"That's for you to judge."
"No, it's for you to judge, at your leisure. Think it over,
feel yourself all round. I will give you an hour or two.
I can't give you more, for how do we know how fast they may be
making Madame de Cintre a nun? Talk it over with your mother;
let her judge whether she is frightened. I don't believe she
is as easily frightened, in general, as you; but you will see.
I will go and wait in the village, at the inn, and I beg you
to let me know as soon as possible. Say by three o'clock. A
simple YES or NO on paper will do. Only, you know, in case of a
yes I shall expect you, this time, to stick to your bargain."
And with this Newman opened the door and let himself out.
The marquis did not move, and Newman, retiring, gave him
another look. "At the inn, in the village," he repeated.
Then he turned away altogether and passed out of the house.
He was extremely excited by what he had been doing, for it was
inevitable that there should be a certain emotion in calling up
the spectre of dishonor before a family a thousand years old.
But he went back to the inn and contrived to wait there,
deliberately, for the next two hours. He thought it more than
probable that Urbain de Bellegarde would give no sign; for an answer
to his challenge, in either sense, would be a confession of guilt.
What he most expected was silence--in other words defiance.
But he prayed that, as he imagined it, his shot might bring them down.
It did bring, by three o'clock, a note, delivered by a footman;
a note addressed in Urbain de Bellegarde's handsome English hand.
It ran as follows:--
"I cannot deny myself the satisfaction of letting you know that I return
to Paris, to-morrow, with my mother, in order that we may see my sister
and confirm her in the resolution which is the most effectual reply
to your audacious pertinacity.
HENRI-URBAIN DE BELLEGARDE."
Newman put the letter into his pocket, and continued
his walk up and down the inn-parlor. He had spent most
of his time, for the past week, in walking up and down.
He continued to measure the length of the little salle
of the Armes de Prance until the day began to wane,
when he went out to keep his rendezvous with Mrs. Bread.
The path which led up the hill to the ruin was easy to find,
and Newman in a short time had followed it to the top.
He passed beneath the rugged arch of the castle wall,
and looked about him in the early dusk for an old woman in black.
The castle yard was empty, but the door of the church was open.
Newman went into the little nave and of course found a deeper dusk
than without. A couple of tapers, however, twinkled on the altar and
just enabled him to perceive a figure seated by one of the pillars.
Closer inspection helped him to recognize Mrs. Bread, in spite
of the fact that she was dressed with unwonted splendor.
She wore a large black silk bonnet, with imposing bows of crape,
and an old black satin dress disposed itself in vaguely
lustrous folds about her person. She had judged it proper
to the occasion to appear in her stateliest apparel.
She had been sitting with her eyes fixed upon the ground,
but when Newman passed before her she looked up at him,
and then she rose.
"Are you a Catholic, Mrs. Bread?" he asked.
"No, sir; I'm a good Church-of-England woman, very Low," she answered.
"But I thought I should be safer in here than outside.
I was never out in the evening before, sir."
"We shall be safer," said Newman, "where no one can hear us."
And he led the way back into the castle court and then
followed a path beside the church, which he was sure must
lead into another part of the ruin. He was not deceived.
It wandered along the crest of the hill and terminated
before a fragment of wall pierced by a rough aperture
which had once been a door. Through this aperture Newman
passed and found himself in a nook peculiarly favorable
to quiet conversation, as probably many an earnest couple,
otherwise assorted than our friends, had assured themselves.
The hill sloped abruptly away, and on the remnant of its
crest were scattered two or three fragments of stone.
Beneath, over the plain, lay the gathered twilight, through which,
in the near distance, gleamed two or three lights from the chateau.
Mrs. Bread rustled slowly after her guide, and Newman,
satisfying himself that one of the fallen stones was steady,
proposed to her to sit upon it. She cautiously complied,
and he placed himself upon another, near her.
I am very much obliged to you for coming," Newman said.
"I hope it won't get you into trouble."
"I don't think I shall be missed. My lady, in these days,
is not fond of having me about her." This was said with a certain
fluttered eagerness which increased Newman's sense of having
inspired the old woman with confidence.
"From the first, you know," he answered, "you took an interest in
my prospects. You were on my side. That gratified me, I assure you.
And now that you know what they have done to me, I am sure you are
with me all the more."
"They have not done well--I must say it," said Mrs. Bread.
"But you mustn't blame the poor countess; they pressed her hard."
"I would give a million of dollars to know what they did
to her!" cried Newman.
Mrs. Bread sat with a dull, oblique gaze fixed upon the lights of
the chateau. "They worked on her feelings; they knew that was the way.
She is a delicate creature. They made her feel wicked.
She is only too good."
"Ah, they made her feel wicked," said Newman, slowly; and then
he repeated it. "They made her feel wicked,--they made her feel wicked."
The words seemed to him for the moment a vivid description
of infernal ingenuity.
"It was because she was so good that she gave up--poor sweet lady!"
added Mrs. Bread.
"But she was better to them than to me," said Newman.
"She was afraid," said Mrs. Bread, very confidently;
"she has always been afraid, or at least for a long time.
That was the real trouble, sir. She was like a fair peach,
I may say, with just one little speck. She had one little sad spot.
You pushed her into the sunshine, sir, and it almost disappeared.
Then they pulled her back into the shade and in a moment
it began to spread. Before we knew it she was gone.
She was a delicate creature."
This singular attestation of Madame de Cintre's delicacy,
for all its singularity, set Newman's wound aching afresh.
"I see," he presently said; "she knew something bad
about her mother."
"No, sir, she knew nothing," said Mrs. Bread, holding her head very stiff
and keeping her eyes fixed upon the glimmering windows of the chateau.
"She guessed something, then, or suspected it."
"She was afraid to know," said Mrs. Bread.
"But YOU know, at any rate," said Newman.
She slowly turned her vague eyes upon Newman, squeezing her
hands together in her lap. "You are not quite faithful, sir.
I thought it was to tell me about Mr. Valentin you asked me
to come here."
"Oh, the more we talk of Mr. Valentin the better," said Newman.
"That's exactly what I want. I was with him, as I told you, in his
last hour. He was in a great deal of pain, but he was quite himself.
You know what that means; he was bright and lively and clever."
"Oh, he would always be clever, sir," said Mrs. Bread.
"And did he know of your trouble?"
"Yes, he guessed it of himself."
"And what did he say to it?"
"He said it was a disgrace to his name--but it was not the first."
"Lord, Lord!" murmured Mrs. Bread.
"He said that his mother and his brother had once put their heads
together and invented something even worse."
"You shouldn't have listened to that, sir."
"Perhaps not. But I DID listen, and I don't forget it.
Now I want to know what it is they did."
Mrs. Bread gave a soft moan. "And you have enticed me up into this
strange place to tell you?"
"Don't be alarmed," said Newman. "I won't say a word that shall be
disagreeable to you. Tell me as it suits you, and when it suits you.
Only remember that it was Mr. Valentin's last wish that you should."
"Did he say that?"
"He said it with his last breath--'Tell Mrs. Bread I told you to ask her.'"
"Why didn't he tell you himself?"
"It was too long a story for a dying man; he had no breath left in his body.
He could only say that he wanted me to know--that, wronged as I was,
it was my right to know."
"But how will it help you, sir?" said Mrs. Bread.
"That's for me to decide. Mr. Valentin believed it would,
and that's why he told me. Your name was almost the last
word he spoke."
Mrs. Bread was evidently awe-struck by this statement;
she shook her clasped hands slowly up and down.
"Excuse me, sir," she said, "if I take a great liberty.
Is it the solemn truth you are speaking? I MUST ask you that;
must I not, sir?"
"There's no offense. It is the solemn truth; I solemnly swear it.
Mr. Valentin himself would certainly have told me more if he had been able."
"Oh, sir, if he knew more!"
"Don't you suppose he did?"
"There's no saying what he knew about anything," said Mrs. Bread,
with a mild head-shake. "He was so mightily clever.
He could make you believe he knew things that he didn't, and
that he didn't know others that he had better not have known."
"I suspect he knew something about his brother that kept the marquis
civil to him," Newman propounded; "he made the marquis feel him.
What he wanted now was to put me in his place; he wanted to give me
a chance to make the marquis feel ME."
"Mercy on us!" cried the old waiting-woman, "how wicked we all are!"
"I don't know," said Newman; "some of us are wicked, certainly.
I am very angry, I am very sore, and I am very bitter, but I
don't know that I am wicked. I have been cruelly injured.
They have hurt me, and I want to hurt them. I don't deny that;
on the contrary, I tell you plainly that it is the use I want
to make of your secret."
Mrs. Bread seemed to hold her breath. "You want to publish them--
you want to shame them?"
"I want to bring them down,--down, down, down! I want to turn
the tables upon them--I want to mortify them as they mortified me.
They took me up into a high place and made me stand there for all
the world to see me, and then they stole behind me and pushed me
into this bottomless pit, where I lie howling and gnashing my teeth!
I made a fool of myself before all their friends; but I shall make
something worse of them."
This passionate sally, which Newman uttered with the greater
fervor that it was the first time he had had a chance to say all
this aloud, kindled two small sparks in Mrs. Bread's fixed eyes.
"I suppose you have a right to your anger, sir; but think
of the dishonor you will draw down on Madame de Cintre."
"Madame de Cintre is buried alive," cried Newman.
"What are honor or dishonor to her? The door of the tomb
is at this moment closing behind her."
"Yes, it's most awful," moaned Mrs. Bread.
"She has moved off, like her brother Valentin, to give me room to work.
It's as if it were done on purpose."
"Surely," said Mrs. Bread, apparently impressed by the ingenuity
of this reflection. She was silent for some moments; then she added,
"And would you bring my lady before the courts?"
"The courts care nothing for my lady," Newman replied.
"If she has committed a crime, she will be nothing for the courts
but a wicked old woman."
"And will they hang her, Sir?"
"That depends upon what she has done." And Newman eyed Mrs. Bread intently.
"It would break up the family most terribly, sir!"
"It's time such a family should be broken up!" said Newman,
with a laugh.
"And me at my age out of place, sir!" sighed Mrs. Bread.
"Oh, I will take care of you! You shall come and live with me.
You shall be my housekeeper, or anything you like.
I will pension you for life."
"Dear, dear, sir, you think of everything." And she seemed
to fall a-brooding.
Newman watched her a while, and then he said suddenly.
"Ah, Mrs. Bread, you are too fond of my lady!"
She looked at him as quickly. "I wouldn't have you say that, sir.
I don't think it any part of my duty to be fond of my lady.
I have served her faithfully this many a year; but if she were to die
to-morrow, I believe, before Heaven I shouldn't shed a tear for her."
Then, after a pause, "I have no reason to love her!" Mrs. Bread added.
"The most she has done for me has been not to turn me out of the house."
Newman felt that decidedly his companion was more and more confidential--
that if luxury is corrupting, Mrs. Bread's conservative habits were
already relaxed by the spiritual comfort of this preconcerted interview,
in a remarkable locality, with a free-spoken millionaire.
All his native shrewdness admonished him that his part was simply
to let her take her time--let the charm of the occasion work.
So he said nothing; he only looked at her kindly. Mrs. Bread sat
nursing her lean elbows. "My lady once did me a great wrong,"
she went on at last. "She has a terrible tongue when she is vexed.
It was many a year ago, but I have never forgotten it. I have never
mentioned it to a human creature; I have kept my grudge to myself.
I dare say I have been wicked, but my grudge has grown old with me.
It has grown good for nothing, too, I dare say; but it has lived along,
as I have lived. It will die when I die,--not before!"
"And what IS your grudge?" Newman asked.
Mrs. Bread dropped her eyes and hesitated.
"If I were a foreigner, sir, I should make less of
telling you; it comes harder to a decent Englishwoman.
But I sometimes think I have picked up too many foreign ways.
What I was telling you belongs to a time when I was much
younger and very different looking to what I am now.
I had a very high color, sir, if you can believe it, indeed I
was a very smart lass. My lady was younger, too, and the late
marquis was youngest of all--I mean in the way he went on, sir;
he had a very high spirit; he was a magnificent man.
He was fond of his pleasure, like most foreigners, and it must
be owned that he sometimes went rather below him to take it.
My lady was often jealous, and, if you'll believe it, sir, she did
me the honor to be jealous of me. One day I had a red ribbon in
my cap, and my lady flew out at me and ordered me to take it off.
She accused me of putting it on to make the marquis look at me.
I don't know that I was impertinent, but I spoke up like an
honest girl and didn't count my words. A red ribbon indeed!
As if it was my ribbons the marquis looked at! My lady knew
afterwards that I was perfectly respectable, but she never said
a word to show that she believed it. But the marquis did!"
Mrs. Bread presently added, "I took off my red ribbon and put
it away in a drawer, where I have kept it to this day.
It's faded now, it's a very pale pink; but there it lies.
My grudge has faded, too; the red has all gone out of it; but it
lies here yet." And Mrs. Bread stroked her black satin bodice.
Newman listened with interest to this decent narrative, which seemed
to have opened up the deeps of memory to his companion. Then, as she
remained silent, and seemed to be losing herself in retrospective
meditation upon her perfect respectability, he ventured upon a short
cut to his goal. "So Madame de Bellegarde was jealous; I see.
And M. de Bellegarde admired pretty women, without distinction of class.
I suppose one mustn't be hard upon him, for they probably didn't
all behave so properly as you. But years afterwards it could hardly
have been jealousy that turned Madame de Bellegarde into a criminal."
Mrs. Bread gave a weary sigh. "We are using dreadful words,
sir, but I don't care now. I see you have your idea, and I
have no will of my own. My will was the will of my children,
as I called them; but I have lost my children now. They are dead--
I may say it of both of them; and what should I care for the living?
What is any one in the house to me now--what am I to them?
My lady objects to me--she has objected to me these thirty years.
I should have been glad to be something to young Madame
de Bellegarde, though I never was nurse to the present marquis.
When he was a baby I was too young; they wouldn't trust me with him.
But his wife told her own maid, Mamselle Clarisse, the opinion
she had of me. Perhaps you would like to hear it, sir."
"Oh, immensely," said Newman.
"She said that if I would sit in her children's schoolroom I
should do very well for a penwiper! When things have come
to that I don't think I need stand upon ceremony."
"Decidedly not," said Newman. "Go on, Mrs. Bread."
Mrs. Bread, however, relapsed again into troubled dumbness,
and all Newman could do was to fold his arms and wait.
But at last she appeared to have set her memories in order.
"It was when the late marquis was an old man and his eldest
son had been two years married. It was when the time came
on for marrying Mademoiselle Claire; that's the way they talk
of it here, you know, sir. The marquis's health was bad;
he was very much broken down. My lady had picked out
M. de Cintre, for no good reason that I could see.
But there are reasons, I very well know, that are beyond me,
and you must be high in the world to understand them.
Old M. de Cintre was very high, and my lady thought him
almost as good as herself; that's saying a good deal.
Mr. Urbain took sides with his mother, as he always did.
The trouble, I believe, was that my lady would give very
little money, and all the other gentlemen asked more.
It was only M. de Cintre that was satisfied. The Lord willed it
he should have that one soft spot; it was the only one he had.
He may have been very grand in his birth, and he certainly was
very grand in his bows and speeches; but that was all the grandeur
he had. I think he was like what I have heard of comedians;
not that I have ever seen one. But I know he painted his face.
He might paint it all he would; he could never make me like it!
The marquis couldn't abide him, and declared that sooner than take
such a husband as that Mademoiselle Claire should take none at all.
He and my lady had a great scene; it came even to our ears
in the servants' hall. It was not their first quarrel,
if the truth must be told. They were not a loving couple,
but they didn't often come to words, because, I think,
neither of them thought the other's doings worth the trouble.
My lady had long ago got over her jealousy, and she had taken
to indifference. In this, I must say, they were well matched.
The marquis was very easy-going; he had a most gentlemanly temper.
He got angry only once a year, but then it was very bad.
He always took to bed directly afterwards. This time I speak
of he took to bed as usual, but he never got up again.
I'm afraid the poor gentleman was paying for his dissipation;
isn't it true they mostly do, sir, when they get old?
My lady and Mr. Urbain kept quiet, but I know my lady wrote letters
to M. de Cintre. The marquis got worse and the doctors gave him up.
My lady, she gave him up too, and if the truth must be told,
she gave up gladly. When once he was out of the way she could
do what she pleased with her daughter, and it was all arranged
that my poor innocent child should be handed over to M. de Cintre.
You don't know what Mademoiselle was in those days, sir; she was
the sweetest young creature in France, and knew as little of
what was going on around her as the lamb does of the butcher.
I used to nurse the marquis, and I was always in his room.
It was here at Fleurieres, in the autumn. We had a doctor
from Paris, who came and stayed two or three weeks in the house.
Then there came two others, and there was a consultation,
and these two others, as I said, declared that the marquis
couldn't be saved. After this they went off, pocketing
their fees, but the other one stayed and did what he could.
The marquis himself kept crying out that he wouldn't die,
that he didn't want to die, that he would live and look
after his daughter. Mademoiselle Claire and the viscount--
that was Mr. Valentin, you know--were both in the house.
The doctor was a clever man,--that I could see myself,--
and I think he believed that the marquis might get well.
We took good care of him, he and I, between us, and one day,
when my lady had almost ordered her mourning, my patient suddenly
began to mend. He got better and better, till the doctor said
he was out of danger. What was killing him was the dreadful
fits of pain in his stomach. But little by little they stopped,
and the poor marquis began to make his jokes again.
The doctor found something that gave him great comfort--some white
stuff that we kept in a great bottle on the chimney-piece. I
used to give it to the marquis through a glass tube; it always
made him easier. Then the doctor went away, after telling
me to keep on giving him the mixture whenever he was bad.
After that there was a little doctor from Poitiers,
who came every day. So we were alone in the house--
my lady and her poor husband and their three children.
Young Madame de Bellegarde had gone away, with her little girl,
to her mothers. You know she is very lively, and her maid
told me that she didn't like to be where people were dying."
Mrs. Bread paused a moment, and then she went on with the same
quiet consistency. "I think you have guessed, sir, that when
the marquis began to turn my lady was disappointed."
And she paused again, bending upon Newman a face which seemed
to grow whiter as the darkness settled down upon them.
Newman had listened eagerly--with an eagerness greater
even than that with which he had bent his ear to Valentin
de Bellegarde's last words. Every now and then, as his
companion looked up at him, she reminded him of an ancient
tabby cat, protracting the enjoyment of a dish of milk.
Even her triumph was measured and decorous; the faculty of
exultation had been chilled by disuse. She presently continued.
"Late one night I was sitting by the marquis in his room,
the great red room in the west tower. He had been complaining
a little, and I gave him a spoonful of the doctor's dose.
My lady had been there in the early part of the evening; she sat far
more than an hour by his bed. Then she went away and left me alone.
After midnight she came back, and her eldest son was with her.
They went to the bed and looked at the marquis, and my lady took
hold of his hand. Then she turned to me and said he was not
so well; I remember how the marquis, without saying anything,
lay staring at her. I can see his white face, at this moment,
in the great black square between the bed-curtains. I said I
didn't think he was very bad; and she told me to go to bed--
she would sit a while with him. When the marquis saw me going
he gave a sort of groan, and called out to me not to leave him;
but Mr. Urbain opened the door for me and pointed the way out.
The present marquis--perhaps you have noticed, sir--has a very
proud way of giving orders, and I was there to take orders.
I went to my room, but I wasn't easy; I couldn't tell you why.
I didn't undress; I sat there waiting and listening.
For what, would you have said, sir? I couldn't have told you;
for surely a poor gentleman might be comfortable with his wife
and his son. It was as if I expected to hear the marquis
moaning after me again. I listened, but I heard nothing.
It was a very still night; I never knew a night so still.
At last the very stillness itself seemed to frighten me,
and I came out of my room and went very softly down-stairs.
In the anteroom, outside of the marquis's chamber,
I found Mr. Urbain walking up and down. He asked me
what I wanted, and I said I came back to relieve my lady.
He said HE would relieve my lady, and ordered me back to bed;
but as I stood there, unwilling to turn away, the door of the room
opened and my lady came out. I noticed she was very pale;
she was very strange. She looked a moment at the count
and at me, and then she held out her arms to the count.
He went to her, and she fell upon him and hid her face.
I went quickly past her into the room and to the marquis's bed.
He was lying there, very white, with his eyes shut, like a corpse.
I took hold of his hand and spoke to him, and he felt to me like a
dead man. Then I turned round; my lady and Mr. Urbain were there.
'My poor Bread,' said my lady, 'M. le Marquis is gone.'
Mr. Urbain knelt down by the bed and said softly, 'Mon pere,
mon pere.' I thought it wonderful strange, and asked my lady
what in the world had happened, and why she hadn't called me.
She said nothing had happened; that she had only been
sitting there with the marquis, very quiet. She had closed
her eyes, thinking she might sleep, and she had slept,
she didn't know how long. When she woke up he was dead.
'It's death, my son, It's death,' she said to the count.
Mr. Urbain said they must have the doctor, immediately,
from Poitiers, and that he would ride off and fetch him.
He kissed his father's face, and then he kissed his mother
and went away. My lady and I stood there at the bedside.
As I looked at the poor marquis it came into my head
that he was not dead, that he was in a kind of swoon.
And then my lady repeated, 'My poor Bread, it's death,
it's death;' and I said, 'Yes, my lady, it's certainly death.'
I said just the opposite to what I believed; it was my notion.
Then my lady said we must wait for the doctor, and we sat there
and waited. It was a long time; the poor marquis neither
stirred nor changed. 'I have seen death before,' said my lady,
'and it's terribly like this.' 'Yes please, my lady,'
said I; and I kept thinking. The night wore away without
the count's coming back, and my lady began to be frightened.
She was afraid he had had an accident in the dark, or met
with some wild people. At last she got so restless that she
went below to watch in the court for her son's return.
I sat there alone and the marquis never stirred."
Here Mrs. Bread paused again, and the most artistic of
romancers could not have been more effective. Newman made
a movement as if he were turning over the page of a novel.
"So he WAS dead!" he exclaimed.
"Three days afterwards he was in his grave,"
said Mrs. Bread, sententiously. "In a little while I went
away to the front of the house and looked out into the court,
and there, before long, I saw Mr. Urbain ride in alone.
I waited a bit, to hear him come upstairs with his mother,
but they stayed below, and I went back to the marquis's room.
I went to the bed and held up the light to him,
but I don't know why I didn't let the candlestick fall.
The marquis's eyes were open--open wide! they were staring at me.
I knelt down beside him and took his hands, and begged him
to tell me, in the name of wonder, whether he was alive or dead.
Still he looked at me a long time, and then he made me a sign
to put my ear close to him: 'I am dead,' he said, 'I am dead.
The marquise has killed me.' I was all in a tremble;
I didn't understand him. He seemed both a man and a corpse,
if you can fancy, sir. 'But you'll get well now, sir,' I said.
And then he whispered again, ever so weak; 'I wouldn't get
well for a kingdom. I wouldn't be that woman's husband again.'
And then he said more; he said she had murdered him.
I asked him what she had done to him, but he only replied,
'Murder, murder. And she'll kill my daughter,' he said;
'my poor unhappy child.' And he begged me to prevent that,
and then he said that he was dying, that he was dead.
I was afraid to move or to leave him; I was almost dead myself.
All of a sudden he asked me to get a pencil and write for him;
and then I had to tell him that I couldn't manage a pencil.
He asked me to hold him up in bed while he wrote himself,
and I said he could never, never do such a thing.
But he seemed to have a kind of terror that gave him strength.
I found a pencil in the room and a piece of paper and a book,
and I put the paper on the book and the pencil into
his hand, and moved the candle near him. You will think
all this very strange, sir; and very strange it was.
The strangest part of it was that I believed he was dying,
and that I was eager to help him to write. I sat on the bed
and put my arm round him, and held him up. I felt very strong;
I believe I could have lifted him and carried him.
It was a wonder how he wrote, but he did write, in a big
scratching hand; he almost covered one side of the paper.
It seemed a long time; I suppose it was three or four minutes.
He was groaning, terribly, all the while. Then he said it
was ended, and I let him down upon his pillows and he gave me
the paper and told me to fold it, and hide it, and give it
to those who would act upon it. 'Whom do you mean?' I said.
'Who are those who will act upon it?' But he only groaned,
for an answer; he couldn't speak, for weakness. In a few minutes
he told me to go and look at the bottle on the chimney-piece.
I knew the bottle he meant; the white stuff that was good
for his stomach. I went and looked at it, but it was empty.
When I came back his eyes were open and he was staring
at me; but soon he closed them and he said no more.
I hid the paper in my dress; I didn't look at what was
written upon it, though I can read very well, sir, if I
haven't any handwriting. I sat down near the bed, but it
was nearly half an hour before my lady and the count came in.
The marquis looked as he did when they left him, and I never
said a word about his having been otherwise. Mr. Urbain said
that the doctor had been called to a person in child-birth,
but that he promised to set out for Fleurieres immediately.
In another half hour he arrived, and as soon as he had
examined the marquis he said that we had had a false alarm.
The poor gentleman was very low, but he was still living.
I watched my lady and her son when he said this, to see if they
looked at each other, and I am obliged to admit that they
didn't. The doctor said there was no reason he should die;
he had been going on so well. And then he wanted to know
how he had suddenly fallen off; he had left him so very hearty.
My lady told her little story again--what she had told Mr. Urbain
and me--and the doctor looked at her and said nothing.
He stayed all the next day at the chateau, and hardly left
the marquis. I was always there. Mademoiselle and Mr. Valentin
came and looked at their father, but he never stirred.
It was a strange, deathly stupor. My lady was always about;
her face was as white as her husband's, and she looked very proud,
as I had seen her look when her orders or her wishes had
been disobeyed. It was as if the poor marquis had defied her;
and the way she took it made me afraid of her. The apothecary
from Poitiers kept the marquis along through the day, and we
waited for the other doctor from Paris, who, as I told you,
had been staying at Fleurieres. They had telegraphed for
him early in the morning, and in the evening he arrived.
He talked a bit outside with the doctor from Poitiers, and then
they came in to see the marquis together. I was with him,
and so was Mr. Urbain. My lady had been to receive the doctor
from Paris, and she didn't come back with him into the room.
He sat down by the marquis; I can see him there now, with his
hand on the marquis's wrist, and Mr. Urbain watching him with
a little looking-glass in his hand. 'I'm sure he's better,'
said the little doctor from Poitiers; 'I'm sure he'll come back.'
A few moments after he had said this the marquis opened his eyes,
as if he were waking up, and looked at us, from one to the other.
I saw him look at me, very softly, as you'd say.
At the same moment my lady came in on tiptoe; she came up
to the bed and put in her head between me and the count.
The marquis saw her and gave a long, most wonderful moan.
He said something we couldn't understand, and he seemed
to have a kind of spasm. He shook all over and then closed
his eyes, and the doctor jumped up and took hold of my lady.
He held her for a moment a bit roughly. The marquis was stone dead!
This time there were those there that knew."
Newman felt as if he had been reading by starlight the report
of highly important evidence in a great murder case.
"And the paper--the paper!" he said, excitedly. "What was
written upon it?"
"I can't tell you, sir," answered Mrs. Bread. "I couldn't read it;
it was in French."
"But could no one else read it?"
"I never asked a human creature."
"No one has ever seen it?"
"If you see it you'll be the first."
Newman seized the old woman's hand in both his own and pressed
it vigorously. "I thank you ever so much for that," he cried.
"I want to be the first, I want it to be my property and no one else's!
You're the wisest old woman in Europe. And what did you do with the paper?"
This information had made him feel extraordinarily strong.
"Give it to me quick!"
Mrs. Bread got up with a certain majesty. "It is not so easy as that, sir.
If you want the paper, you must wait."
"But waiting is horrible, you know," urged Newman.
"I am sure I have waited; I have waited these many years,"
said Mrs. Bread.
"That is very true. You have waited for me. I won't forget it.
And yet, how comes it you didn't do as M. de Bellegarde said,
show the paper to some one?"
"To whom should I show it?" answered Mrs. Bread, mournfully.
"It was not easy to know, and many's the night I have
lain awake thinking of it. Six months afterwards,
when they married Mademoiselle to her vicious old husband,
I was very near bringing it out. I thought it was my duty
to do something with it, and yet I was mightily afraid.
I didn't know what was written on the paper or how bad it
might be, and there was no one I could trust enough to ask.
And it seemed to me a cruel kindness to do that sweet young creature,
letting her know that her father had written her mother down
so shamefully; for that's what he did, I suppose. I thought she
would rather be unhappy with her husband than be unhappy that way.
It was for her and for my dear Mr. Valentin I kept quiet.
Quiet I call it, but for me it was a weary quietness.
It worried me terribly, and it changed me altogether.
But for others I held my tongue, and no one, to this hour,
knows what passed between the poor marquis and me."
"But evidently there were suspicions," said Newman.
"Where did Mr. Valentin get his ideas?"
"It was the little doctor from Poitiers. He was very ill-satisfied, and
he made a great talk. He was a sharp Frenchman, and coming to the house,
as he did day after day, I suppose he saw more than he seemed to see.
And indeed the way the poor marquis went off as soon as his eyes fell
on my lady was a most shocking sight for anyone. The medical gentleman
from Paris was much more accommodating, and he hushed up the other.
But for all he could do Mr. Valentin and Mademoiselle heard something;
they knew their father's death was somehow against nature.
Of course they couldn't accuse their mother, and, as I tell you,
I was as dumb as that stone. Mr. Valentin used to look at me sometimes,
and his eyes seemed to shine, as if he were thinking of asking me something.
I was dreadfully afraid he would speak, and I always looked away and went
about my business. If I were to tell him, I was sure he would hate
me afterwards, and that I could never have borne. Once I went up to him and
took a great liberty; I kissed him, as I had kissed him when he was a child.
'You oughtn't to look so sad, sir,' I said; 'believe your poor old Bread.
Such a gallant, handsome young man can have nothing to be sad about.'
And I think he understood me; he understood that I was begging off,
and he made up his mind in his own way. He went about with his unasked
question in his mind, as I did with my untold tale; we were both afraid of
bringing dishonor on a great house. And it was the same with Mademoiselle.
She didn't know what happened; she wouldn't know. My lady and Mr. Urbain
asked me no questions because they had no reason. I was as still as a mouse.
When I was younger my lady thought me a hussy, and now she thought me a fool.
How should I have any ideas?"
"But you say the little doctor from Poitiers made a talk," said Newman.
"Did no one take it up?"
"I heard nothing of it, sir. They are always talking
scandal in these foreign countries you may have noticed--
and I suppose they shook their heads over Madame de Bellegarde.
But after all, what could they say? The marquis had been ill,
and the marquis had died; he had as good a right to die as any one.
The doctor couldn't say he had not come honestly by his cramps.
The next year the little doctor left the place and bought a practice
in Bordeaux, and if there has been any gossip it died out.
And I don't think there could have been much gossip about my lady
that any one would listen to. My lady is so very respectable."
Newman, at this last affirmation, broke into an immense, resounding laugh.
Mrs. Bread had begun to move away from the spot where they were sitting,
and he helped her through the aperture in the wall and along the
homeward path. "Yes," he said, "my lady's respectability is delicious;
it will be a great crash!" They reached the empty space in front
of the church, where they stopped a moment, looking at each other with
something of an air of closer fellowship--like two sociable conspirators.
"But what was it," said Newman, "what was it she did to her husband?
She didn't stab him or poison him."
"I don't know, sir; no one saw it."
"Unless it was Mr. Urbain. You say he was walking up and down,
outside the room. Perhaps he looked through the keyhole.
But no; I think that with his mother he would take it on trust."
"You may be sure I have often thought of it," said Mrs. Bread.
"I am sure she didn't touch him with her hands.
I saw nothing on him, anywhere. I believe it was in this way.
He had a fit of his great pain, and he asked her for his medicine.
Instead of giving it to him she went and poured it away,
before his eyes. Then he saw what she meant, and, weak and
helpless as he was, he was frightened, he was terrified.
'You want to kill me,' he said. 'Yes, M. le Marquis, I want to
kill you,' says my lady, and sits down and fixes her eyes upon him.
You know my lady's eyes, I think, sir; it was with them she killed him;
it was with the terrible strong will she put into them.
It was like a frost on flowers."
"Well, you are a very intelligent woman; you have shown great discretion,"
said Newman. "I shall value your services as housekeeper extremely."
They had begun to descend the hill, and Mrs. Bread said nothing
until they reached the foot. Newman strolled lightly beside her;
his head was thrown back and he was gazing at all the stars;
he seemed to himself to be riding his vengeance along the Milky Way.
"So you are serious, sir, about that?" said Mrs. Bread, softly.
"About your living with me? Why of course I will take care of you
to the end of your days. You can't live with those people any longer.
And you oughtn't to, you know, after this. You give me the paper,
and you move away."
"It seems very flighty in me to be taking a new place at this time of life,"
observed Mrs. Bread, lugubriously. "But if you are going to turn the house
upside down, I would rather be out of it."
"Oh," said Newman, in the cheerful tone of a man who feels rich
in alternatives. "I don't think I shall bring in the constables,
if that's what you mean. Whatever Madame de Bellegarde did,
I am afraid the law can't take hold of it. But I am glad of that;
it leaves it altogether to me!"
"You are a mighty bold gentleman, sir," murmured Mrs. Bread,
looking at him round the edge of her great bonnet.
He walked with her back to the chateau; the curfew had tolled for the
laborious villagers of Fleurieres, and the street was unlighted and empty.
She promised him that he should have the marquis's manuscript in half
an hour. Mrs. Bread choosing not to go in by the great gate, they passed
round by a winding lane to a door in the wall of the park, of which she
had the key, and which would enable her to enter the chateau from behind.
Newman arranged with her that he should await outside the wall her return
with the coveted document.
She went in, and his half hour in the dusky lane seemed very long.
But he had plenty to think about. At last the door in the wall
opened and Mrs. Bread stood there, with one hand on the latch
and the other holding out a scrap of white paper, folded small.
In a moment he was master of it, and it had passed into his waistcoat pocket.
"Come and see me in Paris," he said; "we are to settle your future,
you know; and I will translate poor M. de Bellegarde's French to you."
Never had he felt so grateful as at this moment for M. Nioche's instructions.
Mrs. Bread's dull eyes had followed the disappearance of the paper,
and she gave a heavy sigh. "Well, you have done what you would with me,
sir, and I suppose you will do it again. You MUST take care of me now.
You are a terribly positive gentleman."
"Just now," said Newman, "I'm a terribly impatient gentleman!"
And he bade her good-night and walked rapidly back to the inn.
He ordered his vehicle to be prepared for his return to Poitiers,
and then he shut the door of the common salle and strode toward
the solitary lamp on the chimney-piece. He pulled out the paper
and quickly unfolded it. It was covered with pencil-marks,
which at first, in the feeble light, seemed indistinct.
But Newman's fierce curiosity forced a meaning from the tremulous signs.
The English of them was as follows:--
"My wife has tried to kill me, and she has done it; I am dying,
dying horribly. It is to marry my dear daughter to M. de Cintre.
With all my soul I protest,--I forbid it. I am not insane,--
ask the doctors, ask Mrs. B----. It was alone with me here, to-night;
she attacked me and put me to death. It is murder, if murder ever was.
Ask the doctors.
"HENRI-URBAIN DE BELLEGARDE"
Newman returned to Paris the second day after his interview with Mrs. Bread.
The morrow he had spent at Poitiers, reading over and over again
the little document which he had lodged in his pocket-book, and thinking
what he would do in the circumstances and how he would do it.
He would not have said that Poitiers was an amusing place; yet the day
seemed very short. Domiciled once more in the Boulevard Haussmann,
he walked over to the Rue de l'Universite and inquired of Madame
de Bellegarde's portress whether the marquise had come back.
The portress told him that she had arrived, with M. le Marquis,
on the preceding day, and further informed him that if he desired
to enter, Madame de Bellegarde and her son were both at home.
As she said these words the little white-faced old woman who peered
out of the dusky gate-house of the Hotel de Bellegarde gave a small
wicked smile--a smile which seemed to Newman to mean, "Go in if you dare!"
She was evidently versed in the current domestic history;
she was placed where she could feel the pulse of the house.
Newman stood a moment, twisting his mustache and looking at her;
then he abruptly turned away. But this was not because he was afraid
to go in--though he doubted whether, if he did so, he should be
able to make his way, unchallenged, into the presence of Madame de
Cintre's relatives. Confidence--excessive confidence, perhaps--quite as
much as timidity prompted his retreat. He was nursing his thunder-bolt;
he loved it; he was unwilling to part with it. He seemed to be holding
it aloft in the rumbling, vaguely-flashing air, directly over the heads
of his victims, and he fancied he could see their pale, upturned faces.
Few specimens of the human countenance had ever given him such pleasure
as these, lighted in the lurid fashion I have hinted at, and he was
disposed to sip the cup of contemplative revenge in a leisurely fashion.
It must be added, too, that he was at a loss to see exactly
how he could arrange to witness the operation of his thunder.
To send in his card to Madame de Bellegarde would be a waste
of ceremony; she would certainly decline to receive him.
On the other hand he could not force his way into her presence.
It annoyed him keenly to think that he might be reduced to the blind
satisfaction of writing her a letter; but he consoled himself in a
measure with the reflection that a letter might lead to an interview.
He went home, and feeling rather tired--nursing a vengeance was, it must
be confessed, a rather fatiguing process; it took a good deal out of one--
flung himself into one of his brocaded fauteuils, stretched his legs,
thrust his hands into his pockets, and, while he watched the reflected sunset
fading from the ornate house-tops on the opposite side of the Boulevard,
began mentally to compose a cool epistle to Madame de Bellegarde.
While he was so occupied his servant threw open the door and
announced ceremoniously, "Madame Brett!"
Newman roused himself, expectantly, and in a few moments perceived
upon his threshold the worthy woman with whom he had conversed
to such good purpose on the starlit hill-top of Fleurieres.
Mrs. Bread had made for this visit the same toilet as for her
former expedition. Newman was struck with her distinguished appearance.
His lamp was not lit, and as her large, grave face gazed at him
through the light dusk from under the shadow of her ample bonnet,
he felt the incongruity of such a person presenting herself as a servant.
He greeted her with high geniality and bade her come in and sit down and
make herself comfortable. There was something which might have touched
the springs both of mirth and of melancholy in the ancient maidenliness
with which Mrs. Bread endeavored to comply with these directions.
She was not playing at being fluttered, which would have been
simply ridiculous; she was doing her best to carry herself as a person
so humble that, for her, even embarrassment would have been pretentious;
but evidently she had never dreamed of its being in her horoscope
to pay a visit, at night-fall, to a friendly single gentleman who lived
in theatrical-looking rooms on one of the new Boulevards.
"I truly hope I am not forgetting my place, sir," she murmured.
"Forgetting your place?" cried Newman. "Why, you are remembering it.
This is your place, you know. You are already in my service;
your wages, as housekeeper, began a fortnight ago.
I can tell you my house wants keeping! Why don't you take off
your bonnet and stay?"
"Take off my bonnet?" said Mrs. Bread, with timid literalness.
"Oh, sir, I haven't my cap. And with your leave, sir, I couldn't
keep house in my best gown."
"Never mind your gown," said Newman, cheerfully. "You shall
have a better gown than that."
Mrs. Bread stared solemnly and then stretched her hands over her lustreless
satin skirt, as if the perilous side of her situation were defining itself.
"Oh, sir, I am fond of my own clothes," she murmured.
"I hope you have left those wicked people, at any rate," said Newman.
"Well, sir, here I am!" said Mrs. Bread. "That's all I can tell you.
Here I sit, poor Catherine Bread. It's a strange place for me to be.
I don't know myself; I never supposed I was so bold. But indeed, sir,
I have gone as far as my own strength will bear me."
"Oh, come, Mrs. Bread," said Newman, almost caressingly, "don't make
yourself uncomfortable. Now's the time to feel lively, you know."
She began to speak again with a trembling voice.
"I think it would be more respectable if I could--if I could"--
and her voice trembled to a pause.
"If you could give up this sort of thing altogether?" said Newman kindly,
trying to anticipate her meaning, which he supposed might be a wish
to retire from service.
"If I could give up everything, sir! All I should ask is
a decent Protestant burial."
"Burial!" cried Newman, with a burst of laughter.
"Why, to bury you now would be a sad piece of extravagance.
It's only rascals who have to be buried to get respectable.
Honest folks like you and me can live our time out--
and live together. Come! Did you bring your baggage?"
"My box is locked and corded; but I haven't yet spoken to my lady."
"Speak to her, then, and have done with it. I should like to have
your chance!" cried Newman.
"I would gladly give it you, sir. I have passed some weary hours
in my lady's dressing-room; but this will be one of the longest.
She will tax me with ingratitude."
"Well," said Newman, "so long as you can tax her with murder--"
"Oh, sir, I can't; not I," sighed Mrs. Bread.
"You don't mean to say anything about it? So much the better.
Leave that to me."
"If she calls me a thankless old woman," said Mrs. Bread,
"I shall have nothing to say. But it is better so,"
she softly added. "She shall be my lady to the last.
That will be more respectable."
"And then you will come to me and I shall be your gentleman,"
said Newman; "that will be more respectable still!"
Mrs. Bread rose, with lowered eyes, and stood a moment;
then, looking up, she rested her eyes upon Newman's face.
The disordered proprieties were somehow settling to rest.
She looked at Newman so long and so fixedly, with such a dull,
intense devotedness, that he himself might have had a pretext
for embarrassment. At last she said gently, "You are not
looking well, sir."
"That's natural enough," said Newman. "I have nothing to feel well about.
To be very indifferent and very fierce, very dull and very jovial,
very sick and very lively, all at once,--why, it rather mixes one up."
Mrs. Bread gave a noiseless sigh. "I can tell you something that
will make you feel duller still, if you want to feel all one way.
About Madame de Cintre."
"What can you tell me?" Newman demanded. "Not that you have seen her?"
She shook her head. "No, indeed, sir, nor ever shall.
That's the dullness of it. Nor my lady. Nor M. de Bellegarde."
"You mean that she is kept so close."
"Close, close," said Mrs. Bread, very softly.
These words, for an instant, seemed to check the beating of Newman's heart.
He leaned back in his chair, staring up at the old woman. "They have tried
to see her, and she wouldn't--she couldn't?"
"She refused--forever! I had it from my lady's own maid,"
said Mrs. Bread, "who had it from my lady. To speak
of it to such a person my lady must have felt the shock.
Madame de Cintre won't see them now, and now is her only chance.
A while hence she will have no chance."
"You mean the other women--the mothers, the daughters, the sisters;
what is it they call them?--won't let her?"
"It is what they call the rule of the house,--or of the order, I believe,"
said Mrs. Bread. "There is no rule so strict as that of the Carmelites.
The bad women in the reformatories are fine ladies to them.
They wear old brown cloaks--so the femme de chambre told me--
that you wouldn't use for a horse blanket. And the poor countess was
so fond of soft-feeling dresses; she would never have anything stiff!
They sleep on the ground," Mrs. Bread went on; "they are no better,
no better,"--and she hesitated for a comparison,--"they are no better
than tinkers' wives. They give up everything, down to the very
name their poor old nurses called them by. They give up father
and mother, brother and sister,--to say nothing of other persons,"
Mrs. Bread delicately added. "They wear a shroud under their brown
cloaks and a rope round their waists, and they get up on winter
nights and go off into cold places to pray to the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Mary is a hard mistress!"
Mrs. Bread, dwelling on these terrible facts, sat dry-eyed
and pale, with her hands clasped in her satin lap. Newman gave
a melancholy groan and fell forward, leaning his head on his hands.
There was a long silence, broken only by the ticking of the great
gilded clock on the chimney-piece.
"Where is this place--where is the convent?" Newman asked
at last, looking up.
"There are two houses," said Mrs. Bread. "I found out; I thought
you would like to know--though it's poor comfort, I think.
One is in the Avenue de Messine; they have learned that Madame de Cintre
is there. The other is in the Rue d'Enfer. That's a terrible name;
I suppose you know what it means."
Newman got up and walked away to the end of his long room. When he came
back Mrs. Bread had got up, and stood by the fire with folded hands.
"Tell me this," he said. "Can I get near her--even if I don't see her?
Can I look through a grating, or some such thing, at the place where she is?"
It is said that all women love a lover, and Mrs. Bread's sense
of the pre-established harmony which kept servants in their
"place," even as planets in their orbits (not that Mrs. Bread
had ever consciously likened herself to a planet), barely
availed to temper the maternal melancholy with which she
leaned her head on one side and gazed at her new employer.
She probably felt for the moment as if, forty years before,
she had held him also in her arms. "That wouldn't help you, sir.
It would only make her seem farther away."
"I want to go there, at all events," said Newman. "Avenue de Messine,
you say? And what is it they call themselves?"
"Carmelites," said Mrs. Bread.
"I shall remember that."
Mrs. Bread hesitated a moment, and then, "It's my duty to tell
you this, sir," she went on. "The convent has a chapel,
and some people are admitted on Sunday to the Mass.
You don't see the poor creatures that are shut up there,
but I am told you can hear them sing. It's a wonder they have
any heart for singing! Some Sunday I shall make bold to go.
It seems to me I should know her voice in fifty."
Newman looked at his visitor very gratefully; then he held out his hand
and shook hers. "Thank you," he said. "If any one can get in, I will."
A moment later Mrs. Bread proposed, deferentially, to retire,
but he checked her and put a lighted candle into her hand.
"There are half a dozen rooms there I don't use," he said,
pointing through an open door. "Go and look at them and take
your choice. You can live in the one you like best."
From this bewildering opportunity Mrs. Bread at first recoiled;
but finally, yielding to Newman's gentle, reassuring push,
she wandered off into the dusk with her tremulous taper.
She remained absent a quarter of an hour, during which Newman
paced up and down, stopped occasionally to look out of the window
at the lights on the Boulevard, and then resumed his walk.
Mrs. Bread's relish for her investigation apparently increased
as she proceeded; but at last she reappeared and deposited her
candlestick on the chimney-piece.
"Well, have you picked one out?" asked Newman.
"A room, sir? They are all too fine for a dingy old body like me.
There isn't one that hasn't a bit of gilding."
"It's only tinsel, Mrs. Bread," said Newman.
"If you stay there a while it will all peel off of itself."
And he gave a dismal smile.
"Oh, sir, there are things enough peeling off already!" rejoined Mrs. Bread,
with a head-shake. "Since I was there I thought I would look about me.
I don't believe you know, sir. The corners are most dreadful.
You do want a housekeeper, that you do; you want a tidy Englishwoman
that isn't above taking hold of a broom."
Newman assured her that he suspected, if he had not measured,
his domestic abuses, and that to reform them was a mission worthy
of her powers. She held her candlestick aloft again and looked
around the salon with compassionate glances; then she intimated
that she accepted the mission, and that its sacred character
would sustain her in her rupture with Madame de Bellegarde.
With this she curtsied herself away.
She came back the next day with her worldly goods, and Newman,
going into his drawing-room, found her upon her aged
knees before a divan, sewing up some detached fringe.
He questioned her as to her leave-taking with her late mistress,
and she said it had proved easier than she feared.
"I was perfectly civil, sir, but the Lord helped me to remember
that a good woman has no call to tremble before a bad one."
"I should think so!" cried Newman. "And does she know you
have come to me?"
"She asked me where I was going, and I mentioned your name,"
said Mrs. Bread.
"What did she say to that?"
"She looked at me very hard, and she turned very red. Then she bade
me leave her. I was all ready to go, and I had got the coachman,
who is an Englishman, to bring down my poor box and to fetch me a cab.
But when I went down myself to the gate I found it closed.
My lady had sent orders to the porter not to let me pass, and by
the same orders the porter's wife--she is a dreadful sly old body--
had gone out in a cab to fetch home M. de Bellegarde from his club."
Newman slapped his knee. "She IS scared! she IS scared!"
he cried, exultantly.
"I was frightened too, sir," said Mrs. Bread, "but I was also
mightily vexed. I took it very high with the porter and asked
him by what right he used violence to an honorable Englishwoman
who had lived in the house for thirty years before he was heard of.
Oh, sir, I was very grand, and I brought the man down.
He drew his bolts and let me out, and I promised the cabman something
handsome if he would drive fast. But he was terribly slow;
it seemed as if we should never reach your blessed door.
I am all of a tremble still; it took me five minutes, just now,
to thread my needle."
Newman told her, with a gleeful laugh, that if she chose she
might have a little maid on purpose to thread her needles;
and he went away murmuring to himself again that the old woman
WAS scared--she WAS scared!
He had not shown Mrs. Tristram the little paper that he carried in his
pocket-book, but since his return to Paris he had seen her several times,
and she had told him that he seemed to her to be in a strange way--
an even stranger way than his sad situation made natural.
Had his disappointment gone to his head? He looked like a man who was
going to be ill, and yet she had never seen him more restless and active.
One day he would sit hanging his head and looking as if he were firmly
resolved never to smile again; another he would indulge in laughter
that was almost unseemly and make jokes that were bad even for him.
If he was trying to carry off his sorrow, he at such times really
went too far. She begged him of all things not to be "strange."
Feeling in a measure responsible as she did for the affair which had turned
out so ill for him, she could endure anything but his strangeness.
He might be melancholy if he would, or he might be stoical;
he might be cross and cantankerous with her and ask her why she had
ever dared to meddle with his destiny: to this she would submit;
for this she would make allowances. Only, for Heaven's sake,
let him not be incoherent. That would be extremely unpleasant.
It was like people talking in their sleep; they always frightened her.
And Mrs. Tristram intimated that, taking very high ground as regards
the moral obligation which events had laid upon her, she proposed not to
rest quiet until she should have confronted him with the least inadequate
substitute for Madame de Cintre that the two hemispheres contained.
"Oh," said Newman, "we are even now, and we had better not open
a new account! You may bury me some day, but you shall never
marry me. It's too rough. I hope, at any rate," he added,
"that there is nothing incoherent in this--that I want to go
next Sunday to the Carmelite chapel in the Avenue de Messine.
You know one of the Catholic ministers--an abbe, is that it?--
I have seen him here, you know; that motherly old gentleman
with the big waist-band. Please ask him if I need a special
leave to go in, and if I do, beg him to obtain it for me."
Mrs. Tristram gave expression to the liveliest joy.
"I am so glad you have asked me to do something!" she cried.
"You shall get into the chapel if the abbe is disfrocked
for his share in it." And two days afterwards she told him
that it was all arranged; the abbe was enchanted to serve him,
and if he would present himself civilly at the convent gate
there would be no difficulty.
Sunday was as yet two days off; but meanwhile, to beguile his impatience,
Newman took his way to the Avenue de Messine and got what comfort he could
in staring at the blank outer wall of Madame de Cintre's present residence.
The street in question, as some travelers will remember, adjoins the
Parc Monceau, which is one of the prettiest corners of Paris.
The quarter has an air of modern opulence and convenience which seems
at variance with the ascetic institution, and the impression made upon
Newman's gloomily-irritated gaze by the fresh-looking, windowless expanse
behind which the woman he loved was perhaps even then pledging herself
to pass the rest of her days was less exasperating than he had feared.
The place suggested a convent with the modern improvements--an asylum in
which privacy, though unbroken, might be not quite identical with privation,
and meditation, though monotonous, might be of a cheerful cast. And yet
he knew the case was otherwise; only at present it was not a reality to him.
It was too strange and too mocking to be real; it was like a page torn
out of a romance, with no context in his own experience.
On Sunday morning, at the hour which Mrs. Tristram had indicated,
he rang at the gate in the blank wall. It instantly
opened and admitted him into a clean, cold-looking court,
from beyond which a dull, plain edifice looked down upon him.
A robust lay sister with a cheerful complexion emerged from a
porter's lodge, and, on his stating his errand, pointed to the open
door of the chapel, an edifice which occupied the right side
of the court and was preceded by the high flight of steps.
Newman ascended the steps and immediately entered the open door.
Service had not yet begun; the place was dimly lighted, and it
was some moments before he could distinguish its features.
Then he saw it was divided by a large close iron screen into two
unequal portions. The altar was on the hither side of the screen,
and between it and the entrance were disposed several benches
and chairs. Three or four of these were occupied by vague,
motionless figures--figures that he presently perceived to
be women, deeply absorbed in their devotion. The place seemed
to Newman very cold; the smell of the incense itself was cold.
Besides this there was a twinkle of tapers and here and
there a glow of colored glass. Newman seated himself;
the praying women kept still, with their backs turned.
He saw they were visitors like himself and he would have liked
to see their faces; for he believed that they were the mourning
mothers and sisters of other women who had had the same pitiless
courage as Madame de Cintre. But they were better off than he,
for they at least shared the faith to which the others
had sacrificed themselves. Three or four persons came in;
two of them were elderly gentlemen. Every one was very quiet.
Newman fastened his eyes upon the screen behind the altar.
That was the convent, the real convent, the place where she was.
But he could see nothing; no light came through the crevices.
He got up and approached the partition very gently,
trying to look through. But behind it there was darkness,
with nothing stirring. He went back to his place, and after
that a priest and two altar boys came in and began to say mass.
Newman watched their genuflections and gyrations with a grim,
still enmity; they seemed aids and abettors of Madame de
Cintre's desertion; they were mouthing and droning out their triumph.
The priest's long, dismal intonings acted upon his nerves
and deepened his wrath; there was something defiant in his
unintelligible drawl; it seemed meant for Newman himself.
Suddenly there arose from the depths of the chapel, from behind
the inexorable grating, a sound which drew his attention from
the altar--the sound of a strange, lugubrious chant, uttered by
women's voices. It began softly, but it presently grew louder,
and as it increased it became more of a wail and a dirge.
It was the chant of the Carmelite nuns, their only human utterance.
It was their dirge over their buried affections and over the vanity
of earthly desires. At first Newman was bewildered--almost stunned--
by the strangeness of the sound; then, as he comprehended
its meaning, he listened intently and his heart began to throb.
He listened for Madame de Cintre's voice, and in the very
heart of the tuneless harmony he imagined he made it out.
(We are obliged to believe that he was wrong, inasmuch as
she had obviously not yet had time to become a member
of the invisible sisterhood.) The chant kept on, mechanical
and monotonous, with dismal repetitions and despairing cadences.
It was hideous, it was horrible; as it continued, Newman felt
that he needed all his self-control. He was growing more agitated;
he felt tears in his eyes. At last, as in its full force
the thought came over him that this confused, impersonal wail
was all that either he or the world she had deserted should ever
hear of the voice he had found so sweet, he felt that he could
bear it no longer. He rose abruptly and made his way out.
On the threshold he paused, listened again to the dreary strain,
and then hastily descended into the court. As he did so he saw
the good sister with the high-colored cheeks and the fanlike
frill to her coiffure, who had admitted him, was in conference
at the gate with two persons who had just come in.
A second glance informed him that these persons were Madame
de Bellegarde and her son, and that they were about to avail
themselves of that method of approach to Madame de Cintre
which Newman had found but a mockery of consolation.
As he crossed the court M. de Bellegarde recognized him;
the marquis was coming to the steps, leading his mother. The old
lady also gave Newman a look, and it resembled that of her son.
Both faces expressed a franker perturbation, something more akin
to the humbleness of dismay, than Newman had yet seen in them.
Evidently he startled the Bellegardes, and they had not their
grand behavior immediately in hand. Newman hurried past them,
guided only by the desire to get out of the convent walls
and into the street. The gate opened itself at his approach;
he strode over the threshold and it closed behind him.
A carriage which appeared to have been standing there,
was just turning away from the sidewalk. Newman looked at it
for a moment, blankly; then he became conscious, through the dusky
mist that swam before his eyes, that a lady seated in it was bowing
to him. The vehicle had turned away before he recognized her;
it was an ancient landau with one half the cover lowered.
The lady's bow was very positive and accompanied with a smile;
a little girl was seated beside her. He raised his hat, and then
the lady bade the coachman stop. The carriage halted again
beside the pavement, and she sat there and beckoned to Newman--
beckoned with the demonstrative grace of Madame Urbain de Bellegarde.
Newman hesitated a moment before he obeyed her summons, during this
moment he had time to curse his stupidity for letting the others
escape him. He had been wondering how he could get at them;
fool that he was for not stopping them then and there!
What better place than beneath the very prison walls to which they
had consigned the promise of his joy? He had been too bewildered
to stop them, but now he felt ready to wait for them at the gate.
Madame Urbain, with a certain attractive petulance, beckoned to
him again, and this time he went over to the carriage.
She leaned out and gave him her hand, looking at him kindly,
"Ah, monsieur," she said, "you don't include me in your wrath?
I had nothing to do with it."
"Oh, I don't suppose YOU could have prevented it!"
Newman answered in a tone which was not that of studied gallantry.
"What you say is too true for me to resent the small account
it makes of my influence. I forgive you, at any rate,
because you look as if you had seen a ghost."
"I have!" said Newman.
"I am glad, then, I didn't go in with Madame de Bellegarde and my husband.
You must have seen them, eh? Was the meeting affectionate? Did you
hear the chanting? They say it's like the lamentations of the damned.
I wouldn't go in: one is certain to hear that soon enough.
Poor Claire--in a white shroud and a big brown cloak!
That's the toilette of the Carmelites, you know. Well, she was always
fond of long, loose things. But I must not speak of her to you;
only I must say that I am very sorry for you, that if I could have
helped you I would, and that I think every one has been very shabby.
I was afraid of it, you know; I felt it in the air for a fortnight
before it came. When I saw you at my mother-in-law's ball,
taking it all so easily, I felt as if you were dancing on your grave.
But what could I do? I wish you all the good I can think of.
You will say that isn't much! Yes; they have been very shabby;
I am not a bit afraid to say it; I assure you every one thinks so.
We are not all like that. I am sorry I am not going to see you again;
you know I think you very good company. I would prove it by asking
you to get into the carriage and drive with me for a quarter of
an hour, while I wait for my mother-in-law. Only if we were seen--
considering what has passed, and every one knows you have been turned away--
it might be thought I was going a little too far, even for me.
But I shall see you sometimes--somewhere, eh? You know"--
this was said in English--"we have a plan for a little amusement."
Newman stood there with his hand on the carriage-door
listening to this consolatory murmur with an unlighted eye.
He hardly knew what Madame de Bellegarde was saying;
he was only conscious that she was chattering ineffectively.
But suddenly it occurred to him that, with her pretty
professions, there was a way of making her effective;
she might help him to get at the old woman and the marquis.
"They are coming back soon--your companions?" he said.
"You are waiting for them?"
"They will hear the mass out; there is nothing to keep them longer.
Claire has refused to see them."
"I want to speak to them," said Newman; "and you can help me, you can do me
a favor. Delay your return for five minutes and give me a chance at them.
I will wait for them here."
Madame de Bellegarde clasped her hands with a tender grimace.
"My poor friend, what do you want to do to them?
To beg them to come back to you? It will be wasted words.
They will never come back!"
"I want to speak to them, all the same. Pray do what I ask you.
Stay away and leave them to me for five minutes; you needn't be afraid;
I shall not be violent; I am very quiet."
"Yes, you look very quiet! If they had le coeur tendre you would move them.
But they haven't! However, I will do better for you than what you propose.
The understanding is not that I shall come back for them.
I am going into the Parc Monceau with my little girl to give her
a walk, and my mother-in-law, who comes so rarely into this quarter,
is to profit by the same opportunity to take the air. We are to wait
for her in the park, where my husband is to bring her to us.
Follow me now; just within the gates I shall get out of my carriage.
Sit down on a chair in some quiet corner and I will bring them near you.
There's devotion for you! Le reste vous regarde."
This proposal seemed to Newman extremely felicitous; it revived his
drooping spirit, and he reflected that Madame Urbain was not such
a goose as she seemed. He promised immediately to overtake her,
and the carriage drove away.
The Parc Monceau is a very pretty piece of landscape-gardening,
but Newman, passing into it, bestowed little attention upon its
elegant vegetation, which was full of the freshness of spring.
He found Madame de Bellegarde promptly, seated in one of the quiet
corners of which she had spoken, while before her, in the alley,
her little girl, attended by the footman and the lap-dog, walked
up and down as if she were taking a lesson in deportment.
Newman sat down beside the mamma, and she talked a great deal,
apparently with the design of convincing him that--if he would
only see it--poor dear Claire did not belong to the most
fascinating type of woman. She was too tall and thin, too stiff
and cold; her mouth was too wide and her nose too narrow.
She had no dimples anywhere. And then she was eccentric,
eccentric in cold blood; she was an Anglaise, after all.
Newman was very impatient; he was counting the minutes until his
victims should reappear. He sat silent, leaning upon his cane,
looking absently and insensibly at the little marquise.
At length Madame de Bellegarde said she would walk toward the gate
of the park and meet her companions; but before she went she
dropped her eyes, and, after playing a moment with the lace
of her sleeve, looked up again at Newman.
"Do you remember," she asked, "the promise you made me three
weeks ago?" And then, as Newman, vainly consulting his memory,
was obliged to confess that the promise had escaped it,
she declared that he had made her, at the time, a very
queer answer--an answer at which, viewing it in the light
of the sequel, she had fair ground for taking offense.
"You promised to take me to Bullier's after your marriage.
After your marriage--you made a great point of that.
Three days after that your marriage was broken off. Do you know,
when I heard the news, the first thing I said to myself?
'Oh heaven, now he won't go with me to Bullier's!' And I really
began to wonder if you had not been expecting the rupture."