Part 8 out of 8
"Oh, my dear lady," murmured Newman, looking down the path to see
if the others were not coming.
"I shall be good-natured," said Madame de Bellegarde. "One must not
ask too much of a gentleman who is in love with a cloistered nun.
Besides, I can't go to Bullier's while we are in mourning.
But I haven't given it up for that. The partie is arranged;
I have my cavalier. Lord Deepmere, if you please! He has gone
back to his dear Dublin; but a few months hence I am to name
any evening and he will come over from Ireland, on purpose.
That's what I call gallantry!"
Shortly after this Madame de Bellegarde walked away with her little girl.
Newman sat in his place; the time seemed terribly long.
He felt how fiercely his quarter of an hour in the convent chapel
had raked over the glowing coals of his resentment. Madame de
Bellegarde kept him waiting, but she proved as good as her word.
At last she reappeared at the end of the path, with her little
girl and her footman; beside her slowly walked her husband,
with his mother on his arm. They were a long time advancing,
during which Newman sat unmoved. Tingling as he was with passion,
it was extremely characteristic of him that he was able to moderate
his expression of it, as he would have turned down a flaring
gas-burner. His native coolness, shrewdness, and deliberateness,
his life-long submissiveness to the sentiment that words were acts
and acts were steps in life, and that in this matter of taking steps
curveting and prancing were exclusively reserved for quadrupeds
and foreigners--all this admonished him that rightful wrath had no
connection with being a fool and indulging in spectacular violence.
So as he rose, when old Madame de Bellegarde and her son were close
to him, he only felt very tall and light. He had been sitting beside
some shrubbery, in such a way as not to be noticeable at a distance;
but M. de Bellegarde had evidently already perceived him.
His mother and he were holding their course, but Newman
stepped in front of them, and they were obliged to pause.
He lifted his hat slightly, and looked at them for a moment;
they were pale with amazement and disgust.
"Excuse me for stopping you," he said in a low tone, "but I
must profit by the occasion. I have ten words to say to you.
Will you listen to them?"
The marquis glared at him and then turned to his mother.
"Can Mr. Newman possibly have anything to say that is worth
our listening to?"
"I assure you I have something," said Newman, "besides, it is my duty
to say it. It's a notification--a warning."
"Your duty?" said old Madame de Bellegarde, her thin lips curving
like scorched paper. "That is your affair, not ours."
Madame Urbain meanwhile had seized her little girl by the hand,
with a gesture of surprise and impatience which struck Newman,
intent as he was upon his own words, with its dramatic effectiveness.
"If Mr. Newman is going to make a scene in public,"
she exclaimed, "I will take my poor child out of the melee.
She is too young to see such naughtiness!" and she instantly
resumed her walk.
"You had much better listen to me," Newman went on.
"Whether you do or not, things will be disagreeable for you;
but at any rate you will be prepared."
"We have already heard something of your threats," said the marquis,
"and you know what we think of them."
"You think a good deal more than you admit. A moment,"
Newman added in reply to an exclamation of the old lady.
"I remember perfectly that we are in a public place, and you see I am
very quiet. I am not going to tell your secret to the passers-by;
I shall keep it, to begin with, for certain picked listeners.
Any one who observes us will think that we are having a friendly chat,
and that I am complimenting you, madam, on your venerable virtues."
The marquis gave three short sharp raps on the ground with his stick.
"I demand of you to step out of our path!" he hissed.
Newman instantly complied, and M. de Bellegarde stepped forward
with his mother. Then Newman said, "Half an hour hence Madame de
Bellegarde will regret that she didn't learn exactly what I mean."
The marquise had taken a few steps, but at these words she paused,
looking at Newman with eyes like two scintillating globules of ice.
"You are like a peddler with something to sell," she said,
with a little cold laugh which only partially concealed the tremor
in her voice.
"Oh, no, not to sell," Newman rejoined; "I give it to you for nothing."
And he approached nearer to her, looking her straight in the eyes.
"You killed your husband," he said, almost in a whisper. "That is,
you tried once and failed, and then, without trying, you succeeded."
Madame de Bellegarde closed her eyes and gave a little cough, which,
as a piece of dissimulation, struck Newman as really heroic.
"Dear mother," said the marquis, "does this stuff amuse you so much?"
"The rest is more amusing," said Newman. "You had better not lose it."
Madame de Bellegarde opened her eyes; the scintillations had gone out of them;
they were fixed and dead. But she smiled superbly with her narrow
little lips, and repeated Newman's word. "Amusing? Have I killed
some one else?"
"I don't count your daughter," said Newman, "though I might!
Your husband knew what you were doing. I have a proof
of it whose existence you have never suspected."
And he turned to the marquis, who was terribly white--
whiter than Newman had ever seen any one out of a picture.
"A paper written by the hand, and signed with the name,
of Henri-Urbain de Bellegarde. Written after you, madame, had left
him for dead, and while you, sir, had gone--not very fast--
for the doctor."
The marquis looked at his mother; she turned away, looking vaguely round her.
"I must sit down," she said in a low tone, going toward the bench on which
Newman had been sitting.
"Couldn't you have spoken to me alone?" said the marquis to Newman,
with a strange look.
"Well, yes, if I could have been sure of speaking to your mother alone, too,"
Newman answered. "But I have had to take you as I could get you."
Madame de Bellegarde, with a movement very eloquent of what he would
have called her "grit," her steel-cold pluck and her instinctive
appeal to her own personal resources, drew her hand out of her son's
arm and went and seated herself upon the bench. There she remained,
with her hands folded in her lap, looking straight at Newman.
The expression of her face was such that he fancied at first
that she was smiling; but he went and stood in front of her
and saw that her elegant features were distorted by agitation.
He saw, however, equally, that she was resisting her agitation with all
the rigor of her inflexible will, and there was nothing like either
fear or submission in her stony stare. She had been startled,
but she was not terrified. Newman had an exasperating feeling
that she would get the better of him still; he would not have
believed it possible that he could so utterly fail to be touched
by the sight of a woman (criminal or other) in so tight a place.
Madame de Bellegarde gave a glance at her son which seemed tantamount
to an injunction to be silent and leave her to her own devices.
The marquis stood beside her, with his hands behind him,
looking at Newman.
"What paper is this you speak of?" asked the old lady, with an imitation
of tranquillity which would have been applauded in a veteran actress.
"Exactly what I have told you," said Newman. "A paper
written by your husband after you had left him for dead,
and during the couple of hours before you returned.
You see he had the time; you shouldn't have stayed away so long.
It declares distinctly his wife's murderous intent."
"I should like to see it," Madame de Bellegarde observed.
"I thought you might," said Newman, "and I have taken a copy."
And he drew from his waistcoat pocket a small, folded sheet.
"Give it to my son," said Madame de Bellegarde.
Newman handed it to the marquis, whose mother, glancing at him,
said simply, "Look at it." M. de Bellegarde's eyes had a pale
eagerness which it was useless for him to try to dissimulate;
he took the paper in his light-gloved fingers and opened it.
There was a silence, during which he read it. He had more than time
to read it, but still he said nothing; he stood staring at it.
"Where is the original?" asked Madame de Bellegarde, in a voice
which was really a consummate negation of impatience.
"In a very safe place. Of course I can't show you that," said Newman.
"You might want to take hold of it," he added with conscious quaintness.
"But that's a very correct copy--except, of course, the handwriting.
I am keeping the original to show some one else."
M. de Bellegarde at last looked up, and his eyes were still very eager.
"To whom do you mean to show it?"
"Well, I'm thinking of beginning with the duchess," said Newman;
"that stout lady I saw at your ball. She asked me to come and see her,
you know. I thought at the moment I shouldn't have much to say to her;
but my little document will give us something to talk about."
"You had better keep it, my son," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"By all means," said Newman; "keep it and show it to your mother
when you get home."
"And after showing it to the duchess?"--asked the marquis,
folding the paper and putting it away.
"Well, I'll take up the dukes," said Newman. "Then the counts
and the barons--all the people you had the cruelty to introduce me
to in a character of which you meant immediately to deprive me.
I have made out a list."
For a moment neither Madame de Bellegarde nor her son said a word;
the old lady sat with her eyes upon the ground; M. de Bellegarde's
blanched pupils were fixed upon her face. Then, looking at Newman,
"Is that all you have to say?" she asked.
"No, I want to say a few words more. I want to say that I hope you
quite understand what I'm about. This is my revenge, you know.
You have treated me before the world--convened for the express purpose--
as if I were not good enough for you. I mean to show the world that,
however bad I may be, you are not quite the people to say it."
Madame de Bellegarde was silent again, and then she broke
her silence. Her self-possession continued to be extraordinary.
"I needn't ask you who has been your accomplice.
Mrs. Bread told me that you had purchased her services."
"Don't accuse Mrs. Bread of venality," said Newman. "She has kept
your secret all these years. She has given you a long respite.
It was beneath her eyes your husband wrote that paper; he put it into
her hands with a solemn injunction that she was to make it public.
She was too good-hearted to make use of it."
The old lady appeared for an instant to hesitate, and then,
"She was my husband's mistress," she said, softly. This was
the only concession to self-defense that she condescended to make.
"I doubt that," said Newman.
Madame de Bellegarde got up from her bench. "It was not to your
opinions I undertook to listen, and if you have nothing left but them
to tell me I think this remarkable interview may terminate."
And turning to the marquis she took his arm again. "My son,"
she said, "say something!"
M. de Bellegarde looked down at his mother, passing his hand
over his forehead, and then, tenderly, caressingly, "What shall
I say?" he asked.
"There is only one thing to say," said the Marquise.
"That it was really not worth while to have interrupted our walk."
But the marquis thought he could improve this. "Your paper's a forgery,"
he said to Newman.
Newman shook his head a little, with a tranquil smile.
"M. de Bellegarde," he said, "your mother does better.
She has done better all along, from the first of my knowing you.
You're a mighty plucky woman, madam," he continued.
"It's a great pity you have made me your enemy.
I should have been one of your greatest admirers."
"Mon pauvre ami," said Madame de Bellegarde to her son in French,
and as if she had not heard these words, "you must take me immediately
to my carriage."
Newman stepped back and let them leave him; he watched them a moment and saw
Madame Urbain, with her little girl, come out of a by-path to meet them.
The old lady stooped and kissed her grandchild. "Damn it, she is plucky!"
said Newman, and he walked home with a slight sense of being balked.
She was so inexpressively defiant! But on reflection he decided that what
he had witnessed was no real sense of security, still less a real innocence.
It was only a very superior style of brazen assurance. "Wait till she
reads the paper!" he said to himself; and he concluded that he should hear
from her soon.
He heard sooner than he expected. The next morning,
before midday, when he was about to give orders for his breakfast
to be served, M. de Bellegarde's card was brought to him.
"She has read the paper and she has passed a bad night,"
said Newman. He instantly admitted his visitor, who came
in with the air of the ambassador of a great power meeting
the delegate of a barbarous tribe whom an absurd accident
had enabled for the moment to be abominably annoying.
The ambassador, at all events, had passed a bad night, and his
faultlessly careful toilet only threw into relief the frigid rancor
in his eyes and the mottled tones of his refined complexion.
He stood before Newman a moment, breathing quickly and softly,
and shaking his forefinger curtly as his host pointed to a chair.
"What I have come to say is soon said," he declared "and can
only be said without ceremony."
"I am good for as much or for as little as you desire," said Newman.
The marquis looked round the room a moment, and then, "On what terms
will you part with your scrap of paper?"
"On none!" And while Newman, with his head on one side and his hands
behind him sounded the marquis's turbid gaze with his own, he added,
"Certainly, that is not worth sitting down about."
M. de Bellegarde meditated a moment, as if he had not heard Newman's refusal.
"My mother and I, last evening," he said, "talked over your story.
You will be surprised to learn that we think your little document is--a"--
and he held back his word a moment--"is genuine."
"You forget that with you I am used to surprises!" exclaimed Newman,
with a laugh.
"The very smallest amount of respect that we owe to my father's memory,"
the marquis continued, "makes us desire that he should not be held
up to the world as the author of so--so infernal an attack upon
the reputation of a wife whose only fault was that she had been
submissive to accumulated injury."
"Oh, I see," said Newman. "It's for your father's sake."
And he laughed the laugh in which he indulged when he was most amused--
a noiseless laugh, with his lips closed.
But M. de Bellegarde's gravity held good. "There are a few
of my father's particular friends for whom the knowledge of so--
so unfortunate an--inspiration--would be a real grief.
Even say we firmly established by medical evidence the presumption
of a mind disordered by fever, il en resterait quelque chose.
At the best it would look ill in him. Very ill!"
"Don't try medical evidence," said Newman. "Don't touch the doctors and they
won't touch you. I don't mind your knowing that I have not written to them."
Newman fancied that he saw signs in M. de Bellegarde's discolored mask
that this information was extremely pertinent. But it may have been
merely fancy; for the marquis remained majestically argumentative.
"For instance, Madame d'Outreville," he said, "of whom you spoke yesterday.
I can imagine nothing that would shock her more."
"Oh, I am quite prepared to shock Madame d'Outreville, you know.
That's on the cards. I expect to shock a great many people."
M. de Bellegarde examined for a moment the stitching on the back of one of
his gloves. Then, without looking up, "We don't offer you money," he said.
"That we supposed to be useless."
Newman, turning away, took a few turns about the room and then came back.
"What DO you offer me? By what I can make out, the generosity is all to be
on my side."
The marquis dropped his arms at his side and held his head a little higher.
"What we offer you is a chance--a chance that a gentleman should appreciate.
A chance to abstain from inflicting a terrible blot upon the memory of a man
who certainly had his faults, but who, personally, had done you no wrong."
"There are two things to say to that," said Newman.
"The first is, as regards appreciating your 'chance,' that you
don't consider me a gentleman. That's your great point you know.
It's a poor rule that won't work both ways. The second
is that--well, in a word, you are talking great nonsense!"
Newman, who in the midst of his bitterness had, as I have said,
kept well before his eyes a certain ideal of saying nothing rude,
was immediately somewhat regretfully conscious of the sharpness
of these words. But he speedily observed that the marquis took
them more quietly than might have been expected. M. de Bellegarde,
like the stately ambassador that he was, continued the policy
of ignoring what was disagreeable in his adversary's replies.
He gazed at the gilded arabesques on the opposite wall, and then
presently transferred his glance to Newman, as if he too were
a large grotesque in a rather vulgar system of chamber-decoration.
"I suppose you know that as regards yourself it won't do at all."
"How do you mean it won't do?"
"Why, of course you damn yourself. But I suppose that's in your programme.
You propose to throw mud at us; you believe, you hope, that some of it
may stick. We know, of course, it can't," explained the marquis in a tone
of conscious lucidity; "but you take the chance, and are willing at any rate
to show that you yourself have dirty hands."
"That's a good comparison; at least half of it is," said Newman.
"I take the chance of something sticking. But as regards my hands,
they are clean. I have taken the matter up with my finger-tips."
M. de Bellegarde looked a moment into his hat. "All our friends are quite
with us," he said. "They would have done exactly as we have done."
"I shall believe that when I hear them say it. Meanwhile I shall
think better of human nature."
The marquis looked into his hat again. "Madame de Cintre was
extremely fond of her father. If she knew of the existence of the few
written words of which you propose to make this scandalous use,
she would demand of you proudly for his sake to give it up to her,
and she would destroy it without reading it."
"Very possibly," Newman rejoined. "But she will not know.
I was in that convent yesterday and I know what SHE is doing.
Lord deliver us! You can guess whether it made me feel forgiving!"
M. de Bellegarde appeared to have nothing more to suggest;
but he continued to stand there, rigid and elegant, as a man who
believed that his mere personal presence had an argumentative value.
Newman watched him, and, without yielding an inch on the main issue,
felt an incongruously good-natured impulse to help him to retreat
in good order.
"Your visit's a failure, you see," he said. "You offer too little."
"Propose something yourself," said the marquis.
"Give me back Madame de Cintre in the same state in which you
took her from me."
M. de Bellegarde threw back his head and his pale face flushed.
"Never!" he said.
"We wouldn't if we could! In the sentiment which led us to deprecate
her marriage nothing is changed."
"'Deprecate' is good!" cried Newman. "It was hardly worth while to
come here only to tell me that you are not ashamed of yourselves.
I could have guessed that!"
The marquis slowly walked toward the door, and Newman,
following, opened it for him. "What you propose to do will be
very disagreeable," M. de Bellegarde said. "That is very evident.
But it will be nothing more."
"As I understand it," Newman answered, "that will be quite enough!"
M. de Bellegarde stood for a moment looking on the ground,
as if he were ransacking his ingenuity to see what else
he could do to save his father's reputation. Then, with a
little cold sigh, he seemed to signify that he regretfully
surrendered the late marquis to the penalty of his turpitude.
He gave a hardly perceptible shrug, took his neat umbrella from
the servant in the vestibule, and, with his gentlemanly walk,
passed out. Newman stood listening till he heard the door close;
then he slowly exclaimed, "Well, I ought to begin to
be satisfied now!"
Newman called upon the comical duchess and found her at home.
An old gentleman with a high nose and a gold-headed cane was just taking
leave of her; he made Newman a protracted obeisance as he retired,
and our hero supposed that he was one of the mysterious grandees
with whom he had shaken hands at Madame de Bellegarde's ball.
The duchess, in her arm-chair, from which she did not move,
with a great flower-pot on one side of her, a pile of pink-covered
novels on the other, and a large piece of tapestry depending
from her lap, presented an expansive and imposing front;
but her aspect was in the highest degree gracious, and there was
nothing in her manner to check the effusion of his confidence.
She talked to him about flowers and books, getting launched
with marvelous promptitude; about the theatres, about the peculiar
institutions of his native country, about the humidity of Paris
about the pretty complexions of the American ladies, about his
impressions of France and his opinion of its female inhabitants.
All this was a brilliant monologue on the part of the duchess, who,
like many of her country-women, was a person of an affirmative rather
than an interrogative cast of mind, who made mots and put them
herself into circulation, and who was apt to offer you a present
of a convenient little opinion, neatly enveloped in the gilt paper
of a happy Gallicism. Newman had come to her with a grievance,
but he found himself in an atmosphere in which apparently
no cognizance was taken of grievance; an atmosphere into which
the chill of discomfort had never penetrated, and which seemed
exclusively made up of mild, sweet, stale intellectual perfumes.
The feeling with which he had watched Madame d'Outreville at
the treacherous festival of the Bellegardes came back to him;
she struck him as a wonderful old lady in a comedy, particularly well
up in her part. He observed before long that she asked him
no questions about their common friends; she made no allusion
to the circumstances under which he had been presented to her.
She neither feigned ignorance of a change in these circumstances
nor pretended to condole with him upon it; but she smiled and
discoursed and compared the tender-tinted wools of her tapestry,
as if the Bellegardes and their wickedness were not of this world.
"She is fighting shy!" said Newman to himself; and, having made
the observation, he was prompted to observe, farther, how the duchess
would carry off her indifference. She did so in a masterly manner.
There was not a gleam of disguised consciousness in those small,
clear, demonstrative eyes which constituted her nearest claim
to personal loveliness, there was not a symptom of apprehension
that Newman would trench upon the ground she proposed to avoid.
"Upon my word, she does it very well," he tacitly commented.
"They all hold together bravely, and, whether any one else can
trust them or not, they can certainly trust each other."
Newman, at this juncture, fell to admiring the duchess for her
fine manners. He felt, most accurately, that she was not
a grain less urbane than she would have been if his marriage
were still in prospect; but he felt also that she was not
a particle more urbane. He had come, so reasoned the duchess--
Heaven knew why he had come, after what had happened;
and for the half hour, therefore, she would be charmante.
But she would never see him again. Finding no ready-made
opportunity to tell his story, Newman pondered these things
more dispassionately than might have been expected;
he stretched his legs, as usual, and even chuckled a little,
appreciatively and noiselessly. And then as the duchess went
on relating a mot with which her mother had snubbed the great
Napoleon, it occurred to Newman that her evasion of a chapter
of French history more interesting to himself might possibly
be the result of an extreme consideration for his feelings.
Perhaps it was delicacy on the duchess's part--not policy.
He was on the point of saying something himself, to make
the chance which he had determined to give her still better,
when the servant announced another visitor. The duchess,
on hearing the name--it was that of an Italian prince--
gave a little imperceptible pout, and said to Newman, rapidly:
"I beg you to remain; I desire this visit to be short."
Newman said to himself, at this, that Madame d'Outreville intended,
after all, that they should discuss the Bellegardes together.
The prince was a short, stout man, with a head disproportionately large.
He had a dusky complexion and a bushy eyebrow, beneath which his
eye wore a fixed and somewhat defiant expression; he seemed to be
challenging you to insinuate that he was top-heavy. The duchess,
judging from her charge to Newman, regarded him as a bore;
but this was not apparent from the unchecked flow of her conversation.
She made a fresh series of mots, characterized with great felicity
the Italian intellect and the taste of the figs at Sorrento,
predicted the ultimate future of the Italian kingdom
(disgust with the brutal Sardinian rule and complete reversion,
throughout the peninsula, to the sacred sway of the Holy Father), and,
finally, gave a history of the love affairs of the Princess X----.
This narrative provoked some rectifications on the part of the prince,
who, as he said, pretended to know something about that matter;
and having satisfied himself that Newman was in no laughing mood,
either with regard to the size of his head or anything else,
he entered into the controversy with an animation for which the duchess,
when she set him down as a bore, could not have been prepared.
The sentimental vicissitudes of the Princess X----led to a discussion
of the heart history of Florentine nobility in general; the duchess
had spent five weeks in Florence and had gathered much information
on the subject. This was merged, in turn, in an examination of the
Italian heart per se. The duchess took a brilliantly heterodox view--
thought it the least susceptible organ of its kind that she had
ever encountered, related examples of its want of susceptibility,
and at last declared that for her the Italians were a people of ice.
The prince became flame to refute her, and his visit really
proved charming. Newman was naturally out of the conversation;
he sat with his head a little on one side, watching the interlocutors.
The duchess, as she talked, frequently looked at him with a smile,
as if to intimate, in the charming manner of her nation, that it
lay only with him to say something very much to the point.
But he said nothing at all, and at last his thoughts began to wander.
A singular feeling came over him--a sudden sense of the folly of
his errand. What under the sun had he to say to the duchess, after all?
Wherein would it profit him to tell her that the Bellegardes were
traitors and that the old lady, into the bargain was a murderess?
He seemed morally to have turned a sort of somersault, and to find
things looking differently in consequence. He felt a sudden stiffening
of his will and quickening of his reserve. What in the world had he been
thinking of when he fancied the duchess could help him, and that it
would conduce to his comfort to make her think ill of the Bellegardes?
What did her opinion of the Bellegardes matter to him?
It was only a shade more important than the opinion the Bellegardes
entertained of her. The duchess help him--that cold, stout, soft,
artificial woman help him?--she who in the last twenty minutes had
built up between them a wall of polite conversation in which she
evidently flattered herself that he would never find a gate.
Had it come to that--that he was asking favors of conceited people,
and appealing for sympathy where he had no sympathy to give? He rested
his arms on his knees, and sat for some minutes staring into his hat.
As he did so his ears tingled--he had come very near being an ass.
Whether or no the duchess would hear his story, he wouldn't tell it.
Was he to sit there another half hour for the sake of exposing
the Bellegardes? The Bellegardes be hanged! He got up abruptly,
and advanced to shake hands with his hostess.
"You can't stay longer?" she asked, very graciously.
"I am afraid not," he said.
She hesitated a moment, and then, "I had an idea you had something
particular to say to me," she declared.
Newman looked at her; he felt a little dizzy; for the moment he seemed to be
turning his somersault again. The little Italian prince came to his help:
"Ah, madam, who has not that?" he softly sighed.
"Don't teach Mr. Newman to say fadaises," said the duchess.
"It is his merit that he doesn't know how."
"Yes, I don't know how to say fadaises," said Newman, "and I
don't want to say anything unpleasant."
"I am sure you are very considerate," said the duchess with a smile;
and she gave him a little nod for good-by with which he took his departure.
Once in the street, he stood for some time on the pavement,
wondering whether, after all, he was not an ass not to have discharged
his pistol. And then again he decided that to talk to any one
whomsoever about the Bellegardes would be extremely disagreeable
to him. The least disagreeable thing, under the circumstances,
was to banish them from his mind, and never think of them again.
Indecision had not hitherto been one of Newman's weaknesses,
and in this case it was not of long duration. For three days after this
he did not, or at least he tried not to, think of the Bellegardes.
He dined with Mrs. Tristram, and on her mentioning their name,
he begged her almost severely to desist. This gave Tom Tristram
a much-coveted opportunity to offer his condolences.
He leaned forward, laying his hand on Newman's arm compressing his
lips and shaking his head. "The fact is my dear fellow, you see,
that you ought never to have gone into it. It was not your doing,
I know--it was all my wife. If you want to come down on her,
I'll stand off; I give you leave to hit her as hard as you like.
You know she has never had a word of reproach from me in her life,
and I think she is in need of something of the kind.
Why didn't you listen to ME? You know I didn't believe in the thing.
I thought it at the best an amiable delusion. I don't profess
to be a Don Juan or a gay Lothario,--that class of man, you know;
but I do pretend to know something about the harder sex. I have
never disliked a woman in my life that she has not turned out badly.
I was not at all deceived in Lizzie, for instance; I always had my
doubts about her. Whatever you may think of my present situation,
I must at least admit that I got into it with my eyes open.
Now suppose you had got into something like this box with Madame de Cintre.
You may depend upon it she would have turned out a stiff one.
And upon my word I don't see where you could have found your comfort.
Not from the marquis, my dear Newman; he wasn't a man you could go and talk
things over with in a sociable, common-sense way. Did he ever seem
to want to have you on the premises--did he ever try to see you alone?
Did he ever ask you to come and smoke a cigar with him of an evening,
or step in, when you had been calling on the ladies, and take something?
I don't think you would have got much encouragement out of HIM.
And as for the old lady, she struck one as an uncommonly strong dose.
They have a great expression here, you know; they call it 'sympathetic.'
Everything is sympathetic--or ought to be. Now Madame de Bellegarde
is about as sympathetic as that mustard-pot. They're a d--d
cold-blooded lot, any way; I felt it awfully at that ball of theirs.
I felt as if I were walking up and down in the Armory, in the Tower
of London! My dear boy, don't think me a vulgar brute for hinting
at it, but you may depend upon it, all they wanted was your money.
I know something about that; I can tell when people want one's money!
Why they stopped wanting yours I don't know; I suppose because
they could get some one else's without working so hard for it.
It isn't worth finding out. It may be that it was not Madame de Cintre
that backed out first, very likely the old woman put her up to it.
I suspect she and her mother are really as thick as thieves, eh?
You are well out of it, my boy; make up your mind to that.
If I express myself strongly it is all because I love you so much;
and from that point of view I may say I should as soon have thought
of making up to that piece of pale high-mightiness as I should have
thought of making up to the Obelisk in the Place des la Concorde."
Newman sat gazing at Tristram during this harangue with a lack-lustre eye;
never yet had he seemed to himself to have outgrown so completely the phase
of equal comradeship with Tom Tristram. Mrs. Tristram's glance at her husband
had more of a spark; she turned to Newman with a slightly lurid smile.
"You must at least do justice," she said, "to the felicity with which
Mr. Tristram repairs the indiscretions of a too zealous wife."
But even without the aid of Tom Tristram's conversational felicities,
Newman would have begun to think of the Bellegardes again.
He could cease to think of them only when he ceased to
think of his loss and privation, and the days had as yet
but scantily lightened the weight of this incommodity.
In vain Mrs. Tristram begged him to cheer up; she assured him
that the sight of his countenance made her miserable.
"How can I help it?" he demanded with a trembling voice.
"I feel like a widower--and a widower who has not even
the consolation of going to stand beside the grave of his wife--
who has not the right to wear so much mourning as a weed on his hat.
I feel," he added in a moment "as if my wife had been murdered
and her assassins were still at large."
Mrs. Tristram made no immediate rejoinder, but at last she said,
with a smile which, in so far as it was a forced one, was less
successfully simulated than such smiles, on her lips, usually were;
"Are you very sure that you would have been happy?"
Newman stared a moment, and then shook his head. "That's weak,"
he said; "that won't do."
"Well," said Mrs. Tristram with a more triumphant bravery,
"I don't believe you would have been happy."
Newman gave a little laugh. "Say I should have been miserable, then;
it's a misery I should have preferred to any happiness."
Mrs. Tristram began to muse. "I should have been curious to see;
it would have been very strange."
"Was it from curiosity that you urged me to try and marry her?"
"A little," said Mrs. Tristram, growing still more audacious.
Newman gave her the one angry look he had been destined ever to give her,
turned away and took up his hat. She watched him a moment, and then
she said, "That sounds very cruel, but it is less so than it sounds.
Curiosity has a share in almost everything I do. I wanted very much
to see, first, whether such a marriage could actually take place;
second, what would happen if it should take place."
"So you didn't believe," said Newman, resentfully.
"Yes, I believed--I believed that it would take place, and that you
would be happy. Otherwise I should have been, among my speculations,
a very heartless creature. BUT," she continued, laying her hand upon
Newman's arm and hazarding a grave smile, "it was the highest flight
ever taken by a tolerably bold imagination!"
Shortly after this she recommended him to leave Paris and travel
for three months. Change of scene would do him good, and he would
forget his misfortune sooner in absence from the objects which had
witnessed it. "I really feel," Newman rejoined, "as if to leave YOU,
at least, would do me good--and cost me very little effort.
You are growing cynical, you shock me and pain me."
"Very good," said Mrs. Tristram, good-naturedly or cynically,
as may be thought most probable. "I shall certainly see you again."
Newman was very willing to get away from Paris; the brilliant streets
he had walked through in his happier hours, and which then seemed to wear
a higher brilliancy in honor of his happiness, appeared now to be in
the secret of his defeat and to look down upon it in shining mockery.
He would go somewhere; he cared little where; and he made his preparations.
Then, one morning, at haphazard, he drove to the train that would transport
him to Boulogne and dispatch him thence to the shores of Britain.
As he rolled along in the train he asked himself what had become of
his revenge, and he was able to say that it was provisionally pigeon-holed
in a very safe place; it would keep till called for.
He arrived in London in the midst of what is called "the season,"
and it seemed to him at first that he might here put himself
in the way of being diverted from his heavy-heartedness.
He knew no one in all England, but the spectacle of the
mighty metropolis roused him somewhat from his apathy.
Anything that was enormous usually found favor with Newman,
and the multitudinous energies and industries of England stirred
within him a dull vivacity of contemplation. It is on record
that the weather, at that moment, was of the finest English quality;
he took long walks and explored London in every direction;
he sat by the hour in Kensington Gardens and beside the adjoining
Drive, watching the people and the horses and the carriages;
the rosy English beauties, the wonderful English dandies,
and the splendid flunkies. He went to the opera and found
it better than in Paris; he went to the theatre and found
a surprising charm in listening to dialogue the finest
points of which came within the range of his comprehension.
He made several excursions into the country, recommended by
the waiter at his hotel, with whom, on this and similar points,
he had established confidential relations. He watched the deer
in Windsor Forest and admired the Thames from Richmond Hill;
he ate white-bait and brown-bread and butter at Greenwich,
and strolled in the grassy shadow of the cathedral of Canterbury.
He also visited the Tower of London and Madame Tussaud's exhibition.
One day he thought he would go to Sheffield, and then,
thinking again, he gave it up. Why should he go to Sheffield?
He had a feeling that the link which bound him to a possible
interest in the manufacture of cutlery was broken.
He had no desire for an "inside view" of any successful
enterprise whatever, and he would not have given the smallest
sum for the privilege of talking over the details of the most
"splendid" business with the shrewdest of overseers.
One afternoon he had walked into Hyde Park, and was slowly
threading his way through the human maze which edges the Drive.
The stream of carriages was no less dense, and Newman, as usual,
marveled at the strange, dingy figures which he saw taking the air
in some of the stateliest vehicles. They reminded him of what he had
read of eastern and southern countries, in which grotesque idols
and fetiches were sometimes taken out of their temples and carried
abroad in golden chariots to be displayed to the multitude.
He saw a great many pretty cheeks beneath high-plumed hats as he squeezed
his way through serried waves of crumpled muslin; and sitting on little
chairs at the base of the great serious English trees, he observed
a number of quiet-eyed maidens who seemed only to remind him afresh
that the magic of beauty had gone out of the world with Madame de Cintre:
to say nothing of other damsels, whose eyes were not quiet,
and who struck him still more as a satire on possible consolation.
He had been walking for some time, when, directly in front of him,
borne back by the summer breeze, he heard a few words uttered in that bright
Parisian idiom from which his ears had begun to alienate themselves.
The voice in which the words were spoken made them seem even more
like a thing with which he had once been familiar, and as he bent his
eyes it lent an identity to the commonplace elegance of the back hair
and shoulders of a young lady walking in the same direction as himself.
Mademoiselle Nioche, apparently, had come to seek a more rapid
advancement in London, and another glance led Newman to suppose
that she had found it. A gentleman was strolling beside her,
lending a most attentive ear to her conversation and too entranced
to open his lips. Newman did not hear his voice, but perceived
that he presented the dorsal expression of a well-dressed Englishman.
Mademoiselle Nioche was attracting attention: the ladies who passed
her turned round to survey the Parisian perfection of her toilet.
A great cataract of flounces rolled down from the young lady's waist
to Newman's feet; he had to step aside to avoid treading upon them.
He stepped aside, indeed, with a decision of movement which the
occasion scarcely demanded; for even this imperfect glimpse of Miss
Noemie had excited his displeasure. She seemed an odious blot
upon the face of nature; he wanted to put her out of his sight.
He thought of Valentin de Bellegarde, still green in the earth
of his burial--his young life clipped by this flourishing impudence.
The perfume of the young lady's finery sickened him; he turned his head
and tried to deflect his course; but the pressure of the crowd kept him
near her a few minutes longer, so that he heard what she was saying.
"Ah, I am sure he will miss me," she murmured. "It was very cruel in me
to leave him; I am afraid you will think me a very heartless creature.
He might perfectly well have come with us. I don't think he is very well,"
she added; "it seemed to me to-day that he was not very gay."
Newman wondered whom she was talking about, but just then an
opening among his neighbors enabled him to turn away, and he said
to himself that she was probably paying a tribute to British
propriety and playing at tender solicitude about her papa.
Was that miserable old man still treading the path of vice in her train?
Was he still giving her the benefit of his experience of affairs,
and had he crossed the sea to serve as her interpreter?
Newman walked some distance farther, and then began to retrace his steps
taking care not to traverse again the orbit of Mademoiselle Nioche.
At last he looked for a chair under the trees, but he had some
difficulty in finding an empty one. He was about to give up
the search when he saw a gentleman rise from the seat he had
been occupying, leaving Newman to take it without looking at
his neighbors. He sat there for some time without heeding them;
his attention was lost in the irritation and bitterness produced
by his recent glimpse of Miss Noemie's iniquitous vitality.
But at the end of a quarter of an hour, dropping his eyes,
he perceived a small pug-dog squatted upon the path near his feet--
a diminutive but very perfect specimen of its interesting species.
The pug was sniffing at the fashionable world, as it passed him,
with his little black muzzle, and was kept from extending his
investigation by a large blue ribbon attached to his collar with an
enormous rosette and held in the hand of a person seated next to Newman.
To this person Newman transferred his attention, and immediately
perceived that he was the object of all that of his neighbor,
who was staring up at him from a pair of little fixed white eyes.
These eyes Newman instantly recognized; he had been
sitting for the last quarter of an hour beside M. Nioche.
He had vaguely felt that some one was staring at him.
M. Nioche continued to stare; he appeared afraid to move,
even to the extent of evading Newman's glance.
"Dear me," said Newman; "are you here, too?" And he looked
at his neighbor's helplessness more grimly than he knew.
M. Nioche had a new hat and a pair of kid gloves;
his clothes, too, seemed to belong to a more recent antiquity
than of yore. Over his arm was suspended a lady's mantilla--
a light and brilliant tissue, fringed with white lace--
which had apparently been committed to his keeping;
and the little dog's blue ribbon was wound tightly round his hand.
There was no expression of recognition in his face--
or of anything indeed save a sort of feeble, fascinated dread;
Newman looked at the pug and the lace mantilla, and then he met
the old man's eyes again. "You know me, I see," he pursued.
"You might have spoken to me before." M. Nioche still said nothing,
but it seemed to Newman that his eyes began faintly to water.
"I didn't expect," our hero went on, "to meet you so far from--
from the Cafe de la Patrie." The old man remained silent,
but decidedly Newman had touched the source of tears.
His neighbor sat staring and Newman added, "What's the matter,
M. Nioche? You used to talk--to talk very prettily.
Don't you remember you even gave lessons in conversation?"
At this M. Nioche decided to change his attitude.
He stooped and picked up the pug, lifted it to his face and wiped
his eyes on its little soft back. "I'm afraid to speak to you,"
he presently said, looking over the puppy's shoulder.
"I hoped you wouldn't notice me. I should have moved away,
but I was afraid that if I moved you would notice me.
So I sat very still."
"I suspect you have a bad conscience, sir," said Newman.
The old man put down the little dog and held it carefully in his lap.
Then he shook his head, with his eyes still fixed upon his interlocutor.
"No, Mr. Newman, I have a good conscience," he murmured.
"Then why should you want to slink away from me?"
"Because--because you don't understand my position."
"Oh, I think you once explained it to me," said Newman.
"But it seems improved."
"Improved!" exclaimed M. Nioche, under his breath.
"Do you call this improvement?" And he glanced at the treasures
in his arms.
"Why, you are on your travels," Newman rejoined. "A visit to London
in the season is certainly a sign of prosperity."
M. Nioche, in answer to this cruel piece of irony,
lifted the puppy up to his face again, peering at Newman with
his small blank eye-holes. There was something almost imbecile
in the movement, and Newman hardly knew whether he was taking
refuge in a convenient affectation of unreason, or whether
he had in fact paid for his dishonor by the loss of his wits.
In the latter case, just now, he felt little more tenderly
to the foolish old man than in the former. Responsible or not,
he was equally an accomplice of his detestably mischievous daughter.
Newman was going to leave him abruptly, when a ray of entreaty
appeared to disengage itself from the old man's misty gaze.
"Are you going away?" he asked.
"Do you want me to stay?" said Newman.
"I should have left you--from consideration. But my dignity
suffers at your leaving me--that way."
"Have you got anything particular to say to me?"
M. Nioche looked around him to see that no one was listening, and then
he said, very softly but distinctly, "I have NOT forgiven her!"
Newman gave a short laugh, but the old man seemed for the moment
not to perceive it; he was gazing away, absently, at some
metaphysical image of his implacability. "It doesn't much
matter whether you forgive her or not," said Newman.
"There are other people who won't, I assure you."
"What has she done?" M. Nioche softly questioned, turning round again.
"I don't know what she does, you know."
"She has done a devilish mischief; it doesn't matter what," said Newman.
"She's a nuisance; she ought to be stopped."
M. Nioche stealthily put out his hand and laid it very gently
upon Newman's arm. "Stopped, yes," he whispered. "That's it.
Stopped short. She is running away--she must be stopped."
Then he paused a moment and looked round him. "I mean to stop her,"
he went on. "I am only waiting for my chance."
"I see," said Newman, laughing briefly again.
"She is running away and you are running after her.
You have run a long distance!"
But M. Nioche stared insistently: "I shall stop her!"
he softly repeated.
He had hardly spoken when the crowd in front of them separated,
as if by the impulse to make way for an important personage.
Presently, through the opening, advanced Mademoiselle Nioche,
attended by the gentleman whom Newman had lately observed.
His face being now presented to our hero, the latter recognized
the irregular features, the hardly more regular complexion,
and the amiable expression of Lord Deepmere. Noemie, on finding
herself suddenly confronted with Newman, who, like M. Nioche,
had risen from his seat, faltered for a barely perceptible instant.
She gave him a little nod, as if she had seen him yesterday,
and then, with a good-natured smile, "Tiens, how we keep meeting!"
she said. She looked consummately pretty, and the front of her
dress was a wonderful work of art. She went up to her father,
stretching out her hands for the little dog, which he submissively
placed in them, and she began to kiss it and murmur over it:
"To think of leaving him all alone,--what a wicked,
abominable creature he must believe me! He has been very unwell,"
she added, turning and affecting to explain to Newman, with a
spark of infernal impudence, fine as a needlepoint, in her eye.
"I don't think the English climate agrees with him."
"It seems to agree wonderfully well with his mistress," said Newman.
"Do you mean me? I have never been better, thank you,"
Miss Noemie declared. "But with MILORD"--and she gave a brilliant
glance at her late companion--"how can one help being well?"
She seated herself in the chair from which her father had risen,
and began to arrange the little dog's rosette.
Lord Deepmere carried off such embarrassment as might be incidental to this
unexpected encounter with the inferior grace of a male and a Briton.
He blushed a good deal, and greeted the object of his late momentary
aspiration to rivalry in the favor of a person other than the mistress
of the invalid pug with an awkward nod and a rapid ejaculation--
an ejaculation to which Newman, who often found it hard to understand
the speech of English people, was able to attach no meaning.
Then the young man stood there, with his hand on his hip,
and with a conscious grin, staring askance at Miss Noemie.
Suddenly an idea seemed to strike him, and he said, turning to Newman,
"Oh, you know her?"
"Yes," said Newman, "I know her. I don't believe you do."
"Oh dear, yes, I do!" said Lord Deepmere, with another grin.
"I knew her in Paris--by my poor cousin Bellegarde you know.
He knew her, poor fellow, didn't he? It was she you know,
who was at the bottom of his affair. Awfully sad, wasn't it?"
continued the young man, talking off his embarrassment as his
simple nature permitted. "They got up some story about its
being for the Pope; about the other man having said something
against the Pope's morals. They always do that, you know.
They put it on the Pope because Bellegarde was once in the Zouaves.
But it was about HER morals--SHE was the Pope!"
Lord Deepmere pursued, directing an eye illumined by this
pleasantry toward Mademoiselle Nioche, who was bending gracefully
over her lap-dog, apparently absorbed in conversation with it.
"I dare say you think it rather odd that I should--a-- keep up
the acquaintance," the young man resumed. "But she couldn't help it,
you know, and Bellegarde was only my twentieth cousin. I dare say
you think it's rather cheeky, my showing with her in Hyde Park.
But you see she isn't known yet, and she's in such very good form"--
And Lord Deepmere's conclusion was lost in the attesting glance
which he again directed toward the young lady.
Newman turned away; he was having more of her than he relished.
M. Nioche had stepped aside on his daughter's approach, and he stood there,
within a very small compass, looking down hard at the ground.
It had never yet, as between him and Newman, been so apposite
to place on record the fact that he had not forgiven his daughter.
As Newman was moving away he looked up and drew near to him,
and Newman, seeing the old man had something particular to say,
bent his head for an instant.
"You will see it some day in the papers,"' murmured M. Nioche.
Our hero departed to hide his smile, and to this day, though the newspapers
form his principal reading, his eyes have not been arrested by any paragraph
forming a sequel to this announcement.
In that uninitiated observation of the great spectacle of English life
upon which I have touched, it might be supposed that Newman passed
a great many dull days. But the dullness of his days pleased him;
his melancholy, which was settling into a secondary stage,
like a healing wound, had in it a certain acrid, palatable sweetness.
He had company in his thoughts, and for the present he wanted no other.
He had no desire to make acquaintances, and he left untouched a couple
of notes of introduction which had been sent him by Tom Tristram.
He thought a great deal of Madame de Cintre--sometimes with a dogged
tranquillity which might have seemed, for a quarter of an hour
at a time, a near neighbor to forgetfulness. He lived over again
the happiest hours he had known--that silver chain of numbered days
in which his afternoon visits, tending sensibly to the ideal result,
had subtilized his good humor to a sort of spiritual intoxication.
He came back to reality, after such reveries, with a somewhat muffled shock;
he had begun to feel the need of accepting the unchangeable.
At other times the reality became an infamy again and the unchangeable
an imposture, and he gave himself up to his angry restlessness till
he was weary. But on the whole he fell into a rather reflective mood.
Without in the least intending it or knowing it, he attempted to read the
moral of his strange misadventure. He asked himself, in his quieter hours,
whether perhaps, after all, he WAS more commercial than was pleasant.
We know that it was in obedience to a strong reaction against
questions exclusively commercial that he had come out to pick up
aesthetic entertainment in Europe; it may therefore be understood
that he was able to conceive that a man might be too commercial.
He was very willing to grant it, but the concession, as to his
own case, was not made with any very oppressive sense of shame.
If he had been too commercial, he was ready to forget it, for in being
so he had done no man any wrong that might not be as easily forgotten.
He reflected with sober placidity that at least there were
no monuments of his "meanness" scattered about the world.
If there was any reason in the nature of things why his connection
with business should have cast a shadow upon a connection--
even a connection broken--with a woman justly proud, he was willing
to sponge it out of his life forever. The thing seemed a possibility;
he could not feel it, doubtless, as keenly as some people, and it hardly
seemed worth while to flap his wings very hard to rise to the idea;
but he could feel it enough to make any sacrifice that still remained
to be made. As to what such sacrifice was now to be made to,
here Newman stopped short before a blank wall over which there sometimes
played a shadowy imagery. He had a fancy of carrying out his life
as he would have directed it if Madame de Cintre had been left to him--
of making it a religion to do nothing that she would have disliked.
In this, certainly, there was no sacrifice; but there was a pale,
oblique ray of inspiration. It would be lonely entertainment--a good deal
like a man talking to himself in the mirror for want of better company.
Yet the idea yielded Newman several half hours' dumb exaltation
as he sat, with his hands in his pockets and his legs stretched,
over the relics of an expensively poor dinner, in the undying
English twilight. If, however, his commercial imagination was dead,
he felt no contempt for the surviving actualities begotten by it.
He was glad he had been prosperous and had been a great man of
business rather than a small one; he was extremely glad he was rich.
He felt no impulse to sell all he had and give to the poor, or to retire
into meditative economy and asceticism. He was glad he was rich
and tolerably young; it was possible to think too much about buying
and selling, it was a gain to have a good slice of life left in which
not to think about them. Come, what should he think about now?
Again and again Newman could think only of one thing; his thoughts
always came back to it, and as they did so, with an emotional rush
which seemed physically to express itself in a sudden upward choking,
he leaned forward--the waiter having left the room--and, resting his
arms on the table, buried his troubled face.
He remained in England till midsummer, and spent a month in
the country, wandering about cathedrals, castles, and ruins.
Several times, taking a walk from his inn into meadows and parks,
he stopped by a well-worn stile, looked across through the early
evening at a gray church tower, with its dusky nimbus of
thick-circling swallows, and remembered that this might have been
part of the entertainment of his honeymoon. He had never been
so much alone or indulged so little in accidental dialogue.
The period of recreation appointed by Mrs. Tristram had at
last expired, and he asked himself what he should do now.
Mrs. Tristram had written to him, proposing to him that he
should join her in the Pyrenees; but he was not in the humor
to return to France. The simplest thing was to repair
to Liverpool and embark on the first American steamer.
Newman made his way to the great seaport and secured his berth;
and the night before sailing he sat in his room at the hotel,
staring down, vacantly and wearily, at an open portmanteau.
A number of papers were lying upon it, which he had been meaning
to look over; some of them might conveniently be destroyed.
But at last he shuffled them roughly together, and pushed
them into a corner of the valise; they were business papers,
and he was in no humor for sifting them. Then he drew
forth his pocket-book and took out a paper of smaller
size than those he had dismissed. He did not unfold it;
he simply sat looking at the back of it. If he had momentarily
entertained the idea of destroying it, the idea quickly expired.
What the paper suggested was the feeling that lay in his innermost
heart and that no reviving cheerfulness could long quench--
the feeling that after all and above all he was a good
fellow wronged. With it came a hearty hope that the Bellegardes
were enjoying their suspense as to what he would do yet.
The more it was prolonged the more they would enjoy it!
He had hung fire once, yes; perhaps, in his present queer
state of mind, he might hang fire again. But he restored
the little paper to his pocket-book very tenderly, and felt
better for thinking of the suspense of the Bellegardes.
He felt better every time he thought of it after that,
as he sailed the summer seas. He landed in New York and
journeyed across the continent to San Francisco, and nothing
that he observed by the way contributed to mitigate his sense
of being a good fellow wronged.
He saw a great many other good fellows--his old friends--
but he told none of them of the trick that had been played him.
He said simply that the lady he was to have married had changed
her mind, and when he was asked if he had changed his own,
he said, "Suppose we change the subject." He told his friends
that he had brought home no "new ideas" from Europe, and his conduct
probably struck them as an eloquent proof of failing invention.
He took no interest in chatting about his affairs and manifested
no desire to look over his accounts. He asked half a dozen
questions which, like those of an eminent physician inquiring
for particular symptoms, showed that he still knew what he was
talking about; but he made no comments and gave no directions.
He not only puzzled the gentlemen on the stock exchange,
but he was himself surprised at the extent of his indifference.
As it seemed only to increase, he made an effort to combat it;
he tried to interest himself and to take up his old occupations.
But they appeared unreal to him; do what he would he somehow
could not believe in them. Sometimes he began to fear that there
was something the matter with his head; that his brain, perhaps,
had softened, and that the end of his strong activities had come.
This idea came back to him with an exasperating force. A hopeless,
helpless loafer, useful to no one and detestable to himself--
this was what the treachery of the Bellegardes had made of him.
In his restless idleness he came back from San Francisco
to New York, and sat for three days in the lobby of his hotel,
looking out through a huge wall of plate-glass at the unceasing
stream of pretty girls in Parisian-looking dresses, undulating past
with little parcels nursed against their neat figures.
At the end of three days he returned to San Francisco,
and having arrived there he wished he had stayed away.
He had nothing to do, his occupation was gone, and it seemed to him
that he should never find it again. He had nothing to do here,
he sometimes said to himself; but there was something beyond
the ocean that he was still to do; something that he had left
undone experimentally and speculatively, to see if it could
content itself to remain undone. But it was not content:
it kept pulling at his heartstrings and thumping at his reason;
it murmured in his ears and hovered perpetually before his eyes.
It interposed between all new resolutions and their fulfillment;
it seemed like a stubborn ghost, dumbly entreating to be laid.
Till that was done he should never be able to do anything else.
One day, toward the end of the winter, after a long interval,
he received a letter from Mrs. Tristram, who apparently was animated
by a charitable desire to amuse and distract her correspondent.
She gave him much Paris gossip, talked of General Packard and Miss
Kitty Upjohn, enumerated the new plays at the theatre, and inclosed
a note from her husband, who had gone down to spend a month at Nice.
Then came her signature, and after this her postscript.
The latter consisted of these few lines: "I heard three days since
from my friend, the Abbe Aubert, that Madame de Cintre last week took
the veil at the Carmelites. It was on her twenty-seventh birthday,
and she took the name of her, patroness, St. Veronica.
Sister Veronica has a life-time before her!"
This letter came to Newman in the morning; in the evening he started
for Paris. His wound began to ache with its first fierceness,
and during his long bleak journey the thought of Madame de
Cintre's "life-time," passed within prison walls on whose
outer side he might stand, kept him perpetual company.
Now he would fix himself in Paris forever; he would extort
a sort of happiness from the knowledge that if she was
not there, at least the stony sepulchre that held her was.
He descended, unannounced, upon Mrs. Bread, whom he found keeping
lonely watch in his great empty saloons on the Boulevard Haussmann.
They were as neat as a Dutch village, Mrs. Bread's only
occupation had been removing individual dust-particles. She made
no complaint, however, of her loneliness, for in her philosophy
a servant was but a mysteriously projected machine, and it would
be as fantastic for a housekeeper to comment upon a gentleman's
absences as for a clock to remark upon not being wound up.
No particular clock, Mrs. Bread supposed, went all the time,
and no particular servant could enjoy all the sunshine diffused
by the career of an exacting master. She ventured, nevertheless,
to express a modest hope that Newman meant to remain a while
in Paris. Newman laid his hand on hers and shook it gently.
"I mean to remain forever," he said.
He went after this to see Mrs. Tristram, to whom he had telegraphed,
and who expected him. She looked at him a moment and shook her head.
"This won't do," she said; "you have come back too soon." He sat down
and asked about her husband and her children, tried even to inquire
about Miss Dora Finch. In the midst of this--"Do you know where she is?"
he asked, abruptly.
Mrs. Tristram hesitated a moment; of course he couldn't mean Miss Dora Finch.
Then she answered, properly: "She has gone to the other house--
in the Rue d'Enfer." After Newman had sat a while longer looking
very sombre, she went on: "You are not so good a man as I thought.
You are more--you are more--"
"More what?" Newman asked.
"Good God!" cried Newman; "do you expect me to forgive?"
"No, not that. I have forgiven, so of course you can't. But you
might forget! You have a worse temper about it than I should have expected.
You look wicked--you look dangerous."
"I may be dangerous," he said; "but I am not wicked. No, I am not wicked."
And he got up to go. Mrs. Tristram asked him to come back to dinner;
but he answered that he did not feel like pledging himself to be present
at an entertainment, even as a solitary guest. Later in the evening,
if he should be able, he would come.
He walked away through the city, beside the Seine and over it,
and took the direction of the Rue d'Enfer. The day had the
softness of early spring; but the weather was gray and humid.
Newman found himself in a part of Paris which he little knew--
a region of convents and prisons, of streets bordered by long
dead walls and traversed by a few wayfarers. At the intersection
of two of these streets stood the house of the Carmelites--a dull,
plain edifice, with a high-shouldered blank wall all round it.
From without Newman could see its upper windows, its steep
roof and its chimneys. But these things revealed no symptoms
of human life; the place looked dumb, deaf, inanimate.
The pale, dead, discolored wall stretched beneath it,
far down the empty side street--a vista without a human figure.
Newman stood there a long time; there were no passers;
he was free to gaze his fill. This seemed the goal of his journey;
it was what he had come for. It was a strange satisfaction,
and yet it was a satisfaction; the barren stillness of the place
seemed to be his own release from ineffectual longing.
It told him that the woman within was lost beyond recall,
and that the days and years of the future would pile themselves
above her like the huge immovable slab of a tomb. These days
and years, in this place, would always be just so gray and silent.
Suddenly, from the thought of their seeing him stand there,
again the charm utterly departed. He would never stand there again;
it was gratuitous dreariness. He turned away with a heavy heart,
but with a heart lighter than the one he had brought.
Everything was over, and he too at last could rest.
He walked down through narrow, winding streets to the edge
of the Seine again, and there he saw, close above him, the soft,
vast towers of Notre Dame. He crossed one of the bridges and
stood a moment in the empty place before the great cathedral;
then he went in beneath the grossly-imaged portals.
He wandered some distance up the nave and sat down in the
splendid dimness. He sat a long time; he heard far-away bells
chiming off, at long intervals, to the rest of the world.
He was very tired; this was the best place he could be in.
He said no prayers; he had no prayers to say.
He had nothing to be thankful for, and he had nothing to ask;
nothing to ask, because now he must take care of himself.
But a great cathedral offers a very various hospitality,
and Newman sat in his place, because while he was there
he was out of the world. The most unpleasant thing that had
ever happened to him had reached its formal conclusion,
as it were; he could close the book and put it away.
He leaned his head for a long time on the chair in front of him;
when he took it up he felt that he was himself again.
Somewhere in his mind, a tight knot seemed to have loosened.
He thought of the Bellegardes; he had almost forgotten them.
He remembered them as people he had meant to do something to.
He gave a groan as he remembered what he had meant to do;
he was annoyed at having meant to do it; the bottom, suddenly,
had fallen out of his revenge. Whether it was Christian charity
or unregenerate good nature--what it was, in the background
of his soul--I don't pretend to say; but Newman's last
thought was that of course he would let the Bellegardes go.
If he had spoken it aloud he would have said that he didn't want
to hurt them. He was ashamed of having wanted to hurt them.
They had hurt him, but such things were really not his game.
At last he got up and came out of the darkening church;
not with the elastic step of a man who had won a victory
or taken a resolve, but strolling soberly, like a good-natured
man who is still a little ashamed.
Going home, he said to Mrs. Bread that he must trouble her to put back
his things into the portmanteau she had unpacked the evening before.
His gentle stewardess looked at him through eyes a trifle bedimmed.
"Dear me, sir," she exclaimed, "I thought you said that you were going
to stay forever."
"I meant that I was going to stay away forever," said Newman kindly.
And since his departure from Paris on the following day he has
certainly not returned. The gilded apartments I have so often spoken
of stand ready to receive him; but they serve only as a spacious
residence for Mrs. Bread, who wanders eternally from room to room,
adjusting the tassels of the curtains, and keeps her wages,
which are regularly brought her by a banker's clerk, in a great pink
Sevres vase on the drawing-room mantel-shelf.
Late in the evening Newman went to Mrs. Tristram's
and found Tom Tristram by the domestic fireside.
"I'm glad to see you back in Paris," this gentleman declared.
"You know it's really the only place for a white man to live."
Mr. Tristram made his friend welcome, according to his
own rosy light, and offered him a convenient resume
of the Franco-American gossip of the last six months.
Then at last he got up and said he would go for half an hour
to the club. "I suppose a man who has been for six months
in California wants a little intellectual conversation.
I'll let my wife have a go at you."
Newman shook hands heartily with his host, but did not ask him to remain;
and then he relapsed into his place on the sofa, opposite to Mrs. Tristram.
She presently asked him what he had done after leaving her.
"Nothing particular," said Newman
"You struck me," she rejoined, "as a man with a plot in his head.
You looked as if you were bent on some sinister errand, and after you
had left me I wondered whether I ought to have let you go."
"I only went over to the other side of the river--
to the Carmelites," said Newman.
Mrs. Tristram looked at him a moment and smiled. "What did you do there?
Try to scale the wall?"
"I did nothing. I looked at the place for a few minutes and then came away."
Mrs. Tristram gave him a sympathetic glance. "You didn't happen to meet
M. de Bellegarde," she asked, "staring hopelessly at the convent wall
as well? I am told he takes his sister's conduct very hard."
"No, I didn't meet him, I am happy to say," Newman answered,
after a pause.
"They are in the country," Mrs. Tristram went on; "at--what is the name
of the place?--Fleurieres. They returned there at the time you
left Paris and have been spending the year in extreme seclusion.
The little marquise must enjoy it; I expect to hear that she has
eloped with her daughter's music-master!"
Newman was looking at the light wood-fire; but he listened to this with
extreme interest. At last he spoke: "I mean never to mention the name
of those people again, and I don't want to hear anything more about them."
And then he took out his pocket-book and drew forth a scrap of paper.
He looked at it an instant, then got up and stood by the fire.
"I am going to burn them up," he said. "I am glad to have you as a witness.
There they go!" And he tossed the paper into the flame.
Mrs. Tristram sat with her embroidery needle suspended.
"What is that paper?" she asked.
Newman leaning against the fire-place, stretched his arms and drew a longer
breath than usual. Then after a moment, "I can tell you now," he said.
"It was a paper containing a secret of the Bellegardes--something which would
damn them if it were known."
Mrs. Tristram dropped her embroidery with a reproachful moan.
"Ah, why didn't you show it to me?"
"I thought of showing it to you--I thought of showing it to every one.
I thought of paying my debt to the Bellegardes that way.
So I told them, and I frightened them. They have been staying
in the country as you tell me, to keep out of the explosion.
But I have given it up."
Mrs. Tristram began to take slow stitches again.
"Have you quite given it up?"
"Is it very bad, this secret?"
"Yes, very bad."
"For myself," said Mrs. Tristram, "I am sorry you have given
it up. I should have liked immensely to see your paper.
They have wronged me too, you know, as your sponsor
and guarantee, and it would have served for my revenge as well.
How did you come into possession of your secret?"
"It's a long story. But honestly, at any rate."
"And they knew you were master of it?"
"Oh, I told them."
"Dear me, how interesting!" cried Mrs. Tristram.
"And you humbled them at your feet?"
Newman was silent a moment. "No, not at all. They pretended not to care--
not to be afraid. But I know they did care--they were afraid."
"Are you very sure?"
Newman stared a moment. "Yes, I'm sure."
Mrs. Tristram resumed her slow stitches. "They defied you, eh?"
"Yes," said Newman, "it was about that."
"You tried by the threat of exposure to make them retract?"
Mrs. Tristram pursued.
"Yes, but they wouldn't. I gave them their choice, and they chose to take
their chance of bluffing off the charge and convicting me of fraud.
But they were frightened," Newman added, "and I have had all
the vengeance I want."
"It is most provoking," said Mrs. Tristram, "to hear you talk of
the 'charge' when the charge is burnt up. Is it quite consumed?"
she asked, glancing at the fire.
Newman assured her that there was nothing left of it.
"Well then," she said, "I suppose there is no harm in saying
that you probably did not make them so very uncomfortable.
My impression would be that since, as you say, they defied you,
it was because they believed that, after all, you would never
really come to the point. Their confidence, after counsel taken
of each other, was not in their innocence, nor in their talent
for bluffing things off; it was in your remarkable good nature!
You see they were right."
Newman instinctively turned to see if the little paper was in fact consumed;
but there was nothing left of it.