Part 2 out of 8
"And how is your young lady?" asked Newman. "She made a great
impression on me."
"An impression? Monsieur is very good. Monsieur admires her appearance?"
"She is very pretty, certainly."
"Alas, yes, she is very pretty!"
"And what is the harm in her being pretty?"
M. Nioche fixed his eyes upon a spot on the carpet and shook his head.
Then looking up at Newman with a gaze that seemed to brighten and expand,
"Monsieur knows what Paris is. She is dangerous to beauty, when beauty
hasn't the sou."
"Ah, but that is not the case with your daughter.
She is rich, now."
"Very true; we are rich for six months. But if my daughter were a plain
girl I should sleep better all the same."
"You are afraid of the young men?"
"The young and the old!"
"She ought to get a husband."
"Ah, monsieur, one doesn't get a husband for nothing.
Her husband must take her as she is: I can't give her a sou.
But the young men don't see with that eye."
"Oh," said Newman, "her talent is in itself a dowry."
"Ah, sir, it needs first to be converted into specie!"
and M. Nioche slapped his purse tenderly before he stowed it away.
"The operation doesn't take place every day."
"Well, your young men are very shabby, said Newman; "that's all I can say.
They ought to pay for your daughter, and not ask money themselves."
"Those are very noble ideas, monsieur; but what will you have?
They are not the ideas of this country. We want to know what we
are about when we marry."
"How big a portion does your daughter want?"
M. Nioche stared, as if he wondered what was coming next;
but he promptly recovered himself, at a venture, and replied that
he knew a very nice young man, employed by an insurance company,
who would content himself with fifteen thousand francs.
"Let your daughter paint half a dozen pictures for me,
and she shall have her dowry."
"Half a dozen pictures--her dowry! Monsieur is not speaking inconsiderately?"
"If she will make me six or eight copies in the Louvre as pretty
as that Madonna, I will pay her the same price," said Newman.
Poor M. Nioche was speechless a moment, with amazement
and gratitude, and then he seized Newman's hand, pressed it
between his own ten fingers, and gazed at him with watery eyes.
"As pretty as that? They shall be a thousand times prettier--
they shall be magnificent, sublime. Ah, if I only knew
how to paint, myself, sir, so that I might lend a hand!
What can I do to thank you? Voyons!" And he pressed his
forehead while he tried to think of something.
"Oh, you have thanked me enough," said Newman.
"Ah, here it is, sir!" cried M. Nioche. "To express my gratitude,
I will charge you nothing for the lessons in French conversation."
"The lessons? I had quite forgotten them. Listening to your English,"
added Newman, laughing, "is almost a lesson in French."
"Ah, I don't profess to teach English, certainly," said M. Nioche.
"But for my own admirable tongue I am still at your service."
"Since you are here, then," said Newman, "we will begin.
This is a very good hour. I am going to have my coffee;
come every morning at half-past nine and have yours with me."
"Monsieur offers me my coffee, also?" cried M. Nioche.
"Truly, my beaux jours are coming back."
"Come," said Newman, "let us begin. The coffee is almighty hot.
How do you say that in French?"
Every day, then, for the following three weeks, the minutely respectable
figure of M. Nioche made its appearance, with a series of little inquiring and
apologetic obeisances, among the aromatic fumes of Newman's morning beverage.
I don't know how much French our friend learned, but, as he himself said,
if the attempt did him no good, it could at any rate do him no harm.
And it amused him; it gratified that irregularly sociable side of his nature
which had always expressed itself in a relish for ungrammatical conversation,
and which often, even in his busy and preoccupied days, had made him sit
on rail fences in young Western towns, in the twilight, in gossip hardly
less than fraternal with humorous loafers and obscure fortune-seekers.
He had notions, wherever he went, about talking with the natives; he had
been assured, and his judgment approved the advice, that in traveling abroad
it was an excellent thing to look into the life of the country. M. Nioche
was very much of a native and, though his life might not be particularly worth
looking into, he was a palpable and smoothly-rounded unit in that picturesque
Parisian civilization which offered our hero so much easy entertainment
and propounded so many curious problems to his inquiring and practical mind.
Newman was fond of statistics; he liked to know how things were done;
it gratified him to learn what taxes were paid, what profits were gathered,
what commercial habits prevailed, how the battle of life was fought.
M. Nioche, as a reduced capitalist, was familiar with these considerations,
and he formulated his information, which he was proud to be able to impart,
in the neatest possible terms and with a pinch of snuff between finger
and thumb. As a Frenchman--quite apart from Newman's napoleons--M. Nioche
loved conversation, and even in his decay his urbanity had not grown rusty.
As a Frenchman, too, he could give a clear account of things, and--still as
a Frenchman--when his knowledge was at fault he could supply its lapses
with the most convenient and ingenious hypotheses. The little shrunken
financier was intensely delighted to have questions asked him, and he scraped
together information, by frugal processes, and took notes, in his little
greasy pocket-book, of incidents which might interest his munificent friend.
He read old almanacs at the book-stalls on the quays, and he began to
frequent another cafe, where more newspapers were taken and his postprandial
demitasse cost him a penny extra, and where he used to con the tattered
sheets for curious anecdotes, freaks of nature, and strange coincidences.
He would relate with solemnity the next morning that a child of five years
of age had lately died at Bordeaux, whose brain had been found to weigh
sixty ounces--the brain of a Napoleon or a Washington! or that Madame
P--, charcutiere in the Rue de Clichy, had found in the wadding of an old
petticoat the sum of three hundred and sixty francs, which she had lost five
years before. He pronounced his words with great distinctness and sonority,
and Newman assured him that his way of dealing with the French tongue was
very superior to the bewildering chatter that he heard in other mouths.
Upon this M. Nioche's accent became more finely trenchant than ever,
he offered to read extracts from Lamartine, and he protested that,
although he did endeavor according to his feeble lights to cultivate
refinement of diction, monsieur, if he wanted the real thing, should go
to the Theatre Francais.
Newman took an interest in French thriftiness and conceived a lively
admiration for Parisian economies. His own economic genius was so
entirely for operations on a larger scale, and, to move at his ease,
he needed so imperatively the sense of great risks and great prizes,
that he found an ungrudging entertainment in the spectacle of
fortunes made by the aggregation of copper coins, and in the minute
subdivision of labor and profit. He questioned M. Nioche about
his own manner of life, and felt a friendly mixture of compassion
and respect over the recital of his delicate frugalities.
The worthy man told him how, at one period, he and his daughter had
supported existence comfortably upon the sum of fifteen sous per diem;
recently, having succeeded in hauling ashore the last floating fragments
of the wreck of his fortune, his budget had been a trifle more ample.
But they still had to count their sous very narrowly, and M. Nioche
intimated with a sigh that Mademoiselle Noemie did not bring to this
task that zealous cooperation which might have been desired.
"But what will you have?"' he asked, philosophically. "One is young,
one is pretty, one needs new dresses and fresh gloves; one can't wear
shabby gowns among the splendors of the Louvre."
"But your daughter earns enough to pay for her own clothes," said Newman.
M. Nioche looked at him with weak, uncertain eyes.
He would have liked to be able to say that his daughter's talents
were appreciated, and that her crooked little daubs commanded
a market; but it seemed a scandal to abuse the credulity
of this free-handed stranger, who, without a suspicion
or a question, had admitted him to equal social rights.
He compromised, and declared that while it was obvious
that Mademoiselle Noemie's reproductions of the old masters
had only to be seen to be coveted, the prices which,
in consideration of their altogether peculiar degree of finish,
she felt obliged to ask for them had kept purchasers at
a respectful distance. "Poor little one!" said M. Nioche,
with a sigh; "it is almost a pity that her work is so perfect!
It would be in her interest to paint less well."
"But if Mademoiselle Noemie has this devotion to her art,"
Newman once observed, "why should you have those fears for her
that you spoke of the other day?"
M. Nioche meditated: there was an inconsistency in his position;
it made him chronically uncomfortable. Though he had no desire to
destroy the goose with the golden eggs--Newman's benevolent confidence--
he felt a tremulous impulse to speak out all his trouble.
"Ah, she is an artist, my dear sir, most assuredly," he declared.
"But, to tell you the truth, she is also a franche coquette.
I am sorry to say," he added in a moment, shaking his head
with a world
of harmless bitterness, "that she comes honestly by it.
Her mother was one before her!"
"You were not happy with your wife?" Newman asked.
M. Nioche gave half a dozen little backward jerks of his head.
"She was my purgatory, monsieur!"
"She deceived you?"
"Under my nose, year after year. I was too stupid,
and the temptation was too great. But I found her out at last.
I have only been once in my life a man to be afraid of;
I know it very well; it was in that hour! Nevertheless I don't
like to think of it. I loved her--I can't tell you how much.
She was a bad woman."
"She is not living?"
"She has gone to her account."
"Her influence on your daughter, then," said Newman encouragingly,
"is not to be feared."
"She cared no more for her daughter than for the sole of her shoe!
But Noemie has no need of influence. She is sufficient to herself.
She is stronger than I."
"She doesn't obey you, eh?"
"She can't obey, monsieur, since I don't command. What would be the use?
It would only irritate her and drive her to some coup de tete.
She is very clever, like her mother; she would waste no time about it.
As a child--when I was happy, or supposed I was--she studied drawing and
painting with first-class professors, and they assured me she had a talent.
I was delighted to believe it, and when I went into society I used to carry
her pictures with me in a portfolio and hand them round to the company.
I remember, once, a lady thought I was offering them for sale,
and I took it very ill. We don't know what we may come to!
Then came my dark days, and my explosion with Madame Nioche. Noemie had no
more twenty-franc lessons; but in the course of time, when she grew older,
and it became highly expedient that she should do something that would
help to keep us alive, she bethought herself of her palette and brushes.
Some of our friends in the quartier pronounced the idea fantastic:
they recommended her to try bonnet making, to get a situation in a shop, or--
if she was more ambitious--to advertise for a place of dame de compagnie.
She did advertise, and an old lady wrote her a letter and bade her come
and see her. The old lady liked her, and offered her her living and six
hundred francs a year; but Noemie discovered that she passed her life
in her arm-chair and had only two visitors, her confessor and her nephew:
the confessor very strict, and the nephew a man of fifty, with a
broken nose and a government clerkship of two thousand francs.
She threw her old lady over, bought a paint-box, a canvas, and a new dress,
and went and set up her easel in the Louvre. There in one place and another,
she has passed the last two years; I can't say it has made us millionaires.
But Noemie tells me that Rome was not built in a day, that she is
making great progress, that I must leave her to her own devices.
The fact is, without prejudice to her genius, that she has no idea
of burying herself alive. She likes to see the world, and to be seen.
She says, herself, that she can't work in the dark. With her appearance
it is very natural. Only, I can't help worrying and trembling
and wondering what may happen to her there all alone, day after day,
amid all that coming and going of strangers. I can't be always at her side.
I go with her in the morning, and I come to fetch her away, but she
won't have me near her in the interval; she says I make her nervous.
As if it didn't make me nervous to wander about all day without her!
Ah, if anything were to happen to her!" cried M. Nioche, clenching his
two fists and jerking back his head again, portentously.
"Oh, I guess nothing will happen," said Newman.
"I believe I should shoot her!" said the old man, solemnly.
"Oh, we'll marry her," said Newman, "since that's how you manage it;
and I will go and see her tomorrow at the Louvre and pick out the pictures
she is to copy for me."
M. Nioche had brought Newman a message from his daughter,
in acceptance of his magnificent commission, the young
lady declaring herself his most devoted servant,
promising her most zealous endeavor, and regretting that
the proprieties forbade her coming to thank him in person.
The morning after the conversation just narrated, Newman reverted
to his intention of meeting Mademoiselle Noemie at the Louvre.
M. Nioche appeared preoccupied, and left his budget of
anecdotes unopened; he took a great deal of snuff, and sent
certain oblique, appealing glances toward his stalwart pupil.
At last, when he was taking his leave, he stood a moment,
after he had polished his hat with his calico pocket-handkerchief,
with his small, pale eyes fixed strangely upon Newman.
"What's the matter?" our hero demanded.
"Excuse the solicitude of a father's heart!" said M. Nioche.
"You inspire me with boundless confidence, but I can't help giving you
a warning. After all, you are a man, you are young and at liberty.
Let me beseech you, then, to respect the innocence of Mademoiselle Nioche!"
Newman had wondered what was coming, and at this he broke into a laugh.
He was on the point of declaring that his own innocence struck
him as the more exposed, but he contented himself with promising
to treat the young girl with nothing less than veneration. He found
her waiting for him, seated upon the great divan in the Salon Carre.
She was not in her working-day costume, but wore her bonnet and gloves
and carried her parasol, in honor of the occasion. These articles
had been selected with unerring taste, and a fresher, prettier image
of youthful alertness and blooming discretion was not to be conceived.
She made Newman a most respectful curtsey and expressed her gratitude
for his liberality in a wonderfully graceful little speech.
It annoyed him to have a charming young girl stand there thanking him,
and it made him feel uncomfortable to think that this perfect young lady,
with her excellent manners and her finished intonation, was literally
in his pay. He assured her, in such French as he could muster,
that the thing was not worth mentioning, and that he considered her
services a great favor.
"Whenever you please, then," said Mademoiselle Noemie,
"we will pass the review."
They walked slowly round the room, then passed into the others and strolled
about for half an hour. Mademoiselle Noemie evidently relished her situation,
and had no desire to bring her public interview with her striking-looking
patron to a close. Newman perceived that prosperity agreed with her.
The little thin-lipped, peremptory air with which she had addressed her father
on the occasion of their former meeting had given place to the most lingering
and caressing tones.
"What sort of pictures do you desire?" she asked.
"Sacred, or profane?"
"Oh, a few of each," said Newman. "But I want something bright and gay."
"Something gay? There is nothing very gay in this solemn old Louvre.
But we will see what we can find. You speak French to-day like a charm.
My father has done wonders."
"Oh, I am a bad subject," said Newman. "I am too old to learn a language."
"Too old? Quelle folie!" cried Mademoiselle Noemie,
with a clear, shrill laugh. "You are a very young man.
And how do you like my father?"
"He is a very nice old gentleman. He never laughs at my blunders."
"He is very comme il faut, my papa," said Mademoiselle Noemie,
"and as honest as the day. Oh, an exceptional probity!
You could trust him with millions."
"Do you always obey him?" asked Newman.
"Do you do what he bids you?"
The young girl stopped and looked at him; she had a spot of color
in either cheek, and in her expressive French eye, which projected
too much for perfect beauty, there was a slight gleam of audacity.
"Why do you ask me that?" she demanded.
"Because I want to know."
"You think me a bad girl?" And she gave a strange smile.
Newman looked at her a moment; he saw that she was pretty,
but he was not in the least dazzled. He remembered poor M. Nioche's
solicitude for her "innocence," and he laughed as his eyes met hers.
Her face was the oddest mixture of youth and maturity, and beneath
her candid brow her searching little smile seemed to contain a world
of ambiguous intentions. She was pretty enough, certainly to make her
father nervous; but, as regards her innocence, Newman felt ready on the spot
to affirm that she had never parted with it. She had simply never had any;
she had been looking at the world since she was ten years old,
and he would have been a wise man who could tell her any secrets.
In her long mornings at the Louvre she had not only studied Madonnas
and St. Johns; she had kept an eye upon all the variously embodied
human nature around her, and she had formed her conclusions.
In a certain sense, it seemed to Newman, M. Nioche might be at rest;
his daughter might do something very audacious, but she would never
do anything foolish. Newman, with his long-drawn, leisurely smile,
and his even, unhurried utterance, was always, mentally, taking his time;
and he asked himself, now, what she was looking at him in that way for.
He had an idea that she would like him to confess that he did think
her a bad girl.
"Oh, no," he said at last; "it would be very bad manners in me
to judge you that way. I don't know you."
"But my father has complained to you," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
"He says you are a coquette."
"He shouldn't go about saying such things to gentlemen!
But you don't believe it."
"No," said Newman gravely, "I don't believe it."
She looked at him again, gave a shrug and a smile, and then
pointed to a small Italian picture, a Marriage of St. Catherine.
"How should you like that?" she asked.
"It doesn't please me," said Newman. "The young lady in the yellow
dress is not pretty."
"Ah, you are a great connoisseur," murmured Mademoiselle Noemie.
"In pictures? Oh, no; I know very little about them."
"In pretty women, then."
"In that I am hardly better."
"What do you say to that, then?" the young girl asked,
indicating a superb Italian portrait of a lady.
"I will do it for you on a smaller scale."
"On a smaller scale? Why not as large as the original?"
Mademoiselle Noemie glanced at the glowing splendor of the Venetian
masterpiece and gave a little toss of her head. "I don't like that woman.
She looks stupid."
"I do like her," said Newman. "Decidedly, I must have her, as large as life.
And just as stupid as she is there."
The young girl fixed her eyes on him again, and with her mocking smile,
"It certainly ought to be easy for me to make her look stupid!" she said.
"What do you mean?" asked Newman, puzzled.
She gave another little shrug. "Seriously, then, you want
that portrait--the golden hair, the purple satin, the pearl necklace,
the two magnificent arms?"
"Everything--just as it is."
"Would nothing else do, instead?"
"Oh, I want some other things, but I want that too."
Mademoiselle Noemie turned away a moment, walked to the other side of
the hall, and stood there, looking vaguely about her. At last she came back.
"It must be charming to be able to order pictures at such a rate.
Venetian portraits, as large as life! You go at it en prince.
And you are going to travel about Europe that way?"
"Yes, I intend to travel," said Newman.
"Ordering, buying, spending money?"
"Of course I shall spend some money."
"You are very happy to have it. And you are perfectly free?"
"How do you mean, free?"
"You have nothing to bother you--no family, no wife, no fiancee?"
"Yes, I am tolerably free."
"You are very happy," said Mademoiselle Noemie, gravely.
"Je le veux bien!" said Newman, proving that he had learned more French
than he admitted.
"And how long shall you stay in Paris?" the young girl went on.
"Only a few days more."
"Why do you go away?"
"It is getting hot, and I must go to Switzerland."
"To Switzerland? That's a fine country. I would give my new parasol
to see it! Lakes and mountains, romantic valleys and icy peaks!
Oh, I congratulate you. Meanwhile, I shall sit here through all
the hot summer, daubing at your pictures."
"Oh, take your time about it," said Newman. "Do them at your convenience."
They walked farther and looked at a dozen other things.
Newman pointed out what pleased him, and Mademoiselle Noemie
generally criticised it, and proposed something else.
Then suddenly she diverged and began to talk about
some personal matter.
"What made you speak to me the other day in the Salon Carre?"
she abruptly asked.
"I admired your picture."
"But you hesitated a long time."
"Oh, I do nothing rashly," said Newman.
"Yes, I saw you watching me. But I never supposed you were going to speak
to me. I never dreamed I should be walking about here with you to-day.
It's very curious."
"It is very natural," observed Newman.
"Oh, I beg your pardon; not to me. Coquette as you think me,
I have never walked about in public with a gentleman before.
What was my father thinking of, when he consented to our interview?"
"He was repenting of his unjust accusations," replied Newman.
Mademoiselle Noemie remained silent; at last she dropped into
a seat. "Well then, for those five it is fixed," she said.
"Five copies as brilliant and beautiful as I can make them.
We have one more to choose. Shouldn't you like one of
those great Rubenses--the marriage of Marie de Medicis?
Just look at it and see how handsome it is."
"Oh, yes; I should like that," said Newman. "Finish off with that."
"Finish off with that--good!" And she laughed. She sat a moment,
looking at him, and then she suddenly rose and stood before him,
with her hands hanging and clasped in front of her.
"I don't understand you," she said with a smile.
"I don't understand how a man can be so ignorant."
"Oh, I am ignorant, certainly," said Newman, putting his hands
into his pockets.
"It's ridiculous! I don't know how to paint."
"You don't know how?"
"I paint like a cat; I can't draw a straight line.
I never sold a picture until you bought that thing the other day."
And as she offered this surprising information she continued to smile.
Newman burst into a laugh. "Why do you tell me this?" he asked.
"Because it irritates me to see a clever man blunder so.
My pictures are grotesque."
"And the one I possess--"
"That one is rather worse than usual."
"Well," said Newman, "I like it all the same!"
She looked at him askance. "That is a very pretty thing to say,"
she answered; "but it is my duty to warn you before you go farther.
This order of yours is impossible, you know. What do you take me for?
It is work for ten men. You pick out the six most difficult
pictures in the Louvre, and you expect me to go to work as if I
were sitting down to hem a dozen pocket handkerchiefs.
I wanted to see how far you would go."
Newman looked at the young girl in some perplexity.
In spite of the ridiculous blunder of which he stood convicted,
he was very far from being a simpleton, and he had a lively suspicion
that Mademoiselle Noemie's sudden frankness was not essentially
more honest than her leaving him in error would have been.
She was playing a game; she was not simply taking pity on
his aesthetic verdancy. What was it she expected to win?
The stakes were high and the risk was great; the prize
therefore must have been commensurate. But even granting
that the prize might be great, Newman could not resist
a movement of admiration for his companion's intrepidity.
She was throwing away with one hand, whatever she might intend
to do with the other, a very handsome sum of money.
"Are you joking," he said, "or are you serious?"
"Oh, serious!" cried Mademoiselle Noemie, but with her extraordinary smile.
"I know very little about pictures or now they are painted.
If you can't do all that, of course you can't. Do what you can, then."
"It will be very bad," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
"Oh," said Newman, laughing, "if you are determined it shall be bad,
of course it will. But why do you go on painting badly?"
"I can do nothing else; I have no real talent."
"You are deceiving your father, then."
The young girl hesitated a moment. "He knows very well!"
"No," Newman declared; "I am sure he believes in you."
"He is afraid of me. I go on painting badly, as you say,
because I want to learn. I like it, at any rate.
And I like being here; it is a place to come to, every day;
it is better than sitting in a little dark, damp room, on a court,
or selling buttons and whalebones over a counter."
"Of course it is much more amusing," said Newman.
"But for a poor girl isn't it rather an expensive amusement?"
"Oh, I am very wrong, there is no doubt about that,"
said Mademoiselle Noemie. "But rather than earn my living
as same girls do--toiling with a needle, in little black holes,
out of the world--I would throw myself into the Seine."
"There is no need of that," Newman answered; "your father told
you my offer?"
"He wants you to marry, and I told him I would give you a chance
to earn your dot."
"He told me all about it, and you see the account I make of it!
Why should you take such an interest in my marriage?"
"My interest was in your father. I hold to my offer; do what you can,
and I will buy what you paint."
She stood for some time, meditating, with her eyes on the ground.
At last, looking up, "What sort of a husband can you get for twelve
thousand francs?" she asked.
"Your father tells me he knows some very good young men."
"Grocers and butchers and little maitres de cafes!
I will not marry at all if I can't marry well."
"I would advise you not to be too fastidious," said Newman.
"That's all the advice I can give you."
"I am very much vexed at what I have said!" cried the young girl.
"It has done me no good. But I couldn't help it."
"What good did you expect it to do you?"
"I couldn't help it, simply."
Newman looked at her a moment. "Well, your pictures may be bad,"
he said, "but you are too clever for me, nevertheless.
I don't understand you. Good-by!" And he put out his hand.
She made no response, and offered him no farewell. She turned away
and seated herself sidewise on a bench, leaning her head on the back
of her hand, which clasped the rail in front of the pictures.
Newman stood a moment and then turned on his heel and retreated.
He had understood her better than he confessed; this singular scene
was a practical commentary upon her father's statement that she
was a frank coquette.
When Newman related to Mrs. Tristram his fruitless visit
to Madame de Cintre, she urged him not to be discouraged,
but to carry out his plan of "seeing Europe" during the summer,
and return to Paris in the autumn and settle down comfortably
for the winter. "Madame de Cintre will keep," she said;
"she is not a woman who will marry from one day to another."
Newman made no distinct affirmation that he would come back to Paris;
he even talked about Rome and the Nile, and abstained from professing
any especial interest in Madame de Cintre's continued widowhood.
This circumstance was at variance with his habitual frankness,
and may perhaps be regarded as characteristic of the incipient stage
of that passion which is more particularly known as the mysterious one.
The truth is that the expression of a pair of eyes that were at
once brilliant and mild had become very familiar to his memory,
and he would not easily have resigned himself to the prospect
of never looking into them again. He communicated to Mrs. Tristram
a number of other facts, of greater or less importance, as you choose;
but on this particular point he kept his own counsel.
He took a kindly leave of M. Nioche, having assured him that,
so far as he was concerned, the blue-cloaked Madonna herself
might have been present at his interview with Mademoiselle Noemie;
and left the old man nursing his breast-pocket, in an ecstasy
which the acutest misfortune might have been defied to dissipate.
Newman then started on his travels, with all his usual appearance
of slow-strolling leisure, and all his essential directness
and intensity of aim. No man seemed less in a hurry, and yet
no man achieved more in brief periods. He had certain practical
instincts which served him excellently in his trade of tourist.
He found his way in foreign cities by divination, his memory
was excellent when once his attention had been at all
cordially given, and he emerged from dialogues in foreign tongues,
of which he had, formally, not understood a word, in full
possession of the particular fact he had desired to ascertain.
His appetite for facts was capacious, and although many of those
which he noted would have seemed woefully dry and colorless to
the ordinary sentimental traveler, a careful inspection of the list
would have shown that he had a soft spot in his imagination.
In the charming city of Brussels--his first stopping-place after
leaving Paris--he asked a great many questions about the street-cars,
and took extreme satisfaction in the reappearance of this
familiar symbol of American civilization; but he was also greatly
struck with the beautiful Gothic tower of the Hotel de Ville,
and wondered whether it would not be possible to "get up"
something like it in San Francisco. He stood for half an hour
in the crowded square before this edifice, in imminent danger
from carriage-wheels, listening to a toothless old cicerone mumble
in broken English the touching history of Counts Egmont and Horn;
and he wrote the names of these gentlemen--for reasons best known
to himself--on the back of an old letter.
At the outset, on his leaving Paris, his curiosity had not been intense;
passive entertainment, in the Champs Elysees and at the theatres,
seemed about as much as he need expect of himself, and although,
as he had said to Tristram, he wanted to see the mysterious,
satisfying BEST, he had not the Grand Tour in the least on his conscience,
and was not given to cross-questioning the amusement of the hour.
He believed that Europe was made for him, and not he for Europe.
He had said that he wanted to improve his mind, but he would have felt
a certain embarrassment, a certain shame, even--a false shame, possibly--
if he had caught himself looking intellectually into the mirror.
Neither in this nor in any other respect had Newman a high sense
of responsibility; it was his prime conviction that a man's life
should be easy, and that he should be able to resolve privilege into
a matter of course. The world, to his sense, was a great bazaar,
where one might stroll about and purchase handsome things;
but he was no more conscious, individually, of social pressure than
he admitted the existence of such a thing as an obligatory purchase.
He had not only a dislike, but a sort of moral mistrust,
of uncomfortable thoughts, and it was both uncomfortable and slightly
contemptible to feel obliged to square one's self with a standard.
One's standard was the ideal of one's own good-humored prosperity,
the prosperity which enabled one to give as well as take.
To expand, without bothering about it--without shiftless timidity
on one side, or loquacious eagerness on the other--to the full
compass of what he would have called a "pleasant" experience,
was Newman's most definite programme of life. He had always hated
to hurry to catch railroad trains, and yet he had always caught them;
and just so an undue solicitude for "culture" seemed a sort of silly
dawdling at the station, a proceeding properly confined to women,
foreigners, and other unpractical persons. All this admitted,
Newman enjoyed his journey, when once he had fairly entered the current,
as profoundly as the most zealous dilettante. One's theories,
after all, matter little; it is one's humor that is the great thing.
Our friend was intelligent, and he could not help that. He lounged
through Belgium and Holland and the Rhineland, through Switzerland
and Northern Italy, planning about nothing, but seeing everything.
The guides and valets de place found him an excellent subject.
He was always approachable, for he was much addicted to standing
about in the vestibules and porticos of inns, and he availed himself
little of the opportunities for impressive seclusion which are so
liberally offered in Europe to gentlemen who travel with long purses.
When an excursion, a church, a gallery, a ruin, was proposed
to him, the first thing Newman usually did, after surveying
his postulant in silence, from head to foot, was to sit down
at a little table and order something to drink. The cicerone,
during this process, usually retreated to a respectful distance;
otherwise I am not sure that Newman would not have bidden him
sit down and have a glass also, and tell him as an honest fellow
whether his church or his gallery was really worth a man's trouble.
At last he rose and stretched his long legs, beckoned to the man
of monuments, looked at his watch, and fixed his eye on his adversary.
"What is it?" he asked. "How far?" And whatever the answer was,
although he sometimes seemed to hesitate, he never declined.
He stepped into an open cab, made his conductor sit beside him
to answer questions, bade the driver go fast (he had a particular
aversion to slow driving) and rolled, in all probability
through a dusty suburb, to the goal of his pilgrimage.
If the goal was a disappointment, if the church was meagre, or the ruin
a heap of rubbish, Newman never protested or berated his cicerone;
he looked with an impartial eye upon great monuments and small,
made the guide recite his lesson, listened to it religiously,
asked if there was nothing else to be seen in the neighborhood,
and drove back again at a rattling pace. It is to be feared
that his perception of the difference between good architecture
and bad was not acute, and that he might sometimes have been
seen gazing with culpable serenity at inferior productions.
Ugly churches were a part of his pastime in Europe, as well
as beautiful ones, and his tour was altogether a pastime.
But there is sometimes nothing like the imagination of these people
who have none, and Newman, now and then, in an unguided stroll
in a foreign city, before some lonely, sad-towered church,
or some angular image of one who had rendered civic service
in an unknown past, had felt a singular inward tremor.
It was not an excitement or a perplexity; it was a placid,
fathomless sense of diversion.
He encountered by chance in Holland a young American, with whom,
for a time, he formed a sort of traveler's partnership.
They were men of a very different cast, but each, in his way,
was so good a fellow that, for a few weeks at least, it seemed
something of a pleasure to share the chances of the road.
Newman's comrade, whose name was Babcock, was a young
Unitarian minister, a small, spare neatly-attired man,
with a strikingly candid physiognomy. He was a native
of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and had spiritual charge of a small
congregation in another suburb of the New England metropolis.
His digestion was weak and he lived chiefly on Graham bread
and hominy--a regimen to which he was so much attached
that his tour seemed to him destined to be blighted when,
on landing on the Continent, he found that these delicacies did
not flourish under the table d'hote system. In Paris he had
purchased a bag of hominy at an establishment which called itself
an American Agency, and at which the New York illustrated papers
were also to be procured, and he had carried it about with him,
and shown extreme serenity and fortitude in the somewhat delicate
position of having his hominy prepared for him and served
at anomalous hours, at the hotels he successively visited.
Newman had once spent a morning, in the course of business,
at Mr. Babcock's birthplace, and, for reasons too recondite to unfold,
his visit there always assumed in his mind a jocular cast.
To carry out his joke, which certainly seems poor so long
as it is not explained, he used often to address his companion
as "Dorchester." Fellow-travelers very soon grow intimate but it
is highly improbable that at home these extremely dissimilar
characters would have found any very convenient points of contact.
They were, indeed, as different as possible. Newman, who never
reflected on such matters, accepted the situation with
great equanimity, but Babcock used to meditate over it privately;
used often, indeed, to retire to his room early in the evening
for the express purpose of considering it conscientiously
and impartially. He was not sure that it was a good thing
for him to associate with our hero, whose way of taking life
was so little his own. Newman was an excellent, generous fellow;
Mr. Babcock sometimes said to himself that he was a NOBLE
fellow, and, certainly, it was impossible not to like him.
But would it not be desirable to try to exert an influence upon him,
to try to quicken his moral life and sharpen his sense of duty?
He liked everything, he accepted everything, he found amusement
in everything; he was not discriminating, he had not a high tone.
The young man from Dorchester accused Newman of a fault which
he considered very grave, and which he did his best to avoid:
what he would have called a want of "moral reaction."
Poor Mr. Babcock was extremely fond of pictures and churches,
and carried Mrs. Jameson's works about in his trunk;
he delighted in aesthetic analysis, and received peculiar
impressions from everything he saw. But nevertheless in his
secret soul he detested Europe, and he felt an irritating need
to protest against Newman's gross intellectual hospitality.
Mr. Babcock's moral malaise, I am afraid, lay deeper
than where any definition of mine can reach it.
He mistrusted the European temperament, he suffered from
the European climate, he hated the European dinner-hour;
European life seemed to him unscrupulous and impure.
And yet he had an exquisite sense of beauty; and as beauty was often
inextricably associated with the above displeasing conditions,
as he wished, above all, to be just and dispassionate,
and as he was, furthermore, extremely devoted to "culture,"
he could not bring himself to decide that Europe was utterly bad.
But he thought it was very bad indeed, and his quarrel
with Newman was that this unregulated epicure had a sadly
insufficient perception of the bad. Babcock himself really
knew as little about the bad, in any quarter of the world,
as a nursing infant, his most vivid realization of evil
had been the discovery that one of his college classmates,
who was studying architecture in Paris had a love affair
with a young woman who did not expect him to marry her.
Babcock had related this incident to Newman, and our hero had
applied an epithet of an unflattering sort to the young girl.
The next day his companion asked him whether he was very
sure he had used exactly the right word to characterize
the young architect's mistress. Newman stared and laughed.
"There are a great many words to express that idea," he said;
"you can take your choice!"
"Oh, I mean," said Babcock, "was she possibly not to be considered
in a different light? Don't you think she really expected him
to marry her?"
"I am sure I don't know," said Newman. "Very likely she did;
I have no doubt she is a grand woman." And he began to laugh again.
"I didn't mean that either," said Babcock, "I was only afraid that I might
have seemed yesterday not to remember--not to consider; well, I think I
will write to Percival about it."
And he had written to Percival (who answered him in a really
impudent fashion), and he had reflected that it was somehow,
raw and reckless in Newman to assume in that off-hand manner
that the young woman in Paris might be "grand." The brevity
of Newman's judgments very often shocked and discomposed him.
He had a way of damning people without farther appeal,
or of pronouncing them capital company in the face of
uncomfortable symptoms, which seemed unworthy of a man whose
conscience had been properly cultivated. And yet poor Babcock
liked him, and remembered that even if he was sometimes
perplexing and painful, this was not a reason for giving him up.
Goethe recommended seeing human nature in the most various forms,
and Mr. Babcock thought Goethe perfectly splendid.
He often tried, in odd half-hours of conversation to infuse
into Newman a little of his own spiritual starch, but Newman's
personal texture was too loose to admit of stiffening.
His mind could no more hold principles than a sieve can
hold water. He admired principles extremely, and thought
Babcock a mighty fine little fellow for having so many.
He accepted all that his high-strung companion offered him,
and put them away in what he supposed to be a very safe place;
but poor Babcock never afterwards recognized his gifts among
the articles that Newman had in daily use.
They traveled together through Germany and into Switzerland, where for
three or four weeks they trudged over passes and lounged upon blue lakes.
At last they crossed the Simplon and made their way to Venice.
Mr. Babcock had become gloomy and even a trifle irritable;
he seemed moody, absent, preoccupied; he got his plans into a tangle,
and talked one moment of doing one thing and the next of doing another.
Newman led his usual life, made acquaintances, took his ease in the galleries
and churches, spent an unconscionable amount of time in strolling
in the Piazza San Marco, bought a great many bad pictures, and for a
fortnight enjoyed Venice grossly. One evening, coming back to his inn,
he found Babcock waiting for him in the little garden beside it.
The young man walked up to him, looking very dismal, thrust out his hand,
and said with solemnity that he was afraid they must part. Newman expressed
his surprise and regret, and asked why a parting had became necessary.
"Don't be afraid I'm tired of you," he said.
"You are not tired of me?" demanded Babcock, fixing him with his
clear gray eye.
"Why the deuce should I be? You are a very plucky fellow.
Besides, I don't grow tired of things."
"We don't understand each other," said the young minister.
"Don't I understand you?" cried Newman. "Why, I hoped I did.
But what if I don't; where's the harm?"
"I don't understand YOU," said Babcock. And he sat down and rested his head
on his hand, and looked up mournfully at his immeasurable friend.
"Oh Lord, I don't mind that!" cried Newman, with a laugh.
"But it's very distressing to me. It keeps me in a state of unrest.
It irritates me; I can't settle anything. I don't think it's good for me."
"You worry too much; that's what's the matter with you," said Newman.
"Of course it must seem so to you. You think I take
things too hard, and I think you take things too easily.
We can never agree."
"But we have agreed very well all along."
"No, I haven't agreed," said Babcock, shaking his head.
"I am very uncomfortable. I ought to have separated from you
a month ago."
"Oh, horrors! I'll agree to anything!" cried Newman.
Mr. Babcock buried his head in both hands. At last looking up,
"I don't think you appreciate my position," he said.
"I try to arrive at the truth about everything. And then you
go too fast. For me, you are too passionate, too extravagant.
I feel as if I ought to go over all this ground we have
traversed again, by myself, alone. I am afraid I have made
a great many mistakes."
"Oh, you needn't give so many reasons," said Newman.
"You are simply tired of my company. You have a good right to be."
"No, no, I am not tired!" cried the pestered young divine.
"It is very wrong to be tired."
"I give it up!" laughed Newman. "But of course it will never
do to go on making mistakes. Go your way, by all means.
I shall miss you; but you have seen I make friends very easily.
You will be lonely, yourself; but drop me a line, when you feel
like it, and I will wait for you anywhere."
"I think I will go back to Milan. I am afraid I didn't do justice to Luini."
"Poor Luini!" said Newman.
"I mean that I am afraid I overestimated him. I don't think
that he is a painter of the first rank."
"Luini?" Newman exclaimed; "why, he's enchanting--he's magnificent!
There is something in his genius that is like a beautiful woman.
It gives one the same feeling."
Mr. Babcock frowned and winced. And it must be added that this was,
for Newman, an unusually metaphysical flight; but in passing
through Milan he had taken a great fancy to the painter.
"There you are again!" said Mr. Babcock. "Yes, we had better separate."
And on the morrow he retraced his steps and proceeded to tone
down his impressions of the great Lombard artist.
A few days afterwards Newman received a note from his late companion
which ran as follows:--
My Dear Mr. Newman,--I am afraid that my conduct at Venice,
a week ago, seemed to you strange and ungrateful, and I
wish to explain my position, which, as I said at the time,
I do not think you appreciate. I had long had it on my mind
to propose that we should part company, and this step was not
really so abrupt as it seemed. In the first place, you know,
I am traveling in Europe on funds supplied by my congregation,
who kindly offered me a vacation and an opportunity to enrich
my mind with the treasures of nature and art in the Old World.
I feel, therefore, as if I ought to use my time to the very
best advantage. I have a high sense of responsibility.
You appear to care only for the pleasure of the hour,
and you give yourself up to it with a violence which I
confess I am not able to emulate. I feel as if I must arrive
at some conclusion and fix my belief on certain points.
Art and life seem to me intensely serious things, and in our
travels in Europe we should especially remember the immense
seriousness of Art. You seem to hold that if a thing amuses
you for the moment, that is all you need ask for it, and your
relish for mere amusement is also much higher than mine.
You put, however, a kind of reckless confidence into your pleasure
which at times, I confess, has seemed to me--shall I say it?--
almost cynical. Your way at any rate is not my way, and it
is unwise that we should attempt any longer to pull together.
And yet, let me add that I know there is a great deal to be said
for your way; I have felt its attraction, in your society,
very strongly. But for this I should have left you long ago.
But I was so perplexed. I hope I have not done wrong.
I feel as if I had a great deal of lost time to make up.
I beg you take all this as I mean it, which, Heaven knows,
is not invidiously. I have a great personal esteem for you
and hope that some day, when I have recovered my balance, we shall
meet again. I hope you will continue to enjoy your travels,
only DO remember that Life and Art ARE extremely serious.
Believe me your sincere friend and well-wisher,
P. S. I am greatly perplexed by Luini.
This letter produced in Newman's mind a singular mixture
of exhilaration and awe. At first, Mr. Babcock's tender
conscience seemed to him a capital farce, and his traveling
back to Milan only to get into a deeper muddle appeared,
as the reward of his pedantry, exquisitely and ludicrously just.
Then Newman reflected that these are mighty mysteries, that possibly
he himself was indeed that baleful and barely mentionable thing,
a cynic, and that his manner of considering the treasures of art
and the privileges of life was probably very base and immoral.
Newman had a great contempt for immorality, and that evening,
for a good half hour, as he sat watching the star-sheen on
the warm Adriatic, he felt rebuked and depressed. He was at a loss
how to answer Babcock's letter. His good nature checked his
resenting the young minister's lofty admonitions, and his tough,
inelastic sense of humor forbade his taking them seriously.
He wrote no answer at all but a day or two afterward he found
in a curiosity shop a grotesque little statuette in ivory,
of the sixteenth century, which he sent off to Babcock without
a commentary. It represented a gaunt, ascetic-looking monk,
in a tattered gown and cowl, kneeling with clasped hands and
pulling a portentously long face. It was a wonderfully delicate
piece of carving, and in a moment, through one of the rents
of his gown, you espied a fat capon hung round the monk's waist.
In Newman's intention what did the figure symbolize?
Did it mean that he was going to try to be as "high-toned" as the monk
looked at first, but that he feared he should succeed no better
than the friar, on a closer inspection, proved to have done?
It is not supposable that he intended a satire upon Babcock's
own asceticism, for this would have been a truly cynical stroke.
He made his late companion, at any rate, a very valuable little present.
Newman, on leaving Venice, went through the Tyrol to Vienna,
and then returned westward, through Southern Germany.
The autumn found him at Baden-Baden, where he spent several weeks.
The place was charming, and he was in no hurry to depart;
besides, he was looking about him and deciding what to do
for the winter. His summer had been very full, and he sat
under the great trees beside the miniature river that trickles
past the Baden flower-beds, he slowly rummaged it over.
He had seen and done a great deal, enjoyed and observed
a great deal; he felt older, and yet he felt younger too.
He remembered Mr. Babcock and his desire to form conclusions,
and he remembered also that he had profited very little by his
friend's exhortation to cultivate the same respectable habit.
Could he not scrape together a few conclusions? Baden-Baden was
the prettiest place he had seen yet, and orchestral music in
the evening, under the stars, was decidedly a great institution.
This was one of his conclusions! But he went on to reflect
that he had done very wisely to pull up stakes and come abroad;
this seeing of the world was a very interesting thing.
He had learned a great deal; he couldn't say just what,
but he had it there under his hat-band. He had done what he wanted;
he had seen the great things, and he had given his mind a chance
to "improve," if it would. He cheerfully believed that it
had improved. Yes, this seeing of the world was very pleasant,
and he would willingly do a little more of it. Thirty-six years
old as he was, he had a handsome stretch of life before him yet,
and he need not begin to count his weeks. Where should he take
the world next? I have said he remembered the eyes of the lady
whom he had found standing in Mrs. Tristram's drawing-room;
four months had elapsed, and he had not forgotten them yet.
He had looked--he had made a point of looking--into a great
many other eyes in the interval, but the only ones he thought
of now were Madame de Cintre's. If he wanted to see more
of the world, should he find it in Madame de Cintre's eyes?
He would certainly find something there, call it this world
or the next. Throughout these rather formless meditations
he sometimes thought of his past life and the long array of years
(they had begun so early) during which he had had nothing in his
head but "enterprise." They seemed far away now, for his present
attitude was more than a holiday, it was almost a rupture.
He had told Tristram that the pendulum was swinging back
and it appeared that the backward swing had not yet ended.
Still "enterprise," which was over in the other quarter wore
to his mind a different aspect at different hours. In its train
a thousand forgotten episodes came trooping back into his memory.
Some of them he looked complacently enough in the face;
from some he averted his head. They were old efforts,
old exploits, antiquated examples of "smartness" and sharpness.
Some of them, as he looked at them, he felt decidedly proud of;
he admired himself as if he had been looking at another man.
And, in fact, many of the qualities that make a great deed were there:
the decision, the resolution, the courage, the celerity,
the clear eye, and the strong hand. Of certain other
achievements it would be going too far to say that he was ashamed
of them for Newman had never had a stomach for dirty work.
He was blessed with a natural impulse to disfigure with a direct,
unreasoning blow the comely visage of temptation. And certainly,
in no man could a want of integrity have been less excusable.
Newman knew the crooked from the straight at a glance, and the former
had cost him, first and last, a great many moments of lively disgust.
But none the less some of his memories seemed to wear at
present a rather graceless and sordid mien, and it struck him
that if he had never done anything very ugly, he had never,
on the other hand, done anything particularly beautiful.
He had spent his years in the unremitting effort to add thousands
to thousands, and, now that he stood well outside of it,
the business of money-getting appeared tolerably dry and sterile.
It is very well to sneer at money-getting after you have filled
your pockets, and Newman, it may be said, should have begun
somewhat earlier to moralize thus delicately. To this it may be
answered that he might have made another fortune, if he chose;
and we ought to add that he was not exactly moralizing.
It had come back to him simply that what he had been looking
at all summer was a very rich and beautiful world, and that it
had not all been made by sharp railroad men and stock-brokers.
During his stay at Baden-Baden he received a letter from Mrs. Tristram,
scolding him for the scanty tidings he had sent to his friends of the Avenue
d'Iena, and begging to be definitely informed that he had not concocted
any horrid scheme for wintering in outlying regions, but was coming
back sanely and promptly to the most comfortable city in the world.
Newman's answer ran as follows:--
"I supposed you knew I was a miserable letter-writer, and didn't expect
anything of me. I don't think I have written twenty letters of pure
friendship in my whole life; in America I conducted my correspondence
altogether by telegrams. This is a letter of pure friendship;
you have got hold of a curiosity, and I hope you will value it.
You want to know everything that has happened to me these three months.
The best way to tell you, I think, would be to send you my half dozen
guide-books, with my pencil-marks in the margin. Wherever you find
a scratch or a cross, or a 'Beautiful!' or a 'So true!' or a 'Too thin!'
you may know that I have had a sensation of some sort or other.
That has been about my history, ever since I left you. Belgium, Holland,
Switzerland, Germany, Italy, I have been through the whole list,
and I don't think I am any the worse for it. I know more about Madonnas
and church-steeples than I supposed any man could. I have seen some
very pretty things, and shall perhaps talk them over this winter,
by your fireside. You see, my face is not altogether set against Paris.
I have had all kinds of plans and visions, but your letter has blown most
of them away. 'L'appetit vient en mangeant,' says the French proverb,
and I find that the more I see of the world the more I want to see.
Now that I am in the shafts, why shouldn't I trot to the end of the course?
Sometimes I think of the far East, and keep rolling the names of Eastern
cities under my tongue: Damascus and Bagdad, Medina and Mecca.
I spent a week last month in the company of a returned missionary,
who told me I ought to be ashamed to be loafing about Europe when there
are such big things to be seen out there. I do want to explore,
but I think I would rather explore over in the Rue de l'Universite. Do
you ever hear from that pretty lady? If you can get her to promise she
will be at home the next time I call, I will go back to Paris straight.
I am more than ever in the state of mind I told you about that evening;
I want a first-class wife. I have kept an eye on all the pretty girls
I have come across this summer, but none of them came up to my notion,
or anywhere near it. I should have enjoyed all this a thousand times
more if I had had the lady just mentioned by my side. The nearest
approach to her was a Unitarian minister from Boston, who very soon
demanded a separation, for incompatibility of temper. He told me I
was low-minded, immoral, a devotee of 'art for art'--whatever that is:
all of which greatly afflicted me, for he was really a sweet little fellow.
But shortly afterwards I met an Englishman, with whom I struck up an
acquaintance which at first seemed to promise well--a very bright man,
who writes in the London papers and knows Paris nearly as well as Tristram.
We knocked about for a week together, but he very soon gave me up
in disgust. I was too virtuous by half; I was too stern a moralist.
He told me, in a friendly way, that I was cursed with a conscience;
that I judged things like a Methodist and talked about them like an old lady.
This was rather bewildering. Which of my two critics was I to believe?
I didn't worry about it and very soon made up my mind they were both idiots.
But there is one thing in which no one will ever have the impudence
to pretend I am wrong, that is, in being your faithful friend,
Newman gave up Damascus and Bagdad and returned to Paris before
the autumn was over. He established himself in some rooms selected
for him by Tom Tristram, in accordance with the latter's estimate
of what he called his social position. When Newman learned that his
social position was to be taken into account, he professed himself
utterly incompetent, and begged Tristram to relieve him of the care.
"I didn't know I had a social position," he said, "and if I have,
I haven't the smallest idea what it is. Isn't a social position
knowing some two or three thousand people and inviting them to dinner?
I know you and your wife and little old Mr. Nioche, who gave me French
lessons last spring. Can I invite you to dinner to meet each other?
If I can, you must come to-morrow."
"That is not very grateful to me," said Mrs. Tristram,
"who introduced you last year to every creature I know."
"So you did; I had quite forgotten. But I thought you wanted me to forget,"
said Newman, with that tone of simple deliberateness which frequently marked
his utterance, and which an observer would not have known whether to pronounce
a somewhat mysteriously humorous affection of ignorance or a modest aspiration
to knowledge; "you told me you disliked them all."
"Ah, the way you remember what I say is at least very flattering.
But in future," added Mrs. Tristram, "pray forget all
the wicked things and remember only the good ones.
It will be easily done, and it will not fatigue your memory.
But I forewarn you that if you trust my husband to pick out
your rooms, you are in for something hideous."
"Hideous, darling?" cried Tristram.
"To-day I must say nothing wicked; otherwise I should use stronger language."
"What do you think she would say, Newman?" asked Tristram.
"If she really tried, now? She can express displeasure,
volubly, in two or three languages; that's what it is to
be intellectual. It gives her the start of me completely,
for I can't swear, for the life of me, except in English.
When I get mad I have to fall back on our dear old mother tongue.
There's nothing like it, after all."
Newman declared that he knew nothing about tables and chairs,
and that he would accept, in the way of a lodging, with his eyes shut,
anything that Tristram should offer him. This was partly
veracity on our hero's part, but it was also partly charity.
He knew that to pry about and look at rooms, and make people open windows,
and poke into sofas with his cane, and gossip with landladies, and ask
who lived above and who below--he knew that this was of all pastimes
the dearest to Tristram's heart, and he felt the more disposed to put
it in his way as he was conscious that, as regards his obliging friend,
he had suffered the warmth of ancient good-fellowship somewhat to abate.
Besides, he had no taste for upholstery; he had even no very exquisite
sense of comfort or convenience. He had a relish for luxury
and splendor, but it was satisfied by rather gross contrivances.
He scarcely knew a hard chair from a soft one, and he possessed a talent
for stretching his legs which quite dispensed with adventitious facilities.
His idea of comfort was to inhabit very large rooms, have a great many
of them, and be conscious of their possessing a number of patented
mechanical devices--half of which he should never have occasion to use.
The apartments should be light and brilliant and lofty; he had once
said that he liked rooms in which you wanted to keep your hat on.
For the rest, he was satisfied with the assurance of any respectable
person that everything was "handsome." Tristram accordingly secured
for him an apartment to which this epithet might be lavishly applied.
It was situated on the Boulevard Haussmann, on the first floor,
and consisted of a series of rooms, gilded from floor to ceiling
a foot thick, draped in various light shades of satin, and chiefly
furnished with mirrors and clocks. Newman thought them magnificent,
thanked Tristram heartily, immediately took possession, and had one
of his trunks standing for three months in his drawing-room.
One day Mrs. Tristram told him that her beautiful friend, Madame de Cintre,
had returned from the country; that she had met her three days before,
coming out of the Church of St. Sulpice; she herself having journeyed
to that distant quarter in quest of an obscure lace-mender, of whose skill
she had heard high praise.
"And how were those eyes?" Newman asked.
"Those eyes were red with weeping, if you please!" said Mrs. Tristram.
"She had been to confession."
"It doesn't tally with your account of her," said Newman,
"that she should have sins to confess."
"They were not sins; they were sufferings."
"How do you know that?"
"She asked me to come and see her; I went this morning."
"And what does she suffer from?"
"I didn't ask her. With her, somehow, one is very discreet.
But I guessed, easily enough. She suffers from her wicked old
mother and her Grand Turk of a brother. They persecute her.
But I can almost forgive them, because, as I told you,
she is a saint, and a persecution is all that she needs to bring
out her saintliness and make her perfect."
"That's a comfortable theory for her. I hope you will never
impart it to the old folks. Why does she let them bully her?
Is she not her own mistress?"
"Legally, yes, I suppose; but morally, no. In France you must
never say nay to your mother, whatever she requires of you.
She may be the most abominable old woman in the world,
and make your life a purgatory; but, after all, she is ma mere,
and you have no right to judge her. You have simply to obey.
The thing has a fine side to it. Madame de Cintre bows her head
and folds her wings."
"Can't she at least make her brother leave off?"
"Her brother is the chef de la famille, as they say; he is the head
of the clan. With those people the family is everything; you must act,
not for your own pleasure, but for the advantage of the family."
"I wonder what my family would like me to do!" exclaimed Tristram.
"I wish you had one!" said his wife.
"But what do they want to get out of that poor lady?" Newman asked.
"Another marriage. They are not rich, and they want to bring
more money into the family."
"There's your chance, my boy!" said Tristram.
"And Madame de Cintre objects," Newman continued.
"She has been sold once; she naturally objects to being sold again.
It appears that the first time they made rather a poor bargain;
M. de Cintre left a scanty property."
"And to whom do they want to marry her now?"
"I thought it best not to ask; but you may be sure it is to some horrid
old nabob, or to some dissipated little duke."
"There's Mrs. Tristram, as large as life!" cried her husband.
"Observe the richness of her imagination. She has not a single question--
it's vulgar to ask questions--and yet she knows everything.
She has the history of Madame de Cintre's marriage at
her fingers' ends. She has seen the lovely Claire on her knees,
with loosened tresses and streaming eyes, and the rest of them
standing over her with spikes and goads and red-hot irons,
ready to come down on her if she refuses the tipsy duke.
The simple truth is that they made a fuss about her milliner's
bill or refused her an opera-box."
Newman looked from Tristram to his wife with a certain mistrust
in each direction. "Do you really mean," he asked of Mrs. Tristram,
"that your friend is being forced into an unhappy marriage?"
"I think it extremely probable. Those people are very capable
of that sort of thing."
"It is like something in a play," said Newman; "that dark old
house over there looks as if wicked things had been done in it,
and might be done again."
"They have a still darker old house in the country Madame de Cintre tells me,
and there, during the summer this scheme must have been hatched."
"MUST have been; mind that!" said Tristram.
"After all," suggested Newman, after a silence, "she may be in trouble
about something else."
"If it is something else, then it is something worse," said Mrs. Tristram,
with rich decision.
Newman was silent a while, and seemed lost in meditation.
"Is it possible," he asked at last, "that they do that sort
of thing over here? that helpless women are bullied into marrying
men they hate?"
"Helpless women, all over the world, have a hard time of it,"
said Mrs. Tristram. "There is plenty of bullying everywhere."
"A great deal of that kind of thing goes on in New York,"
said Tristram. "Girls are bullied or coaxed or bribed,
or all three together, into marrying nasty fellows.
There is no end of that always going on in the Fifth Avenue,
and other bad things besides. The Mysteries of the Fifth Avenue!
Some one ought to show them up."
"I don't believe it!" said Newman, very gravely. "I don't
believe that, in America, girls are ever subjected to compulsion.
I don't believe there have been a dozen cases of it since
the country began."
"Listen to the voice of the spread eagle!" cried Tristram.
"The spread eagle ought to use his wings," said Mrs. Tristram.
"Fly to the rescue of Madame de Cintre!"
"To her rescue?"
"Pounce down, seize her in your talons, and carry her off.
Marry her yourself."
Newman, for some moments, answered nothing; but presently,
"I should suppose she had heard enough of marrying," he said.
"The kindest way to treat her would be to admire her, and yet
never to speak of it. But that sort of thing is infamous,"
he added; "it makes me feel savage to hear of it."
He heard of it, however, more than once afterward. Mrs. Tristram
again saw Madame de Cintre, and again found her looking very sad.
But on these occasions there had been no tears; her beautiful
eyes were clear and still. "She is cold, calm, and hopeless,"
Mrs. Tristram declared, and she added that on her mentioning that her
friend Mr. Newman was again in Paris and was faithful in his desire
to make Madame de Cintre's acquaintance, this lovely woman had found
a smile in her despair, and declared that she was sorry to have missed
his visit in the spring and that she hoped he had not lost courage.
"I told her something about you," said Mrs. Tristram.
"That's a comfort," said Newman, placidly. "I like people
to know about me."
A few days after this, one dusky autumn afternoon, he went again
to the Rue de l'Universite. The early evening had closed in as he
applied for admittance at the stoutly guarded Hotel de Bellegarde.
He was told that Madame de Cintre was at home; he crossed
the court, entered the farther door, and was conducted through
a vestibule, vast, dim, and cold, up a broad stone staircase with
an ancient iron balustrade, to an apartment on the second floor.
Announced and ushered in, he found himself in a sort of paneled boudoir,
at one end of which a lady and gentleman were seated before the fire.
The gentleman was smoking a cigarette; there was no light in the room
save that of a couple of candles and the glow from the hearth.
Both persons rose to welcome Newman, who, in the firelight,
recognized Madame de Cintre. She gave him her hand with a smile
which seemed in itself an illumination, and, pointing to her companion,
said softly, "My brother." The gentleman offered Newman a frank,
friendly greeting, and our hero then perceived him to be the young
man who had spoken to him in the court of the hotel on his former
visit and who had struck him as a good fellow.
"Mrs. Tristram has spoken to me a great deal of you,"
said Madame de Cintre gently, as she resumed her former place.
Newman, after he had seated himself, began to consider what,
in truth, was his errand. He had an unusual, unexpected sense
of having wandered into a strange corner of the world.
He was not given, as a general thing, to anticipating danger,
or forecasting disaster, and he had had no social tremors on this
particular occasion. He was not timid and he was not impudent.
He felt too kindly toward himself to be the one, and too
good-naturedly toward the rest of the world to be the other.
But his native shrewdness sometimes placed his ease of temper
at its mercy; with every disposition to take things simply,
it was obliged to perceive that some things were not so simple
as others. He felt as one does in missing a step, in an ascent,
where one expected to find it. This strange, pretty woman,
sitting in fire-side talk with her brother, in the gray depths
of her inhospitable-looking house--what had he to say to her?
She seemed enveloped in a sort of fantastic privacy; on what
grounds had he pulled away the curtain? For a moment he felt
as if he had plunged into some medium as deep as the ocean,
and as if he must exert himself to keep from sinking.
Meanwhile he was looking at Madame de Cintre, and she was settling
herself in her chair and drawing in her long dress and turning
her face towards him. Their eyes met; a moment afterwards she
looked away and motioned to her brother to put a log on the fire.
But the moment, and the glance which traversed it,
had been sufficient to relieve Newman of the first and
the last fit of personal embarrassment he was ever to know.
He performed the movement which was so frequent with him,
and which was always a sort of symbol of his taking mental
possession of a scene--he extended his legs. The impression
Madame de Cintre had made upon him on their first meeting
came back in an instant; it had been deeper than he knew.
She was pleasing, she was interesting; he had opened a book
and the first lines held his attention.
She asked him several questions: how lately he had seen Mrs. Tristram,
how long he had been in Paris, how long he expected to remain there,
how he liked it. She spoke English without an accent, or rather
with that distinctively British accent which, on his arrival in Europe,
had struck Newman as an altogether foreign tongue, but which, in women,
he had come to like extremely. Here and there Madame de Cintre's
utterance had a faint shade of strangeness but at the end of ten
minutes Newman found himself waiting for these soft roughnesses.
He enjoyed them, and he marveled to see that gross thing, error,
brought down to so fine a point.
"You have a beautiful country," said Madame de Cintre, presently.
"Oh, magnificent!" said Newman. "You ought to see it."
"I shall never see it," said Madame de Cintre with a smile.
"Why not?" asked Newman.
"I don't travel; especially so far."
"But you go away sometimes; you are not always here?"
"I go away in summer, a little way, to the country."
Newman wanted to ask her something more, something personal, he hardly
knew what. "Don't you find it rather--rather quiet here?" he said;
"so far from the street?" Rather "gloomy," he was going to say,
but he reflected that that would be impolite.
"Yes, it is very quiet," said Madame de Cintre; "but we like that."
"Ah, you like that," repeated Newman, slowly.
"Besides, I have lived here all my life."
"Lived here all your life," said Newman, in the same way.
"I was born here, and my father was born here before me, and my grandfather,
and my great-grandfathers. Were they not, Valentin?" and she appealed
to her brother.
"Yes, it's a family habit to be born here!" the young man said with a laugh,
and rose and threw the remnant of his cigarette into the fire, and then
remained leaning against the chimney-piece. An observer would have perceived
that he wished to take a better look at Newman, whom he covertly examined,
while he stood stroking his mustache.
"Your house is tremendously old, then," said Newman.
"How old is it, brother?" asked Madame de Cintre.
The young man took the two candles from the mantel-shelf, lifted
one high in each hand, and looked up toward the cornice of the room,
above the chimney-piece. This latter feature of the apartment
was of white marble, and in the familiar rococo style of the
last century; but above it was a paneling of an earlier date,
quaintly carved, painted white, and gilded here and there.
The white had turned to yellow, and the gilding was tarnished.
On the top, the figures ranged themselves into a sort of shield,
on which an armorial device was cut. Above it, in relief,
was a date--1627. "There you have it,' said the young man.
"That is old or new, according to your point of view."
"Well, over here," said Newman, "one's point of view gets shifted
round considerably." And he threw back his head and looked about the room.
"Your house is of a very curious style of architecture," he said.
"Are you interested in architecture?" asked the young man
at the chimney-piece.
"Well, I took the trouble, this summer," said Newman, "to examine--
as well as I can calculate--some four hundred and seventy churches.
Do you call that interested?"
"Perhaps you are interested in theology," said the young man.
"Not particularly. Are you a Roman Catholic, madam?"
And he turned to Madame de Cintre.
"Yes, sir," she answered, gravely.
Newman was struck with the gravity of her tone; he threw
back his head and began to look round the room again.
"Had you never noticed that number up there?" he presently asked.
She hesitated a moment, and then, "In former years," she said.
Her brother had been watching Newman's movement.
"Perhaps you would like to examine the house," he said.
Newman slowly brought down his eyes and looked at him; he had a vague
impression that the young man at the chimney-piece was inclined to irony.
He was a handsome fellow, his face wore a smile, his mustaches were
curled up at the ends, and there was a little dancing gleam in his eye.
"Damn his French impudence!" Newman was on the point of saying
to himself. "What the deuce is he grinning at?" He glanced at
Madame de Cintre; she was sitting with her eyes fixed on the floor.
She raised them, they met his, and she looked at her brother.
Newman turned again to this young man and observed that he strikingly
resembled his sister. This was in his favor, and our hero's first
impression of the Count Valentin, moreover, had been agreeable.
His mistrust expired, and he said he would be very glad to see the house.
The young man gave a frank laugh, and laid his hand on one of
the candlesticks. "Good, good!" he exclaimed. "Come, then."
But Madame de Cintre rose quickly and grasped his arm, "Ah, Valentin!"
she said. "What do you mean to do?"
"To show Mr. Newman the house. It will be very amusing."
She kept her hand on his arm, and turned to Newman with a smile.
"Don't let him take you," she said; "you will not find it amusing.
It is a musty old house, like any other."
"It is full of curious things," said the count, resisting.
"Besides, I want to do it; it is a rare chance."
"You are very wicked, brother," Madame de Cintre answered.
"Nothing venture, nothing have!" cried the young man.
"Will you come?"
Madame de Cintre stepped toward Newman, gently clasping her hands
and smiling softly. "Would you not prefer my society, here, by my fire,
to stumbling about dark passages after my brother?"
"A hundred times!" said Newman. "We will see the house some other day."
The young man put down his candlestick with mock solemnity, and,
shaking his head, "Ah, you have defeated a great scheme, sir!" he said.
"A scheme? I don't understand," said Newman.
"You would have played your part in it all the better.
Perhaps some day I shall have a chance to explain it."
"Be quiet, and ring for the tea," said Madame de Cintre.
The young man obeyed, and presently a servant brought
in the tea, placed the tray on a small table, and departed.
Madame de Cintre, from her place, busied herself with making it.
She had but just begun when the door was thrown open and a lady
rushed in, making a loud rustling sound. She stared at Newman,
gave a little nod and a "Monsieur!" and then quickly approached
Madame de Cintre and presented her forehead to be kissed.
Madame de Cintre saluted her, and continued to make tea.
The new-comer was young and pretty, it seemed to Newman;
she wore her bonnet and cloak, and a train of royal proportions.
She began to talk rapidly in French. "Oh, give me some tea,
my beautiful one, for the love of God! I'm exhausted,
mangled, massacred." Newman found himself quite unable to follow her;
she spoke much less distinctly than M. Nioche.
"That is my sister-in-law," said the Count Valentin, leaning towards him.
"She is very pretty," said Newman.
"Exquisite," answered the young man, and this time, again, Newman suspected
him of irony.
His sister-in-law came round to the other side of the fire with her
cup of tea in her hand, holding it out at arm's-length, so that she
might not spill it on her dress, and uttering little cries of alarm.
She placed the cup on the mantel-shelf and begun to unpin her veil
and pull off her gloves, looking meanwhile at Newman.
"Is there any thing I can do for you, my dear lady?" the Count Valentin asked,
in a sort of mock-caressing tone.
"Present monsieur," said his sister-in-law.
The young man answered, "Mr. Newman!"
"I can't courtesy to you, monsieur, or I shall spill my tea," said the lady.
"So Claire receives strangers, like that?" she added, in a low voice,
in French, to her brother-in-law.
"Apparently!" he answered with a smile. Newman stood
a moment, and then he approached Madame de Cintre.
She looked up at him as if she were thinking of something to say.
But she seemed to think of nothing; so she simply smiled.
He sat down near her and she handed him a cup of tea. For a few
moments they talked about that, and meanwhile he looked at her.
He remembered what Mrs. Tristram had told him of her "perfection"
and of her having, in combination, all the brilliant things
that he dreamed of finding. This made him observe her not only
without mistrust, but without uneasy conjectures; the presumption,
from the first moment he looked at her, had been in her favor.
And yet, if she was beautiful, it was not a dazzling beauty.
She was tall and moulded in long lines; she had thick fair hair,
a wide forehead, and features with a sort of harmonious irregularity.
Her clear gray eyes were strikingly expressive; they were
both gentle and intelligent, and Newman liked them immensely;
but they had not those depths of splendor--those many-colored rays--
which illumine the brows of famous beauties. Madame de Cintre
was rather thin, and she looked younger than probably she was.
In her whole person there was something both youthful and subdued,
slender and yet ample, tranquil yet shy; a mixture of immaturity
and repose, of innocence and dignity. What had Tristram meant,
Newman wondered, by calling her proud? She was certainly not proud now,
to him; or if she was, it was of no use, it was lost upon him;
she must pile it up higher if she expected him to mind it.
She was a beautiful woman, and it was very easy to get on with her.
Was she a countess, a marquise, a kind of historical formation?
Newman, who had rarely heard these words used, had never been
at pains to attach any particular image to them; but they occurred
to him now and seemed charged with a sort of melodious meaning.
They signified something fair and softly bright, that had easy
motions and spoke very agreeably.
"Have you many friends in Paris; do you go out?" asked Madame de Cintre,
who had at last thought of something to say.
"Do you mean do I dance, and all that?"
"Do you go dans le monde, as we say?"
"I have seen a good many people. Mrs. Tristram has taken me about.
I do whatever she tells me."
"By yourself, you are not fond of amusements?"
"Oh yes, of some sorts. I am not fond of dancing, and that sort of thing;
I am too old and sober. But I want to be amused; I came to Europe for that."
"But you can be amused in America, too."
"I couldn't; I was always at work. But after all, that was my amusement."
At this moment Madame de Bellegarde came back for another cup of tea,
accompanied by the Count Valentin. Madame de Cintre, when she had served her,
began to talk again with Newman, and recalling what he had last said,
"In your own country you were very much occupied?" she asked.
"l was in business. I have been in business since I was fifteen years old."
"And what was your business?" asked Madame de Bellegarde,
who was decidedly not so pretty as Madame de Cintre.
"I have been in everything," said Newman. "At one time I sold leather;
at one time I manufactured wash-tubs."
Madame de Bellegarde made a little grimace. "Leather? I don't like that.
Wash-tubs are better. I prefer the smell of soap. I hope at least
they made your fortune." She rattled this off with the air of a woman
who had the reputation of saying everything that came into her head,
and with a strong French accent.
Newman had spoken with cheerful seriousness, but Madame de
Bellegarde's tone made him go on, after a meditative pause,
with a certain light grimness of jocularity. "No, I lost money
on wash-tubs, but I came out pretty square on leather."
"I have made up my mind, after all," said Madame de Bellegarde,
"that the great point is--how do you call it?--to come out square.
I am on my knees to money; I don't deny it. If you have it, I ask
no questions. For that I am a real democrat--like you, monsieur.
Madame de Cintre is very proud; but I find that one gets much more
pleasure in this sad life if one doesn't look too close."
"Just Heaven, dear madam, how you go at it," said the Count Valentin,
lowering his voice.
"He's a man one can speak to, I suppose, since my sister receives him,"
the lady answered. "Besides, it's very true; those are my ideas."
"Ah, you call them ideas," murmured the young man.
"But Mrs. Tristram told me you had been in the army--in your war,"
said Madame de Cintre.
"Yes, but that is not business!" said Newman.
"Very true!" said M. de Bellegarde. "Otherwise perhaps I
should not be penniless."
"Is it true," asked Newman in a moment, "that you are so proud?
I had already heard it."
Madame de Cintre smiled. "Do you find me so?"
"Oh," said Newman, "I am no judge. If you are proud with me,
you will have to tell me. Otherwise I shall not know it."
Madame de Cintre began to laugh. "That would be pride in a
sad position!" she said.
"It would be partly," Newman went on, "because I shouldn't want to know it.
I want you to treat me well."
Madame de Cintre, whose laugh had ceased, looked at him with her head
half averted, as if she feared what he was going to say.
"Mrs. Tristram told you the literal truth," he went on; "I want
very much to know you. I didn't come here simply to call to-day;
I came in the hope that you might ask me to come again."
"Oh, pray come often," said Madame de Cintre.
"But will you be at home?" Newman insisted. Even to himself he seemed
a trifle "pushing," but he was, in truth, a trifle excited.
"I hope so!" said Madame de Cintre.
Newman got up. "Well, we shall see," he said smoothing his hat
with his coat-cuff.
"Brother," said Madame de Cintre, "invite Mr. Newman to come again."
The Count Valentin looked at our hero from head to foot with his peculiar
smile, in which impudence and urbanity seemed perplexingly commingled.
"Are you a brave man?" he asked, eying him askance.
"Well, I hope so," said Newman.
"I rather suspect so. In that case, come again."
"Ah, what an invitation!" murmured Madame de Cintre, with something
painful in her smile.
"Oh, I want Mr. Newman to come--particularly," said the young man.
"It will give me great pleasure. I shall be desolate if I
miss one of his visits. But I maintain he must be brave.
A stout heart, sir!" And he offered Newman his hand.
"I shall not come to see you; I shall come to see Madame
de Cintre," said Newman.
"You will need all the more courage."
"Ah, Valentin!" said Madame de Cintre, appealingly.
"Decidedly," cried Madame de Bellegarde, "I am the only person
here capable of saying something polite! Come to see me;
you will need no courage," she said.
Newman gave a laugh which was not altogether an assent, and took his leave.
Madame de Cintre did not take up her sister's challenge to be gracious,
but she looked with a certain troubled air at the retreating guest.
One evening very late, about a week after his visit
to Madame de Cintre, Newman's servant brought him a card.
It was that of young M. de Bellegarde. When, a few moments later,
he went to receive his visitor, he found him standing in the middle
of his great gilded parlor and eying it from cornice to carpet.
M. de Bellegarde's face, it seemed to Newman, expressed a sense
of lively entertainment. "What the devil is he laughing at now?"
our hero asked himself. But he put the question without acrimony,
for he felt that Madame de Cintre's brother was a good fellow,
and he had a presentiment that on this basis of good fellowship
they were destined to understand each other. Only, if there
was anything to laugh at, he wished to have a glimpse of it too.
"To begin with," said the young man, as he extended his hand,
"have I come too late?"
"Too late for what?" asked Newman.
"To smoke a cigar with you."
"You would have to come early to do that," said Newman.
"I don't smoke."
"Ah, you are a strong man!"
"But I keep cigars," Newman added. "Sit down."
"Surely, I may not smoke here," said M. de Bellegarde.
"What is the matter? Is the room too small?"
"It is too large. It is like smoking in a ball-room, or a church."
"That is what you were laughing at just now?" Newman asked;
"the size of my room?"
"It is not size only," replied M. de Bellegarde, "but splendor, and harmony,
and beauty of detail. It was the smile of admiration."
Newman looked at him a moment, and then, "So it IS very ugly?" he inquired.
"Ugly, my dear sir? It is magnificent."
"That is the same thing, I suppose," said Newman.
"Make yourself comfortable. Your coming to see me, I take it,
is an act of friendship. You were not obliged to.
Therefore, if anything around here amuses you, it will be all
in a pleasant way. Laugh as loud as you please; I like to see
my visitors cheerful. Only, I must make this request:
that you explain the joke to me as soon as you can speak.
I don't want to lose anything, myself."
M. de Bellegarde stared, with a look of unresentful perplexity.
He laid his hand on Newman's sleeve and seemed on the point
of saying something, but he suddenly checked himself,
leaned back in his chair, and puffed at his cigar.
At last, however, breaking silence,--"Certainly," he said,
"my coming to see you is an act of friendship. Nevertheless I
was in a measure obliged to do so. My sister asked me to come,
and a request from my sister is, for me, a law. I was near you,
and I observed lights in what I supposed were your rooms.
It was not a ceremonious hour for making a call, but I was not
sorry to do something that would show I was not performing
a mere ceremony."
"Well, here I am as large as life," said Newman, extending his legs.
"I don't know what you mean," the young man went on "by giving
me unlimited leave to laugh. Certainly I am a great laugher,
and it is better to laugh too much than too little.
But it is not in order that we may laugh together--or separately--
that I have, I may say, sought your acquaintance.
To speak with almost impudent frankness, you interest me!"
All this was uttered by M. de Bellegarde with the modulated smoothness
of the man of the world, and in spite of his excellent English,
of the Frenchman; but Newman, at the same time that he sat noting its
harmonious flow, perceived that it was not mere mechanical urbanity.
Decidedly, there was something in his visitor that he liked.
M. de Bellegarde was a foreigner to his finger-tips, and if Newman
had met him on a Western prairie he would have felt it proper
to address him with a "How-d'ye-do, Mosseer?" But there was
something in his physiognomy which seemed to cast a sort of aerial
bridge over the impassable gulf produced by difference of race.
He was below the middle height, and robust and agile in figure.
Valentin de Bellegarde, Newman afterwards learned, had a mortal
dread of the robustness overtaking the agility; he was afraid
of growing stout; he was too short, as he said, to afford a belly.
He rode and fenced and practiced gymnastics with unremitting zeal,
and if you greeted him with a "How well you are looking" he started
and turned pale. In your WELL he read a grosser monosyllable.
He had a round head, high above the ears, a crop of hair at once
dense and silky, a broad, low forehead, a short nose, of the ironical
and inquiring rather than of the dogmatic or sensitive cast,
and a mustache as delicate as that of a page in a romance.
He resembled his sister not in feature, but in the expression of his clear,
bright eye, completely void of introspection, and in the way he smiled.
The great point in his face was that it was intensely alive--
frankly, ardently, gallantly alive. The look of it was like a bell,
of which the handle might have been in the young man's soul:
at a touch of the handle it rang with a loud, silver sound.
There was something in his quick, light brown eye which assured
you that he was not economizing his consciousness. He was not
living in a corner of it to spare the furniture of the rest.
He was squarely encamped in the centre and he was keeping open house.
When he smiled, it was like the movement of a person who in emptying
a cup turns it upside down: he gave you the last drop of his jollity.
He inspired Newman with something of the same kindness that our
hero used to feel in his earlier years for those of his companions
who could perform strange and clever tricks--make their joints
crack in queer places or whistle at the back of their mouths.
"My sister told me," M. de Bellegarde continued, "that I ought
to come and remove the impression that I had taken such great
pains to produce upon you; the impression that I am a lunatic.
Did it strike you that I behaved very oddly the other day?"
"Rather so," said Newman.
"So my sister tells me." And M. de Bellegarde watched
his host for a moment through his smoke-wreaths. "If
that is the case, I think we had better let it stand.
I didn't try to make you think I was a lunatic, at all;
on the contrary, I wanted to produce a favorable impression.
But if, after all, I made a fool of myself, it was the intention
of Providence. I should injure myself by protesting too much,
for I should seem to set up a claim for wisdom which,
in the sequel of our acquaintance, I could by no means justify.
Set me down as a lunatic with intervals of sanity."
"Oh, I guess you know what you are about," said Newman.
"When I am sane, I am very sane; that I admit," M. de Bellegarde answered.
"But I didn't come here to talk about myself. I should like to ask you
a few questions. You allow me?"
"Give me a specimen," said Newman.
"You live here all alone?"
"Absolutely. With whom should I live?"
"For the moment," said M. de Bellegarde with a smile "I am asking questions,
not answering them. You have come to Paris for your pleasure?"
Newman was silent a while. Then, at last, "Every one asks me that!"
he said with his mild slowness. "It sounds so awfully foolish."
"But at any rate you had a reason."
"Oh, I came for my pleasure!" said Newman. "Though it is foolish,
it is true."
"And you are enjoying it?"
Like any other good American, Newman thought it as well not to truckle
to the foreigner. "Oh, so-so," he answered.
M. de Bellegarde puffed his cigar again in silence.
"For myself," he said at last, "I am entirely at your service.
Anything I can do for you I shall be very happy to do.
Call upon me at your convenience. Is there any one you desire
to know--anything you wish to see? It is a pity you should
not enjoy Paris."
"Oh, I do enjoy it!" said Newman, good-naturedly. "I'm much
obligated to you."
"Honestly speaking," M. de Bellegarde went on, "there is
something absurd to me in hearing myself make you these offers.
They represent a great deal of goodwill, but they represent
little else. You are a successful man and I am a failure,
and it's a turning of the tables to talk as if I could lend
you a hand."
"In what way are you a failure?" asked Newman.
"Oh, I'm not a tragical failure!" cried the young man with a laugh.
"I have fallen from a height, and my fiasco has made no noise.
You, evidently, are a success. You have made a fortune,
you have built up an edifice, you are a financial, commercial power,
you can travel about the world until you have found a soft spot,
and lie down in it with the consciousness of having earned your rest.
Is not that true? Well, imagine the exact reverse of all that,