Part 3 out of 8
and you have me. I have done nothing--I can do nothing!"
"It's a long story. Some day I will tell you. Meanwhile, I'm right, eh?
You are a success? You have made a fortune? It's none of my business, but,
in short, you are rich?"
"That's another thing that it sounds foolish to say," said Newman.
"Hang it, no man is rich!"
"I have heard philosophers affirm," laughed M. de Bellegarde,
"that no man was poor; but your formula strikes me as an improvement.
As a general thing, I confess, I don't like successful people,
and I find clever men who have made great fortunes very offensive.
They tread on my toes; they make me uncomfortable. But as soon as I
saw you, I said to myself. 'Ah, there is a man with whom I shall get on.
He has the good-nature of success and none of the morgue;
he has not our confoundedly irritable French vanity.'
In short, I took a fancy to you. We are very different, I'm sure;
I don't believe there is a subject on which we think or feel alike.
But I rather think we shall get on, for there is such a thing,
you know, as being too different to quarrel."
"Oh, I never quarrel," said Newman.
"Never! Sometimes it's a duty--or at least it's a pleasure.
Oh, I have had two or three delicious quarrels in my day!"
and M. de Bellegarde's handsome smile assumed, at the memory
of these incidents, an almost voluptuous intensity.
With the preamble embodied in his share of the foregoing fragment
of dialogue, he paid our hero a long visit; as the two men sat
with their heels on Newman's glowing hearth, they heard the small
hours of the morning striking larger from a far-off belfry.
Valentin de Bellegarde was, by his own confession, at all times
a great chatterer, and on this occasion he was evidently in a
particularly loquacious mood. It was a tradition of his race
that people of its blood always conferred a favor by their smiles,
and as his enthusiasms were as rare as his civility was constant,
he had a double reason for not suspecting that his friendship
could ever be importunate. Moreover, the flower of an ancient
stem as he was, tradition (since I have used the word)
had in his temperament nothing of disagreeable rigidity.
It was muffled in sociability and urbanity, as an old dowager
in her laces and strings of pearls. Valentin was what is called
in France a gentilhomme, of the purest source, and his rule of life,
so far as it was definite, was to play the part of a gentilhomme.
This, it seemed to him, was enough to occupy comfortably
a young man of ordinary good parts. But all that he was he was
by instinct and not by theory, and the amiability of his
character was so great that certain of the aristocratic virtues,
which in some aspects seem rather brittle and trenchant,
acquired in his application of them an extreme geniality.
In his younger years he had been suspected of low tastes,
and his mother had greatly feared he would make a slip
in the mud of the highway and bespatter the family shield.
He had been treated, therefore, to more than his share of schooling
and drilling, but his instructors had not succeeded in mounting
him upon stilts. They could not spoil his safe spontaneity,
and he remained the least cautious and the most lucky of young nobles.
He had been tied with so short a rope in his youth that
he had now a mortal grudge against family discipline.
He had been known to say, within the limits of the family,
that, light-headed as he was, the honor of the name was safer
in his hands than in those of some of it's other members,
and that if a day ever came to try it, they should see.
His talk was an odd mixture of almost boyish garrulity and of
the reserve and discretion of the man of the world, and he seemed
to Newman, as afterwards young members of the Latin races often
seemed to him, now amusingly juvenile and now appallingly mature.
In America, Newman reflected, lads of twenty-five and thirty
have old heads and young hearts, or at least young morals;
here they have young heads and very aged hearts, morals the most
grizzled and wrinkled.
"What I envy you is your liberty," observed M. de Bellegarde,
"your wide range, your freedom to come and go, your not having
a lot of people, who take themselves awfully seriously,
expecting something of you. I live," he added with a sigh,
"beneath the eyes of my admirable mother."
"It is your own fault; what is to hinder your ranging?" said Newman.
"There is a delightful simplicity in that remark!
Everything is to hinder me. To begin with, I have not a penny."
"I had not a penny when I began to range."
"Ah, but your poverty was your capital. Being an American, it was
impossible you should remain what you were born, and being born poor--
do I understand it?--it was therefore inevitable that you should
become rich. You were in a position that makes one's mouth water;
you looked round you and saw a world full of things you had only
to step up to and take hold of. When I was twenty, I looked
around me and saw a world with everything ticketed 'Hands off!'
and the deuce of it was that the ticket seemed meant only for me.
I couldn't go into business, I couldn't make money, because I
was a Bellegarde. I couldn't go into politics, because I was
a Bellegarde--the Bellegardes don't recognize the Bonapartes.
I couldn't go into literature, because I was a dunce.
I couldn't marry a rich girl, because no Bellegarde had ever
married a roturiere, and it was not proper that I should begin.
We shall have to come to it, yet. Marriageable heiresses,
de notre bord, are not to be had for nothing; it must be name
for name, and fortune for fortune. The only thing I could do
was to go and fight for the Pope. That I did, punctiliously,
and received an apostolic flesh-wound at Castlefidardo.
It did neither the Holy Father nor me any good, that I could see.
Rome was doubtless a very amusing place in the days of Caligula,
but it has sadly fallen off since. I passed three years in
the Castle of St. Angelo, and then came back to secular life."
"So you have no profession--you do nothing," said Newman.
"I do nothing! I am supposed to amuse myself, and, to tell
the truth, I have amused myself. One can, if one knows how.
But you can't keep it up forever. I am good for another five years,
perhaps, but I foresee that after that I shall lose my appetite.
Then what shall I do? I think I shall turn monk. Seriously, I think
I shall tie a rope round my waist and go into a monastery.
It was an old custom, and the old customs were very good.
People understood life quite as well as we do.
They kept the pot boiling till it cracked, and then they put
it on the shelf altogether."
"Are you very religious?" asked Newman, in a tone which gave
the inquiry a grotesque effect.
M. de Bellegarde evidently appreciated the comical element in the question,
but he looked at Newman a moment with extreme soberness. "I am a very
good Catholic. I respect the Church. I adore the blessed Virgin.
I fear the Devil."
"Well, then," said Newman, "you are very well fixed.
You have got pleasure in the present and religion in the future;
what do you complain of?"
"It's a part of one's pleasure to complain. There is something
in your own circumstances that irritates me. You are the first
man I have ever envied. It's singular, but so it is.
I have known many men who, besides any factitious advantages
that I may possess, had money and brains into the bargain;
but somehow they have never disturbed my good-humor. But
you have got something that I should have liked to have.
It is not money, it is not even brains--though no doubt yours
are excellent. It is not your six feet of height, though I
should have rather liked to be a couple of inches taller.
It's a sort of air you have of being thoroughly at home
in the world. When I was a boy, my father told me that it was
by such an air as that that people recognized a Bellegarde.
He called my attention to it. He didn't advise me to cultivate it;
he said that as we grew up it always came of itself.
I supposed it had come to me, because I think I have always
had the feeling. My place in life was made for me, and it
seemed easy to occupy it. But you who, as I understand it,
have made your own place, you who, as you told us the other day,
have manufactured wash-tubs--you strike me, somehow, as a man
who stands at his ease, who looks at things from a height.
I fancy you going about the world like a man traveling
on a railroad in which he owns a large amount of stock.
You make me feel as if I had missed something. What is it?"
"It is the proud consciousness of honest toil--of having manufactured
a few wash-tubs," said Newman, at once jocose and serious.
"Oh no; I have seen men who had done even more, men who had made not
only wash-tubs, but soap--strong-smelling yellow soap, in great bars;
and they never made me the least uncomfortable."
"Then it's the privilege of being an American citizen," said Newman.
"That sets a man up."
"Possibly," rejoined M. de Bellegarde. "But I am forced to say that I
have seen a great many American citizens who didn't seem at all set
up or in the least like large stock-holders. I never envied them.
I rather think the thing is an accomplishment of your own."
"Oh, come," said Newman, "you will make me proud!"
"No, I shall not. You have nothing to do with pride,
or with humility--that is a part of this easy manner of yours.
People are proud only when they have something to lose,
and humble when they have something to gain."
"I don't know what I have to lose," said Newman, "but I certainly
have something to gain."
"What is it?" asked his visitor.
Newman hesitated a while. "I will tell you when I know you better."
"I hope that will be soon! Then, if I can help you to gain it,
I shall be happy."
"Perhaps you may," said Newman.
"Don't forget, then, that I am your servant," M. de Bellegarde answered;
and shortly afterwards he took his departure.
During the next three weeks Newman saw Bellegarde
several times, and without formally swearing an eternal
friendship the two men established a sort of comradeship.
To Newman, Bellegarde was the ideal Frenchman, the Frenchman
of tradition and romance, so far as our hero was concerned
with these mystical influences. Gallant, expansive, amusing,
more pleased himself with the effect he produced than those
(even when they were well pleased) for whom he produced it;
a master of all the distinctively social virtues and a votary
of all agreeable sensations; a devotee of something mysterious
and sacred to which he occasionally alluded in terms more ecstatic
even than those in which he spoke of the last pretty woman,
and which was simply the beautiful though somewhat superannuated
image of HONOR; he was irresistibly entertaining and enlivening,
and he formed a character to which Newman was as capable of
doing justice when he had once been placed in contact with it,
as he was unlikely, in musing upon the possible mixtures
of our human ingredients, mentally to have foreshadowed it.
Bellegarde did not in the least cause him to modify his
needful premise that all Frenchmen are of a frothy and
imponderable substance; he simply reminded him that light
materials may be beaten up into a most agreeable compound.
No two companions could be more different, but their differences
made a capital basis for a friendship of which the distinctive
characteristic was that it was extremely amusing to each.
Valentin de Bellegarde lived in the basement of an old house
in the Rue d'Anjou St. Honore, and his small apartments lay
between the court of the house and an old garden which spread
itself behind it--one of those large, sunless humid gardens
into which you look unexpectingly in Paris from back windows,
wondering how among the grudging habitations they find their space.
When Newman returned Bellegarde's visit, he hinted that HIS
lodging was at least as much a laughing matter as his own.
But its oddities were of a different cast from those of
our hero's gilded saloons on the Boulevard Haussmann:
the place was low, dusky, contracted, and crowded with curious
bric-a-brac. Bellegarde, penniless patrician as he was,
was an insatiable collector, and his walls were covered with
rusty arms and ancient panels and platters, his doorways draped
in faded tapestries, his floors muffled in the skins of beasts.
Here and there was one of those uncomfortable tributes to elegance
in which the upholsterer's art, in France, is so prolific;
a curtain recess with a sheet of looking-glass in which,
among the shadows, you could see nothing; a divan on which,
for its festoons and furbelows, you could not sit; a fireplace
draped, flounced, and frilled to the complete exclusion of fire.
The young man's possessions were in picturesque disorder,
and his apartment was pervaded by the odor of cigars,
mingled with perfumes more inscrutable. Newman thought it a damp,
gloomy place to live in, and was puzzled by the obstructive
and fragmentary character of the furniture.
Bellegarde, according to the custom of his country talked very
generously about himself, and unveiled the mysteries of his private
history with an unsparing hand. Inevitably, he had a vast deal
to say about women, and he used frequently to indulge in sentimental
and ironical apostrophes to these authors of his joys and woes.
"Oh, the women, the women, and the things they have made me do!"
he would exclaim with a lustrous eye. "C'est egal, of all the follies
and stupidities I have committed for them I would not have missed one!"
On this subject Newman maintained an habitual reserve; to expatiate
largely upon it had always seemed to him a proceeding vaguely
analogous to the cooing of pigeons and the chattering of monkeys,
and even inconsistent with a fully developed human character.
But Bellegarde's confidences greatly amused him, and rarely
displeased him, for the generous young Frenchman was not a cynic.
"I really think," he had once said, "that I am not more depraved
than most of my contemporaries. They are tolerably depraved,
my contemporaries!" He said wonderfully pretty things about
his female friends, and, numerous and various as they had been,
declared that on the whole there was more good in them than harm.
"But you are not to take that as advice," he added. "As an
authority I am very untrustworthy. I'm prejudiced in their favor;
I'm an IDEALIST!" Newman listened to him with his impartial smile,
and was glad, for his own sake, that he had fine feelings;
but he mentally repudiated the idea of a Frenchman having discovered
any merit in the amiable sex which he himself did not suspect.
M. de Bellegarde, however, did not confine his conversation
to the autobiographical channel; he questioned our hero largely
as to the events of his own life, and Newman told him some better
stories than any that Bellegarde carried in his budget. He narrated
his career, in fact, from the beginning, through all its variations,
and whenever his companion's credulity, or his habits of gentility,
appeared to protest, it amused him to heighten the color of the episode.
Newman had sat with Western humorists in knots, round cast-iron stoves,
and seen "tall" stories grow taller without toppling over, and his own
imagination had learned the trick of piling up consistent wonders.
Bellegarde's regular attitude at last became that of laughing self-defense;
to maintain his reputation as an all-knowing Frenchman, he doubted
of everything, wholesale. The result of this was that Newman found
it impossible to convince him of certain time-honored verities.
"But the details don't matter," said M. de Bellegarde.
"You have evidently had some surprising adventures; you have
seen some strange sides of life, you have revolved to and fro
over a whole continent as I walked up and down the Boulevard.
You are a man of the world with a vengeance! You have spent some deadly
dull hours, and you have done some extremely disagreeable things:
you have shoveled sand, as a boy, for supper, and you have
eaten roast dog in a gold-diggers' camp. You have stood
casting up figures for ten hours at a time, and you have sat
through Methodist sermons for the sake of looking at a pretty
girl in another pew. All that is rather stiff, as we say.
But at any rate you have done something and you are something;
you have used your will and you have made your fortune.
You have not stupified yourself with debauchery and you
have not mortgaged your fortune to social conveniences.
You take things easily, and you have fewer prejudices even than I,
who pretend to have none, but who in reality have three or four.
Happy man, you are strong and you are free. But what the deuce,"
demanded the young man in conclusion, "do you propose to do with
such advantages? Really to use them you need a better world than this.
There is nothing worth your while here."
"Oh, I think there is something," said Newman.
"What is it?"
"Well," murmured Newman, "I will tell you some other time!"
In this way our hero delayed from day to day broaching a subject
which he had very much at heart. Meanwhile, however, he was growing
practically familiar with it; in other words, he had called again,
three times, on Madame de Cintre. On only two of these occasions
had he found her at home, and on each of them she had other visitors.
Her visitors were numerous and extremely loquacious,
and they exacted much of their hostess's attention.
She found time, however, to bestow a little of it on Newman,
in an occasional vague smile, the very vagueness of which pleased him,
allowing him as it did to fill it out mentally, both at the time
and afterwards, with such meanings as most pleased him.
He sat by without speaking, looking at the entrances and exits,
the greetings and chatterings, of Madame de Cintre's visitors.
He felt as if he were at the play, and as if his own speaking
would be an interruption; sometimes he wished he had a book,
to follow the dialogue; he half expected to see a woman in a white
cap and pink ribbons come and offer him one for two francs.
Some of the ladies looked at him very hard--or very soft,
as you please; others seemed profoundly unconscious of his presence.
The men looked only at Madame de Cintre. This was inevitable;
for whether one called her beautiful or not she entirely occupied
and filled one's vision, just as an agreeable sound fills one's ear.
Newman had but twenty distinct words with her, but he carried
away an impression to which solemn promises could not have given
a higher value. She was part of the play that he was seeing acted,
quite as much as her companions; but how she filled the stage
and how much better she did it! Whether she rose or seated herself;
whether she went with her departing friends to the door and lifted
up the heavy curtain as they passed out, and stood an instant
looking after them and giving them the last nod; or whether she
leaned back in her chair with her arms crossed and her eyes resting,
listening and smiling; she gave Newman the feeling that he should
like to have her always before him, moving slowly to and fro along
the whole scale of expressive hospitality. If it might be TO him,
it would be well; if it might be FOR him, it would be still better!
She was so tall and yet so light, so active and yet so still,
so elegant and yet so simple, so frank and yet so mysterious!
It was the mystery--it was what she was off the stage, as it were--
that interested Newman most of all. He could not have told you
what warrant he had for talking about mysteries; if it had been
his habit to express himself in poetic figures he might have said
that in observing Madame de Cintre he seemed to see the vague circle
which sometimes accompanies the partly-filled disk of the moon.
It was not that she was reserved; on the contrary, she was as frank
as flowing water. But he was sure she had qualities which she
herself did not suspect.
He had abstained for several reasons from saying some of these things
to Bellegarde. One reason was that before proceeding to any act he was
always circumspect, conjectural, contemplative; he had little eagerness,
as became a man who felt that whenever he really began to move he walked
with long steps. And then, it simply pleased him not to speak--
it occupied him, it excited him. But one day Bellegarde had been dining
with him, at a restaurant, and they had sat long over their dinner.
On rising from it, Bellegarde proposed that, to help them through
the rest of the evening, they should go and see Madame Dandelard.
Madame Dandelard was a little Italian lady who had married a Frenchman
who proved to be a rake and a brute and the torment of her life.
Her husband had spent all her money, and then, lacking the means of obtaining
more expensive pleasures, had taken, in his duller hours, to beating her.
She had a blue spot somewhere, which she showed to several persons,
including Bellegarde. She had obtained a separation from her husband,
collected the scraps of her fortune (they were very meagre)
and come to live in Paris, where she was staying at a hotel garni.
She was always looking for an apartment, and visiting, inquiringly,
those of other people. She was very pretty, very childlike, and she
made very extraordinary remarks. Bellegarde had made her acquaintance,
and the source of his interest in her was, according to his own declaration,
a curiosity as to what would become of her. "She is poor, she is pretty,
and she is silly," he said, "it seems to me she can go only one way.
It's a pity, but it can't be helped. I will give her six months.
She has nothing to fear from me, but I am watching the process.
I am curious to see just how things will go. Yes, I know what you are
going to say: this horrible Paris hardens one's heart. But it quickens
one's wits, and it ends by teaching one a refinement of observation!
To see this little woman's little drama play itself out, now, is, for me,
an intellectual pleasure."
"If she is going to throw herself away," Newman had said,
"you ought to stop her."
"Stop her? How stop her?"
"Talk to her; give her some good advice."
Bellegarde laughed. "Heaven deliver us both! Imagine the situation!
Go and advise her yourself."
It was after this that Newman had gone with Bellegarde to see
Madame Dandelard. When they came away, Bellegarde reproached
his companion. "Where was your famous advice?" he asked.
"I didn't hear a word of it."
"Oh, I give it up," said Newman, simply.
"Then you are as bad as I!" said Bellegarde.
"No, because I don't take an 'intellectual pleasure'
in her prospective adventures. I don't in the least want
to see her going down hill. I had rather look the other way.
But why," he asked, in a moment, "don't you get your sister
to go and see her?"
Bellegarde stared. "Go and see Madame Dandelard--my sister?"
"She might talk to her to very good purpose."
Bellegarde shook his head with sudden gravity. "My sister can't
see that sort of person. Madame Dandelard is nothing at all;
they would never meet."
"I should think," said Newman, "that your sister might see whom she pleased."
And he privately resolved that after he knew her a little better he would
ask Madame de Cintre to go and talk to the foolish little Italian lady.
After his dinner with Bellegarde, on the occasion I have mentioned,
he demurred to his companion's proposal that they should go again
and listen to Madame Dandelard describe her sorrows and her bruises.
"I have something better in mind," he said; "come home with me
and finish the evening before my fire."
Bellegarde always welcomed the prospect of a long stretch of conversation,
and before long the two men sat watching the great blaze which scattered
its scintillations over the high adornments of Newman's ball-room.
"Tell me something about your sister," Newman began abruptly.
Bellegarde turned and gave him a quick look. "Now that I think of it,
you have never yet asked me a question about her."
"I know that very well."
"If it is because you don't trust me, you are very right," said Bellegarde.
"I can't talk of her rationally. I admire her too much."
"Talk of her as you can," rejoined Newman. "Let yourself go."
"Well, we are very good friends; we are such a brother and sister
as have not been seen since Orestes and Electra. You have seen her;
you know what she is: tall, thin, light, imposing, and gentle,
half a grande dame and half an angel; a mixture of pride and humility,
of the eagle and the dove. She looks like a statue which had failed
as stone, resigned itself to its grave defects, and come to life as flesh
and blood, to wear white capes and long trains. All I can say is that
she really possesses every merit that her face, her glance, her smile,
the tone of her voice, lead you to expect; it is saying a great deal.
As a general thing, when a woman seems very charming, I should say 'Beware!'
But in proportion as Claire seems charming you may fold your arms
and let yourself float with the current; you are safe. She is so good!
I have never seen a woman half so perfect or so complete. She has everything;
that is all I can say about her. There!" Bellegarde concluded;
"I told you I should rhapsodize."
Newman was silent a while, as if he were turning over his companion's words.
"She is very good, eh?" he repeated at last.
"Kind, charitable, gentle, generous?"
"Generosity itself; kindness double-distilled!"
"Is she clever?"
"She is the most intelligent woman I know. Try her, some day,
with something difficult, and you will see."
"Is she fond of admiration?"
"Parbleu!" cried Bellegarde; "what woman is not?"
"Ah, when they are too fond of admiration they commit all kinds
of follies to get it."
"I did not say she was too fond!" Bellegarde exclaimed.
"Heaven forbid I should say anything so idiotic. She is not too anything!
If I were to say she was ugly, I should not mean she was too ugly.
She is fond of pleasing, and if you are pleased she is grateful.
If you are not pleased, she lets it pass and thinks the worst neither
of you nor of herself. I imagine, though, she hopes the saints
in heaven are, for I am sure she is incapable of trying to please
by any means of which they would disapprove."
"Is she grave or gay?" asked Newman.
"She is both; not alternately, for she is always the same.
There is gravity in her gayety, and gayety in her gravity.
But there is no reason why she should be particularly gay."
"Is she unhappy?"
"I won't say that, for unhappiness is according as one takes things,
and Claire takes them according to some receipt communicated
to her by the Blessed Virgin in a vision. To be unhappy is
to be disagreeable, which, for her, is out of the question.
So she has arranged her circumstances so as to be happy in them."
"She is a philosopher," said Newman.
"No, she is simply a very nice woman."
"Her circumstances, at any rate, have been disagreeable?"
Bellegarde hesitated a moment--a thing he very rarely did.
"Oh, my dear fellow, if I go into the history of my family I
shall give you more than you bargain for."
"No, on the contrary, I bargain for that," said Newman.
"We shall have to appoint a special seance, then, beginning early.
Suffice it for the present that Claire has not slept on roses.
She made at eighteen a marriage that was expected to be brilliant,
but that turned out like a lamp that goes out; all smoke and bad smell.
M. de Cintre was sixty years old, and an odious old gentleman.
He lived, however, but a short time, and after his death his family
pounced upon his money, brought a lawsuit against his widow,
and pushed things very hard. Their case was a good one,
for M. de Cintre, who had been trustee for some of his relatives,
appeared to have been guilty of some very irregular practices.
In the course of the suit some revelations were made as to his
private history which my sister found so displeasing that she
ceased to defend herself and washed her hands of the property.
This required some pluck, for she was between two fires,
her husband's family opposing her and her own family forcing her.
My mother and my brother wished her to cleave to what they regarded
as her rights. But she resisted firmly, and at last bought
her freedom--obtained my mother's assent to dropping the suit
at the price of a promise."
"What was the promise?"
"To do anything else, for the next ten years, that was asked
of her--anything, that is, but marry."
"She had disliked her husband very much?"
"No one knows how much!"
"The marriage had been made in your horrible French way," Newman continued,
"made by the two families, without her having any voice?"
"It was a chapter for a novel. She saw M. de Cintre for the first time
a month before the wedding, after everything, to the minutest detail,
had been arranged. She turned white when she looked at him,
and white remained till her wedding-day. The evening before the
ceremony she swooned away, and she spent the whole night in sobs.
My mother sat holding her two hands, and my brother walked up
and down the room. I declared it was revolting and told my sister
publicly that if she would refuse, downright, I would stand by her.
I was told to go about my business, and she became Comtesse de Cintre."
"Your brother," said Newman, reflectively, "must be a very nice young man."
"He is very nice, though he is not young. He is upward of fifty,
fifteen years my senior. He has been a father to my sister and me.
He is a very remarkable man; he has the best manners in France.
He is extremely clever; indeed he is very learned. He is writing
a history of The Princesses of France Who Never Married."
This was said by Bellegarde with extreme gravity, looking straight
at Newman, and with an eye that betokened no mental reservation;
or that, at least, almost betokened none.
Newman perhaps discovered there what little there was, for he presently said,
"You don't love your brother."
"I beg your pardon," said Bellegarde, ceremoniously; "well-bred people
always love their brothers."
"Well, I don't love him, then!" Newman answered.
"Wait till you know him!" rejoined Bellegarde, and this time he smiled.
"Is your mother also very remarkable?" Newman asked, after a pause.
"For my mother," said Bellegarde, now with intense gravity,
"I have the highest admiration. She is a very extraordinary woman.
You cannot approach her without perceiving it."
"She is the daughter, I believe, of an English nobleman."
"Of the Earl of St. Dunstan's."
"Is the Earl of St. Dunstan's a very old family?"
"So-so; the sixteenth century. It is on my father's side that we
go back--back, back, back. The family antiquaries themselves
lose breath. At last they stop, panting and fanning themselves,
somewhere in the ninth century, under Charlemagne.
That is where we begin."
"There is no mistake about it?" said Newman.
"I'm sure I hope not. We have been mistaken at least for several centuries."
"And you have always married into old families?"
"As a rule; though in so long a stretch of time there have been
some exceptions. Three or four Bellegardes, in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, took wives out of the bourgoisie--
married lawyers' daughters."
"A lawyer's daughter; that's very bad, is it?" asked Newman.
"Horrible! one of us, in the middle ages, did better:
he married a beggar-maid, like King Cophetua. That was really better;
it was like marrying a bird or a monkey; one didn't have to think
about her family at all. Our women have always done well;
they have never even gone into the petite noblesse.
There is, I believe, not a case on record of a misalliance
among the women."
Newman turned this over for a while, and, then at last he said, "You offered,
the first time you came to see me to render me any service you could.
I told you that some time I would mention something you might do.
Do you remember?"
"Remember? I have been counting the hours."
"Very well; here's your chance. Do what you can to make your sister
think well of me."
Bellegarde stared, with a smile. "Why, I'm sure she thinks as well of you
as possible, already."
"An opinion founded on seeing me three or four times?
That is putting me off with very little. l want something more.
I have been thinking of it a good deal, and at last I have decided
to tell you. I should like very much to marry Madame de Cintre."
Bellegarde had been looking at him with quickened expectancy,
and with the smile with which he had greeted Newman's allusion
to his promised request. At this last announcement he continued
to gaze; but his smile went through two or three curious phases.
It felt, apparently, a momentary impulse to broaden;
but this it immediately checked. Then it remained for some
instants taking counsel with itself, at the end of which it
decreed a retreat. It slowly effaced itself and left a look
of seriousness modified by the desire not to be rude.
Extreme surprise had come into the Count Valentin's face;
but he had reflected that it would be uncivil to leave it there.
And yet, what the deuce was he to do with it? He got up,
in his agitation, and stood before the chimney-piece, still
looking at Newman. He was a longer time thinking what to say
than one would have expected.
"If you can't render me the service I ask," said Newman,
"say it out!"
"Let me hear it again, distinctly," said Bellegarde.
"It's very important, you know. I shall plead your cause
with my sister, because you want--you want to marry her?
That's it, eh?"
"Oh, I don't say plead my cause, exactly; I shall try and do that myself.
But say a good word for me, now and then--let her know that you think
well of me."
At this, Bellegarde gave a little light laugh.
"What I want chiefly, after all," Newman went on, "is just to let you
know what I have in mind. I suppose that is what you expect, isn't it?
I want to do what is customary over here. If there is any thing
particular to be done, let me know and I will do it. I wouldn't
for the world approach Madame de Cintre without all the proper forms.
If I ought to go and tell your mother, why I will go and tell her.
I will go and tell your brother, even. I will go and tell any one
you please. As I don't know any one else, I begin by telling you.
But that, if it is a social obligation, is a pleasure as well."
"Yes, I see--I see," said Bellegarde, lightly stroking his chin.
"You have a very right feeling about it, but I'm glad
you have begun with me." He paused, hesitated, and then
turned away and walked slowly the length of the room.
Newman got up and stood leaning against the mantel-shelf,
with his hands in his pockets, watching Bellegarde's promenade.
The young Frenchman came back and stopped in front of him.
"I give it up," he said; "I will not pretend I am not surprised.
I am--hugely! Ouf! It's a relief."
"That sort of news is always a surprise," said Newman.
"No matter what you have done, people are never prepared.
But if you are so surprised, I hope at least you are pleased."
"Come!" said Bellegarde. "I am going to be tremendously frank.
I don't know whether I am pleased or horrified."
"If you are pleased, I shall be glad," said Newman, "and I
shall be--encouraged. If you are horrified, I shall be sorry,
but I shall not be discouraged. You must make the best of it."
"That is quite right--that is your only possible attitude.
You are perfectly serious?"
"Am I a Frenchman, that I should not be?" asked Newman.
"But why is it, by the bye, that you should be horrified?"
Bellegarde raised his hand to the back of his head and rubbed his hair
quickly up and down, thrusting out the tip of his tongue as he did so.
"Why, you are not noble, for instance," he said.
"The devil I am not!" exclaimed Newman.
"Oh," said Bellegarde a little more seriously, "I did not know
you had a title."
"A title? What do you mean by a title?" asked Newman.
"A count, a duke, a marquis? I don't know anything about that,
I don't know who is and who is not. But I say I am noble.
I don't exactly know what you mean by it, but it's a fine word
and a fine idea; I put in a claim to it."
"But what have you to show, my dear fellow, what proofs?"
"Anything you please! But you don't suppose I am going to undertake
to prove that I am noble. It is for you to prove the contrary."
"That's easily done. You have manufactured wash-tubs."
Newman stared a moment. "Therefore I am not noble? I don't see it.
Tell me something I have NOT done--something I cannot do."
"You cannot marry a woman like Madame de Cintre for the asking."
"I believe you mean," said Newman slowly, "that I am not good enough."
Bellegarde had hesitated a moment, and while he hesitated
Newman's attentive glance had grown somewhat eager.
In answer to these last words he for a moment said nothing.
He simply blushed a little. Then he raised his eyes to the ceiling
and stood looking at one of the rosy cherubs that was painted upon it.
"Of course I don't expect to marry any woman for the asking,"
he said at last; "I expect first to make myself acceptable to her.
She must like me, to begin with. But that I am not good enough
to make a trial is rather a surprise."
Bellegarde wore a look of mingled perplexity, sympathy, and amusement.
"You should not hesitate, then, to go up to-morrow and ask a duchess
to marry you?"
"Not if I thought she would suit me. But I am very fastidious;
she might not at all."
Bellegarde's amusement began to prevail. "And you should be surprised
if she refused you?"
Newman hesitated a moment. "It sounds conceited to say yes,
but nevertheless I think I should. For I should make
a very handsome offer."
"What would it be?"
"Everything she wishes. If I get hold of a woman that comes
up to my standard, I shall think nothing too good for her.
I have been a long time looking, and I find such women are rare.
To combine the qualities I require seems to be difficult,
but when the difficulty is vanquished it deserves a reward.
My wife shall have a good position, and I'm not afraid to say
that I shall be a good husband."
"And these qualities that you require--what are they?"
"Goodness, beauty, intelligence, a fine education, personal elegance--
everything, in a word, that makes a splendid woman."
"And noble birth, evidently," said Bellegarde.
"Oh, throw that in, by all means, if it's there.
The more the better!"
"And my sister seems to you to have all these things?"
"She is exactly what I have been looking for. She is my dream realized."
"And you would make her a very good husband?"
"That is what I wanted you to tell her."
Bellegarde laid his hand on his companion's arm a moment, looked at him
with his head on one side, from head to foot, and then, with a loud laugh,
and shaking the other hand in the air, turned away. He walked again
the length of the room, and again he came back and stationed himself
in front of Newman. "All this is very interesting--it is very curious.
In what I said just now I was speaking, not for myself, but for my tradition,
my superstitions. For myself, really, your proposal tickles me.
It startled me at first, but the more I think of it the more I see in it.
It's no use attempting to explain anything; you won't understand me.
After all, I don't see why you need; it's no great loss."
"Oh, if there is anything more to explain, try it! I want to proceed
with my eyes open. I will do my best to understand."
"No," said Bellegarde, "it's disagreeable to me; I give it up.
I liked you the first time I saw you, and I will abide by that.
It would be quite odious for me to come talking to you as if I could
patronize you. I have told you before that I envy you; vous m'imposez,
as we say. I didn't know you much until within five minutes.
So we will let things go, and I will say nothing to you that,
if our positions were reversed, you would not say to me."
I do not know whether in renouncing the mysterious opportunity to which
he alluded, Bellegarde felt that he was doing something very generous.
If so, he was not rewarded; his generosity was not appreciated.
Newman quite failed to recognize the young Frenchman's power to wound
his feelings, and he had now no sense of escaping or coming off easily.
He did not thank his companion even with a glance. "My eyes
are open, though," he said, "so far as that you have practically told
me that your family and your friends will turn up their noses at me.
I have never thought much about the reasons that make it proper for
people to turn up their noses, and so I can only decide the question
off-hand. Looking at it in that way I can't see anything in it.
I simply think, if you want to know, that I'm as good as the best.
Who the best are, I don't pretend to say. I have never thought much
about that either. To tell the truth, I have always had rather
a good opinion of myself; a man who is successful can't help it.
But I will admit that I was conceited. What I don't say yes to is that I
don't stand high--as high as any one else. This is a line of speculation
I should not have chosen, but you must remember you began it yourself.
I should never have dreamed that I was on the defensive, or that I
had to justify myself; but if your people will have it so, I will
do my best."
"But you offered, a while ago, to make your court as we say,
to my mother and my brother."
"Damn it!" cried Newman, "I want to be polite."
"Good!" rejoined Bellegarde; "this will go far, it will be very entertaining.
Excuse my speaking of it in that cold-blooded fashion, but the matter must,
of necessity, be for me something of a spectacle. It's positively exciting.
But apart from that I sympathize with you, and I shall be actor,
so far as I can, as well as spectator. You are a capital fellow;
I believe in you and I back you. The simple fact that you appreciate
my sister will serve as the proof I was asking for. All men are equal--
especially men of taste!"
"Do you think," asked Newman presently, "that Madame de Cintre
is determined not to marry?"
"That is my impression. But that is not against you;
it's for you to make her change her mind."
"I am afraid it will be hard," said Newman, gravely.
"I don't think it will be easy. In a general way I don't see why a widow
should ever marry again. She has gained the benefits of matrimony--
freedom and consideration--and she has got rid of the drawbacks.
Why should she put her head into the noose again? Her usual motive
is ambition: if a man can offer her a great position, make her a princess
or an ambassadress she may think the compensation sufficient."
"And--in that way--is Madame de Cintre ambitious?"
"Who knows?" said Bellegarde, with a profound shrug.
"I don't pretend to say all that she is or all that she is not.
I think she might be touched by the prospect of becoming
the wife of a great man. But in a certain way, I believe,
whatever she does will be the IMPROBABLE. Don't be too confident,
but don't absolutely doubt. Your best chance for success will be
precisely in being, to her mind, unusual, unexpected, original.
Don't try to be any one else; be simply yourself, out and out.
Something or other can't fail to come of it; I am very curious
to see what."
"I am much obliged to you for your advice," said Newman.
"And," he added with a smile, "I am glad, for your sake,
I am going to be so amusing."
"It will be more than amusing," said Bellegarde;
"it will be inspiring. I look at it from my point of view,
and you from yours. After all, anything for a change!
And only yesterday I was yawning so as to dislocate my jaw,
and declaring that there was nothing new under the sun!
If it isn't new to see you come into the family as a suitor,
I am very much mistaken. Let me say that, my dear fellow;
I won't call it anything else, bad or good; I will simply call it NEW"
And overcome with a sense of the novelty thus foreshadowed,
Valentin de Bellegarde threw himself into a deep arm-chair before
the fire, and, with a fixed, intense smile, seemed to read a vision
of it in the flame of the logs. After a while he looked up.
"Go ahead, my boy; you have my good wishes," he said.
"But it is really a pity you don't understand me, that you
don't know just what I am doing."
"Oh," said Newman, laughing, "don't do anything wrong.
Leave me to myself, rather, or defy me, out and out.
I wouldn't lay any load on your conscience."
Bellegarde sprang up again; he was evidently excited;
there was a warmer spark even than usual in his eye.
"You never will understand--you never will know," he said;
"and if you succeed, and I turn out to have helped you,
you will never be grateful, not as I shall deserve you should be.
You will be an excellent fellow always, but you will not be grateful.
But it doesn't matter, for I shall get my own fun out of it."
And he broke into an extravagant laugh. "You look puzzled,"
he added; "you look almost frightened."
"It IS a pity," said Newman, "that I don't understand you.
I shall lose some very good jokes."
"I told you, you remember, that we were very strange people,"
Bellegarde went on. "I give you warning again. We are!
My mother is strange, my brother is strange, and I verily
believe that I am stranger than either. You will even find
my sister a little strange. Old trees have crooked branches,
old houses have queer cracks, old races have odd secrets.
Remember that we are eight hundred years old!"
"Very good," said Newman; "that's the sort of thing I came to Europe for.
You come into my programme."
"Touchez-la, then," said Bellegarde, putting out his hand.
"It's a bargain: I accept you; I espouse your cause. It's because I
like you, in a great measure; but that is not the only reason!"
And he stood holding Newman's hand and looking at him askance.
"What is the other one?"
"I am in the Opposition. I dislike some one else."
"Your brother?" asked Newman, in his unmodulated voice.
Bellegarde laid his fingers upon his lips with a whispered HUSH!
"Old races have strange secrets!" he said. "Put yourself into motion,
come and see my sister, and be assured of my sympathy!"
And on this he took his leave.
Newman dropped into a chair before his fire, and sat a long time
staring into the blaze.
He went to see Madame de Cintre the next day, and was informed
by the servant that she was at home. He passed as usual up
the large, cold staircase and through a spacious vestibule above,
where the walls seemed all composed of small door panels,
touched with long-faded gilding; whence he was ushered into
the sitting-room in which he had already been received.
It was empty, and the servant told him that Madame la Comtesse
would presently appear. He had time, while he waited, to wonder
whether Bellegarde had seen his sister since the evening before,
and whether in this case he had spoken to her of their talk.
In this case Madame de Cintre's receiving him was an encouragement.
He felt a certain trepidation as he reflected that she might come
in with the knowledge of his supreme admiration and of the project
he had built upon it in her eyes; but the feeling was not disagreeable.
Her face could wear no look that would make it less beautiful,
and he was sure beforehand that however she might take the proposal
he had in reserve, she would not take it in scorn or in irony.
He had a feeling that if she could only read the bottom of his
heart and measure the extent of his good will toward her,
she would be entirely kind.
She came in at last, after so long an interval that he wondered whether
she had been hesitating. She smiled with her usual frankness, and held
out her hand; she looked at him straight with her soft and luminous eyes,
and said, without a tremor in her voice, that she was glad to see him
and that she hoped he was well. He found in her what he had found before--
that faint perfume of a personal shyness worn away by contact with the world,
but the more perceptible the more closely you approached her. This lingering
diffidence seemed to give a peculiar value to what was definite and assured
in her manner; it made it seem like an accomplishment, a beautiful talent,
something that one might compare to an exquisite touch in a pianist.
It was, in fact, Madame de Cintre's "authority," as they say of artists,
that especially impressed and fascinated Newman; he always came back
to the feeling that when he should complete himself by taking a wife,
that was the way he should like his wife to interpret him to the world.
The only trouble, indeed, was that when the instrument was so perfect it
seemed to interpose too much between you and the genius that used it.
Madame de Cintre gave Newman the sense of an elaborate education,
of her having passed through mysterious ceremonies and processes of culture
in her youth, of her having been fashioned and made flexible to certain
exalted social needs. All this, as I have affirmed, made her seem
rare and precious--a very expensive article, as he would have said,
and one which a man with an ambition to have everything about him
of the best would find it highly agreeable to possess. But looking
at the matter with an eye to private felicity, Newman wondered where,
in so exquisite a compound, nature and art showed their dividing line.
Where did the special intention separate from the habit of good manners?
Where did urbanity end and sincerity begin? Newman asked himself
these questions even while he stood ready to accept the admired object
in all its complexity; he felt that he could do so in profound security,
and examine its mechanism afterwards, at leisure.
"I am very glad to find you alone," he said. "You know I
have never had such good luck before."
"But you have seemed before very well contented with your luck,"
said Madame de Cintre. "You have sat and watched my visitors
with an air of quiet amusement. What have you thought of them?"
"Oh, I have thought the ladies were very elegant and very graceful,
and wonderfully quick at repartee. But what I have chiefly
thought has been that they only helped me to admire you."
This was not gallantry on Newman's part--an art in which he was
quite unversed. It was simply the instinct of the practical man,
who had made up his mind what he wanted, and was now beginning
to take active steps to obtain it.
Madame de Cintre started slightly, and raised her eyebrows; she had
evidently not expected so fervid a compliment. "Oh, in that case,"
she said with a laugh, "your finding me alone is not good luck for me.
I hope some one will come in quickly."
"I hope not," said Newman. "I have something particular to say to you.
Have you seen your brother?"
"Yes, I saw him an hour ago."
"Did he tell you that he had seen me last night?"
"He said so."
"And did he tell you what we had talked about?"
Madame de Cintre hesitated a moment. As Newman asked
these questions she had grown a little pale, as if she
regarded what was coming as necessary, but not as agreeable.
"Did you give him a message to me?" she asked.
"It was not exactly a message--I asked him to render me a service."
"The service was to sing your praises, was it not?"
And she accompanied this question with a little smile,
as if to make it easier to herself.
"Yes, that is what it really amounts to," said Newman.
"Did he sing my praises?"
"He spoke very well of you. But when I know that it was
by your special request, of course I must take his eulogy
with a grain of salt."
"Oh, that makes no difference," said Newman. "Your brother would
not have spoken well of me unless he believed what he was saying.
He is too honest for that."
"Are you very deep?" said Madame de Cintre. "Are you trying to please
me by praising my brother? I confess it is a good way."
"For me, any way that succeeds will be good. I will praise your
brother all day, if that will help me. He is a noble little fellow.
He has made me feel, in promising to do what he can to help me,
that I can depend upon him."
"Don't make too much of that," said Madame de Cintre.
"He can help you very little."
"Of course I must work my way myself. I know that very well;
I only want a chance to. In consenting to see me, after what
he told you, you almost seem to be giving me a chance."
"I am seeing you," said Madame de Cintre, slowly and gravely,
"because I promised my brother I would."
"Blessings on your brother's head!" cried Newman. "What I told him
last evening was this: that I admired you more than any woman I had
ever seen, and that I should like immensely to make you my wife."
He uttered these words with great directness and firmness,
and without any sense of confusion. He was full of his idea,
he had completely mastered it, and he seemed to look down on Madame
de Cintre, with all her gathered elegance, from the height of his
bracing good conscience. It is probable that this particular
tone and manner were the very best he could have hit upon.
Yet the light, just visibly forced smile with which his companion
had listened to him died away, and she sat looking at him
with her lips parted and her face as solemn as a tragic mask.
There was evidently something very painful to her in the scene
to which he was subjecting her, and yet her impatience of it found
no angry voice. Newman wondered whether he was hurting her;
he could not imagine why the liberal devotion he meant to express
should be disagreeable. He got up and stood before her,
leaning one hand on the chimney-piece. "I know I have seen you
very little to say this," he said, "so little that it may make
what I say seem disrespectful. That is my misfortune! I could have
said it the first time I saw you. Really, I had seen you before;
I had seen you in imagination; you seemed almost an old friend.
So what I say is not mere gallantry and compliments and nonsense--
I can't talk that way, I don't know how, and I wouldn't, to you,
if I could. It's as serious as such words can be. I feel as if I
knew you and knew what a beautiful, admirable woman you are.
I shall know better, perhaps, some day, but I have a general notion now.
You are just the woman I have been looking for, except that you
are far more perfect. I won't make any protestations and vows,
but you can trust me. It is very soon, I know, to say all this;
it is almost offensive. But why not gain time if one can?
And if you want time to reflect--of course you do--the sooner
you begin, the better for me. I don't know what you think of me;
but there is no great mystery about me; you see what I am.
Your brother told me that my antecedents and occupations were against me;
that your family stands, somehow, on a higher level than I do.
That is an idea which of course I don't understand and don't accept.
But you don't care anything about that. I can assure you
that I am a very solid fellow, and that if I give my mind
to it I can arrange things so that in a very few years I shall
not need to waste time in explaining who I am and what I am.
You will decide for yourself whether you like me or not.
What there is you see before you. I honestly believe I have
no hidden vices or nasty tricks. I am kind, kind, kind!
Everything that a man can give a woman I will give you.
I have a large fortune, a very large fortune; some day, if you
will allow me, I will go into details. If you want brilliancy,
everything in the way of brilliancy that money can give you,
you shall have. And as regards anything you may give up,
don't take for granted too much that its place cannot be filled.
Leave that to me; I'll take care of you; I shall know what you need.
Energy and ingenuity can arrange everything. I'm a strong man!
There, I have said what I had on my heart! It was better
to get it off. I am very sorry if it's disagreeable to you;
but think how much better it is that things should be clear.
Don't answer me now, if you don't wish it. Think about it,
think about it as slowly as you please. Of course I haven't said,
I can't say, half I mean, especially about my admiration for you.
But take a favorable view of me; it will only be just."
During this speech, the longest that Newman had ever made,
Madame de Cintre kept her gaze fixed upon him, and it
expanded at the last into a sort of fascinated stare.
When he ceased speaking she lowered her eyes and sat
for some moments looking down and straight before her.
Then she slowly rose to her feet, and a pair of exceptionally
keen eyes would have perceived that she was trembling a little
in the movement. She still looked extremely serious.
"I am very much obliged to you for your offer," she said.
"It seems very strange, but I am glad you spoke without waiting
any longer. It is better the subject should be dismissed.
I appreciate all you say; you do me great honor.
But I have decided not to marry."
"Oh, don't say that!" cried Newman, in a tone absolutely naif
from its pleading and caressing cadence. She had turned away,
and it made her stop a moment with her back to him.
"Think better of that. You are too young, too beautiful, too much
made to be happy and to make others happy. If you are afraid
of losing your freedom, I can assure you that this freedom here,
this life you now lead, is a dreary bondage to what I will offer you.
You shall do things that I don't think you have ever thought of.
I will take you anywhere in the wide world that you propose.
Are you unhappy? You give me a feeling that you are unhappy.
You have no right to be, or to be made so. Let me come in and put
an end to it."
Madame de Cintre stood there a moment longer, looking away from him.
If she was touched by the way he spoke, the thing was conceivable.
His voice, always very mild and interrogative, gradually became as soft and
as tenderly argumentative as if he had been talking to a much-loved child.
He stood watching her, and she presently turned round again, but this
time she did not look at him, and she spoke in a quietness in which there
was a visible trace of effort.
"There are a great many reasons why I should not marry," she said,
"more than I can explain to you. As for my happiness, I am very happy.
Your offer seems strange to me, for more reasons also than I can say.
Of course you have a perfect right to make it. But I cannot accept it--
it is impossible. Please never speak of this matter again.
If you cannot promise me this, I must ask you not to come back."
"Why is it impossible?" Newman demanded. "You may think it is,
at first, without its really being so. I didn't expect you to be pleased
at first, but I do believe that if you will think of it a good while,
you may be satisfied."
"I don't know you," said Madame de Cintre. "Think how little
I know you."
"Very little, of course, and therefore I don't ask for your ultimatum
on the spot. I only ask you not to say no, and to let me hope.
I will wait as long as you desire. Meanwhile you can see more of me
and know me better, look at me as a possible husband--as a candidate--
and make up your mind."
Something was going on, rapidly, in Madame de Cintre's thoughts;
she was weighing a question there, beneath Newman's eyes, weighing it
and deciding it. "From the moment I don't very respectfully beg you
to leave the house and never return," she said, "I listen to you,
I seem to give you hope. I HAVE listened to you--against my judgment.
It is because you are eloquent. If I had been told this morning that I
should consent to consider you as a possible husband, I should have
thought my informant a little crazy. I AM listening to you, you see!"
And she threw her hands out for a moment and let them drop with a gesture
in which there was just the slightest expression of appealing weakness.
"Well, as far as saying goes, I have said everything," said Newman.
"I believe in you, without restriction, and I think all the good
of you that it is possible to think of a human creature.
I firmly believe that in marrying me you will be SAFE.
As I said just now," he went on with a smile, "I have no bad ways.
I can DO so much for you. And if you are afraid that I am
not what you have been accustomed to, not refined and delicate
and punctilious, you may easily carry that too far. I AM delicate!
You shall see!"
Madame de Cintre walked some distance away, and paused before a great plant,
an azalea, which was flourishing in a porcelain tub before her window.
She plucked off one of the flowers and, twisting it in her fingers,
retraced her steps. Then she sat down in silence, and her attitude seemed
to be a consent that Newman should say more.
"Why should you say it is impossible you should marry?" he continued.
"The only thing that could make it really impossible would be your being
already married. Is it because you have been unhappy in marriage?
That is all the more reason! Is it because your family exert a pressure
upon you, interfere with you, annoy you? That is still another reason;
you ought to be perfectly free, and marriage will make you so.
I don't say anything against your family--understand that!" added Newman,
with an eagerness which might have made a perspicacious observer smile.
"Whatever way you feel toward them is the right way, and anything that you
should wish me to do to make myself agreeable to them I will do as well
as I know how. Depend upon that!"
Madame de Cintre rose again and came toward the fireplace, near which
Newman was standing. The expression of pain and embarrassment had
passed out of her face, and it was illuminated with something which,
this time at least, Newman need not have been perplexed whether
to attribute to habit or to intention, to art or to nature.
She had the air of a woman who has stepped across the frontier
of friendship and, looking around her, finds the region vast.
A certain checked and controlled exaltation seemed mingled with the usual
level radiance of her glance. "I will not refuse to see you again,"
she said, "because much of what you have said has given me pleasure.
But I will see you only on this condition: that you say nothing
more in the same way for a long time."
"For how long?"
"For six months. It must be a solemn promise."
"Very well, I promise."
"Good-by, then," she said, and extended her hand.
He held it a moment, as if he were going to say something more.
But he only looked at her; then he took his departure.
That evening, on the Boulevard, he met Valentin de Bellegarde.
After they had exchanged greetings, Newman told him that he had seen
Madame de Cintre a few hours before.
"I know it," said Bellegarde. "I dined in the Rue de l'Universite."
And then, for some moments, both men were silent.
Newman wished to ask Bellegarde what visible impression his visit
had made and the Count Valentin had a question of his own.
Bellegarde spoke first.
"It's none of my business, but what the deuce did you say to my sister?"
"I am willing to tell you," said Newman, "that I made her
an offer of marriage."
"Already!" And the young man gave a whistle. "'Time is money!'
Is that what you say in America? And Madame de Cintre?" he added,
with an interrogative inflection.
"She did not accept my offer."
"She couldn't, you know, in that way."
"But I'm to see her again," said Newman.
"Oh, the strangeness of woman!" exclaimed Bellegarde. Then he stopped,
and held Newman off at arms'-length. "I look at you with respect!"
he exclaimed. "You have achieved what we call a personal success!
Immediately, now, I must present you to my brother."
"Whenever you please!" said Newman.
Newman continued to see his friends the Tristrams with a good deal
of frequency, though if you had listened to Mrs. Tristram's account
of the matter you would have supposed that they had been cynically
repudiated for the sake of grander acquaintance. "We were all
very well so long as we had no rivals--we were better than nothing.
But now that you have become the fashion, and have your pick every
day of three invitations to dinner, we are tossed into the corner.
I am sure it is very good of you to come and see us once a month;
I wonder you don't send us your cards in an envelope. When you do, pray have
them with black edges; it will be for the death of my last illusion."
It was in this incisive strain that Mrs. Tristram moralized over Newman's
so-called neglect, which was in reality a most exemplary constancy.
Of course she was joking, but there was always something ironical
in her jokes, as there was always something jocular in her gravity.
"I know no better proof that I have treated you very well,"
Newman had said, "than the fact that you make so free with my character.
Familiarity breeds contempt; I have made myself too cheap.
If I had a little proper pride I would stay away a while,
and when you asked me to dinner say I was going to the Princess
Borealska's. But I have not any pride where my pleasure is concerned,
and to keep you in the humor to see me--if you must see me
only to call me bad names--I will agree to anything you choose;
I will admit that I am the biggest snob in Paris." Newman, in fact,
had declined an invitation personally given by the Princess Borealska,
an inquiring Polish lady to whom he had been presented, on the ground
that on that particular day he always dined at Mrs. Tristram's;
and it was only a tenderly perverse theory of his hostess of
the Avenue d'Iena that he was faithless to his early friendships.
She needed the theory to explain a certain moral irritation
by which she was often visited; though, if this explanation
was unsound, a deeper analyst than I must give the right one.
Having launched our hero upon the current which was bearing him
so rapidly along, she appeared but half-pleased at its swiftness.
She had succeeded too well; she had played her game too cleverly
and she wished to mix up the cards. Newman had told her,
in due season, that her friend was "satisfactory."
The epithet was not romantic, but Mrs. Tristram had no difficulty in
perceiving that, in essentials, the feeling which lay beneath it was.
Indeed, the mild, expansive brevity with which it was uttered,
and a certain look, at once appealing and inscrutable, that issued
from Newman's half-closed eyes as he leaned his head against
the back of his chair, seemed to her the most eloquent attestation
of a mature sentiment that she had ever encountered. Newman was,
according to the French phrase, only abounding in her own sense,
but his temperate raptures exerted a singular effect upon the ardor
which she herself had so freely manifested a few months before.
She now seemed inclined to take a purely critical view of Madame
de Cintre, and wished to have it understood that she did not in
the least answer for her being a compendium of all the virtues.
"No woman was ever so good as that woman seems," she said.
"Remember what Shakespeare calls Desdemona; 'a supersubtle Venetian.'
Madame de Cintre is a supersubtle Parisian. She is a charming woman,
and she has five hundred merits; but you had better keep that in mind."
Was Mrs. Tristram simply finding out that she was jealous of her
dear friend on the other side of the Seine, and that in undertaking
to provide Newman with an ideal wife she had counted too much
on her own disinterestedness? We may be permitted to doubt it.
The inconsistent little lady of the Avenue d'Iena had an
insuperable need of changing her place, intellectually.
She had a lively imagination, and she was capable, at certain times,
of imagining the direct reverse of her most cherished beliefs,
with a vividness more intense than that of conviction.
She got tired of thinking aright; but there was no serious harm in it,
as she got equally tired of thinking wrong. In the midst of her
mysterious perversities she had admirable flashes of justice.
One of these occurred when Newman related to her that he had made
a formal proposal to Madame de Cintre. He repeated in a few words
what he had said, and in a great many what she had answered.
Mrs. Tristram listened with extreme interest.
"But after all," said Newman, "there is nothing to congratulate me upon.
It is not a triumph."
"I beg your pardon," said Mrs. Tristram; "it is a great triumph.
It is a great triumph that she did not silence you at the first word,
and request you never to speak to her again."
"I don't see that," observed Newman.
"Of course you don't; Heaven forbid you should!
When I told you to go on your own way and do what came into
your head, I had no idea you would go over the ground so fast.
I never dreamed you would offer yourself after five or six
morning-calls. As yet, what had you done to make her like you?
You had simply sat--not very straight--and stared at her.
But she does like you."
"That remains to be seen."
"No, that is proved. What will come of it remains to be seen.
That you should propose to marry her, without more ado, could never
have come into her head. You can form very little idea of what passed
through her mind as you spoke; if she ever really marries you,
the affair will be characterized by the usual justice of all human
beings towards women. You will think you take generous views of her;
but you will never begin to know through what a strange sea of feeling
she passed before she accepted you. As she stood there in front
of you the other day, she plunged into it. She said 'Why not?'
to something which, a few hours earlier, had been inconceivable.
She turned about on a thousand gathered prejudices and traditions
as on a pivot, and looked where she had never looked hitherto.
When I think of it--when I think of Claire de Cintre and all
that she represents, there seems to me something very fine in it.
When I recommended you to try your fortune with her I of course
thought well of you, and in spite of your sins I think so still.
But I confess I don't see quite what you are and what you have done,
to make such a woman do this sort of thing for you."
"Oh, there is something very fine in it!" said Newman
with a laugh, repeating her words. He took an extreme
satisfaction in hearing that there was something fine in it.
He had not the least doubt of it himself, but he had already
begun to value the world's admiration of Madame de Cintre,
as adding to the prospective glory of possession.
It was immediately after this conversation that Valentin de
Bellegarde came to conduct his friend to the Rue de l'Universite
to present him to the other members of his family. "You are
already introduced," he said, "and you have begun to be talked about.
My sister has mentioned your successive visits to my mother,
and it was an accident that my mother was present at none of them.
I have spoken of you as an American of immense wealth, and the best
fellow in the world, who is looking for something very superior
in the way of a wife."
"Do you suppose," asked Newman, "that Madame de Cintre has related
to your mother the last conversation I had with her?"
"I am very certain that she has not; she will keep her own counsel.
Meanwhile you must make your way with the rest of the family.
Thus much is known about you: you have made a great fortune in trade,
you are a little eccentric, and you frankly admire our dear Claire.
My sister-in-law, whom you remember seeing in Madame de Cintre's
sitting-room, took, it appears, a fancy to you; she has described
you as having beaucoup de cachet. My mother, therefore, is curious
to see you."
"She expects to laugh at me, eh?" said Newman.
"She never laughs. If she does not like you, don't hope to purchase
favor by being amusing. Take warning by me!"
This conversation took place in the evening, and half an hour later
Valentin ushered his companion into an apartment of the house
of the Rue de l'Universite into which he had not yet penetrated,
the salon of the dowager Marquise de Bellegarde. It was a vast,
high room, with elaborate and ponderous mouldings, painted a
whitish gray, along the upper portion of the walls and the ceiling;
with a great deal of faded and carefully repaired tapestry
in the doorways and chair-backs; a Turkey carpet in light colors,
still soft and deep, in spite of great antiquity, on the floor,
and portraits of each of Madame de Bellegarde's children,
at the age of ten, suspended against an old screen of red silk.
The room was illumined, exactly enough for conversation, by half
a dozen candles, placed in odd corners, at a great distance apart.
In a deep armchair, near the fire, sat an old lady in black;
at the other end of the room another person was seated at the piano,
playing a very expressive waltz. In this latter person Newman
recognized the young Marquise de Bellegarde.
Valentin presented his friend, and Newman walked up
to the old lady by the fire and shook hands with her.
He received a rapid impression of a white, delicate, aged face,
with a high forehead, a small mouth, and a pair of cold
blue eyes which had kept much of the freshness of youth.
Madame de Bellegarde looked hard at him, and returned his
hand-shake with a sort of British positiveness which reminded
him that she was the daughter of the Earl of St. Dunstan's. Her
daughter-in-law stopped playing and gave him an agreeable smile.
Newman sat down and looked about him, while Valentin went
and kissed the hand of the young marquise.
"I ought to have seen you before," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"You have paid several visits to my daughter."
"Oh, yes," said Newman, smiling; "Madame de Cintre and I are old
friends by this time."
"You have gone fast," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"Not so fast as I should like," said Newman, bravely.
"Oh, you are very ambitious," answered the old lady.
"Yes, I confess I am," said Newman, smiling.
Madame de Bellegarde looked at him with her cold fine eyes,
and he returned her gaze, reflecting that she was
a possible adversary and trying to take her measure.
Their eyes remained in contact for some moments.
Then Madame de Bellegarde looked away, and without smiling,
"I am very ambitious, too," she said.
Newman felt that taking her measure was not easy; she was a formidable,
inscrutable little woman. She resembled her daughter, and yet she
was utterly unlike her. The coloring in Madame de Cintre was the same,
and the high delicacy of her brow and nose was hereditary.
But her face was a larger and freer copy, and her mouth
in especial a happy divergence from that conservative orifice,
a little pair of lips at once plump and pinched, that looked,
when closed, as if they could not open wider than to swallow
a gooseberry or to emit an "Oh, dear, no!" which probably had been
thought to give the finishing touch to the aristocratic prettiness
of the Lady Emmeline Atheling as represented, forty years before,
in several Books of Beauty. Madame de Cintre's face had,
to Newman's eye, a range of expression as delightfully vast as
the wind-streaked, cloud-flecked distance on a Western prairie.
But her mother's white, intense, respectable countenance, with its
formal gaze, and its circumscribed smile, suggested a document
signed and sealed; a thing of parchment, ink, and ruled lines.
"She is a woman of conventions and proprieties," he said to himself
as he looked at her; "her world is the world of things immutably decreed.
But how she is at home in it, and what a paradise she finds it.
She walks about in it as if it were a blooming park, a Garden of Eden;
and when she sees 'This is genteel,' or 'This is improper,'
written on a mile-stone she stops ecstatically, as if she
were listening to a nightingale or smelling a rose." Madame de
Bellegarde wore a little black velvet hood tied under her chin,
and she was wrapped in an old black cashmere shawl.
"You are an American?" she said presently. "I have seen several Americans."
"There are several in Paris," said Newman jocosely.
"Oh, really?" said Madame de Bellegarde. "It was in England I saw these,
or somewhere else; not in Paris. I think it must have been in
the Pyrenees, many years ago. I am told your ladies are very pretty.
One of these ladies was very pretty! such a wonderful complexion!
She presented me a note of introduction from some one--I forgot whom--
and she sent with it a note of her own. I kept her letter a long
time afterwards, it was so strangely expressed. I used to know
some of the phrases by heart. But I have forgotten them now,
it is so many years ago. Since then I have seen no more Americans.
I think my daughter-in-law has; she is a great gad-about, she
sees every one."
At this the younger lady came rustling forward, pinching in a
very slender waist, and casting idly preoccupied glances over
the front of her dress, which was apparently designed for a ball.
She was, in a singular way, at once ugly and pretty;
she had protuberant eyes, and lips strangely red.
She reminded Newman of his friend, Mademoiselle Nioche; this was
what that much-obstructed young lady would have liked to be.
Valentin de Bellegarde walked behind her at a distance,
hopping about to keep off the far-spreading train of her dress.
"You ought to show more of your shoulders behind," he said very gravely.
"You might as well wear a standing ruff as such a dress as that."
The young woman turned her back to the mirror over the chimney-piece,
and glanced behind her, to verify Valentin's assertion.
The mirror descended low, and yet it reflected nothing but a
large unclad flesh surface. The young marquise put her hands
behind her and gave a downward pull to the waist of her dress.
"Like that, you mean?" she asked.
"That is a little better," said Bellegarde in the same tone,
"but it leaves a good deal to be desired."
"Oh, I never go to extremes," said his sister-in-law. And then,
turning to Madame de Bellegarde, "What were you calling me
just now, madame?"
"I called you a gad-about," said the old lady. "But I might call
you something else, too."
"A gad-about? What an ugly word! What does it mean?"
"A very beautiful person," Newman ventured to say, seeing that it
was in French.
"That is a pretty compliment but a bad translation," said the young marquise.
And then, looking at him a moment, "Do you dance?"
"Not a step."
"You are very wrong," she said, simply. And with another look
at her back in the mirror she turned away.
"Do you like Paris?" asked the old lady, who was apparently wondering
what was the proper way to talk to an American.
"Yes, rather," said Newman. And then he added with a
friendly intonation, "Don't you?"
"I can't say I know it. I know my house--I know my friends--
I don't know Paris."
"Oh, you lose a great deal," said Newman, sympathetically.
Madame de Bellegarde stared; it was presumably the first time
she had been condoled with on her losses.
"I am content with what I have," she said with dignity.
Newman's eyes, at this moment, were wandering round the room,
which struck him as rather sad and shabby; passing from the high casements,
with their small, thickly-framed panes, to the sallow tints of two or
three portraits in pastel, of the last century, which hung between them.
He ought, obviously, to have answered that the contentment of his hostess
was quite natural--she had a great deal; but the idea did not occur
to him during the pause of some moments which followed.
"Well, my dear mother," said Valentin, coming and leaning against
the chimney-piece, "what do you think of my dear friend Newman?
Is he not the excellent fellow I told you?"
"My acquaintance with Mr. Newman has not gone very far,"
said Madame de Bellegarde. "I can as yet only appreciate
his great politeness."
"My mother is a great judge of these matters," said Valentin to Newman.
"If you have satisfied her, it is a triumph."
"I hope I shall satisfy you, some day," said Newman, looking at the old lady.
"I have done nothing yet."
"You must not listen to my son; he will bring you into trouble.
He is a sad scatterbrain."
"Oh, I like him--I like him," said Newman, genially.
"He amuses you, eh?"
"Do you hear that, Valentin?" said Madame de Bellegarde.
"You amuse Mr. Newman."
"Perhaps we shall all come to that!" Valentin exclaimed.
"You must see my other son," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"He is much better than this one. But he will not amuse you."
"I don't know--I don't know!" murmured Valentin, reflectively.
"But we shall very soon see. Here comes Monsieur mon frere."
The door had just opened to give ingress to a gentleman who stepped forward
and whose face Newman remembered. He had been the author of our hero's
discomfiture the first time he tried to present himself to Madame de Cintre.
Valentin de Bellegarde went to meet his brother, looked at him a moment,
and then, taking him by the arm, led him up to Newman.
"This is my excellent friend Mr. Newman," he said very blandly.
"You must know him."
"I am delighted to know Mr. Newman," said the marquis with a low bow,
but without offering his hand.
"He is the old woman at second-hand," Newman said to himself,
as he returned M. de Bellegarde's greeting. And this was
the starting-point of a speculative theory, in his mind,
that the late marquis had been a very amiable foreigner, with an
inclination to take life easily and a sense that it was difficult
for the husband of the stilted little lady by the fire to do so.
But if he had taken little comfort in his wife he had taken
much in his two younger children, who were after his own heart,
while Madame de Bellegarde had paired with her eldest-born.
"My brother has spoken to me of you," said M. de Bellegarde; "and as you
are also acquainted with my sister, it was time we should meet."
He turned to his mother and gallantly bent over her hand,
touching it with his lips, and then he assumed an attitude before
the chimney-piece. With his long, lean face, his high-bridged nose
and his small, opaque eye he looked much like an Englishman.
His whiskers were fair and glossy, and he had a large dimple,
of unmistakably British origin, in the middle of his handsome chin.
He was "distinguished" to the tips of his polished nails, and there
was not a movement of his fine, perpendicular person that was
not noble and majestic. Newman had never yet been confronted
with such an incarnation of the art of taking one's self seriously;
he felt a sort of impulse to step backward, as you do to get a view
of a great facade.
"Urbain," said young Madame de Bellegarde, who had apparently
been waiting for her husband to take her to her ball, "I call
your attention to the fact that I am dressed."
"That is a good idea," murmured Valentin.
"I am at your orders, my dear friend," said M. de Bellegarde.
"Only, you must allow me first the pleasure of a little conversation
with Mr. Newman."
"Oh, if you are going to a party, don't let me keep you,"
objected Newman. "I am very sure we shall meet again. Indeed, if you
would like to converse with me I will gladly name an hour."
He was eager to make it known that he would readily answer
all questions and satisfy all exactions.
M. de Bellegarde stood in a well-balanced position before the fire,
caressing one of his fair whiskers with one of his white hands,
and looking at Newman, half askance, with eyes from which a particular
ray of observation made its way through a general meaningless smile.
"It is very kind of you to make such an offer," he said. "If I am
not mistaken, your occupations are such as to make your time precious.
You are in--a-- as we say, dans les affaires."
"In business, you mean? Oh no, I have thrown business
overboard for the present. I am 'loafing,' as WE say.
My time is quite my own."
"Ah, you are taking a holiday," rejoined M. de Bellegarde.
"'Loafing.' Yes, I have heard that expression."
"Mr. Newman is American," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"My brother is a great ethnologist," said Valentin.
"An ethnologist?" said Newman. "Ah, you collect negroes'
skulls, and that sort of thing."
The marquis looked hard at his brother, and began to caress his
other whisker. Then, turning to Newman, with sustained urbanity,
"You are traveling for your pleasure?" he asked.'
"Oh, I am knocking about to pick up one thing and another.
Of course I get a good deal of pleasure out of it."
"What especially interests you?" inquired the marquis.
"Well, everything interests me," said Newman. "I am not particular.
Manufactures are what I care most about."
"That has been your specialty?"
"I can't say I have any specialty. My specialty has been to make
the largest possible fortune in the shortest possible time."
Newman made this last remark very deliberately; he wished to open
the way, if it were necessary, to an authoritative statement
of his means.
M. de Bellegarde laughed agreeably. "I hope you have succeeded," he said.
"Yes, I have made a fortune in a reasonable time.
I am not so old, you see."
"Paris is a very good place to spend a fortune.
I wish you great enjoyment of yours." And M. de Bellegarde
drew forth his gloves and began to put them on.
Newman for a few moments watched him sliding his white hands into
the white kid, and as he did so his feelings took a singular turn.
M. de Bellegarde's good wishes seemed to descend out of the white
expanse of his sublime serenity with the soft, scattered movement
of a shower of snow-flakes. Yet Newman was not irritated;
he did not feel that he was being patronized; he was conscious of no
especial impulse to introduce a discord into so noble a harmony.
Only he felt himself suddenly in personal contact with the forces
with which his friend Valentin had told him that he would
have to contend, and he became sensible of their intensity.
He wished to make some answering manifestation, to stretch himself out
at his own length, to sound a note at the uttermost end of HIS scale.
It must be added that if this impulse was not vicious or malicious,
it was by no means void of humorous expectancy. Newman was quite
as ready to give play to that loosely-adjusted smile of his,
if his hosts should happen to be shocked, as he was far from
deliberately planning to shock them.
"Paris is a very good place for idle people," he said,
"or it is a very good place if your family has been settled
here for a long time, and you have made acquaintances and got
your relations round you; or if you have got a good big house
like this, and a wife and children and mother and sister,
and everything comfortable. I don't like that way of living
all in rooms next door to each other. But I am not an idler.
I try to be, but I can't manage it; it goes against the grain.
My business habits are too deep-seated. Then, I haven't any
house to call my own, or anything in the way of a family.
My sisters are five thousand miles away, my mother died when I
was a youngster, and I haven't any wife; I wish I had!
So, you see, I don't exactly know what to do with myself.
I am not fond of books, as you are, sir, and I get tired of dining
out and going to the opera. I miss my business activity.
You see, I began to earn my living when I was almost a baby,
and until a few months ago I have never had my hand off the plow.
Elegant leisure comes hard."
This speech was followed by a profound silence of some moments,
on the part of Newman's entertainers. Valentin stood looking
at him fixedly, with his hands in his pockets, and then
he slowly, with a half-sidling motion, went out of the door.
The marquis continued to draw on his gloves and to smile benignantly.
"You began to earn your living when you were a mere baby?"
said the marquise.
"Hardly more--a small boy."
"You say you are not fond of books," said M. de Bellegarde;
"but you must do yourself the justice to remember that your
studies were interrupted early."
"That is very true; on my tenth birthday I stopped going to school.
I thought it was a grand way to keep it. But I picked up some
information afterwards," said Newman, reassuringly.
"You have some sisters?" asked old Madame de Bellegarde.
"Yes, two sisters. Splendid women!"
"I hope that for them the hardships of life commenced less early."
"They married very early, if you call that a hardship,
as girls do in our Western country. One of them is married
to the owner of the largest india-rubber house in the West."
"Ah, you make houses also of india-rubber?" inquired the marquise.
"You can stretch them as your family increases," said young Madame
de Bellegarde, who was muffling herself in a long white shawl.
Newman indulged in a burst of hilarity, and explained that the house
in which his brother-in-law lived was a large wooden structure,
but that he manufactured and sold india-rubber on a colossal scale.
"My children have some little india-rubber shoes which they put on when they
go to play in the Tuileries in damp weather," said the young marquise.
"I wonder whether your brother-in-law made them."
"Very likely," said Newman; "if he did, you may be very sure
they are well made."
"Well, you must not be discouraged," said M. de Bellegarde,
with vague urbanity.
"Oh, I don't mean to be. I have a project which gives me
plenty to think about, and that is an occupation." And then
Newman was silent a moment, hesitating, yet thinking rapidly;
he wished to make his point, and yet to do so forced him
to speak out in a way that was disagreeable to him.
Nevertheless he continued, addressing himself to old Madame
de Bellegarde, "I will tell you my project; perhaps you can help me.
I want to take a wife."
"It is a very good project, but I am no matchmaker,"
said the old lady.
Newman looked at her an instant, and then, with perfect sincerity,
"I should have thought you were," he declared.
Madame de Bellegarde appeared to think him too sincere.
She murmured something sharply in French, and fixed her eyes
on her son. At this moment the door of the room was thrown open,
and with a rapid step Valentin reappeared.
"I have a message for you," he said to his sister-in-law.
"Claire bids me to request you not to start for your ball.
She will go with you."
"Claire will go with us!" cried the young marquise.
"En voila, du nouveau!"
"She has changed her mind; she decided half an hour ago, and she
is sticking the last diamond into her hair," said Valentin.
"What has taken possession of my daughter?" demanded Madame
de Bellegarde, sternly. "She has not been into the world these
three years. Does she take such a step at half an hour's notice,
and without consulting me?"
"She consulted me, dear mother, five minutes since," said Valentin,
"and I told her that such a beautiful woman--she is beautiful, you will see--
had no right to bury herself alive."
"You should have referred Claire to her mother, my brother,"
said M. de Bellegarde, in French. "This is very strange."
"I refer her to the whole company!" said Valentin. "Here she comes!"
And he went to the open door, met Madame de Cintre on
the threshold, took her by the hand, and led her into the room.
She was dressed in white; but a long blue cloak, which hung almost
to her feet, was fastened across her shoulders by a silver clasp.
She had tossed it back, however, and her long white arms were uncovered.
In her dense, fair hair there glittered a dozen diamonds.
She looked serious and, Newman thought, rather pale; but she glanced
round her, and, when she saw him, smiled and put out her hand.
He thought her tremendously handsome. He had a chance to look
at her full in the face, for she stood a moment in the centre of
the room, hesitating, apparently, what she should do, without meeting
his eyes. Then she went up to her mother, who sat in her deep
chair by the fire, looking at Madame de Cintre almost fiercely.
With her back turned to the others, Madame de Cintre held her cloak
apart to show her dress.
"What do you think of me?" she asked.
"I think you are audacious," said the marquise.
"It was but three days ago, when I asked you, as a particular
favor to myself, to go to the Duchess de Lusignan's, that you
told me you were going nowhere and that one must be consistent.
Is this your consistency? Why should you distinguish Madame Robineau?
Who is it you wish to please to-night?"
"I wish to please myself, dear mother," said Madame de Cintre.
And she bent over and kissed the old lady.
"I don't like surprises, my sister," said Urbain de Bellegarde;
"especially when one is on the point of entering a drawing-room."
Newman at this juncture felt inspired to speak.
"Oh, if you are going into a room with Madame de Cintre,
you needn't be afraid of being noticed yourself!"
M. de Bellegarde turned to his sister with a smile too intense to be easy.
"I hope you appreciate a compliment that is paid you at your
brother's expense," he said. "Come, come, madame." And offering
Madame de Cintre his arm he led her rapidly out of the room.
Valentin rendered the same service to young Madame de Bellegarde,
who had apparently been reflecting on the fact that the ball
dress of her sister-in-law was much less brilliant than her own,
and yet had failed to derive absolute comfort from the reflection.
With a farewell smile she sought the complement of her consolation
in the eyes of the American visitor, and perceiving in them
a certain mysterious brilliancy, it is not improbable that she
may have flattered herself she had found it.
Newman, left alone with old Madame de Bellegarde, stood before
her a few moments in silence. "Your daughter is very beautiful,"
he said at last.
"She is very strange," said Madame de Bellegarde.
"I am glad to hear it," Newman rejoined, smiling. "It makes me hope."
"That she will consent, some day, to marry me."
The old lady slowly rose to her feet. "That really is your project, then?"
"Yes; will you favor it?"
"Favor it?" Madame de Bellegarde looked at him a moment and then
shook her head. "No!" she said, softly.
"Will you suffer it, then? Will you let it pass?"
"You don't know what you ask. I am a very proud and meddlesome old woman."
"Well, I am very rich," said Newman.
Madame de Bellegarde fixed her eyes on the floor, and Newman
thought it probable she was weighing the reasons in favor
of resenting the brutality of this remark. But at last,
looking up, she said simply, "How rich?"
Newman expressed his income in a round number which had the magnificent
sound that large aggregations of dollars put on when they are translated
into francs. He added a few remarks of a financial character,
which completed a sufficiently striking presentment of his resources.
Madame de Bellegarde listened in silence. "You are
very frank," she said finally. "I will be the same.
I would rather favor you, on the whole, than suffer you.
It will be easier."
"I am thankful for any terms," said Newman. "But, for
the present, you have suffered me long enough. Good night!"
And he took his leave.
Newman, on his return to Paris, had not resumed the study
of French conversation with M. Nioche; he found that he had
too many other uses for his time. M. Nioche, however, came to
see him very promptly, having learned his whereabouts by a
mysterious process to which his patron never obtained the key.
The shrunken little capitalist repeated his visit more than once.
He seemed oppressed by a humiliating sense of having been overpaid,
and wished apparently to redeem his debt by the offer of
grammatical and statistical information in small installments.
He wore the same decently melancholy aspect as a few months before;
a few months more or less of brushing could make little
difference in the antique lustre of his coat and hat.
But the poor old man's spirit was a trifle more threadbare;
it seemed to have received some hard rubs during the summer