Coming in toward evening, three days after his introduction to the family of Madame de Cintré, Newman found on his table the card of the Marquis de Bellegarde. On the following day he received a note informing him that this gentleman’s mother requested the pleasure of his company at dinner. He went of course, though he had first to disengage himself from appeals that struck him as in comparison the babble of vain things. He was ushered into the room in which Madame de Bellegarde had received him before, and here he found his venerable hostess surrounded by her entire family. The room was lighted only by the crackling fire, which illumined the very small pink shoes of a lady who, from a low chair, stretched out her toes to it. This lady was the younger Madame de Bellegarde, always less effectively present, somehow, than perceptibly posted. Madame de Cintré, not posted at all, but oh so present, was seated at the other end of the room, holding a little girl against her knee, the child of her brother Urbain, to whom she was apparently relating a wonderful story. Valentin had perched on a puff* close to his sister-in-law, into whose ear he was certainly distilling the finest nonsense. The Marquis was stationed before the chimney, his head erect and his hands behind him in an attitude of formal expectancy.
The old Marquise stood up to give Newman her greeting, and there was that in the way she did so which seemed to measure narrowly the quantity of importance such a demonstration might appear to attach to him. ‘We’re all alone, you see; we’ve asked no one else,’ she said austerely.
‘I’m very glad you didn’t; this is much more sociable. I wish you good-evening, sir’—and Newman offered his hand to the Marquis.
M. de Bellegarde was affable, yet in spite of his dignity was restless. He changed his place, fidgeted about, looked out of the long windows, took up books and laid them down again. Young Madame de Bellegarde gave their guest her hand without moving and without looking at him.
‘You may think that’s coldness,’ Valentin freely explained; ‘but it’s not, it’s the last confidence, and you’ll grow up to it. It shows she’s p. 155↵treating you as an intimate. Now she detests me, and yet she’s always looking at me.’
‘No wonder I detest you if I’m always looking at you!’ cried the lady. ‘If Mr Newman doesn’t like my way of shaking hands I’ll do it for him again.’
But this charming privilege was lost on our hero who was already making his way over to Madame de Cintré. She raised her eyes to him as she accepted from him the customary form, but she went on with the story she was telling her little niece. She had only two or three phrases to add, but they were apparently of great moment. She deepened her voice, smiling as she did so, and the little girl immensely gazed at her. ‘But in the end the young prince married the beautiful Florabella, and carried her off to live with him in the Land of the Pink Sky. There she was so happy that she forgot all her troubles and went out to drive every day of her life in an ivory coach drawn by five hundred white mice. Poor Florabella,’ she mentioned to Newman, ‘had suffered terribly.’
‘She had had nothing to eat for six months,’ said little Blanche.
‘Yes, but when the six months were over she had a plum-cake as big as that ottoman,’ Madame de Cintré insisted. ‘That quite set her up again.’
‘What a strong constitution and what a chequered career!’ said Newman. ‘Are you very fond of children?’ He was certain she must be, but wished to make her say it.
‘I like to talk with them; we can talk with them so much more seriously than with grown persons. That’s great nonsense I’ve been telling Blanche, but it has much more value than most of what we say in society.’
‘I wish you would talk to me then as if I were Blanche’s age,’ Newman laughed. ‘Were you happy at your ball the other night?’ ‘Extravagantly!’
‘Now you’re talking the nonsense that we talk in society,’ said Newman. ‘I don’t believe that.’
‘It was my own fault if I wasn’t happy. The ball was very pretty and every one very amiable.’
‘It was on your conscience,’ he presently risked, ‘that you had annoyed your mother and your brother.’
She looked at him a moment in silence. ‘That’s possible—I had undertaken more than I could carry out. I’ve very little courage; I’m p. 156↵not a heroine.’ She said this, he could feel, to be very true with him; and it touched him as if she had pressed into his hand, for reminder, some note she had scrawled or some ribbon or ring she had worn. Then changing her tone, ‘I could never have gone through the sufferings of the beautiful Florabella,’ she added, ‘not even for her prospective rewards.’
Dinner was announced and he betook himself to the side of old Madame de Bellegarde. The dining-room, at the end of a cold corridor, was vast and sombre; the dinner was simple and delicately excellent. Newman wondered if the daughter of the house had had to do with ordering the repast, and, with a fine applied power of remote projection, hoped this might have been. Once seated at table, with the various members of so rigidly closed a circle round him, he asked himself the meaning of his position. Was the old lady responding to his advances? Did the fact that he was a solitary guest augment his credit or diminish it? Were they ashamed to show him to other people or did they wish to give him a sign of sudden adoption into their last reserve of favour? He was on his guard; he was watchful and conjectural, yet at the same time he was vaguely indifferent. Whether they gave him a long rope or a short he was there now, and Madame de Cintré was opposite him. She had a tall candlestick on each side of her; she would sit there for the next hour, and that was enough. The dinner was extremely solemn and measured; he wondered if this was always the state of things in old families. Madame de Bellegarde held her head very high and fixed her eyes, which looked peculiarly sharp in her little finely-wrinkled white face, very intently on the table-service. The Marquis appeared to have decided that the fine arts offered a safe subject of conversation, as not leading to uncouth personal revelations. Every now and then, having learned from Newman that he had been through the museums of Europe, he uttered some polished aphorism on the flesh-tints of Rubens or the good taste of Sansovino.* He struck his guest as precautionary, as apprehensive; his manner seemed to indicate a fine nervous dread that something disagreeable might happen if the atmosphere were not kept clear of stray currents from windows opened at hazard. ‘What under the sun is he afraid of?’ Newman asked himself. ‘Does he think I’m going to offer to swap jack-knives with him?’ It was useless to shut his eyes to the fact that the Marquis was as disagreeable to him as some queer, rare, possibly dangerous biped, perturbingly p. 157↵akin to humanity, in one of the cages of a ‘show’. He had never been a man of strong personal aversions; his nerves had not been at the mercy of the mystical qualities of his neighbours. But here was a figure in respect to which he was irresistibly in opposition; a figure of forms and phrases and postures; a figure of possible impertinences and treacheries. M. de Bellegarde made him feel as if he were standing barefooted on a marble floor; and yet to gain his desire, he felt perfectly able to stand. He asked himself what Madame de Cintré thought of his being accepted—if it was acceptance that was conveyed to him. There was no judging from her face, which expressed simply the desire to show kindness in a manner requiring as little explicit recognition as possible. Young Madame de Bellegarde had always the same manner; preoccupied, distracted, listening to everything and hearing nothing, looking at her dress, her rings, her finger-nails and seeming ineffably bored, she yet defied you to pronounce on her ideal of social diversion. Newman was enlightened on this point later. Even Valentin failed quite to seem master of his wits; his vivacity was fitful and forced, but his friend felt his firm eyes shine through the lapses of the talk very much as to the effect of one’s being pinched by him very hard in the dark. Newman himself, for the first time in his life, was not himself; he measured his motions and counted his words; he had the sense of sitting in a boat that required inordinate trimming and that a wrong movement might cause to overturn.
After dinner M. de Bellegarde proposed the smoking-room and led the way to a small and somewhat musty apartment, the walls of which were ornamented with old hangings of stamped leather and trophies of rusty arms. Newman refused a cigar, but established himself on one of the divans while the Marquis puffed his own weed before the fireplace and Valentin sat looking through the light fumes of a cigarette from one to the other. ‘I can’t keep quiet any longer,’ this member of the family broke out at last. ‘I must tell you the news and congratulate you. My brother seems unable to come to the point; he revolves round his announcement even as the priest round the altar. You’re accepted as a candidate for the hand of our sister.’
‘Valentin, be a little proper!’ murmured the Marquis, the bridge of whose high nose yielded to a fold of fine irritation.
‘There has been a family council,’ his brother nevertheless continued; ‘my mother and he have put their heads together, and even p. 158↵my testimony has not been altogether excluded. My mother and Urbain sat at a table covered with green cloth; my sister-in-law and I were on a bench against the wall. It was like a committee at the Corps Législatif.* We were called up one after the other to testify. We spoke of you very handsomely. Madame de Bellegarde said that if she had not been told who you were she’d have taken you for a duke—an American duke, the Duke of California. I said I could warrant you grateful for the smallest favours—modest, humble, unassuming. I was sure you’d know your own place always and never give us occasion to remind you of certain differences. You couldn’t help it, after all, if you had not come in for a dukedom. There were none in your country; but if there had been it was certain that with your energy and ability you’d have got the pick of the honours. At this point I was ordered to sit down, but I think I made an impression in your favour.’
M. de Bellegarde looked at his brother as Newman had seen those unfortunates looked at who have told, before waiting auditors, stories of no effect. Then he removed a spark of cigar-ashes from the sleeve of his coat; he fixed his eyes for a while on the cornice of the room, and at last he inserted one of his white hands into the breast of his waistcoat. ‘I must apologise to you for Valentin’s inveterate bad taste, as well as notify you that this is probably not the last time that his want of tact will cause you serious embarrassment.’
‘No, I confess, I’ve no tact,’ said Valentin. ‘Is your embarrassment really serious, Newman? Urbain will put you right again; he’ll know just how you feel.’
‘My brother, I’m sorry to say,’ the Marquis pursued, ‘has never had the real sense of his duties or his opportunities—of what one must after all call his position. It has been a great pain to his mother, who’s very fond of the old traditions. But you must remember that he speaks for no one but himself.’
‘Oh, I don’t mind him, sir’—Newman was all good-humour. ‘I know what the Valentines of this world amount to.’
‘In the good old times,’ the young man said, ‘marquises and counts used to have their appointed buffoons and jesters to crack jokes for them. Nowadays we see a great strapping democrat keeping one of “us”, as Urbain would say, about him to play the fool. It’s a good situation, but I certainly am very degenerate.’
‘That I want so much to marry your sister?’
‘That you desire to approach the Comtesse de Cintré with that idea, and ask of us therefore your facility for so doing. The proposal gave my mother—you can perhaps even yourself imagine—a great deal to think about. She naturally took me into her counsels, and the subject has had my most careful attention. There was a great deal to be considered; more than you perhaps appear to conceive. We have viewed the question on all its faces, we have weighed one thing against another. Our conclusion has been that we see no reason to oppose your pretension—though of course the matter, the question of your success, rests mainly with yourself. My mother has wished me to inform you then of our favourable attitude. She’ll have the honour of saying a few words to you on the subject herself. Meanwhile you have our sanction, as heads of the family.’
Newman got up and came nearer. ‘You personally will do all you can to back me up, eh?’
‘I engage to you to throw my weight into the scale of your success.’
Newman passed his hand over his face and pressed it for a moment upon his eyes. This promise had a great sound, and yet the pleasure he took in it was embittered by his having to stand there so and receive, as he might say, this prodigious person’s damned permission. The idea of having the elder M. de Bellegarde mixed up with his wooing and wedding was more and more unpleasant to him. But he had resolved to go through the mill, as he had imaged it, and he wouldn’t cry out at the first turn of the wheel. He was silent a while and then said with a certain dryness which Valentin told him afterwards had a very grand air: ‘I’m much obliged to you.’
‘I take note of the promise,’ said Valentin; ‘I register the vow.’
M. de Bellegarde began to gaze at the cornice again; he apparently had more to say. ‘I must do my mother the justice, I must do myself the justice, to make the point that our decision was not easy. Such an arrangement was not what we had expected. The idea that my sister should marry a gentleman so intimately involved in—a—business, was something of a novelty.’
‘So I told you, you know!’ Valentin recalled to Newman with a fine admonitory finger.
‘The incongruity has not quite worn off, I confess,’ the Marquis p. 160↵went on; ‘perhaps it never will entirely. But possibly that’s not altogether to be regretted’; and he went through that odd dim form of a smile that affected his guest as the scraping of a match that doesn’t light. ‘It may be that the time has come when we should make some concession to the spirit of the day. There had been no such positive sacrifice in our house for a great many years. I made the remark to my mother, and she did me the honour to admit that it was worthy of attention.’
‘My dear brother,’ interrupted Valentin, ‘is not your memory just here leading you the least bit astray? Our mother is, I may say, distinguished by her small respect for abstract reasoning. Are you very sure she replied to your striking proposition in the gracious manner you describe? You know how, when it suits her, she goes straight to the point—au pas de charge! Didn’t she rather do you the honour to say: “A fiddlestick for your fine phrases! There are better reasons than that”?’
‘Other reasons were discussed,’ said the Marquis without looking at Valentin, but with a slightly more nasal pitch; ‘some of them possibly were better. We’re highly conservative, Mr Newman, but we have never, I trust, been stupidly narrow. We’re judging this so interesting question on its merits only. We’ve no doubt we shall be fully justified. We’ve no doubt everything will be comfortable.’
Newman had stood listening to these remarks with his arms folded and his eyes fastened on the speaker. ‘Justified?’ he echoed with his way of putting rather less than more sense into words he repeated. ‘Why shouldn’t we be? I assure you I’ve no fear for myself. Why shouldn’t we be comfortable? If you’re not it will be your own fault. I’ve everything to make me so.’
‘My brother means that with the lapse of time you may get used to the difference.’ And Valentin paused to light another cigarette.
‘What difference?’ Newman unimaginatively asked.
‘Urbain,’ said Valentin very gravely, ‘I’m afraid that Mr Newman doesn’t quite realise the difference. We ought to insist on that.’
‘My brother goes too far,’ M. de Bellegarde observed to Newman. ‘He has no nice sense of what shouldn’t be said. It’s my mother’s wish and mine that no comparisons should be made. Pray never make them yourself. We prefer to assume that the person accepted as the possible husband of my sister is one of ourselves, and that he should feel no explanations necessary. With a little tact on both sides everything p. 161↵ought to be easy. That’s exactly what I wished to say—that we quite understand what we’ve undertaken and that you may depend on our not breaking down.’
Valentin shook his hands in the air and then buried his face in them. ‘I don’t quite steer clear myself, no doubt, but oh, my brother, if you knew what you are saying!’ And he went off into a sound that combined a long laugh with a long wail.
M. de Bellegarde’s face flushed a little, but he held his head higher, as if to repudiate this concession to vulgar perturbability. ‘I’m sure you quite know what I mean,’ he said to Newman.
‘Oh no, not quite—or perhaps not at all,’ Newman answered. ‘But you needn’t mind that. I don’t care whether I know—or even, really, care, I think, what you say; for if I did there might be things I shouldn’t like, should in fact, quite dislike, and that wouldn’t suit me at all, you know. I want, very originally, no doubt, but very obstinately, to marry your sister and nobody other whomsoever—that’s all; to do it as quickly as possible and to do as little else among you besides. I don’t care therefore how I do it—as regards the rest of you! And that’s all I have to say.’
‘You had better, nevertheless, receive the last word from my mother,’ said the Marquis, who hadn’t blanched.
‘Very good; I’ll go and get it.’ And Newman prepared to return to the drawing-room.
M. de Bellegarde made a motion for him to pass first, and on his doing so shut himself into the room with Valentin. Newman had been a trifle bewildered by the free play of his friend’s wit and had not needed its aid to feel the limits of the elder brother’s. That was what he had heard of as patronage—a great historic and traditionary force that he now personally encountered for the first time in his life. Didn’t it consist in calling your attention to the impertinences it spared you? But he had recognised all the bravery of Valentin’s backing that underlay Valentin’s comedy, and he was unwilling so fine a comedian should pay a tax on it. He paused a moment in the corridor, after he had gone a few steps, expecting to hear the resonance of M. de Bellegarde’s displeasure; but he detected only a perfect stillness. The stillness itself seemed a trifle portentous; he reflected, however, that he had no right to stand listening and made his way back to the salon. In his absence several persons had come in. They were scattered about the room in groups, two or three of p. 162↵them having passed into a small boudoir, next to the drawing-room, which had now been lighted and opened. Madame de Bellegarde was in her place by the fire, talking to an antique gentleman in a wig and a profuse white neckcloth of the fashion of 1820. Madame de Cintré had bent a listening head to the historic confidences of an old lady who was presumably the wife of this personage, an old lady in a red satin dress and an ermine cape, whose forehead was adorned with a topaz set in a velvet band. The young Marquise, when he came in, left some people among whom she was sitting and took the place she had occupied before dinner. Then she gave a little push to the puff that stood near her and seemed to indicate by a glance that she had placed it in position for him. He went and took possession of it; the young Marquise amused and puzzled him.
‘I know your secret,’ she said in her bad but charming English; ‘you need make no mystery of it. You wish to marry my sister-in law. C’est un beau choix. A man like you ought in effect to marry a very tall and very thin woman. You must know that I’ve spoken in your favour, I’m really on your side and in your interest. You owe me a famous taper!’
‘You’ve spoken well of me to Madame de Cintré?’ Newman asked.
‘Oh no, not that. You may think it strange, but my sister-in-law and I are not so intimate as that. Taking my courage in my hands, I put in my word for you to my husband and to my mother-in-law. I said I was sure we could do what we choose with you.’
‘I’m much obliged to you,’ laughed Newman, ‘but I guess you’ll find you can’t.’
‘I know that very well; I didn’t believe a word of it. But I wanted you to come into the house; I thought we should be friends.’
‘I’m very sure of it,’ said Newman.
‘Don’t be too sure. If you like the Comtesse so much perhaps you won’t like me. We’re as different—well, as this fan and that poker. But you and I have something in common. I’ve come into this family by marriage; you want to come into it in the same way.’
‘Oh no, I don’t want to come into it at all,’ he interrupted—‘not a wee mite! I only want to take Madame de Cintré out of it.’
‘Well, to cast your nets you have to go into the water. Our positions are alike; we shall be able to compare notes. What do you think of my husband? It’s a strange question, isn’t it? But I shall ask you some stranger ones yet.’
‘Oh, you get off very well; the old Comte de la Rochefidèle,* yonder, couldn’t do it better. I told them that if we only gave you a chance you’d be one of our plus fins causeurs. I know something about men. Besides, you and I belong to the same camp. I’m a ferocious modern. I’m more modern than you, you know—because I’ve been through this and come out, very far out; which you haven’t. Oh, you don’t know what this is! Vous allez bien voir. By birth I’m vieille roche; a good little bit of the history of France is the history of my family. Oh, you never heard of us, of course! Ce que c’est que la gloire de race. We’re much better than the Bellegardes, at any rate. But I don’t care a pin for my pedigree—I only want to belong to my time. So, being a reactionary—from the reaction—I’m sure I go beyond you. That’s what you look, you know—that you’re not reactionary enough. But I like clever people, wherever they come from, and I take my amusement wherever I find it. I don’t pout at the Empire;* here all the world pouts at the Empire. Of course I’ve to mind what I say, but I expect to take my revenge with you.’ The little lady discoursed for some time longer in this sympathetic strain, with an eager abundance indicating that her opportunities for revealing her esoteric philosophy were indeed rare. She hoped Newman would never be afraid of her, however he might be with the others, for really she went very far indeed. ‘Strong people’—les gens forts—were in her opinion equal all the world over. Newman listened to her with an attention at once beguiled and irritated. He wondered what the deuce she too was driving at, with her hope he wouldn’t be afraid of her and her protestations of equality. In so far as he could understand her she was wrong—he didn’t admit her equality; a silly rattling woman was never on a level with a sensible man, a man preoccupied with an ambitious passion. The young Marquise stopped suddenly and looked at him sharply, shaking her fan. ‘I see you don’t believe me, you’re too much on your guard. You won’t form an alliance, offensive or defensive? You’re very wrong; I could really help you.’
Newman answered that he was very grateful and that he would certainly ask for help; she should see. ‘But first of all,’ he said, ‘I must help myself.’ And he went to join Madame de Cintré.
‘I’ve been telling Madame de la Rochefidèle that you’re an American,’ she said as he came up. ‘It interests her greatly. Her favourite p. 164↵uncle went over with the French troops to help you in your battles in the last century,* and she has always, in consequence, wanted greatly to see one of your people. But she has never succeeded till to-night. You’re the first—to her knowledge—that she has ever looked at.’
Madame de la Rochefidèle had an aged cadaverous face, with a falling of the lower jaw which prevented her bringing her lips together and reduced her conversation to a series of impressive but inarticulate gutturals. She raised an antique eye-glass, elaborately mounted in chased silver, and looked at Newman from head to foot. Then she said something to which he listened deferentially but which conveyed to him no idea whatever.
‘Madame de la Rochefidèle says she’s convinced she must have seen Americans without knowing it,’ Madame de Cintré explained. Newman thought it probable she had seen a great many things without knowing it; and the old lady, again addressing herself to utterance, declared—as interpreted by Madame de Cintré—that she wished she had known it.
At this moment the old gentleman who had been talking to their hostess drew near, leading that lady on his arm. His wife pointed out Newman to him apparently explaining his remarkable origin. M. de la Rochefidèle, whose old age was as rosy and round and polished as an imitation apple, spoke very neatly and cheerily; almost as prettily, Newman thought, as M. Nioche, and much more hopefully. When he had been enlightened he turned to Newman with an inimitable elderly grace. ‘Monsieur is by no means the first American I have seen. Almost the first person I ever saw—to notice him—was an American.’
‘Ah!’ said Newman sympathetically.
‘The great Dr Franklin.* Of course I was very very young. I believe I had but just come into the world. He was received very well dans le nôtre.’
‘Not better than Mr Newman,’ said Madame de Bellegarde. ‘I beg he’ll offer me his arm into the other room. I could have offered no higher privilege to Dr Franklin.’ Newman, complying with her request, perceived that her two sons had returned to the drawing-room. He scanned their faces an instant for traces of the scene that had followed his separation from them, but if the Marquis had been ruffled he stepped all the more like some high-crested though distinctly p. 165↵domestic fowl who had always the alternative of the perch. Valentin, on his side, was kissing ladies’ hands as much as ever as if there were nothing else in the world but these and sundry other invitations to the moustachioed lip. Madame de Bellegarde gave a glance at her elder son, and by the time she had crossed the threshold of her boudoir he was at her side. The room was now empty and offered a sufficient privacy. She disengaged herself from Newman’s arm and rested her hand on that of their companion; and in this position she stood a moment, bridling, almost quivering, causing her ornaments, her earrings and brooches and buckles, somehow doubly to twinkle, and pursing, as from simple force of character, her portentous little mouth. I am afraid the picture was lost on Newman, but she was in fact at this moment a striking image of the dignity which—even in the case of a small time-shrunken old lady—may reside in the habit of unquestioned authority and the absoluteness of a social theory favourable to the person holding it. ‘My son has spoken to you as I desired, and you’ll understand that you’ve nothing to fear from our opposition. The rest will lie with yourself.’
‘M. de Bellegarde told me several things I didn’t understand,’ said Newman, ‘but I made out that. You’ll let me stand on my merits. I’m much obliged.’
‘I wish nevertheless to add a word that my son probably didn’t feel at liberty to say,’ the Marquise pursued. ‘I must say it for my own peace of mind. We’ve stretched a point; we’ve gone very far to meet you.’
‘Oh, your son said it very well; didn’t you, Marquis?’ Newman asked.
‘Not so well as my mother,’ the Marquis declared.
‘Well,’ Newman returned, ‘I don’t know what I can do but make a note of it and try to profit by it.’
‘It’s proper I should tell you,’ Madame de Bellegarde went on as if to relieve an insistent inward need, ‘that I’m a very stiff old person and that I don’t pretend not to be. I may be wrong to feel certain things as I do, but it’s too late for me to change. At least I know it—as I know also why. Don’t flatter yourself that my daughter also isn’t proud. She’s proud in her own way—a somewhat different way from mine. You’ll have to make your terms with that. Even Valentin’s proud, if you touch the right spot—or the wrong one. Urbain’s proud—that you see for yourself. Sometimes I think he’s a little too p. 166↵proud; but I wouldn’t change him. He’s the best of my children; he cleaves to his old mother. I’ve said, in any case, enough to show you that we are all very much aware of ourselves and very absurd and rather impossible together. It’s well you should know the sort of people you have come among.’
‘Well,’ said Newman, ‘I can only say that I hope I’m as little like you then as may be. But though I don’t think I’m easy to scare, you speak as if you quite intended to be as disagreeable as you know how.’
His hostess fixed him a moment. ‘I shall not enjoy it if my daughter decides to marry you, and I shall not pretend to enjoy it. If you don’t mind that, so much the better.’
‘If you stick to your own side of the contract we shall not quarrel; that’s all I ask of you,’ Newman replied. ‘Keep your hands off—I shall mind my own business. I’m very much in earnest and there’s not the slightest danger of my getting discouraged or backing out. You’ll have me constantly before your eyes, so that if you don’t like it I’m sorry for you. I’ll do for your daughter, if she’ll accept me, everything that a man can do for a woman. I’m happy to tell you that, as a promise—a pledge. I consider that on your side you take an equally definite engagement. You’ll not back out, eh?’
‘I don’t know what you mean by “backing out”,’ said the Marquise with no small majesty. ‘It suggests a movement of which I think no Bellegarde has ever been guilty.’
‘Our word’s our word,’ Urbain pronounced. ‘We recognise that we’ve given it.’
‘Well then,’ said Newman. ‘I’m very glad of your pride and your pretensions. You’ll have to keep your word to keep them up.’
The Marquise was silent a little; after which suddenly, ‘I shall always be polite to you, Mr Newman,’ she declared, ‘but decidedly I shall never like you.’
‘Don’t be too sure, madam!’ her visitor laughed.
‘I’m so sure that I shall ask you to take me back to my armchair without the least fear of having my sentiments modified by the service you render me.’ And Madame de Bellegarde took his arm and returned to the salon and to her customary place.
M. de la Rochefidèle and his wife were preparing to take their leave, and Madame de Cintré’s interview with the mumbling old lady was at an end. She stood looking about her, asking herself apparently to whom she should next speak, when Newman approached. p. 167↵‘Your mother has given me leave—very solemnly—to come here often. I intend to come often.’
‘I shall be glad to see you,’ she answered simply. And then in a moment: ‘You probably think it very strange that there should be such a solemnity—as you say—about your coming.’
‘Well yes; I do, rather.’
‘Do you remember what my brother Valentin said the first day you came to see me?—that we’re a strange, strange family.’
‘It wasn’t the first day I came, but the second,’ Newman amended.
‘Very true. Valentin annoyed me at the time, but now I know you better I may tell you he was right. If you come often you’ll see!’ And Madame de Cintré turned away.
He watched her a while as she talked with other people and then took his leave. It was practically indeed to Valentin alone that he so addressed himself, and his friend followed him to the top of the staircase. ‘Well, you’ve taken out your passport,’ said that young man. ‘I hope you liked the process and that you admire our red tape.’
‘I like your sister better than ever. But don’t worry your poor brother any more for my sweet sake,’ Newman added. ‘There must be something the matter with him.’
‘There’s a good deal!’
‘Well, I don’t seem to mind him—I don’t seem to mind anything!’ Newman just a bit musingly acknowledged. ‘I was only afraid he came down on you in the smoking-room after I went out.’
‘When my brother comes down on me,’ said Valentin, ‘he drops hard. I’ve a particular way of receiving him. I must say,’ he continued, ‘that they’ve fallen into line—for it has been a muster of all our forefathers too!—sooner than I expected. I don’t understand it; they must really have put forward their clock! It’s a tribute to your solidity.’
‘Well, if my solidity’s all they want—!’ Newman again rather pensively breathed.
‘You can cut them a daily slice of it and let them have it with their morning coffee?’ But he was turning away when Valentin more effectually stopped him. ‘I should like to know whether, within a few days, you’ve seen your venerable friend M. Nioche.’
‘He was yesterday at my rooms.’
‘What had he to tell you?’
‘What are you driving at?’ Newman demanded. ‘I thought he seemed rather cheerful, for him.’
Valentin broke into a laugh. ‘I’m delighted to hear of his high spirits—they make me so beautifully right and so innocently happy. For what they mean, you see, must be that his charming child is favourably placed, at last, for the real exercise of her talents, and that the pair are relieved, almost equally, from the awkwardness of a false position. And M. Nioche is rather cheerful—for him! Don’t brandish your tomahawk at that rate,’ the young man went on; ‘I’ve not seen her nor communicated with her since that day at the Louvre. Andromeda has found another Perseus* than I. My information’s exact; on such matters it always is. I suppose,’ he wound up, ‘that I may now cease so elaborately to neglect her?’
Newman, struggling up out of intenser inward visions, listened as he could, and then, having listened, remained with his eyes on his friend’s face. ‘It would do you good to fall in love. You want it badly,’ he at last remarked.
‘Well, that’s perhaps exactly what, according to my perpetual happy instinct, I’m now trying to do!’
‘Oh hell!’ said our hero impatiently as he broke away again.