The American, by Henry James

Chapter 4

Early one morning, before Christopher Newman was dressed, a little old man was ushered into his apartment, followed by a youth in a blouse, bearing a picture in a brilliant frame. Newman, among the distractions of Paris, had forgotten M. Nioche and his accomplished daughter; but this was an effective reminder.

“I am afraid you had given me up, sir,” said the old man, after many apologies and salutations. “We have made you wait so many days. You accused us, perhaps, of inconstancy of bad faith. But behold me at last! And behold also the pretty Madonna. Place it on a chair, my friend, in a good light, so that monsieur may admire it.” And M. Nioche, addressing his companion, helped him to dispose the work of art.

It had been endued with a layer of varnish an inch thick and its frame, of an elaborate pattern, was at least a foot wide. It glittered and twinkled in the morning light, and looked, to Newman’s eyes, wonderfully splendid and precious. It seemed to him a very happy purchase, and he felt rich in the possession of it. He stood looking at it complacently, while he proceeded with his toilet, and M. Nioche, who had dismissed his own attendant, hovered near, smiling and rubbing his hands.

“It has wonderful finesse,” he murmured, caressingly. “And here and there are marvelous touches, you probably perceive them, sir. It attracted great attention on the Boulevard, as we came along. And then a gradation of tones! That’s what it is to know how to paint. I don’t say it because I am her father, sir; but as one man of taste addressing another I cannot help observing that you have there an exquisite work. It is hard to produce such things and to have to part with them. If our means only allowed us the luxury of keeping it! I really may say, sir —” and M. Nioche gave a little feebly insinuating laugh —“I really may say that I envy you! You see,” he added in a moment, “we have taken the liberty of offering you a frame. It increases by a trifle the value of the work, and it will save you the annoyance — so great for a person of your delicacy — of going about to bargain at the shops.”

The language spoken by M. Nioche was a singular compound, which I shrink from the attempt to reproduce in its integrity. He had apparently once possessed a certain knowledge of English, and his accent was oddly tinged with the cockneyism of the British metropolis. But his learning had grown rusty with disuse, and his vocabulary was defective and capricious. He had repaired it with large patches of French, with words anglicized by a process of his own, and with native idioms literally translated. The result, in the form in which he in all humility presented it, would be scarcely comprehensible to the reader, so that I have ventured to trim and sift it. Newman only half understood it, but it amused him, and the old man’s decent forlornness appealed to his democratic instincts. The assumption of a fatality in misery always irritated his strong good nature — it was almost the only thing that did so; and he felt the impulse to wipe it out, as it were, with the sponge of his own prosperity. The papa of Mademoiselle Noemie, however, had apparently on this occasion been vigorously indoctrinated, and he showed a certain tremulous eagerness to cultivate unexpected opportunities.

“How much do I owe you, then, with the frame?” asked Newman.

“It will make in all three thousand francs,” said the old man, smiling agreeably, but folding his hands in instinctive suppliance.

“Can you give me a receipt?”

“I have brought one,” said M. Nioche. “I took the liberty of drawing it up, in case monsieur should happen to desire to discharge his debt.” And he drew a paper from his pocket-book and presented it to his patron. The document was written in a minute, fantastic hand, and couched in the choicest language.

Newman laid down the money, and M. Nioche dropped the napoleons one by one, solemnly and lovingly, into an old leathern purse.

“And how is your young lady?” asked Newman. “She made a great impression on me.”

“An impression? Monsieur is very good. Monsieur admires her appearance?”

“She is very pretty, certainly.”

“Alas, yes, she is very pretty!”

“And what is the harm in her being pretty?”

M. Nioche fixed his eyes upon a spot on the carpet and shook his head. Then looking up at Newman with a gaze that seemed to brighten and expand, “Monsieur knows what Paris is. She is dangerous to beauty, when beauty hasn’t the sou.”

“Ah, but that is not the case with your daughter. She is rich, now.”

“Very true; we are rich for six months. But if my daughter were a plain girl I should sleep better all the same.”

“You are afraid of the young men?”

“The young and the old!”

“She ought to get a husband.”

“Ah, monsieur, one doesn’t get a husband for nothing. Her husband must take her as she is: I can’t give her a sou. But the young men don’t see with that eye.”

“Oh,” said Newman, “her talent is in itself a dowry.”

“Ah, sir, it needs first to be converted into specie!” and M. Nioche slapped his purse tenderly before he stowed it away. “The operation doesn’t take place every day.”

“Well, your young men are very shabby, said Newman; “that’s all I can say. They ought to pay for your daughter, and not ask money themselves.”

“Those are very noble ideas, monsieur; but what will you have? They are not the ideas of this country. We want to know what we are about when we marry.”

“How big a portion does your daughter want?”

M. Nioche stared, as if he wondered what was coming next; but he promptly recovered himself, at a venture, and replied that he knew a very nice young man, employed by an insurance company, who would content himself with fifteen thousand francs.

“Let your daughter paint half a dozen pictures for me, and she shall have her dowry.”

“Half a dozen pictures — her dowry! Monsieur is not speaking inconsiderately?”

“If she will make me six or eight copies in the Louvre as pretty as that Madonna, I will pay her the same price,” said Newman.

Poor M. Nioche was speechless a moment, with amazement and gratitude, and then he seized Newman’s hand, pressed it between his own ten fingers, and gazed at him with watery eyes. “As pretty as that? They shall be a thousand times prettier — they shall be magnificent, sublime. Ah, if I only knew how to paint, myself, sir, so that I might lend a hand! What can I do to thank you? Voyons!” And he pressed his forehead while he tried to think of something.

“Oh, you have thanked me enough,” said Newman.

“Ah, here it is, sir!” cried M. Nioche. “To express my gratitude, I will charge you nothing for the lessons in French conversation.”

“The lessons? I had quite forgotten them. Listening to your English,” added Newman, laughing, “is almost a lesson in French.”

“Ah, I don’t profess to teach English, certainly,” said M. Nioche. “But for my own admirable tongue I am still at your service.”

“Since you are here, then,” said Newman, “we will begin. This is a very good hour. I am going to have my coffee; come every morning at half-past nine and have yours with me.”

“Monsieur offers me my coffee, also?” cried M. Nioche. “Truly, my beaux jours are coming back.”

“Come,” said Newman, “let us begin. The coffee is almighty hot. How do you say that in French?”

Every day, then, for the following three weeks, the minutely respectable figure of M. Nioche made its appearance, with a series of little inquiring and apologetic obeisances, among the aromatic fumes of Newman’s morning beverage. I don’t know how much French our friend learned, but, as he himself said, if the attempt did him no good, it could at any rate do him no harm. And it amused him; it gratified that irregularly sociable side of his nature which had always expressed itself in a relish for ungrammatical conversation, and which often, even in his busy and preoccupied days, had made him sit on rail fences in young Western towns, in the twilight, in gossip hardly less than fraternal with humorous loafers and obscure fortune-seekers. He had notions, wherever he went, about talking with the natives; he had been assured, and his judgment approved the advice, that in traveling abroad it was an excellent thing to look into the life of the country. M. Nioche was very much of a native and, though his life might not be particularly worth looking into, he was a palpable and smoothly-rounded unit in that picturesque Parisian civilization which offered our hero so much easy entertainment and propounded so many curious problems to his inquiring and practical mind. Newman was fond of statistics; he liked to know how things were done; it gratified him to learn what taxes were paid, what profits were gathered, what commercial habits prevailed, how the battle of life was fought. M. Nioche, as a reduced capitalist, was familiar with these considerations, and he formulated his information, which he was proud to be able to impart, in the neatest possible terms and with a pinch of snuff between finger and thumb. As a Frenchman — quite apart from Newman’s napoleons — M. Nioche loved conversation, and even in his decay his urbanity had not grown rusty. As a Frenchman, too, he could give a clear account of things, and — still as a Frenchman — when his knowledge was at fault he could supply its lapses with the most convenient and ingenious hypotheses. The little shrunken financier was intensely delighted to have questions asked him, and he scraped together information, by frugal processes, and took notes, in his little greasy pocket-book, of incidents which might interest his munificent friend. He read old almanacs at the book-stalls on the quays, and he began to frequent another cafe, where more newspapers were taken and his postprandial demitasse cost him a penny extra, and where he used to con the tattered sheets for curious anecdotes, freaks of nature, and strange coincidences. He would relate with solemnity the next morning that a child of five years of age had lately died at Bordeaux, whose brain had been found to weigh sixty ounces — the brain of a Napoleon or a Washington! or that Madame P — charcutiere in the Rue de Clichy, had found in the wadding of an old petticoat the sum of three hundred and sixty francs, which she had lost five years before. He pronounced his words with great distinctness and sonority, and Newman assured him that his way of dealing with the French tongue was very superior to the bewildering chatter that he heard in other mouths. Upon this M. Nioche’s accent became more finely trenchant than ever, he offered to read extracts from Lamartine, and he protested that, although he did endeavor according to his feeble lights to cultivate refinement of diction, monsieur, if he wanted the real thing, should go to the Theatre Francais.

Newman took an interest in French thriftiness and conceived a lively admiration for Parisian economies. His own economic genius was so entirely for operations on a larger scale, and, to move at his ease, he needed so imperatively the sense of great risks and great prizes, that he found an ungrudging entertainment in the spectacle of fortunes made by the aggregation of copper coins, and in the minute subdivision of labor and profit. He questioned M. Nioche about his own manner of life, and felt a friendly mixture of compassion and respect over the recital of his delicate frugalities. The worthy man told him how, at one period, he and his daughter had supported existence comfortably upon the sum of fifteen sous per diem; recently, having succeeded in hauling ashore the last floating fragments of the wreck of his fortune, his budget had been a trifle more ample. But they still had to count their sous very narrowly, and M. Nioche intimated with a sigh that Mademoiselle Noemie did not bring to this task that zealous cooperation which might have been desired.

“But what will you have?”’ he asked, philosophically. “One is young, one is pretty, one needs new dresses and fresh gloves; one can’t wear shabby gowns among the splendors of the Louvre.”

“But your daughter earns enough to pay for her own clothes,” said Newman.

M. Nioche looked at him with weak, uncertain eyes. He would have liked to be able to say that his daughter’s talents were appreciated, and that her crooked little daubs commanded a market; but it seemed a scandal to abuse the credulity of this free-handed stranger, who, without a suspicion or a question, had admitted him to equal social rights. He compromised, and declared that while it was obvious that Mademoiselle Noemie’s reproductions of the old masters had only to be seen to be coveted, the prices which, in consideration of their altogether peculiar degree of finish, she felt obliged to ask for them had kept purchasers at a respectful distance. “Poor little one!” said M. Nioche, with a sigh; “it is almost a pity that her work is so perfect! It would be in her interest to paint less well.”

“But if Mademoiselle Noemie has this devotion to her art,” Newman once observed, “why should you have those fears for her that you spoke of the other day?”

M. Nioche meditated: there was an inconsistency in his position; it made him chronically uncomfortable. Though he had no desire to destroy the goose with the golden eggs — Newman’s benevolent confidence — he felt a tremulous impulse to speak out all his trouble. “Ah, she is an artist, my dear sir, most assuredly,” he declared. “But, to tell you the truth, she is also a franche coquette. I am sorry to say,” he added in a moment, shaking his head with a world

of harmless bitterness, “that she comes honestly by it. Her mother was one before her!”

“You were not happy with your wife?” Newman asked.

M. Nioche gave half a dozen little backward jerks of his head. “She was my purgatory, monsieur!”

“She deceived you?”

“Under my nose, year after year. I was too stupid, and the temptation was too great. But I found her out at last. I have only been once in my life a man to be afraid of; I know it very well; it was in that hour! Nevertheless I don’t like to think of it. I loved her — I can’t tell you how much. She was a bad woman.”

“She is not living?”

“She has gone to her account.”

“Her influence on your daughter, then,” said Newman encouragingly, “is not to be feared.”

“She cared no more for her daughter than for the sole of her shoe! But Noemie has no need of influence. She is sufficient to herself. She is stronger than I.”

“She doesn’t obey you, eh?”

“She can’t obey, monsieur, since I don’t command. What would be the use? It would only irritate her and drive her to some coup de tete. She is very clever, like her mother; she would waste no time about it. As a child — when I was happy, or supposed I was — she studied drawing and painting with first-class professors, and they assured me she had a talent. I was delighted to believe it, and when I went into society I used to carry her pictures with me in a portfolio and hand them round to the company. I remember, once, a lady thought I was offering them for sale, and I took it very ill. We don’t know what we may come to! Then came my dark days, and my explosion with Madame Nioche. Noemie had no more twenty-franc lessons; but in the course of time, when she grew older, and it became highly expedient that she should do something that would help to keep us alive, she bethought herself of her palette and brushes. Some of our friends in the quartier pronounced the idea fantastic: they recommended her to try bonnet making, to get a situation in a shop, or — if she was more ambitious — to advertise for a place of dame de compagnie. She did advertise, and an old lady wrote her a letter and bade her come and see her. The old lady liked her, and offered her her living and six hundred francs a year; but Noemie discovered that she passed her life in her arm-chair and had only two visitors, her confessor and her nephew: the confessor very strict, and the nephew a man of fifty, with a broken nose and a government clerkship of two thousand francs. She threw her old lady over, bought a paint-box, a canvas, and a new dress, and went and set up her easel in the Louvre. There in one place and another, she has passed the last two years; I can’t say it has made us millionaires. But Noemie tells me that Rome was not built in a day, that she is making great progress, that I must leave her to her own devices. The fact is, without prejudice to her genius, that she has no idea of burying herself alive. She likes to see the world, and to be seen. She says, herself, that she can’t work in the dark. With her appearance it is very natural. Only, I can’t help worrying and trembling and wondering what may happen to her there all alone, day after day, amid all that coming and going of strangers. I can’t be always at her side. I go with her in the morning, and I come to fetch her away, but she won’t have me near her in the interval; she says I make her nervous. As if it didn’t make me nervous to wander about all day without her! Ah, if anything were to happen to her!” cried M. Nioche, clenching his two fists and jerking back his head again, portentously.

“Oh, I guess nothing will happen,” said Newman.

“I believe I should shoot her!” said the old man, solemnly.

“Oh, we’ll marry her,” said Newman, “since that’s how you manage it; and I will go and see her tomorrow at the Louvre and pick out the pictures she is to copy for me.”

M. Nioche had brought Newman a message from his daughter, in acceptance of his magnificent commission, the young lady declaring herself his most devoted servant, promising her most zealous endeavor, and regretting that the proprieties forbade her coming to thank him in person. The morning after the conversation just narrated, Newman reverted to his intention of meeting Mademoiselle Noemie at the Louvre. M. Nioche appeared preoccupied, and left his budget of anecdotes unopened; he took a great deal of snuff, and sent certain oblique, appealing glances toward his stalwart pupil. At last, when he was taking his leave, he stood a moment, after he had polished his hat with his calico pocket-handkerchief, with his small, pale eyes fixed strangely upon Newman.

“What’s the matter?” our hero demanded.

“Excuse the solicitude of a father’s heart!” said M. Nioche. “You inspire me with boundless confidence, but I can’t help giving you a warning. After all, you are a man, you are young and at liberty. Let me beseech you, then, to respect the innocence of Mademoiselle Nioche!”

Newman had wondered what was coming, and at this he broke into a laugh. He was on the point of declaring that his own innocence struck him as the more exposed, but he contented himself with promising to treat the young girl with nothing less than veneration. He found her waiting for him, seated upon the great divan in the Salon Carre. She was not in her working-day costume, but wore her bonnet and gloves and carried her parasol, in honor of the occasion. These articles had been selected with unerring taste, and a fresher, prettier image of youthful alertness and blooming discretion was not to be conceived. She made Newman a most respectful curtsey and expressed her gratitude for his liberality in a wonderfully graceful little speech. It annoyed him to have a charming young girl stand there thanking him, and it made him feel uncomfortable to think that this perfect young lady, with her excellent manners and her finished intonation, was literally in his pay. He assured her, in such French as he could muster, that the thing was not worth mentioning, and that he considered her services a great favor.

“Whenever you please, then,” said Mademoiselle Noemie, “we will pass the review.”

They walked slowly round the room, then passed into the others and strolled about for half an hour. Mademoiselle Noemie evidently relished her situation, and had no desire to bring her public interview with her striking-looking patron to a close. Newman perceived that prosperity agreed with her. The little thin-lipped, peremptory air with which she had addressed her father on the occasion of their former meeting had given place to the most lingering and caressing tones.

“What sort of pictures do you desire?” she asked. “Sacred, or profane?”

“Oh, a few of each,” said Newman. “But I want something bright and gay.”

“Something gay? There is nothing very gay in this solemn old Louvre. But we will see what we can find. You speak French to-day like a charm. My father has done wonders.”

“Oh, I am a bad subject,” said Newman. “I am too old to learn a language.”

“Too old? Quelle folie!” cried Mademoiselle Noemie, with a clear, shrill laugh. “You are a very young man. And how do you like my father?”

“He is a very nice old gentleman. He never laughs at my blunders.”

“He is very comme il faut, my papa,” said Mademoiselle Noemie, “and as honest as the day. Oh, an exceptional probity! You could trust him with millions.”

“Do you always obey him?” asked Newman.

“Obey him?”

“Do you do what he bids you?”

The young girl stopped and looked at him; she had a spot of color in either cheek, and in her expressive French eye, which projected too much for perfect beauty, there was a slight gleam of audacity. “Why do you ask me that?” she demanded.

“Because I want to know.”

“You think me a bad girl?” And she gave a strange smile.

Newman looked at her a moment; he saw that she was pretty, but he was not in the least dazzled. He remembered poor M. Nioche’s solicitude for her “innocence,” and he laughed as his eyes met hers. Her face was the oddest mixture of youth and maturity, and beneath her candid brow her searching little smile seemed to contain a world of ambiguous intentions. She was pretty enough, certainly to make her father nervous; but, as regards her innocence, Newman felt ready on the spot to affirm that she had never parted with it. She had simply never had any; she had been looking at the world since she was ten years old, and he would have been a wise man who could tell her any secrets. In her long mornings at the Louvre she had not only studied Madonnas and St. Johns; she had kept an eye upon all the variously embodied human nature around her, and she had formed her conclusions. In a certain sense, it seemed to Newman, M. Nioche might be at rest; his daughter might do something very audacious, but she would never do anything foolish. Newman, with his long-drawn, leisurely smile, and his even, unhurried utterance, was always, mentally, taking his time; and he asked himself, now, what she was looking at him in that way for. He had an idea that she would like him to confess that he did think her a bad girl.

“Oh, no,” he said at last; “it would be very bad manners in me to judge you that way. I don’t know you.”

“But my father has complained to you,” said Mademoiselle Noemie.

“He says you are a coquette.”

“He shouldn’t go about saying such things to gentlemen! But you don’t believe it.”

“No,” said Newman gravely, “I don’t believe it.”

She looked at him again, gave a shrug and a smile, and then pointed to a small Italian picture, a Marriage of St. Catherine. “How should you like that?” she asked.

“It doesn’t please me,” said Newman. “The young lady in the yellow dress is not pretty.”

“Ah, you are a great connoisseur,” murmured Mademoiselle Noemie.

“In pictures? Oh, no; I know very little about them.”

“In pretty women, then.”

“In that I am hardly better.”

“What do you say to that, then?” the young girl asked, indicating a superb Italian portrait of a lady. “I will do it for you on a smaller scale.”

“On a smaller scale? Why not as large as the original?”

Mademoiselle Noemie glanced at the glowing splendor of the Venetian masterpiece and gave a little toss of her head. “I don’t like that woman. She looks stupid.”

“I do like her,” said Newman. “Decidedly, I must have her, as large as life. And just as stupid as she is there.”

The young girl fixed her eyes on him again, and with her mocking smile, “It certainly ought to be easy for me to make her look stupid!” she said.

“What do you mean?” asked Newman, puzzled.

She gave another little shrug. “Seriously, then, you want that portrait — the golden hair, the purple satin, the pearl necklace, the two magnificent arms?”

“Everything — just as it is.”

“Would nothing else do, instead?”

“Oh, I want some other things, but I want that too.”

Mademoiselle Noemie turned away a moment, walked to the other side of the hall, and stood there, looking vaguely about her. At last she came back. “It must be charming to be able to order pictures at such a rate. Venetian portraits, as large as life! You go at it en prince. And you are going to travel about Europe that way?”

“Yes, I intend to travel,” said Newman.

“Ordering, buying, spending money?”

“Of course I shall spend some money.”

“You are very happy to have it. And you are perfectly free?”

“How do you mean, free?”

“You have nothing to bother you — no family, no wife, no fiancee?”

“Yes, I am tolerably free.”

“You are very happy,” said Mademoiselle Noemie, gravely.

“Je le veux bien!” said Newman, proving that he had learned more French than he admitted.

“And how long shall you stay in Paris?” the young girl went on.

“Only a few days more.”

“Why do you go away?”

“It is getting hot, and I must go to Switzerland.”

“To Switzerland? That’s a fine country. I would give my new parasol to see it! Lakes and mountains, romantic valleys and icy peaks! Oh, I congratulate you. Meanwhile, I shall sit here through all the hot summer, daubing at your pictures.”

“Oh, take your time about it,” said Newman. “Do them at your convenience.”

They walked farther and looked at a dozen other things. Newman pointed out what pleased him, and Mademoiselle Noemie generally criticised it, and proposed something else. Then suddenly she diverged and began to talk about some personal matter.

“What made you speak to me the other day in the Salon Carre?” she abruptly asked.

“I admired your picture.”

“But you hesitated a long time.”

“Oh, I do nothing rashly,” said Newman.

“Yes, I saw you watching me. But I never supposed you were going to speak to me. I never dreamed I should be walking about here with you to-day. It’s very curious.”

“It is very natural,” observed Newman.

“Oh, I beg your pardon; not to me. Coquette as you think me, I have never walked about in public with a gentleman before. What was my father thinking of, when he consented to our interview?”

“He was repenting of his unjust accusations,” replied Newman.

Mademoiselle Noemie remained silent; at last she dropped into a seat. “Well then, for those five it is fixed,” she said. “Five copies as brilliant and beautiful as I can make them. We have one more to choose. Shouldn’t you like one of those great Rubenses — the marriage of Marie de Medicis? Just look at it and see how handsome it is.”

“Oh, yes; I should like that,” said Newman. “Finish off with that.”

“Finish off with that — good!” And she laughed. She sat a moment, looking at him, and then she suddenly rose and stood before him, with her hands hanging and clasped in front of her. “I don’t understand you,” she said with a smile. “I don’t understand how a man can be so ignorant.”

“Oh, I am ignorant, certainly,” said Newman, putting his hands into his pockets.

“It’s ridiculous! I don’t know how to paint.”

“You don’t know how?”

“I paint like a cat; I can’t draw a straight line. I never sold a picture until you bought that thing the other day.” And as she offered this surprising information she continued to smile.

Newman burst into a laugh. “Why do you tell me this?” he asked.

“Because it irritates me to see a clever man blunder so. My pictures are grotesque.”

“And the one I possess —”

“That one is rather worse than usual.”

“Well,” said Newman, “I like it all the same!”

She looked at him askance. “That is a very pretty thing to say,” she answered; “but it is my duty to warn you before you go farther. This order of yours is impossible, you know. What do you take me for? It is work for ten men. You pick out the six most difficult pictures in the Louvre, and you expect me to go to work as if I were sitting down to hem a dozen pocket handkerchiefs. I wanted to see how far you would go.”

Newman looked at the young girl in some perplexity. In spite of the ridiculous blunder of which he stood convicted, he was very far from being a simpleton, and he had a lively suspicion that Mademoiselle Noemie’s sudden frankness was not essentially more honest than her leaving him in error would have been. She was playing a game; she was not simply taking pity on his aesthetic verdancy. What was it she expected to win? The stakes were high and the risk was great; the prize therefore must have been commensurate. But even granting that the prize might be great, Newman could not resist a movement of admiration for his companion’s intrepidity. She was throwing away with one hand, whatever she might intend to do with the other, a very handsome sum of money.

“Are you joking,” he said, “or are you serious?”

“Oh, serious!” cried Mademoiselle Noemie, but with her extraordinary smile.

“I know very little about pictures or now they are painted. If you can’t do all that, of course you can’t. Do what you can, then.”

“It will be very bad,” said Mademoiselle Noemie.

“Oh,” said Newman, laughing, “if you are determined it shall be bad, of course it will. But why do you go on painting badly?”

“I can do nothing else; I have no real talent.”

“You are deceiving your father, then.”

The young girl hesitated a moment. “He knows very well!”

“No,” Newman declared; “I am sure he believes in you.”

“He is afraid of me. I go on painting badly, as you say, because I want to learn. I like it, at any rate. And I like being here; it is a place to come to, every day; it is better than sitting in a little dark, damp room, on a court, or selling buttons and whalebones over a counter.”

“Of course it is much more amusing,” said Newman. “But for a poor girl isn’t it rather an expensive amusement?”

“Oh, I am very wrong, there is no doubt about that,” said Mademoiselle Noemie. “But rather than earn my living as same girls do — toiling with a needle, in little black holes, out of the world — I would throw myself into the Seine.”

“There is no need of that,” Newman answered; “your father told you my offer?”

“Your offer?”

“He wants you to marry, and I told him I would give you a chance to earn your dot.”

“He told me all about it, and you see the account I make of it! Why should you take such an interest in my marriage?”

“My interest was in your father. I hold to my offer; do what you can, and I will buy what you paint.”

She stood for some time, meditating, with her eyes on the ground. At last, looking up, “What sort of a husband can you get for twelve thousand francs?” she asked.

“Your father tells me he knows some very good young men.”

“Grocers and butchers and little maitres de cafes! I will not marry at all if I can’t marry well.”

“I would advise you not to be too fastidious,” said Newman. “That’s all the advice I can give you.”

“I am very much vexed at what I have said!” cried the young girl. “It has done me no good. But I couldn’t help it.”

“What good did you expect it to do you?”

“I couldn’t help it, simply.”

Newman looked at her a moment. “Well, your pictures may be bad,” he said, “but you are too clever for me, nevertheless. I don’t understand you. Good-by!” And he put out his hand.

She made no response, and offered him no farewell. She turned away and seated herself sidewise on a bench, leaning her head on the back of her hand, which clasped the rail in front of the pictures. Newman stood a moment and then turned on his heel and retreated. He had understood her better than he confessed; this singular scene was a practical commentary upon her father’s statement that she was a frank coquette.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38