The next ten days were the happiest that Newman had ever known. He saw Madame de Cintre every day, and never saw either old Madame de Bellegarde or the elder of his prospective brothers-in-law. Madame de Cintre at last seemed to think it becoming to apologize for their never being present. “They are much taken up,” she said, “with doing the honors of Paris to Lord Deepmere.” There was a smile in her gravity as she made this declaration, and it deepened as she added, “He is our seventh cousin, you know, and blood is thicker than water. And then, he is so interesting!” And with this she laughed.
Newman met young Madame de Bellegarde two or three times, always roaming about with graceful vagueness, as if in search of an unattainable ideal of amusement. She always reminded him of a painted perfume-bottle with a crack in it; but he had grown to have a kindly feeling for her, based on the fact of her owing conjugal allegiance to Urbain de Bellegarde. He pitied M. de Bellegarde’s wife, especially since she was a silly, thirstily-smiling little brunette, with a suggestion of an unregulated heart. The small marquise sometimes looked at him with an intensity too marked not to be innocent, for coquetry is more finely shaded. She apparently wanted to ask him something or tell him something; he wondered what it was. But he was shy of giving her an opportunity, because, if her communication bore upon the aridity of her matrimonial lot, he was at a loss to see how he could help her. He had a fancy, however, of her coming up to him some day and saying (after looking around behind her) with a little passionate hiss, “I know you detest my husband; let me have the pleasure of assuring you for once that you are right. Pity a poor woman who is married to a clock-image in papier-mache!” Possessing, however, in default of a competent knowledge of the principles of etiquette, a very downright sense of the “meanness” of certain actions, it seemed to him to belong to his position to keep on his guard; he was not going to put it into the power of these people to say that in their house he had done anything unpleasant. As it was, Madame de Bellegarde used to give him news of the dress she meant to wear at his wedding, and which had not yet, in her creative imagination, in spite of many interviews with the tailor, resolved itself into its composite totality. “I told you pale blue bows on the sleeves, at the elbows,” she said. “But to-day I don’t see my blue bows at all. I don’t know what has become of them. To-day I see pink — a tender pink. And then I pass through strange, dull phases in which neither blue nor pink says anything to me. And yet I must have the bows.”
“Have them green or yellow,” said Newman.
“Malheureux!” the little marquise would cry. “Green bows would break your marriage — your children would be illegitimate!”
Madame de Cintre was calmly happy before the world, and Newman had the felicity of fancying that before him, when the world was absent, she was almost agitatedly happy. She said very tender things. “I take no pleasure in you. You never give me a chance to scold you, to correct you. I bargained for that, I expected to enjoy it. But you won’t do anything dreadful; you are dismally inoffensive. It is very stupid; there is no excitement for me; I might as well be marrying some one else.”
“I am afraid it’s the worst I can do,” Newman would say in answer to this. “Kindly overlook the deficiency.” He assured her that he, at least, would never scold her; she was perfectly satisfactory. “If you only knew,” he said, “how exactly you are what I coveted! And I am beginning to understand why I coveted it; the having it makes all the difference that I expected. Never was a man so pleased with his good fortune. You have been holding your head for a week past just as I wanted my wife to hold hers. You say just the things I want her to say. You walk about the room just as I want her to walk. You have just the taste in dress that I want her to have. In short, you come up to the mark, and, I can tell you, my mark was high.”
These observations seemed to make Madame de Cintre rather grave. At last she said, “Depend upon it, I don’t come up to the mark; your mark is too high. I am not all that you suppose; I am a much smaller affair. She is a magnificent woman, your ideal. Pray, how did she come to such perfection?”
“She was never anything else,” Newman said.
“I really believe,” Madame de Cintre went on, “that she is better than my own ideal. Do you know that is a very handsome compliment? Well, sir, I will make her my own!”
Mrs. Tristram came to see her dear Claire after Newman had announced his engagement, and she told our hero the next day that his good fortune was simply absurd. “For the ridiculous part of it is,” she said, “that you are evidently going to be as happy as if you were marrying Miss Smith or Miss Thompson. I call it a brilliant match for you, but you get brilliancy without paying any tax upon it. Those things are usually a compromise, but here you have everything, and nothing crowds anything else out. You will be brilliantly happy as well.” Newman thanked her for her pleasant, encouraging way of saying things; no woman could encourage or discourage better. Tristram’s way of saying things was different; he had been taken by his wife to call upon Madame de Cintre, and he gave an account of the expedition.
“You don’t catch me giving an opinion on your countess this time,” he said; “I put my foot in it once. That’s a d — d underhand thing to do, by the way — coming round to sound a fellow upon the woman you are going to marry. You deserve anything you get. Then of course you rush and tell her, and she takes care to make it pleasant for the poor spiteful wretch the first time he calls. I will do you the justice to say, however, that you don’t seem to have told Madame de Cintre; or if you have she’s uncommonly magnanimous. She was very nice; she was tremendously polite. She and Lizzie sat on the sofa, pressing each other’s hands and calling each other chere belle, and Madame de Cintre sent me with every third word a magnificent smile, as if to give me to understand that I too was a handsome dear. She quite made up for past neglect, I assure you; she was very pleasant and sociable. Only in an evil hour it came into her head to say that she must present us to her mother — her mother wished to know your friends. I didn’t want to know her mother, and I was on the point of telling Lizzie to go in alone and let me wait for her outside. But Lizzie, with her usual infernal ingenuity, guessed my purpose and reduced me by a glance of her eye. So they marched off arm in arm, and I followed as I could. We found the old lady in her arm-chair, twiddling her aristocratic thumbs. She looked at Lizzie from head to foot; but at that game Lizzie, to do her justice, was a match for her. My wife told her we were great friends of Mr. Newman. The marquise started a moment, and then said, ‘Oh, Mr. Newman! My daughter has made up her mind to marry a Mr. Newman.’ Then Madame de Cintre began to fondle Lizzie again, and said it was this dear lady that had planned the match and brought them together. ‘Oh, ’tis you I have to thank for my American son-in-law,’ the old lady said to Mrs. Tristram. ‘It was a very clever thought of yours. Be sure of my gratitude.’ And then she began to look at me and presently said, ‘Pray, are you engaged in some species of manufacture?’ I wanted to say that I manufactured broom-sticks for old witches to ride on, but Lizzie got in ahead of me. ‘My husband, Madame la Marquise,’ she said, ‘belongs to that unfortunate class of persons who have no profession and no business, and do very little good in the world.’ To get her poke at the old woman she didn’t care where she shoved me. ‘Dear me,’ said the marquise, ‘we all have our duties.’ ‘I am sorry mine compel me to take leave of you,’ said Lizzie. And we bundled out again. But you have a mother-in-law, in all the force of the term.”
“Oh,” said Newman, “my mother-in-law desires nothing better than to let me alone.”
Betimes, on the evening of the 27th, he went to Madame de Bellegarde’s ball. The old house in the Rue de l’Universite looked strangely brilliant. In the circle of light projected from the outer gate a detachment of the populace stood watching the carriages roll in; the court was illumined with flaring torches and the portico carpeted with crimson. When Newman arrived there were but a few people present. The marquise and her two daughters were at the top of the staircase, where the sallow old nymph in the angle peeped out from a bower of plants. Madame de Bellegarde, in purple and fine laces, looked like an old lady painted by Vandyke; Madame de Cintre was dressed in white. The old lady greeted Newman with majestic formality, and looking round her, called several of the persons who were standing near. They were elderly gentlemen, of what Valentin de Bellegarde had designated as the high-nosed category; two or three of them wore cordons and stars. They approached with measured alertness, and the marquise said that she wished to present them to Mr. Newman, who was going to marry her daughter. Then she introduced successively three dukes, three counts, and a baron. These gentlemen bowed and smiled most agreeably, and Newman indulged in a series of impartial hand-shakes, accompanied by a “Happy to make your acquaintance, sir.” He looked at Madame de Cintre, but she was not looking at him. If his personal self-consciousness had been of a nature to make him constantly refer to her, as the critic before whom, in company, he played his part, he might have found it a flattering proof of her confidence that he never caught her eyes resting upon him. It is a reflection Newman did not make, but we nevertheless risk it, that in spite of this circumstance she probably saw every movement of his little finger. Young Madame de Bellegarde was dressed in an audacious toilet of crimson crape, bestrewn with huge silver moons — thin crescent and full disks.
“You don’t say anything about my dress,” she said to Newman.
“I feel,” he answered, “as if I were looking at you through a telescope. It is very strange.”
“If it is strange it matches the occasion. But I am not a heavenly body.”
“I never saw the sky at midnight that particular shade of crimson,” said Newman.
“That is my originality; any one could have chosen blue. My sister-in-law would have chosen a lovely shade of blue, with a dozen little delicate moons. But I think crimson is much more amusing. And I give my idea, which is moonshine.”
“Moonshine and bloodshed,” said Newman.
“A murder by moonlight,” laughed Madame de Bellegarde. “What a delicious idea for a toilet! To make it complete, there is the silver dagger, you see, stuck into my hair. But here comes Lord Deepmere,” she added in a moment. “I must find out what he thinks of it.” Lord Deepmere came up, looking very red in the face, and laughing. “Lord Deepmere can’t decide which he prefers, my sister-in-law or me,” said Madame de Bellegarde. “He likes Claire because she is his cousin, and me because I am not. But he has no right to make love to Claire, whereas I am perfectly disponible. It is very wrong to make love to a woman who is engaged, but it is very wrong not to make love to a woman who is married.”
“Oh, it’s very jolly making love to married women,” said Lord Deepmere, “because they can’t ask you to marry them.”
“Is that what the others do, the spinsters?” Newman inquired.
“Oh dear, yes,” said Lord Deepmere; “in England all the girls ask a fellow to marry them.”
“And a fellow brutally refuses,” said Madame de Bellegarde.
“Why, really, you know, a fellow can’t marry any girl that asks him,” said his lordship.
“Your cousin won’t ask you. She is going to marry Mr. Newman.”
“Oh, that’s a very different thing!” laughed Lord Deepmere.
“You would have accepted HER, I suppose. That makes me hope that after all you prefer me.”
“Oh, when things are nice I never prefer one to the other,” said the young Englishman. “I take them all.”
“Ah, what a horror! I won’t be taken in that way; I must be kept apart,” cried Madame de Bellegarde. “Mr. Newman is much better; he knows how to choose. Oh, he chooses as if he were threading a needle. He prefers Madame de Cintre to any conceivable creature or thing.”
“Well, you can’t help my being her cousin,” said Lord Deepmere to Newman, with candid hilarity.
“Oh, no, I can’t help that,” said Newman, laughing back; “neither can she!”
“And you can’t help my dancing with her,” said Lord Deepmere, with sturdy simplicity.
“I could prevent that only by dancing with her myself,” said Newman. “But unfortunately I don’t know how to dance.”
“Oh, you may dance without knowing how; may you not, milord?” said Madame de Bellegarde. But to this Lord Deepmere replied that a fellow ought to know how to dance if he didn’t want to make an ass of himself; and at this moment Urbain de Bellegarde joined the group, slow-stepping and with his hands behind him.
“This is a very splendid entertainment,” said Newman, cheerfully. “The old house looks very bright.”
“If YOU are pleased, we are content,” said the marquis, lifting his shoulders and bending them forward.
“Oh, I suspect every one is pleased,” said Newman. “How can they help being pleased when the first thing they see as they come in is your sister, standing there as beautiful as an angel?”
“Yes, she is very beautiful,” rejoined the marquis, solemnly. “But that is not so great a source of satisfaction to other people, naturally, as to you.”
“Yes, I am satisfied, marquis, I am satisfied,” said Newman, with his protracted enunciation. “And now tell me,” he added, looking round, “who some of your friends are.”
M. de Bellegarde looked about him in silence, with his head bent and his hand raised to his lower lip, which he slowly rubbed. A stream of people had been pouring into the salon in which Newman stood with his host, the rooms were filling up and the spectacle had become brilliant. It borrowed its splendor chiefly from the shining shoulders and profuse jewels of the women, and from the voluminous elegance of their dresses. There were no uniforms, as Madame de Bellegarde’s door was inexorably closed against the myrmidons of the upstart power which then ruled the fortunes of France, and the great company of smiling and chattering faces was not graced by any very frequent suggestions of harmonious beauty. It is a pity, nevertheless, that Newman had not been a physiognomist, for a great many of the faces were irregularly agreeable, expressive, and suggestive. If the occasion had been different they would hardly have pleased him; he would have thought the women not pretty enough and the men too smirking; but he was now in a humor to receive none but agreeable impressions, and he looked no more narrowly than to perceive that every one was brilliant, and to feel that the sun of their brilliancy was a part of his credit. “I will present you to some people,” said M. de Bellegarde after a while. “I will make a point of it, in fact. You will allow me?”
“Oh, I will shake hands with any one you want,” said Newman. “Your mother just introduced me to half a dozen old gentlemen. Take care you don’t pick up the same parties again.”
“Who are the gentlemen to whom my mother presented you?”
“Upon my word, I forgot them,” said Newman, laughing. “The people here look very much alike.”
“I suspect they have not forgotten you,” said the marquis. And he began to walk through the rooms. Newman, to keep near him in the crowd, took his arm; after which for some time, the marquis walked straight along, in silence. At last, reaching the farther end of the suite of reception-rooms, Newman found himself in the presence of a lady of monstrous proportions, seated in a very capacious arm-chair, with several persons standing in a semicircle round her. This little group had divided as the marquis came up, and M. de Bellegarde stepped forward and stood for an instant silent and obsequious, with his hat raised to his lips, as Newman had seen some gentlemen stand in churches as soon as they entered their pews. The lady, indeed, bore a very fair likeness to a reverend effigy in some idolatrous shrine. She was monumentally stout and imperturbably serene. Her aspect was to Newman almost formidable; he had a troubled consciousness of a triple chin, a small piercing eye, a vast expanse of uncovered bosom, a nodding and twinkling tiara of plumes and gems, and an immense circumference of satin petticoat. With her little circle of beholders this remarkable woman reminded him of the Fat Lady at a fair. She fixed her small, unwinking eyes at the new-comers.
“Dear duchess,” said the marquis, “let me present you our good friend Mr. Newman, of whom you have heard us speak. Wishing to make Mr. Newman known to those who are dear to us, I could not possibly fail to begin with you.”
“Charmed, dear friend; charmed, monsieur,” said the duchess in a voice which, though small and shrill, was not disagreeable, while Newman executed his obeisance. “I came on purpose to see monsieur. I hope he appreciates the compliment. You have only to look at me to do so, sir,” she continued, sweeping her person with a much-encompassing glance. Newman hardly knew what to say, though it seemed that to a duchess who joked about her corpulence one might say almost anything. On hearing that the duchess had come on purpose to see Newman, the gentlemen who surrounded her turned a little and looked at him with sympathetic curiosity. The marquis with supernatural gravity mentioned to him the name of each, while the gentleman who bore it bowed; they were all what are called in France beaux noms. “I wanted extremely to see you,” the duchess went on. “C’est positif. In the first place, I am very fond of the person you are going to marry; she is the most charming creature in France. Mind you treat her well, or you shall hear some news of me. But you look as if you were good. I am told you are very remarkable. I have heard all sorts of extraordinary things about you. Voyons, are they true?”
“I don’t know what you can have heard,” said Newman.
“Oh, you have your legende. We have heard that you have had a career the most checkered, the most bizarre. What is that about your having founded a city some ten years ago in the great West, a city which contains to-day half a million of inhabitants? Isn’t it half a million, messieurs? You are exclusive proprietor of this flourishing settlement, and are consequently fabulously rich, and you would be richer still if you didn’t grant lands and houses free of rent to all newcomers who will pledge themselves never to smoke cigars. At this game, in three years, we are told, you are going to be made president of America.”
The duchess recited this amazing “legend” with a smooth self-possession which gave the speech to Newman’s mind, the air of being a bit of amusing dialogue in a play, delivered by a veteran comic actress. Before she had ceased speaking he had burst into loud, irrepressible laughter. “Dear duchess, dear duchess,” the marquis began to murmur, soothingly. Two or three persons came to the door of the room to see who was laughing at the duchess. But the lady continued with the soft, serene assurance of a person who, as a duchess, was certain of being listened to, and, as a garrulous woman, was independent of the pulse of her auditors. “But I know you are very remarkable. You must be, to have endeared yourself to this good marquis and to his admirable world. They are very exacting. I myself am not very sure at this hour of really possessing it. Eh, Bellegarde? To please you, I see, one must be an American millionaire. But your real triumph, my dear sir, is pleasing the countess; she is as difficult as a princess in a fairy tale. Your success is a miracle. What is your secret? I don’t ask you to reveal it before all these gentlemen, but come and see me some day and give me a specimen of your talents.”
“The secret is with Madame de Cintre,” said Newman. “You must ask her for it. It consists in her having a great deal of charity.”
“Very pretty!” said the duchess. “That’s a very nice specimen, to begin with. What, Bellegarde, are you already taking monsieur away?”
“I have a duty to perform, dear friend,” said the marquis, pointing to the other groups.
“Ah, for you I know what that means. Well, I have seen monsieur; that is what I wanted. He can’t persuade me that he isn’t very clever. Farewell.”
As Newman passed on with his host, he asked who the duchess was. “The greatest lady in France,” said the marquis. M. de Bellegarde then presented his prospective brother-in-law to some twenty other persons of both sexes, selected apparently for their typically august character. In some cases this character was written in good round hand upon the countenance of the wearer; in others Newman was thankful for such help as his companion’s impressively brief intimation contributed to the discovery of it. There were large, majestic men, and small demonstrative men; there were ugly ladies in yellow lace and quaint jewels, and pretty ladies with white shoulders from which jewels and every thing else were absent. Every one gave Newman extreme attention, every one smiled, every one was charmed to make his acquaintance, every one looked at him with that soft hardness of good society which puts out its hand but keeps its fingers closed over the coin. If the marquis was going about as a bear-leader, if the fiction of Beauty and the Beast was supposed to have found its companion-piece, the general impression appeared to be that the bear was a very fair imitation of humanity. Newman found his reception among the marquis’s friends very “pleasant;” he could not have said more for it. It was pleasant to be treated with so much explicit politeness; it was pleasant to hear neatly turned civilities, with a flavor of wit, uttered from beneath carefully-shaped mustaches; it was pleasant to see clever Frenchwomen — they all seemed clever — turn their backs to their partners to get a good look at the strange American whom Claire de Cintre was to marry, and reward the object of the exhibition with a charming smile. At last, as he turned away from a battery of smiles and other amenities, Newman caught the eye of the marquis looking at him heavily; and thereupon, for a single instant, he checked himself. “Am I behaving like a d — d fool?” he asked himself. “Am I stepping about like a terrier on his hind legs?” At this moment he perceived Mrs. Tristram at the other side of the room, and he waved his hand in farewell to M. de Bellegarde and made his way toward her.
“Am I holding my head too high?” he asked. “Do I look as if I had the lower end of a pulley fastened to my chin?”
“You look like all happy men, very ridiculous,” said Mrs. Tristram. “It’s the usual thing, neither better nor worse. I have been watching you for the last ten minutes, and I have been watching M. de Bellegarde. He doesn’t like it.”
“The more credit to him for putting it through,” replied Newman. “But I shall be generous. I shan’t trouble him any more. But I am very happy. I can’t stand still here. Please to take my arm and we will go for a walk.”
He led Mrs. Tristram through all the rooms. There were a great many of them, and, decorated for the occasion and filled with a stately crowd, their somewhat tarnished nobleness recovered its lustre. Mrs. Tristram, looking about her, dropped a series of softly-incisive comments upon her fellow-guests. But Newman made vague answers; he hardly heard her, his thoughts were elsewhere. They were lost in a cheerful sense of success, of attainment and victory. His momentary care as to whether he looked like a fool passed away, leaving him simply with a rich contentment. He had got what he wanted. The savor of success had always been highly agreeable to him, and it had been his fortune to know it often. But it had never before been so sweet, been associated with so much that was brilliant and suggestive and entertaining. The lights, the flowers, the music, the crowd, the splendid women, the jewels, the strangeness even of the universal murmur of a clever foreign tongue were all a vivid symbol and assurance of his having grasped his purpose and forced along his groove. If Newman’s smile was larger than usual, it was not tickled vanity that pulled the strings; he had no wish to be shown with the finger or to achieve a personal success. If he could have looked down at the scene, invisible, from a hole in the roof, he would have enjoyed it quite as much. It would have spoken to him about his own prosperity and deepened that easy feeling about life to which, sooner or later, he made all experience contribute. Just now the cup seemed full.
“It is a very pretty party,” said Mrs. Tristram, after they had walked a while. “I have seen nothing objectionable except my husband leaning against the wall and talking to an individual whom I suppose he takes for a duke, but whom I more than suspect to be the functionary who attends to the lamps. Do you think you could separate them? Knock over a lamp!”
I doubt whether Newman, who saw no harm in Tristram’s conversing with an ingenious mechanic, would have complied with this request; but at this moment Valentin de Bellegarde drew near. Newman, some weeks previously, had presented Madame de Cintre’s youngest brother to Mrs. Tristram, for whose merits Valentin professed a discriminating relish and to whom he had paid several visits.
“Did you ever read Keats’s Belle Dame sans Merci?” asked Mrs. Tristram. “You remind me of the hero of the ballad:—
‘Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?’”
“If I am alone, it is because I have been deprived of your society,” said Valentin. “Besides it is good manners for no man except Newman to look happy. This is all to his address. It is not for you and me to go before the curtain.”
“You promised me last spring,” said Newman to Mrs. Tristram, “that six months from that time I should get into a monstrous rage. It seems to me the time’s up, and yet the nearest I can come to doing anything rough now is to offer you a cafe glace.”
“I told you we should do things grandly,” said Valentin. “I don’t allude to the cafes glaces. But every one is here, and my sister told me just now that Urbain had been adorable.”
“He’s a good fellow, he’s a good fellow,” said Newman. “I love him as a brother. That reminds me that I ought to go and say something polite to your mother.”
“Let it be something very polite indeed,” said Valentin. “It may be the last time you will feel so much like it!”
Newman walked away, almost disposed to clasp old Madame de Bellegarde round the waist. He passed through several rooms and at last found the old marquise in the first saloon, seated on a sofa, with her young kinsman, Lord Deepmere, beside her. The young man looked somewhat bored; his hands were thrust into his pockets and his eyes were fixed upon the toes of his shoes, his feet being thrust out in front of him. Madame de Bellegarde appeared to have been talking to him with some intensity and to be waiting for an answer to what she had said, or for some sign of the effect of her words. Her hands were folded in her lap, and she was looking at his lordship’s simple physiognomy with an air of politely suppressed irritation.
Lord Deepmere looked up as Newman approached, met his eyes, and changed color.
“I am afraid I disturb an interesting interview,” said Newman.
Madame de Bellegarde rose, and her companion rising at the same time, she put her hand into his arm. She answered nothing for an instant, and then, as he remained silent, she said with a smile, “It would be polite for Lord Deepmere to say it was very interesting.”
“Oh, I’m not polite!” cried his lordship. “But it was interesting.”
“Madame de Bellegarde was giving you some good advice, eh?” said Newman; “toning you down a little?”
“I was giving him some excellent advice,” said the marquise, fixing her fresh, cold eyes upon our hero. “It’s for him to take it.”
“Take it, sir — take it,” Newman exclaimed. “Any advice the marquise gives you to-night must be good. For to-night, marquise, you must speak from a cheerful, comfortable spirit, and that makes good advice. You see everything going on so brightly and successfully round you. Your party is magnificent; it was a very happy thought. It is much better than that thing of mine would have been.”
“If you are pleased I am satisfied,” said Madame de Bellegarde. “My desire was to please you.”
“Do you want to please me a little more?” said Newman. “Just drop our lordly friend; I am sure he wants to be off and shake his heels a little. Then take my arm and walk through the rooms.”
“My desire was to please you,” the old lady repeated. And she liberated Lord Deepmere, Newman rather wondering at her docility. “If this young man is wise,” she added, “he will go and find my daughter and ask her to dance.”
“I have been indorsing your advice,” said Newman, bending over her and laughing, “I suppose I must swallow that!”
Lord Deepmere wiped his forehead and departed, and Madame de Bellegarde took Newman’s arm. “Yes, it’s a very pleasant, sociable entertainment,” the latter declared, as they proceeded on their circuit. “Every one seems to know every one and to be glad to see every one. The marquis has made me acquainted with ever so many people, and I feel quite like one of the family. It’s an occasion,” Newman continued, wanting to say something thoroughly kind and comfortable, “that I shall always remember, and remember very pleasantly.”
“I think it is an occasion that we shall none of us forget,” said the marquise, with her pure, neat enunciation.
People made way for her as she passed, others turned round and looked at her, and she received a great many greetings and pressings of the hand, all of which she accepted with the most delicate dignity. But though she smiled upon every one, she said nothing until she reached the last of the rooms, where she found her elder son. Then, “This is enough, sir,” she declared with measured softness to Newman, and turned to the marquis. He put out both his hands and took both hers, drawing her to a seat with an air of the tenderest veneration. It was a most harmonious family group, and Newman discreetly retired. He moved through the rooms for some time longer, circulating freely, overtopping most people by his great height, renewing acquaintance with some of the groups to which Urbain de Bellegarde had presented him, and expending generally the surplus of his equanimity. He continued to find it all extremely agreeable; but the most agreeable things have an end, and the revelry on this occasion began to deepen to a close. The music was sounding its ultimate strains and people were looking for the marquise, to make their farewells. There seemed to be some difficulty in finding her, and Newman heard a report that she had left the ball, feeling faint. “She has succumbed to the emotions of the evening,” he heard a lady say. “Poor, dear marquise; I can imagine all that they may have been for her!” But he learned immediately afterwards that she had recovered herself and was seated in an armchair near the doorway, receiving parting compliments from great ladies who insisted upon her not rising. He himself set out in quest of Madame de Cintre. He had seen her move past him many times in the rapid circles of a waltz, but in accordance with her explicit instructions he had exchanged no words with her since the beginning of the evening. The whole house having been thrown open, the apartments of the rez-de-chaussee were also accessible, though a smaller number of persons had gathered there. Newman wandered through them, observing a few scattered couples to whom this comparative seclusion appeared grateful and reached a small conservatory which opened into the garden. The end of the conservatory was formed by a clear sheet of glass, unmasked by plants, and admitting the winter starlight so directly that a person standing there would seem to have passed into the open air. Two persons stood there now, a lady and a gentleman; the lady Newman, from within the room and although she had turned her back to it, immediately recognized as Madame de Cintre. He hesitated as to whether he would advance, but as he did so she looked round, feeling apparently that he was there. She rested her eyes on him a moment and then turned again to her companion.
“It is almost a pity not to tell Mr. Newman,” she said softly, but in a tone that Newman could hear.
“Tell him if you like!” the gentleman answered, in the voice of Lord Deepmere.
“Oh, tell me by all means!” said Newman advancing.
Lord Deepmere, he observed, was very red in the face, and he had twisted his gloves into a tight cord as if he had been squeezing them dry. These, presumably, were tokens of violent emotion, and it seemed to Newman that the traces of corresponding agitation were visible in Madame de Cintre’s face. The two had been talking with much vivacity. “What I should tell you is only to my lord’s credit,” said Madame de Cintre, smiling frankly enough.
“He wouldn’t like it any better for that!” said my lord, with his awkward laugh.
“Come; what’s the mystery?” Newman demanded. “Clear it up. I don’t like mysteries.”
“We must have some things we don’t like, and go without some we do,” said the ruddy young nobleman, laughing still.
“It’s to Lord Deepmere’s credit, but it is not to every one’s,” said Madam de Cintre. “So I shall say nothing about it. You may be sure,” she added; and she put out her hand to the Englishman, who took it half shyly, half impetuously. “And now go and dance!” she said.
“Oh yes, I feel awfully like dancing!” he answered. “I shall go and get tipsy.” And he walked away with a gloomy guffaw.
“What has happened between you?” Newman asked.
“I can’t tell you — now,” said Madame de Cintre. “Nothing that need make you unhappy.”
“Has the little Englishman been trying to make love to you?”
She hesitated, and then she uttered a grave “No! he’s a very honest little fellow.”
“But you are agitated. Something is the matter.”
“Nothing, I repeat, that need make you unhappy. My agitation is over. Some day I will tell you what it was; not now. I can’t now!”
“Well, I confess,” remarked Newman, “I don’t want to hear anything unpleasant. I am satisfied with everything — most of all with you. I have seen all the ladies and talked with a great many of them; but I am satisfied with you.” Madame de Cintre covered him for a moment with her large, soft glance, and then turned her eyes away into the starry night. So they stood silent a moment, side by side. “Say you are satisfied with me,” said Newman.
He had to wait a moment for the answer; but it came at last, low yet distinct: “I am very happy.”
It was presently followed by a few words from another source, which made them both turn round. “I am sadly afraid Madame de Cintre will take a chill. I have ventured to bring a shawl.” Mrs. Bread stood there softly solicitous, holding a white drapery in her hand.
“Thank you,” said Madame de Cintre, “the sight of those cold stars gives one a sense of frost. I won’t take your shawl, but we will go back into the house.”
She passed back and Newman followed her, Mrs. Bread standing respectfully aside to make way for them. Newman paused an instant before the old woman, and she glanced up at him with a silent greeting. “Oh, yes,” he said, “you must come and live with us.”
“Well then, sir, if you will,” she answered, “you have not seen the last of me!”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51