Newman was fond of music and went often to the opera. A couple of evenings after Madame de Bellegarde’s ball he sat listening to “Don Giovanni,” having in honor of this work, which he had never yet seen represented, come to occupy his orchestra-chair before the rising of the curtain. Frequently he took a large box and invited a party of his compatriots; this was a mode of recreation to which he was much addicted. He liked making up parties of his friends and conducting them to the theatre, and taking them to drive on high drags or to dine at remote restaurants. He liked doing things which involved his paying for people; the vulgar truth is that he enjoyed “treating” them. This was not because he was what is called purse-proud; handling money in public was on the contrary positively disagreeable to him; he had a sort of personal modesty about it, akin to what he would have felt about making a toilet before spectators. But just as it was a gratification to him to be handsomely dressed, just so it was a private satisfaction to him (he enjoyed it very clandestinely) to have interposed, pecuniarily, in a scheme of pleasure. To set a large group of people in motion and transport them to a distance, to have special conveyances, to charter railway-carriages and steamboats, harmonized with his relish for bold processes, and made hospitality seem more active and more to the purpose. A few evenings before the occasion of which I speak he had invited several ladies and gentlemen to the opera to listen to Madame Alboni — a party which included Miss Dora Finch. It befell, however, that Miss Dora Finch, sitting near Newman in the box, discoursed brilliantly, not only during the entr’actes, but during many of the finest portions of the performance, so that Newman had really come away with an irritated sense that Madame Alboni had a thin, shrill voice, and that her musical phrase was much garnished with a laugh of the giggling order. After this he promised himself to go for a while to the opera alone.
When the curtain had fallen upon the first act of “Don Giovanni” he turned round in his place to observe the house. Presently, in one of the boxes, he perceived Urbain de Bellegarde and his wife. The little marquise was sweeping the house very busily with a glass, and Newman, supposing that she saw him, determined to go and bid her good evening. M. de Bellegarde was leaning against a column, motionless, looking straight in front of him, with one hand in the breast of his white waistcoat and the other resting his hat on his thigh. Newman was about to leave his place when he noticed in that obscure region devoted to the small boxes which in France are called, not inaptly, “bathing-tubs,” a face which even the dim light and the distance could not make wholly indistinct. It was the face of a young and pretty woman, and it was surmounted with a coiffure of pink roses and diamonds. This person was looking round the house, and her fan was moving to and fro with the most practiced grace; when she lowered it, Newman perceived a pair of plump white shoulders and the edge of a rose-colored dress. Beside her, very close to the shoulders and talking, apparently with an earnestness which it pleased her scantily to heed, sat a young man with a red face and a very low shirt-collar. A moment’s gazing left Newman with no doubts; the pretty young woman was Noemie Nioche. He looked hard into the depths of the box, thinking her father might perhaps be in attendance, but from what he could see the young man’s eloquence had no other auditor. Newman at last made his way out, and in doing so he passed beneath the baignoire of Mademoiselle Noemie. She saw him as he approached and gave him a nod and smile which seemed meant as an assurance that she was still a good-natured girl, in spite of her enviable rise in the world. Newman passed into the foyer and walked through it. Suddenly he paused in front of a gentleman seated on one of the divans. The gentleman’s elbows were on his knees; he was leaning forward and staring at the pavement, lost apparently in meditations of a somewhat gloomy cast. But in spite of his bent head Newman recognized him, and in a moment sat down beside him. Then the gentleman looked up and displayed the expressive countenance of Valentin de Bellegarde.
“What in the world are you thinking of so hard?” asked Newman.
“A subject that requires hard thinking to do it justice,” said Valentin. “My immeasurable idiocy.”
“What is the matter now?”
“The matter now is that I am a man again, and no more a fool than usual. But I came within an inch of taking that girl au serieux.”
“You mean the young lady below stairs, in a baignoire in a pink dress?” said Newman.
“Did you notice what a brilliant kind of pink it was?” Valentin inquired, by way of answer. “It makes her look as white as new milk.”
“White or black, as you please. But you have stopped going to see her?”
“Oh, bless you, no. Why should I stop? I have changed, but she hasn’t,” said Valentin. “I see she is a vulgar little wretch, after all. But she is as amusing as ever, and one MUST be amused.”
“Well, I am glad she strikes you so unpleasantly,” Newman rejoiced. “I suppose you have swallowed all those fine words you used about her the other night. You compared her to a sapphire, or a topaz, or an amethyst — some precious stone; what was it?”
“I don’t remember,” said Valentin, “it may have been to a carbuncle! But she won’t make a fool of me now. She has no real charm. It’s an awfully low thing to make a mistake about a person of that sort.”
“I congratulate you,” Newman declared, “upon the scales having fallen from your eyes. It’s a great triumph; it ought to make you feel better.”
“Yes, it makes me feel better!” said Valentin, gayly. Then, checking himself, he looked askance at Newman. “I rather think you are laughing at me. If you were not one of the family I would take it up.”
“Oh, no, I’m not laughing, any more than I am one of the family. You make me feel badly. You are too clever a fellow, you are made of too good stuff, to spend your time in ups and downs over that class of goods. The idea of splitting hairs about Miss Nioche! It seems to me awfully foolish. You say you have given up taking her seriously; but you take her seriously so long as you take her at all.”
Valentin turned round in his place and looked a while at Newman, wrinkling his forehead and rubbing his knees. “Vous parlez d’or. But she has wonderfully pretty arms. Would you believe I didn’t know it till this evening?”
“But she is a vulgar little wretch, remember, all the same,” said Newman.
“Yes; the other day she had the bad taste to begin to abuse her father, to his face, in my presence. I shouldn’t have expected it of her; it was a disappointment; heigho!”
“Why, she cares no more for her father than for her door-mat,” said Newman. “I discovered that the first time I saw her.”
“Oh, that’s another affair; she may think of the poor old beggar what she pleases. But it was low in her to call him bad names; it quite threw me off. It was about a frilled petticoat that he was to have fetched from the washer-woman’s; he appeared to have neglected this graceful duty. She almost boxed his ears. He stood there staring at her with his little blank eyes and smoothing his old hat with his coat-tail. At last he turned round and went out without a word. Then I told her it was in very bad taste to speak so to one’s papa. She said she should be so thankful to me if I would mention it to her whenever her taste was at fault; she had immense confidence in mine. I told her I couldn’t have the bother of forming her manners; I had had an idea they were already formed, after the best models. She had disappointed me. But I shall get over it,” said Valentin, gayly.
“Oh, time’s a great consoler!” Newman answered with humorous sobriety. He was silent a moment, and then he added, in another tone, “I wish you would think of what I said to you the other day. Come over to America with us, and I will put you in the way of doing some business. You have a very good head, if you will only use it.”
Valentin made a genial grimace. “My head is much obliged to you. Do you mean the place in a bank?”
“There are several places, but I suppose you would consider the bank the most aristocratic.”
Valentin burst into a laugh. “My dear fellow, at night all cats are gray! When one derogates there are no degrees.”
Newman answered nothing for a minute. Then, “I think you will find there are degrees in success,” he said with a certain dryness.
Valentin had leaned forward again, with his elbows on his knees, and he was scratching the pavement with his stick. At last he said, looking up, “Do you really think I ought to do something?”
Newman laid his hand on his companion’s arm and looked at him a moment through sagaciously-narrowed eyelids. “Try it and see. You are not good enough for it, but we will stretch a point.”
“Do you really think I can make some money? I should like to see how it feels to have a little.”
“Do what I tell you, and you shall be rich,” said Newman. “Think of it.” And he looked at his watch and prepared to resume his way to Madame de Bellegarde’s box.
“Upon my word I will think of it,” said Valentin. “I will go and listen to Mozart another half hour — I can always think better to music — and profoundly meditate upon it.”
The marquis was with his wife when Newman entered their box; he was bland, remote, and correct as usual; or, as it seemed to Newman, even more than usual.
“What do you think of the opera?” asked our hero. “What do you think of the Don?”
“We all know what Mozart is,” said the marquis; “our impressions don’t date from this evening. Mozart is youth, freshness, brilliancy, facility — a little too great facility, perhaps. But the execution is here and there deplorably rough.”
“I am very curious to see how it ends,” said Newman.
“You speak as if it were a feuilleton in the ‘Figaro,’ “ observed the marquis. “You have surely seen the opera before?”
“Never,” said Newman. “I am sure I should have remembered it. Donna Elvira reminds me of Madame de Cintre; I don’t mean in her circumstances, but in the music she sings.”
“It is a very nice distinction,” laughed the marquis lightly. “There is no great possibility, I imagine, of Madame de Cintre being forsaken.”
“Not much!” said Newman. “But what becomes of the Don?”
“The devil comes down — or comes up,” said Madame de Bellegarde, “and carries him off. I suppose Zerlina reminds you of me.”
“I will go to the foyer for a few moments,” said the marquis, “and give you a chance to say that the commander — the man of stone — resembles me.” And he passed out of the box.
The little marquise stared an instant at the velvet ledge of the balcony, and then murmured, “Not a man of stone, a man of wood.” Newman had taken her husband’s empty chair. She made no protest, and then she turned suddenly and laid her closed fan upon his arm. “I am very glad you came in,” she said. “I want to ask you a favor. I wanted to do so on Thursday, at my mother-in-law’s ball, but you would give me no chance. You were in such very good spirits that I thought you might grant my little favor then; not that you look particularly doleful now. It is something you must promise me; now is the time to take you; after you are married you will be good for nothing. Come, promise!”
“I never sign a paper without reading it first,” said Newman. “Show me your document.”
“No, you must sign with your eyes shut; I will hold your hand. Come, before you put your head into the noose. You ought to be thankful to me for giving you a chance to do something amusing.”
“If it is so amusing,” said Newman, “it will be in even better season after I am married.”
“In other words,” cried Madame de Bellegarde, “you will not do it at all. You will be afraid of your wife.”
“Oh, if the thing is intrinsically improper,” said Newman, “I won’t go into it. If it is not, I will do it after my marriage.”
“You talk like a treatise on logic, and English logic into the bargain!” exclaimed Madame de Bellegarde. “Promise, then, after you are married. After all, I shall enjoy keeping you to it.”
“Well, then, after I am married,” said Newman serenely.
The little marquise hesitated a moment, looking at him, and he wondered what was coming. “I suppose you know what my life is,” she presently said. “I have no pleasure, I see nothing, I do nothing. I live in Paris as I might live at Poitiers. My mother-in-law calls me — what is the pretty word? — a gad-about? accuses me of going to unheard-of places, and thinks it ought to be joy enough for me to sit at home and count over my ancestors on my fingers. But why should I bother about my ancestors? I am sure they never bothered about me. I don’t propose to live with a green shade on my eyes; I hold that things were made to look at. My husband, you know, has principles, and the first on the list is that the Tuileries are dreadfully vulgar. If the Tuileries are vulgar, his principles are tiresome. If I chose I might have principles quite as well as he. If they grew on one’s family tree I should only have to give mine a shake to bring down a shower of the finest. At any rate, I prefer clever Bonapartes to stupid Bourbons.”
“Oh, I see; you want to go to court,” said Newman, vaguely conjecturing that she might wish him to appeal to the United States legation to smooth her way to the imperial halls.
The marquise gave a little sharp laugh. “You are a thousand miles away. I will take care of the Tuileries myself; the day I decide to go they will be very glad to have me. Sooner or later I shall dance in an imperial quadrille. I know what you are going to say: ‘How will you dare?’ But I SHALL dare. I am afraid of my husband; he is soft, smooth, irreproachable; everything that you know; but I am afraid of him — horribly afraid of him. And yet I shall arrive at the Tuileries. But that will not be this winter, nor perhaps next, and meantime I must live. For the moment, I want to go somewhere else; it’s my dream. I want to go to the Bal Bullier.”
“To the Bal Bullier?” repeated Newman, for whom the words at first meant nothing.
“The ball in the Latin Quarter, where the students dance with their mistresses. Don’t tell me you have not heard of it.”
“Oh yes,” said Newman; “I have heard of it; I remember now. I have even been there. And you want to go there?”
“It is silly, it is low, it is anything you please. But I want to go. Some of my friends have been, and they say it is awfully drole. My friends go everywhere; it is only I who sit moping at home.”
“It seems to me you are not at home now,” said Newman, “and I shouldn’t exactly say you were moping.”
“I am bored to death. I have been to the opera twice a week for the last eight years. Whenever I ask for anything my mouth is stopped with that: Pray, madam, haven’t you an opera box? Could a woman of taste want more? In the first place, my opera box was down in my contrat; they have to give it to me. To-night, for instance, I should have preferred a thousand times to go to the Palais Royal. But my husband won’t go to the Palais Royal because the ladies of the court go there so much. You may imagine, then, whether he would take me to Bullier’s; he says it is a mere imitation — and a bad one — of what they do at the Princess Kleinfuss’s. But as I don’t go to the Princess Kleinfuss’s, the next best thing is to go to Bullier’s. It is my dream, at any rate, it’s a fixed idea. All I ask of you is to give me your arm; you are less compromising than any one else. I don’t know why, but you are. I can arrange it. I shall risk something, but that is my own affair. Besides, fortune favors the bold. Don’t refuse me; it is my dream!”
Newman gave a loud laugh. It seemed to him hardly worth while to be the wife of the Marquis de Bellegarde, a daughter of the crusaders, heiress of six centuries of glories and traditions, to have centred one’s aspirations upon the sight of a couple of hundred young ladies kicking off young men’s hats. It struck him as a theme for the moralist; but he had no time to moralize upon it. The curtain rose again; M. de Bellegarde returned, and Newman went back to his seat.
He observed that Valentin de Bellegarde had taken his place in the baignoire of Mademoiselle Nioche, behind this young lady and her companion, where he was visible only if one carefully looked for him. In the next act Newman met him in the lobby and asked him if he had reflected upon possible emigration. “If you really meant to meditate,” he said, “you might have chosen a better place for it.”
“Oh, the place was not bad,” said Valentin. “I was not thinking of that girl. I listened to the music, and, without thinking of the play or looking at the stage, I turned over your proposal. At first it seemed quite fantastic. And then a certain fiddle in the orchestra — I could distinguish it — began to say as it scraped away, ‘Why not, why not?’ And then, in that rapid movement, all the fiddles took it up and the conductor’s stick seemed to beat it in the air: ‘Why not, why not?’ I’m sure I can’t say! I don’t see why not. I don’t see why I shouldn’t do something. It appears to me really a very bright idea. This sort of thing is certainly very stale. And then I could come back with a trunk full of dollars. Besides, I might possibly find it amusing. They call me a raffine; who knows but that I might discover an unsuspected charm in shop-keeping? It would really have a certain romantic, picturesque side; it would look well in my biography. It would look as if I were a strong man, a first-rate man, a man who dominated circumstances.”
“Never mind how it would look,” said Newman. “It always looks well to have half a million of dollars. There is no reason why you shouldn’t have them if you will mind what I tell you — I alone — and not talk to other parties.” He passed his arm into that of his companion, and the two walked for some time up and down one of the less frequented corridors. Newman’s imagination began to glow with the idea of converting his bright, impracticable friend into a first-class man of business. He felt for the moment a sort of spiritual zeal, the zeal of the propagandist. Its ardor was in part the result of that general discomfort which the sight of all uninvested capital produced in him; so fine an intelligence as Bellegarde’s ought to be dedicated to high uses. The highest uses known to Newman’s experience were certain transcendent sagacities in the handling of railway stock. And then his zeal was quickened by his personal kindness for Valentin; he had a sort of pity for him which he was well aware he never could have made the Comte de Bellegarde understand. He never lost a sense of its being pitiable that Valentin should think it a large life to revolve in varnished boots between the Rue d’Anjou and the Rue de l’Universite, taking the Boulevard des Italiens on the way, when over there in America one’s promenade was a continent, and one’s Boulevard stretched from New York to San Francisco. It mortified him, moreover, to think that Valentin lacked money; there was a painful grotesqueness in it. It affected him as the ignorance of a companion, otherwise without reproach, touching some rudimentary branch of learning would have done. There were things that one knew about as a matter of course, he would have said in such a case. Just so, if one pretended to be easy in the world, one had money as a matter of course, one had made it! There was something almost ridiculously anomalous to Newman in the sight of lively pretensions unaccompanied by large investments in railroads; though I may add that he would not have maintained that such investments were in themselves a proper ground for pretensions. “I will make you do something,” he said to Valentin; “I will put you through. I know half a dozen things in which we can make a place for you. You will see some lively work. It will take you a little while to get used to the life, but you will work in before long, and at the end of six months — after you have done a thing or two on your own account — you will like it. And then it will be very pleasant for you, having your sister over there. It will be pleasant for her to have you, too. Yes, Valentin,” continued Newman, pressing his friend’s arm genially, “I think I see just the opening for you. Keep quiet and I’ll push you right in.”
Newman pursued this favoring strain for some time longer. The two men strolled about for a quarter of an hour. Valentin listened and questioned, many of his questions making Newman laugh loud at the naivete of his ignorance of the vulgar processes of money-getting; smiling himself, too, half ironical and half curious. And yet he was serious; he was fascinated by Newman’s plain prose version of the legend of El Dorado. It is true, however, that though to accept an “opening” in an American mercantile house might be a bold, original, and in its consequences extremely agreeable thing to do, he did not quite see himself objectively doing it. So that when the bell rang to indicate the close of the entr’acte, there was a certain mock-heroism in his saying, with his brilliant smile, “Well, then, put me through; push me in! I make myself over to you. Dip me into the pot and turn me into gold.”
They had passed into the corridor which encircled the row of baignoires, and Valentin stopped in front of the dusky little box in which Mademoiselle Nioche had bestowed herself, laying his hand on the doorknob. “Oh, come, are you going back there?” asked Newman.
“Mon Dieu, oui,” said Valentin.
“Haven’t you another place?”
“Yes, I have my usual place, in the stalls.”
“You had better go and occupy it, then.”
“I see her very well from there, too, added Valentin, serenely, “and to-night she is worth seeing. But,” he added in a moment, “I have a particular reason for going back just now.”
“Oh, I give you up,” said Newman. “You are infatuated!”
“No, it is only this. There is a young man in the box whom I shall annoy by going in, and I want to annoy him.”
“I am sorry to hear it,” said Newman. “Can’t you leave the poor fellow alone?”
“No, he has given me cause. The box is not his. Noemie came in alone and installed herself. I went and spoke to her, and in a few moments she asked me to go and get her fan from the pocket of her cloak, which the ouvreuse had carried off. In my absence this gentleman came in and took the chair beside Noemie in which I had been sitting. My reappearance disgusted him, and he had the grossness to show it. He came within an ace of being impertinent. I don’t know who he is; he is some vulgar wretch. I can’t think where she picks up such acquaintances. He has been drinking, too, but he knows what he is about. Just now, in the second act, he was unmannerly again. I shall put in another appearance for ten minutes — time enough to give him an opportunity to commit himself, if he feels inclined. I really can’t let the brute suppose that he is keeping me out of the box.”
“My dear fellow,” said Newman, remonstrantly, “what child’s play! You are not going to pick a quarrel about that girl, I hope.”
“That girl has nothing to do with it, and I have no intention of picking a quarrel. I am not a bully nor a fire-eater. I simply wish to make a point that a gentleman must.”
“Oh, damn your point!” said Newman. “That is the trouble with you Frenchmen; you must be always making points. Well,” he added, “be short. But if you are going in for this kind of thing, we must ship you off to America in advance.”
“Very good,” Valentin answered, “whenever you please. But if I go to America, I must not let this gentleman suppose that it is to run away from him.”
And they separated. At the end of the act Newman observed that Valentin was still in the baignoire. He strolled into the corridor again, expecting to meet him, and when he was within a few yards of Mademoiselle Nioche’s box saw his friend pass out, accompanied by the young man who had been seated beside its fair occupant. The two gentlemen walked with some quickness of step to a distant part of the lobby, where Newman perceived them stop and stand talking. The manner of each was perfectly quiet, but the stranger, who looked flushed, had begun to wipe his face very emphatically with his pocket-handkerchief. By this time Newman was abreast of the baignoire; the door had been left ajar, and he could see a pink dress inside. He immediately went in. Mademoiselle Nioche turned and greeted him with a brilliant smile.
“Ah, you have at last decided to come and see me?” she exclaimed. “You just save your politeness. You find me in a fine moment. Sit down.” There was a very becoming little flush in her cheek, and her eye had a noticeable spark. You would have said that she had received some very good news.
“Something has happened here!” said Newman, without sitting down.
“You find me in a very fine moment,” she repeated. “Two gentlemen — one of them is M. de Bellegarde, the pleasure of whose acquaintance I owe to you — have just had words about your humble servant. Very big words too. They can’t come off without crossing swords. A duel — that will give me a push!” cried Mademoiselle Noemie clapping her little hands. “C’est ca qui pose une femme!”
“You don’t mean to say that Bellegarde is going to fight about YOU!” exclaimed Newman, disgustedly.
“Nothing else!” and she looked at him with a hard little smile. “No, no, you are not galant! And if you prevent this affair I shall owe you a grudge — and pay my debt!”
Newman uttered an imprecation which, though brief — it consisted simply of the interjection “Oh!” followed by a geographical, or more correctly, perhaps a theological noun in four letters — had better not be transferred to these pages. He turned his back without more ceremony upon the pink dress and went out of the box. In the corridor he found Valentin and his companion walking towards him. The latter was thrusting a card into his waistcoat pocket. Mademoiselle Noemie’s jealous votary was a tall, robust young man with a thick nose, a prominent blue eye, a Germanic physiognomy, and a massive watch-chain. When they reached the box, Valentin with an emphasized bow made way for him to pass in first. Newman touched Valentin’s arm as a sign that he wished to speak with him, and Bellegarde answered that he would be with him in an instant. Valentin entered the box after the robust young man, but a couple of minutes afterwards he reappeared, largely smiling.
“She is immensely tickled,” he said. “She says we will make her fortune. I don’t want to be fatuous, but I think it is very possible.”
“So you are going to fight?” said Newman.
“My dear fellow, don’t look so mortally disgusted. It was not my choice. The thing is all arranged.”
“I told you so!” groaned Newman.
“I told HIM so,” said Valentin, smiling.
“What did he do to you?”
“My good friend, it doesn’t matter what. He used an expression — I took it up.”
“But I insist upon knowing; I can’t, as your elder brother, have you rushing into this sort of nonsense.”
“I am very much obliged to you,” said Valentin. “I have nothing to conceal, but I can’t go into particulars now and here.”
“We will leave this place, then. You can tell me outside.”
“Oh no, I can’t leave this place, why should I hurry away? I will go to my orchestra-stall and sit out the opera.”
“You will not enjoy it; you will be preoccupied.”
Valentin looked at him a moment, colored a little, smiled, and patted him on the arm. “You are delightfully simple! Before an affair a man is quiet. The quietest thing I can do is to go straight to my place.”
“Ah,” said Newman, “you want her to see you there — you and your quietness. I am not so simple! It is a poor business.”
Valentin remained, and the two men, in their respective places, sat out the rest of the performance, which was also enjoyed by Mademoiselle Nioche and her truculent admirer. At the end Newman joined Valentin again, and they went into the street together. Valentin shook his head at his friend’s proposal that he should get into Newman’s own vehicle, and stopped on the edge of the pavement. “I must go off alone,” he said; “I must look up a couple of friends who will take charge of this matter.”
“I will take charge of it,” Newman declared. “Put it into my hands.”
“You are very kind, but that is hardly possible. In the first place, you are, as you said just now, almost my brother; you are about to marry my sister. That alone disqualifies you; it casts doubts on your impartiality. And if it didn’t, it would be enough for me that I strongly suspect you of disapproving of the affair. You would try to prevent a meeting.”
“Of course I should,” said Newman. “Whoever your friends are, I hope they will do that.”
“Unquestionably they will. They will urge that excuses be made, proper excuses. But you would be too good-natured. You won’t do.”
Newman was silent a moment. He was keenly annoyed, but he saw it was useless to attempt interference. “When is this precious performance to come off?” he asked.
“The sooner the better,” said Valentin. “The day after to-morrow, I hope.”
“Well,” said Newman, “I have certainly a claim to know the facts. I can’t consent to shut my eyes to the matter.”
“I shall be most happy to tell you the facts,” said Valentin. “They are very simple, and it will be quickly done. But now everything depends on my putting my hands on my friends without delay. I will jump into a cab; you had better drive to my room and wait for me there. I will turn up at the end of an hour.”
Newman assented protestingly, let his friend go, and then betook himself to the picturesque little apartment in the Rue d’Anjou. It was more than an hour before Valentin returned, but when he did so he was able to announce that he had found one of his desired friends, and that this gentleman had taken upon himself the care of securing an associate. Newman had been sitting without lights by Valentin’s faded fire, upon which he had thrown a log; the blaze played over the richly-encumbered little sitting-room and produced fantastic gleams and shadows. He listened in silence to Valentin’s account of what had passed between him and the gentleman whose card he had in his pocket — M. Stanislas Kapp, of Strasbourg — after his return to Mademoiselle Nioche’s box. This hospitable young lady had espied an acquaintance on the other side of the house, and had expressed her displeasure at his not having the civility to come and pay her a visit. “Oh, let him alone!” M. Stanislas Kapp had hereupon exclaimed. “There are too many people in the box already.” And he had fixed his eyes with a demonstrative stare upon M. de Bellegarde. Valentin had promptly retorted that if there were too many people in the box it was easy for M. Kapp to diminish the number. “I shall be most happy to open the door for YOU!” M. Kapp exclaimed. “I shall be delighted to fling you into the pit!” Valentin had answered. “Oh, do make a rumpus and get into the papers!” Miss Noemie had gleefully ejaculated. “M. Kapp, turn him out; or, M. de Bellegarde, pitch him into the pit, into the orchestra — anywhere! I don’t care who does which, so long as you make a scene.” Valentin answered that they would make no scene, but that the gentleman would be so good as to step into the corridor with him. In the corridor, after a brief further exchange of words, there had been an exchange of cards. M. Stanislas Kapp was very stiff. He evidently meant to force his offence home.
“The man, no doubt, was insolent,” Newman said; “but if you hadn’t gone back into the box the thing wouldn’t have happened.”
“Why, don’t you see,” Valentin replied, “that the event proves the extreme propriety of my going back into the box? M. Kapp wished to provoke me; he was awaiting his chance. In such a case — that is, when he has been, so to speak, notified — a man must be on hand to receive the provocation. My not returning would simply have been tantamount to my saying to M. Stanislas Kapp, ‘Oh, if you are going to be disagreeable’”—
“ ‘You must manage it by yourself; damned if I’ll help you!’ That would have been a thoroughly sensible thing to say. The only attraction for you seems to have been the prospect of M. Kapp’s impertinence,” Newman went on. “You told me you were not going back for that girl.”
“Oh, don’t mention that girl any more,” murmured Valentin. “She’s a bore.”
“With all my heart. But if that is the way you feel about her, why couldn’t you let her alone?”
Valentin shook his head with a fine smile. “I don’t think you quite understand, and I don’t believe I can make you. She understood the situation; she knew what was in the air; she was watching us.”
“A cat may look at a king! What difference does that make?”
“Why, a man can’t back down before a woman.”
“I don’t call her a woman. You said yourself she was a stone,” cried Newman.
“Well,” Valentin rejoined, “there is no disputing about tastes. It’s a matter of feeling; it’s measured by one’s sense of honor.”
“Oh, confound your sense of honor!” cried Newman.
“It is vain talking,” said Valentin; “words have passed, and the thing is settled.”
Newman turned away, taking his hat. Then pausing with his hand on the door, “What are you going to use?” he asked.
“That is for M. Stanislas Kapp, as the challenged party, to decide. My own choice would be a short, light sword. I handle it well. I’m an indifferent shot.”
Newman had put on his hat; he pushed it back, gently scratching his forehead, high up. “I wish it were pistols,” he said. “I could show you how to lodge a bullet!”
Valentin broke into a laugh. “What is it some English poet says about consistency? It’s a flower or a star, or a jewel. Yours has the beauty of all three!” But he agreed to see Newman again on the morrow, after the details of his meeting with M. Stanislas Kapp should have been arranged.
In the course of the day Newman received three lines from him, saying that it had been decided that he should cross the frontier, with his adversary, and that he was to take the night express to Geneva. He should have time, however, to dine with Newman. In the afternoon Newman called upon Madame de Cintre, but his visit was brief. She was as gracious and sympathetic as he had ever found her, but she was sad, and she confessed, on Newman’s charging her with her red eyes, that she had been crying. Valentin had been with her a couple of hours before, and his visit had left her with a painful impression. He had laughed and gossiped, he had brought her no bad news, he had only been, in his manner, rather more affectionate than usual. His fraternal tenderness had touched her, and on his departure she had burst into tears. She had felt as if something strange and sad were going to happen; she had tried to reason away the fancy, and the effort had only given her a headache. Newman, of course, was perforce tongue-tied about Valentin’s projected duel, and his dramatic talent was not equal to satirizing Madame de Cintre’s presentiment as pointedly as perfect security demanded. Before he went away he asked Madame de Cintre whether Valentin had seen his mother.
“Yes,” she said, “but he didn’t make her cry.”
It was in Newman’s own apartment that Valentin dined, having brought his portmanteau, so that he might adjourn directly to the railway. M. Stanislas Kapp had positively declined to make excuses, and he, on his side, obviously, had none to offer. Valentin had found out with whom he was dealing. M. Stanislas Kapp was the son of and heir of a rich brewer of Strasbourg, a youth of a sanguineous — and sanguinary — temperament. He was making ducks and drakes of the paternal brewery, and although he passed in a general way for a good fellow, he had already been observed to be quarrelsome after dinner. “Que voulez-vous?” said Valentin. “Brought up on beer, he can’t stand champagne.” He had chosen pistols. Valentin, at dinner, had an excellent appetite; he made a point, in view of his long journey, of eating more than usual. He took the liberty of suggesting to Newman a slight modification in the composition of a certain fish-sauce; he thought it would be worth mentioning to the cook. But Newman had no thoughts for fish-sauce; he felt thoroughly discontented. As he sat and watched his amiable and clever companion going through his excellent repast with the delicate deliberation of hereditary epicurism, the folly of so charming a fellow traveling off to expose his agreeable young life for the sake of M. Stanislas and Mademoiselle Noemie struck him with intolerable force. He had grown fond of Valentin, he felt now how fond; and his sense of helplessness only increased his irritation.
“Well, this sort of thing may be all very well,” he cried at last, “but I declare I don’t see it. I can’t stop you, perhaps, but at least I can protest. I do protest, violently.”
“My dear fellow, don’t make a scene,” said Valentin. “Scenes in these cases are in very bad taste.”
“Your duel itself is a scene,” said Newman; “that’s all it is! It’s a wretched theatrical affair. Why don’t you take a band of music with you outright? It’s d — d barbarous and it’s d — d corrupt, both.”
“Oh, I can’t begin, at this time of day, to defend the theory of dueling,” said Valentin. “It is our custom, and I think it is a good thing. Quite apart from the goodness of the cause in which a duel may be fought, it has a kind of picturesque charm which in this age of vile prose seems to me greatly to recommend it. It’s a remnant of a higher-tempered time; one ought to cling to it. Depend upon it, a duel is never amiss.”
“I don’t know what you mean by a higher-tempered time,” said Newman. “Because your great-grandfather was an ass, is that any reason why you should be? For my part I think we had better let our temper take care of itself; it generally seems to me quite high enough; I am not afraid of being too meek. If your great-grandfather were to make himself unpleasant to me, I think I could manage him yet.”
“My dear friend,” said Valentin, smiling, “you can’t invent anything that will take the place of satisfaction for an insult. To demand it and to give it are equally excellent arrangements.”
“Do you call this sort of thing satisfaction?” Newman asked. “Does it satisfy you to receive a present of the carcass of that coarse fop? does it gratify you to make him a present of yours? If a man hits you, hit him back; if a man libels you, haul him up.”
“Haul him up, into court? Oh, that is very nasty!” said Valentin.
“The nastiness is his — not yours. And for that matter, what you are doing is not particularly nice. You are too good for it. I don’t say you are the most useful man in the world, or the cleverest, or the most amiable. But you are too good to go and get your throat cut for a prostitute.”
Valentin flushed a little, but he laughed. “I shan’t get my throat cut if I can help it. Moreover, one’s honor hasn’t two different measures. It only knows that it is hurt; it doesn’t ask when, or how, or where.”
“The more fool it is!” said Newman.
Valentin ceased to laugh; he looked grave. “I beg you not to say any more,” he said. “If you do I shall almost fancy you don’t care about — about”— and he paused.
“About that matter — about one’s honor.”
“Fancy what you please,” said Newman. “Fancy while you are at it that I care about YOU— though you are not worth it. But come back without damage,” he added in a moment, “and I will forgive you. And then,” he continued, as Valentin was going, “I will ship you straight off to America.”
“Well,” answered Valentin, “if I am to turn over a new page, this may figure as a tail-piece to the old.” And then he lit another cigar and departed.
“Blast that girl!” said Newman as the door closed upon Valentin.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51