The next time Newman came to the Rue de l'Universite he had the good fortune to find Madame de Cintre alone. He had come with a definite intention, and he lost no time in executing it. She wore, moreover, a look which he eagerly interpreted as expectancy.
"I have been coming to see you for six months, now," he said, "and I have never spoken to you a second time of marriage. That was what you asked me; I obeyed. Could any man have done better?"
"You have acted with great delicacy," said Madame de Cintre.
"Well, I'm going to change, now," said Newman. "I don't mean that I am going to be indelicate; but I'm going to go back to where I began. I am back there. I have been all round the circle. Or rather, I have never been away from here. I have never ceased to want what I wanted then. Only now I am more sure of it, if possible; I am more sure of myself, and more sure of you. I know you better, though I don't know anything I didn't believe three months ago. You are everything--you are beyond everything-- I can imagine or desire. You know me now; you must know me. I won't say that you have seen the best--but you have seen the worst. I hope you have been thinking all this while. You must have seen that I was only waiting; you can't suppose that I was changing. What will you say to me, now? Say that everything is clear and reasonable, and that I have been very patient and considerate, and deserve my reward. And then give me your hand. Madame de Cintre do that. Do it."
"I knew you were only waiting," she said; "and I was very sure this day would come. I have thought about it a great deal. At first I was half afraid of it. But I am not afraid of it now." She paused a moment, and then she added, "It's a relief."
She was sitting on a low chair, and Newman was on an ottoman, near her. He leaned a little and took her hand, which for an instant she let him keep. "That means that I have not waited for nothing," he said. She looked at him for a moment, and he saw her eyes fill with tears. "With me," he went on, "you will be as safe--as safe"--and even in his ardor he hesitated a moment for a comparison--"as safe," he said, with a kind of simple solemnity, "as in your father's arms."
Still she looked at him and her tears increased. Then, abruptly, she buried her face on the cushioned arm of the sofa beside her chair, and broke into noiseless sobs. "I am weak--I am weak," he heard her say.
"All the more reason why you should give yourself up to me," he answered. "Why are you troubled? There is nothing but happiness. Is that so hard to believe?"
"To you everything seems so simple," she said, raising her head. "But things are not so. I like you extremely. I liked you six months ago, and now I am sure of it, as you say you are sure. But it is not easy, simply for that, to decide to marry you. There are a great many things to think about."
"There ought to be only one thing to think about--that we love each other," said Newman. And as she remained silent he quickly added, "Very good, if you can't accept that, don't tell me so."
"I should be very glad to think of nothing," she said at last; "not to think at all; only to shut both my eyes and give myself up. But I can't. I'm cold, I'm old, I'm a coward; I never supposed I should marry again, and it seems to me very strange l should ever have listened to you. When I used to think, as a girl, of what I should do if I were to marry freely, by my own choice, I thought of a very different man from you."
"That's nothing against me," said Newman with an immense smile; "your taste was not formed."
His smile made Madame de Cintre smile. "Have you formed it?" she asked. And then she said, in a different tone, "Where do you wish to live?"
"Anywhere in the wide world you like. We can easily settle that."
"I don't know why I ask you," she presently continued. "I care very little. I think if I were to marry you I could live almost anywhere. You have some false ideas about me; you think that I need a great many things--that I must have a brilliant, worldly life. I am sure you are prepared to take a great deal of trouble to give me such things. But that is very arbitrary; I have done nothing to prove that." She paused again, looking at him, and her mingled sound and silence were so sweet to him that he had no wish to hurry her, any more than he would have had a wish to hurry a golden sunrise. "Your being so different, which at first seemed a difficulty, a trouble, began one day to seem to me a pleasure, a great pleasure. I was glad you were different. And yet if I had said so, no one would have understood me; I don't mean simply to my family."
"They would have said I was a queer monster, eh?" said Newman.
"They would have said I could never be happy with you-- you were too different; and I would have said it was just because you were so different that I might be happy. But they would have given better reasons than I. My only reason"-- and she paused again.
But this time, in the midst of his golden sunrise, Newman felt the impulse to grasp at a rosy cloud. "Your only reason is that you love me!" he murmured with an eloquent gesture, and for want of a better reason Madame de Cintre reconciled herself to this one.
Newman came back the next day, and in the vestibule, as he entered the house, he encountered his friend Mrs. Bread. She was wandering about in honorable idleness, and when his eyes fell upon her she delivered him one of her curtsies. Then turning to the servant who had admitted him, she said, with the combined majesty of her native superiority and of a rugged English accent, "You may retire; I will have the honor of conducting monsieur. In spite of this combination, however, it appeared to Newman that her voice had a slight quaver, as if the tone of command were not habitual to it. The man gave her an impertinent stare, but he walked slowly away, and she led Newman up-stairs. At half its course the staircase gave a bend, forming a little platform. In the angle of the wall stood an indifferent statue of an eighteenth-century nymph, simpering, sallow, and cracked. Here Mrs. Bread stopped and looked with shy kindness at her companion.
"I know the good news, sir," she murmured.
"You have a good right to be first to know it," said Newman. "You have taken such a friendly interest."
Mrs. Bread turned away and began to blow the dust off the statue, as if this might be mockery.
"I suppose you want to congratulate me," said Newman. "I am greatly obliged." And then he added, "You gave me much pleasure the other day."
She turned around, apparently reassured. "You are not to think that I have been told anything," she said; "I have only guessed. But when I looked at you, as you came in, I was sure I had guessed aright."
"You are very sharp," said Newman. "I am sure that in your quiet way you see everything."
"I am not a fool, sir, thank God. I have guessed something else beside," said Mrs. Bread.
"I needn't tell you that, sir; I don't think you would believe it. At any rate it wouldn't please you."
"Oh, tell me nothing but what will please me," laughed Newman. "That is the way you began."
"Well, sir, I suppose you won't be vexed to hear that the sooner everything is over the better."
"The sooner we are married, you mean? The better for me, certainly."
"The better for every one."
"The better for you, perhaps. You know you are coming to live with us," said Newman.
"I'm extremely obliged to you, sir, but it is not of myself I was thinking. I only wanted, if I might take the liberty, to recommend you to lose no time."
"Whom are you afraid of?"
Mrs. Bread looked up the staircase and then down and then she looked at the undusted nymph, as if she possibly had sentient ears. "I am afraid of every one," she said.
"What an uncomfortable state of mind!" said Newman. "Does 'every one' wish to prevent my marriage?"
"I am afraid of already having said too much," Mrs. Bread replied. "I won't take it back, but I won't say any more." And she took her way up the staircase again and led him into Madame de Cintre's salon.
Newman indulged in a brief and silent imprecation when he found that Madame de Cintre was not alone. With her sat her mother, and in the middle of the room stood young Madame de Bellegarde, in her bonnet and mantle. The old marquise, who was leaning back in her chair with a hand clasping the knob of each arm, looked at him fixedly without moving. She seemed barely conscious of his greeting; she appeared to be musing intently. Newman said to himself that her daughter had been announcing her engagement and that the old lady found the morsel hard to swallow. But Madame de Cintre, as she gave him her hand gave him also a look by which she appeared to mean that he should understand something. Was it a warning or a request? Did she wish to enjoin speech or silence? He was puzzled, and young Madame de Bellegarde's pretty grin gave him no information.
"I have not told my mother," said Madame de Cintre abruptly, looking at him.
"Told me what?" demanded the marquise. "You tell me too little; you should tell me everything."
"That is what I do," said Madame Urbain, with a little laugh.
"Let me tell your mother," said Newman.
The old lady stared at him again, and then turned to her daughter. "You are going to marry him?" she cried, softly.
"Oui ma mere," said Madame de Cintre.
"Your daughter has consented, to my great happiness," said Newman.
"And when was this arrangement made?" asked Madame de Bellegarde. "I seem to be picking up the news by chance!"
"My suspense came to an end yesterday," said Newman.
"And how long was mine to have lasted?" said the marquise to her daughter. She spoke without irritation; with a sort of cold, noble displeasure.
Madame de Cintre stood silent, with her eyes on the ground. "It is over now," she said.
"Where is my son--where is Urbain?" asked the marquise. "Send for your brother and inform him."
Young Madame de Bellegarde laid her hand on the bell-rope. "He was to make some visits with me, and I was to go and knock--very softly, very softly--at the door of his study. But he can come to me!" She pulled the bell, and in a few moments Mrs. Bread appeared, with a face of calm inquiry.
"Send for your brother," said the old lady.
But Newman felt an irresistible impulse to speak, and to speak in a certain way. "Tell the marquis we want him," he said to Mrs. Bread, who quietly retired.
Young Madame de Bellegarde went to her sister-in-law and embraced her. Then she turned to Newman, with an intense smile. "She is charming. I congratulate you."
"I congratulate you, sir," said Madame de Bellegarde, with extreme solemnity. "My daughter is an extraordinarily good woman. She may have faults, but I don't know them."
"My mother does not often make jokes," said Madame de Cintre; "but when she does they are terrible."
"She is ravishing," the Marquise Urbain resumed, looking at her sister-in-law, with her head on one side. "Yes, I congratulate you."
Madame de Cintre turned away, and, taking up a piece of tapestry, began to ply the needle. Some minutes of silence elapsed, which were interrupted by the arrival of M. de Bellegarde. He came in with his hat in his hand, gloved, and was followed by his brother Valentin, who appeared to have just entered the house. M. de Bellegarde looked around the circle and greeted Newman with his usual finely-measured courtesy. Valentin saluted his mother and his sisters, and, as he shook hands with Newman, gave him a glance of acute interrogation.
"Arrivez donc, messieurs!" cried young Madame de Bellegarde. "We have great news for you."
"Speak to your brother, my daughter," said the old lady.
Madame de Cintre had been looking at her tapestry. She raised her eyes to her brother. "I have accepted Mr. Newman."
"Your sister has consented," said Newman. "You see after all, I knew what I was about."
"I am charmed!" said M. de Bellegarde, with superior benignity.
"So am I," said Valentin to Newman. "The marquis and I are charmed. I can't marry, myself, but I can understand it. I can't stand on my head, but I can applaud a clever acrobat. My dear sister, I bless your union."
The marquis stood looking for a while into the crown of his hat. "We have been prepared," he said at last "but it is inevitable that in face of the event one should experience a certain emotion." And he gave a most unhilarious smile.
"I feel no emotion that I was not perfectly prepared for," said his mother.
"I can't say that for myself," said Newman, smiling but differently from the marquis. "I am happier than I expected to be. I suppose it's the sight of your happiness!"
"Don't exaggerate that," said Madame de Bellegarde, getting up and laying her hand upon her daughter's arm. "You can't expect an honest old woman to thank you for taking away her beautiful, only daughter."
"You forgot me, dear madame," said the young marquise demurely.
"Yes, she is very beautiful," said Newman.
"And when is the wedding, pray?" asked young Madame de Bellegarde; "I must have a month to think over a dress."
"That must be discussed," said the marquise.
"Oh, we will discuss it, and let you know!" Newman exclaimed.
"I have no doubt we shall agree," said Urbain.
"If you don't agree with Madame de Cintre, you will be very unreasonable."
"Come, come, Urbain," said young Madame de Bellegarde, "I must go straight to my tailor's."
The old lady had been standing with her hand on her daughter's arm, looking at her fixedly. She gave a little sigh, and murmured, "No, I did not expect it! You are a fortunate man," she added, turning to Newman, with an expressive nod.
"Oh, I know that!" he answered. "I feel tremendously proud. I feel like crying it on the housetops,--like stopping people in the street to tell them."
Madame de Bellegarde narrowed her lips. "Pray don't," she said.
"The more people that know it, the better," Newman declared. "I haven't yet announced it here, but I telegraphed it this morning to America."
"Telegraphed it to America?" the old lady murmured.
"To New York, to St. Louis, and to San Francisco; those are the principal cities, you know. To-morrow I shall tell my friends here."
"Have you many?" asked Madame de Bellegarde, in a tone of which I am afraid that Newman but partly measured the impertinence.
"Enough to bring me a great many hand-shakes and congratulations. To say nothing," he added, in a moment, "of those I shall receive from your friends."
"They will not use the telegraph," said the marquise, taking her departure.
M. de Bellegarde, whose wife, her imagination having apparently taken flight to the tailor's, was fluttering her silken wings in emulation, shook hands with Newman, and said with a more persuasive accent than the latter had ever heard him use, "You may count upon me." Then his wife led him away.
Valentin stood looking from his sister to our hero. "I hope you both reflected seriously," he said.
Madame de Cintre smiled. "We have neither your powers of reflection nor your depth of seriousness; but we have done our best."
"Well, I have a great regard for each of you," Valentin continued. "You are charming young people. But I am not satisfied, on the whole, that you belong to that small and superior class--that exquisite group composed of persons who are worthy to remain unmarried. These are rare souls; they are the salt of the earth. But I don't mean to be invidious; the marrying people are often very nice."
"Valentin holds that women should marry, and that men should not," said Madame de Cintre. "I don't know how he arranges it."
"I arrange it by adoring you, my sister," said Valentin ardently. "Good-by."
"Adore some one whom you can marry," said Newman. "I will arrange that for you some day. I foresee that I am going to turn apostle."
Valentin was on the threshold; he looked back a moment with a face that had turned grave. "I adore some one I can't marry!" he said. And he dropped the portiere and departed.
"They don't like it," said Newman, standing alone before Madame de Cintre.
"No," she said, after a moment; "they don't like it."
"Well, now, do you mind that?" asked Newman.
"Yes!" she said, after another interval.
"That's a mistake."
"I can't help it. I should prefer that my mother were pleased."
"Why the deuce," demanded Newman, "is she not pleased? She gave you leave to marry me."
"Very true; I don't understand it. And yet I do 'mind it,' as you say. You will call it superstitious."
"That will depend upon how much you let it bother you. Then I shall call it an awful bore."
"I will keep it to myself," said Madame de Cintre, "It shall not bother you." And then they talked of their marriage-day, and Madame de Cintre assented unreservedly to Newman's desire to have it fixed for an early date.
Newman's telegrams were answered with interest. Having dispatched but three electric missives, he received no less than eight gratulatory bulletins in return. He put them into his pocket-book, and the next time he encountered old Madame de Bellegarde drew them forth and displayed them to her. This, it must be confessed, was a slightly malicious stroke; the reader must judge in what degree the offense was venial. Newman knew that the marquise disliked his telegrams, though he could see no sufficient reason for it. Madame de Cintre, on the other hand, liked them, and, most of them being of a humorous cast, laughed at them immoderately, and inquired into the character of their authors. Newman, now that his prize was gained, felt a peculiar desire that his triumph should be manifest. He more than suspected that the Bellegardes were keeping quiet about it, and allowing it, in their select circle, but a limited resonance; and it pleased him to think that if he were to take the trouble he might, as he phrased it, break all the windows. No man likes being repudiated, and yet Newman, if he was not flattered, was not exactly offended. He had not this good excuse for his somewhat aggressive impulse to promulgate his felicity; his sentiment was of another quality. He wanted for once to make the heads of the house of Bellegarde feel him; he knew not when he should have another chance. He had had for the past six months a sense of the old lady and her son looking straight over his head, and he was now resolved that they should toe a mark which he would give himself the satisfaction of drawing.
"It is like seeing a bottle emptied when the wine is poured too slowly," he said to Mrs. Tristram. "They make me want to joggle their elbows and force them to spill their wine."
To this Mrs. Tristram answered that he had better leave them alone and let them do things in their own way. "You must make allowances for them," she said. "It is natural enough that they should hang fire a little. They thought they accepted you when you made your application; but they are not people of imagination, they could not project themselves into the future, and now they will have to begin again. But they are people of honor, and they will do whatever is necessary."
Newman spent a few moments in narrow-eyed meditation. "I am not hard on them," he presently said, "and to prove it I will invite them all to a festival."
"To a festival?"
"You have been laughing at my great gilded rooms all winter; I will show you that they are good for something. I will give a party. What is the grandest thing one can do here? I will hire all the great singers from the opera, and all the first people from the Theatre Francais, and I will give an entertainment."
"And whom will you invite?"
"You, first of all. And then the old lady and her son. And then every one among her friends whom I have met at her house or elsewhere, every one who has shown me the minimum of politeness, every duke of them and his wife. And then all my friends, without exception: Miss Kitty Upjohn, Miss Dora Finch, General Packard, C. P Hatch, and all the rest. And every one shall know what it is about, that is, to celebrate my engagement to the Countess de Cintre. What do you think of the idea?"
"I think it is odious!" said Mrs. Tristram. And then in a moment: "I think it is delicious!"
The very next evening Newman repaired to Madame de Bellegarde's salon. where he found her surrounded by her children, and invited her to honor his poor dwelling by her presence on a certain evening a fortnight distant.
The marquise stared a moment. "My dear sir," she cried, "what do you want to do to me?"
"To make you acquainted with a few people, and then to place you in a very easy chair and ask you to listen to Madame Frezzolini's singing."
"You mean to give a concert?"
"Something of that sort."
"And to have a crowd of people?"
"All my friends, and I hope some of yours and your daughter's. I want to celebrate my engagement."
It seemed to Newman that Madame de Bellegarde turned pale. She opened her fan, a fine old painted fan of the last century, and looked at the picture, which represented a fete champetre-- a lady with a guitar, singing, and a group of dancers round a garlanded Hermes.
"We go out so little, murmured the marquis, "since my poor father's death."
"But my dear father is still alive, my friend," said his wife. "I am only waiting for my invitation to accept it," and she glanced with amiable confidence at Newman. "It will be magnificent; I am very sure of that."
I am sorry to say, to the discredit of Newman's gallantry, that this lady's invitation was not then and there bestowed; he was giving all his attention to the old marquise. She looked up at last, smiling. "I can't think of letting you offer me a fete," she said, "until I have offered you one. We want to present you to our friends; we will invite them all. We have it very much at heart. We must do things in order. Come to me about the 25th; I will let you know the exact day immediately. We shall not have any one so fine as Madame Frezzolini, but we shall have some very good people. After that you may talk of your own fete." The old lady spoke with a certain quick eagerness, smiling more agreeably as she went on.
It seemed to Newman a handsome proposal, and such proposals always touched the sources of his good-nature. He said to Madame de Bellegarde that he should be glad to come on the 25th or any other day, and that it mattered very little whether he met his friends at her house or at his own. I have said that Newman was observant, but it must be admitted that on this occasion he failed to notice a certain delicate glance which passed between Madame de Bellegarde and the marquis, and which we may presume to have been a commentary upon the innocence displayed in that latter clause of his speech.
Valentin de Bellegarde walked away with Newman that evening, and when they had left the Rue de l'Universite some distance behind them he said reflectively, "My mother is very strong--very strong." Then in answer to an interrogative movement of Newman's he continued, "She was driven to the wall, but you would never have thought it. Her fete of the 25th was an invention of the moment. She had no idea whatever of giving a fete, but finding it the only issue from your proposal, she looked straight at the dose-- excuse the expression--and bolted it, as you saw, without winking. She is very strong."
"Dear me!" said Newman, divided between relish and compassion. "I don't care a straw for her fete, I am willing to take the will for the deed."
"No, no," said Valentin, with a little inconsequent touch of family pride. "The thing will be done now, and done handsomely."