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Chapter 21

  • There is a pretty public walk at Poitiers, laid out upon the crest of the hig_ill around which the little city clusters, planted with thick trees an_ooking down upon the fertile fields in which the old English princes fough_or their right and held it. Newman paced up and down this quiet promenade fo_he greater part of the next day and let his eyes wander over the histori_rospect; but he would have been sadly at a loss to tell you afterward_hether the latter was made up of coal-fields or of vineyards. He was wholl_iven up to his grievance, or which reflection by no means diminished th_eight. He feared that Madame de Cintre was irretrievably lost; and yet, as h_ould have said himself, he didn't see his way clear to giving her up. H_ound it impossible to turn his back upon Fleurieres and its inhabitants; i_eemed to him that some germ of hope or reparation must lurk there somewhere, if he could only stretch his arm out far enough to pluck it. It was as if h_ad his hand on a door-knob and were closing his clenched fist upon it: he ha_humped, he had called, he had pressed the door with his powerful knee an_haken it with all his strength, and dead, damning silence had answered him.
  • And yet something held him there—something hardened the grasp of his fingers.
  • Newman's satisfaction had been too intense, his whole plan too deliberate an_ature, his prospect of happiness too rich and comprehensive for this fin_oral fabric to crumble at a stroke. The very foundation seemed fatall_njured, and yet he felt a stubborn desire still to try to save the edifice.
  • He was filled with a sorer sense of wrong than he had ever known, or than h_ad supposed it possible he should know. To accept his injury and walk awa_ithout looking behind him was a stretch of good-nature of which he foun_imself incapable. He looked behind him intently and continually, and what h_aw there did not assuage his resentment. He saw himself trustful, generous, liberal, patient, easy, pocketing frequent irritation and furnishing unlimite_odesty. To have eaten humble pie, to have been snubbed and patronized an_atirized and have consented to take it as one of the conditions of th_argain—to have done this, and done it all for nothing, surely gave one _ight to protest. And to be turned off because one was a commercial person! A_f he had ever talked or dreamt of the commercial since his connection wit_he Bellegardes began—as if he had made the least circumstance of th_ommercial—as if he would not have consented to confound the commercial fift_imes a day, if it might have increased by a hair's breadth the chance of th_ellegardes' not playing him a trick! Granted that being commercial was fai_round for having a trick played upon one, how little they knew about th_lass so designed and its enterprising way of not standing upon trifles! I_as in the light of his injury that the weight of Newman's past enduranc_eemed so heavy; his actual irritation had not been so great, merged as it wa_n his vision of the cloudless blue that overarched his immediate wooing. Bu_ow his sense of outrage was deep, rancorous, and ever present; he felt tha_e was a good fellow wronged. As for Madame de Cintre's conduct, it struck hi_ith a kind of awe, and the fact that he was powerless to understand it o_eel the reality of its motives only deepened the force with which he ha_ttached himself to her. He had never let the fact of her Catholicism troubl_im; Catholicism to him was nothing but a name, and to express a mistrust o_he form in which her religious feelings had moulded themselves would hav_eemed to him on his own part a rather pretentious affectation of Protestan_eal. If such superb white flowers as that could bloom in Catholic soil, th_oil was not insalubrious. But it was one thing to be a Catholic, and anothe_o turn nun—on your hand! There was something lugubriously comical in the wa_ewman's thoroughly contemporaneous optimism was confronted with this dusk_ld-world expedient. To see a woman made for him and for motherhood to hi_hildren juggled away in this tragic travesty—it was a thing to rub one's eye_ver, a nightmare, an illusion, a hoax. But the hours passed away withou_isproving the thing, and leaving him only the after-sense of the vehemenc_ith which he had embraced Madame de Cintre. He remembered her words and he_ooks; he turned them over and tried to shake the mystery out of them and t_nfuse them with an endurable meaning. What had she meant by her feeling bein_ kind of religion? It was the religion simply of the family laws, th_eligion of which her implacable little mother was the high priestess. Twis_he thing about as her generosity would, the one certain fact was that the_ad used force against her. Her generosity had tried to screen them, bu_ewman's heart rose into his throat at the thought that they should go scot- free.
  • The twenty-four hours wore themselves away, and the next morning Newman spran_o his feet with the resolution to return to Fleurieres and demand anothe_nterview with Madame de Bellegarde and her son. He lost no time in putting i_nto practice. As he rolled swiftly over the excellent road in the littl_aleche furnished him at the inn at Poitiers, he drew forth, as it were, fro_he very safe place in his mind to which he had consigned it, the las_nformation given him by poor Valentin. Valentin had told him he could d_omething with it, and Newman thought it would be well to have it at hand.
  • This was of course not the first time, lately, that Newman had given it hi_ttention. It was information in the rough,—it was dark and puzzling; bu_ewman was neither helpless nor afraid. Valentin had evidently meant to pu_im in possession of a powerful instrument, though he could not be said t_ave placed the handle very securely within his grasp. But if he had no_eally told him the secret, he had at least given him the clew to it—a clew o_hich that queer old Mrs. Bread held the other end. Mrs. Bread had alway_ooked to Newman as if she knew secrets; and as he apparently enjoyed he_steem, he suspected she might be induced to share her knowledge with him. S_ong as there was only Mrs. Bread to deal with, he felt easy. As to what ther_as to find out, he had only one fear—that it might not be bad enough. Then, when the image of the marquise and her son rose before him again, standin_ide by side, the old woman's hand in Urbain's arm, and the same cold, unsociable fixedness in the eyes of each, he cried out to himself that th_ear was groundless. There was blood in the secret at the very last! H_rrived at Fleurieres almost in a state of elation; he had satisfied himself, logically, that in the presence of his threat of exposure they would, as h_entally phrased it, rattle down like unwound buckets. He remembered indee_hat he must first catch his hare—first ascertain what there was to expose; but after that, why shouldn't his happiness be as good as new again? Mothe_nd son would drop their lovely victim in terror and take to hiding, an_adame de Cintre, left to herself, would surely come back to him. Give her _hance and she would rise to the surface, return to the light. How could sh_ail to perceive that his house would be much the most comfortable sort o_onvent?
  • Newman, as he had done before, left his conveyance at the inn and walked th_hort remaining distance to the chateau. When he reached the gate, however, _ingular feeling took possession of him—a feeling which, strange as it ma_eem, had its source in its unfathomable good nature. He stood there a while, looking through the bars at the large, time-stained face of the edifice, an_ondering to what crime it was that the dark old house, with its flowery name, had given convenient occasion. It had given occasion, first and last, t_yrannies and sufferings enough, Newman said to himself; it was an evil- looking place to live in. Then, suddenly, came the reflection—What a horribl_ubbish-heap of iniquity to fumble in! The attitude of inquisitor turned it_gnobler face, and with the same movement Newman declared that the Bellegarde_hould have another chance. He would appeal once more directly to their sens_f fairness, and not to their fear, and if they should be accessible t_eason, he need know nothing worse about them than what he already knew. Tha_as bad enough.
  • The gate-keeper let him in through the same stiff crevice as before, and h_assed through the court and over the little rustic bridge on the moat. Th_oor was opened before he had reached it, and, as if to put his clemency t_out with the suggestion of a richer opportunity, Mrs. Bread stood ther_waiting him. Her face, as usual, looked as hopelessly blank as the tide- smoothed sea-sand, and her black garments seemed of an intenser sable. Newma_ad already learned that her strange inexpressiveness could be a vehicle fo_motion, and he was not surprised at the muffled vivacity with which sh_hispered, "I thought you would try again, sir. I was looking out for you."
  • "I am glad to see you," said Newman; "I think you are my friend."
  • Mrs. Bread looked at him opaquely. "I wish you well sir; but it's vain wishin_ow."
  • "You know, then, how they have treated me?"
  • "Oh, sir," said Mrs. Bread, dryly, "I know everything."
  • Newman hesitated a moment. "Everything?"
  • Mrs. Bread gave him a glance somewhat more lucent. "I know at least too much, sir."
  • "One can never know too much. I congratulate you. I have come to see Madame d_ellegarde and her son," Newman added. "Are they at home? If they are not, _ill wait."
  • "My lady is always at home," Mrs. Bread replied, "and the marquis is mostl_ith her."
  • "Please then tell them—one or the other, or both—that I am here and that _esire to see them."
  • Mrs. Bread hesitated. "May I take a great liberty, sir?"
  • "You have never taken a liberty but you have justified it," said Newman, wit_iplomatic urbanity.
  • Mrs. Bread dropped her wrinkled eyelids as if she were curtseying; but th_urtsey stopped there; the occasion was too grave. "You have come to plea_ith them again, sir? Perhaps you don't know this—that Madame de Cintr_eturned this morning to Paris."
  • "Ah, she's gone!" And Newman, groaning, smote the pavement with his stick.
  • "She has gone straight to the convent—the Carmelites they call it. I see yo_now, sir. My lady and the marquis take it very ill. It was only last nigh_he told them."
  • "Ah, she had kept it back, then?" cried Newman. "Good, good! And they are ver_ierce?"
  • "They are not pleased," said Mrs. Bread. "But they may well dislike it. The_ell me it's most dreadful, sir; of all the nuns in Christendom the Carmelite_re the worst. You may say they are really not human, sir; they make you giv_p everything—forever. And to think of HER there! If I was one that cried, sir, I could cry."
  • Newman looked at her an instant. "We mustn't cry, Mrs. Bread; we must act. G_nd call them!" And he made a movement to enter farther.
  • But Mrs. Bread gently checked him. "May I take another liberty? I am told yo_ere with my dearest Mr. Valentin, in his last hours. If you would tell me _ord about him! The poor count was my own boy, sir; for the first year of hi_ife he was hardly out of my arms; I taught him to speak. And the count spok_o well, sir! He always spoke well to his poor old Bread. When he grew up an_ook his pleasure he always had a kind word for me. And to die in that wil_ay! They have a story that he fought with a wine-merchant. I can't believ_hat, sir! And was he in great pain?"
  • "You are a wise, kind old woman, Mrs. Bread," said Newman. "I hoped I migh_ee you with my own children in your arms. Perhaps I shall, yet." And he pu_ut his hand. Mrs. Bread looked for a moment at his open palm, and then, as i_ascinated by the novelty of the gesture, extended her own ladylike fingers.
  • Newman held her hand firmly and deliberately, fixing his eyes upon her. "Yo_ant to know all about Mr. Valentin?" he said.
  • "It would be a sad pleasure, sir."
  • "I can tell you everything. Can you sometimes leave this place?"
  • "The chateau, sir? I really don't know. I never tried."
  • "Try, then; try hard. Try this evening, at dusk. Come to me in the old rui_here on the hill, in the court before the church. I will wait for you there; I have something very important to tell you. An old woman like you can do a_he pleases."
  • Mrs. Bread stared, wondering, with parted lips. "Is it from the count, sir?"
  • she asked.
  • "From the count—from his death-bed," said Newman.
  • "I will come, then. I will be bold, for once, for HIM."
  • She led Newman into the great drawing-room with which he had already mad_cquaintance, and retired to execute his commands. Newman waited a long time; at last he was on the point of ringing and repeating his request. He wa_ooking round him for a bell when the marquis came in with his mother on hi_rm. It will be seen that Newman had a logical mind when I say that h_eclared to himself, in perfect good faith, as a result of Valentin's dar_ints, that his adversaries looked grossly wicked. "There is no mistake abou_t now," he said to himself as they advanced. "They're a bad lot; they hav_ulled off the mask." Madame de Bellegarde and her son certainly bore in thei_aces the signs of extreme perturbation; they looked like people who ha_assed a sleepless night. Confronted, moreover, with an annoyance which the_oped they had disposed of, it was not natural that they should have any ver_ender glances to bestow upon Newman. He stood before them, and such eye-beam_s they found available they leveled at him; Newman feeling as if the door o_ sepulchre had suddenly been opened, and the damp darkness were bein_xhaled.
  • "You see I have come back," he said. "I have come to try again."
  • "It would be ridiculous," said M. de Bellegarde, "to pretend that we are gla_o see you or that we don't question the taste of your visit."
  • "Oh, don't talk about taste," said Newman, with a laugh, "or that will brin_s round to yours! If I consulted my taste I certainly shouldn't come to se_ou. Besides, I will make as short work as you please. Promise me to raise th_lockade—to set Madame de Cintre at liberty—and I will retire instantly."
  • "We hesitated as to whether we would see you," said Madame de Bellegarde; "an_e were on the point of declining the honor. But it seemed to me that w_hould act with civility, as we have always done, and I wished to have th_atisfaction of informing you that there are certain weaknesses that people o_ur way of feeling can be guilty of but once."
  • "You may be weak but once, but you will be audacious many times, madam,"
  • Newman answered. "I didn't come however, for conversational purposes. I cam_o say this, simply: that if you will write immediately to your daughter tha_ou withdraw your opposition to her marriage, I will take care of the rest.
  • You don't want her to turn nun—you know more about the horrors of it than _o. Marrying a commercial person is better than that. Give me a letter to her, signed and sealed, saying you retract and that she may marry me with you_lessing, and I will take it to her at the convent and bring her out. There'_our chance—I call those easy terms."
  • "We look at the matter otherwise, you know. We call them very hard terms,"
  • said Urbain de Bellegarde. They had all remained standing rigidly in th_iddle of the room. "I think my mother will tell you that she would rather he_aughter should become Soeur Catherine than Mrs. Newman."
  • But the old lady, with the serenity of supreme power, let her son make he_pigrams for her. She only smiled, almost sweetly, shaking her head an_epeating, "But once, Mr. Newman; but once!"
  • Nothing that Newman had ever seen or heard gave him such a sense of marbl_ardness as this movement and the tone that accompanied it. "Could anythin_ompel you?" he asked. "Do you know of anything that would force you?"
  • "This language, sir," said the marquis, "addressed to people in bereavemen_nd grief is beyond all qualification."
  • "In most cases," Newman answered, "your objection would have some weight, eve_dmitting that Madame de Cintre's present intentions make time precious. But _ave thought of what you speak of, and I have come here to-day without scrupl_imply because I consider your brother and you two very different parties. _ee no connection between you. Your brother was ashamed of you. Lying ther_ounded and dying, the poor fellow apologized to me for your conduct. H_pologized to me for that of his mother."
  • For a moment the effect of these words was as if Newman had struck a physica_low. A quick flush leaped into the faces of Madame de Bellegarde and her son, and they exchanged a glance like a twinkle of steel. Urbain uttered two word_hich Newman but half heard, but of which the sense came to him as it were i_he reverberation of the sound, "Le miserable!"
  • "You show little respect for the living," said Madame de Bellegarde, "but a_east respect the dead. Don't profane—don't insult—the memory of my innocen_on."
  • "I speak the simple truth," Newman declared, "and I speak it for a purpose. _epeat it—distinctly. Your son was utterly disgusted—your son apologized."
  • Urbain de Bellegarde was frowning portentously, and Newman supposed he wa_rowning at poor Valentin's invidious image. Taken by surprise, his scan_ffection for his brother had made a momentary concession to dishonor. But no_or an appreciable instant did his mother lower her flag. "You are immensel_istaken, sir," she said. "My son was sometimes light, but he was neve_ndecent. He died faithful to his name."
  • "You simply misunderstood him," said the marquis, beginning to rally. "Yo_ffirm the impossible!"
  • "Oh, I don't care for poor Valentin's apology," said Newman. "It was far mor_ainful than pleasant to me. This atrocious thing was not his fault; he neve_urt me, or any one else; he was the soul of honor. But it shows how he too_t."
  • "If you wish to prove that my poor brother, in his last moments, was out o_is head, we can only say that under the melancholy circumstances nothing wa_ore possible. But confine yourself to that."
  • "He was quite in his right mind," said Newman, with gentle but dangerou_oggedness; "I have never seen him so bright and clever. It was terrible t_ee that witty, capable fellow dying such a death. You know I was very fond o_our brother. And I have further proof of his sanity," Newman concluded.
  • The marquise gathered herself together majestically. "This is too gross!" sh_ried. "We decline to accept your story, sir—we repudiate it. Urbain, open th_oor." She turned away, with an imperious motion to her son, and passe_apidly down the length of the room. The marquis went with her and held th_oor open. Newman was left standing.
  • He lifted his finger, as a sign to M. de Bellegarde, who closed the doo_ehind his mother and stood waiting. Newman slowly advanced, more silent, fo_he moment, than life. The two men stood face to face. Then Newman had _ingular sensation; he felt his sense of injury almost brimming over int_ocularity. "Come," he said, "you don't treat me well; at least admit that."
  • M. de Bellegarde looked at him from head to foot, and then, in the mos_elicate, best-bred voice, "I detest you, personally," he said.
  • "That's the way I feel to you, but for politeness sake I don't say it," sai_ewman. "It's singular I should want so much to be your brother-in-law, but _an't give it up. Let me try once more." And he paused a moment. "You have _ecret—you have a skeleton in the closet." M. de Bellegarde continued to loo_t him hard, but Newman could not see whether his eyes betrayed anything; th_ook of his eyes was always so strange. Newman paused again, and then went on.
  • "You and your mother have committed a crime." At this M. de Bellegarde's eye_ertainly did change; they seemed to flicker, like blown candles. Newman coul_ee that he was profoundly startled; but there was something admirable in hi_elf-control.
  • "Continue," said M. de Bellegarde.
  • Newman lifted a finger and made it waver a little in the air. "Need _ontinue? You are trembling."
  • "Pray where did you obtain this interesting information?" M. de Bellegard_sked, very softly.
  • "I shall be strictly accurate," said Newman. "I won't pretend to know mor_han I do. At present that is all I know. You have done something that yo_ust hide, something that would damn you if it were known, something tha_ould disgrace the name you are so proud of. I don't know what it is, but _an find out. Persist in your present course and I WILL find out. Change it, let your sister go in peace, and I will leave you alone. It's a bargain?"
  • The marquis almost succeeded in looking untroubled; the breaking up of the ic_n his handsome countenance was an operation that was necessarily gradual. Bu_ewman's mildly-syllabled argumentation seemed to press, and press, an_resently he averted his eyes. He stood some moments, reflecting.
  • "My brother told you this," he said, looking up.
  • Newman hesitated a moment. "Yes, your brother told me."
  • The marquis smiled, handsomely. "Didn't I say that he was out of his mind?"
  • "He was out of his mind if I don't find out. He was very much in it if I do."
  • M. de Bellegarde gave a shrug. "Eh, sir, find out or not, as you please."
  • "I don't frighten you?" demanded Newman.
  • "That's for you to judge."
  • "No, it's for you to judge, at your leisure. Think it over, feel yourself al_ound. I will give you an hour or two. I can't give you more, for how do w_now how fast they may be making Madame de Cintre a nun? Talk it over wit_our mother; let her judge whether she is frightened. I don't believe she i_s easily frightened, in general, as you; but you will see. I will go and wai_n the village, at the inn, and I beg you to let me know as soon as possible.
  • Say by three o'clock. A simple YES or NO on paper will do. Only, you know, i_ase of a yes I shall expect you, this time, to stick to your bargain." An_ith this Newman opened the door and let himself out. The marquis did no_ove, and Newman, retiring, gave him another look. "At the inn, in th_illage," he repeated. Then he turned away altogether and passed out of th_ouse.
  • He was extremely excited by what he had been doing, for it was inevitable tha_here should be a certain emotion in calling up the spectre of dishonor befor_ family a thousand years old. But he went back to the inn and contrived t_ait there, deliberately, for the next two hours. He thought it more tha_robable that Urbain de Bellegarde would give no sign; for an answer to hi_hallenge, in either sense, would be a confession of guilt. What he mos_xpected was silence—in other words defiance. But he prayed that, as h_magined it, his shot might bring them down. It did bring, by three o'clock, _ote, delivered by a footman; a note addressed in Urbain de Bellegarde'_andsome English hand. It ran as follows:—
  • "I cannot deny myself the satisfaction of letting you know that I return t_aris, to-morrow, with my mother, in order that we may see my sister an_onfirm her in the resolution which is the most effectual reply to you_udacious pertinacity.
  • "HENRI-URBAIN DE BELLEGARDE."
  • Newman put the letter into his pocket, and continued his walk up and down th_nn-parlor. He had spent most of his time, for the past week, in walking u_nd down. He continued to measure the length of the little salle of the Arme_e Prance until the day began to wane, when he went out to keep his rendezvou_ith Mrs. Bread. The path which led up the hill to the ruin was easy to find, and Newman in a short time had followed it to the top. He passed beneath th_ugged arch of the castle wall, and looked about him in the early dusk for a_ld woman in black. The castle yard was empty, but the door of the church wa_pen. Newman went into the little nave and of course found a deeper dusk tha_ithout. A couple of tapers, however, twinkled on the altar and just enable_im to perceive a figure seated by one of the pillars. Closer inspectio_elped him to recognize Mrs. Bread, in spite of the fact that she was dresse_ith unwonted splendor. She wore a large black silk bonnet, with imposing bow_f crape, and an old black satin dress disposed itself in vaguely lustrou_olds about her person. She had judged it proper to the occasion to appear i_er stateliest apparel. She had been sitting with her eyes fixed upon th_round, but when Newman passed before her she looked up at him, and then sh_ose.
  • "Are you a Catholic, Mrs. Bread?" he asked.
  • "No, sir; I'm a good Church-of-England woman, very Low," she answered. "But _hought I should be safer in here than outside. I was never out in the evenin_efore, sir."
  • "We shall be safer," said Newman, "where no one can hear us." And he led th_ay back into the castle court and then followed a path beside the church, which he was sure must lead into another part of the ruin. He was no_eceived. It wandered along the crest of the hill and terminated before _ragment of wall pierced by a rough aperture which had once been a door.
  • Through this aperture Newman passed and found himself in a nook peculiarl_avorable to quiet conversation, as probably many an earnest couple, otherwis_ssorted than our friends, had assured themselves. The hill sloped abruptl_way, and on the remnant of its crest were scattered two or three fragments o_tone. Beneath, over the plain, lay the gathered twilight, through which, i_he near distance, gleamed two or three lights from the chateau. Mrs. Brea_ustled slowly after her guide, and Newman, satisfying himself that one of th_allen stones was steady, proposed to her to sit upon it. She cautiousl_omplied, and he placed himself upon another, near her.