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Chapter 23

  • Newman returned to Paris the second day after his interview with Mrs. Bread.
  • The morrow he had spent at Poitiers, reading over and over again the littl_ocument which he had lodged in his pocket-book, and thinking what he would d_n the circumstances and how he would do it. He would not have said tha_oitiers was an amusing place; yet the day seemed very short. Domiciled onc_ore in the Boulevard Haussmann, he walked over to the Rue de l'Universite an_nquired of Madame de Bellegarde's portress whether the marquise had com_ack. The portress told him that she had arrived, with M. le Marquis, on th_receding day, and further informed him that if he desired to enter, Madame d_ellegarde and her son were both at home. As she said these words the littl_hite-faced old woman who peered out of the dusky gate-house of the Hotel d_ellegarde gave a small wicked smile—a smile which seemed to Newman to mean,
  • "Go in if you dare!" She was evidently versed in the current domestic history; she was placed where she could feel the pulse of the house. Newman stood _oment, twisting his mustache and looking at her; then he abruptly turne_way. But this was not because he was afraid to go in—though he doubte_hether, if he did so, he should be able to make his way, unchallenged, int_he presence of Madame de Cintre's relatives. Confidence—excessive confidence, perhaps—quite as much as timidity prompted his retreat. He was nursing hi_hunder-bolt; he loved it; he was unwilling to part with it. He seemed to b_olding it aloft in the rumbling, vaguely-flashing air, directly over th_eads of his victims, and he fancied he could see their pale, upturned faces.
  • Few specimens of the human countenance had ever given him such pleasure a_hese, lighted in the lurid fashion I have hinted at, and he was disposed t_ip the cup of contemplative revenge in a leisurely fashion. It must be added, too, that he was at a loss to see exactly how he could arrange to witness th_peration of his thunder. To send in his card to Madame de Bellegarde would b_ waste of ceremony; she would certainly decline to receive him. On the othe_and he could not force his way into her presence. It annoyed him keenly t_hink that he might be reduced to the blind satisfaction of writing her _etter; but he consoled himself in a measure with the reflection that a lette_ight lead to an interview. He went home, and feeling rather tired—nursing _engeance was, it must be confessed, a rather fatiguing process; it took _ood deal out of one—flung himself into one of his brocaded fauteuils, stretched his legs, thrust his hands into his pockets, and, while he watche_he reflected sunset fading from the ornate house-tops on the opposite side o_he Boulevard, began mentally to compose a cool epistle to Madame d_ellegarde. While he was so occupied his servant threw open the door an_nnounced ceremoniously, "Madame Brett!"
  • Newman roused himself, expectantly, and in a few moments perceived upon hi_hreshold the worthy woman with whom he had conversed to such good purpose o_he starlit hill-top of Fleurieres. Mrs. Bread had made for this visit th_ame toilet as for her former expedition. Newman was struck with he_istinguished appearance. His lamp was not lit, and as her large, grave fac_azed at him through the light dusk from under the shadow of her ample bonnet, he felt the incongruity of such a person presenting herself as a servant. H_reeted her with high geniality and bade her come in and sit down and mak_erself comfortable. There was something which might have touched the spring_oth of mirth and of melancholy in the ancient maidenliness with which Mrs.
  • Bread endeavored to comply with these directions. She was not playing at bein_luttered, which would have been simply ridiculous; she was doing her best t_arry herself as a person so humble that, for her, even embarrassment woul_ave been pretentious; but evidently she had never dreamed of its being in he_oroscope to pay a visit, at night-fall, to a friendly single gentleman wh_ived in theatrical-looking rooms on one of the new Boulevards.
  • "I truly hope I am not forgetting my place, sir," she murmured.
  • "Forgetting your place?" cried Newman. "Why, you are remembering it. This i_our place, you know. You are already in my service; your wages, a_ousekeeper, began a fortnight ago. I can tell you my house wants keeping! Wh_on't you take off your bonnet and stay?"
  • "Take off my bonnet?" said Mrs. Bread, with timid literalness. "Oh, sir, _aven't my cap. And with your leave, sir, I couldn't keep house in my bes_own."
  • "Never mind your gown," said Newman, cheerfully. "You shall have a better gow_han that."
  • Mrs. Bread stared solemnly and then stretched her hands over her lustreles_atin skirt, as if the perilous side of her situation were defining itself.
  • "Oh, sir, I am fond of my own clothes," she murmured.
  • "I hope you have left those wicked people, at any rate," said Newman.
  • "Well, sir, here I am!" said Mrs. Bread. "That's all I can tell you. Here _it, poor Catherine Bread. It's a strange place for me to be. I don't kno_yself; I never supposed I was so bold. But indeed, sir, I have gone as far a_y own strength will bear me."
  • "Oh, come, Mrs. Bread," said Newman, almost caressingly, "don't make yoursel_ncomfortable. Now's the time to feel lively, you know."
  • She began to speak again with a trembling voice. "I think it would be mor_espectable if I could—if I could"—and her voice trembled to a pause.
  • "If you could give up this sort of thing altogether?" said Newman kindly, trying to anticipate her meaning, which he supposed might be a wish to retir_rom service.
  • "If I could give up everything, sir! All I should ask is a decent Protestan_urial."
  • "Burial!" cried Newman, with a burst of laughter. "Why, to bury you now woul_e a sad piece of extravagance. It's only rascals who have to be buried to ge_espectable. Honest folks like you and me can live our time out—and liv_ogether. Come! Did you bring your baggage?"
  • "My box is locked and corded; but I haven't yet spoken to my lady."
  • "Speak to her, then, and have done with it. I should like to have you_hance!" cried Newman.
  • "I would gladly give it you, sir. I have passed some weary hours in my lady'_ressing-room; but this will be one of the longest. She will tax me wit_ngratitude."
  • "Well," said Newman, "so long as you can tax her with murder—"
  • "Oh, sir, I can't; not I," sighed Mrs. Bread.
  • "You don't mean to say anything about it? So much the better. Leave that t_e."
  • "If she calls me a thankless old woman," said Mrs. Bread, "I shall hav_othing to say. But it is better so," she softly added. "She shall be my lad_o the last. That will be more respectable."
  • "And then you will come to me and I shall be your gentleman," said Newman;
  • "that will be more respectable still!"
  • Mrs. Bread rose, with lowered eyes, and stood a moment; then, looking up, sh_ested her eyes upon Newman's face. The disordered proprieties were someho_ettling to rest. She looked at Newman so long and so fixedly, with such _ull, intense devotedness, that he himself might have had a pretext fo_mbarrassment. At last she said gently, "You are not looking well, sir."
  • "That's natural enough," said Newman. "I have nothing to feel well about. T_e very indifferent and very fierce, very dull and very jovial, very sick an_ery lively, all at once,—why, it rather mixes one up."
  • Mrs. Bread gave a noiseless sigh. "I can tell you something that will make yo_eel duller still, if you want to feel all one way. About Madame de Cintre."
  • "What can you tell me?" Newman demanded. "Not that you have seen her?"
  • She shook her head. "No, indeed, sir, nor ever shall. That's the dullness o_t. Nor my lady. Nor M. de Bellegarde."
  • "You mean that she is kept so close."
  • "Close, close," said Mrs. Bread, very softly.
  • These words, for an instant, seemed to check the beating of Newman's heart. H_eaned back in his chair, staring up at the old woman. "They have tried to se_er, and she wouldn't—she couldn't?"
  • "She refused—forever! I had it from my lady's own maid," said Mrs. Bread, "wh_ad it from my lady. To speak of it to such a person my lady must have fel_he shock. Madame de Cintre won't see them now, and now is her only chance. _hile hence she will have no chance."
  • "You mean the other women—the mothers, the daughters, the sisters; what is i_hey call them?—won't let her?"
  • "It is what they call the rule of the house,—or of the order, I believe," sai_rs. Bread. "There is no rule so strict as that of the Carmelites. The ba_omen in the reformatories are fine ladies to them. They wear old brow_loaks—so the femme de chambre told me—that you wouldn't use for a hors_lanket. And the poor countess was so fond of soft-feeling dresses; she woul_ever have anything stiff! They sleep on the ground," Mrs. Bread went on;
  • "they are no better, no better,"—and she hesitated for a comparison,—"they ar_o better than tinkers' wives. They give up everything, down to the very nam_heir poor old nurses called them by. They give up father and mother, brothe_nd sister,—to say nothing of other persons," Mrs. Bread delicately added.
  • "They wear a shroud under their brown cloaks and a rope round their waists, and they get up on winter nights and go off into cold places to pray to th_irgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is a hard mistress!"
  • Mrs. Bread, dwelling on these terrible facts, sat dry-eyed and pale, with he_ands clasped in her satin lap. Newman gave a melancholy groan and fel_orward, leaning his head on his hands. There was a long silence, broken onl_y the ticking of the great gilded clock on the chimney-piece.
  • "Where is this place—where is the convent?" Newman asked at last, looking up.
  • "There are two houses," said Mrs. Bread. "I found out; I thought you woul_ike to know—though it's poor comfort, I think. One is in the Avenue d_essine; they have learned that Madame de Cintre is there. The other is in th_ue d'Enfer. That's a terrible name; I suppose you know what it means."
  • Newman got up and walked away to the end of his long room. When he came bac_rs. Bread had got up, and stood by the fire with folded hands. "Tell m_his," he said. "Can I get near her—even if I don't see her? Can I loo_hrough a grating, or some such thing, at the place where she is?"
  • It is said that all women love a lover, and Mrs. Bread's sense of the pre- established harmony which kept servants in their "place," even as planets i_heir orbits (not that Mrs. Bread had ever consciously likened herself to _lanet), barely availed to temper the maternal melancholy with which sh_eaned her head on one side and gazed at her new employer. She probably fel_or the moment as if, forty years before, she had held him also in her arms.
  • "That wouldn't help you, sir. It would only make her seem farther away."
  • "I want to go there, at all events," said Newman. "Avenue de Messine, you say?
  • And what is it they call themselves?"
  • "Carmelites," said Mrs. Bread.
  • "I shall remember that."
  • Mrs. Bread hesitated a moment, and then, "It's my duty to tell you this, sir,"
  • she went on. "The convent has a chapel, and some people are admitted on Sunda_o the Mass. You don't see the poor creatures that are shut up there, but I a_old you can hear them sing. It's a wonder they have any heart for singing!
  • Some Sunday I shall make bold to go. It seems to me I should know her voice i_ifty."
  • Newman looked at his visitor very gratefully; then he held out his hand an_hook hers. "Thank you," he said. "If any one can get in, I will." A momen_ater Mrs. Bread proposed, deferentially, to retire, but he checked her an_ut a lighted candle into her hand. "There are half a dozen rooms there _on't use," he said, pointing through an open door. "Go and look at them an_ake your choice. You can live in the one you like best." From thi_ewildering opportunity Mrs. Bread at first recoiled; but finally, yielding t_ewman's gentle, reassuring push, she wandered off into the dusk with he_remulous taper. She remained absent a quarter of an hour, during which Newma_aced up and down, stopped occasionally to look out of the window at th_ights on the Boulevard, and then resumed his walk. Mrs. Bread's relish fo_er investigation apparently increased as she proceeded; but at last sh_eappeared and deposited her candlestick on the chimney-piece.
  • "Well, have you picked one out?" asked Newman.
  • "A room, sir? They are all too fine for a dingy old body like me. There isn'_ne that hasn't a bit of gilding."
  • "It's only tinsel, Mrs. Bread," said Newman. "If you stay there a while i_ill all peel off of itself." And he gave a dismal smile.
  • "Oh, sir, there are things enough peeling off already!" rejoined Mrs. Bread, with a head-shake. "Since I was there I thought I would look about me. I don'_elieve you know, sir. The corners are most dreadful. You do want _ousekeeper, that you do; you want a tidy Englishwoman that isn't above takin_old of a broom."
  • Newman assured her that he suspected, if he had not measured, his domesti_buses, and that to reform them was a mission worthy of her powers. She hel_er candlestick aloft again and looked around the salon with compassionat_lances; then she intimated that she accepted the mission, and that its sacre_haracter would sustain her in her rupture with Madame de Bellegarde. Wit_his she curtsied herself away.
  • She came back the next day with her worldly goods, and Newman, going into hi_rawing-room, found her upon her aged knees before a divan, sewing up som_etached fringe. He questioned her as to her leave-taking with her lat_istress, and she said it had proved easier than she feared. "I was perfectl_ivil, sir, but the Lord helped me to remember that a good woman has no cal_o tremble before a bad one."
  • "I should think so!" cried Newman. "And does she know you have come to me?"
  • "She asked me where I was going, and I mentioned your name," said Mrs. Bread.
  • "What did she say to that?"
  • "She looked at me very hard, and she turned very red. Then she bade me leav_er. I was all ready to go, and I had got the coachman, who is an Englishman, to bring down my poor box and to fetch me a cab. But when I went down mysel_o the gate I found it closed. My lady had sent orders to the porter not t_et me pass, and by the same orders the porter's wife—she is a dreadful sl_ld body—had gone out in a cab to fetch home M. de Bellegarde from his club."
  • Newman slapped his knee. "She IS scared! she IS scared!" he cried, exultantly.
  • "I was frightened too, sir," said Mrs. Bread, "but I was also mightily vexed.
  • I took it very high with the porter and asked him by what right he use_iolence to an honorable Englishwoman who had lived in the house for thirt_ears before he was heard of. Oh, sir, I was very grand, and I brought the ma_own. He drew his bolts and let me out, and I promised the cabman somethin_andsome if he would drive fast. But he was terribly slow; it seemed as if w_hould never reach your blessed door. I am all of a tremble still; it took m_ive minutes, just now, to thread my needle."
  • Newman told her, with a gleeful laugh, that if she chose she might have _ittle maid on purpose to thread her needles; and he went away murmuring t_imself again that the old woman WAS scared—she WAS scared!
  • He had not shown Mrs. Tristram the little paper that he carried in his pocket- book, but since his return to Paris he had seen her several times, and she ha_old him that he seemed to her to be in a strange way—an even stranger wa_han his sad situation made natural. Had his disappointment gone to his head?
  • He looked like a man who was going to be ill, and yet she had never seen hi_ore restless and active. One day he would sit hanging his head and looking a_f he were firmly resolved never to smile again; another he would indulge i_aughter that was almost unseemly and make jokes that were bad even for him.
  • If he was trying to carry off his sorrow, he at such times really went to_ar. She begged him of all things not to be "strange." Feeling in a measur_esponsible as she did for the affair which had turned out so ill for him, sh_ould endure anything but his strangeness. He might be melancholy if he would, or he might be stoical; he might be cross and cantankerous with her and as_er why she had ever dared to meddle with his destiny: to this she woul_ubmit; for this she would make allowances. Only, for Heaven's sake, let hi_ot be incoherent. That would be extremely unpleasant. It was like peopl_alking in their sleep; they always frightened her. And Mrs. Tristra_ntimated that, taking very high ground as regards the moral obligation whic_vents had laid upon her, she proposed not to rest quiet until she should hav_onfronted him with the least inadequate substitute for Madame de Cintre tha_he two hemispheres contained.
  • "Oh," said Newman, "we are even now, and we had better not open a new account!
  • You may bury me some day, but you shall never marry me. It's too rough. _ope, at any rate," he added, "that there is nothing incoherent in this—that _ant to go next Sunday to the Carmelite chapel in the Avenue de Messine. Yo_now one of the Catholic ministers—an abbe, is that it?—I have seen him here, you know; that motherly old gentleman with the big waist-band. Please ask hi_f I need a special leave to go in, and if I do, beg him to obtain it for me."
  • Mrs. Tristram gave expression to the liveliest joy. "I am so glad you hav_sked me to do something!" she cried. "You shall get into the chapel if th_bbe is disfrocked for his share in it." And two days afterwards she told hi_hat it was all arranged; the abbe was enchanted to serve him, and if he woul_resent himself civilly at the convent gate there would be no difficulty.