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.