Early one morning, before Christopher Newman was dressed, a little old man wa_shered into his apartment, followed by a youth in a blouse, bearing a pictur_n a brilliant frame. Newman, among the distractions of Paris, had forgotte_. Nioche and his accomplished daughter; but this was an effective reminder.
"I am afraid you had given me up, sir," said the old man, after many apologie_nd salutations. "We have made you wait so many days. You accused us, perhaps, of inconstancy of bad faith. But behold me at last! And behold also the prett_adonna. Place it on a chair, my friend, in a good light, so that monsieur ma_dmire it." And M. Nioche, addressing his companion, helped him to dispose th_ork of art.
It had been endued with a layer of varnish an inch thick and its frame, of a_laborate pattern, was at least a foot wide. It glittered and twinkled in th_orning light, and looked, to Newman's eyes, wonderfully splendid an_recious. It seemed to him a very happy purchase, and he felt rich in th_ossession of it. He stood looking at it complacently, while he proceeded wit_is toilet, and M. Nioche, who had dismissed his own attendant, hovered near, smiling and rubbing his hands.
"It has wonderful finesse," he murmured, caressingly. "And here and there ar_arvelous touches, you probably perceive them, sir. It attracted grea_ttention on the Boulevard, as we came along. And then a gradation of tones!
That's what it is to know how to paint. I don't say it because I am he_ather, sir; but as one man of taste addressing another I cannot hel_bserving that you have there an exquisite work. It is hard to produce suc_hings and to have to part with them. If our means only allowed us the luxur_f keeping it! I really may say, sir—" and M. Nioche gave a little feebl_nsinuating laugh—"I really may say that I envy you! You see," he added in _oment, "we have taken the liberty of offering you a frame. It increases by _rifle the value of the work, and it will save you the annoyance—so great fo_ person of your delicacy—of going about to bargain at the shops."
The language spoken by M. Nioche was a singular compound, which I shrink fro_he attempt to reproduce in its integrity. He had apparently once possessed _ertain knowledge of English, and his accent was oddly tinged with th_ockneyism of the British metropolis. But his learning had grown rusty wit_isuse, and his vocabulary was defective and capricious. He had repaired i_ith large patches of French, with words anglicized by a process of his own, and with native idioms literally translated. The result, in the form in whic_e in all humility presented it, would be scarcely comprehensible to th_eader, so that I have ventured to trim and sift it. Newman only hal_nderstood it, but it amused him, and the old man's decent forlornnes_ppealed to his democratic instincts. The assumption of a fatality in miser_lways irritated his strong good nature—it was almost the only thing that di_o; and he felt the impulse to wipe it out, as it were, with the sponge of hi_wn prosperity. The papa of Mademoiselle Noemie, however, had apparently o_his occasion been vigorously indoctrinated, and he showed a certain tremulou_agerness to cultivate unexpected opportunities.
"How much do I owe you, then, with the frame?" asked Newman.
"It will make in all three thousand francs," said the old man, smilin_greeably, but folding his hands in instinctive suppliance.
"Can you give me a receipt?"
"I have brought one," said M. Nioche. "I took the liberty of drawing it up, i_ase monsieur should happen to desire to discharge his debt." And he drew _aper from his pocket-book and presented it to his patron. The document wa_ritten in a minute, fantastic hand, and couched in the choicest language.
Newman laid down the money, and M. Nioche dropped the napoleons one by one, solemnly and lovingly, into an old leathern purse.
"And how is your young lady?" asked Newman. "She made a great impression o_e."
"An impression? Monsieur is very good. Monsieur admires her appearance?"
"She is very pretty, certainly."
"Alas, yes, she is very pretty!"
"And what is the harm in her being pretty?"
M. Nioche fixed his eyes upon a spot on the carpet and shook his head. The_ooking up at Newman with a gaze that seemed to brighten and expand, "Monsieu_nows what Paris is. She is dangerous to beauty, when beauty hasn't the sou."
"Ah, but that is not the case with your daughter. She is rich, now."
"Very true; we are rich for six months. But if my daughter were a plain girl _hould sleep better all the same."
"You are afraid of the young men?"
"The young and the old!"
"She ought to get a husband."
"Ah, monsieur, one doesn't get a husband for nothing. Her husband must tak_er as she is: I can't give her a sou. But the young men don't see with tha_ye."
"Oh," said Newman, "her talent is in itself a dowry."
"Ah, sir, it needs first to be converted into specie!" and M. Nioche slappe_is purse tenderly before he stowed it away. "The operation doesn't take plac_very day."
"Well, your young men are very shabby," said Newman; "that's all I can say.
They ought to pay for your daughter, and not ask money themselves."
"Those are very noble ideas, monsieur; but what will you have? They are no_he ideas of this country. We want to know what we are about when we marry."
"How big a portion does your daughter want?"
M. Nioche stared, as if he wondered what was coming next; but he promptl_ecovered himself, at a venture, and replied that he knew a very nice youn_an, employed by an insurance company, who would content himself with fiftee_housand francs.
"Let your daughter paint half a dozen pictures for me, and she shall have he_owry."
"Half a dozen pictures—her dowry! Monsieur is not speaking inconsiderately?"
"If she will make me six or eight copies in the Louvre as pretty as tha_adonna, I will pay her the same price," said Newman.
Poor M. Nioche was speechless a moment, with amazement and gratitude, and the_e seized Newman's hand, pressed it between his own ten fingers, and gazed a_im with watery eyes. "As pretty as that? They shall be a thousand time_rettier—they shall be magnificent, sublime. Ah, if I only knew how to paint, myself, sir, so that I might lend a hand! What can I do to thank you? Voyons!"
And he pressed his forehead while he tried to think of something.
"Oh, you have thanked me enough," said Newman.
"Ah, here it is, sir!" cried M. Nioche. "To express my gratitude, I wil_harge you nothing for the lessons in French conversation."
"The lessons? I had quite forgotten them. Listening to your English," adde_ewman, laughing, "is almost a lesson in French."
"Ah, I don't profess to teach English, certainly," said M. Nioche. "But for m_wn admirable tongue I am still at your service."
"Since you are here, then," said Newman, "we will begin. This is a very goo_our. I am going to have my coffee; come every morning at half-past nine an_ave yours with me."
"Monsieur offers me my coffee, also?" cried M. Nioche. "Truly, my beaux jour_re coming back."
"Come," said Newman, "let us begin. The coffee is almighty hot. How do you sa_hat in French?"
Every day, then, for the following three weeks, the minutely respectabl_igure of M. Nioche made its appearance, with a series of little inquiring an_pologetic obeisances, among the aromatic fumes of Newman's morning beverage.
I don't know how much French our friend learned, but, as he himself said, i_he attempt did him no good, it could at any rate do him no harm. And i_mused him; it gratified that irregularly sociable side of his nature whic_ad always expressed itself in a relish for ungrammatical conversation, an_hich often, even in his busy and preoccupied days, had made him sit on rai_ences in young Western towns, in the twilight, in gossip hardly less tha_raternal with humorous loafers and obscure fortune-seekers. He had notions, wherever he went, about talking with the natives; he had been assured, and hi_udgment approved the advice, that in traveling abroad it was an excellen_hing to look into the life of the country. M. Nioche was very much of _ative and, though his life might not be particularly worth looking into, h_as a palpable and smoothly-rounded unit in that picturesque Parisia_ivilization which offered our hero so much easy entertainment and propounde_o many curious problems to his inquiring and practical mind. Newman was fon_f statistics; he liked to know how things were done; it gratified him t_earn what taxes were paid, what profits were gathered, what commercial habit_revailed, how the battle of life was fought. M. Nioche, as a reduce_apitalist, was familiar with these considerations, and he formulated hi_nformation, which he was proud to be able to impart, in the neatest possibl_erms and with a pinch of snuff between finger and thumb. As a Frenchman—quit_part from Newman's napoleons—M. Nioche loved conversation, and even in hi_ecay his urbanity had not grown rusty. As a Frenchman, too, he could give _lear account of things, and—still as a Frenchman—when his knowledge was a_ault he could supply its lapses with the most convenient and ingeniou_ypotheses. The little shrunken financier was intensely delighted to hav_uestions asked him, and he scraped together information, by frugal processes, and took notes, in his little greasy pocket-book, of incidents which migh_nterest his munificent friend. He read old almanacs at the book-stalls on th_uays, and he began to frequent another cafe, where more newspapers were take_nd his postprandial demitasse cost him a penny extra, and where he used t_on the tattered sheets for curious anecdotes, freaks of nature, and strang_oincidences. He would relate with solemnity the next morning that a child o_ive years of age had lately died at Bordeaux, whose brain had been found t_eigh sixty ounces—the brain of a Napoleon or a Washington! or that Madame P—, charcutiere in the Rue de Clichy, had found in the wadding of an old petticoa_he sum of three hundred and sixty francs, which she had lost five year_efore. He pronounced his words with great distinctness and sonority, an_ewman assured him that his way of dealing with the French tongue was ver_uperior to the bewildering chatter that he heard in other mouths. Upon thi_. Nioche's accent became more finely trenchant than ever, he offered to rea_xtracts from Lamartine, and he protested that, although he did endeavo_ccording to his feeble lights to cultivate refinement of diction, monsieur, if he wanted the real thing, should go to the Theatre Francais.
Newman took an interest in French thriftiness and conceived a livel_dmiration for Parisian economies. His own economic genius was so entirely fo_perations on a larger scale, and, to move at his ease, he needed s_mperatively the sense of great risks and great prizes, that he found a_ngrudging entertainment in the spectacle of fortunes made by the aggregatio_f copper coins, and in the minute subdivision of labor and profit. H_uestioned M. Nioche about his own manner of life, and felt a friendly mixtur_f compassion and respect over the recital of his delicate frugalities. Th_orthy man told him how, at one period, he and his daughter had supporte_xistence comfortably upon the sum of fifteen sous per diem; recently, havin_ucceeded in hauling ashore the last floating fragments of the wreck of hi_ortune, his budget had been a trifle more ample. But they still had to coun_heir sous very narrowly, and M. Nioche intimated with a sigh tha_ademoiselle Noemie did not bring to this task that zealous cooperation whic_ight have been desired.
"But what will you have?"' he asked, philosophically. "One is young, one i_retty, one needs new dresses and fresh gloves; one can't wear shabby gown_mong the splendors of the Louvre."
"But your daughter earns enough to pay for her own clothes," said Newman.
M. Nioche looked at him with weak, uncertain eyes. He would have liked to b_ble to say that his daughter's talents were appreciated, and that her crooke_ittle daubs commanded a market; but it seemed a scandal to abuse th_redulity of this free-handed stranger, who, without a suspicion or _uestion, had admitted him to equal social rights. He compromised, an_eclared that while it was obvious that Mademoiselle Noemie's reproductions o_he old masters had only to be seen to be coveted, the prices which, i_onsideration of their altogether peculiar degree of finish, she felt oblige_o ask for them had kept purchasers at a respectful distance. "Poor littl_ne!" said M. Nioche, with a sigh; "it is almost a pity that her work is s_erfect! It would be in her interest to paint less well."
"But if Mademoiselle Noemie has this devotion to her art," Newman onc_bserved, "why should you have those fears for her that you spoke of the othe_ay?"
M. Nioche meditated: there was an inconsistency in his position; it made hi_hronically uncomfortable. Though he had no desire to destroy the goose wit_he golden eggs—Newman's benevolent confidence—he felt a tremulous impulse t_peak out all his trouble. "Ah, she is an artist, my dear sir, mos_ssuredly," he declared. "But, to tell you the truth, she is also a franch_oquette. I am sorry to say," he added in a moment, shaking his head with _orld of harmless bitterness, "that she comes honestly by it. Her mother wa_ne before her!"
"You were not happy with your wife?" Newman asked.
M. Nioche gave half a dozen little backward jerks of his head. "She was m_urgatory, monsieur!"
"She deceived you?"
"Under my nose, year after year. I was too stupid, and the temptation was to_reat. But I found her out at last. I have only been once in my life a man t_e afraid of; I know it very well; it was in that hour! Nevertheless I don'_ike to think of it. I loved her—I can't tell you how much. She was a ba_oman."
"She is not living?"
"She has gone to her account."
"Her influence on your daughter, then," said Newman encouragingly, "is not t_e feared."
"She cared no more for her daughter than for the sole of her shoe! But Noemi_as no need of influence. She is sufficient to herself. She is stronger tha_."
"She doesn't obey you, eh?"
"She can't obey, monsieur, since I don't command. What would be the use? I_ould only irritate her and drive her to some coup de tete. She is ver_lever, like her mother; she would waste no time about it. As a child—when _as happy, or supposed I was—she studied drawing and painting with first-clas_rofessors, and they assured me she had a talent. I was delighted to believ_t, and when I went into society I used to carry her pictures with me in _ortfolio and hand them round to the company. I remember, once, a lady though_ was offering them for sale, and I took it very ill. We don't know what w_ay come to! Then came my dark days, and my explosion with Madame Nioche.
Noemie had no more twenty-franc lessons; but in the course of time, when sh_rew older, and it became highly expedient that she should do something tha_ould help to keep us alive, she bethought herself of her palette and brushes.
Some of our friends in the quartier pronounced the idea fantastic: the_ecommended her to try bonnet making, to get a situation in a shop, or—if sh_as more ambitious—to advertise for a place of dame de compagnie. She di_dvertise, and an old lady wrote her a letter and bade her come and see her.
The old lady liked her, and offered her her living and six hundred francs _ear; but Noemie discovered that she passed her life in her arm-chair and ha_nly two visitors, her confessor and her nephew: the confessor very strict, and the nephew a man of fifty, with a broken nose and a government clerkshi_f two thousand francs. She threw her old lady over, bought a paint-box, _anvas, and a new dress, and went and set up her easel in the Louvre. There i_ne place and another, she has passed the last two years; I can't say it ha_ade us millionaires. But Noemie tells me that Rome was not built in a day, that she is making great progress, that I must leave her to her own devices.
The fact is, without prejudice to her genius, that she has no idea of buryin_erself alive. She likes to see the world, and to be seen. She says, herself, that she can't work in the dark. With her appearance it is very natural. Only, I can't help worrying and trembling and wondering what may happen to her ther_ll alone, day after day, amid all that coming and going of strangers. I can'_e always at her side. I go with her in the morning, and I come to fetch he_way, but she won't have me near her in the interval; she says I make he_ervous. As if it didn't make me nervous to wander about all day without her!
Ah, if anything were to happen to her!" cried M. Nioche, clenching his tw_ists and jerking back his head again, portentously.
"Oh, I guess nothing will happen," said Newman.
"I believe I should shoot her!" said the old man, solemnly.
"Oh, we'll marry her," said Newman, "since that's how you manage it; and _ill go and see her tomorrow at the Louvre and pick out the pictures she is t_opy for me."
M. Nioche had brought Newman a message from his daughter, in acceptance of hi_agnificent commission, the young lady declaring herself his most devote_ervant, promising her most zealous endeavor, and regretting that th_roprieties forbade her coming to thank him in person. The morning after th_onversation just narrated, Newman reverted to his intention of meetin_ademoiselle Noemie at the Louvre. M. Nioche appeared preoccupied, and lef_is budget of anecdotes unopened; he took a great deal of snuff, and sen_ertain oblique, appealing glances toward his stalwart pupil. At last, when h_as taking his leave, he stood a moment, after he had polished his hat wit_is calico pocket-handkerchief, with his small, pale eyes fixed strangely upo_ewman.
"What's the matter?" our hero demanded.
"Excuse the solicitude of a father's heart!" said M. Nioche. "You inspire m_ith boundless confidence, but I can't help giving you a warning. After all, you are a man, you are young and at liberty. Let me beseech you, then, t_espect the innocence of Mademoiselle Nioche!"
Newman had wondered what was coming, and at this he broke into a laugh. He wa_n the point of declaring that his own innocence struck him as the mor_xposed, but he contented himself with promising to treat the young girl wit_othing less than veneration. He found her waiting for him, seated upon th_reat divan in the Salon Carre. She was not in her working-day costume, bu_ore her bonnet and gloves and carried her parasol, in honor of the occasion.
These articles had been selected with unerring taste, and a fresher, prettie_mage of youthful alertness and blooming discretion was not to be conceived.
She made Newman a most respectful curtsey and expressed her gratitude for hi_iberality in a wonderfully graceful little speech. It annoyed him to have _harming young girl stand there thanking him, and it made him fee_ncomfortable to think that this perfect young lady, with her excellen_anners and her finished intonation, was literally in his pay. He assured her, in such French as he could muster, that the thing was not worth mentioning, and that he considered her services a great favor.
"Whenever you please, then," said Mademoiselle Noemie, "we will pass th_eview."
They walked slowly round the room, then passed into the others and strolle_bout for half an hour. Mademoiselle Noemie evidently relished her situation, and had no desire to bring her public interview with her striking-lookin_atron to a close. Newman perceived that prosperity agreed with her. Th_ittle thin-lipped, peremptory air with which she had addressed her father o_he occasion of their former meeting had given place to the most lingering an_aressing tones.
"What sort of pictures do you desire?" she asked. "Sacred, or profane?"
"Oh, a few of each," said Newman. "But I want something bright and gay."
"Something gay? There is nothing very gay in this solemn old Louvre. But w_ill see what we can find. You speak French to-day like a charm. My father ha_one wonders."
"Oh, I am a bad subject," said Newman. "I am too old to learn a language."
"Too old? Quelle folie!" cried Mademoiselle Noemie, with a clear, shril_augh. "You are a very young man. And how do you like my father?"
"He is a very nice old gentleman. He never laughs at my blunders."
"He is very comme il faut, my papa," said Mademoiselle Noemie, "and as hones_s the day. Oh, an exceptional probity! You could trust him with millions."
"Do you always obey him?" asked Newman.
"Do you do what he bids you?"
The young girl stopped and looked at him; she had a spot of color in eithe_heek, and in her expressive French eye, which projected too much for perfec_eauty, there was a slight gleam of audacity. "Why do you ask me that?" sh_emanded.
"Because I want to know."
"You think me a bad girl?" And she gave a strange smile.
Newman looked at her a moment; he saw that she was pretty, but he was not i_he least dazzled. He remembered poor M. Nioche's solicitude for her
"innocence," and he laughed as his eyes met hers. Her face was the oddes_ixture of youth and maturity, and beneath her candid brow her searchin_ittle smile seemed to contain a world of ambiguous intentions. She was prett_nough, certainly to make her father nervous; but, as regards her innocence, Newman felt ready on the spot to affirm that she had never parted with it. Sh_ad simply never had any; she had been looking at the world since she was te_ears old, and he would have been a wise man who could tell her any secrets.
In her long mornings at the Louvre she had not only studied Madonnas and St.
Johns; she had kept an eye upon all the variously embodied human nature aroun_er, and she had formed her conclusions. In a certain sense, it seemed t_ewman, M. Nioche might be at rest; his daughter might do something ver_udacious, but she would never do anything foolish. Newman, with his long- drawn, leisurely smile, and his even, unhurried utterance, was always, mentally, taking his time; and he asked himself, now, what she was looking a_im in that way for. He had an idea that she would like him to confess that h_id think her a bad girl.
"Oh, no," he said at last; "it would be very bad manners in me to judge yo_hat way. I don't know you."
"But my father has complained to you," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
"He says you are a coquette."
"He shouldn't go about saying such things to gentlemen! But you don't believ_t."
"No," said Newman gravely, "I don't believe it."
She looked at him again, gave a shrug and a smile, and then pointed to a smal_talian picture, a Marriage of St. Catherine. "How should you like that?" sh_sked.
"It doesn't please me," said Newman. "The young lady in the yellow dress i_ot pretty."
"Ah, you are a great connoisseur," murmured Mademoiselle Noemie.
"In pictures? Oh, no; I know very little about them."
"In pretty women, then."
"In that I am hardly better."
"What do you say to that, then?" the young girl asked, indicating a super_talian portrait of a lady. "I will do it for you on a smaller scale."
"On a smaller scale? Why not as large as the original?"
Mademoiselle Noemie glanced at the glowing splendor of the Venetia_asterpiece and gave a little toss of her head. "I don't like that woman. Sh_ooks stupid."
"I do like her," said Newman. "Decidedly, I must have her, as large as life.
And just as stupid as she is there."
The young girl fixed her eyes on him again, and with her mocking smile, "I_ertainly ought to be easy for me to make her look stupid!" she said.
"What do you mean?" asked Newman, puzzled.
She gave another little shrug. "Seriously, then, you want that portrait—th_olden hair, the purple satin, the pearl necklace, the two magnificent arms?"
"Everything—just as it is."
"Would nothing else do, instead?"
"Oh, I want some other things, but I want that too."
Mademoiselle Noemie turned away a moment, walked to the other side of th_all, and stood there, looking vaguely about her. At last she came back. "I_ust be charming to be able to order pictures at such a rate. Venetia_ortraits, as large as life! You go at it en prince. And you are going t_ravel about Europe that way?"
"Yes, I intend to travel," said Newman.
"Ordering, buying, spending money?"
"Of course I shall spend some money."
"You are very happy to have it. And you are perfectly free?"
"How do you mean, free?"
"You have nothing to bother you—no family, no wife, no fiancee?"
"Yes, I am tolerably free."
"You are very happy," said Mademoiselle Noemie, gravely.
"Je le veux bien!" said Newman, proving that he had learned more French tha_e admitted.
"And how long shall you stay in Paris?" the young girl went on.
"Only a few days more."
"Why do you go away?"
"It is getting hot, and I must go to Switzerland."
"To Switzerland? That's a fine country. I would give my new parasol to see it!
Lakes and mountains, romantic valleys and icy peaks! Oh, I congratulate you.
Meanwhile, I shall sit here through all the hot summer, daubing at you_ictures."
"Oh, take your time about it," said Newman. "Do them at your convenience."
They walked farther and looked at a dozen other things. Newman pointed ou_hat pleased him, and Mademoiselle Noemie generally criticised it, an_roposed something else. Then suddenly she diverged and began to talk abou_ome personal matter.
"What made you speak to me the other day in the Salon Carre?" she abruptl_sked.
"I admired your picture."
"But you hesitated a long time."
"Oh, I do nothing rashly," said Newman.
"Yes, I saw you watching me. But I never supposed you were going to speak t_e. I never dreamed I should be walking about here with you to-day. It's ver_urious."
"It is very natural," observed Newman.
"Oh, I beg your pardon; not to me. Coquette as you think me, I have neve_alked about in public with a gentleman before. What was my father thinkin_f, when he consented to our interview?"
"He was repenting of his unjust accusations," replied Newman.
Mademoiselle Noemie remained silent; at last she dropped into a seat. "Wel_hen, for those five it is fixed," she said. "Five copies as brilliant an_eautiful as I can make them. We have one more to choose. Shouldn't you lik_ne of those great Rubenses—the marriage of Marie de Medicis? Just look at i_nd see how handsome it is."
"Oh, yes; I should like that," said Newman. "Finish off with that."
"Finish off with that—good!" And she laughed. She sat a moment, looking a_im, and then she suddenly rose and stood before him, with her hands hangin_nd clasped in front of her. "I don't understand you," she said with a smile.
"I don't understand how a man can be so ignorant."
"Oh, I am ignorant, certainly," said Newman, putting his hands into hi_ockets.
"It's ridiculous! I don't know how to paint."
"You don't know how?"
"I paint like a cat; I can't draw a straight line. I never sold a pictur_ntil you bought that thing the other day." And as she offered this surprisin_nformation she continued to smile.
Newman burst into a laugh. "Why do you tell me this?" he asked.
"Because it irritates me to see a clever man blunder so. My pictures ar_rotesque."
"And the one I possess—"
"That one is rather worse than usual."
"Well," said Newman, "I like it all the same!"
She looked at him askance. "That is a very pretty thing to say," she answered;
"but it is my duty to warn you before you go farther. This order of yours i_mpossible, you know. What do you take me for? It is work for ten men. Yo_ick out the six most difficult pictures in the Louvre, and you expect me t_o to work as if I were sitting down to hem a dozen pocket handkerchiefs. _anted to see how far you would go."
Newman looked at the young girl in some perplexity. In spite of the ridiculou_lunder of which he stood convicted, he was very far from being a simpleton, and he had a lively suspicion that Mademoiselle Noemie's sudden frankness wa_ot essentially more honest than her leaving him in error would have been. Sh_as playing a game; she was not simply taking pity on his aesthetic verdancy.
What was it she expected to win? The stakes were high and the risk was great; the prize therefore must have been commensurate. But even granting that th_rize might be great, Newman could not resist a movement of admiration for hi_ompanion's intrepidity. She was throwing away with one hand, whatever sh_ight intend to do with the other, a very handsome sum of money.
"Are you joking," he said, "or are you serious?"
"Oh, serious!" cried Mademoiselle Noemie, but with her extraordinary smile.
"I know very little about pictures or now they are painted. If you can't d_ll that, of course you can't. Do what you can, then."
"It will be very bad," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
"Oh," said Newman, laughing, "if you are determined it shall be bad, of cours_t will. But why do you go on painting badly?"
"I can do nothing else; I have no real talent."
"You are deceiving your father, then."
The young girl hesitated a moment. "He knows very well!"
"No," Newman declared; "I am sure he believes in you."
"He is afraid of me. I go on painting badly, as you say, because I want t_earn. I like it, at any rate. And I like being here; it is a place to com_o, every day; it is better than sitting in a little dark, damp room, on _ourt, or selling buttons and whalebones over a counter."
"Of course it is much more amusing," said Newman. "But for a poor girl isn'_t rather an expensive amusement?"
"Oh, I am very wrong, there is no doubt about that," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
"But rather than earn my living as some girls do—toiling with a needle, i_ittle black holes, out of the world—I would throw myself into the Seine."
"There is no need of that," Newman answered; "your father told you my offer?"
"He wants you to marry, and I told him I would give you a chance to earn you_ot."
"He told me all about it, and you see the account I make of it! Why should yo_ake such an interest in my marriage?"
"My interest was in your father. I hold to my offer; do what you can, and _ill buy what you paint."
She stood for some time, meditating, with her eyes on the ground. At last, looking up, "What sort of a husband can you get for twelve thousand francs?"
"Your father tells me he knows some very good young men."
"Grocers and butchers and little maitres de cafes! I will not marry at all i_ can't marry well."
"I would advise you not to be too fastidious," said Newman. "That's all th_dvice I can give you."
"I am very much vexed at what I have said!" cried the young girl. "It has don_e no good. But I couldn't help it."
"What good did you expect it to do you?"
"I couldn't help it, simply."
Newman looked at her a moment. "Well, your pictures may be bad," he said, "bu_ou are too clever for me, nevertheless. I don't understand you. Good-by!" An_e put out his hand.
She made no response, and offered him no farewell. She turned away and seate_erself sidewise on a bench, leaning her head on the back of her hand, whic_lasped the rail in front of the pictures. Newman stood a moment and the_urned on his heel and retreated. He had understood her better than h_onfessed; this singular scene was a practical commentary upon her father'_tatement that she was a frank coquette.