The American By Henry James Chapter XV

Newman said to himself that he had better see the thing out and he took a chair at the end of the table, with Mademoiselle Nioche on his left and her father on the other side. "You will take something, of course," said Miss Noemie, who was sipping a glass of madeira. Newman said that he believed not, and then she turned to her papa with a smile. "What an honor, eh? he has come only for us." M. Nioche drained his pungent glass at a long draught, and looked out from eyes more lachrymose in consequence. "But you didn't come for me, eh?" Mademoiselle Noemie went on. "You didn't expect to find me here?"

Newman observed the change in her appearance. She was very elegant and prettier than before; she looked a year or two older, and it was noticeable that, to the eye, she had only gained in respectability. She looked "lady-like." She was dressed in quiet colors, and wore her expensively unobtrusive toilet with a grace that might have come from years of practice. Her present self-possession and aplomb struck Newman as really infernal, and he inclined to agree with Valentin de Bellegarde that the young lady was very remarkable. "No, to tell the truth, I didn't come for you," he said, "and I didn't expect to find you. I was told," he added in a moment "that you had left your father."

"Quelle horreur!" cried Mademoiselle Nioche with a smile. "Does one leave one's father? You have the proof of the contrary."

"Yes, convincing proof," said Newman glancing at M. Nioche. The old man caught his glance obliquely, with his faded, deprecating eye, and then, lifting his empty glass, pretended to drink again.

"Who told you that?" Noemie demanded. "I know very well. It was M. de Bellegarde. Why don't you say yes? You are not polite."

"I am embarrassed," said Newman.

"I set you a better example. I know M. de Bellegarde told you. He knows a great deal about me — or he thinks he does. He has taken a great deal of trouble to find out, but half of it isn't true. In the first place, I haven't left my father; I am much too fond of him. Isn't it so, little father? M. de Bellegarde is a charming young man; it is impossible to be cleverer. I know a good deal about him too; you can tell him that when you next see him."

"No," said Newman, with a sturdy grin; "I won't carry any messages for you."

"Just as you please," said Mademoiselle Nioche, "I don't depend upon you, nor does M. de Bellegarde either. He is very much interested in me; he can be left to his own devices. He is a contrast to you."

"Oh, he is a great contrast to me, I have no doubt" said Newman. "But I don't exactly know how you mean it."

"I mean it in this way. First of all, he never offered to help me to a dot and a husband." And Mademoiselle Nioche paused, smiling. "I won't say that is in his favor, for I do you justice. What led you, by the way, to make me such a queer offer? You didn't care for me."

"Oh yes, I did," said Newman.

"How so?"

"It would have given me real pleasure to see you married to a respectable young fellow."

"With six thousand francs of income!" cried Mademoiselle Nioche. "Do you call that caring for me? I'm afraid you know little about women. You were not galant; you were not what you might have been."

Newman flushed a trifle fiercely. "Come!" he exclaimed "that's rather strong. I had no idea I had been so shabby."

Mademoiselle Nioche smiled as she took up her muff. "It is something, at any rate, to have made you angry."

Her father had leaned both his elbows on the table, and his head, bent forward, was supported in his hands, the thin white fingers of which were pressed over his ears. In his position he was staring fixedly at the bottom of his empty glass, and Newman supposed he was not hearing. Mademoiselle Noemie buttoned her furred jacket and pushed back her chair, casting a glance charged with the consciousness of an expensive appearance first down over her flounces and then up at Newman.

"You had better have remained an honest girl," Newman said, quietly.

M. Nioche continued to stare at the bottom of his glass, and his daughter got up, still bravely smiling. "You mean that I look so much like one? That's more than most women do nowadays. Don't judge me yet a while," she added. "I mean to succeed; that's what I mean to do. I leave you; I don't mean to be seen in cafes, for one thing. I can't think what you want of my poor father; he's very comfortable now. It isn't his fault, either. Au revoir, little father." And she tapped the old man on the head with her muff. Then she stopped a minute, looking at Newman. "Tell M. de Bellegarde, when he wants news of me, to come and get it from ME!" And she turned and departed, the white-aproned waiter, with a bow, holding the door wide open for her.

M. Nioche sat motionless, and Newman hardly knew what to say to him. The old man looked dismally foolish. "So you determined not to shoot her, after all," Newman said, presently.

M. Nioche, without moving, raised his eyes and gave him a long, peculiar look. It seemed to confess everything, and yet not to ask for pity, nor to pretend, on the other hand, to a rugged ability to do without it. It might have expressed the state of mind of an innocuous insect, flat in shape and conscious of the impending pressure of a boot-sole, and reflecting that he was perhaps too flat to be crushed. M. Nioche's gaze was a profession of moral flatness. "You despise me terribly," he said, in the weakest possible voice.

"Oh no," said Newman, "it is none of my business. It's a good plan to take things easily."

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At the ball, who tries to point out some things to Newman, when he fails to realize them on his own?




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