"And this is the lady you propose to me to marry?" asked Newman. "A lady I can't even approach?"
"But you said just now that you recognized no obstacles."
Newman looked at Mrs. Tristram a while, stroking his mustache. "Is she a beauty?" he demanded.
"Oh, then it's no use — "
"She is not a beauty, but she is beautiful, two very different things. A beauty has no faults in her face, the face of a beautiful woman may have faults that only deepen its charm."
"I remember Madame de Cintre, now," said Tristram. "She is as plain as a pike-staff. A man wouldn't look at her twice."
"In saying that HE would not look at her twice, my husband sufficiently describes her," Mrs. Tristram rejoined.
"Is she good; is she clever?" Newman asked.
"She is perfect! I won't say more than that. When you are praising a person to another who is to know her, it is bad policy to go into details. I won't exaggerate. I simply recommend her. Among all women I have known she stands alone; she is of a different clay."
"I should like to see her," said Newman, simply.
"I will try to manage it. The only way will be to invite her to dinner. I have never invited her before, and I don't know that she will come. Her old feudal countess of a mother rules the family with an iron hand, and allows her to have no friends but of her own choosing, and to visit only in a certain sacred circle. But I can at least ask her."
At this moment Mrs. Tristram was interrupted; a servant stepped out upon the balcony and announced that there were visitors in the drawing-room. When Newman's hostess had gone in to receive her friends, Tom Tristram approached his guest.
"Don't put your foot into THIS, my boy," he said, puffing the last whiffs of his cigar. "There's nothing in it!"
Newman looked askance at him, inquisitive. "You tell another story, eh?"
"I say simply that Madame de Cintre is a great white doll of a woman, who cultivates quiet haughtiness."
"Ah, she's haughty, eh?"
"She looks at you as if you were so much thin air, and cares for you about as much."
"She is very proud, eh?"
"Proud? As proud as I'm humble."
"And not good-looking?"
Tristram shrugged his shoulders: "It's a kind of beauty you must be INTELLECTUAL to understand. But I must go in and amuse the company."
Some time elapsed before Newman followed his friends into the drawing-room. When he at last made his appearance there he remained but a short time, and during this period sat perfectly silent, listening to a lady to whom Mrs. Tristram had straightway introduced him and who chattered, without a pause, with the full force of an extraordinarily high-pitched voice. Newman gazed and attended. Presently he came to bid good-night to Mrs. Tristram.
"Who is that lady?" he asked.
"Miss Dora Finch. How do you like her?"
"She's too noisy."
"She is thought so bright! Certainly, you are fastidious," said Mrs. Tristram.
Newman stood a moment, hesitating. Then at last "Don't forget about your friend," he said, "Madame What's-her-name? the proud beauty. Ask her to dinner, and give me a good notice." And with this he departed.
Some days later he came back; it was in the afternoon. He found Mrs. Tristram in her drawing-room; with her was a visitor, a woman young and pretty, dressed in white. The two ladies had risen and the visitor was apparently taking her leave. As Newman approached, he received from Mrs. Tristram a glance of the most vivid significance, which he was not immediately able to interpret.
"This is a good friend of ours," she said, turning to her companion, "Mr. Christopher Newman. I have spoken of you to him and he has an extreme desire to make your acquaintance. If you had consented to come and dine, I should have offered him an opportunity."
The stranger turned her face toward Newman, with a smile. He was not embarrassed, for his unconscious sang-froid was boundless; but as he became aware that this was the proud and beautiful Madame de Cintre, the loveliest woman in the world, the promised perfection, the proposed ideal, he made an instinctive movement to gather his wits together. Through the slight preoccupation that it produced he had a sense of a long, fair face, and of two eyes that were both brilliant and mild.
"I should have been most happy," said Madame de Cintre. "Unfortunately, as I have been telling Mrs. Tristram, I go on Monday to the country."
Newman had made a solemn bow. "I am very sorry," he said.
"Paris is getting too warm," Madame de Cintre added, taking her friend's hand again in farewell.
Mrs. Tristram seemed to have formed a sudden and somewhat venturesome resolution, and she smiled more intensely, as women do when they take such resolution. "I want Mr. Newman to know you," she said, dropping her head on one side and looking at Madame de Cintre's bonnet ribbons.
Christopher Newman stood gravely silent, while his native penetration admonished him. Mrs. Tristram was determined to force her friend to address him a word of encouragement which should be more than one of the common formulas of politeness; and if she was prompted by charity, it was by the charity that begins at home. Madame de Cintre was her dearest Claire, and her especial admiration but Madame de Cintre had found it impossible to dine with her and Madame de Cintre should for once be forced gently to render tribute to Mrs. Tristram.