She asked him several questions: how lately he had seen Mrs. Tristram, how long he had been in Paris, how long he expected to remain there, how he liked it. She spoke English without an accent, or rather with that distinctively British accent which, on his arrival in Europe, had struck Newman as an altogether foreign tongue, but which, in women, he had come to like extremely. Here and there Madame de Cintre's utterance had a faint shade of strangeness but at the end of ten minutes Newman found himself waiting for these soft roughnesses. He enjoyed them, and he marveled to see that gross thing, error, brought down to so fine a point.
"You have a beautiful country," said Madame de Cintre, presently.
"Oh, magnificent!" said Newman. "You ought to see it."
"I shall never see it," said Madame de Cintre with a smile.
"Why not?" asked Newman.
"I don't travel; especially so far."
"But you go away sometimes; you are not always here?"
"I go away in summer, a little way, to the country."
Newman wanted to ask her something more, something personal, he hardly knew what. "Don't you find it rather — rather quiet here?" he said; "so far from the street?" Rather "gloomy," he was going to say, but he reflected that that would be impolite.
"Yes, it is very quiet," said Madame de Cintre; "but we like that."
"Ah, you like that," repeated Newman, slowly.
"Besides, I have lived here all my life."
"Lived here all your life," said Newman, in the same way.
"I was born here, and my father was born here before me, and my grandfather, and my great-grandfathers. Were they not, Valentin?" and she appealed to her brother.
"Yes, it's a family habit to be born here!" the young man said with a laugh, and rose and threw the remnant of his cigarette into the fire, and then remained leaning against the chimney-piece. An observer would have perceived that he wished to take a better look at Newman, whom he covertly examined, while he stood stroking his mustache.
"Your house is tremendously old, then," said Newman.
"How old is it, brother?" asked Madame de Cintre.
The young man took the two candles from the mantel-shelf, lifted one high in each hand, and looked up toward the cornice of the room, above the chimney-piece. This latter feature of the apartment was of white marble, and in the familiar rococo style of the last century; but above it was a paneling of an earlier date, quaintly carved, painted white, and gilded here and there. The white had turned to yellow, and the gilding was tarnished. On the top, the figures ranged themselves into a sort of shield, on which an armorial device was cut. Above it, in relief, was a date — 1627. "There you have it," said the young man. "That is old or new, according to your point of view."
"Well, over here," said Newman, "one's point of view gets shifted round considerably." And he threw back his head and looked about the room. "Your house is of a very curious style of architecture," he said.
"Are you interested in architecture?" asked the young man at the chimney-piece.
"Well, I took the trouble, this summer," said Newman, "to examine — as well as I can calculate — some four hundred and seventy churches. Do you call that interested?"
"Perhaps you are interested in theology," said the young man.
"Not particularly. Are you a Roman Catholic, madam?" And he turned to Madame de Cintre.
"Yes, sir," she answered, gravely.
Newman was struck with the gravity of her tone; he threw back his head and began to look round the room again. "Had you never noticed that number up there?" he presently asked.
She hesitated a moment, and then, "In former years," she said.
Her brother had been watching Newman's movement. "Perhaps you would like to examine the house," he said.
Newman slowly brought down his eyes and looked at him; he had a vague impression that the young man at the chimney-piece was inclined to irony. He was a handsome fellow, his face wore a smile, his mustaches were curled up at the ends, and there was a little dancing gleam in his eye. "Damn his French impudence!" Newman was on the point of saying to himself. "What the deuce is he grinning at?" He glanced at Madame de Cintre; she was sitting with her eyes fixed on the floor. She raised them, they met his, and she looked at her brother. Newman turned again to this young man and observed that he strikingly resembled his sister. This was in his favor, and our hero's first impression of the Count Valentin, moreover, had been agreeable. His mistrust expired, and he said he would be very glad to see the house.
The young man gave a frank laugh, and laid his hand on one of the candlesticks. "Good, good!" he exclaimed. "Come, then."
But Madame de Cintre rose quickly and grasped his arm, "Ah, Valentin!" she said. "What do you mean to do?"
"To show Mr. Newman the house. It will be very amusing."
She kept her hand on his arm, and turned to Newman with a smile. "Don't let him take you," she said; "you will not find it amusing. It is a musty old house, like any other."
"It is full of curious things," said the count, resisting. "Besides, I want to do it; it is a rare chance."
"You are very wicked, brother," Madame de Cintre answered.