"You began to earn your living when you were a mere baby?" said the marquise.
"Hardly more — a small boy."
"You say you are not fond of books," said M. de Bellegarde; "but you must do yourself the justice to remember that your studies were interrupted early."
"That is very true; on my tenth birthday I stopped going to school. I thought it was a grand way to keep it. But I picked up some information afterwards," said Newman, reassuringly.
"You have some sisters?" asked old Madame de Bellegarde.
"Yes, two sisters. Splendid women!"
"I hope that for them the hardships of life commenced less early."
"They married very early, if you call that a hardship, as girls do in our Western country. One of them is married to the owner of the largest india-rubber house in the West."
"Ah, you make houses also of india-rubber?" inquired the marquise.
"You can stretch them as your family increases," said young Madame de Bellegarde, who was muffling herself in a long white shawl.
Newman indulged in a burst of hilarity, and explained that the house in which his brother-in-law lived was a large wooden structure, but that he manufactured and sold india-rubber on a colossal scale.
"My children have some little india-rubber shoes which they put on when they go to play in the Tuileries in damp weather," said the young marquise. "I wonder whether your brother-in-law made them."
"Very likely," said Newman; "if he did, you may be very sure they are well made."
"Well, you must not be discouraged," said M. de Bellegarde, with vague urbanity.
"Oh, I don't mean to be. I have a project which gives me plenty to think about, and that is an occupation." And then Newman was silent a moment, hesitating, yet thinking rapidly; he wished to make his point, and yet to do so forced him to speak out in a way that was disagreeable to him. Nevertheless he continued, addressing himself to old Madame de Bellegarde, "I will tell you my project; perhaps you can help me. I want to take a wife."
"It is a very good project, but I am no matchmaker," said the old lady.
Newman looked at her an instant, and then, with perfect sincerity, "I should have thought you were," he declared.
Madame de Bellegarde appeared to think him too sincere. She murmured something sharply in French, and fixed her eyes on her son. At this moment the door of the room was thrown open, and with a rapid step Valentin reappeared.
"I have a message for you," he said to his sister-in-law. "Claire bids me to request you not to start for your ball. She will go with you."
"Claire will go with us!" cried the young marquise. "En voila, du nouveau!"
"She has changed her mind; she decided half an hour ago, and she is sticking the last diamond into her hair," said Valentin.
"What has taken possession of my daughter?" demanded Madame de Bellegarde, sternly. "She has not been into the world these three years. Does she take such a step at half an hour's notice, and without consulting me?"
"She consulted me, dear mother, five minutes since," said Valentin, "and I told her that such a beautiful woman — she is beautiful, you will see — had no right to bury herself alive."
"You should have referred Claire to her mother, my brother," said M. de Bellegarde, in French. "This is very strange."
"I refer her to the whole company!" said Valentin. "Here she comes!" And he went to the open door, met Madame de Cintre on the threshold, took her by the hand, and led her into the room. She was dressed in white; but a long blue cloak, which hung almost to her feet, was fastened across her shoulders by a silver clasp. She had tossed it back, however, and her long white arms were uncovered. In her dense, fair hair there glittered a dozen diamonds. She looked serious and, Newman thought, rather pale; but she glanced round her, and, when she saw him, smiled and put out her hand. He thought her tremendously handsome. He had a chance to look at her full in the face, for she stood a moment in the centre of the room, hesitating, apparently, what she should do, without meeting his eyes. Then she went up to her mother, who sat in her deep chair by the fire, looking at Madame de Cintre almost fiercely. With her back turned to the others, Madame de Cintre held her cloak apart to show her dress.
"What do you think of me?" she asked.
"I think you are audacious," said the marquise. "It was but three days ago, when I asked you, as a particular favor to myself, to go to the Duchess de Lusignan's, that you told me you were going nowhere and that one must be consistent. Is this your consistency? Why should you distinguish Madame Robineau? Who is it you wish to please to-night?"
"I wish to please myself, dear mother," said Madame de Cintre. And she bent over and kissed the old lady.
"I don't like surprises, my sister," said Urbain de Bellegarde; "especially when one is on the point of entering a drawing-room."
Newman at this juncture felt inspired to speak. "Oh, if you are going into a room with Madame de Cintre, you needn't be afraid of being noticed yourself!"