Mademoiselle Nioche fixed her eyes an instant on Bellegarde, and then with a little smile, "I don't understand monsieur," she said, "when he says so much at once. Would you be so good as to translate?"
"I would rather talk to you out of my own head," Valentin declared.
"No," said Newman, gravely, still in his bad French, "you must not talk to Mademoiselle Nioche, because you say discouraging things. You ought to tell her to work, to persevere."
"And we French, mademoiselle," said Valentin, "are accused of being false flatterers!"
"I don't want any flattery, I want only the truth. But I know the truth."
"All I say is that I suspect there are some things that you can do better than paint," said Valentin.
"I know the truth — I know the truth," Mademoiselle Noemie repeated. And, dipping a brush into a clot of red paint, she drew a great horizontal daub across her unfinished picture.
"What is that?" asked Newman.
Without answering, she drew another long crimson daub, in a vertical direction, down the middle of her canvas, and so, in a moment, completed the rough indication of a cross. "It is the sign of the truth," she said at last.
The two men looked at each other, and Valentin indulged in another flash of physiognomical eloquence. "You have spoiled your picture," said Newman.
"I know that very well. It was the only thing to do with it. I had sat looking at it all day without touching it. I had begun to hate it. It seemed to me something was going to happen."
"I like it better that way than as it was before," said Valentin. "Now it is more interesting. It tells a story. Is it for sale?"
"Everything I have is for sale," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
"How much is this thing?"
"Ten thousand francs," said the young girl, without a smile.
"Everything that Mademoiselle Nioche may do at present is mine in advance," said Newman. "It makes part of an order I gave her some months ago. So you can't have this."
"Monsieur will lose nothing by it," said the young girl, looking at Valentin. And she began to put up her utensils.
"I shall have gained a charming memory," said Valentin. "You are going away? your day is over?"
"My father is coming to fetch me," said Mademoiselle Noemie.
She had hardly spoken when, through the door behind her, which opens on one of the great white stone staircases of the Louvre, M. Nioche made his appearance. He came in with his usual even, patient shuffle, and he made a low salute to the two gentlemen who were standing before his daughter's easel. Newman shook his hands with muscular friendliness, and Valentin returned his greeting with extreme deference. While the old man stood waiting for Noemie to make a parcel of her implements, he let his mild, oblique gaze hover toward Bellegarde, who was watching Mademoiselle Noemie put on her bonnet and mantle. Valentin was at no pains to disguise his scrutiny. He looked at a pretty girl as he would have listened to a piece of music. Attention, in each case, was simple good manners. M. Nioche at last took his daughter's paint-box in one hand and the bedaubed canvas, after giving it a solemn, puzzled stare, in the other, and led the way to the door. Mademoiselle Noemie made the young men the salute of a duchess, and followed her father.
"Well," said Newman, "what do you think of her?"
"She is very remarkable. Diable, diable, diable!" repeated M. de Bellegarde, reflectively; "she is very remarkable."
"I am afraid she is a sad little adventuress," said Newman.
"Not a little one — a great one. She has the material." And Valentin began to walk away slowly, looking vaguely at the pictures on the walls, with a thoughtful illumination in his eye. Nothing could have appealed to his imagination more than the possible adventures of a young lady endowed with the "material" of Mademoiselle Nioche. "She is very interesting," he went on. "She is a beautiful type."
"A beautiful type? What the deuce do you mean?" asked Newman.
"I mean from the artistic point of view. She is an artist, — outside of her painting, which obviously is execrable."
"But she is not beautiful. I don't even think her very pretty."
"She is quite pretty enough for her purposes, and it is a face and figure on which everything tells. If she were prettier she would be less intelligent, and her intelligence is half of her charm."
"In what way," asked Newman, who was much amused at his companion's immediate philosophization of Mademoiselle Nioche, "does her intelligence strike you as so remarkable?"
"She has taken the measure of life, and she has determined to BE something — to succeed at any cost. Her painting, of course, is a mere trick to gain time. She is waiting for her chance; she wishes to launch herself, and to do it well. She knows her Paris. She is one of fifty thousand, so far as the mere ambition goes; but I am very sure that in the way of resolution and capacity she is a rarity. And in one gift — perfect heartlessness — I will warrant she is unsurpassed. She has not as much heart as will go on the point of a needle. That is an immense virtue. Yes, she is one of the celebrities of the future."