"I wish to add a word that my son probably did not feel at liberty to say," the marquise rejoined. "I must say it for my own peace of mind. We are stretching a point; we are doing you a great favor."
"Oh, your son said it very well; didn't you?" said Newman.
"Not so well as my mother," declared the marquis.
"I can only repeat — I am much obliged."
"It is proper I should tell you," Madame de Bellegarde went on, "that I am very proud, and that I hold my head very high. I may be wrong, but I am too old to change. At least I know it, and I don't pretend to anything else. Don't flatter yourself that my daughter is not proud. She is proud in her own way — a somewhat different way from mine. You will have to make your terms with that. Even Valentin is proud, if you touch the right spot — or the wrong one. Urbain is proud; that you see for yourself. Sometimes I think he is a little too proud; but I wouldn't change him. He is the best of my children; he cleaves to his old mother. But I have said enough to show you that we are all proud together. It is well that you should know the sort of people you have come among."
"Well," said Newman, "I can only say, in return, that I am NOT proud; I shan't mind you! But you speak as if you intended to be very disagreeable."
"I shall not enjoy having my daughter marry you, and I shall not pretend to enjoy it. If you don't mind that, so much the better."
"If you stick to your own side of the contract we shall not quarrel; that is all I ask of you," said Newman. "Keep your hands off, and give me an open field. I am very much in earnest, and there is not the slightest danger of my getting discouraged or backing out. You will have me constantly before your eyes; if you don't like it, I am sorry for you. I will do for your daughter, if she will accept me everything that a man can do for a woman. I am happy to tell you that, as a promise — a pledge. I consider that on your side you make me an equal pledge. You will not back out, eh?"
"I don't know what you mean by 'backing out,'" said the marquise. "It suggests a movement of which I think no Bellegarde has ever been guilty."
"Our word is our word," said Urbain. "We have given it."
"Well, now," said Newman, "I am very glad you are so proud. It makes me believe that you will keep it."
The marquise was silent a moment, and then, suddenly, "I shall always be polite to you, Mr. Newman," she declared, "but, decidedly, I shall never like you."
"Don't be too sure," said Newman, laughing.
"I am so sure that I will ask you to take me back to my arm-chair without the least fear of having my sentiments modified by the service you render me." And Madame de Bellegarde took his arm, and returned to the salon and to her customary place.
M. de la Rochefidele and his wife were preparing to take their leave, and Madame de Cintre's interview with the mumbling old lady was at an end. She stood looking about her, asking herself, apparently to whom she should next speak, when Newman came up to her.
"Your mother has given me leave — very solemnly — to come here often," he said. "I mean to come often."
"I shall be glad to see you," she answered, simply. And then, in a moment. "You probably think it very strange that there should be such a solemnity — as you say — about your coming."
"Well, yes; I do, rather."
"Do you remember what my brother Valentin said, the first time you came to see me — that we were a strange, strange family?"
"It was not the first time I came, but the second," said Newman.
"Very true. Valentin annoyed me at the time, but now I know you better, I may tell you he was right. If you come often, you will see!" and Madame de Cintre turned away.
Newman watched her a while, talking with other people, and then he took his leave. He shook hands last with Valentin de Bellegarde, who came out with him to the top of the staircase. "Well, you have got your permit," said Valentin. "I hope you liked the process."
"I like your sister, more than ever. But don't worry your brother any more for my sake," Newman added. "I don't mind him. I am afraid he came down on you in the smoking-room, after I went out."
"When my brother comes down on me," said Valentin, "he falls hard. I have a peculiar way of receiving him. I must say," he continued, "that they came up to the mark much sooner than I expected. I don't understand it, they must have had to turn the screw pretty tight. It's a tribute to your millions."
"Well, it's the most precious one they have ever received," said Newman.
He was turning away when Valentin stopped him, looking at him with a brilliant, softly-cynical glance. "I should like to know whether, within a few days, you have seen your venerable friend M. Nioche."
"He was yesterday at my rooms," Newman answered.
"What did he tell you?"
"You didn't see the muzzle of a pistol sticking out of his pocket?"
"What are you driving at?" Newman demanded. "I thought he seemed rather cheerful for him."
Valentin broke into a laugh. "I am delighted to hear it! I win my bet. Mademoiselle Noemie has thrown her cap over the mill, as we say. She has left the paternal domicile. She is launched! And M. Nioche is rather cheerful — FOR HIM! Don't brandish your tomahawk at that rate; I have not seen her nor communicated with her since that day at the Louvre. Andromeda has found another Perseus than I. My information is exact; on such matters it always is. I suppose that now you will raise your protest."
"My protest be hanged!" murmured Newman, disgustedly.
But his tone found no echo in that in which Valentin, with his hand on the door, to return to his mother's apartment, exclaimed, "But I shall see her now! She is very remarkable — she is very remarkable!"