Madame de Bellegarde held up her tapestry and pointed to a little white flower. "Don't ask me to leave this. I am in the midst of a masterpiece. My flower is going to smell very sweet; I am putting in the smell with this gold-colored silk. I am holding my breath; I can't leave off. Play something yourself."
"It is absurd for me to play when you are present," said Madame de Cintre. But the next moment she went to the piano and began to strike the keys with vehemence. She played for some time, rapidly and brilliantly; when she stopped, Newman went to the piano and asked her to begin again. She shook her head, and, on his insisting, she said, "I have not been playing for you; I have been playing for myself." She went back to the window again and looked out, and shortly afterwards left the room. When Newman took leave, Urbain de Bellegarde accompanied him, as he always did, just three steps down the staircase. At the bottom stood a servant with his overcoat. He had just put it on when he saw Madame de Cintre coming towards him across the vestibule.
"Shall you be at home on Friday?" Newman asked.
She looked at him a moment before answering his question. "You don't like my mother and my brother," she said.
He hesitated a moment, and then he said softly, "No."
She laid her hand on the balustrade and prepared to ascend the stairs, fixing her eyes on the first step.
"Yes, I shall be at home on Friday," and she passed up the wide dusky staircase.
On the Friday, as soon as he came in, she asked him to please to tell her why he disliked her family.
"Dislike your family?" he exclaimed. "That has a horrid sound. I didn't say so, did I? I didn't mean it, if I did."
"I wish you would tell me what you think of them," said Madame de Cintre.
"I don't think of any of them but you."
"That is because you dislike them. Speak the truth; you can't offend me."
"Well, I don't exactly love your brother," said Newman. "I remember now. But what is the use of my saying so? I had forgotten it."
"You are too good-natured," said Madame de Cintre gravely. Then, as if to avoid the appearance of inviting him to speak ill of the marquis, she turned away, motioning him to sit down.
But he remained standing before her and said presently, "What is of much more importance is that they don't like me."
"No — they don't," she said.
"And don't you think they are wrong?" Newman asked. "I don't believe I am a man to dislike."
"I suppose that a man who may be liked may also be disliked. And my brother — my mother," she added, "have not made you angry?"
"You have never shown it."
"So much the better."
"Yes, so much the better. They think they have treated you very well."
"I have no doubt they might have handled me much more roughly," said Newman. "I am much obliged to them. Honestly."
"You are generous," said Madame de Cintre. "It's a disagreeable position."
"For them, you mean. Not for me."
"For me," said Madame de Cintre.
"Not when their sins are forgiven!" said Newman. "They don't think I am as good as they are. I do. But we shan't quarrel about it."
"I can't even agree with you without saying something that has a disagreeable sound. The presumption was against you. That you probably don't understand."
Newman sat down and looked at her for some time. "I don't think I really understand it. But when you say it, I believe it."
"That's a poor reason," said Madame de Cintre, smiling.
"No, it's a very good one. You have a high spirit, a high standard; but with you it's all natural and unaffected; you don't seem to have stuck your head into a vise, as if you were sitting for the photograph of propriety. You think of me as a fellow who has had no idea in life but to make money and drive sharp bargains. That's a fair description of me, but it is not the whole story. A man ought to care for something else, though I don't know exactly what. I cared for money-making, but I never cared particularly for the money. There was nothing else to do, and it was impossible to be idle. I have been very easy to others, and to myself. I have done most of the things that people asked me — I don't mean rascals. As regards your mother and your brother," Newman added, "there is only one point upon which I feel that I might quarrel with them. I don't ask them to sing my praises to you, but I ask them to let you alone. If I thought they talked ill of me to you, I should come down upon them."
"They have let me alone, as you say. They have not talked ill of you."
"In that case," cried Newman, "I declare they are only too good for this world!"
Madame de Cintre appeared to find something startling in his exclamation. She would, perhaps, have replied, but at this moment the door was thrown open and Urbain de Bellegarde stepped across the threshold. He appeared surprised at finding Newman, but his surprise was but a momentary shadow across the surface of an unwonted joviality. Newman had never seen the marquis so exhilarated; his pale, unlighted countenance had a sort of thin transfiguration. He held open the door for some one else to enter, and presently appeared old Madame de Bellegarde, leaning on the arm of a gentleman whom Newman had not seen before. He had already risen, and Madame de Cintre rose, as she always did before her mother. The marquis, who had greeted Newman almost genially, stood apart, slowly rubbing his hands. His mother came forward with her companion. She gave a majestic little nod at Newman, and then she released the strange gentleman, that he might make his bow to her daughter.