It seemed to Newman that Madame de Bellegarde turned pale. She opened her fan, a fine old painted fan of the last century, and looked at the picture, which represented a fete champetre — a lady with a guitar, singing, and a group of dancers round a garlanded Hermes.
"We go out so little," murmured the marquis, "since my poor father's death."
"But MY dear father is still alive, my friend," said his wife. "I am only waiting for my invitation to accept it," and she glanced with amiable confidence at Newman. "It will be magnificent; I am very sure of that."
I am sorry to say, to the discredit of Newman's gallantry, that this lady's invitation was not then and there bestowed; he was giving all his attention to the old marquise. She looked up at last, smiling. "I can't think of letting you offer me a fete," she said, "until I have offered you one. We want to present you to our friends; we will invite them all. We have it very much at heart. We must do things in order. Come to me about the 25th; I will let you know the exact day immediately. We shall not have any one so fine as Madame Frezzolini, but we shall have some very good people. After that you may talk of your own fete." The old lady spoke with a certain quick eagerness, smiling more agreeably as she went on.
It seemed to Newman a handsome proposal, and such proposals always touched the sources of his good-nature. He said to Madame de Bellegarde that he should be glad to come on the 25th or any other day, and that it mattered very little whether he met his friends at her house or at his own. I have said that Newman was observant, but it must be admitted that on this occasion he failed to notice a certain delicate glance which passed between Madame de Bellegarde and the marquis, and which we may presume to have been a commentary upon the innocence displayed in that latter clause of his speech.
Valentin de Bellegarde walked away with Newman that evening, and when they had left the Rue de l'Universite some distance behind them he said reflectively, "My mother is very strong — very strong." Then in answer to an interrogative movement of Newman's he continued, "She was driven to the wall, but you would never have thought it. Her fete of the 25th was an invention of the moment. She had no idea whatever of giving a fete, but finding it the only issue from your proposal, she looked straight at the dose — excuse the expression — and bolted it, as you saw, without winking. She is very strong."
"Dear me!" said Newman, divided between relish and compassion. "I don't care a straw for her fete, I am willing to take the will for the deed."
"No, no," said Valentin, with a little inconsequent touch of family pride. "The thing will be done now, and done handsomely."