The American By Henry James Chapter XIX

Valentin groaned and turned away his head. For some time nothing more was said. Then Valentin turned back again and found a certain force to press Newman's arm. "It's very bad — very bad. When my people — when my race — come to that, it is time for me to withdraw. I believe in my sister; she will explain. Excuse her. If she can't — if she can't, forgive her. She has suffered. But for the others it is very bad — very bad. You take it very hard? No, it's a shame to make you say so." He closed his eyes and again there was a silence. Newman felt almost awed; he had evoked a more solemn spirit than he expected. Presently Valentin looked at him again, removing his hand from his arm. "I apologize," he said. "Do you understand? Here on my death-bed. I apologize for my family. For my mother. For my brother. For the ancient house of Bellegarde. Voila!" he added, softly.

Newman for an answer took his hand and pressed it with a world of kindness. Valentin remained quiet, and at the end of half an hour the doctor softly came in. Behind him, through the half-open door, Newman saw the two questioning faces of MM. de Grosjoyaux and Ledoux. The doctor laid his hand on Valentin's wrist and sat looking at him. He gave no sign and the two gentlemen came in, M. Ledoux having first beckoned to some one outside. This was M. le cure, who carried in his hand an object unknown to Newman, and covered with a white napkin. M. le cure was short, round, and red: he advanced, pulling off his little black cap to Newman, and deposited his burden on the table; and then he sat down in the best arm-chair, with his hands folded across his person. The other gentlemen had exchanged glances which expressed unanimity as to the timeliness of their presence. But for a long time Valentin neither spoke nor moved. It was Newman's belief, afterwards, that M. le cure went to sleep. At last abruptly, Valentin pronounced Newman's name. His friend went to him, and he said in French, "You are not alone. I want to speak to you alone." Newman looked at the doctor, and the doctor looked at the cure, who looked back at him; and then the doctor and the cure, together, gave a shrug. "Alone — for five minutes," Valentin repeated. "Please leave us."

The cure took up his burden again and led the way out, followed by his companions. Newman closed the door behind them and came back to Valentin's bedside. Bellegarde had watched all this intently.

"It's very bad, it's very bad," he said, after Newman had seated himself close to him. "The more I think of it the worse it is."

"Oh, don't think of it," said Newman.

But Valentin went on, without heeding him. "Even if they should come round again, the shame — the baseness — is there."

"Oh, they won't come round!" said Newman.

"Well, you can make them."

"Make them?"

"I can tell you something — a great secret — an immense secret. You can use it against them — frighten them, force them."

"A secret!" Newman repeated. The idea of letting Valentin, on his death-bed, confide him an "immense secret" shocked him, for the moment, and made him draw back. It seemed an illicit way of arriving at information, and even had a vague analogy with listening at a key-hole. Then, suddenly, the thought of "forcing" Madame de Bellegarde and her son became attractive, and Newman bent his head closer to Valentin's lips. For some time, however, the dying man said nothing more. He only lay and looked at his friend with his kindled, expanded, troubled eye, and Newman began to believe that he had spoken in delirium. But at last he said, —

"There was something done — something done at Fleurieres. It was foul play. My father — something happened to him. I don't know; I have been ashamed — afraid to know. But I know there is something. My mother knows — Urbain knows."

"Something happened to your father?" said Newman, urgently.

Valentin looked at him, still more wide-eyed. "He didn't get well."

"Get well of what?"

But the immense effort which Valentin had made, first to decide to utter these words and then to bring them out, appeared to have taken his last strength. He lapsed again into silence, and Newman sat watching him. "Do you understand?" he began again, presently. "At Fleurieres. You can find out. Mrs. Bread knows. Tell her I begged you to ask her. Then tell them that, and see. It may help you. If not, tell, every one. It will — it will" — here Valentin's voice sank to the feeblest murmur — "it will avenge you!"

The words died away in a long, soft groan. Newman stood up, deeply impressed, not knowing what to say; his heart was beating violently. "Thank you," he said at last. "I am much obliged." But Valentin seemed not to hear him, he remained silent, and his silence continued. At last Newman went and opened the door. M. le cure reentered, bearing his sacred vessel and followed by the three gentlemen and by Valentin's servant. It was almost processional.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At the ball, who tries to point out some things to Newman, when he fails to realize them on his own?




Quiz