The American By Henry James Chapter XX

"No," said Newman, bitterly; "I must change — if I break in two in the effort!"

"You are different. You are a man; you will get over it. You have all kinds of consolation. You were born — you were trained, to changes. Besides — besides, I shall always think of you."

"I don't care for that!" cried Newman. "You are cruel — you are terribly cruel. God forgive you! You may have the best reasons and the finest feelings in the world; that makes no difference. You are a mystery to me; I don't see how such hardness can go with such loveliness."

Madame de Cintre fixed him a moment with her swimming eyes. "You believe I am hard, then?"

Newman answered her look, and then broke out, "You are a perfect, faultless creature! Stay by me!"

"Of course I am hard," she went on. "Whenever we give pain we are hard. And we MUST give pain; that's the world, — the hateful, miserable world! Ah!" and she gave a long, deep sigh, "I can't even say I am glad to have known you — though I am. That too is to wrong you. I can say nothing that is not cruel. Therefore let us part, without more of this. Good-by!" And she put out her hand.

Newman stood and looked at it without taking it, and raised his eyes to her face. He felt, himself, like shedding tears of rage. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "Where are you going?"

"Where I shall give no more pain and suspect no more evil. I am going out of the world."

"Out of the world?"

"I am going into a convent."

"Into a convent!" Newman repeated the words with the deepest dismay; it was as if she had said she was going into an hospital. "Into a convent — YOU!"

"I told you that it was not for my worldly advantage or pleasure I was leaving you."

But still Newman hardly understood. "You are going to be a nun," he went on, "in a cell — for life — with a gown and white veil?"

"A nun — a Carmelite nun," said Madame de Cintre. "For life, with God's leave."

The idea struck Newman as too dark and horrible for belief, and made him feel as he would have done if she had told him that she was going to mutilate her beautiful face, or drink some potion that would make her mad. He clasped his hands and began to tremble, visibly.

"Madame de Cintre, don't, don't!" he said. "I beseech you! On my knees, if you like, I'll beseech you."

She laid her hand upon his arm, with a tender, pitying, almost reassuring gesture. "You don't understand," she said. "You have wrong ideas. It's nothing horrible. It is only peace and safety. It is to be out of the world, where such troubles as this come to the innocent, to the best. And for life — that's the blessing of it! They can't begin again."

Newman dropped into a chair and sat looking at her with a long, inarticulate murmur. That this superb woman, in whom he had seen all human grace and household force, should turn from him and all the brightness that he offered her — him and his future and his fortune and his fidelity — to muffle herself in ascetic rags and entomb herself in a cell was a confounding combination of the inexorable and the grotesque. As the image deepened before him the grotesque seemed to expand and overspread it; it was a reduction to the absurd of the trial to which he was subjected. "You — you a nun!" he exclaimed; "you with your beauty defaced — you behind locks and bars! Never, never, if I can prevent it!" And he sprang to his feet with a violent laugh.

"You can't prevent it," said Madame de Cintre, "and it ought — a little — to satisfy you. Do you suppose I will go on living in the world, still beside you, and yet not with you? It is all arranged. Good-by, good-by."

This time he took her hand, took it in both his own. "Forever?" he said. Her lips made an inaudible movement and his own uttered a deep imprecation. She closed her eyes, as if with the pain of hearing it; then he drew her towards him and clasped her to his breast. He kissed her white face; for an instant she resisted and for a moment she submitted; then, with force, she disengaged herself and hurried away over the long shining floor. The next moment the door closed behind her.

Newman made his way out as he could.

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




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