THERE is a pretty public walk at Poitiers, laid out upon the crest of the high, hill around which the little city clusters, planted with fine trees and looking down upon the fertile fields in which the old English princes fought for their right and held it. Newman paced up and down this quiet promenade for the greater part of the next day, and let his eyes wander over the historic prospect; but he would have been sadly at a loss to tell you afterwards whether the latter was made up of coal-fields or of vineyards. He was wholly given up to his grievance, of which reflection by no means diminished the weight. He feared that Madame de Cintré was irretrievably lost; and yet, as he would have said himself, he did n’t see his way clear to giving her up. He found it impossible to turn his back upon Fleurières and its inhabitants; it seemed to him that some germ of hope or reparation must lurk there somewhere, if he could only reach his arm out far enough to pluck it. It was as if he had his hand on a doorknob and were closing his clenched fist upon it: he had thumped, he had called, he had pressed the door with his powerful knee and shaken it with all his strength, and dead, damning silence had answered him. And yet something held him there, — something hardened the grasp of his fingers. Newman’s satisfaction had been too intense, his whole plan too deliberate and mature, his prospect of happiness too rich and comprehensive, for this fine moral fabric to crumble at a stroke. The very foundation seemed fatally injured, and yet he felt a stubborn desire still to try to save the edifice. He was filled with a sorer sense of wrong than he had ever known, or than he had supposed it possible he should know. To accept his injury and walk away without looking behind him was a stretch of good - nature of which he found himself incapable. He looked behind him intently and continually, and what he saw there did not assuage his resentment. He saw himself trustful, generous, liberal, patient, easy, pocketing frequent irritation and furnishing unlimited modesty. To have eaten humble pie, to have been snubbed and patronized and satirized and have consented to take it as one of the conditions of the bargain, — to have done this, and done it all for nothing, surely gave one a right to protest. And to be turned off because one was a commercial person! As if he had ever talked or dreamt of the commercial since his connection with the Bellegardes began, — as if he had made the least circumstance of the commercial,— as if he would not have consented to confound the commercial fifty times a day, if it might have increased by a hair’s breadth the chance of the Bellegardes’ not playing him a trick! Granted that being commercial was fair ground for having a trick played upon one, how little they knew about the class so designated and its enterprising way of not standing upon trifles! It was in the light of his injury that the weight of Newman’s past endurance seemed so heavy; his actual irritation had not been so great, merged as it was in his vision of the cloudless blue that overarched his immediate wooing. But now his sense of outrage was deep, rancorous, and ever present; he felt that he was a good fellow wronged. As for Madame de Cintré’s conduct, it struck him with a kind of awe, and the fact that he was powerless to understand it or feel the reality of its motives only deepened the force with which he had attached himself to her. He had never let the fact of her Catholicism trouble him; Catholicism to him was nothing but a name, and to express a mistrust of the form in which her religious feelings had molded themselves would have seemed to him on his own part a rather pretentious affectation of Protestant zeal. If such superb white flowers as that could bloom in Catholic soil, the soil was not insalubrious. But it was one thing to be a Catholic, and another to turn nun — on your hands! There was something lugubriously comical in the way Newman’s thoroughly contemporaneous optimism was confronted with this dusky old-world expedient. To see a woman made for him and for motherhood to his children juggled away in this tragic travesty, — it was a thing to rub one’s eyes over, a nightmare, an illusion, a hoax. But the hours passed away without disproving the thing, and leaving him only the after-sense of the vehemence with which he had embraced Madame de Cintré. He remembered her words and her looks; he turned them over and tried to shake the mystery out of them and to infuse them with an endurable meaning. What had she meant by her feeling being a kind of religion? It was the religion simply of the family laws, the religion of which her implacable little mother was the high priestess. Twist the thing about as her generosity would, the one certain fact was that they had used force against her. Her generosity had tried to screen them, but Newman’s heart rose into his throat at the thought that they should go scot-free.
The twenty - four hours wore themselves away, and the next morning Newman sprang to his feet with the resolution to return to Fleurières and demand another interview with Madame de Bellegarde and her son. He lost no time in putting it into practice. As he rolled swiftly over the excellent road in the little calèche furnished him at the inn at Poitiers, he drew forth, as it were, from the very safe place in his mind to which he had consigned it, the last information given him by poor Valentin. Valentin had told him he could do something with it, and Newman thought it would be well to have it at hand. This was of course not the first time, lately, that Newman had given it his attention. It was information in the rough, — it was dark and puzzling; but Newman was neither helpless nor afraid. Valentin had evidently meant to put him in possession of a powerful instrument, though he could not be said to have placed the handle very securely within his grasp. But if he had not really told him the secret, he had at least given him the clew to it, — a clew of which that queer old Mrs. Bread held the other end. Mrs. Bread had always looked to Newman as if she knew secrets; and as he apparently enjoyed her esteem he suspected she might be induced to share her knowledge with him. So long as there was only Mrs. Bread to deal with, he felt easy. As to what there was to find out, he had onlyone fear, — that it might not be bad enough. Then, when the image of the marquise and her son rose before him again, standing side by side, the old woman’s hand in Urbain’s arm, and the same cold, unsociable fixedness in the eyes of each, he cried out to himself that the fear was groundless. There was blood in the secret at the very least! He arrived at Fleurières almost in a state of elation; be bad satisfied himself, logically, that in the presence of his threat of exposure they would, as he mentally phrased it, rattle down like unwound buckets. He remembered indeed that he must first catch his hare, — first ascertain what there was to expose; but after that why should n’t his happiness be as good as new again? Mother and son would drop their lovely victim in terror and take to hiding, and Madame de Cintré, left to herself, would surely come back to him. Give her a chance and she would rise to the surface, return to the light, How could she fail to perceive that his house would be much the most comfortable sort of convent?
Newman, as he had done before, left his conveyance at the inn and walked the short remaining distance to the château. When he reached the gate, however, a singular feeling took possession of him, — a feeling which, strange as it may seem, had its source in its unfathomable good nature. He stood there awhile, looking through the bars at the large, time - stained face of the edifice, and wondering to what crime it was that the dark old house, with its flowery name, had given convenient occasion. It had given occasion, first and last, to tyrannies and sufferings enough, Newman said to himself; it was an evil-looking place to live in. Then, suddenly, came the reflection, — what a horrible rubbish-heap of iniquity to fumble in! The attitude of inquisitor turned its ignobler face, and with the same movement Newman declared that the Bellegardes should have another chance. He would appeal once more directly to their sense of fairness and not to their fear, and if they should be accessible to reason he need know nothing worse about them than what he already knew. That was bad enough.
The portress let him in through the same illiberal aperture as before, and he passed through the court and over the little rustic bridge on the moat. The door was opened before he had reached it, and, as if to put his clemency to rout with the suggestion of a richer opportunity, Mrs. Bread stood there awaiting him. Her face, as usual, looked as hopelessly blank as the tide - smoothed seasand, and her black garments seemed of an intenser sable. Newman had already learned that her strange inexpressiveness could be a vehicle for emotion, and he was not surprised at the muffled vivacity with which she whispered, “ I thought you would try again, sir. I was looking out for you.”
“ I am glad to see you,” said Newman; “ I think you are my friend.”
Mrs. Bread looked at him, opaquely. “ I wish you well, sir; but it’s vain wishing now.”
“ You know, then, how they have treated me? ”
“ Oh, sir,” said Mrs. Bread, dryly, “ I know everything.”
Newman hesitated a moment. “ Everything ? ”
Mrs. Bread gave him a glance somewhat more lucent. “ I know at least too much, sir.”
“ One can never know too much. I congratulate you. I have come to see Madame de Bellegarde and her son,” Newman added. “Are they at home? if they are not, I will wait.”
“ My lady is always at home,” Mrs. Bread replied, “ and the marquis is mostly with her.”
“ Please then tell them — one or the other, or both — that I am here and that I desire to see them.”
Mrs. Bread hesitated. “ May I take a great liberty, sir? ”
“ You have never taken a liberty but you have justified it,” said Newman, with diplomatic urbanity.
Mrs. Bread dropped her wrinkled eyelids as if she were courtesying; but the courtesy stopped there; the occasion was too grave. “You have come to plead with them again, sir? Perhaps you don’t know this, — that the countess returned this morning to Paris.”
“ Ah, she’s gone! ” And Newman, groaning, smote the pavement with his stick.
“ She has gone straight to the convent, — the Carmelites they call it. I see you know, sir. My lady and the marquis take it very ill. It was only last night she told them.”
“ Ah, she sprang it upon them, then ? ” cried Newman. “Good, good! And they are very mad? ”
“ They are not pleased,” said Mrs. Bread. “ But they may well dislike it. They tell me it’s most dreadful, sir; of all the nuns in Christendom, the Carmelites are the worst. You may say they are really not human, sir; they make you give up everything, — forever. And to think of her there! If I was one that cried, sir, I could cry.”
Newman looked at her an instant. “ We must n’t cry, Mrs. Bread; we must act. Go and call them ! ” And he made a movement to enter farther.
But Mrs. Bread gently checked him. “ May I take another liberty? I am told you were with my dearest Mr. Valentin, in his last hours. If you would tell me a word about him! The poor count was my own boy, sir; for the first year of his life he was hardly out of my arms; I taught him to speak. And the count spoke so well, sir! He always spoke well to his poor old Bread. When he grew up and took his pleasure he always had a kind word for me. And to die in that wild way! They have a story that he fought with a wine-merchant. I can’t believe that, sir! And was he in great pain ? ”
“ You are a wise, kind old woman, Mrs. Bread,” said Newman. “ I hoped I might see you with my own children in your arms. Perhaps I shall, yet.” And he put out his hand. Mrs. Bread looked for a moment at his open palm, and then, as if fascinated by the novelty of the gesture, she extended her own lady-like fingers. Newman held her hand, firmly and deliberately, fixing his eyes upon her. “ You want to know all about M. Valentin?” he said.
“ It would be a sad pleasure, sir,”
“I can tell you everything. Can you sometimes leave this place? ”
“The château, sir? I really don’t know. I never tried. ”
“ Try, then; try hard. Try this evening, at dusk. Come to me in the old ruin there on the hill, in the court before the church. I will wait for you there; I have something very important to tell you. An old woman like you can do as she pleases.”
Mrs. Bread stared, wondering, with parted lips, “ Is it from the count, sir? ” she asked.
“From the count, — from his deathbed,” said Newman.
“ I will come, then. I will be bold, for once, for him.”
She led Newman into the great drawing - room with which he had already made acquaintance, and retired to execute his commands. Newman waited a long time; at last he was on the point of ringing and repeating his request. He was looking round him for a bell when the marquis came in with his mother on his arm. It will be seen that Newman had a logical mind when I say that he declared to himself, in perfect good faith, as a result of Valentin’s dark hints, that his adversaries looked grossly wicked. “ There is no mistake about it now,” he said to himself as they advanced. “ They ’re a bad lot; they have pulled off the mask.” Madame de Bellegarde and her son certainly bore in their faces the signs of extreme perturbation; they looked like people who had passed a sleepless night. Confronted, moreover, with an annoyance which they hoped they had disposed of, it was not natural that they should have any very tender glances to bestow upon Newman. He stood before them, and such eye-beams as they found available they leveled at him; Newman felt as if the door of a sepulchre had suddenly been opened, and the damp darkness were being exhaled.
“ You see I have come back,” be said. “ I have come to try again.”
“ It would be ridiculous,” said the marquis, “ to pretend that we are glad to see you or that we don’t question the taste of your visit.”
“ Oh, don’t talk about taste,” said Newman, with a laugh, “or that will bring us round to yours! If I consulted my taste I certainly should n’t come to see you. Besides, I will make as short work as you please. Promise me to raise the blockade — to set Madame de Cintré at liberty — and I will retire instantly.”
“ We hesitated as to whether we should see you,” said Madame de Bellegarde; “ and we were on the point of declining the honor. But it seemed to me that we should act with civility, as we have always done, and I wished to have the satisfaction of informing you that there are certain weaknesses that people of our way of feeling can be guilty of but once.”
“ You may be weak but once, but you will be audacious many times, madam,” Newman answered. “ I did n’t come, however, for conversational purposes. I came to say this, simply: that if you will write immediately to your daughter that you withdraw your opposition to her marriage, I will take care of the rest. You don’t want her to turn nun, — you know more about the horrors of it than I do. Marrying a commercial person is better than that. Give me a letter to her, signed and sealed, saying you retract and that she may marry me with your blessing, and I will take it to her at the convent and bring her out. There’s your chance, — I call those easy terms.”
“ We look at the matter otherwise, you know. We call them very hard terms,” said the marquis. They had all remained standing, rigidly, in the middle of the room. “ I think my mother will tell you that she would rather her daughter should become Sœur Catherine than Mrs. Newman.”
But the marquise, with the serenity of supreme power, let her son make her epigrams for her. She only smiled, almost sweetly, shaking her head and repeating, “ But once, Mr. Newman; but once! ”
Nothing that Newman had ever seen or heard gave him such a sense of marble hardness as this movement and the tone that accompanied it. “ Could anything compel you?” he asked. “ Do you know of anything that would force you? ”
“ This language, sir,” said the marquis, “ addressed to people in bereavement and grief is beyond all qualification.”
“ In most cases,” Newman answered, “ your objection would have some weight, even admitting that Madame de Cintré’s present intentions make time precious. But I have thought of what you speak of, and I have come here to-day without scruple simply because I consider your brother and you two very different parties. I see no connection between you. Your brother was ashamed of you. Lying there wounded and dying, the poor fellow apologized to me for your conduct. He apologized to me for that of his mother.”
For a moment the effect of these words was as if Newman had struck a physical blow. A quick flush leaped into the faces of Madame de Bellegarde and her son, and they exchanged a glance like a twinkle of steel. The marquis uttered two words which Newman but half heard, but of which the sense came to him as it were in the reverberation of the sound, “ Le misérable! ”
“ You show little respect for the living,” said Madame de Bellegarde, “ but at least respect the dead. Don't profane — don’t insult — the memory of my innocent son.”
“ I speak the simple truth,” Newman declared, “ and I speak it for a purpose. I repeat it, — distinctly. Your son was utterly disgusted, — your son apologized.” Urbain de Bellegarde was frowning portentously, and Newman supposed he was frowning at poor Valentin’s invidious image. Taken by surprise, his scant affection for his brother had made a momentary concession to dishonor. But not for an appreciable instant did the marquise lower her flag. “You are immensely mistaken, sir,” she said. “ My son was sometimes light, but he was never indecent. He died faithful to his name.”
“ You simply did n’t understand him,” said the marquis, beginning to rally. “ You affirm the impossible! ”
“ Oh, I don't care for poor Valentin’s apology,” said Newman. “It was far more painful than pleasant to me. This atrocious thing was not his fault; he never hurt me, or any one else; he was the soul of honor. But it shows how he took it.”
“ If you wish to prove that my poor brother, in his last moments, was utterly out of his head, we can only say that under the melancholy circumstances nothing was more possible. But confine yourself to that.”
“ He was perfectly in his right, mind,” said Newman, with gentle, but daugerous doggedness; “ I have never seen him so bright and clever. It was terrible to see that witty, capable fellow dying such a death. You know I was very fond of your brother. And I have further proof of his sanity,” Newman concluded.
The marquise gathered herself together, majestically. “ This is too gross!” she cried. “ We decline to accept your story, sir, — we repudiate it. Urbain, open the door.” She turned away, with an imperious motion to her son, and passed rapidly down the length of the room. The marquis went with her and held the door open. Newman was left standing.
He lifted his finger, as a sign to M. de Bellegarde, who closed the door behind his mother and stood waiting. Newman slowly advanced, more silent, for the moment, than life. The two men stood face to face. Then Newman had a singular sensation; he felt his sense of injury almost brimming over into jocularity, “ Come,” he said, “ you don’t treat me well; at least admit that.”
M. de Bellegarde looked at him from head to foot, and then, in the most delicate, best-bred voice, “ I detest you, personally,” he said.
“ Oh, that’s the way I feel to you, but I don’t say it,” said Newman. “ It’s singular I should want so much to be your brother-in-law, but I can’t give it up. Let me try once more. ” And he paused a moment. “ You have a secret, — you have a skeleton in the closet.” M. de Bellegarde continued to look at him hard, but Newman could not see whether his eyes betrayed anything; the look of his eyes was always so strange. Newman paused again, and then went on. “ You and your mother have committed a crime.” At this M. de Bellegarde’s eyes certainly did change; they seemed to flicker, like blown candles. Newman could see that he was profoundly startled; but there was something admirable in his self-control.
“ Continue,” said M. de Bellegarde.
Newman lifted a finger and made it waver a little in the air. “ Need I continue? You are trembling.”
“ Pray where did you obtain this interesting information?” M. de Bellegarde asked, very softly.
“ I shall be strictly accurate,” said Newman. “ I won’t pretend to know more than I do. At present that is all I know. You have done something that you must hide, something that would damn you if it were known, something that would disgrace the name you are so proud of. I don’t know what it is, but I can find out. Persist in your present course and I will find out. Change it, let your sister go in peace, and I will leave you alone. It’s a bargain? ”
The marquis almost succeeded in looking untroubled; the breaking up of the ice in his handsome countenance could not come to pass in a moment. But Newman’s mildly syllabled argumentation seemed to press and press, and presently he averted his eyes. He stood Some moments, reflecting.
“ My brother told you this,” he said, looking up.
Newtnan hesitated a moment. “ Yes, your brother told me.”
The marquis smiled, handsomely. “ Did n’t I say that he was out of his mind ? ”
“ He was out of his mind if I don’t find out. He was very much in it if I do.”
M. de Bellegarde gave a shrug. “ Eh, sir, find out or not, as you please.”
“ I don’t frighten you?” demanded Newman.
“ That’s for you to judge.”
“ No, it’s for you to judge, at your leisure. Think it over, feel yourself all round. I will give you an hour or two. I can’t give you more, for how do we know how fast they may be making Madame de Cintré a nun? Talk it over with your mother; let her judge whether she is frightened. I don’t believe she is as easily frightened, in general, as you; but you will see. I will go and wait in the village, at the inn, and I beg you to let me know as soon as possible. Say by three o’clock. A simple yes or no on paper will do. Only, you know, in case of a yes I shall expect you, this time, to stick to your bargain.” And with this Newman opened the door and let himself out. The marquis did not move, and Newman, retiring, gave him another look. “ At the inn, in the village,” he repeated. Then he turned away altogether and passed out of the house.
He was extremely excited by what he had been doing, for it was inevitable that there should he a certain emotion in calling up the spectre of dishonor before a family a thousand years old. But he went back to the inn and contrived to wait there, deliberately, for the next two hours. He thought it more than probable that Urbain de Bellegarde would give no sign; for an answer to his challenge, in either sense, would be a confession of guilt. What he most expected was silence, — in other words defiance. But he prayed that, as he imaged it, his shot might bring them down. It did bring, by three o’clock, a note, delivered by a footman; a note addressed in Urbain de Bellegarde’s handsome English hand. It ran as follows; —
I cannot deny myself the satisfaction of letting you know that I return to Paris, to-morrow, with my mother, in order that we may see my sister and confirm her in the resolution which is the most effectual reply to your audacious pertinacity.
HENRI-URBAIN DE BELLEGRADE.
Newman put the letter into his pocket, and continued his walk up and down the inn-parlor. He had spent most of his time, for the past week, in walking up and down. He continued to measure the length of the little salle of the Armes de France until the day began to wane, when he went out to keep his rendezvous with Mrs. Bread. The path which led up the hill to the ruin was easy to find, and Newman in a short time had followed it to the top. He passed beneath the rugged arch of the castle wall, and looked about him in the early dusk for an old woman in black. The castle yard was empty, but the door of the church was open. Newman went into the little nave and of course found there a deeper dusk than without. A couple of tapers, however, twinkled on the altar and just enabled him to perceive a figure seated by one of the pillars. Closer inspection helped him to recognize Mrs. Bread, in spite of the fact that she was dressed with unwonted splendor. She wore a large black silk bonnet, with imposing bows of crape, and an old black satin dress disposed itself in vaguely lustrous folds about her person. She had judged it proper to the occasion to appear in her stateliest apparel. She had been sitting with her eyes fixed upon the ground, but when Newman passed before her she looked up at him, and then she rose.
“ Are you a Catholic, Mrs. Bread?” he asked.
“ No, sir; I’m a good Church-of-England woman, very Low,” she answered. “ But I thought I should be safer in here than outside. I never was out in the evening before, sir.”
“ We shall be safer,” said Newman, “ where no one can hear us.” And he led the way back into the castle court and then followed a path beside the church, which he was sure must lead into another part of the ruin. He was not deceived. It wandered along the crest of the hill and terminated before a fragment of wall pierced by a rough aperture which had once been a door. Through this Newman passed and found himself in a nook peculiarly favorable to quiet conversation, as many an earnest couple, otherwise assorted than our friends, probably had assured themselves. The hill sloped abruptly away, and on the remnant of its crest were scattered two or three fragments of stone. Beneath, over the plain, lay the gathered twilight, through which, in the near distance, gleamed two or three lights from the château. Mrs. Bread rustled slowly after her guide, and Newman, satisfying himself that one of the fallen stones was steady, proposed to her to sit upon it. She timidly complied, and he placed himself upon another, near her.
“I am very much obliged to you for coming,” Newman said. “I hope it won’t get you into trouble.”
“I don’t think I shall be missed. My lady, in these days, is not fond of having me about her.” This was said with a certain fluttered eagerness which increased Newman’s sense of having inspired the old woman with confidence.
“ From the first, you know,” he answered, “ you took an interest in my prospects. You were on my side. That gratified me, I assure you. And now that you know what they have done to me, I am sure you are with me all the more.”
“ They have not done well, — I must say it,” said Mrs. Bread. “But you must n’t blame the poor countess; they pressed her hard.”
“ I would give a million of dollars to know what they did to her! ” cried Newman.
Mrs. Bread sat with a dull, oblique gaze fixed upon the lights of the château. “ They worked on her feelings; they knew that was the way. She is a delicate creature. They made her feel wicked. She is only too good.”
“ Ah, they made her feel wicked,” said Newman, slowly; and then he repeated it. “ They made her feel wicked, — they made her feel wicked.” The words seemed to him for the moment the most vivid description of infernal ingenuity that the human tongue could furnish.
“ It was because she was so good that she gave up, — poor sweet lady! ” added Mrs. Bread.
“ But she was better to them than to me,” said Newman.
“ She was afraid,” said Mrs. Bread, very confidently; “ she has always been afraid, or at least fora long time. That was the real trouble, sir. She was like a fair peach, I may say, with just one little speck. She had one little sad spot. You pushed her into the sunshine, sir, and it almost disappeared. Then they pulled her back into the shade and in a moment it began to spread. Before we knew it she was gone. She was a delicate creature.”
This singular attestation of Madame de Cintré’s delicacy, for all its singularity, set Newman’s wound aching afresh. “ I see,” he presently said; “ she knew something bad about her mother.”
“ No, sir, she knew nothing,” said Mrs. Bread, holding her head very stiff and keeping her eyes fixed upon the glimmering windows of the château.
“ She guessed something, then, or suspected it.”
“ She was afraid to know,” said Mrs. Bread.
“ But you know, at any rate,” said Newman.
She slowly turned her vague eves upon Newman, squeezing her hands together in her lap. “ You are not quite faithful, sir. I thought it was to tell me about the count you asked me to come here.”
“ Oh, the more we talk of the count the better,” said Newman. “That ’s exactly what I want. I was with him, as I told you, in his last hour. He was in a great deal of pain, but he was quite himself. You know wllat that means; he was bright and lively and clever.”
“ Oh, he would always be clever, sir,” said Mrs. Bread. “And did he know of your trouble? ”
“ Yes, he guessed it of himself.”
“ And what did he say to it? ”
“ He said it was a disgrace to his name, — but it was not the first.”
“ Lord, Lord!” uttered Mrs. Bread. “ He said that his mother and his brother had once put their heads together and invented something even worse.”
“ You shouldn’t have listened to that, sir.’’
“ Perhaps not. But I did listen, and I don’t forget it. Now I want to know what it is they did.”
Mrs. Bread gave a soft moan. “ And you have enticed me up into this strange place to tell you ? ”
“ Don’t be alarmed,” said Newman. “ I won’t say a word that shall be disagreeable to you. Tell me as it suits you, and when it suits you. Only remember that it was the count’s last wish that you should. ”
“ Did he say that ? ”
“ He said it with his last breath, — ‘Tell Mrs. Bread I told you to ask her.’ ”
“ Why did n’t he tell you himself? ” “ It was too long a story for a dying man ; he had no breath left in his body. He could only say that he wanted me to know, — that, wronged as I was, it was my right to know.”
“ But how will it help you, sir? ” said Mrs. Bread.
“ That’s for me to decide. The count believed it would, and that’s why he told me. Your name was almost the last word he spoke.”
Mrs. Bread was evidently awe-struck by this statement; she shook her clasped hands slowly up and down. “ Excuse me, sir,” she said, “if I take a great liberty. Is it the solemn truth you are speaking? I must ask you that; must n’t I, sir ? ”
“There’s no offense. It is the solemn truth; I solemnly swear it. The count himself would certainly have told me more if he had been able.”
“ Oh, sir, if he knew more! ”
“ Don’t you suppose he did ? ”
“ There’s no saying what he knew about, anything,” said Mrs. Bread with a mild head-shake. “ He was so mightily clever. He could make you believe he knew things that he did n’t, and that he did n't know others that he had better not have known.”
“ I suspect he knew something about his brother that kept the marquis civil to him,” Newman propounded; “ he made the marquis feel him. What he wanted now was to put me in his place; he wanted to give me a chance to make the marquis feel me.”
“ Mercy on us!” cried the old waiting-woman, “ how wicked we all are! ”
“ I don’t know,” said Newman; “some of us are wicked, certainly. I am very angry, I am very sore, and I am very bitter, but I don’t know that I am wicked. I have been cruelly injured. They have hurt me, and I want to hurt them. I don’t deny that; on the contrary, I tell you plainly that that is the use I want to make of your secret.”
Mrs. Bread seemed to hold her breath. “ You want to publish them, — you want to shame them? ”
“ I want to bring them down, — down, down, down! I want to torn the tables upon them, — I want to mortify them as they mortified me. They took me up into a high place and made me stand there for all the world to see me, and then they stole behind me and pushed me into this bottomless pit, where I lie howling and gnashing my teeth! I made a fool of myself before all their friends; but I shall make something worse of them.”
This passionate sally, which Newman uttered with the greater fervor that it was the first time he had had a chance to say all this aloud, kindled two small sparks in Mrs. Bread’s fixed eyes. “I suppose you have a right to your anger, sir; but think of the dishonor you will draw down on Madame de Cintré.”
“ Madame do Cintré is buried alive,” cried Newman. “ What are honor or dishonor to her? The door of the tomb is at this moment closing behind her.”
“ Yes, it’s most awful,” moaned Mrs. Bread.
“ She has moved off, like her brother Valentin, to give me room to work. It’s as if it were done on purpose.”
“ Surely,” said Mrs. Bread, apparently impressed by the ingenuity of this reflection. She was silent for some moments; then sbe added, “ And would you bring my lady before the courts? ”
“ The courts care nothing for my lady,” Newman replied. “ If she has committed a crime she will be nothing for the courts but a wicked old woman.”
“ And will they hang her, sir? ”
“ That depends upon what she has done.” And Newman eyed Mrs. Bread intently.
“ It would break up the family most terribly, sir!”
“ It ’s time such a family should he broken up! ” said Newman with a laugh.
“ And one at my age out of place, sir,” said Mrs. Bread.
“ Oh, I will take care of you! You shall come and live with me, You shall be my housekeeper, or anything you like. I will pension you for life.”
“ Dear, dear, sir, you think of everything.” And she seemed to fall a-brooding.
Newman watched her awhile, and then he said suddenly, “ Oh, Mrs. Bread, you are too fond of my lady ! ”
She looked at him as quickly: “ I would n’t have you sav that, sir. I don’t think it any part of my duty to be fond of my lady. I have served her faithfully this many a year, but if she were to die to-morrow I believe, before Heaven, I should n’t shed a tear for her.” Then, after a pause, “ I have no reason to love her ! ” Mrs. Bread added. “ The most she has done for me has been not to turn me out of the house.” Newman felt that decidedly his companion was more and more confidential, — that if luxury is corrupting, Mrs. Bread’s conservative habits were already relaxed by the moral bien-être of this preconcerted interview, in a remarkable locality, with a free-spoken millionaire. All his native shrewdness admonished him that his part was simply to let her take her time, — let the charm of the occasion work. So he said nothing; he only looked at her kindly. Mrs. Bread sat nursing her lean elbows. “ My lady once did me a great wrong,” she went on at last. “ She has a terrible tongue when she is vexed. It was many a year ago, but I have never forgotten it. I have never mentioned it to a human creature; I have kept my grudge to myself. I dare say I have been wicked, but my grudge has grown old with me. It has grown good for nothing, too, I dare say; but it has lived along, as I ’ve lived. It will die when I die, — not before! ”
“ And what is your grudge? ” Newman asked.
Mrs. Bread dropped her eyes and hesitated. “If I were a foreigner, sir, I should make less of telling you; it comes harder to a decent Englishwoman. But I sometimes think I have picked up too many foreign ways. What I was telling you belongs to a time when I was much younger and very different looking to what I am now. I had a very high color, sir, if you can believe it; indeed I was a very smart lass. My lady was younger, too, and the late marquis was youngest of all, — I mean in the way he went on, sir; he had a very high spirit; he was a magnificent man. He was fond of his pleasure, like most foreigners, and it must be owned that he sometimes went rather below him to take it. My lady was often jealous, and, if you ’ll believe it, sir, she did me the honor to be jealous of me. One day I had a red ribbon in my cap, and my lady flew out at me and ordered me to take it off. She accused me of putting it on to make the marquis look at me. I don’t know that I was impertinent, but I spoke up like an honest girl and didn’t count my words. A red ribbon indeed! As if it was my ribbons the marquis looked at! My lady knew afterwards that I was thoroughly respectable, but she never said a word to show that she believed it. But the marquis did! ” Mrs. Bread presently added, “ I took off my red ribbon and put it away in a drawer, where I have kept it to this day. It’s faded now, it’s a very pale pink; but there it lies. My grudge has faded, too; the red has all gone out of it; but it lies here yet.” And Mrs. Bread tapped her black satin bodice.
Newman listened with interest to this decent narrative, which seemed to have opened up the deeps of memory to his companion. Then, as she remained silent, and seemed to be losing herself in retrospective meditation upon her thorough respectability, he ventured upon a bold short cut to his goal. “ So Madame de Bellegarde was jealous; I see. And M. de Bellegarde admired pretty women, without distinction of class. I suppose one must n’t be hard upon him, for they probably did n’t all behave so properly as you. But years afterwards it could hardly have been jealousy that turned Madame de Bellegarde into a criminal.”
Mrs. Bread gave aweary sigh. “ We are using dreadful words, sir, but I don’t care now. I see you have your idea, and I have no will of my own. My will was the will of my children, as I called them; but I have lost my children now. They are dead, — I may say it of both of them; and what should I care for the living ? What is any one in the house to me now, — what am I to them ? My lady objects to me, — she has objected to me these thirty years. I should have been glad to be something to young Madame de Bellegarde, though I never was nurse to the present marquis. When he was a baby I was too young; they would n’t trust me with him. But his wife told her own maid, Mamselle Clarisse, the opinion she had of me. Perhaps you would like to hear it, sir.”
“ Oh, immensely,” said Newman.
“ She said that if I would sit in her children’s school-room I would do very well for a penwiper! When things have come to that I don’t think I need stand on ceremony.”
“ Decidedly not,” said Newman. “ Go on, Mrs. Bread.”
Mrs. Bread, however, relapsed again into troubled dumbness, and all Newman could do was to fold his arms and wait. But at last she appeared to have set her memories in order. “ It was when the late marquis was an old man and his eldest son had been two years married. It was when the time came on for marrying Mademoiselle Claire; that ’s the way they talk of it here, you know, sir. The marquis’s health was bad; he was very much broken down. My lady had picked out M. de Cintré, for no good reason that I could see. But there are reasons,
I very well know, that are beyond me, and you must he high in the world to understand them. Old M. de Cintré was very high, and my lady thought him almost as good as herself; that’s saying a good deal. Mr. Urbain took sides with his mother, as he always did. The trouble, I believe, was that my lady would pay very little, and all the other gentlemen asked more. It was only M. de Cintré that was satisfied. The Lord willed it he should have that one soft spot; it was the only one he had. He may have been very grand in his birth, and he certainly was very grand in his manners; but that was all the grandeur he had. I think he was like what I have heard of comedians; not that I have ever seen one. But I know he painted his face. He could paint it all he would; he could never make me like it! The marquis could n’t abide him, and declared that sooner than take such a husband as that Mademoiselle Claire should take none at all. He and my lady had a great scene; it came even to our ears in the servants’ hall. It was not their first quarrel, if the truth must be told; they were not a loving couple, but did n’t often come to words, because, I think, neither of them thought the other’s doings worth the trouble. My lady had long ago got over her jealousy, and she had taken to indifference. In this, I must say, they were well matched. The marquis was very easy-going; he had the temper of a perfect gentleman. He got angry only once a year, but then it was very bad. He always took to bed directly afterwards. This time I speak of he took to bed as usual, but he never got up again. I’m afraid the poor gentleman was paying for his light habits; is n’t it true they mostly do, sir, when they get old? My lady and Mr. Urbain kept quiet, but I know my lady wrote letters to M. de Cintré. The marquis got worse and the doctors gave him up. My lady, she gave him up too, and if the truth must be told, she gave him up gladly. When once he was out of the way she could do what she pleased with her daughter, and it was all arranged that my poor, innocent child should be handed over to M. de Cintré. You don’t know what the countess was in those days, sir; she was the sweetest young creature in France, and knew as little of what was going on around her as the lamb does of the butcher. I used to nurse the marquis, and I was always in his room. It was here at Fleurières, in the autumn. We had a doctor from Paris, who came and stayed two or three weeks in the house. Then there came two others, and there was a consultation, and these two others, as I said, declared that the marquis could n’t be saved. After this they went off, shaking their heads, but the other one stayed and did what he could. The marquis himself kept crying out that he would n’t die, that he did n’t want, to die, that he would live and look after his daughter. Mademoiselle Claire and the viscount — that was Mr. Valentin, you know — were both in the house. The doctor was a clever man, — that I could see myself, — and I think he believed that the marquis might get well. We took good care of him, he and I, between us, and one day, when my lady had almost ordered her mourning, my patient suddenly began to mend. He got better and better, till the doctor said he was out of danger. What was killing him was the dreadful fits of pain in his stomach. But little by little they stopped, and the poor marquis began to make his jokes again. The doctor found something that gave him great comfort, — some white stuff that we kept in a great bottle on the chimney-piece. I used to give it to the marquis through a glass tube; it always made him easier. Then the doctor went away, after telling me to keep on giving him the mixture whenever he was bad. After that there was a little doctor from Poitiers, who came every day. So we were alone in the house, — my lady and her poor husband and their three cliildren. Young Madame de Bellegarde had gone away, with her little girl, to her mother’s. You know she is very lively, and her maid told me that she did n’t like to be where people were dying.” Mrs. Bread paused a moment, and then she went on with the same quiet consistency. “ I think you have guessed, sir, that when the marquis began to turn my lady was disappointed.” And she paused again, bending upon Newman a face which seemed to grow whiter as the darkness settled down upon them.
Newman had listened eagerly, — with an eagerness greater even than that with which he had bent his ear to Valentin de Bellegarde’s last words. Every now and then, as his companion looked up at him, she reminded him of an ancient tabby cat, protracting the enjoyment, of a dish of milk. Even her triumph was measured and decorous; the faculty of exultation had been chilled by disuse. She presently continued. “Late one night I was sitting by the marquis in his room, the great red room in the west tower. He had been complaining a little, and I gave him a spoonful of the doctor’s dose. My lady had been there in the early part of the evening; she sat for more than an hour by his bed. Then she went away and left me alone. After midnight she came back, and her eldest son was with her. They went to the bed and looked at the marquis, and my lady took hold of his hand. Then she turned to me and said he was not so well; I remember how the marquis, without saying anything, lay staring at her. I can see his white face, at this moment, in the great black square between the bed-curtains. I said I did n’t think he was very bad; and she told me to go to bed, — she would sit awhile with him. When the marquis saw me going he gave a sort of groan, and called out to me not to leave him; but Mr. Urbain opened the door for me and pointed the way out. The present marquis — perhaps you have noticed, sir — has a very proud way of giving orders, and I was there to take orders. I went to my room, but I was n’t easy; I couldn’t tell you why. I did n’t undress ; I sat there waiting and listening. For what, would you have said, sir? I could n’t have told you; for surely a poor gentleman might be comfortable with his wife and his son. It was as if I expected to hear the marquis moaning after me again. I listened, but I heard nothing. It was a very still night; I never knew a night so still. At last the very stillness itself seemed to frighten me, and I came out of my room and went very softly down-stairs. In the anteroom, outside of the marquis’s chamber, I found Count Urbain walking up and down. He asked me what I wanted, and I said I came back to relieve my lady. He said he would relieve my lady, and ordered me back to bed; but as I stood there, unwilling to turn away, the door of the room opened and my lady came out. I noticed she was very pale, she was very strange. She looked a moment at the count and at me, and then she held out her arms to the count. He went to her, and she fell upon him and hid her face. I went quickly past her into the room and to the marquis’s bed. He was lying there, very white, with his eyes shut, like a corpse. I took hold of his hand and spoke to him, and he felt to me like a dead man. Then I turned round; my lady and the count were there. ‘ My poor Bread,’ said my lady, ‘ M. le Marquis is gone.’ Mr. Urbain knelt, down by the bed and said softly, ‘ Mon père, mon père.’ I thought it wonderful strange, and asked my lady what in the world had happened, and why she had n’t called me. She said nothing had happened; that she had only been sitting there with the marquis, very quiet. She had closed her eyes, thinking she might sleep, and she had slept, she did n’t know how long. When she woke up he was dead. ‘ It’s death, my son, it’s death,’ she said to the count. Mr. Urbain said they must have the doctor, immediately, from Poitiers, and that he would ride off and fetch him. He kissed his father’s face, and then he kissed his mother and went away. My lady and I stood there at the bedside. As I looked at the poor marquis it came into my head that he was not dead, that he was in a kind of swoon. And then my lady repeated, ‘ My poor Bread, it s death, it’s death; ’ and I said, ‘ Yes, my lady, it’s certainly death.’ I said just the opposite to what I believed; it was my notion. Then my lady said we must wait for the doctor, and we sat there and waited. Tt was a long time; the poor marquis neither stirred nor changed. ‘ I have seen death before,’ said my lady, ‘ and it ’s terribly like this.’ ‘ Yes, my lady,’ said I; and I kept thinking. The night wore away without the count’s coming back, and my lady began to he frightened. She was afraid he had had an accident in the dark, or met with some wild people. At last she got so restless that she went below to watch in the court for her son’s return. I sat there alone and the marquis never stirred.”
Here Mrs. Bread paused again, and the most artistic of romancers could not have been more effective. Newman made a movement as if he were turning over the page of a novel. “ So he was dead!” he exclaimed.
“ Three days afterwards he was in his grave,” said Mrs. Bread, sententiously. “ In a little while I went away to the front of the house and looked out into the court, and there, before long, 1 saw the count ride in, alone. I waited a bit, to hear him come up-stairs with his mother, but they stayed below, and I went back to the marquis’s room. I went to the bed and held up the light to him, but I don’t know why I didn’t let the candlestick fall. The marquis’s eyes were open — open wide! they were staring at me. I knelt down beside him and took his hands, and begged him to tell me, in the name of wonder, whether he was alive or dead. Still he looked at me a long time, and then he made me a sign to put my ear close to him: ‘ I am dead,’ he said, ‘ I am dead. The marquise has killed me.’ I was all in a tremble; I didn’t understand him; I didn’t know what had become of him. He seemed both a man and a corpse, if you can fancy, sir. ' But you ’ll got well now, sir,’ I said. And then he whispered again, ever so weak: ‘ I would n’t get well for a kingdom. I would n’t be that woman’s husband again. ’ And then he said more; he said she had murdered him. I asked him what she had done to him, but he only replied, ‘ Murder, murder. And she ’ll kill my daughter,’ he said; ‘ my poor unhappy child.’ And he begged me to prevent that, and then he said that he was dying, that he was dead. I was afraid to move or to leave him; I was almost dead myself. All of a sudden he asked me to get a pencil and write for him; and then I had to tell him that I couldn’t manage a pencil. He asked me to hold him up in bed while be wrote himself, and I said he could never, never do such a thing. But he seemed to have a kind of terror that gave him strength. I found a pencil in the room and a piece of paper and a book, and I put the paper on the book and the pencil into his hand, and moved the candle near him. You will think all this very strange, sir; and very strange it was. The strangest part of it was that I believed he was dying, and that I was eager to help him to write. I sat on the bed and put my arm round him, and held him up. I felt very strong; I believe I could have lifted him anil carried him. It was a wonder how he wrote, but he did write, in a big scratching hand; he almost covered one side of the paper. It seemed a long time; I suppose it was three or four minutes. He was groaning, terribly, all the while. Then he said it was ended, and I let him down upon his pillows, and he gave me the paper and told me to fold it, and hide it, and to give it to those who would act upon it. ‘ Whom do you mean? ’ I said. ‘ Who are those who will act upon it?’ But he only groaned, for an answer; he could n’t speak, for weakness. But in a few minutes he told me to go and look at the bottle on the chimney-piece. I knew the bottle he meant; the white stuff that was good for his stomach. I went and looked at it, but it was empty. When I came back his eyes were open and he was staring at me; but soon he closed them and he said no more. I hid the paper in my dress; I did n’t look at what was written upon it, though I can read very well, sir, if I haven’t any handwriting. I sat down near the bed, but it was nearly half an hour before ray lady and the count came in. The marquis looked as he did when they left him, and I never said a word about his having been otherwise. Mr. Urbain said that the doctor had been called to a person in childbirth, but that he promised to set out for Fleurières, immediately. In another half hour he arrived, and as soon as he had examined the marquis he said that we had had a false alarm. The poor gentleman was very low, but he was still living. I watched my lady and her son when he said this, to see if they looked at each other, and I am obliged to admit that they did n’t. The doctor said there was no reason he should die; he had been going on so well. And then he wanted to know how he had suddenly fallen off; he had left him so very hearty. My lady told her little story again, — what she had told the count and me, — and the doctor looked at her and said nothing. He stayed all the next day at the château, and hardly left the marquis. I was always there. Mademoiselle and Mr. Valentin came and looked at their father, but he never stirred. It was a strange, deathly stupor. My lady was always about; her face was as white as her husband’s, and she looked very proud, as I had seen her look when her orders or her wishes had been disobeyed. It was as if the poor marquis had defied her; and the way she took it made me afraid of her. The apothecary from Poitiers kept the marquis along through the day, and we waited for the other doctor from Paris, who, as I told you, had been staying at Fleurières. They had telegraphed for him early in the morning, and in the evening he arrived, He talked a bit outside with the doctor from Poitiers, and then they came in to see the marquis together. I was with him, and so was the count. My lady had been to receive the doctor from Paris, and she did n’t come back with him into the room. He sat down by the marquis; I can see him there now, with his hand on the marquis’s wrist, and Mr. Urbain watching him with a little looking-glass in his hand. ‘I’m sure he’s better,’ said the little doctor from Poitiers; ‘I’m sure he’ll conic back.’ A few moments after he had said this the marquis opened his eyes, as if he were waking up, and looked at us, from one to the other. I saw him look at me, very softly, as you ’d say. At the same moment my lady came in on tiptoe; she came up to the bed and put in her head between me and the count. The marquis saw her and gave a long, most wonderful moan. He said something we could n’t understand, and he seemed to have a kind of spasm. He shook all over and then closed his eyes, and the doctor jumped up and took hold of my lady, He held her for a moment a bit roughly. The marquis was stone dead! This time there were those there that knew.”
Newman felt as if he had been reading, by starlight, the report of highly important evidence in a great murder case. “ And the paper, — the paper! ” he said, excitedly. “ What was written upon it? ”
“ I can’t tell you, sir,” answered Mrs. Bread. “ I could n’t read it; it was in French.”
“ But could no one else read it? ”
“ I never asked a human creature.”
“ No one has ever seen it? ”
“ If you see it you ’ll be the first.”
Newman seized the old woman’s hand in both his own and pressed it vigorously. “I thank you ever so much for that,” he cried. “ I want to be the first; I want it to be my property and no one else’s! You ’re the wisest old woman in Europe. And what did you do with the paper?” This information had made him feel wondrous strong. “ Give it to me, quick! ”
Mrs. Bread got up with a certain majesty. “ It is not so easy as that, sir. If you want the paper, you must wait.”
“ But waiting is horrible, you know,” urged Newman.
“ I am sure I have waited; I have waited these many years,” said Mrs. Bread.
“ That is very true. You have waited for me. I won’t forget it. And yet, how comes it you did n’t do as M. de Bellegarde said, show the paper to some one? ”
“ To whom should I show it?” answered Mrs. Bread, mournfully. “ It was not easy to know, and many’s the night I have lain awake thinking of it. Six months afterwards, when they married mademoiselle to her vicious old husband, I was very near bringing it out. I thought it was my duty to do something with it. and yet I was mightily afraid. I did n’t know what was written on the paper or how bad it might be, and there was no one. I could trust enough to ask. And it seemed to me a cruel kindness to do that sweet young creature, letting her know that her father had written her mother down so shamefully; for that’s what he did, I suppose. I thought she would rather be unhappy with her husband than be unhappy that way. It was for her and for my dear Mr. Valentin I kept quiet. Quiet I call it, but for me it was a bitter quietness. It worried me terribly, and it changed me altogether. But for others I held my tongue, and no one, to this hour, knows what passed between the poor marquis and me.”
“ But evidently there were suspicions,” said Newman. “ Where did Mr. Valentin get his ideas? ”
“ It was the little doctor from Poitiers. He was very ill-satisfied, and he made a great talk. He was a sharp Frenchman, and coming to the house, as he did, day after day, I suppose he saw more than he seemed to see. And indeed the way the poor marquis went off as soon as his eyes fell on my lady was a most shocking sight for any one. The medical gentleman from Paris was much more accommodating, and he hushed up the other. But for all he could do Mr. Valentin and mademoiselle heard something; they knew their father’s death was somehow against nature. Of course they could n’t accuse their mother, and, as I tell you, I was as dumb as that stone. Mr. Valentin used to look at me sometimes, and his eyes seemed to shine, as if he were thinking of asking me something. I was dreadfully afraid he would speak, and I always looked away and went about my business. If I were to tell him, I was sure he would hate me afterwards, and that I could never have borne. Once I went up to him and took a great liberty; I kissed him, as I had kissed him when ho was a child. ‘ You ought n’t to look so sad, sir,’ I said; ‘believe your poor old Bread. Such a gallant, handsome young man can have nothing to be sad about.’ And I think he understood me; he understood that I was begging off, and he made up his mind in his own way. He went about with his unasked question in his mind, as I did with my untold tale; we were both afraid of bringing dishonor on a great house. And it was the same with the countess. She did n’t know what had happened; she would n’t know. My lady and Mr. Urbain asked me no questions because they had no reason. I was as still as a mouse. When I was younger my lady thought me a hussy, and now she thought me a fool. How should I have any ideas? ”
“ But you say the little doctor from Poitiers made a talk,” said Newman. “ Did no one take it up? ”
“ I heard nothing of it, sir. They are always talking scandal in these foreign countries, — you may have noticed, — and I suppose they shook their heads over Madame de Bellegarde. But after all, what could they say? The marquis had been ill, and the marquis had died; he had as good a right to die as any one. The doctor could n’t say he had not come honestly by his cramps. The next year the little doctor left the place and bought a practice in Bordeaux, and if there had been any gossip it died out. And I don’t think there could have been much gossip about my lady that any one would listen to. My lady is so very respectable.”
Newman, at this last affirmation, broke into an immense, resounding laugh. Mrs. Bread had begun to move away from the spot where they were sitting, and he helped her through the aperture in the wall and along tire homeward path. “ Yes,” he said, “ ray lady’s respectability is delicious; it will be a big crash ! ” They reached the empty space in front of the church, where they stopped a moment, looking at each other with something of an air of closer fellowship, — like two sociable conspirators. “ But what was it,” said Newman, “ what was it she did to her husband? She did n’t stab him or poison him.”
“ I don’t know, sir; no one saw it.”
“ Unless it was Mr. Urbain. You say he was walking up and down, outside the room. Perhaps he looked through the keyhole. But no; I think that with his mother he would take it on trust.”
“ You may be sure I have often thought of it,” said Mrs. Bread. “ I am sure she did n’t touch him with her hands. I saw nothing on him, anywhere. I believe it was in this way. He had a fit of his great pain, and he asked her for his medicine. Instead of giving it to him she went and poured it away, before his eyes. Then he saw what she meant, and, weak and helpless as he was, he was frightened, he was terrified. ‘ You want to kill me,’ he said. ‘ Yes, M. le Marquis, I want to kill you,’ says my lady, and sits down and fixes her eyes upon him. You know my lady’s eyes, I think, sir; it was with them she killed him; it was with the terrible strong will she put into them. It was like a frost on flowers.”
“ Well, you are a very intelligent woman; you have shown great discretion,” said Newman. “ I shall value your services as housekeeper extremely.”
They had begun to descend the hill, and Mrs. Bread said nothing until they reached the foot. Newman strolled lightly beside her; his head was thrown back and he was gazing at all the stars; he seemed to himself to be riding his vengeance along the Milky Way. “ So you are serious, sir, about that? ” said Mrs. Bread, softly.
“ About your living with the? Why of course I take care of you to the end of your days. You can’t live with those people any longer. And you ought n’t to, you know, after this. You give me the paper, and you clear out.”
“ It seems very flighty in me to be taking a new place at this time of life,” observed Mrs. Bread, lugubriously. “But if you are going to turn the bouse upside down, I would rather be out of it.”
“ Oh,” said Newman, in the cheerful tone of a man who feels rich in alternatives, “ I don’t think I shall bring in the constables, if that’s what you mean. Whatever Madame de Bellegarde did, I am afraid the law can’t take hold of it. But I am glad of that; it leaves it altogether to me! ”
“ You are a mighty hold gentleman, sir,” murmured Mrs. Bread, looking at him round the edges of her great bonnet.
He walked with her back to the château; the curfew had tolled for the laborious villagers of Fleurières, and the street was unlighted and empty. She promised him that he should have the marquis’s manuscript in half an hour. Mrs. Bread choosing not to go in by the great gate, they passed round by a winding lane to a door in the wall of the park, of which she had the key, and which would enable her to enter the château from behind. Newman arranged with her that he should await outside the wall her return with the coveted document.
She went in, and his half hour in the dusky lane seemed very long. But he had plenty to think about. At last the door in the wall opened and Mrs. Bread stood there, with one hand on the latch and the other holding out a scrap of white paper, folded small. In a moment he was master of it, and it had passed into his waistcoat pocket. “ Come and see me in Paris,” he said; “ we are to settle your future, you know; and I will translate poor M. de Bollegarde’s French to you.” Never had he felt so grateful as at this moment for M. Nioche’s instructions.
Mrs. Bread’s dull eyes had followed the disappearance of the paper, and she gave a heavy sigh. “ Well, you have done what you would with me, sir, and I suppose you will do it again. You must take care of me now. You are a terribly downright gentleman.”
“ Just now,” said Newman, “I’m a terribly impatient gentleman!” And he bade her good-night and walked rapidly back to the inn. He ordered his vehicle to be prepared for his return to Poitiers, and then he shut the door of the common salle and strode toward the solitary lamp on the chimney-piece. He pulled out the paper and quickly unfolded it. It was covered with pencil-marks, which at first, in the feeble light, seemed indistinct. But Newman’s fierce curiosity forced a meaning from the tremulous signs. The English of them was as follows: —
My wife has tried to kill me, and she has done it; I am dying, dying horribly. It is to marry ray dear daughter to M. de Cintré. With all my sold I protest, —I forbid it. I am not insane, — ask the doctors, ask Mrs. B——. It was alone with me here, to-night; she attacked me and put me to death. It is murder, if murder ever was. Ask the doctors.
HENRI-URBAIN DE BELLEGARDE.
Henry James, Jr.