One evening very late, about a week after his visit to Madame de Cintre, Newman’s servant brought him a card. It was that of young M. de Bellegarde. When, a few moments later, he went to receive his visitor, he found him standing in the middle of his great gilded parlor and eying it from cornice to carpet. M. de Bellegarde’s face, it seemed to Newman, expressed a sense of lively entertainment. “What the devil is he laughing at now?” our hero asked himself. But he put the question without acrimony, for he felt that Madame de Cintre’s brother was a good fellow, and he had a presentiment that on this basis of good fellowship they were destined to understand each other. Only, if there was anything to laugh at, he wished to have a glimpse of it too.
“To begin with,” said the young man, as he extended his hand, “have I come too late?”
“Too late for what?” asked Newman.
“To smoke a cigar with you.”
“You would have to come early to do that,” said Newman. “I don’t smoke.”
“Ah, you are a strong man!”
“But I keep cigars,” Newman added. “Sit down.”
“Surely, I may not smoke here,” said M. de Bellegarde.
“What is the matter? Is the room too small?”
“It is too large. It is like smoking in a ball-room, or a church.”
“That is what you were laughing at just now?” Newman asked; “the size of my room?”
“It is not size only,” replied M. de Bellegarde, “but splendor, and harmony, and beauty of detail. It was the smile of admiration.”
Newman looked at him a moment, and then, “So it is very ugly?” he inquired.
“Ugly, my dear sir? It is magnificent.”
“That is the same thing, I suppose,” said Newman. “Make yourself comfortable. Your coming to see me, I take it, is an act of friendship. You were not obliged to. Therefore, if anything around here amuses you, it will be all in a pleasant way. Laugh as loud as you please; I like to see my visitors cheerful. Only, I must make this request: that you explain the joke to me as soon as you can speak. I don’t want to lose anything, myself.”
M. de Bellegarde stared, with a look of unresentful perplexity. He laid his hand on Newman’s sleeve and seemed on the point of saying something, but he suddenly checked himself, leaned back in his chair, and puffed at his cigar. At last, however, breaking silence,—“Certainly,” he said, “my coming to see you is an act of friendship. Nevertheless I was in a measure obliged to do so. My sister asked me to come, and a request from my sister is, for me, a law. I was near you, and I observed lights in what I supposed were your rooms. It was not a ceremonious hour for making a call, but I was not sorry to do something that would show I was not performing a mere ceremony.”
“Well, here I am as large as life,” said Newman, extending his legs.