Bellegarde always welcomed the prospect of a long stretch of conversation, and before long the two men sat watching the great blaze which scattered its scintillations over the high adornments of Newman’s ball-room.
“Tell me something about your sister,” Newman began abruptly.
Bellegarde turned and gave him a quick look. “Now that I think of it, you have never yet asked me a question about her.”
“I know that very well.”
“If it is because you don’t trust me, you are very right,” said Bellegarde. “I can’t talk of her rationally. I admire her too much.”
“Talk of her as you can,” rejoined Newman. “Let yourself go.”
“Well, we are very good friends; we are such a brother and sister as have not been seen since Orestes and Electra. You have seen her; you know what she is: tall, thin, light, imposing, and gentle, half a grande dame and half an angel; a mixture of pride and humility, of the eagle and the dove. She looks like a statue which had failed as stone, resigned itself to its grave defects, and come to life as flesh and blood, to wear white capes and long trains. All I can say is that she really possesses every merit that her face, her glance, her smile, the tone of her voice, lead you to expect; it is saying a great deal. As a general thing, when a woman seems very charming, I should say ‘Beware!’ But in proportion as Claire seems charming you may fold your arms and let yourself float with the current; you are safe. She is so good! I have never seen a woman half so perfect or so complete. She has everything; that is all I can say about her. There!” Bellegarde concluded; “I told you I should rhapsodize.”
Newman was silent a while, as if he were turning over his companion’s words. “She is very good, eh?” he repeated at last.
“Kind, charitable, gentle, generous?”
“Generosity itself; kindness double-distilled!”
“Is she clever?”
“She is the most intelligent woman I know. Try her, some day, with something difficult, and you will see.”
“Is she fond of admiration?”
“Parbleu!” cried Bellegarde; “what woman is not?”
“Ah, when they are too fond of admiration they commit all kinds of follies to get it.”
“I did not say she was too fond!” Bellegarde exclaimed. “Heaven forbid I should say anything so idiotic. She is not too anything! If I were to say she was ugly, I should not mean she was too ugly. She is fond of pleasing, and if you are pleased she is grateful. If you are not pleased, she lets it pass and thinks the worst neither of you nor of herself. I imagine, though, she hopes the saints in heaven are, for I am sure she is incapable of trying to please by any means of which they would disapprove.”
“Is she grave or gay?” asked Newman.
“She is both; not alternately, for she is always the same. There is gravity in her gayety, and gayety in her gravity. But there is no reason why she should be particularly gay.”