“Oh,” said Newman, laughing, “don’t do anything wrong. Leave me to myself, rather, or defy me, out and out. I wouldn’t lay any load on your conscience.”
Bellegarde sprang up again; he was evidently excited; there was a warmer spark even than usual in his eye. “You never will understand—you never will know,” he said; “and if you succeed, and I turn out to have helped you, you will never be grateful, not as I shall deserve you should be. You will be an excellent fellow always, but you will not be grateful. But it doesn’t matter, for I shall get my own fun out of it.” And he broke into an extravagant laugh. “You look puzzled,” he added; “you look almost frightened.”
“It is a pity,” said Newman, “that I don’t understand you. I shall lose some very good jokes.”
“I told you, you remember, that we were very strange people,” Bellegarde went on. “I give you warning again. We are! My mother is strange, my brother is strange, and I verily believe that I am stranger than either. You will even find my sister a little strange. Old trees have crooked branches, old houses have queer cracks, old races have odd secrets. Remember that we are eight hundred years old!”
“Very good,” said Newman; “that’s the sort of thing I came to Europe for. You come into my programme.”
“Touchez-la, then,” said Bellegarde, putting out his hand. “It’s a bargain: I accept you; I espouse your cause. It’s because I like you, in a great measure; but that is not the only reason!” And he stood holding Newman’s hand and looking at him askance.
“What is the other one?”
“I am in the Opposition. I dislike some one else.”
“Your brother?” asked Newman, in his unmodulated voice.
Bellegarde laid his fingers upon his lips with a whispered Hush! “Old races have strange secrets!” he said. “Put yourself into motion, come and see my sister, and be assured of my sympathy!” And on this he took his leave.
Newman dropped into a chair before his fire, and sat a long time staring into the blaze.
He went to see Madame de Cintre the next day, and was informed by the servant that she was at home. He passed as usual up the large, cold staircase and through a spacious vestibule above, where the walls seemed all composed of small door panels, touched with long-faded gilding; whence he was ushered into the sitting-room in which he had already been received. It was empty, and the servant told him that Madame la Comtesse would presently appear. He had time, while he waited, to wonder whether Bellegarde had seen his sister since the evening before, and whether in this case he had spoken to her of their talk. In this case Madame de Cintre’s receiving him was an encouragement. He felt a certain trepidation as he reflected that she might come in with the knowledge of his supreme admiration and of the project he had built upon it in her eyes; but the feeling was not disagreeable. Her face could wear no look that would make it less beautiful, and he was sure beforehand that however she might take the proposal he had in reserve, she would not take it in scorn or in irony. He had a feeling that if she could only read the bottom of his heart and measure the extent of his good will toward her, she would be entirely kind.