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The American

Chapter 24
Sunday was as yet two days off; but meanwhile, to beguile his impatience,
Newman took his way to the Avenue de Messine and got what comfort he could
in staring at the blank outer wall of Madame de Cintre's present residence. The
street in question, as some travelers will remember, adjoins the Parc Monceau,
which is one of the prettiest corners of Paris. The quarter has an air of modern
opulence and convenience which seems at variance with the ascetic institution,
and the impression made upon Newman's gloomily-irritated gaze by the fresh-
looking, windowless expanse behind which the woman he loved was perhaps
even then pledging herself to pass the rest of her days was less exasperating
than he had feared. The place suggested a convent with the modern
improvements--an asylum in which privacy, though unbroken, might be not quite
identical with privation, and meditation, though monotonous, might be of a
cheerful cast. And yet he knew the case was otherwise; only at present it was not
a reality to him. It was too strange and too mocking to be real; it was like a page
torn out of a romance, with no context in his own experience.
On Sunday morning, at the hour which Mrs. Tristram had indicated, he rang at
the gate in the blank wall. It instantly opened and admitted him into a clean, cold-
looking court, from beyond which a dull, plain edifice looked down upon him. A
robust lay sister with a cheerful complexion emerged from a porter's lodge, and,
on his stating his errand, pointed to the open door of the chapel, an edifice which
occupied the right side of the court and was preceded by the high flight of steps.
Newman ascended the steps and immediately entered the open door. Service
had not yet begun; the place was dimly lighted, and it was some moments before
he could distinguish its features. Then he saw it was divided by a large close iron
screen into two unequal portions. The altar was on the hither side of the screen,
and between it and the entrance were disposed several benches and chairs.
Three or four of these were occupied by vague, motionless figures--figures that
he presently perceived to be women, deeply absorbed in their devotion. The
place seemed to Newman very cold; the smell of the incense itself was cold.
Besides this there was a twinkle of tapers and here and there a glow of colored
glass. Newman seated himself; the praying women kept still, with their backs
turned. He saw they were visitors like himself and he would have liked to see
their faces; for he believed that they were the mourning mothers and sisters of
other women who had had the same pitiless courage as Madame de Cintre. But
they were better off than he, for they at least shared the faith to which the others
had sacrificed themselves. Three or four persons came in; two of them were
elderly gentlemen. Every one was very quiet. Newman fastened his eyes upon
the screen behind the altar. That was the convent, the real convent, the place
where she was. But he could see nothing; no light came through the crevices. He
got up and approached the partition very gently, trying to look through. But
behind it there was darkness, with nothing stirring. He went back to his place,
and after that a priest and two altar boys came in and began to say mass.
Newman watched their genuflections and gyrations with a grim, still enmity; they
 
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