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Chapter 17
Newman was fond of music and went often to the opera. A couple of evenings
after Madame de Bellegarde's ball he sat listening to "Don Giovanni," having in
honor of this work, which he had never yet seen represented, come to occupy his
orchestra-chair before the rising of the curtain. Frequently he took a large box
and invited a party of his compatriots; this was a mode of recreation to which he
was much addicted. He liked making up parties of his friends and conducting
them to the theatre, and taking them to drive on high drags or to dine at remote
restaurants. He liked doing things which involved his paying for people; the
vulgar truth is that he enjoyed "treating" them. This was not because he was
what is called purse-proud; handling money in public was on the contrary
positively disagreeable to him; he had a sort of personal modesty about it, akin to
what he would have felt about making a toilet before spectators. But just as it
was a gratification to him to be handsomely dressed, just so it was a private
satisfaction to him (he enjoyed it very clandestinely) to have interposed,
pecuniarily, in a scheme of pleasure. To set a large group of people in motion
and transport them to a distance, to have special conveyances, to charter
railway-carriages and steamboats, harmonized with his relish for bold processes,
and made hospitality seem more active and more to the purpose. A few evenings
before the occasion of which I speak he had invited several ladies and gentlemen
to the opera to listen to Madame Alboni--a party which included Miss Dora Finch.
It befell, however, that Miss Dora Finch, sitting near Newman in the box,
discoursed brilliantly, not only during the entr'actes, but during many of the finest
portions of the performance, so that Newman had really come away with an
irritated sense that Madame Alboni had a thin, shrill voice, and that her musical
phrase was much garnished with a laugh of the giggling order. After this he
promised himself to go for a while to the opera alone.
When the curtain had fallen upon the first act of "Don Giovanni" he turned round
in his place to observe the house. Presently, in one of the boxes, he perceived
Urbain de Bellegarde and his wife. The little marquise was sweeping the house
very busily with a glass, and Newman, supposing that she saw him, determined
to go and bid her good evening. M. de Bellegarde was leaning against a column,
motionless, looking straight in front of him, with one hand in the breast of his
white waistcoat and the other resting his hat on his thigh. Newman was about to
leave his place when he noticed in that obscure region devoted to the small
boxes which in France are called, not inaptly, "bathing-tubs," a face which even
the dim light and the distance could not make wholly indistinct. It was the face of
a young and pretty woman, and it was surmounted with a coiffure of pink roses
and diamonds. This person was looking round the house, and her fan was
moving to and fro with the most practiced grace; when she lowered it, Newman
perceived a pair of plump white shoulders and the edge of a rose-colored dress.
Beside her, very close to the shoulders and talking, apparently with an
earnestness which it pleased her scantily to heed, sat a young man with a red
face and a very low shirt-collar. A moment's gazing left Newman with no doubts;