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Chapter 3
He performed this ceremony on the following day, when, by appointment,
Christopher Newman went to dine with him. Mr. and Mrs. Tristram lived behind
one of those chalk-colored facades which decorate with their pompous
sameness the broad avenues manufactured by Baron Haussmann in the
neighborhood of the Arc de Triomphe. Their apartment was rich in the modern
conveniences, and Tristram lost no time in calling his visitor's attention to their
principal household treasures, the gas-lamps and the furnace-holes. "Whenever
you feel homesick," he said, "you must come up here. We'll stick you down
before a register, under a good big burner, and--"
"And you will soon get over your homesickness," said Mrs. Tristram.
Her husband stared; his wife often had a tone which he found inscrutable he
could not tell for his life whether she was in jest or in earnest. The truth is that
circumstances had done much to cultivate in Mrs. Tristram a marked tendency to
irony. Her taste on many points differed from that of her husband, and though
she made frequent concessions it must be confessed that her concessions were
not always graceful. They were founded upon a vague project she had of some
day doing something very positive, something a trifle passionate. What she
meant to do she could by no means have told you; but meanwhile, nevertheless,
she was buying a good conscience, by installments.
It should be added, without delay, to anticipate misconception, that her little
scheme of independence did not definitely involve the assistance of another
person, of the opposite sex; she was not saving up virtue to cover the expenses
of a flirtation. For this there were various reasons. To begin with, she had a very
plain face and she was entirely without illusions as to her appearance. She had
taken its measure to a hair's breadth, she knew the worst and the best, she had
accepted herself. It had not been, indeed, without a struggle. As a young girl she
had spent hours with her back to her mirror, crying her eyes out; and later she
had from desperation and bravado adopted the habit of proclaiming herself the
most ill-favored of women, in order that she might--as in common politeness was
inevitable-- be contradicted and reassured. It was since she had come to live in
Europe that she had begun to take the matter philosophically. Her observation,
acutely exercised here, had suggested to her that a woman's first duty is not to
be beautiful, but to be pleasing, and she encountered so many women who
pleased without beauty that she began to feel that she had discovered her
mission. She had once heard an enthusiastic musician, out of patience with a
gifted bungler, declare that a fine voice is really an obstacle to singing properly;
and it occurred to her that it might perhaps be equally true that a beautiful face is
an obstacle to the acquisition of charming manners. Mrs. Tristram, then,
undertook to be exquisitely agreeable, and she brought to the task a really
touching devotion. How well she would have succeeded I am unable to say;
unfortunately she broke off in the middle. Her own excuse was the want of
encouragement in her immediate circle. But I am inclined to think that she had
not a real genius for the matter, or she would have pursued the charming art for