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Chapter 25
Newman called upon the comical duchess and found her at home. An old
gentleman with a high nose and a gold-headed cane was just taking leave of her;
he made Newman a protracted obeisance as he retired, and our hero supposed
that he was one of the mysterious grandees with whom he had shaken hands at
Madame de Bellegarde's ball. The duchess, in her arm-chair, from which she did
not move, with a great flower-pot on one side of her, a pile of pink-covered
novels on the other, and a large piece of tapestry depending from her lap,
presented an expansive and imposing front; but her aspect was in the highest
degree gracious, and there was nothing in her manner to check the effusion of
his confidence. She talked to him about flowers and books, getting launched with
marvelous promptitude; about the theatres, about the peculiar institutions of his
native country, about the humidity of Paris about the pretty complexions of the
American ladies, about his impressions of France and his opinion of its female
inhabitants. All this was a brilliant monologue on the part of the duchess, who,
like many of her country-women, was a person of an affirmative rather than an
interrogative cast of mind, who made mots and put them herself into circulation,
and who was apt to offer you a present of a convenient little opinion, neatly
enveloped in the gilt paper of a happy Gallicism. Newman had come to her with a
grievance, but he found himself in an atmosphere in which apparently no
cognizance was taken of grievance; an atmosphere into which the chill of
discomfort had never penetrated, and which seemed exclusively made up of
mild, sweet, stale intellectual perfumes. The feeling with which he had watched
Madame d'Outreville at the treacherous festival of the Bellegardes came back to
him; she struck him as a wonderful old lady in a comedy, particularly well up in
her part. He observed before long that she asked him no questions about their
common friends; she made no allusion to the circumstances under which he had
been presented to her. She neither feigned ignorance of a change in these
circumstances nor pretended to condole with him upon it; but she smiled and
discoursed and compared the tender-tinted wools of her tapestry, as if the
Bellegardes and their wickedness were not of this world. "She is fighting shy!"
said Newman to himself; and, having made the observation, he was prompted to
observe, farther, how the duchess would carry off her indifference. She did so in
a masterly manner. There was not a gleam of disguised consciousness in those
small, clear, demonstrative eyes which constituted her nearest claim to personal
loveliness, there was not a symptom of apprehension that Newman would trench
upon the ground she proposed to avoid. "Upon my word, she does it very well,"
he tacitly commented. "They all hold together bravely, and, whether any one else
can trust them or not, they can certainly trust each other."
Newman, at this juncture, fell to admiring the duchess for her fine manners. He
felt, most accurately, that she was not a grain less urbane than she would have
been if his marriage were still in prospect; but he felt also that she was not a
particle more urbane. He had come, so reasoned the duchess-- Heaven knew
why he had come, after what had happened; and for the half hour, therefore, she