The American HTML version

Chapter 4
Early one morning, before Christopher Newman was dressed, a little old man
was ushered into his apartment, followed by a youth in a blouse, bearing a
picture in a brilliant frame. Newman, among the distractions of Paris, had
forgotten M. Nioche and his accomplished daughter; but this was an effective
"I am afraid you had given me up, sir," said the old man, after many apologies
and salutations. "We have made you wait so many days. You accused us,
perhaps, of inconstancy of bad faith. But behold me at last! And behold also the
pretty Madonna. Place it on a chair, my friend, in a good light, so that monsieur
may admire it." And M. Nioche, addressing his companion, helped him to dispose
the work of art.
It had been endued with a layer of varnish an inch thick and its frame, of an
elaborate pattern, was at least a foot wide. It glittered and twinkled in the morning
light, and looked, to Newman's eyes, wonderfully splendid and precious. It
seemed to him a very happy purchase, and he felt rich in the possession of it. He
stood looking at it complacently, while he proceeded with his toilet, and M.
Nioche, who had dismissed his own attendant, hovered near, smiling and rubbing
his hands.
"It has wonderful finesse," he murmured, caressingly. "And here and there are
marvelous touches, you probably perceive them, sir. It attracted great attention
on the Boulevard, as we came along. And then a gradation of tones! That's what
it is to know how to paint. I don't say it because I am her father, sir; but as one
man of taste addressing another I cannot help observing that you have there an
exquisite work. It is hard to produce such things and to have to part with them. If
our means only allowed us the luxury of keeping it! I really may say, sir--" and M.
Nioche gave a little feebly insinuating laugh--"I really may say that I envy you!
You see," he added in a moment, "we have taken the liberty of offering you a
frame. It increases by a trifle the value of the work, and it will save you the
annoyance--so great for a person of your delicacy-- of going about to bargain at
the shops."
The language spoken by M. Nioche was a singular compound, which I shrink
from the attempt to reproduce in its integrity. He had apparently once possessed
a certain knowledge of English, and his accent was oddly tinged with the
cockneyism of the British metropolis. But his learning had grown rusty with
disuse, and his vocabulary was defective and capricious. He had repaired it with
large patches of French, with words anglicized by a process of his own, and with
native idioms literally translated. The result, in the form in which he in all humility
presented it, would be scarcely comprehensible to the reader, so that I have
ventured to trim and sift it. Newman only half understood it, but it amused him,
and the old man's decent forlornness appealed to his democratic instincts. The
assumption of a fatality in misery always irritated his strong good nature--it was
almost the only thing that did so; and he felt the impulse to wipe it out, as it were,
with the sponge of his own prosperity. The papa of Mademoiselle Noemie,