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Chapter 9
He went to see Madame de Cintre the next day, and was informed by the servant
that she was at home. He passed as usual up the large, cold staircase and
through a spacious vestibule above, where the walls seemed all composed of
small door panels, touched with long-faded gilding; whence he was ushered into
the sitting-room in which he had already been received. It was empty, and the
servant told him that Madame la Comtesse would presently appear. He had time,
while he waited, to wonder whether Bellegarde had seen his sister since the
evening before, and whether in this case he had spoken to her of their talk. In
this case Madame de Cintre's receiving him was an encouragement. He felt a
certain trepidation as he reflected that she might come in with the knowledge of
his supreme admiration and of the project he had built upon it in her eyes; but the
feeling was not disagreeable. Her face could wear no look that would make it
less beautiful, and he was sure beforehand that however she might take the
proposal he had in reserve, she would not take it in scorn or in irony. He had a
feeling that if she could only read the bottom of his heart and measure the extent
of his good will toward her, she would be entirely kind.
She came in at last, after so long an interval that he wondered whether she had
been hesitating. She smiled with her usual frankness, and held out her hand; she
looked at him straight with her soft and luminous eyes, and said, without a tremor
in her voice, that she was glad to see him and that she hoped he was well. He
found in her what he had found before-- that faint perfume of a personal shyness
worn away by contact with the world, but the more perceptible the more closely
you approached her. This lingering diffidence seemed to give a peculiar value to
what was definite and assured in her manner; it made it seem like an
accomplishment, a beautiful talent, something that one might compare to an
exquisite touch in a pianist. It was, in fact, Madame de Cintre's "authority," as
they say of artists, that especially impressed and fascinated Newman; he always
came back to the feeling that when he should complete himself by taking a wife,
that was the way he should like his wife to interpret him to the world. The only
trouble, indeed, was that when the instrument was so perfect it seemed to
interpose too much between you and the genius that used it. Madame de Cintre
gave Newman the sense of an elaborate education, of her having passed
through mysterious ceremonies and processes of culture in her youth, of her
having been fashioned and made flexible to certain exalted social needs. All this,
as I have affirmed, made her seem rare and precious--a very expensive article,
as he would have said, and one which a man with an ambition to have everything
about him of the best would find it highly agreeable to possess. But looking at the
matter with an eye to private felicity, Newman wondered where, in so exquisite a
compound, nature and art showed their dividing line. Where did the special
intention separate from the habit of good manners? Where did urbanity end and
sincerity begin? Newman asked himself these questions even while he stood
ready to accept the admired object in all its complexity; he felt that he could do so
in profound security, and examine its mechanism afterwards, at leisure.