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Chapter 10
Newman continued to see his friends the Tristrams with a good deal of
frequency, though if you had listened to Mrs. Tristram's account of the matter you
would have supposed that they had been cynically repudiated for the sake of
grander acquaintance. "We were all very well so long as we had no rivals--we
were better than nothing. But now that you have become the fashion, and have
your pick every day of three invitations to dinner, we are tossed into the corner. I
am sure it is very good of you to come and see us once a month; I wonder you
don't send us your cards in an envelope. When you do, pray have them with
black edges; it will be for the death of my last illusion." It was in this incisive strain
that Mrs. Tristram moralized over Newman's so-called neglect, which was in
reality a most exemplary constancy. Of course she was joking, but there was
always something ironical in her jokes, as there was always something jocular in
her gravity.
"I know no better proof that I have treated you very well," Newman had said,
"than the fact that you make so free with my character. Familiarity breeds
contempt; I have made myself too cheap. If I had a little proper pride I would stay
away a while, and when you asked me to dinner say I was going to the Princess
Borealska's. But I have not any pride where my pleasure is concerned, and to
keep you in the humor to see me--if you must see me only to call me bad names-
-I will agree to anything you choose; I will admit that I am the biggest snob in
Paris." Newman, in fact, had declined an invitation personally given by the
Princess Borealska, an inquiring Polish lady to whom he had been presented, on
the ground that on that particular day he always dined at Mrs. Tristram's; and it
was only a tenderly perverse theory of his hostess of the Avenue d'Iena that he
was faithless to his early friendships. She needed the theory to explain a certain
moral irritation by which she was often visited; though, if this explanation was
unsound, a deeper analyst than I must give the right one. Having launched our
hero upon the current which was bearing him so rapidly along, she appeared but
half-pleased at its swiftness. She had succeeded too well; she had played her
game too cleverly and she wished to mix up the cards. Newman had told her, in
due season, that her friend was "satisfactory." The epithet was not romantic, but
Mrs. Tristram had no difficulty in perceiving that, in essentials, the feeling which
lay beneath it was. Indeed, the mild, expansive brevity with which it was uttered,
and a certain look, at once appealing and inscrutable, that issued from Newman's
half-closed eyes as he leaned his head against the back of his chair, seemed to
her the most eloquent attestation of a mature sentiment that she had ever
encountered. Newman was, according to the French phrase, only abounding in
her own sense, but his temperate raptures exerted a singular effect upon the
ardor which she herself had so freely manifested a few months before. She now
seemed inclined to take a purely critical view of Madame de Cintre, and wished
to have it understood that she did not in the least answer for her being a
compendium of all the virtues. "No woman was ever so good as that woman
seems," she said. "Remember what Shakespeare calls Desdemona; 'a