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The American

Henry James

Chapters 19–20

Chapters 17–18

Chapters 19–20, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Chapter 19

M. Ledoux, one of Valentin's friends, meets Newman's evening train at the Geneva station. Ledoux explains that Valentin is near death. As the duel was a gunfight, Valentin should have had an advantage. In the first exchange of shots, Kapp missed Valentin and Valentin hit Kapp's arm. In the second exchange, Valentin fired into the air, and Kapp, normally a poor shot, managed a fluke hit just below Valentin's heart.

Valentin is asleep when Newman arrives. Newman sleeps briefly before breakfasting with M. Ledoux and M. de Grosjoyaux, Valentin's other representative. Valentin's friends spend the meal delivering eloquent, elaborate eulogies for their friend. Newman remains silent, finding their company depressing and irritating. He leaves to go on a walk. Later that afternoon, Newman is finally allowed to relieve the doctor at Valentin's bedside.

Valentin regains consciousness and is delighted to see Newman, for whom he has been anxiously waiting. Valentin is charmingly high spirits but clearly in extreme pain. When Newman reveals that Claire has left for Fleurières, and thus will not have time to make it to Valentin's deathbed, Valentin is crushed—it is the only time Claire has ever disappointed him. Though Valentin guesses something is wrong between Newman and Claire, Newman refuses to burden him with the details until he is feeling better.

When the doctor comes in to dress Valentin's wound, Newman is sent out, feeling quite upset by the unnecessary waste of such a wonderful life. Hoping to save Valentin the exertion of talking, the doctor forbids Newman to reenter the sickroom. Newman spends the night in his room achingly aware that Valentin is dying downstairs. Finally, in the early morning, the doctor comes for Newman, saying that Valentin insists on seeing him. Valentin has guessed that there is trouble with the marriage, suspects that it has been broken off, and wants the whole story. Newman recounts it faithfully. Valentin is deeply ashamed at his family's actions. He asks Newman to be patient with Claire, and formally apologizes for his family and the Bellegarde name of which he was once proud.

The doctor returns with the curé and communion, but Valentin begs five more minutes alone with Newman. Valentin reveals to Newman that there is a great family secret, some great crime that happened at Fleurières that Urbain and the Marquise have been trying to cover up. If Newman can find the truth, it may allow him to pay back the Bellegarde family for what they have done to them. Valentin suggests that Newman speak to Mrs. Bread, and then is silent for a long while. Eventually, Newman rises and lets the doctor in.

Chapter 20

Valentin dies at dawn. Newman leaves an hour later, wanting to avoid the Bellegardes' arrival. He receives a note from Claire, thanking him for being with Valentin and informing him that the funeral is the following Friday in Poitiers. Newman attends the funeral service out of respect for Valentin, but when the time comes to bury the casket he turns and walks out of the churchyard unnoticed.

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