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The American

Henry James

Chapters 21–22

Chapters 19–20

Chapters 21–22, page 2

page 1 of 2

Chapter 21

Newman spends most of the next day walking around Poitiers. He is not the type to accept defeat, and the fact that he is unable to comprehend Claire's decision only makes the loss worse. The next day, Newman returns to Fleurières, hoping to intimidate the Bellegardes with hints of what he knows.

At the Bellegarde château, Mrs. Bread tells Newman that Claire has returned to Paris. Newman and Mrs. Bread arrange a secret rendezvous later that evening outside the château, when Newman will tell her Valentin's dying words. Newman finds the Marquise and Urbain, who have clearly passed a sleepless night after Claire's announcement that she is joining a convent. They haughtily tell Newman haughtily that they would rather Claire become Soeur (Sister) Catherine than Mrs. Newman. Newman tells them that Valentin apologized for their conduct on his deathbed. The Marquise, looking as if she has been slapped, proudly leaves the room.

Newman tells Urbain that he knows there is a family secret. If Urbain agrees to free Claire, Newman will halt his investigation and say no more. Newman asks Urbain to send a simple "Yes" or "No" to his hotel in two hours' time and leaves, feeling much better. Two hours later, he receives a defiant note informing him that the family will return to Paris to confirm Claire's decision to enter the convent, signed Henri-Urbain de Bellegarde.

That evening, Newman meets Mrs. Bread, dressed in all her finery, waiting in the appointed spot on the village outskirts near the ruins of a church. The two find a safe corner of the ruin and sit down.

Chapter 22

Mrs. Bread begs Newman to forgive Claire, a delicate creature who was afraid to know too much. She asks Newman to tell her about Valentin. Newman recounts Valentin's apology for the family and his dying wish that Mrs. Bread should tell Newman the family secret. Newman freely admits that he will use any such information to publicly shame the family. He also offers to pension Mrs. Bread for life, so she need not worry about the consequences of her revelation.

Slowly, hesitantly, Mrs. Bread begins to tell her story. Nearly ten years before, when Claire was just reaching marriageable age, her father, the Marquis, was still alive. The Marquise wanted Claire to marry the Comte de Cintré for his wealth, but the Marquis disliked the Count and refused. The Marquis and Marquise had a huge fight about the matter, after which the Marquis took to bed, as was his custom after very intense arguments. Two doctors arrived and declared him dying, but the third believed a recovery was possible. After some intense care, this third doctor declared the Marquis out of danger.

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