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The American

Henry James

Chapters 15–16

Chapters 13–14

Chapters 15–16, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Chapter 15

A month goes by without any sign of M. Nioche, and Newman begins to worry that something is wrong. When Valentin reveals that Noémie is rumored to have acquired an elderly patron, Newman decides to investigate. Newman finds M. Nioche taking a coffee at his habitual Café de la Patrie, accompanied by his very well dressed daughter. Newman is surprised at Nioche's beaten-down appearance and at Noémie's constant condescension to her father. Noémie looks even prettier and more mature than Newman remembered, wearing her subtle finery with grace and ease. Intuiting that Newman disapproves of her, Noémie attacks his prior offer of a dowry as hopelessly inadequate. She explains that she means to really succeed, and takes a perfect exit.

Nioche reveals to Newman that Noémie has always done what she likes with him, but that he never defends himself and therefore cannot complain. Nioche hates Noémie for giving him money, but would hate her for not doing so, as is the nature of misery. Encouraging Nioche to take care not to hurt his daughter, Newman leaves. When Newman tells Valentin about this visit, Valentin admits that he has called on Noémie three times in the past five days, finding her "intelligent, determined, ambitious, unscrupulous, capable of seeing a man strangled without changing colour."

Three days later, Newman, as promised, receives an invitation to Madame de Bellegarde's ball. Valentin warns Newman of the pedigrees that will fill the room. The two friends discuss the future: Newman affirms that he is confident and happy now that he has gotten the engagement he wanted, whereas Valentin admits that he is sad and troubled, plagued by thoughts of Noémie even though he does not deeply love her. Newman suggests that Valentin forget Noémie and come to America, where Newman can get him a position at a bank.

Chapter 16

The next ten days prove to be the happiest Newman has ever known. He sees Claire every day, but never sees her mother or elder brother, who are busy showing Lord Deepmere around Paris. Several times, Newman sees the young Marquise in passing, who seems to want to tell him something. Alone, Claire and Newman exchange lovers' words and promises, he praising her perfection, she teasing him for being so thoroughly accommodating and demurely promising to aspire to his image of her.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Tristram is astonished at Newman's good luck, and by the irony that he does not understand what a significant victory he has won in gaining Claire's hand. Tom Tristram tells Newman the droll story of the evening his wife took him to call on Claire and be introduced to Madame de Bellegarde, declaring that Newman has "a mother-in-law in all the force of the time-honoured term."

On the evening of the ball, carriages roll into the Bellegardes' illuminated courtyard. Madame de Bellegarde, in purple, lace, and pearls, presents Newman to a group of elderly gentlemen laden with insignia and orders, saying he is a good friend of the family who is to marry their daughter. As the party progresses, Newman is in such a good mood that he sees splendor, vivacity, solemnity, and beauty where he might, in another mood, have seen paleness and smirks. Urbain introduces Newman around, beginning with an extremely large Duchess, who is surrounded by a circle of admirers and whom Urbain hails as the greatest lady in France.

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