The Princess Casamassima Book First
“ WELL, you ’ll have to guess my reason before I ’ll tell you,” the girl said, with a free laugh, pushing her way into the narrow hall and leaning against the tattered wall-paper, which, representing blocks of marble with beveled edges, in streaks and speckles of black and gray, had not been renewed for years, and came back to her out of the past. As Miss Pynsent closed the door, seeing her visitor was so resolute, the light filtered in from the street, through the narrow, dusty glass above it, and then the very smell and sense of the place returned to Millicent; a kind of musty dimness, with the vision of a small, steep staircase at the end, covered with a strip of oilcloth which she recognized, and made a little less dark by a window in the bend (you could see it from the hall), from which you could almost bump your head against the house behind. Nothing was changed except Miss Pynsent, and of course the girl herself. She had noticed, outside, that the sign between the windows had not even been touched up ; there was still the same preposterous announcement of “ fashionable bonnets ” — as if the poor little dressmaker had the slightest acquaintance with that style of head-dress, of which Miss Henning’s own knowledge was now so complete. She could see Miss Pynsent was looking at her hat, which was a wonderful composition of flowers and ribbons ; her eyes had traveled up and down Millicent’s whole person, but they rested in fascination upon that ornament. The girl had forgotten how small the dressmaker was ; she barely came up to her shoulder. She had lost her hair, and wore a cap, which Millicent noticed, in return, wondering if that were a specimen of what she thought the fashion. Miss Pynsent stared up at her as if she had been six feet high; but she was used to that sort of surprised admiration, being perfectly conscious that she was a magnificent young woman.
“ Won’t you take me into your shop ? ” she asked. “ I don’t want to order anything ; I only want to inquire after your ’ealth : and is n’t this rather an awkward place to talk ? ” She made her way further in, without waiting for permission, seeing that her startled hostess had not yet guessed.
“ The show-room is on the right hand,” said Miss Pynsent, with her professional manner, which was intended, evidently, to mark a difference. She spoke as if on the other side, where the horizon was bounded by the partition of the next house, there were labyrinths of apartments. Passing in after her guest, she found the young lady already spread out upon the sofa, the everlasting sofa, in the right-hand corner as you faced the window, covered with a light, shrunken shroud of a strange yellow stuff, the tinge of which revealed years of washing, and surmounted by a colored print of Rebekah at the Well, balancing, in the opposite quarter, with a portrait of the Empress of the French, taken from an illustrated newspaper, and framed and glazed in the manner of 1853. Millicent looked about her, asking herself what Miss Pynsent had to show, and acting perfectly the part of the most brilliant figure the place had ever contained. The old implements were there on the table: the pincushions and needle-books ; the pink measuring-tape with which, as children, she and Hyacinth used to take each other’s height; and the same collection of fashion-plates (she could see in a minute), crumpled, sallow, and fly-blown. The little dressmaker bristled, as she used to do, with needles and pins (they were stuck all over the front of her dress), but there were no rustling fabrics tossed in heaps about the room — nothing but the skirt of a shabby dress (it might have been her own), which she was evidently repairing, and had flung upon the table when she came to the door, Miss Henning speedily arrived at the conclusion that her hostess’s business had not increased, and felt a kind of good-humored, luxurious scorn of a person who knew so little what was to be got out of London. It was Millicent’s belief that she herself was already perfectly acquainted with the resources of the metropolis.
Copyright, 1885, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
“ Now tell me, how is Hyacinth ? I should like so much to see him,” she remarked, extending a pair of large, protrusive feet, and supporting herself on the sofa by her hands.
“ Hyacinth ? ” Miss Pynsent repeated, with majestic blankness, as if she had never heard of such a person. She felt that the girl was cruelly, scathingly, well dressed; she could n’t imagine who she was, nor with what design she could have presented herself.
“ Perhaps you call him Mr. Robinson, to-day — you always wanted him to hold himself so high. But to his face, at any rate, I ’ll call him as I used to : you see if I don’t! ”
“ Bless my soul, you must be the little ’Enning ! ” Miss Pynsent exclaimed, planted before her, and going now into every detail.
“ Well, I ’m glad you have made up your mind. I thought you’d know me directly. I had a call to make in this part, and it came into my ’ead to look you up. I don’t like to lose sight of old friends.”
“ I never knew you — you ’ve improved so,” Miss Pynsent rejoined, with a candor justified by her age and her consciousness of respectability.
“ Well, you have n’t changed; you were always calling me something horrid.”
“ I dare say it does n’t matter to you now, does it ? ” said the dressmaker, seating herself, but quite unable to take up her work, absorbed as she was in the examination of her visitor.
“ Oh, I ’m all right now,” Miss Henning replied, with the air of one who had nothing to fear from human judgments.
“You were a pretty child — I never said the contrary to that: but I had no idea you’d turn out like this. You ’re too tall for a woman,” Miss Pynsent added, much divided between an old prejudice and a new appreciation.
“ Well, I enjoy beautiful ’ealth,” said the young lady ; “every one thinks I ’m twenty.” She spoke with a certain artless pride in her bigness and her bloom, and as if, to show her development, she would have taken off her jacket or let you feel her fore-arm. She was very handsome, with a shining, bold, goodnatured eye, a fine, free, facial oval, an abundance of brown hair, and a smile which showed the whiteness of her teeth. Her head was set upon a fair, strong neck, and her tall young figure was rich in feminine curves. Her gloves, covering her wrists insufficiently, showed the redness of those parts, in the interstices of the numerous silver bracelets that encircled them, and Miss Pynsent made the observation that her hands were not more delicate than her feet. She was not graceful, and even the little dressmaker, whose preference for distinguished forms never deserted her, indulged in the mental reflection that she was common, for all her magnificence ; but there was something about her indescribably fresh, successful, and satisfying. She was, to her blunt, expanded finger-tips, a daughter of London, of the crowded streets and hustling traffic of the great city ; she had drawn her health and strength from its dingy courts and foggy thoroughfares, and peopled its parks and squares and crescents with her ambitions ; it had entered into her blood and her bone, the sound of her voice and the carriage of her head ; she understood it by instinct and loved it with passion ; she represented its immense vulgarities and curiosities, its brutality and its knowingness, its good-nature and its impudence, and might have figured, in an allegorical procession, as a kind of glorified townswoman, a nymph of the wilderness of Middlesex, a flower of the accumulated parishes, the genius of urban civilization, the muse of cockneyism. The restrictions under which Miss Pynsent regarded her would have cost the dressmaker some fewer scruples if she had guessed the impression she made upon Millicent, and how the whole place seemed to that prosperous young lady to smell of poverty and failure. Her childish image of Miss Pynsent had represented her as delicate and dainty, with round loops of hair fastened on her temples by combs, and associations of brilliancy arising from the constant manipulation of precious stuffs — tissues, at least, which Millicent regarded with envy. But the little woman before her was bald and white and pinched ; she looked shrunken and sickly and insufficiently nourished ; her small eyes were sharp and suspicious, and her hideous cap did not disguise her meagreness. Miss Henning thanked her stars, as she had often done before, that she had not been obliged to get her living by drudging over needlework year after year in that undiscoverable street, in a dismal little room where nothing had been changed for ages ; the absence of change had such an exasperating effect upon her vigorous young nature. She reflected with complacency upon her good fortune in being attached to a more exciting, a more dramatic, department of the dressmaking business, and noticed that, though it was already November, there was no fire in the neatly-kept grate beneath the chimney-piece, on which a design, partly architectural, partly botanical, executed in the hair of Miss Pynsent’s parents, was flanked by a pair of vases, under glass, containing muslin flowers.
If she thought Miss Pynsent’s eyes suspicious, it must be confessed that this lady felt very much upon her guard in the presence of so unexpected and undesired a reminder of one of the least honorable episodes in the annals of Lomax Place. Miss Pynsent esteemed people in proportion to their success in constituting a family circle — in cases, that is, when the materials were under their hand. This success, among the various members of the house of Henning, had been of the scantiest, and the domestic broils in the establishment adjacent to her own, whose vicissitudes she was able to follow, as she sat at her window at work, by simply inclining an ear to the thin partition behind her — these scenes, amid which the crash of crockery and the imprecations of the wounded were frequently audible, had long been the scandal of a humble but harmonious neighborhood. Mr. Henning was supposed to occupy a place of confidence in a brush-factory, while his wife, at home, occupied herself with the washing and mending of a considerable brood, mainly of sons. But economy and sobriety, and indeed a virtue more important still, had never presided at their councils. The freedom and frequency of Mrs. Henning’s relations with a stove-polisher in the Euston Road were at least not a secret to a person who lived next door, and looked up from her work so often that it was a wonder it was always finished so quickly. The little Hennings, unwashed and unchidden, spent most of their time either in pushing each other into the gutter, or in running to the public house at the corner for a pennyworth of gin, and the borrowing propensities of their elders were a theme for exclamation. There was no object of personal or domestic use which Mrs. Henning had not at one time or another endeavored to elicit from the dressmaker ; beginning with a mattress, on an occasion when she was about to take to her bed for a considerable period, and ending with a flannel petticoat and a pewter teapot. Lomax Place had, eventually, from its overpeeping windows and doorways, been present at the seizure, by a long-suffering landlord, of the chattels of this interesting family, and at the ejectment of the whole insolvent group, who departed in a straggling, jeering, unabashed, cynical manner, carrying with them but little of the sympathy of the street. Millicent, whose childish intimacy with Hyacinth Robinson Miss Pynsent had always viewed with vague anxiety — she thought the girl a “ nasty little thing,” and was afraid she would teach the innocent orphan tricks — Millicent, with her luxuriant tresses, her precocious beauty, her staring, mocking manner on the doorstep, was at this time twelve years of age. She vanished with her vanishing companions. Lomax Place saw them turn the corner, and returned to its occupations with a conviction that they would make shipwreck on the outer reefs. But neither spar nor splinter floated back to their former haunts, and they were engulfed altogether in the fathomless deeps of the town. Miss Pynsent drew a long breath ; it was her conviction that none of them would come to any good, and Millicent least of all.
When, therefore, this young lady reappeared, with all the signs of accomplished survival, she could not fail to ask herself whether, under a specious seeming, the phenomenon did not simply represent the triumph of vice. She was alarmed, but she would have given her silver thimble to know the girl’s history, and between her alarm and her curiosity she passed an uncomfortable half hour. She felt that the familiar, mysterious creature was playing with her; revenging herself for former animadversions, for having been snubbed and miscalled by a peering little spinster who now could make no figure beside her. If it were not the triumph of vice, it was at least the triumph of impertinence, as well as of youth, health, and a greater acquaintance with the art of dress than Miss Pynsent could boast, for all her ridiculous signboards. She perceived, or she believed she perceived, that Millicent wanted to scare her, to make her think she had come after Hyacinth ; that she wished to inveigle, to corrupt him. I should be sorry to impute to Miss Henning any motive more complicated than the desire to amuse herself, of a Saturday afternoon, by a ramble which her vigorous legs had no occasion to deprecate; but it must be confessed that when it occurred to her that Miss Pynsent regarded her as a ravening wolf and her early playmate as an unspotted lamb, she laughed out, in her hostess’s anxious ‘ face, irrelevantly and good-humoredly, without deigning to explain. But what, indeed, had she come for, if she had not come after Hyacinth ? It was not for the love of the dressmaker’s pretty ways. She remembered the boy and some of their tender passages, and in the wantonness of her full-blown freedom — her attachment, also, to any tolerable pretext for wandering through the streets of London and gazing into shop-windows — she had said to herself that she would dedicate an afternoon to the pleasures of memory, would revisit the scenes of her childhood. She considered that her childhood had ended with the departure of her family from Lomax Place. If the tenants of that obscure locality never learned what their banished fellows went through, Millicent retained a deep impression of those horrible intermediate years. The family, as a family, had gone down-hill, to the very bottom; and in her humbler moments Millicent sometimes wondered what lucky star had checked her own descent, and indeed enabled her to mount the slope again. In her humbler moments, I say, for as a general thing she was provided with an explanation of any good fortune that might befall her. What was more natural than that a girl should do well when she was at once so handsome and so clever. ? Millicent thought with compassion of the young persons whom a niggardly fate had endowed with only one of these advantages. She was goodnatured, but she had no idea of gratifying Miss Pynsent’s curiosity; it seemed to her quite a sufficient kindness to stimulate it.
She told the dressmaker that she had a high position at a great haberdasher’s in the Buckingham Palace Road ; she was in the department for jackets and mantles ; she put on all these articles to show them off to the customers, and on her person they appeared to such advantage that nothing she took up ever failed to go off. Miss Pynsent could imagine, from this, how highly her services were prized. She had had a splendid offer from another establishment, in Oxford Street, and she was just thinking whether she should accept it. “ We have to be beautifully dressed, but I don’t care, because I like to look nice,” she remarked to her hostess, who at the end of half an hour, very grave, behind the clumsy glasses which she had been obliged to wear of late years, seemed still not to know what to make of her. On the subject of her family, of her history during the interval that was to be accounted for, the girl was large and vague, and Miss Pynsent saw that the domestic circle had not even a shadow of sanctity for her. She stood on her own feet, and she stood very firm. Her staying so long, her remaining over the half hour, proved to the dressmaker that she had come for Hyacinth ; for poor Amanda gave her as little information as was decent, told her nothing that would encourage or attract. She simply mentioned that Mr. Robinson (she was careful to speak of him in that manner) had given his attention to bookbindery, and had served an apprenticeship at an establishment where they turned out the best work of that kind that was to be found in London.
“ Bookbindery ? Laws! ” said Miss Henning. " Do you mean they get them up for the shops ? Well, I always thought he would have something to do with books.” Then she added, “ But I didn’t think he would ever follow a trade.”
“A trade?” cried Miss Pynsent. “ You should hear Mr. Robinson speak of it. He considers it one of the fine arts.”
Millicent smiled, as if she knew how people often considered things, and remarked that very likely it was tidy, comfortable work, but she could n’t believe there was much to be seen in it. “ Perhaps you will say there is more than there is here,” she went on, finding at last an effect of irritation, of reprehension, an implication of aggressive respectability, in the image of the patient dressmaker, sitting for so many years in her close brown little dress, with the foggy familiarities of Lomax Place on the other side of the pane. Millicent liked to think that she herself was strong, and she was not strong enough for that.
This allusion to her shrunken industry seemed to Miss Pynsent very cruel; but she reflected that it was natural one should be insulted if one talked to a vulgar girl. She judged this young lady in the manner of a person who was not vulgar herself, and if there was a difference between them, she was right in feeling it to be in her favor. Miss Pynsent’s “ cut,” as I have intimated, was not truly fashionable, and in the application of gimp and the distribution of ornament she was not to be trusted ; but, morally, she had the best taste in the world. " I haven’t so much work as I used to have, if that’s what you mean. My eyes are not so good, and my health has failed with advancing years.”
I know not to what extent Millicent was touched by the dignity of this admission, but she replied, without embarrassment, that what Miss Pynsent wanted was a smart young assistant, some nice girl with a pretty taste, who would brighten up the business and give her new ideas. “ I can see you have got the same old ones, always : I can tell that by the way you have stuck the braid on that dress,” and she directed a poke of her neat little umbrella to the drapery in the dressmaker’s lap. She continued to patronize and exasperate her, and to offer her consolation and encouragement with the heaviest hand that had ever been applied to Miss Pynsent’s sensitive surface. Poor Amanda ended by gazing at her as if she were a public performer of some kind, a ballad-singer or a conjurer, and went so far as to ask herself whether the hussy could be (in her own mind) the “ nice girl ” who was to regild the tarnished sign. Miss Pynsent had had assistants, in the past — she had even, once, for a few months, had a “ forewoman ; ” and some of these damsels had been precious specimens, whose misdemeanors lived vividly in her memory. Never, all the same, in her worst hour of delusion, had she trusted her interests to such an extravagant baggage as this. She was quickly reassured as to Millicent’s own views, perceiving more and more that she was a tremendous highflyer, who required a much larger field of action than the musty bower she now honored, Heaven only knew why, with her presence. Miss Pynsent held her tongue, as she always did, when the sorrow of her life had been touched, the thought of the slow, inexorable decline on which she had entered that day, nearly ten years before, when her hesitations and scruples resolved themselves into a hideous mistake. The deep conviction of error, on that unspeakably important occasion, had ached and throbbed within her ever since like an incurable disease. She had sown in her boy’s mind the seeds of shame and rancor; she had made him conscious of his stigma, of his exquisitely vulnerable spot, and condemned him to know that for him the sun would never shine as it shone for most others. By the time he was sixteen years old she had learned—or believed she had learned — the judgment he passed upon her, and at that period she had lived through a series of horrible months, an ordeal in which every element of her old prosperity perished. She cried her eyes out, on coming to a sense of her aberration, blinded and weakened herself with weeping, so that, for a moment, it seemed as if she should never be able to touch a needle again. She lost all interest in her work, and that artistic imagination which had always been her pride deserted her, together with the reputation of keeping the tidiest lodgings in Lomax Place. A couple of commercial gentlemen and a Scotch plumber, of religious tendencies, who for several years had made her establishment their home, withdrew their patronage on the ground that the airing of her beds was not what it used to be, and disseminated cruelly this injurious legend. She ceased to notice or to care how sleeves were worn, and on the question of flounces and gores her mind was a blank. She fell into a grievous debility, and then into a long, low, languid fever, during which Hyacinth tended her with a devotion which only made the wrong she had done him seem more bitter, and in which, so soon as she was able to hold up her head a little, Mr. Vetch came and sat with her through the dull hours of convalescence. She reestablished to a certain extent, after a while, her connection, so far as the letting of her rooms was concerned (from the other department of her activity the tide had ebbed apparently forever) ; but nothing was the same again, and she knew it was the beginning of the end. So it had gone on, and she watched the end approach ; she felt it was very near indeed when a child she had seen playing in the gutters came to flaunt it over her in silk and lace. She gave a low, inaudible sigh of relief when at last Millicent got up and stood before her, smoothing the glossy cylinder of her umbrella.
“ Mind you give my love to Hyacinth,” the girl said, with an assurance which showed all her insensibility to tacit protests. “ I don’t care if you do guess that if I have stopped so long it was in the hope he would be dropping in to his tea. You can tell him I sat an hour, on purpose, if you like ; there’s no shame in my wanting to see my little friend. He may know I call him that! ” Millicent continued, with her show-room laugh, as Miss Pynsent judged it to be; conferring these permissions, successively, as if they were great indulgences. “ Do give him my love, and tell him I hope he ’ll come and see me. I see you won’t tell him anything. I don’t know what you ’re afraid of ; but I ’ll leave my card for him, all the same.” She drew forth a little bright-colored pocketbook, and it was with amazement that Miss Pynsent saw her extract from it a morsel of engraved pasteboard — so monstrous did it seem that one of the squalid little Hennings should have lived to display this emblem of social consideration. Millicent enjoyed the effect she produced as she laid the card on the table, and gave another ringing peal of merriment at the sight of her hostess’s half-hungry, half-astonished look. “ What do you think I want to do with him ? I could swallow him at a single bite ! ” she cried.
Poor Amanda gave no second glance at the document on the table, though she had perceived it contained, in the corner, her visitor’s address, which Millicent had amused herself, ingeniously, with not mentioning : she only got up, laying down her work with a trembling hand, so that she should be able to see Miss Henning well out of the house. “ You need n’t think I shall put myself out to keep him in the dark. I shall certainly tell him you have been here, and exactly how you strike me.”
“ Of course you ’ll say something nasty — like you used to when I was a child. You let me ’ave it then, you know ! ”
“ Ah, well,” said Miss Pynsent, nettled at being reminded of an acerbity which the girl’s present development caused to appear ridiculously ineffectual, “ you are very different now, when I think what you’ve come from.”
“ What I ’ve come from? ” Millicent threw back her head, and opened her eyes very wide, while all her feathers and ribbons nodded. “ Did you want me to stick fast in this low place for the rest of my days ? You have had to stay in it yourself, so you might speak civilly of it.” She colored, and raised her voice, and looked magnificent in her scorn. “ And pray what have you come from yourself, and what has he come from — the mysterious ‘Mr. Robinson,’ that used to be such a puzzle to the whole Place ? I thought perhaps I might clear it up, but you have n’t told me that yet! ”
Miss Pynsent turned straight away, covering her ears with her hands. “ I have nothing to tell you! Leave my room — leave my house ! ” she cried, with a trembling voice.
It was in this way that the dressmaker failed either to see or to hear the opening of the door of the room, which obeyed a slow, apparently cautious impulse given it from the hall, and revealed the figure of a young man standing there, with a short pipe in his teeth. There was something in his face which immediately told Millicent Henning that he had heard, outside, her last resounding tones. He entered as if, young as he was, he knew that when women were squabbling men were not called upon to be headlong, and evidently wondered who the dressmaker’s brilliant adversary might be. She recognized on the instant her old playmate, and without reflection, confusion, or diplomacy, in the fullness of her vulgarity and sociability, she exclaimed, in no lower pitch, “ Gracious, Hyacinth Robinson, is that your style ? ”
Miss Pynsent turned round, in a flash, but kept silent ; then, very white and trembling, took up her work again, and seated herself in her window.
Hyacinth Robinson stood staring ; then he blushed all over. He knew who she was, but he did n’t say so ; he only asked, in a voice which struck the girl as quite different from the old one — the one in which he used to tell her she was beastly tiresome — “ Is it of me you were speaking just now ? ”
“ When I asked where you had come from ? That was because we ’eard you in the ’all,” said Millicent, smiling. “ I suppose you have come from your work.”
“ You used to live in the Place — you always wanted to kiss me,” the young man remarked, with an effort not to show all the surprise and agitation that he felt. “ Did n’t she live in the Place, Pinnie ! ”
Pinnie, for all answer, fixed a pair of strange, pleading eyes upon him, and Millicent broke out, with her recurrent laugh, in which the dressmaker had been right in discovering the note of affectation, “ Do you want to know what you look like ? You look for all the world like a little Frenchman ! Don’t he look like a little Frenchman, Miss Pynsent?” she went on, as if she were on the best possible terms with the mistress of the establishment.
Hyacinth exchanged a look with that afflicted woman ; he saw something in her face which he knew very well by this time, and the sight of which always gave him an odd, perverse, unholy satisfaction. It seemed to say that she prostrated herself, that she did penance in the dust, that she was his to trample upon, to spit upon. He did neither of these things, but she was constantly offering herself. and her permanent humility, her perpetual abjection, was a sort of counter-irritant to the soreness lodged in his own heart forever, which had often made him cry with rage at night, in his little room under the roof. Pinnie meant that, to-day, as a matter of course, and she could only especially mean it in the presence of Miss Henning’s remark about his looking like a Frenchman. He knew he looked like a Frenchman, he had often been told so before, and a large part of the time he felt like one — like one of those he had read about in Michelet and Carlyle. He had picked up the French tongue with the most extraordinary facility, with the aid of one of his mates, a refugee from Paris, in the workroom, and of a second-hand dog’s-eared dictionary, bought for a shilling in the Brompton Road, in one of his interminable, restless, melancholy, moody, yet all-observant strolls through London. He spoke it (as he believed) as if by instinct, caught the accent, the gesture, the movement of eyebrow and shoulder; so that if it should become necessary, in certain contingencies, that he should pass for a foreigner, he had an idea that he might do so triumphantly, once he could borrow a blouse. He had never seen a blouse in his life, but he knew exactly the form and color of such a garment, and how it was worn. What these contingencies might be which should compel him to assume the disguise of a person of a social station lower still than his own, Hyacinth would not for the world have mentioned to you; but as they were very present to the mind of our imaginative, ingenious youth, we shall catch a glimpse of them in the course of a further acquaintance with him. At the present moment, when there was no question of masquerading, it made him blush again that such a note should be struck by a loud, laughing, handsome girl, who came back out of his past. There was more in Pinnie’s weak eyes, now, than her usual profusion; there was a dumb intimation, almost as pathetic as the other, that if he cared to let her off easily he would not detain their terrible visitor very long. He had no wish to do that; he kept the door open, on purpose ; he did n’t enjoy talking to girls under Pinnie’s eyes, and he could see that this one had every disposition to talk. So without responding to her observation about his appearance, he said, not knowing exactly what to say, “ Have you come back to live in the Place ? ”
“ Heaven forbid I should ever do that!” cried Miss Henning, with genuine emotion. “ I have to live near the establishment in which I’m employed.”
“ And what establishment is that, now ? ” the young man asked, gaining confidence, and perceiving, in detail, how handsome she was. He had n’t roamed about London for nothing, and he knew that when a girl was so handsome as that, a jocular tone of address, a pleasing freedom, was de rigueur ; so he added, “ Is it the Bull and Gate, or the Elephant and Castle? ”
“ A public house? Well, you have n’t got the politeness of a Frenchman, at all events ! ” Her good-nature had come back to her perfectly, and her resentment of his imputation of her looking like a bar-maid — a blowzy beauty who handled pewter — was tempered by her more and more curious consideration of Hyacinth’s style. He was exceedingly “ rum,” but this quality took her fancy, and since he remembered so well that she had been fond of kissing him, in their early days, she would have liked to say to him that she stood prepared to repeat this form of attention. But she reminded herself, in time, that her line should be, religiously, the ladylike, and she was content to exclaim, simply, “I don’t care what a man looks like so long as he’s clever. That’s the style I like ! ”
Miss Pynsent had promised herself the satisfaction of taking no further notice of her brilliant invader; but the temptation was great to expose her to Hyacinth, as a mitigation of her brilliancy, by remarking sarcastically, according to opportunity, “Miss ’Enning would n’t live in Lomax Place for the world. She thinks it too abominably low.”
“ So it is; it’s a beastly hole,” said the young man.
The poor dressmaker’s little dart fell to the ground, and Millicent exclaimed, jovially, “ Right you are ! ” while she directed to the object of her childhood’s admiration a smile that put him more and more at his ease.
“ Don’t you suppose I’m clever ? ” iie asked, planted before her with his little legs slightly apart, while, with his hands behind him, he made the open door waver to and fro.
“You? Oh, I don’t care whether you are or not!” said Millicent Henning ; and Hyacinth was at any rate quick-witted enough to see what she meant by that. If she meant he was so good-looking that he might pass on this score alone, her judgment was conceivable, though many women would strongly have dissented from it. He was as small as he had threatened — he had never got his growth—and she could easily see that he was not what she, at least, would call strong. His bones were small, his chest was narrow, his complexion pale, his whole figure almost childishly slight ; and Millicent perceived afterward that he had a very delicate hand — the hand, as she said to herself, of a gentleman. What she liked was his face, and something jaunty and entertaining, almost theatrical, in his whole little person. Miss Henning was not acquainted with any member of the dramatic profession, but she supposed, vaguely, that that was the way an actor would look in private life. Hyacinth’s features were perfect ; his eyes, large and much divided, had as their usual expression a kind of witty candor, and a small, soft, fair mustache disposed itself upon his upper lip in a way that made him look as if he were smiling even when his heart was heavy. The waves of his dense, fine hair clustered round a forehead which was high enough to suggest remarkable things, and Miss Henning had observed that when he first appeared he wore his little soft circular hat in a way that left these frontal locks very visible. He was dressed in an old brown velveteen jacket, and wore exactly the brightcolored necktie which Miss Pynsent’s quick fingers used of old to shape out of hoarded remnants of silk and muslin. He was shabby and work-stained, but the observant eye would have noted an idea in his dress (his appearance was plainly not a matter of indifference to himself), and a painter (not of the heroic) would have liked to make a sketch of him. There was something exotic about him, and yet, with his sharp young face, destitute of bloom, but not of sweetness, and a certain conscious cockneyism which pervaded him, he was as strikingly as Millicent, in her own degree, a product of the London streets and the London air. He looked both ingenuous and slightly wasted, amused, amusing, and indefinably sad. Women had always found him touching ; yet he made them — so they had repeatedly assured him — die of laughing.
“ I think you had better shut the door,” said Miss Pynsent, meaning that he had better shut their departing visitor out.
“ Did you come here on purpose to see us?” Hyacinth asked, not heeding this injunction, of which he divined the spirit, and wishing the girl would take her leave, so that he might go out again with her. He should like talking with her much better away from Pinnie, who evidently was ready to stick a bodkin into her, for reasons he perfectly understood. He had seen plenty of them before, Pinnie’s reasons, even where girls were concerned who were not nearly so good-looking as this one. She was always in a fearful “ funk ” about some woman getting hold of him, and persuading him to make a marriage beneath his station. His station!—poor Hyacinth had often asked himself, and Miss Pynsent, what it could possibly be. He had thought of it bitterly enough, and wondered how in the world he could marry “ beneath ” it. He would never marry at all—to that his mind was absolutely made up; he would never hand on to another the burden which had made his own young spirit so intolerably sore, the inheritance which had darkened the whole threshold of his manhood. All the more reason why he should have his compensation ; why, if the soft society of women was to be enjoyed on other terms, he should cultivate it with a bold, free mind.
“ I thought I would just give a look at the old shop ; I had an engagement not far off,” Millicent said. “ But I would n’t have believed any one who had told me I should find you just where I left you.”
“We needed you to look after us ! ” Miss Pynsent exclaimed, irrepressibly.
“ Oh, you ’re such a swell yourself! ” Hyacinth said, without heeding the dressmaker.
“ None of your impudence ! I’m as good a girl as there is in London ! ” And to corroborate this, Miss Henning went on : “ If you were to offer to see me a part of the way home, I should tell you I don’t knock about that way with gentlemen.”
“ I ‘ll go with you as far as you like,” Hyacinth replied, simply, as if he knew how to treat that sort of speech.
“Well, it’s only because I knew you as a baby! ” And they went out together, Hyacinth careful not to look at poor Pinnie at all (he felt her glaring whitely and tearfully at him out of her dim corner — it had by this time grown too dusky to work without a lamp), and his companion giving her an outrageously friendly nod of farewell over her shoulder.
It was a long walk from Lomax Place to the quarter of the town in which (to be near the haberdasher’s in the Buckingham Palace Road) Miss Henning occupied a modest back-room ; but the influences of the hour were such as to make the excursion very agreeable to our young man, who liked the streets at all times, but especially at nightfall, in the autumn, of a Saturday, when, in the vulgar districts, the smaller shops and open-air industries were doubly active, and big, clumsy torches flared and smoked over hand-carts and costermonger’s barrows, drawn up in the gutters. Hyacinth had roamed through the great city since he was an urchin, but his imagination had never ceased to be stirred by the preparations for Sunday that went on in the evening among the toilers and spinners, his brothers and sisters, and he lost himself in all the quickened crowding and pushing and staring at lighted windows, and chaffering at the stalls of fishmongers and hucksters. He liked the people who looked as if they had got their week’s wage, and were prepared to lay it out discreetly; and even those whose use of it would plainly be extravagant and intemperate; and, best of all, those who evidently had n’t received it at all, and who wandered about, disinterestedly, vaguely, with their hands in empty pockets, watching others make their bargains and fill their satchels, or staring at the striated sides of bacon, at the golden cubes and triangles of cheese, at the graceful festoons of sausage, in the most brilliant of the windows. He liked the reflection of the lamps on the wet pavements, the feeling and smell of the carboniferous London damp; the way the winter fog blurred and suffused the whole place made it seem bigger and more crowded, produced halos and dim radiations, trickles and evaporation, on the plates of glass. He moved in the midst of these impressions this evening, but he enjoyed them in silence, with an attention taken up mainly by his companion, and pleased to be already so intimate with a young lady whom people turned round to look at. She herself affected to speak of the rush and crush of the week’s end with disgust: she said she liked the streets, but she liked the respectable ones ; she could n’t abide the smell of fish, and the whole place seemed full of it, so that she hoped they would soon get into the Edgware Road, towards which they tended and which was a proper street for a lady. To Hyacinth she appeared to have no connection with the long-haired little girl who, in Lomax Place, years before, was always hugging a smutty doll and courting his society; she was like a stranger, a new acquaintance, and he observed her curiously, wondering by what transitions she had reached her present pitch.
She enlightened him but little on this point, though she talked a great deal on a variety of subjects, and mentioned to him her habits, her aspirations, her likes and dislikes. The latter were very numerous. She was tremendously particular, difficult to please, he could see that; and she assured him that she never put up with anything a moment after it had ceased to be agreeable to her. Especially was she particular about gentlemen’s society, and she made it plain that a young fellow who wanted to have anything to say to her must be in receipt of wages amounting at the least to fifty shillings a week. Hyacinth told her that he did n’t earn that, as yet ; and she remarked again that she made an exception for him, because she knew all about him (or if not all, at least a great deal), and he could see that her goodnature was equal to her beauty. She made such an exception that when, after they were moving down the Edgware Road (which had still the brightness of late closing, but with more nobleness), he proposed that she should enter a coffee-house with him and “ take something ” (he could hardly tell himself, afterwards, what brought him to this point) she acceded without a demur — without a demur even on the ground of his slender earnings. Slender as they were, Hyacinth had them in his pocket (they had been destined in some degree for Pinnie), and he felt equal to the occasion. Millicent partook profusely of tea and bread and butter, with a relish of raspberry jam, and thought the place most comfortable, though he himself, after finding himself ensconced, was visited by doubts as to its respectability, suggested, among other things, by photographs, on the walls, of young ladies in tights. Hyacinth himself was hungry, he had not yet had his tea, but he was too excited, too preoccupied, to eat; the situation made him restless and gave him palpitations ; it seemed to be the beginning of something new. He had never yet “ stood ” even a glass of beer to a girl of Millicent’s stamp — a girl who rustled and glittered and smelt of musk — and if she should turn out as jolly a specimen of the sex as she seemed it might make a great difference in his leisure hours, in his evenings, which were often very dull. That it would also make a difference in his savings (he was under a pledge to Pinnie and to Mr. Vetch to put by something every week) it did n’t concern him, for the moment, to reflect; and indeed, though he thought it odious and insufferable to be poor, the ways and means of becoming rich had hitherto not greatly occupied him. He knew what Millicent’s age must be, but felt, nevertheless, as if she were older, much older, than himself — she appeared to know so much about London and about life ; and this made it still more of a sensation to be entertaining her like a young swell. He thought of it, too, in connection with the question of the respectability of the establishment; if this element was deficient she would perceive it as soon as he, and very likely it would be a part of the general initiation she had given him an impression of that she should n’t mind it so long as the tea was strong and the bread and butter thick. She described to him what had passed between Miss Pynsent and herself (she did n’t call her Pinnie, and he was glad, for he would n’t have liked it) before he came in, and let him know that she should never dare to come to the place again, as his mother would tear her eyes out. Then she checked herself. “ Of course she ain’t your mother! How stupid I am! I keep forgetting.”
Hyacinth had long since convinced himself that he had acquired a manner with which he could meet allusions of this kind : he had had, first and last, so many opportunities to practice it. Therefore he looked at his companion very steadily while he said, “ My mother died many years ago ; she was a great invalid. But Pinnie has been awfully good to me.”
“ My mother’s dead, too,” Miss Henning remarked. “She died very suddenly. I dare say you remember her in the Place.” Then, while Hyacinth disengaged from the past the wavering figure of Mrs. Henning, of whom he mainly remembered that she used to strike him as dirty, the girl added, smiling, but with more sentiment, “ But I have had no Pinnie.”
“ You look as if you could take care of yourself.”
“ Well, I ’m very confiding,” said Millicent Henning. Then she asked what had become of Mr. Vetch. “ We used to say that if Miss Pynsent was your mamma, he was your papa. In our family we used to call him Miss Pynsent’s young man.”
“ He’s her young man still,” Hyacinth said. “ He’s our best friend — or supposed to be. He got me the place I’m in now. He lives by his fiddle, as he used to do.”
Millicent looked a little at her companion, after which she remarked, “ I should have thought he would have got you a place at his theatre.”
“At his theatre? That would have been no use. I don’t play any instrument.”
“ I don’t mean in the orchestra, you guby! You would look very nice in a fancy costume. " She had her elbows on the table, and her shoulders lifted in an attitude of extreme familiarity. He was on the point of replying that he did n’t care for fancy costumes, he wished to go through life in his own character; but he checked himself, with the reflection that this was exactly what, apparently, he was destined not to do. His own character ? He was to cover that up as carefully as possible; he was to go through life in a mask, in a borrowed mantle ; he was to be, every day and every hour, an actor. Suddenly, with the utmost irrelevance, Miss Henning inquired, “ Is Miss Pynsent some relation ? What gave her any right over you ? ”
Hyacinth had an answer ready for this question ; he had determined to say, as he had several times said before, “ Miss Pynsent is an old friend of my family. My mother was very fond of her, and she was very fond of my mother.” He repeated the formula now, looking at Millicent with the same inscrutable calmness (as he fancied), though what he would have liked to say to her would have been that his mother was none of her business. But she was too handsome to talk that way to, and she presented her large fair face to him, across the table, with an air of solicitation to be cosy and comfortable. There were things in his heart and a torment and a hidden passion in his life which he should be glad enough to lay open to some woman. He believed that perhaps this would be the cure, ultimately ; that in return for something he might drop, syllable by syllable, into a listening feminine ear, certain other words would be spoken to him which would make his pain forever less sharp. But what woman could he trust, what ear would be safe ? The answer was not in this loud, fresh, laughing creature, whose sympathy could n’t have the fineness he was looking for, since her curiosity was vulgar. Hyacinth objected to the vulgar as much as Miss Pynsent herself; in this respect she had long since discovered that he was after her own heart. He had not taken up the subject of Mrs. Henning’s death; he felt himself incapable of inquiring about that lady, and had no desire for knowledge of Millicent’s relationships. Moreover, he always suffered, to sickness, when people began to hover about the question of his origin, the reasons why Pinnie had had the care of him from a baby. Mrs. Henning had been untidy, but at least her daughter could speak of her. “ Mr. Vetch has changed his lodgings : he moved out of No. 17, three years ago,” he said, to vary the topic. “ He could n’t stand the other people in the house ; there was a man that played the accordeon.”
Millicent, however, was but moderately interested in this anecdote, and she wanted to know why people should like Mr. Vetch’s fiddle any better. Then she added, “ And I think that, while he was about it, he might have put you into something better than a bookbinder’s.”
“ He was n’t obliged to put me into anything. It’s a very good place.”
“ All the same, it is n’t where I should have looked to find you,” Millicent declared, not so much in the tone of wishing to pay him a compliment as of resentment at having miscalculated.
“ Where should you have looked to find me? In the House of Commons? It ’s a pity you could n’t have told me, in advance, what you would have liked me to be.”
She looked at him, over her cup, while she drank, in several sips. “ Do you know what they used to say in the Place? That your father was a lord.”
“ Very likely. That’s the kind of rot they talk in that precious hole,” the young man said, without blenching.
“ Well, perhaps he was,” Millicent ventured.
“ He may have been a prince, for all the good it has done me.”
“ Fancy your talking as if you did n’t know ! ” said Millicent.
“ Finish your tea — don’t mind how I talk.”
“ Well, you ’ ave got a temper! ” the girl exclaimed, archly. “ I should have thought you’d be a clerk at a banker’s.”
“ Do they select them for their tempers ? ”
“ You know what I mean. You used to be too clever to follow a trade.”
“ Well, I ’m not clever enough to live on air.”
“ You might be, really, for all the tea you drink ! Why did n’t you go in for some high profession ? ”
“ How was I to go in? Who the devil was to help me?” Hyacinth inquired, with a certain vibration.
“Have n’t you got any relations?” said Millicent, after a moment.
“ What are you doing ? Are you trying to make me brag ? ”
When he spoke sharply she only laughed, not in the least ruffled, and by the way she looked at him seemed to like it. “ Well, I ’m sorry you ’re only a journeyman,” she went on, pushing away her cup.
“ So am I,” Hyacinth rejoined ; but he called for the bill as if he had been an employer of labor. Then, while it was being brought, he remarked to his companion that he did n’t believe she had an idea of what his work was and how charming it could be. “ Yes, I get up books for the shops,” he said, when she had retorted that she perfectly understood. “ But the art of the binder is an exquisite art.”
“ So Miss Pynsent told me. She said you had some samples at home. I should like to see them.”
“ You would n’t know how good they are,” said Hyacinth, smiling.
He expected that she would exclaim, in answer, that he was an impudent wretch, and for a moment she seemed to be on the point of doing so. But the words changed, on her lips, and she replied, almost tenderly, “That’s just the way you used to speak to me, years ago, in the Place.”
“ I don’t care about that. I hate all that time.”
“ Oh, so do I, if you come to that,” said Millicent, as if she could rise to any breadth of view. And then she returned to her idea that he had not done himself justice. “ You used always to be reading : I never thought you would work with your ’ands.”
This seemed to irritate him, and, having paid the bill and given threepence, ostentatiously, to the young woman with a languid manner and hair of an unnatural yellow, who had waited on them, he said, “ You may depend upon it, I sha’n’t do it an hour longer than I can help.”
“ What will you do then ? ”
“Oh, you’ll see, some day.” In the street, after they had begun to walk again, he went on : “ You speak as if I could have my pick. What was an obscure little beggar to do, buried in a squalid corner of London, under a million of idiots ? I had no help, no influence, no acquaintance of any kind with professional people, and no means of getting at them. I had to do something; I could n’t go on living on Pinnie. Thank God, I help her now, a little. I took what I could get.” He spoke as if he had been touched by the imputation of having derogated.
Millicent seemed to imply that he defended himself successfully when she said, “ You express yourself like a gentleman ” — a speech to which he made no response. But he began to talk again afterwards, and, the evening having definitely set in, his companion took his arm for the rest of the way home. By the time he reached her door he had confided to her that, in secret, he wrote : he had a dream of literary distinction. This appeared to impress her, and she branched off to remark, with an irrelevance that characterized her, that she did n’t care anything about a man’s family if she liked the man himself; she thought families were all rot. Hyacinth wished she would leave his alone ; and while they lingered in front of her house, before she went in, he said —
“I have no doubt you ’re a jolly girl, and I am very happy to have seen you again. But you have awfully little tact.”
“ I have little tact? You should see me work off an old jacket! ”
He was silent a moment, standing before her with his hands in his pockets. “ It’s a good job you ’re so handsome.”
Millicent did n’t blush at this compliment, and probably did n’t understand all it conveyed, but she looked into his eyes a while, with a smile that showed her teeth, and then said, more inconsequently than ever, “ Come now, who are you ? ”
“ Who am I ? I’m a wretched little bookbinder.”
“ I did n’t think I ever could fancy any one in that line ! ” Miss Henning exclaimed. Then she let him know that she could n’t ask him in, as she made it a point not to receive gentlemen, but she did n’t mind if she took another walk with him, and she did n’t care if she met him somewhere — if it were handy. As she lived so far from Lomax Place, she did n’t care if she met him half-way. So, in the dusky by-street in Pimlico, before separating, they took a casual tryst; the most interesting, the young man felt, that had yet been — he could scarcely call it granted him.
One day, shortly after this, at the bindery, his friend Poupin was absent, and sent no explanation, as was customary in case of illness or domestic accident. There were two or three men employed in the place whose non-appearance, usually following close upon pay-day, was better unexplained, and was an implication of moral feebleness ; but as a general thing Mr. Crookenden’s establishment was a haunt of punctuality and sobriety. Least of all had Eustache Poupin been in the habit of asking for a margin. Hyacinth knew how little indulgence he had ever craved, and this was part of his admiration for the extraordinary Frenchman, an ardent stoic, a cold conspirator, and an exquisite artist, who was by far the most interesting person in the ranks of his acquaintance, and whose conversation, in the workshop, helped him sometimes to forget the smell of leather and glue. His conversation ! Hyacinth had had plenty of that, and had endeared himself to the passionate refugee — Poupin had come to England, early in life, as a victim of the wide proscriptions by which the Second French Empire was ushered in — by the solemnity and candor of his attention. He was a republican of the note of 1848, humanitary and idealistic, infinitely addicted to fraternity and equality, and inexhaustibly surprised and exasperated at finding so little enthusiasm for them in the land of his exile. Poupin had a high claim upon Hyacinth’s esteem and gratitude, for he had been his godfather, his protector, at the bindery. When Theophilus Vetch found something for Miss Pynsent’s protégé to do, it was through the Frenchman, with whom he had accidentally formed an acquaintance, that he found it.
When the boy was about fifteen years of age Mr. Vetch made him a present of the essays of Lord Bacon, and the purchase of this volume had important consequences for Hyacinth. Theophilus Vetch was a poor man, and the luxury of giving was for the most part denied him; but when, once in a way, he tasted it, he liked the sensation to be pure. No man knew better the difference between the common and the rare, or was more capable of appreciating a book which opened well — of which the margin was not hideously sliced, and of which the lettering on the back was sharp. It was only such a book that he could bring himself to offer even to a poor little devil whom a fifth-rate dressmaker (he knew Pinnie was fifth rate) had rescued from the workhouse. So when it was a question of fitting the pages of the great Elizabethan with a new coat, a coat of full morocco, discreetly, delicately gilt, he went with his little cloth-bound volume, a Pickering, straight to Mr. Crookenden, whom every one that knew anything about the matter knew to be a prince of binders, though they also knew that his work, limited in quantity, was mainly done for a particular bookseller and only through the latter’s agency. Theophilus Vetch had no idea of paying the bookseller’s commission, and though he could be lavish (for him) when he made a present, he was capable of taking an immense deal of trouble to save sixpence. He made his way into Mr. Crookenden’s workshop, which was situated in a small, superannuated square in Soho, and where the proposal of so slender a job was received at first with coldness. Mr. Vetch, however, insisted, and explained with irresistible frankness the motive of his errand : the desire to obtain the best possible binding for the least possible money. He made his conception of the best possible binding so vivid, so exemplary, that the master of the shop at last confessed to that disinterested sympathy which, under favoring circumstances, establishes itself between the artist and the connoisseur. Mr. Vetch’s little book was put in hand as a particular favor to an eccentric gentleman, whose visit had been a smile-stirring interlude (for the circle of listening workmen) in a merely mechanical day ; and when he went back, three weeks later, to see whether it were done, he had the pleasure of finding that his injunctions, punctually complied with, had even been bettered. The work had been accomplished with a perfection of skill which made him ask whom he was to thank for it (he had been told that one man should do the whole of it), and in this manner he made the acquaintance of the most brilliant craftsman in the establishment, the incorruptible, the imaginative, the unerring Eustache Poupin.
In response to an appreciation which he felt not to be banal, M. Poupin remarked that he had at home a small collection of experiments in morocco, Russia, parchment, of fanciful specimens, with which, for the love of the art, he had amused his leisure hours, and which he should be happy to show his interlocutor, if the latter would do him the honor to call upon him at his lodgings in Lisson Grove. Mr. Vetch made a note of the address, and, for the love of the art, went one Sunday afternoon to see the binder’s esoteric studies. On this occasion he made the acquaintance of Madame Poupin, a small, fat lady with a bristling mustache, the white cap of an ouvrière, a knowledge of her husband’s craft that was equal to his own, and not a syllable of English save the words, “What you think, what you think?” which she introduced with startling frequency. He also discovered that his new acquaintance was a political proscript, and that he regarded the iniquitous fabric of church and state with an eye scarcely less reverent than the fiddler’s own. M. Poupin was a socialist, which Theophilus Vetch was not, and a constructive democrat (instead of being a mere scoffer at effete things), and a theorist, and an optimist, and a visionary ; he believed that the day was to come when all the nations of the earth would abolish their frontiers and armies and custom-houses, and embrace on both cheeks, and cover the globe with boulevards, radiating from Paris, where the human family would sit, in groups, at little tables, according to affinities,drinking coffee (not tea, par exemple !) and listening to the music of the spheres. Mr. Vetch neither prefigured nor desired this organized felicity : he was fond of his cup of tea, and only wanted to see the British constitution a good deal simplified; he thought it a much overrated system. But his heresies rubbed shoulders, sociably, with those of the little bookbinder, and his friend in Lisson Grove became for him the type of the intelligent foreigner whose conversation completes our culture. Poupin’s humanitary zeal was as unlimited as his English vocabulary was the reverse, and the new friends agreed with each other enough, and not too much, to discuss, which was much better than an unspeakable harmony. On several other Sunday afternoons the fiddler went back to Lisson Grove, and having, at his theatre, as a veteran, a faithful servant, an occasional privilege, he was able to carry thither, one day in the autumn, an order for two seats in the second balcony. Madame Poupin and her husband passed a lugubrious evening at the English comedy, where they did n’t understand a word that was spoken, and consoled themselves by gazing at their friend in the orchestra. But this adventure did not arrest the development of a friendship into which, eventually, Amanda Pynsent was drawn. Madame Poupin, among the cold insularies, lacked female society, and Mr. Vetch proposed to his amiable friend in Lomax Place to call upon her. The little dressmaker, who in the course of her life had known no Frenchwoman but the unhappy Florentine (so favorable a specimen till she began to go wrong), adopted his suggestion, in the hope that she should get a few ideas from a lady whose appearance would doubtless exemplify (as Florentine’s originally had done) the fine taste of her nation; but she found the bookbinder and his wife a bewildering mixture of the brilliant and the undressed, and was haunted, long afterwards, by the memory of the lady’s calico jacket, her uncorseted form, and her carpet slippers.
The acquaintance, none the less, was sealed three months later by a supper, one Sunday night, in Lisson Grove, to which Mr. Vetch brought his fiddle, at which Amanda presented to her hosts her adoptive son, and which also revealed to her that Madame Poupin could dress a Michaelmas goose, if she could n’t dress a fat Frenchwoman. This lady confided to the fiddler that she thought Miss Pynsent exceedingly comme il faut — dans le genre anglais ; and neither Amanda nor Hyacinth had ever passed an evening of such splendor. It took its place, in the boy’s recollection, beside the visit, years before, to Mr. Vetch’s theatre. He drank in the conversation which passed between that gentleman and M. Poupin. M. Poupin showed him his bindings, the most precious trophies of his skill, and it seemed to Hyacinth that on the spot he was initiated into a fascinating mystery. He handled the books for half an hour; Theophilus Vetch watched him, without giving any particular sign. When, therefore, presently, Miss Pynsent consulted her friend, for the twentieth time, on the subject of Hyacinth’s “ career ” — she spoke as if she were hesitating between the diplomatic service, the army, and the church — the fiddler replied with promptitude, " Make him, if you can, what the Frenchman is.” At the mention of a handicraft poor Pinnie always looked very solemn, yet when Mr. Vetch asked her if she were prepared to send the boy to one of the universities, or to pay the premium required for his being articled to a solicitor, or to make favor, on his behalf, with a bank-director or a mighty merchant, or, yet again, to provide him with a comfortable home while he should woo the muse and await the laurels of literature — when, I say, he put the case before her with this cynical, ironical lucidity, she only sighed, and said that all the money she had ever saved was ninety pounds, which, as he knew perfectly well, it would cost her his acquaintance forevermore to take out of the bank. The fiddler had, in fact, declared to her, in a manner not to be mistaken, that if she should divest herself, on the boy’s account, of this sole nest-egg of her old age, he would wash his hands of her and her affairs. Her standard of success for Hyacinth was vague, save on one point, as regards which she was passionately, fiercely firm; she was perfectly determined he should never go into a small shop. She would rather see him a bricklayer or a costermonger than dedicated to a retail business, tying up candles at a grocer’s, or giving change for a shilling across a counter. She would rather, she declared on one occasion, see him articled to a shoemaker or a tailor.
A stationer in a neighboring street had affixed to his window a written notice that he was in want of a smart errand boy, and Pinnie, on hearing of it, had presented Hyacinth to his consideration. The stationer was a dreadful bullying man, with a patch over his eye, who seemed to think the boy would be richly remunerated with fifteen pence a week; a contemptible measure, as it seemed to the dressmaker, of his rare abilities and acquirements. His schooling had been desultory, precarious, and had had a certain continuity mainly in his early years, while he was under the care of an old lady, who combined with the functions of pew-opener at a neighboring church the manipulation, in the Place itself, where she resided with her sister, a monthly nurse, of such pupils as could be spared (in their families) from the more urgent exercise of holding the baby and fetching the beer. Later, for a twelvemonth, Pinnie had paid five shillings a week for him at an “ Academy ” in Maida Vale, where there was an “ instructor in the foreign languages,” a platform for oratory, and a high social standard, but where Hyacinth suffered from the fact that almost all his mates were the sons of dealers in edible articles — pastry-cooks, grocers, and fishmongers— and in this capacity subjected him to pangs and ignominious contrasts by bringing to school, for their exclusive consumption, or for exchange and barter, various buns, oranges, spices, and marine animals, which the boy, with his hands in his empty pockets, and the sense of a savorless home in his heart, was obliged to see devoured without his participation. Miss Pynsent would not have pretended that he was highly educated, in the technical sense of the word, but she believed that at fifteen he had read almost every book in the world. The limits of his reading were, in fact, only the limits of his opportunity. Mr. Vetch, who talked with him more and more as he grew older, knew that, and lent him every volume he possessed or could pick up for the purpose. Reading was his happiness, and the absence of any direct contact with a library his principal source of discontent, that is, of that part of his discontent which he could speak out. Mr. Vetch knew that he was really clever, and therefore thought it a woful pity that he could n’t have furtherance in some liberal walk ; but he would have thought it a greater pity still that so bright a lad should be condemned to measure tape or cut slices of cheese. He himself had no influence which he could bring into play, no connection with the great world of capital or the market of labor. That is, he touched these mighty institutions at but one very small point — a point which, such as it was, he kept well in mind.
When Pinnie replied to the stationer round the corner, after he had mentioned the “ terms ” on which he was prepared to receive applications from errand-boys, that, thank Heaven, she had n’t sunk so low as that — so low as to sell her darling into slavery for fifteen pence a week— he felt that she only gave more florid expression to his own sentiment. Of course, if Hyacinth did not begin by carrying parcels, he could not hope to be promoted, through the more refined nimbleness of tying them up, to a position as accountant or bookkeeper ; but both the fiddler and his friend — Miss Pynsent, indeed, only in the last resort — resigned themselves to the forfeiture of this prospect. Mr. Vetch saw clearly that a charming handicraft was a finer thing than a vulgar “ business,” and one day, after his acquaintance with Eustache Poupin had gone a considerable length, he inquired of the Frenchman whether there would be a chance of the lad’s obtaining a footing, under his own wing, in Mr. Crookenden’s workshop. There could be no better place for him to acquire a knowledge of the most delightful of the mechanical arts ; and to be received into such an establishment, and at the instance of such an artist, would be a real start in life. M. Poupin meditated, and that evening confided his meditations to the companion who reduplicated all his thoughts, and understood him better even than he understood himself. The pair had no children, and had felt the defect; moreover, they had heard from Mr. Vetch the dolorous tale of the boy’s entrance into life. He was one of the disinherited, one of the expropriated, one of the exceptionally interesting ; and, moreover, he was one of themselves, a child, as it were, of France, an offshoot of the sacred race. It is not the most authenticated point in this veracious history, but there is strong reason to believe that tears were shed that night, in Lisson Grove, over poor little Hyacinth Robinson. In a day or two M. Poupin replied to the fiddler that he had now been for years in Mr. Crookenden’s employ; that during that time he had done work for him that he would have had bien du mal to get done by another, and had never asked for an indulgence, an allowance, a remission, an augmentation. It was time, if only for the dignity of the thing, he should ask for something, and he would make their little friend the subject of his demand. “ La société lui doit bien cela,” he remarked afterwards, when, Mr. Crookenden proving dryly hospitable, and the arrangement being formally complete, Mr. Vetch thanked him, in his kindly, casual, bashful English way. He was paternal when Hyacinth began to occupy a place in the malodorous chambers in Soho ; he took him in hand, made him a disciple, the recipient of a precious tradition, discovered in him a susceptibility to philosophic as well as technic truth. He taught him French and socialism, encouraged him to spend his evenings in Lisson Grove, invited him to regard Madame Poupin as a second, or rather as a third, mother, and in short made a very considerable mark on the boy’s mind. He elicited the latent Gallicism of his nature, and by the time he was twenty, Hyacinth, who had completely assimilated his influence, regarded him with a mixture of veneration and amusement. M. Poupin was the person who consoled him most when he was miserable; and he was very often miserable.
His staying away from his work was so rare that, in the afternoon, before he went home, Hyacinth walked to Lisson Grove to see what ailed him. He found his friend in bed, with a plaster on his chest, and Madame Poupin making tisane over the fire. The Frenchman took his indisposition solemnly but resignedly, like a man who believed that all illness was owing to the imperfect organization of society, and lay covered up to his chin, with a red cotton handkerchief bound round his head. Is ear his bed sat a visitor, a young man unknown to Hyacinth. Hyacinth, naturally, had never been to Paris, but he always supposed that the intérieur of his friend’s in Lisson Grove gave rather a vivid idea of that city. The two small rooms which constituted their establishment contained a great many mirrors, as well as little portraits (old-fashioned prints) of revolutionary heroes. The chimney-piece, in the bedroom, was muffled in some red drapery, which appeared to Hyacinth extraordinarily magnificent ; the principal ornament of the salon was a group of small and highly decorated cups, on a tray, accompanied by gilt bottles and glasses, the latter still more diminutive — the whole intended for black coffee and liqueurs. There was no carpet on the floor, but rugs and mats, of various shapes and sizes, disposed themselves at the feet of the chairs and sofas; and in the sittingroom, where there was a wonderful gilt clock, of the Empire, surmounted with a “ subject ” representing Virtue receiving a crown of laurel from the hands of Faith, Madame Poupin, with the aid of a tiny stove, a handful of charcoal, and two or three saucepans, carried on a triumphant cuisine. In the windows were curtains of white muslin, much fluted and frilled, and tied with pink ribbon.
“ I am suffering extremely, but we must all suffer, so long as the social question is so abominably, so iniquitously neglected,” Poupin remarked, speaking French, and rolling toward Hyacinth his salient, excited-looking eyes, which always had the same proclaiming, challenging expression, whatever his occupation or his topic. Hyacinth had seated himself near his friend’s pillow, opposite the strange young man, who had been accommodated with a chair at the foot of the bed.
“ Ah, yes; with their filthy politics, the situation of the pauvre monde is the last thing they ever think of ! ” his wife exclaimed, from the fire. “ There are times when I ask myself how long it will go on.”
“ It will go on till the measure of their imbecility, their infamy, is full. It will go on till the day of justice, till the reintegration of the despoiled and disinherited, is ushered in with an irresistible force.”
“ Oh, we always see things go on ; we never see them change,” said Madame Poupin, making a very cheerful clatter with a big spoon in a saucepan.
“ We may not see it, but they ’ll see it,” her husband rejoined. “ But what do I say, my children ? I do see it,” he pursued. “ It’s before my eyes, in its luminous reality, especially as I lie here — the revendication, the rehabilitation, the rectification.”
Hyacinth ceased to pay attention, not because he had a differing opinion about what M. Poupin called the avénement of the disinherited, but, on the contrary, precisely on account of his familiarity with that prospect. It was the constant theme of his French friends, whom he had long since perceived to be in a state of chronic spiritual inflammation. For them the social question was always in order, the political question always abhorrent, the disinherited always present. He wondered at their zeal, their continuity, their vivacity, their incorruptibility ; at the abundant supply of conviction and prophecy which they always had on hand. He believed that at bottom he was sorer than they, yet he had deviations and lapses, moments when the social question bored him, and he forgot not only his own wrongs, which would have been pardonable, but those of the people at large, of his brothers and sisters in misery. They, however, were perpetually in the breach, and perpetually consistent with themselves, and, what is more, with each other. Hyacinth had heard that the institution of marriage in France was rather lightly considered, but he was struck with the closeness and intimacy of the union in Lisson Grove, the passionate identity of interest: especially on the day when M. Poupin informed him, in a moment of extreme but not indiscreet expansion, that the lady was his wife only in a spiritual, transcendental sense. There were hypocritical concessions and debasing superstitions of which this exalted pair wholly disapproved. Hyacinth knew their vocabulary by heart, and could have said everything, in the same words, that on any given occasion M. Poupin was likely to say. He knew that “ they,” in their phraseology, was a comprehensive allusion to every one in the world but the people — though who, exactly, in their length and breadth, the people were was less definitely established. He himself was of this sacred body, for which the future was to have such compensations; and so, of course, were the Frenchman and his consort, and so was Pinnie, and so were most of the inhabitants of Lomax Place and the workmen in old Crookenden’s shop. But was old Crookenden himself, who wore an apron rather dirtier than the rest of them and was a master-hand at “ forwarding,” but who, on the other side, was the occupant of a detached villa in Kentish Town, with a wife known to have secret aspirations toward a page in buttons ? Above all, was Mr. Vetch, who earned a weekly wage, and not a large one, with his fiddle, but who had mysterious affinities of another sort, reminiscences of a phase in which he smoked cigars, had a hat-box, and used cabs, besides visiting Boulogne ? Theophilus Vetch had interfered in his life, atrociously, in a terrible crisis; but Hyacinth, who strove to cultivate justice in his own conduct, believed he had acted conscientiously and tried to esteem him, the more so as the fiddler evidently felt that he had something to make up to him, and had treated him with marked benevolence for years. He believed, in short, that Mr. Vetch took a sincere interest in him, and if he should meddle again would meddle in a different way: he used to see him sometimes looking at him with the kindest eyes. It would make a difference, therefore, whether he were of the people or not, inasmuch as in the day of the great revenge it would only be the people who should be saved. It was for the people the world was made : whoever was not of them was against them ; and all others were cumberers, usurpers, exploiters, accapareurs, as M. Poupin used to say. Hyacinth had once put the question directly to Mr. Vetch, who looked at him a while through the fumes of his eternal pipe, and then said, “ Do you think I’m an aristocrat? ”
I did n’t know but you were a bourgeois,” the young man answered.
“ No, I’m neither. I’m a Bohemian.”
“ With your evening dress, every night ? ”
“ My dear boy,” said the fiddler, “ those are the most confirmed.”
Hyacinth was only half satisfied with this, for it was by no means definite to him that Bohemians were also to be saved ; if he could be sure, perhaps he would become one himself. Yet he never suspected Mr. Vetch of being a “ spy,” though Eustache Poupin had told him that there were a great many who looked a good deal like that: not, of course, with any purpose of incriminating the fiddler, whom he had trusted from the first and continued to trust. The middle-class spy became a very familiar type to Hyacinth, and though he had never caught one of the infamous brotherhood in the act, there were plenty of persons to whom, on the very face of the matter, he had no hesitation in attributing the character. There was nothing of the Bohemian, at any rate, about the Poupins, whom Hyacinth had now known long enough not to be surprised at the way they combined the socialistic passion, a red-hot impatience for the general ratification, with an extraordinary decency of life and a worship of proper work. The Frenchman spoke, habitually as if the great swindle practiced upon the people were too impudent to be endured a moment longer, and yet he found patience for the most exquisite “ tooling,” and took a book in hand with the deliberation of one who should believe that everything was immutably constituted. Hyacinth knew what he thought of priests and theologies, but he had the religion of conscientious craftsmanship, and he reduced the boy, on his side, to a kind of prostration before his delicate, wonderworking fingers. “ What will you have ? J’ai la main parisienne,” M. Poupin would reply modestly, when Hyacinth’s admiration broke out ; and he was good enough, after he had seen a few specimens of what our hero could do, to inform him that he had the same happy conformation. “ There is no reason why you should n’t be a good workman, il n ‘y a que ça;” and his own life was practically governed by this conviction. He delighted in the use of his hands and his tools, and the exercise of his taste, which was faultless, and Hyacinth could easily imagine how it must torment him to spend a day on his back. He ended by perceiving, however, that consolation was, on this occasion, in some degree conveyed by the presence of the young man who sat at the foot of the bed, and with whom M. Poupin exhibited such signs of acquaintance as to make our hero wonder why he had not seen him before, nor even heard of him.
“ What do you mean by an irresistible force ? ” the young man inquired, leaning back in his chair, with raised arms and his interlocked hands behind him, supporting his head. M. Poupin had spoken French, which he always preferred to do, the insular tongue being an immense tribulation to him ; but his visitor spoke English, and Hyacinth immediately perceived that there was nothing French about him — M. Poupin could never tell him he had la main parisienne.
“ I mean a force that will make the bourgeois go down into their cellars and hide, pale with fear, behind their barrels of wine and their heaps of gold ! ” cried M. Poupin, rolling terrible eyes.
“ And in this country, I hope, in their coal-bins. Là, là, we shall find them even there,” his wife remarked.
“ ’89 was an irresistible force,” said M. Poupin. “ I believe you would have thought so if you had been there.”
“ And so was the coup d’état, which sent you over here, seventeen years ago,” the young man rejoined. He saw that Hyacinth was watching him, and he met his eyes, smiling a little, in a way that added to our hero’s interest.
“ Pardon, pardon, I resist! ” cried Eustache Poupin, glaring, in his improvised nightcap, out of his sheets; and Madame repeated that they resisted — she believed well that they resisted! The young man burst out laughing; whereupon his host declared, with a dignity which even his recumbent position did not abate, that it was really frivolous of him to ask such questions as that, knowing as he did — what he did know.
“Yes, I know — I know,” said the young man, good-naturedly, lowering his arms and thrusting his hands into his pockets, while he stretched his long legs a little. “ But everything is yet to be tried.”
“ Oh, the trial will be on a great scale — soyez traanguille ! It will be one of those experiments that constitute a proof.”
Hyacinth wondered what they were talking about, and perceived that it must be something important, for the stranger was not a man who would take an interest in anything else. Hyacinth was immensely struck with him — he could see that he was remarkable — and felt slightly aggrieved that he should be a stranger; that is, that he should be, apparently, a familiar of Lisson Grove, and yet that M. Poupin should not have thought his young friend from Lomax Place worthy, up to this time, to be made acquainted with him. I know not to what degree the visitor in the other chair discovered these reflections in Hyacinth’s face, but after a moment, looking across at him, he said in a friendly yet just slightly diffident way, a way our hero liked, “ And do you know, too ? ”
“ Do I know what ? ” asked Hyacinth, wondering.
“ Oh, if you did, you would! ” the young man exclaimed, laughing again. Such a rejoinder, from any one else, would have irritated our sensitive hero, but it only made Hyacinth more curious about his interlocutor, whose laugh was loud and extraordinarily gay.
“ Mon ami, you ought to present ces messieurs,” Madame Poupin remarked.
“ Ah ça, is that the way you trifle with state secrets ? ” her husband cried out, without heeding her. Then he went on, in a different tone : “ M. Hyacinthe is a gifted child, un enfant trèsdoué, in whom I take a tender interest — a child who has an account to settle. Oh, a thumping big one! Isn’t it so, mon petit ? ”
This was very well meant, but it made Hyacinth blush, and, without knowing exactly what to say, he murmured, shyly, “ Oh, I only want them to let me alone ! ”
“ He is very young,” said Eustache Poupin.
“ He is the person we have seen in this country whom we like the best,” his wife added.
“ Perhaps you are French,” suggested the strange young man.
The trio seemed to Hyacinth to be waiting for his answer to this ; it was as if a listening stillness had fallen upon them. He found it a difficult moment, partly because there was something exciting and embarrassing in the attention of the other visitor, and partly because he had never yet had to decide that important question. He did n’t really know whether he were French or English, or which of the two he should prefer to be. His mother’s blood, her suffering in an alien land, the unspeakable, impenetrable misery that consumed her, in a place, among a people, she must have execrated — all this made him French ; yet he was conscious at the same time of qualities that didn’t mix with it. He had evolved, long ago, a legend about his mother, built it up slowly, adding piece to piece, in passionate musings and broodings, when his cheeks burned and his eyes filled ; but there were times when it wavered and faded, when it ceased to console him and he ceased to trust it. He had had a father, too, and his father had suffered as well, and had fallen under a blow, and had paid with his life; and him also he felt in his mind and his body, when the effort to think it out did not simply end in darkness and confusion, challenging still even while they baffled, and inevitable freezing horror. At any rate, he seemed rooted in the place where his wretched parents had expiated, and he knew nothing about any other. Moreover, when old Poupin said, “ M. Hyacinthe,” as he had often done before, he did n’t altogether enjoy it; he thought it made his name, which he liked well enough in English, sound like the name of a hair-dresser. Our young friend was over-clouded and stigmatized, but he was not yet prepared to admit that he was ridiculous. “ Oh, I dare say I ain’t anything,” he replied in a moment.
“ En v’là des bêtises ! ” cried Madame Poupin. “ Do you mean to say you are not as good as any one in the world ? I should like to see ! ”
“ We all have an account to settle, don’t you know?” said the strange young man.
He evidently meant this to be encouraging to Hyacinth, whose quick desire to avert M. Poupin’s allusions had not been lost upon him ; but our hero could see that he himself would be sure to be one of the first to be paid. He would make society bankrupt, but he would be paid. He was tall and fair and goodnatured looking, but you could n’t tell — or at least Hyacinth could n’t — whether he were handsome or ugly, with his large head and square forehead, his thick, straight hair, his heavy mouth and rather vulgar nose, his admirably clear, bright eye, light-colored and set very deep ; for though there was a want of fineness in some of its parts, his face had a marked expression of intelligence and resolution, and denoted a kind of joyous moral health. He was dressed like a workman in his Sunday toggery, having evidently put on his best to call in Lisson Grove, where he was to meet a lady, and wearing in particular a necktie which was both cheap and pretentious, and of which Hyacinth, who noticed everything of that kind, observed the crude, false blue. He had very big shoes — the shoes, almost, of a country laborer — and spoke with a provincial accent, which Hyacinth believed to be that of Lancashire. This did n’t suggest cleverness, but it did n’t prevent Hyacinth from perceiving that he was the reverse of stupid; that he probably, indeed, had a tremendous head. Our little hero had a great desire to know clever people, and he interested himself on the spot in this strong, humorous fellow, who had the complexion of a ploughboy and the glance of a commander-in-chief, and who might have been (Hyacinth thought) a distinguished young savant in the disguise of an artisan. The disguise would have been very complete, for he had several brown stains on his fingers. Hyacinth’s curiosity, on this occasion, was both excited and gratified ; for after two or three allusions, which he did n’t understand, had been made to a certain place where Poupin and the stranger had met and expected to meet again, Madame Poupin exclaimed that it was a shame not to take in M. Hyacinthe, who, she would answer for it, had in him the making of one of the pure.
“All in good time, in good time, mabonne,” the invalid replied. “ M. Hyacinthe knows that I count upon him, whether or no I make him an interne to-day, or wait a while longer.”
“ What do you mean by an interne ? ” Hyacinth asked.
“ Mon Dieu, what shall I say ? ” and Eustache Poupin stared at him solemnly, from his pillow. “ You are very sympathetic, but I am afraid you are too young.”
“One is never too young to contribute one’s obole,” said Madame Poupiy.
“ Can you keep a secret ? ” asked the other visitor, smilingly.
“ Is it a plot — a conspiracy ? ” Hyacinth broke out.
“ He asks that as if he were asking if it’s a plum-pudding,” said M. Poupin. “It is n’t good to eat, and we don’t do it for our amusement. It’s terribly serious, my child.”
“It’s a kind of society, to which he and I and a good many others belong. There is no harm in telling him that,” the young man went on.
“ I advise you not to tell it to Mademoiselle ; she is quite in the old ideas,” Madame Poupin suggested to Hyacinth, tasting her tisane.
Hyacinth sat baffled and wondering, looking from his fellow-laborer in Soho to his new acquaintance opposite. “ If you have some plan, something to which one can give one’s self, I think you might have told me,” he remarked, in a moment, to Poupin.
The latter merely gazed at him a while ; then he said to the strange young man, “ He is a little jealous of you. But there is no harm in that; it’s of his age. You must know him, you must like him. We will tell you his history some other day ; it will make you feel that he belongs to us, in fact. It is an accident that he has n’t met you here before.”
“ How could ces messieurs have met, when M. Paul never comes ? He does n’t spoil us ! ” Madame Poupin cried.
“ Well, you see I have my little sister at home to take care of, when I ain’t at the shop,” M. Paul explained. “ This afternoon it was just a chance ; there was a lady we know came in to sit with her.”
“ A lady — a real lady ? ”
“ Oh, yes, every inch,” said M. Paul, laughing.
“ Do you like them to thrust themselves into your apartment like that, because you have the désayrément of being poor? It seems to be the custom in this country, but it would n’t suit me at all,” Madame Poupin continued. “ I should like to see one of ces dames — the real ones — coming in to sit with me ! ”
“ Oh, you are not a cripple; you have got the use of your legs ! ”
“Yes, and of my arms!” cried the Frenchwoman.
“ This lady looks after several others in our court, and she reads to my sister.”
“Oh, well, you are patient, you English.”
“ We shall never do anything without that,” said M. Paul, with undisturbed good-humor.
“You are perfectly right; you can’t say that too often. It will be a tremendous job, and only the strong will prevail,” his host murmured, a little wearily, turning his eyes to Madame Poupin, who approached slowly, holding the tisane in a rather full bowl, and tasting it again and yet again as she came.
Hyacinth had been watching his fellow-visitor with deepening interest ; a fact of which M. Paul apparently became aware, for he said, presently, giving a little nod in the direction of the bed, “ He says we ought to know each other. I’m sure I have nothing against it. I like to know folk, when they ’re worth it! ”
Hyacinth was too pleased with this even to take it up ; it seemed to him, for a moment, that he could n’t touch it gracefully enough. But he said, with sufficient eagerness, “ Will you tell me all about your plot ? ”
“ Oh, it’s no plot. I don’t think I care much for plots.” And with his mild, steady, light-blue English eye, M. Paul certainly had not much the appearance of a conspirator.
“ Is n’t it a new era ? ” asked Hyacinth, rather disappointed.
“ Well, I don’t know ; it’s just a little movement.”
“Ah bien, voilà du propre ; between us we have thrown him into a fever ! ” cried Madame Poupin, who had put down her bowl on a table near her husband’s bed and was bending over him, with her hand on his forehead. Eustache was flushed, he had closed his eyes, and it was evident there had been more than enough conversation. Madame Poupin announced as much, with the addition that if the young men wished to make acquaintance they must do it outside ; the invalid must be perfectly quiet. They accordingly withdrew, with apologies and promises to return for further news on the morrow, and two minutes afterward Hyacinth found himself standing face to face with his new friend on the pavement in front of M. Poupin’s residence, under a street-lamp which struggled ineffectually with the brown winter dusk.
“ Is that your name — M. Paul? ” he asked, looking up at him.
“Oh, bless you, no ; that’s only her Frenchified way of putting it. My name is Paul, though — Paul Muniment.”
“ And what’s your trade? ” Hyacinth demanded, with a jump into familiarity ; for his companion seemed to have told him a great deal more than was usually conveyed in that item of information.
Paul Muniment looked down at him from above broad shoulders. “ I work at a wholesale chemist’s, at Lambeth.”
“ And where do you live ? ”
“ I live over the water, too ; in the far south of London.”
“ And are you going home now ? ”
“ Oh, yes, I am going to toddle.”
“ And may I toddle with you ? ”
Mr. Muniment considered him further ; then he gave a laugh. “ I ’ll carry you, if you like.”
“ Thank you ; I expect I can walk as far as you,” said Hyacinth.
“ Well, I admire your spirit, and I dare say I shall like your company.”
There was something in his face, taken in connection with the idea that he was concerned in a little movement, which made Hyacinth feel the desire to go with him till he dropped ; and in a moment they started away together, and took the direction Muniment had mentioned. They discoursed as they went, and exchanged a great many opinions and anecdotes ; but they reached the southeasterly court in which the young chemist lived with his infirm sister before he had told Hyacinth anything definite about his little movement, or Hyacinth, on his side, had related to him the circumstances connected with his being, according to M. Poupin, one of the disinherited. Hyacinth didn’t wish to press him ; he would not for the world have appeared to him indiscreet ; and, moreover, though he had taken so great a fancy to Muniment, he was not quite prepared, as yet, to be pressed. Therefore it did not become very clear to him how his companion had made Poupin’s acquaintance, and how long he had enjoyed it. Paul Muniment, nevertheless, was. to a certain extent, communicative about himself, and forewarned Hyacinth that he lived in a very poor little corner. He had his sister to keep — she could do nothing for herself ; and he paid a low rent, because she had to have doctors, and doses, and all sorts of little comforts. He spent a shilling a week for her on flowers. It was better, too, when you got upstairs, and from the back windows you could see the dome of St. Paul’s. Audley Court, with its pretty name, which reminded Hyacinth of Tennyson, proved to be a still dingier nook than Lomax Place; and it had the further drawback that you had to pass through a narrow alley, a passage between high, black walls, to enter it. At the door of one of the houses the young men paused, lingering a little, and then Muniment said, “ I say, why should n’t you come up ? I like you well enough for that, and you can see my sister; her name is Posy.” He spoke as if this would be a great privilege, and added, humorously, that Posy enjoyed a call from a gentleman, of all things. Hyacinth needed no urging, and he groped his way, at his companion’s heels, up a dark staircase, which appeared to him — for they stopped only when they could go no further — the longest and steepest he had ever ascended. At the top Paul Muniment pushed open a door, but exclaimed, “ Hullo, have you gone to roost ? ” on perceiving that the room on the threshold of which they stood was unlighted.
“ Oh dear, no; we are sitting in the dark,” a small, bright voice instantly replied. “ Lady Aurora is so kind ; she ’s here still.”
The voice came out of a corner so pervaded by gloom that the speaker was indistinguishable. “ Dear me, that’s beautiful!” Paul Muniment rejoined. “ You ‘ll have a party, then, for I have brought some one else. We are poor, you know, but I dare say we can manage a candle.”
At this, in the dim firelight, Hyacinth saw a tall figure erect itself — a figure angular and slim, crowned with a large, vague hat, surmounted, apparently, with a flowing veil. This unknown person gave a singular laugh, and said, “ Oh, I brought some candles; we could have had a light if we had wished it.” Both the tone and the purport of the words announced to Hyacinth that they proceeded from the lips of Lady Aurora.