The Princess Casamassima: Book Second

XII.

HYACINTH and his companion took their seats with extreme promptitude before the curtain rose upon the Pearl of Paraguay. Thanks to Millicent’s eagerness not to be late, they encountered the discomfort which had constituted her main objection to going into the pit: they waited for twenty minutes at the door of the theatre, in a tight, stolid crowd, before the official hour of opening. Millicent, bareheaded and very tightly laced, presented a most splendid appearance, and on Hyacinth’s part gratified a certain youthful, ingenuous pride of possession in every respect save a tendency, while ingress was denied them, to make her neighbors feel her elbows and to comment, loudly and sarcastically, on the situation. It was more clear to him, even, than it had been before, that she was a young lady who in public places might easily need a champion as an apologist. Hyacinth knew there was only one way to apologize for a “ female,” when the female was attached very closely and heavily to one’s arm, and was reminded afresh how little constitutional aversion Miss Henning had to a row. He had an idea she might think his own taste ran even too little in that direction, and had visions of violent, confused scenes, in which he should in some way distinguish himself: he scarcely knew in what way, and imagined himself more easily routing some hulking adversary by an exquisite application of the retort courteous than by flying at him with a pair of very small fists.

By the time they had reached their places in the balcony Millicent was rather flushed and a good deal ruffled; but she had composed herself in season for the rising of the curtain upon the farce which preceded the melodrama, and which the pair had had no intention of losing. At this stage a more genial agitation took possession of her, and she surrendered her sympathies to the horseplay of the traditional prelude. Hyacinth found it less amusing, but the theatre, in any conditions, was full of sweet deception for him. His imagination projected itself lovingly across the footlights, gilded and colored the shabby canvas and battered accessories, and lost itself so effectually in the fiction world that the end of the play, however long, or however short, brought with it a kind of alarm, like a stoppage of his personal life. It was impossible to be more friendly to the dramatic illusion. Millicent, as the audience thickened, rejoiced more largely and loudly, held herself as a lady, surveyed the place as if she knew all about it, leaned back and leaned forward, fanned herself with majesty, gave her opinion upon the appearance and coiffure of every woman within sight, abounded in question and conjecture, and produced, from her pocket, a little paper of peppermintdrops, of which, under cruel threats, she compelled Hyacinth to partake. She followed with attention, though not always with success, the complicated adventures of the Pearl of Paraguay, through scenes luxuriantly tropical, in which the male characters wore sombreros and stilettos, and the ladies either danced the cachucha or fled from licentious pursuit; but her eyes wandered, during considerable periods, to the occupants of the boxes and stalls, concerning several of whom she had theories which she imparted to Hyacinth while the play went on, greatly to his discomfiture, he being unable to conceive of such levity. She had the pretension of knowing who every one was; not individually and by name, but as regards their exact social station, the quarter of London in which they lived, and the amount of money they were prepared to spend in the Buckingham Palace Road. She had seen the whole town pass through her establishment there, and though Hyacinth, from his infancy, had been watching it from his own point of view, his companion made him feel that he had missed a thousand characteristic points, so different were most of her interpretations from his, and so very bold and irreverent. Miss Henning’s observation of human society had not been of a nature to impress her with its high moral tone, and she had a free, off-hand cynicism which imposed itself. She thought most ladies were hypocrites, and had, in all ways, a low opinion of her own sex, which, more than once, before this, she had justified to Hyacinth by narrating observations of the most surprising kind, gathered during her career as a shop-girl. There was a pleasing inconsequence, therefore, in her being moved to tears in the third act of the play, when the Pearl of Paraguay, disheveled and distracted, dragging herself on her knees, implored the stern hidalgo, her father, to believe in her innocence in spite of the circumstances which seemed to condemn her — a midnight meeting with the wicked hero in the grove of cocoanuts. It was at this crisis, none the less, that she asked Hyacinth who his friends were in the principal box on the left of the stage, and let him know that a gentleman seated there had been watching him, at intervals, for the past half hour.

Copyright, 1885, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.

“Watching me! I like that!” said the young man. “ When I want to be watched I take you with me.”

“ Of course he has looked at me,” Millicent answered, as if she had no interest in denying that. “ But you ’re the one he wants to get hold of.”

“ To get hold of ! ”

“ Yes, you ninny : don’t hang back. He may make your fortune.”

“ Well, if you would like him. to come and sit by you, I ’ll go and take a walk in the Strand,” said Hyacinth, entering into the humor of the occasion, but not seeing, from where he was placed, any gentleman in the box. Millicent explained that the mysterious observer had just altered Ids position ; he had gone into the back of the box, which had considerable depth. There were other persons in it, out of sight (she and Hyacinth were too much on the same side). One of them was a lady, concealed by the curtain ; her arm, bare, and covered with bracelets, was visible at moments on the cushioned ledge. Hyacinth saw it, in effect, reappear there, and even while the play went on contemplated it. with a certain interest; but until the curtain fell at the end of the act there was no further symptom that a gentleman wished to get hold of him.

“ Now do you say it’s me he ’s after?” Millicent asked abruptly, making him feel her elbow, as the fiddlers in the orchestra began to scrape their instruments for the interlude.

“ Of course ; I am only the pretext,” Hyacinth replied, after he had looked a moment, in a manner which, he flattered himself, was a proof of quick self-possession. The gentleman designated by his companion was once more at the front, leaning forward, with his arms on the edge. Hyacinth saw that he was looking straight at him, and our young man returned his gaze —an effort not rendered the more easy by the fact that, after an instant, he recognized him.

“ Well, if he knows us he might give some sign, and if he does n’t he might leave us alone,” Millicent declared, abandoning the distinction she had made between herself and her companion. She had no sooner spoken than the gentleman complied with the first-mentioned of these conditions ; he smiled at Hyacinth across the house—he nodded to him with unmistakable friendliness. Millicent, perceiving this, glanced at the young man from Lomax Place, and saw that the demonstration had brought a deep color to his cheek. He was blushing, flushing; whether with pleasure or embarrassment was not immediately apparent to her. “ I say, I say — is it one of your grand relations ? ” she promptly exclaimed. “ Well, I can stare as well as him ; ” and she told Hyacinth it was a “ shime ” to bring a young lady to the play when you had n’t so much as an opera-glass for her to look at the company. Is he one of those lords your aunt was always talking about, in the Place? Is he your uncle, or your grandfather, or your first or second cousin ? No, he’s too young for your grandfather. What a pity I can’t see if he looks like you ! ”

At any other time Hyacinth would have thought these inquiries in the worst possible taste, but now he was too much given up to other reflections. It pleased him that the gentleman in the box should recognize and notice him, because even so small a fact as this was an extension of his social existence; but it also surprised and puzzled him, and it produced, generally, in his easily excited organism, an agitation of which, in spite of his attempted self-control, the appearance he presented to Millicent was the sign. They had met three times, he and his fellow-spectator ; but they had met under circumstances which, to Hyacinth’s mind, would have made a furtive wink, a mere tremor of the eyelid, a more judicious reference to the fact than so public a salutation. Hyacinth would never have permitted himself to greet him first; and this was not because the gentleman in the box belonged — conspicuously as he did so — to a different walk of society. He was apparently a man of forty, tall and lean and loosejointed ; he fell into lounging, dawdling attitudes, and even at a distance he looked lazy. He had a long, smooth, amused, contented face, unadorned with mustache or whisker, and his brown hair parted itself evenly over his forehead, and came forward on either temple in a rich, well-brushed lock which gave his countenance a certain analogy to portraits of English gentlemen about the year 1820. Millicent Henning had a glance of such range and keenness that she was able to make out the details of his evening dress, of which she appreciated the “ form ; ” to observe the character of his large hands ; and to note that he appeared to be perpetually smiling, that his eyes were extraordinarily light in color, and that, in spite of the dark, well-marked brows arching over them, his fine skin never had produced, and never would produce, a beard. Our young lady pronounced him, mentally, a “ swell ” of the first magnitude, and wondered more than ever where he had picked up Hyacinth. Her companion seemed to echo her thought when he exclaimed, with a little surprised sigh, almost an exhalation of awe, “ Well, I had no idea he was one of that lot ! ”

“ You might at least tell me his name, so that I shall know what to call him when he comes round to speak to us,” the girl said, provoked at her companion’s incommunicativeness.

“ Comes round to speak to us — a chap like that!” Hyacinth exclaimed.

“ Well, I’m sure if he had been your own brother he could n’t have grinned at you more ! He may want to make my acquaintance, after all ; he won’t be the first.”

The gentleman had once more retreated from sight, and there was as much evidence as that of the intention Millicent attributed to him. “I don’t think I’m at all clear that I’ve a right to tell his name,” he remarked, with sincerity, but with considerable disposition at the same time to magnify an incident which deepened the brilliancy of the entertainment he had been able to offer Miss Henning. " I met him in a place where he may not like to have it known that he goes.”

“ Do you go to places that people are ashamed of ? Is it one of your political clubs, as you call them, where that dirty young man from Lambeth, Mr. Monument (what do you call him ?), fills your head with ideas that ‘ll bring you to no good ? I’m sure your friend over there does n’t look as if he’d be on your side.”

Hyacinth had indulged in this reflection himself; but the only answer he made to Millicent was, “ Well, then, perhaps he ’ll be on yours ! ”

“ Laws, I hope she ain’t one of the aristocracy ! Millicent exclaimed, with apparent irrelevance; and, following the direction of her eyes, Hyacinth saw that the chair his mysterious acquaintance had quitted in the stage-box was now occupied by a lady hitherto invisible — not the one who had given them a glimpse of her shoulder and bare arm. This was an ancient personage, muffled in a voluminous, crumpled white shawl — a stout, odd, foreign-looking woman, whose head was apparently surmounted with a light-colored wig. She had a placid, patient air and a round, wrinkled face, in which, however, a small, bright eye moved quickly enough. Her rather soiled white gloves were too large for her, and round her head, horizontally, arranged as if to keep her wig in its place, she wore a narrow band of tinsel, decorated, in the middle of the forehead, by a jewel which the rest of her appearance would lead the spectator to suppose false. “ Is the old woman his mother ? Where did she dig up her clothes ? They look as if she had hired them for the evening. Does she come to your wonderful club, too ? She must throw a great deal of light! ” Millicent went on ; and when Hyacinth suggested, sportively, that the old lady might be, not the gentleman’s mother, but his wife or his “ fancy,” she declared that in that case, if he should come to see them, she was n’t afraid. No wonder he wanted to get out of that box ! The woman in the wig was sitting there on purpose to look at them, but she could n’t say she was particularly honored by the notice of such an old guy. Hyacinth pretended that he liked her appearance and thought her very handsome ; he offered to bet another paper of peppermints that, if they could find out, she would be some tremendous old dowager, some one with a handle to her name. To this Millicent replied, with an air of experience, that she had never thought the greatest beauty was in the upper class ; and her companion could see that she was covertly looking over her shoulder, to watch for his political friend, and that she would be disappointed if he did not come. This idea did not make Hyacinth jealous, for his mind was occupied with another side of the business ; and if he offered sportive suggestions, it was because he was really excited, dazzled, by an incident of which the reader will have failed as yet to perceive the larger relation. What moved him was not the pleasure of being patronized by a rich man ; it was simply the prospect of new experience— a sensation for which he was always ready to exchange any present boon; and he was convinced that if the gentleman with whom he had conversed in a small, occult back-room in Bloomsbury as Captain Godfrey Sholto — the captain had given him his card — had more positively than in Millicent’s imagination come out of the stage-box to see him, he would bring with him rare influences. This nervous presentiment, lighting on our young man, was so keen that it constituted almost a preparation ; therefore, when at the end of a few minutes he became aware that Millicent, with her head turned (her face was in his direction), was taking the measure of some one who had come in behind them, he felt that fate was doing for him, by way of a change, as much as could he expected. He got up in his place, but not too soon to see that Captain Sholto had been standing there a moment in contemplation of Millicent, and that this young lady had performed with deliberation the ceremony of taking his measure. The captain had his hands in his pockets, and wore a crush hat, pushed a good deal backward. He laughed at the young couple in the balcony in the friendliest way, as if he had known them both for years, and Millicent could see, on a nearer view, that he was a fine, distinguished, easy, genial gentleman, at least six feet high, in spite of a habit, or an affectation, of carrying himself in a casual, relaxed, familiar manner. Hyacinth felt a little, after the first moment, as if he were treating them rather too much as a pair of children whom he had stolen upon, to startle; but this impression was speedily removed by the air with which he said, laying his hand on our hero’s shoulder as he stood in the little passage at the end of the bench, where the holders of Mr. Vetch’s order occupied the first seats, ‘‘ My dear fellow, I really thought I must come round and speak to you. My spirits are all gone with this doleful drama. And those boxes are fearfully stuffy, you know,” he added, as if Hyacinth had had at least an equal experience of that part of the theatre.

“ It’s hot here, too,” Millicent’s companion murmured. He had suddenly become much more conscious of the high temperature, of his proximity to the fierce chandelier, and he added that the plot of the play certainly was unnatural, though he thought the piece rather well acted.

“ Oh, it’s the good old stodgy British tradition. This is the only place where you find it still, and even here it can’t last much longer; it can’t survive old Baskerville and Mrs. Ruffler. ’Gad, how old they are ! I remember her, long past her prime, when I used to be taken to the play, as a boy, in the Christmas holidays. Between them, they must be something like a hundred and eighty, eh ? I believe one is supposed to cry a good deal, about the middle,” Captain Sholto continued, in the same friendly, familiar, encouraging way, addressing himself to Millicent, upon whom, indeed, his eyes had rested almost uninterruptedly from the first. She sustained his glance with composure, but with just enough of an expression of reserve to intimate (what was perfectly true) that she was not in the habit of conversing with gentlemen with whom she was not acquainted. She turned away her face at this (she had already given the visitor the benefit of a good deal of it), and left him, as in the little passage he leaned against the parapet of the balcony with his back to the stage, confronted with Hyacinth, who was now wondering, with rather more vivid a sense of the relation of things, what he had come for. He wanted to do him honor, in return for his civility, but he did not know what one could talk about, at such short notice, to a person whom he immediately perceived to be, in a most extensive, a really transcendent sense of the term, a man of the world. He instantly saw Captain Sholto did not take the play seriously, so that he felt himself warned off that topic, on which, otherwise, he might have had much to say. On the other hand, he could not, in the presence of a third person, allude to the matters they had discussed in that little back room ; nor could he suppose his visitor would expect this, though indeed he impressed him as a man of humors and whims, who was amusing himself with everything, including esoteric socialism and a little bookbinder who bad so much more of the gentleman about him than one would expect. Captain Sholto may have been a little embarrassed, now that he was completely launched in his attempt at fraternization, especially after failing to elicit a smile from Millicent’s respectability ; but he left to Hyacinth the burden of no initiative, and went on to say that it was just this prospect of the dying-out of the old British tradition that had brought him to-night. He was with a friend, a lady who had lived much abroad, who had never seen anything of the kind, and who liked everything that was characteristic. “ You know the foreign school of acting is a very different affair,” he said, again to Millicent, who this time replied, “Oh, yes, of course,” and, considering afresh the old lady in the box, reflected that she looked as if there were nothing in the world that she, at least, had n’t seen.

“ We have never been abroad,” said Hyacinth, candidly, looking into his friend’s curious light-colored eyes, the palest in tint he had ever seen.

“ Oh, well, there’s a lot of nonsense talked about that! ” Captain Sholto replied ; while Hyacinth remained uncertain as to exactly what he referred to, and Millicent decided to volunteer a remark : —

“ They are making a tremendous row on the stage. I should think it would be very bad in those boxes.” There was a banging and thumping behind the curtain, the sound of heavy scenery pushed about.

“ Oh, yes ; it’s much better here, every way. I think you have the best seats in the house,” said Captain Sholto. “I should like very much to finish my evening beside you. The trouble is I have ladies — a pair of them,” he went on, as if he were seriously considering this possibility. Then, laying his hand again on Hyacinth’s shoulder, he smiled at him a moment and indulged in a still greater burst of frankness: “My dear fellow, that is just what, as a partial reason, has brought me up here to see you. One of my ladies has a great desire to make your acquaintance ! ”

“ To make my acquaintance ? ” Hyacinth felt himself turning pale ; the first impulse he could have, in connection with such an announcement as that — and it lay far down, in the depths of the unspeakable — was a conjecture that it had something to do with his parentage on his father’s side. Captain Sholto’s smooth, bright face, irradiating such unexpected advances, seemed for an instant to swim before him. The captain went on to say that he had told the lady of the talks they had had, that she was immensely interested in such matters — “ You know what I mean, she really is ” — and that, as a consequence of what he had said, she had begged him to come and ask his — a—his young friend (Hyacinth saw in a moment that the captain had forgotten his name) to descend into her box for a little while.

“ She has a tremendous desire to talk with some one who looks at the whole business from your standpoint, don’t you see ? And in her position she scarcely ever has a chance, she does n’t come across them — to her great annoyance. So when I spotted you to-night, she immediately said that I must introduce you at any cost. I hope you don’t mind, for a quarter of an hour. I ought perhaps to tell you that she is a person who is used to having nothing refused her. ‘ Go up and bring him down,’ you know, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. She is really very much in earnest : I don’t mean about wishing to see you — that goes without saying — but about the whole matter that you and I care for. Then I should add — it does n’t spoil anything — that she is the most charming woman in the world, simply ! Honestly, my dear boy, she is one of the most remarkable women in Europe.”

So Captain Sholto delivered himself, with the highest naturalness and plausibility, and Hyacinth, listening, felt that he himself ought perhaps to resent the idea of being served up for the entertainment of imperious triflers, but that somehow he did n’t, and that it was more worthy of the part he aspired to play in life to meet such occasions calmly and urbanely, than to take the trouble of dodging and going roundabout. Of course the lady in the box couldn’t be sincere ; she might think she was, though even that was questionable ; but you could n’t really care for the cause that was exemplified in the little back room in Bloomsbury if you came to the theatre in that style. It was Captain Sholto’s style as well, but it had been by no means clear to Hyacinth hitherto that he really cared. All the same, this was no time for going into the question of the lady’s sincerity, and at the end of sixty seconds our young man had made up his mind that he could afford to humor her. None the less, I must add, the whole proposal continued to make things dance, to appear fictive, delusive , so that it sounded, in comparison, like a note of reality when Millicent, who had been looking from one of the men to the other, exclaimed —

“ That’s all very well, but who is to look after me?” Her assumption of the majestic had broken down, and this was the cry of nature.

Nothing could have been pleasanter and more indulgent of her alarm than the manner in which Captain Sholto reassured her : “ My dear young lady, can you suppose I have been unmindful of that? i have been hoping that after I have taken down our friend and introduced him you would allow me to come back and, in his absence, occupy his seat.”

Hyacinth was preoccupied with the idea of meeting the most remarkable woman in Europe; but at this juncture he looked at Millicent Henning with some curiosity. She rose to the situation, and replied, “ I am much obliged to you, but I don’t know who you are.”

“Oh, I’ll tell you all about that!” the captain exclaimed benevolently.

“ Of course I should introduce you,” said Hyacinth, and he mentioned to Miss Henning the name of his distinguished acquaintance.

“In the army?” the young lady inquired, as if she must have every guarantee of social position.

“Yes — not in the navy! I have left the army, but it always sticks to one.”

“ Mr. Robinson, is it your intention to leave me?” Millicent asked in a tone of the highest propriety.

Hyacinth’s imagination had taken such a flight that the idea of what he owed to the beautiful girl who had placed herself under his care for the evening had somehow effaced itself. Her words put it before him in a manner that threw him quickly and consciously back upon his honor; yet there was something in the way she uttered them that made him look at her harder still before he replied, “ Oh dear, no, of course it would never do. I must defer to some other occasion the honor of making the acquaintance of your friend,” he added, to Captain Sholto.

“ Ah, my dear fellow, we might manage it so easily now,” this gentleman murmured, with evident disappointment. “It is not as if Miss—a — Miss — a — were to be alone.”

It flashed upon Hyacinth that the root of the project might be a desire of Captain Sholto to insinuate himself into Millicent’s graces ; then he asked himself why the most remarkable woman in Europe should lend herself to that design, consenting even to receive a visit from a little bookbinder for the sake of furthering it. Perhaps, after all, she was not the most remarkable ; still, even at a lower estimate, of what advantage could such a complication be to her? To Hyacinth’s surprise, Millicent’s eye made acknowledgment of his implied renunciation ; and she said to Captain Sholto, as if she were considering the matter very impartially, “ Might one know the name of the lady that sent you ? ”

“ The Princess Casamassima.”

“ Laws ! ” cried Millicent Henning. And then, quickly, as if to cover up the crudity of this ejaculation, “ And might one also know what it is, as you say, that she wants to talk to him about? ”

“ About the lower order, the rising democracy, the spread of nihilism, and all that.”

“ The lower order ? Does she think we belong to them ? ” the girl demanded, with a strange, provoking laugh.

Captain Sholto was certainly the readiest of men. “ If she could see you, she would think you one of the first ladies in the land.”

“She’ll never see me!” Millicent replied, in a manner which made it plain that she, at least, was not to be whistled for.

Being whistled for by a princess presented itself to Hyacinth as an indignity endured gracefully enough by the heroes of several French novels in which he had found a thrilling interest; nevertheless, he said, incorruptibly, to the captain, who hovered there like a Mephistopheles converted to disinterested charity, “ Having been in the army, you will know that one can’t desert one’s post.”

The captain, for the third time, laid his hand on his young friend’s shoulder, and for a minute his smile rested, in silence, on Millicent Henning. “If I tell you simply I want to talk with this young lady, that certainly won’t help me, particularly, and there is no reason why it should. Therefore I ’ll tell you the whole truth : I want to talk with her about you ! ” and he patted Hyacinth in a way which conveyed at once that this idea must surely commend him to the young man’s companion, and that he himself liked him infinitely.

Hyacinth was conscious of the endearment, but he remarked to Millicent that he would do just as she liked ; he was determined not to let a member of the bloated upper class suppose that he held any daughter of the people cheap.

“ Oh, I don’t care if you go,” said Miss Henning. “ You had better hurry — the curtain ’s going to rise.”

“ That’s charming of you ! I ‘ll rejoin you in three minutes!” Captain Sholto exclaimed.

He passed his hand into Hyacinth’s arm, and as our hero lingered still, a little uneasy and questioning Millicent always with his eyes, the girl went on, with her bright boldness, “That kind of princess—I should like to hear all about her.”

“ Oh, I ’ll tell you that, too,” the captain rejoined, with his imperturbable pleasantness, as he led his young friend away. It must be confessed that Hyacinth also rather wondered what kind of princess she was, and his suspense on this point made his heart beat fast when, after traversing steep staircases and winding corridors, they reached the small door of the stage-box.

XIII.

Hyacinth’s first consciousness, after his companion had opened it, was of his nearness to the stage, on which the curtain had now risen again. The play was in progress, the actors’ voices came straight into the box, and it was impossible to speak without disturbing them. This, at least, was his inference from the noiseless way his conductor drew him in, and, without announcing or introducing him, simply pointed to a chair and whispered, “ Just drop into that; you ’ll see and hear beautifully.” He heard the door close behind him, and became aware that Captain Sholto had already retreated. Millicent, at any rate, would not be left to languish in solitude very long. Two ladies were seated in the front of the box, which was so large that there was a considerable space between them ; and as he stood there, where Captain Sholto had planted him — they appeared not to have noticed the opening of the door— they turned their heads and looked at him. The one on whom his eyes first rested was the old lady whom he had already contemplated at a distance ; she looked queerer still on a closer view, and gave him a little friendly, jolly nod. The other one was partly overshadowed by the curtain of the box, which she had drawn forward with the intention of shielding herself from the observation of the house ; she was young, and the simplest way to express the instant effect upon Hyacinth of her fair face of welcome is to say that she was dazzling. He remained as Sholto had left him, staring rather confusedly and not moving an inch; whereupon the younger lady put out her hand, — it was her left, the other rested on the ledge of the box — with the expectation, as he perceived, to his extreme mortification, too late, that he would give her his own. She converted the gesture into a sign of invitation, and beckoned him, silently but graciously, to move his chair forward. He did so, and seated himself between the two ladies; then, for ten minutes, stared straight before him, at the stage, not turning his eyes sufficiently even to glance up at Millicent in the balcony. He looked at the play, but he was far from seeing it; he had no sense of anything but the woman who sat there, close to him, on his right, with a fragrance in her garments and a light about her which he seemed to see even while his head was averted. The vision had been only of a moment, but it hung before him, threw a vague white mist over the proceedings on the stage. He was embarrassed, overturned, bewildered, and he knew it; he made a great effort to collect himself, to consider the situation lucidly. He wondered whether he ought to speak, to look at her again, to behave differently, in some way ; whether she would take him for a clown, for an idiot; whether she were really as beautiful as she had seemed, or if it were only an accidental glamour, which would vanish. While he asked himself these questions the minutes went on, and neither of his companions spoke; they watched the play in perfect stillness, so that Hyacinth divined that this was the proper thing, and that he himself must remain dumb until a word should be bestowed upon him. Little by little he recovered himself, took possession of his predicament, and at last transferred his eyes to the Princess. She immediately perceived this, and returned his glance, with a quick smile. She might well be a princess— it was impossible to conform more to the finest evocations of that romantic word. She was fair, brilliant, slender, with a kind of languor. Her beauty had a character of perfection ; it astonished and lifted one up, and the sight of it seemed a reward. If the first impression it had given Hyacinth was to make him feel strangely privileged, he need not have been too much agitated, for this was the effect the Princess Casamassima produced upon persons of a wider experience and greater pretensions. Her dark eyes, blue or gray, something that was not brown, were as sweet as they were splendid, and there was an extraordinary light nobleness in the way she held her head. That head, where two or three diamond stars glittered in the thick, delicate hair which defined its shape, suggested to Hyacinth something antique and celebrated, which he had admired of old —the memory was vague — in a statue, in a picture, in a museum. Purity of line and form, of cheek and chin and lip and brow, a color that seemed to live and glow, a radiance of youth and eminence and success — these things were seated in triumph in the face of the Princess, and Hyacinth, as he held himself in his chair, trembling with the revelation, wondered whether he were not in the company of a goddess. A goddess she might be, but he could see that she was human and friendly — that she wished him to be at his ease and happy ; there was something familiar in her smile, as if she had seen him many times before. Her dress was dark and rich ; she had pearls round her neck, and an old rococo fan in her hand. Hyacinth took in all these things, and finally said to himself that if she wanted nothing more of him than that, he was content, he would like it to go on ; so pleasant was it to sit with fine ladies, in a dusky, spacious receptacle which framed the bright picture of the stage, and made one’s own situation seem a play within the play. The act was a long one, and the repose in which his companions left him might have been a calculated indulgence, to enable him to get used to them, to see how harmless they were. He looked at Millicent, in the course of time, and saw that Captain Sholto, seated beside her, had not the same standard of propriety, inasmuch as he made a remark to her every few minutes. Like himself, the young lady in the balcony was losing the play, thanks to her eyes being fixed on her friend from Lomax Place, whose position she thus endeavored to gauge. Hyacinth had quite given up the Paraguayan complications ; by the end of the half hour his attention might have come back to them, had he not then been engaged in wondering what the Princess would say to him after the descent of the curtain — or whether she would say anything. The consideration of this problem, as the moment of the solution drew nearer, made his heart again beat faster. He watched the old lady on his left, and supposed it was natural that a princess should have an attendant — he took for granted she was an attendant — as different as possible from herself. This ancient dame was without majesty or grace ; huddled together, with her hands folded on her stomach and her lips protruding, she solemnly followed the performance. Several times, however, she turned her head to Hyacinth, and then her expression changed ; she repeated the jovial, encouraging, almost motherly nod with which she had greeted him when he made his bow, and by which she appeared to wish to intimate that, better than the serene beauty on the other side, she could enter into the oddity, the discomfort, of his situation. She seemed to say to him that he must keep his head, and that if the worst should come to the worst, she was there to look after him. Even when, at last, the curtain descended, it was some moments before the Princess spoke, though she rested her smile upon Hyacinth as if she were considering what he would best like her to say. He might at that instant have guessed what he discovered later — that among this lady’s faults (he was destined to learn that they were numerous) not the least eminent was an exaggerated fear of the commonplace. He expected she would make some remark about the play, but what she said was, very gently and kindly, “ I like to know all sorts of people.”

“ I should n’t think you would find the least difficulty in that,” Hyacinth replied.

“ Oh, if one wants anything very much, it’s sure to be difficult. Every one is n’t as obliging as you.”

Hyacinth could think, immediately, of no proper rejoinder to this ; but the old lady saved him the trouble by declaring, with a foreign accent, “ I think you were most extraordinarily good-natured. I had no idea you would come — to two strange women.”

“ Yes, we are strange women,” said the Princess, musingly.

“It’s not true that she finds things difficult; she makes every one do everything,”her companion went on.

The Princess glanced at her ; then remarked to Hyacinth, “Her name is Madame Grandoni.” Her tone was not familiar, but there was a friendly softness in it, as if lie had really taken so much trouble for them that it was only just he should be entertained a little at their expense. It seemed to imply, also, that Madame Grandoni’s fitness for supplying such entertainment was obvious.

“But I am not Italian—ah, no!” the old lady cried. “In spite of my name, I am an honest, ugly, unfortunate German. But it does n’t matter. She also, with such a name, is n’t Italian, either. It’s an accident; the world is full of accidents. But she is n’t German, poor lady, any more.” Madame Grandoni appeared to have entered into the Princess’s view, and Hyacinth thought her exceedingly amusing. In a moment she added, “ That was a very charming person you were with.”

“Yes, she is very charming,” Hyacinth replied, not sorry to have a chance to say it.

The Princess made no remark on this subject, and Hyacinth perceived not only that from her position in the box she could have had no glimpse of Millicent, but that she would never take up such an allusion as that. It was as if she had not heard it that she asked, “ Do you consider the play very interesting ? ”

Hyacinth hesitated a moment, and then told the simple truth. “ I must confess that I have lost the whole of this last act.”

“ Ah, poor, bothered young man ! ” cried Madame Grandoni. “You see — you see! ”

“ What do I see ? ” the Princess inquired. “ If you are annoyed at being here now, you will like us later; probably, at least. We take a great interest in the things you care for. We take a great interest in the people,” the Princess went on.

“ Oh, allow me, allow me, and speak only for yourself ! ” the elder lady interposed. “ J take no interest in the people; I don’t understand them, and I know nothing about them. An honorable nature, of any class, I always respect it; but I will not pretend to a passion for the ignorant masses, because I have it not. Moreover, that doesn’t touch the gentleman.”

The Princess Casamassima had, evidently, a faculty of completely ignoring things of which she wished to take no account ; it was not in the least the air of contempt, but a kind of thoughtful, tranquil absence, after which she came back to the point where she wished to be. She made no protest against her companion’s speech, but said to Hyacinth as if she were only vaguely conscious that the old lady had been committing herself in some absurd way, “She lives with me; she is everything to me ; she is the best woman in the world.”

“ Yes, fortunately, with very superficial defects, I am very good,” Madame Grandoni remarked.

Hyacinth, by this time, was less fluttered than when he presented himself to the Princess Casamassima, but he was not less mystified ; he wondered afresh whether he were not being practiced upon for some inconceivable end; so strange did it seem to him that two such fine ladies should, of their own movement, take the trouble to explain each other to a miserable little bookbinder. This idea made him flush; it was as if it had come over him that he had fallen into a trap. He was conscious that he looked frightened, and he was conscious the moment afterwards that the Princess noticed it. This was, apparently, what made her say, “ If you have lost so much of the play I ought to tell you what has happened.”

“ Do you think he would follow that any more?” Madame Grandoni exclaimed.

“ If you would tell me — if you would tell me ”— And then Hyacinth stopped. He had been going to say, “ If you would tell me what all this means and what you want of me, it would be more to the point!” but the words died on his lips, and he sat staring, for the woman at his right was simply too beautiful. She was too beautiful to question, to judge by common logic; and how could he know, moreover, what was natural to a person in that exaltation of grace and splendor? Perhaps it was her habit to send out every evening for some naïf stranger, to amuse her; perhaps that was the way the foreign aristocracy lived. There was no sharpness in her face, at the present moment at least ; there was nothing but luminous sweetness, yet she looked as if she knew what was going on in his mind. She made no eager attempt to reassure him, but there was a world of delicate consideration in the tone in which she said, “ Do you know, I am afraid I have already forgotten what they have been doing in the play? It’s terribly complicated ; some one or other was hurled over a precipice.”

“ Ah, you ’re a brilliant pair,” Madame Grandoni remarked, with a laugh of long experience. “ I could describe everything. The person who was hurled over the precipice was the virtuous hero, and you will see, in the next act, that he was only slightly bruised.”

“ Don’t describe anything; I have so much to ask.” Hyacinth had looked away, with embarrassment, at hearing himself “paired ” with the Princess, and he felt that she was watching him. “What do you think of Captain Sholto ? ” she went on, suddenly, to his surprise, if anything, in his position, could excite that sentiment more than anything else; and as he hesitated, not knowing what to say, she added, “ Is n’t he a very curious type ? ”

“ I know him very little,” Hyacinth replied; and he had no sooner uttered the words than it struck him they were far from brilliant — they were poor and flat, and very little calculated to satisfy the Princess. Indeed, he reflected that he had said nothing at all that could place him in a favorable light; so he continued, at a venture: “I mean, I have never seen him at home.” That sounded still more silly.

“ At home ? Oh, he is never at home ; he is all over the world. To-night he was as likely to have been in Paraguay, for instance, as here. He is what they call a cosmopolite. I don’t know whether you know that species; very modern, more and more frequent, and exceedingly tiresome. I prefer the Chinese! He told me he had had a great deal of interesting talk with you. That was what made me say to him, ‘ Oh, do ask him to come in and see me. A little interesting talk, that would be a change ! ’ ”

“ She is very complimentary to me ! ” said Madame Grandoni.

“Ah, my dear, you and I, you know, we never talk: we understand each other without that! ” Then the Princess pursued, addressing herself to Hyacinth, “ Do you never admit women ? ”

“ Admit women ?”

“Into those séances — what do you call them? — those little meetings that Captain Sholto described to me. I should like so much to be present. Why not ? ”

“ I have n’t seen any ladies,” Hyacinth said. “ I don’t know whether it’s a rule, but I have seen nothing but men;” and he added, smiling, though he thought the dereliction rather serious, and couldn’t understand the part Captain Sholto was playing, nor, considering the grand company he kept, how he had originally secured admittance into the subversive little circle in Bloomsbury, “ You know I ’m not sure Captain Sholto ought to go about reporting our proceedings.”

“ l see. Perhaps you think he’s a spy, or something of that sort.”

“ No,” said Hyacinth, after a moment. “ I think a spy would be more careful — would disguise himself more. Besides, after all, he has heard very little.” And Hyacinth smiled again.

“ You mean he has n’t really been behind the scenes?” the Princess asked, bending forward a little, and now covering the young man steadily with her deep, soft eyes, as if by this time he must have got used to her and would n’t flinch from such attention. “ Of course he has n’t, and he never will be; he knows that, and that it’s quite out of his power to tell any real secrets. What he repeated to me was interesting, but of course I could see that there was nothing any government could put its hand on. It was mainly the talk he had had with you which struck him so very much, and which struck me, as you see. Perhaps you did n’t know how he was drawing you out.”

“ I am afraid that’s rather easy,” said Hyacinth, with perfect candor, as it came over him that he had chattered, with a vengeance, in Bloomsbury, and had thought it natural enough then that his sociable fellow-visitor should offer him cigars and attach importance to the views of a clever and original young artisan.

“ I am not sure that I find it so! However, I ought to tell you that you need n’t have the least fear of Captain Sholto. He’s a perfectly honest man, so far as he goes ; and even if you had trusted him much more than you appear to have done, he would be incapable of betraying you. However, don’t trust him : not because he’s not safe, but because— No matter, you will see for yourself. He has gone into that sort of thing simply to please me. I should tell you, merely to make you understand, that he would do anything for that. That’s his own affair. I wanted to know something, to learn something, to ascertain what really is going on; and for a woman everything of that sort is so difficult, especially for a woman in my position, who is known, and to whom every sort of bad faith is sure to be imputed. So Sholto said he would look into the subject for me ; poor man, he has had to look into so many subjects ! What I particularly wanted was that he should make friends with some of the leading spirits, really characteristic types.” The Princess’s voice was low and rather deep, and her tone very quick ; her manner of speaking was altogether new to her listener, for whom the pronunciation of her words and the very punctuation of her sentences were a kind of revelation of “ society.”

“ Surely, Captain Sholto does n’t suppose that I am a leading spirit ! ” Hyacinth exclaimed, with the determination not to be laughed at any more than he could help.

The Princess hesitated a moment ; then she said, “ He told me you were very original.”

“ He does n’t know, and — if you will allow me to say so — I don’t think you know. How should you? I am one of many thousands of young men of my class — you know, I suppose, what that is — in whose brains certain ideas are fermenting. There is nothing original about me at all. I am very young and very ignorant ; it ’s only a few months since I began to talk of the possibility of a social revolution with men who have considered the whole ground much more than I have done. I ’m a mere particle in the immensity of the people. All I pretend to is my good faith, and a great desire that justice shall be done.”

The Princess listened to him intently, and her attitude made him feel how little he, in comparison, expressed himself like a person who had the habit of conversation ; he seemed to himself to stammer and emit common sounds. For a moment she said nothing, only looking at him with her pure smile. “I do draw you out! ” she exclaimed, at last. “ You are much more interesting to me than if you were an exception.” At these last words Hyacinth flinched a hair’s breadth; the movement was shown by his dropping his eyes. We know to what extent he really regarded himself as of the stuff of the common herd. The Princess doubtless guessed it as well, for she quickly added, “At the same time, I can see that you are remarkable enough.”

“ What do you think I am remarkable for ? ”

“ Well, you have general ideas.”

“ Every one has them to-day. They have them in Bloomsbury to a terrible degree. I have a friend (who understands the matter much better than I) who has no patience with them : he declares they are our danger and our bane. A few very special ideas — if they are the right ones—are what we want,”

“ Who is your friend ? ” the Princess asked, abruptly.

“ Ah, Christina, Christina,” Madame Grandoni murmured from the other side of the box.

Christina took no notice of her, and Hyacinth, not understanding the warning, and only remembering how personal women always are, replied, “ A young man who lives in Lambeth, an assistant at a wholesale chemist’s.”

If he had expected that this description of his friend was a bigger dose than his hostess would be able to digest, he was greatly mistaken. She seemed to look tenderly at the picture suggested by his words, and she immediately inquired whether the young man were also clever, and whether she might not hope to know him. Hadn’t Captain Sholto seen him; and if so, why had n’t he spoken of him, too ? When Hyacinth had replied that Captain Sholto had probably seen him, but that he believed he had had no particular conversation with him, the Princess inquired, with startling frankness, whether her visitor wouldn’t bring his friend, some day, to see her.

Hyacinth glanced at Madame Grandoni, but that worthy woman was engaged in a survey of the house, through an old-fashioned eye-glass with a long gilt handle. He had perceived, long before this, that the Princess Casamassima had no desire for vain phrases, and he had the good taste to feel that, from himself to such a personage, compliments, even if he had wished to pay them, would have had no suitability. “ I don’t know whether he would be willing to come. He’s the sort of man that, in such a case, you can’t answer for.”

“ That makes me want to know him all the more. But you ’ll come yourself, at all events, eh ? ”

Poor Hyacinth murmured something about the unexpected honor; for, after all, he had a French heredity, and it was not so easy for him to make unadorned speeches. But Madame Grandoni, laying down her eye-glass, almost took the words out of his mouth, with the cheerful exhortation, “ Go and see her — go and see her once or twice. She will treat you like an angel.”

“ You must think me very peculiar,” the Princess remarked, sadly.

“I don’t know what I think. It will take a good while.”

“ I wish I could make you trust me — inspire you with confidence,” she went on. “I don’t mean only you, personally, but others who think as you do. You would find I would go with you — pretty far. I was answering just now tor Captain Sholto ; but who in the world is to answer for me ?” And her sadness merged itself in a smile, which appeared to Hyacinth extraordinarily beautiful and touching.

“ Not I, my dear, I promise you ! ” her ancient companion ejaculated, with a laugh which made the people in the stalls look up at the box.

Her mirth was contagious ; it gave Hyacinth the audacity to say to her, “ I would trust you, if you did ! ” though he felt, the next minute, that this was even a more familiar speech than if he had said he would n’t trust her.

“It comes, then, to the same thing,” the Princess went on. “ She would not show herself with me in public if I were not respectable. If you knew more about me, you would understand what has led me to turn my attention to the great social question. It is a long story, and the details would n’t interest you ; but perhaps some day, if we have more talk, you will put yourself a little in my place. I am very serious, you know; I am not amusing myself with peeping and running away. I am convinced that we are living in a fool’s paradise, that the ground is heaving under our feet.”

“It’s not the ground, my dear; it’s you that are turning somersaults,” Madame Grandoni interposed.

“ Ah, you, my friend, you have the happy faculty of believing what you like to believe. I have to believe what I see.”

“ She wishes to throw herself into the revolution, to guide it, to enlighten it,” Madame Grandoni said to Hyacinth, speaking now with imperturbable gravity.

“ I am sure she could direct it in any sense she would wish ! ” the young man responded, in a glow. The pure, high dignity with which the Princess had just spoken, and which appeared to cover a suppressed tremor of passion, set Hyacinth’s pulses throbbing, and though he scarcely saw what she meant — her aspirations seeming so vague — her tone, her voice, her wonderful face, showed that she had a generous soul.

She answered his eager declaration with a serious smile and a melancholy head-shake. “ I have no such pretensions, and my good old friend is laughing at me. Of course that is very easy; for what, in fact, can be more absurd, on the face of it, than for a woman with a title, with diamonds, with a carriage, with servants, with a position, as they call it, to sympathize with the upward struggles of those who are below ? ‘ Give all that up, and we ’ll believe you,’ you have a right to say. I am ready to give them up the moment it will help the cause ; I assure you that’s the least difficulty. I don’t want to teach, I want to learn ; and, above all, I want to know à quoi m’en tenir. Are we on the eve of great changes, or are we not? Is everything that is gathering force, underground, in the dark, in the night, in little hidden rooms, out of sight of governments and policemen and idiotic statesmen — Heaven save them ! — is all this going to burst forth some fine morning and set the world on fire ? Or is it to sputter out and spend itself in vain conspiracies, be dissipated in sterile heroisms and abortive isolated movements ? I want to know à quoi m’en tenir,” she repeated, fixing her visitor with more brilliant eyes, as if he could tell her on the spot. Then, suddenly, she added in a totally different tone, “ Excuse me, I have an idea you speak French. Did n’t Captain Sholto tell me so ? ”

“ I have some little acquaintance with it,” Hyacinth murmured. “ I have French blood in my veins.”

She considered him as if he had proposed to her some kind of problem. “ Yes, I can see that you are not le premier venu, .Now, your friend, of whom you were speaking, is a chemist; and you, yourself — what is your occupation?”

“ I’m just a bookbinder.”

“ That must be delightful. I wonder if you would bind some books for me.”

“ You would have to bring them to our shop, and I can do there only the work that’s given out to me. I might manage it by myself, at home,” Hyacinth added, smiling.

“ I should like that better. And what do you call home ? ”

“ The place I live in, in the north of London : a little street you certainly never heard of.”

“ What is it called ? ”

“ Lomax Place, at your service,” said Hyacinth, laughing.

She laughed back at him, and he did n’t know whether her brightness or her gravity were the more charming. “ No, I don’t think I have heard of it. I don’t know London very well; I have n’t lived here long. I have spent most of my life abroad. My husband is a foreigner, an Italian. We don’t live together much. I haven’t the manners of this country — not of any class ; have I, eh ? Oh, this country — there is a great deal to be said about it; and a great deal to be done, as you, of course, understand better than any one. But I want to know London ; it interests me more than I can say — the huge, swarming, smoky, human city. I mean real London, the people and all their sufferings and passions ; not Park Lane and Bond Street. Perhaps you can help me — it would be a great kindness: that’s what I want to know men like you for. You see it is n’t idle, my having given you so much trouble to-night.”

“ I shall be very glad to show you all I know. But it is n’t much, and, above all, it is n’t pretty,” said Hyacinth.

“ Whom do you live with, in Lomax Place ? ” the Princess asked, by way of rejoinder to this.

“ Captain Sholto is leaving the young lady — he is coming back here,” Madame Grandoni announced, inspecting the balcony with her instrument. The orchestra had been for some time playing the overture to the following act.

Hyacinth hesitated a moment. “ I live with a dressmaker.”

“ With a dressmaker ? Do you mean — do you mean ” — And the Princess paused.

“Do you mean she’s your wife?” asked Madame Grandoni, humorously.

“ Perhaps she gives you rooms,” remarked the Princess.

“ How many do you think I have? She gives me everything, or she has done so, in the past. She brought me up ; she is the best little woman in the world.”

“ You had better command a dress ! ” exclaimed Madame Grandoni.

“ And your family, where are they ? ” the Princess continued.

“ I have no family.”

“ None at all ? ”

“ None at all. I never had.”

“ But the French blood that you speak of, and which I see perfectly in your face — you haven’t the English expression, or want of expression — that must have come to you through some one.”

“Yes, through my mother.”

“ And she is dead ? ”

“ Long ago.”

“ That’s a great loss, because French mothers are usually so much to their sons.” The Princess looked at her painted fan a moment, as she opened and closed it; after which she said, “Well, then, you’ll come some day. We ’ll arrange it.”

Hyacinth felt that the answer to this could be only a silent inclination of his little person ; and to make it he rose from his chair. As he stood there, conscious that he had stayed long enough, and yet not knowing exactly how to withdraw, the Princess, with her fan closed, resting upright on her knee, and her hands clasped on the end of it, turned up her strange, lovely eyes at him, and said —

“ Do you think anything will occur soon ? ”

“ Will occur ? ”

“That there will be a crisis — that you ’ll make yourselves felt ? ”

In this beautiful woman’s face there was to Hyacinth’s bewildered perception something at once inspiring, tempting, and mocking ; and the effect of her expression was to make him say, rather clumsily, “ I ‘ll try and ascertain ; ” as if she had asked him whether her carriage were at the door.

“ I don’t quite know what you are talking about; but please don’t have it for another hour or two. I want to see what becomes of the Pearl ! ” Madame Grandoni interposed.

“ Remember what I told you : I would give up everything — everything ! ” the Princess went on, looking up at the young man in the same way. Then she held out her hand, and this time he knew sufficiently what he was about to take it.

When he bade good-night to Madame Grandoni, the old lady exclaimed to him with a comical sigh, “ Well, she is respectable ! ” and out in the lobby, when he had closed the door of the box behind him, he found himself echoing these words, and repeating mechanically, “She is respectable! ” They were on his lips as he stood, suddenly, face to face with Captain Sholto, who laid his hand on his shoulder once more, and shook him a little, in that free yet insinuating manner for which this officer appeared to be remarkable.

“ My dear fellow, you were born under a lucky star.”

“ I never supposed it,” said Hyacinth, changing color.

“ Why, what in the world would you have? You have the faculty, the precious faculty, of inspiring women with an interest — but an interest! ”

“ Yes, ask them in the box there ! I behaved like a cretin,” Hyacinth declared, overwhelmed now with a sense of opportunities missed.

“ They won’t tell me that. And the lady upstairs ? ”

“ Well,” said Hyacinth gravely, “ what about her?”

The captain considered him a moment. “ She would n’t talk to me of anything but you. You may imagine how I liked it! ”

“ I don’t like it, either. But I must go up.”

“ Oh, yes, she counts the minutes. Such a charming person ! ” Captain Sholto added, with more propriety of tone. As Hyacinth left him he called after him, “Don’t be afraid — you’ll go far.”

When the young man took his place in the balcony beside Millicent, this damsel gave him no greeting, nor asked any question about his adventures in the more aristocratic part of the house. She only turned her fine complexion upon him for some minutes, and as he himself was not in the mood to begin to chatter, the silence continued — continued till after the curtain had risen on the last act of the play. Millicent’s attention was now, evidently, not at her disposal for the stage, and in the midst of a violent scene, which included pistolshots and shrieks, she said at last to her companion, “ She’s a tidy lot, your Princess, by what I learn.”

“ Pray, what do you know about her ? ”

“ I know what that fellow told me.”

“ And pray, what was that ? ”

“ Well, she’s a bad ’un, as ever was. Her own husband has had to turn her out of the house.”

Hyacinth remembered the allusion the lady herself had made to her matrimonial situation ; nevertheless, what he would have liked to reply to Miss Henning was that he did n’t believe a word of it. He withheld the doubt, and after a moment remarked, quietly, “ I don’t care.”

“ You don’t care ? Well, I do, then ! ” Millicent cried. And as it was impossible, in view of the performance and the jealous attention of their neighbors, to continue the conversation in this pitch, she contented herself with ejaculating, in a somewhat lower key, at the end of five minutes, during which she had been watching the stage, “ Gracious, what dreadful common stuff! ”

Henry James.