The Princess Casamassima: Book Second
HYACINTH did not mention to Pinnie or Mr. Vetch that he had been taken up by a great lady ; but he mentioned it to Paul Muniment, to whom he now confided a great many things. He had, at first, been in considerable fear of his straight, loud, North Country friend, who showed signs of cultivating logic and criticism to a degree that was hostile to free conversation; but he discovered, later, that he was a man to whom one could say anything in the world, if one did n’t think it of more importance to be sympathized with than to be understood. For a revolutionist, he was strangely good-natured. The sight of all the things he wanted to change had, seemingly, no power to irritate him, and if he joked about questions that lay very near his heart, his pleasantry was not bitter nor invidious ; the fault that Hyacinth sometimes found with it, rather, was that it was innocent to puerility. Our hero envied his power of combining a care for the wide misery of mankind with the apparent state of mind of the cheerful and virtuous young workman who, on Sunday morning, has put on a clean shirt, and, not having taken the gilt off his wages the night before, weighs against each other, for a happy day, the respective attractions of Epping Forest and Gravesend. He was never sarcastic about his personal lot and his daily life ; it had not seemed to occur to him, for instance, that “ society ” was really responsible for the condition of his sister’s spinal column, though Eustache Poupin and his wife (who practically, however, were as patient as he) did everything they could to make him say so, believing, evidently, that it would relievo him. Apparently, he cared nothing for women, talked of them rarely, and always decently, and had never a sign of a sweetheart, unless Lady Aurora Langrish might pass for one. He never drank a drop of beer nor touched a pipe ; he always had a clear tone, a fresh cheek, and a smiling eye, and once excited on Hyacinth’s part a kind of elder-brotherly indulgence by the open-mouthed glee and credulity with which, when the pair were present, in the sixpenny gallery, at Astley’s, at an equestrian pantomime, he followed the tawdry spectacle. He once told the young bookbinder that he was a suggestive little beggar, and Hyacinth’s opinion of him, by this time, was so exalted that the remark had almost the value of a patent of nobility. Our hero treated himself to an unlimited belief in him ; he had always dreamed of having some grand friendship, and this was the best opening he had ever encountered. No one could entertain a sentiment of that sort better than Hyacinth, or cultivate a greater luxury of confidence. It disappointed him, sometimes, that it was not more richly repaid; that on certain important points of the socialistic programme Muniment would never commit himself; and that he had not yet shown the fond du sac, as Eustache Poupin called it, to so ardent an admirer. He answered particular questions freely enough, and answered them, occasionally, in a manner that made Hyacinth jump, as when, in reply to an inquiry in regard to his view of capital punishment, he said that, so far from wishing it abolished, he should go in for extending it much further — he should impose it on those who habitually lied or got drunk ; but his friend had always a feeling that he kept back his best card, and that even in the listening circle in Bloomsbury, where only the right men were present, there were unspoken conclusions in his mind which he did n’t as yet think any one good enough to be favored with. So far, therefore, from suspecting him of half-heartedness, Hyacinth was sure that he had extraordinary things in his head ; that he was thinking them out to the logical end, wherever it might land him; and that the night he should produce them, with the door of the club-room guarded and the company bound by a tremendous oath, the others would look at each other and turn pale.
“ She wants to see you ; she asked me to bring you; she was very serious,” Hyacinth said, relating his interview with the ladies in the box at the play; which, however, now that he looked back upon it, seemed as queer as a dream, and not much more likely than that sort of experience to have a continuation in one’s waking hours.
“ To bring me — to bring me where ? ” asked Muniment. “ You talk as if I were a sample out of your shop, or a little dog you had for sale. Has she ever seen me ? Does she think I’m smaller than you ? What does she know about me ? ”
“ Well, principally, that you ’re a friend of mine — that’s enough for her.”
“ Do you mean that it ought to be enough for me that she’s a friend of yours ? I have a notion you ’ll have some queer ones before you ’re done ; a good many more than I have time to talk to. And how can I go to see a delicate female, with those paws ? ” Muniment inquired, exhibiting ten workstained fingers.
“ Buy a pair of gloves,” said Hyacinth, who recognized the serious character of this obstacle. But after a moment he added, “ No, you ought n’t to do that; she wants to see dirty hands.”
“That’s easy enough ; she need n’t send for me for the purpose. But is n’t she making game of you ? ”
“ It’s very possible, but I don’t see what good it can do her.”
“ You are not obliged to find excuses for the pampered classes. Their bloated luxury begets evil, impudent desires; they are capable of doing harm for the sake of harm. Besides, is she genuine ? ”
“ If she is n’t, what becomes of your explanation?” asked Hyacinth.
“ Oh, it does n’t matter : at night all cats are gray. Whatever she is, she’s an idle, bedizened jade.”
“ If you had seen her, you would n’t talk of her that way.”
“ God forbid I should see her, then, if she’s going to corrupt me ! ”
“ Do you suppose she ’ll corrupt me ? ” Hyacinth demanded, with an expression of face and a tone of voice which produced, on his friend’s part, an explosion of mirth.
“ How can she, after all, when you are already such a little mass of corruption ? ”
‘‘You don’t think that,” said Hyacinth, looking very grave.
“ Do you mean that if I did I would n’t say it ? Have n’t you noticed that I say what I think ? ”
“ No, you don’t, not half of it: you ’re as close as a fish.”
Paul Muniment looked at his companion a moment, as if he were rather struck with the penetration of that remark ; then he said, “Well, then, if I should give you the other half of my opinion of you, do you think you’d fancy it ? ”
“ I ’ll save you the trouble. I’m a very clever, conscientious, promising young chap, and any one would be proud to claim me as a friend.”
“ Is that what your Princess told you ? She must be a precious piece of goods ! ” Paul Muniment exclaimed. “ Did she pick your pocket meanwhile? ”
“ Oh yes ; a few minutes later I missed a silver cigar-case, engraved with the arms of the Robinsons. Seriously,” Hyacinth continued, “don’t you consider it possible that a woman of that class should want to know what is going on among the like of us ? ”
“ It depends upon what class you mean.”
“ Well, a woman with a lot of jewels and the manners of an angel. It’s queer, of course, but it’s conceivable : why not ? There may be unselfish natures ; there may be disinterested feelings.”
“ And there may be fine ladies in an awful funk about their jewels, and even about their manners. Seriously, as you say, it’s perfectly conceivable. I am not in the least surprised at the aristocracy being curious to know what we are up to, and wanting very much to look into it; in their place I should be very uneasy ; and if I were a woman with angelic manners, very likely I too should be glad to get hold of a soft, susceptible little bookbinder, and pump him dry, bless his heart! ”
“ Are you afraid I ’ll tell her secrets ? ” cried Hyacinth, flushing with virtuous indignation.
“ Secrets ? What secrets could you tell her, my pretty lad?”
Hyacinth stared a moment. “ You don’t trust me — you never have.”
“ We will, some day — don’t be afraid,” said Muniment, who, evidently, had no intention of unkindness, a thing that appeared to be impossible to him. “ And when we do, you ’ll cry with disappointment.”
“ Well, you won’t,” Hyacinth declared. And then he asked whether his friend thought the Princess Casamassima a spy ; and why, if she were in that line, Mr. Sholto was not — inasmuch as it must be supposed he was not, since they had seen fit to let him walk in and out, at that rate, in the place in Bloomsbury. Muniment did not even know whom he meant, not having had any relations with the gentleman ; but he summed up a sufficient image when his companion had described the captain’s appearance. He then remarked, with his usual geniality, that he did n’t take him for a spy — he took him for an ass ; but even if he had edged himself into the place with every intention to betray them, what handle could he possibly get — what use, against them, could he make of anything he had seen or heard ? If he had a fancy to dip into workingmen’s clubs (Muniment remembered, now, the first night he came ; he had been brought by that German cabinetmaker, who wore green spectacles and smoked a pipe with a bowl as big as a hat) ; if it amused him to put on a bad hat, and inhale foul tobacco, and call his “ inferiors ” “ my dear fellow ; ” if he thought that in doing so he was getting an insight into the people, and going half-way to meet them, and preparing for what was coming — all this was his own affair, and he was very welcome, though a man must be a flat who would spend his evening in a hole like that when he might enjoy his comfort in one of those flaming big shops, full of armchairs and flunkies, in Pall Mall. And what did he see, after all, in Bloomsbury ? Nothing but a “ social gathering,” where there were clay pipes, and a sanded floor, and not half enough gas, and the principal newspapers ; and where the men, as any one would know, were advanced radicals, and mostly advanced idiots. He could pat as many of them on the back as he liked, and say the House of Lords would n’t last till Christmas ; but what discoveries would he make? He was simply on the same lay as Hyacinth’s Princess; he was nervous and scared, and he thought he would see for himself.
“ Oh, he is n’t the same sort as the Princess. I’m sure he ’s in a very different line ! ” Hyacinth exclaimed.
“Different, of course: she’s a handsome woman, I suppose, and he’s an ugly man ; but I don’t think that either of them will save us or spoil us. Their curiosity is natural, but I have got other things to do than to show them about ; therefore you can tell her serene highness that I ’m much obliged.”
Hyacinth reflected a moment, and then he said, “ You show Lady Aurora about; you seem to wish to give her the information she desires ; and what’s the difference ? If it’s right for her to take an interest, why is n’t it right for my Princess ? ”
“ If she’s already yours, what more can she want? ” Muniment asked. “ All I know of Lady Aurora, and all I look at, is that she comes and sits with Rosy, and brings her tea, and waits upon her. If the Princess will do as much, I ’ll tell her she’s a woman of genius ; but apart from that I shall never take a grain of interest in her interest in the masses — or in this particular mass ! ” And Paul Muniment, with his discolored thumb, designated his own substantial person. His tone was disappointing to Hyacinth, who was surprised at his not appearing to think the episode at the theatre more remarkable and romantic. Muniment seemed to regard his explanation of such a proceeding as all-sufficient; but when, a moment later, he made use, in referring to the mysterious lady, of the expression that she was “ quaking.” Hyacinth broke out — “ Never in the world ; she’s not afraid of anything ! ”
“ Ah, my lad, not afraid of you, evidently ! ”
Hyacinth paid no attention to this coarse sally, but asked in a moment, with a candor that was proof against further ridicule, “ Do you think she can do me a hurt of any kind, if we follow up our acquaintance ?”
“ Yes, very likely, but you must hit her back ! That’s your line, you know: to go in for what’s going, to live your life, to gratify the women. I ’m an ugly, grimy brute, that has got to watch the fires and mind the shop, but you are one of those taking little beggars who ought to run about and see the world ; you ought to be an ornament to society, like a young man in an illustrated storybook. Only,” Muniment added in a moment, “ you know, if she should hurt you very much, then I would go and see her ! ”
Hyacinth had been intending for some time to take Pinnie to call on the prostrate damsel in Audley Court, to whom he had promised that his benefactress (he had told Rose Muniment that she was “ a kind of aunt”) should pay this civility ; but the affair had been delayed by wan hesitations on the part of the dressmaker, for the poor woman had hard work to imagine, to-day, that there were people in London so forlorn that her countenance could be of value to them. Her social curiosities had become very nearly extinct, and she knew that she no longer made the same figure in public as when her command of the fashions enabled her to illustrate them in her own little person, by the aid of a good deal of whalebone. Moreover, she felt that Hyacinth had strange friends and still stranger opinions ; she suspected that he took an unnatural interest in politics, and was somehow not on the right side, little as she knew about parties or causes ; and she had a vague conviction that this kind of perversity only multiplied the troubles of the poor, who, according to theories which Pinnie had never reasoned out, but which, in her bosom, were as deep as religion, ought always to be of the same way of thinking as the rich. They were unlike them enough in their poverty, without trying to add other differences. When at last she accompanied Hyacinth to South Lambeth, one Saturday evening at midsummer, it was in a sighing, skeptical, second-best manner; but if he had told her he wished it, she would have gone with him to a soirée at a scavenger’s. There was no more danger of Rose Muniment’s being out than of one of the bronze couchant lions in Trafalgar Square having walked down Whitehall; but he had let her know in advance, and he perceived, as he opened her door in obedience to a quick, shrill summons, that she had had the happy thought of inviting Lady Aurora to help her to entertain Miss Pynsent. Such, at least, was the inference he drew from seeing her ladyship’s memorable figure rise before him for the first time since his own visit. He presented his companion to their recumbent hostess, and Rosy immediately repeated her name to the representative of Belgrave Square. Pinnie curtsied down to the ground, as Lady Aurora put out her hand to her, and slipped noiselessly into a chair beside the bed. Lady Aurora laughed and fidgeted, in a friendly, cheerful, yet at the same time rather pointless manner, and Hyacinth gathered that she had no recollection of having met him before. His attention, however, was mainly given to Pinnie: he watched her jealously, to see whether, on this important occasion, she would not put forth a certain stiff, quaint, polished politeness, of which she possessed the secret, and which made her resemble a pair of old-fashioned sugar-tongs. Not only for Pinnie’s sake, but for his own as well, he wished her to pass for a superior little woman, and he hoped she would n’t lose her head if Rosy should begin to talk about Inglefield. She was, evidently, much impressed by Rosy, and kept repeating, “ Dear, dear ! ” under her breath, as the small, strange person in the bed rapidly explained to her that there was nothing in the world she would have liked so much as to follow her delightful profession, but that she could n’t sit up to it, and had never had a needle in her hand but once, when, at the end of three minutes, it had dropped into the sheets and got into the mattress, so that she had always been afraid it would work out again, and stick into her ; but it had n’t done so yet, and perhaps it never would—she lay so quiet, she did n’t push it about much. “ Perhaps you would think it’s me that trimmed the little handkerchief I wear round my neck,” Miss Muniment said ; “ perhaps you would think I could n’t do less, lying here all day long, with complete command of my time. Not a stitch of it. I’m the finest lady in London ; I never lift my finger for myself. It’s a present from her ladyship— it’s her ladyship’s own beautiful needlework. What do you think of that ? Have you ever met any one so favored before? And the work — just look at the work, and tell me what you think of that! ” The girl pulled off the bit of muslin from her neck and thrust it at Pinnie, who looked at it confusedly, and exclaimed, “ Dear, dear, dear ! ” partly in sympathy, partly as if, in spite of the consideration she owed every one, those were very strange proceedings.
“ It ’s very badly done ; surely you see that,” said Lady Aurora. “ It was only a joke.”
“ Oh, yes, everything’s a joke ! ” cried the irrepressible invalid — “ everything except my state of health ; that ’s admitted to be serious. When her ladyship sends me live shillings’ worth of coals it’s only a joke ; and when she brings me a bottle of the finest port, that’s another; and when she climbs up fifty-seven stairs (there are fiftyseven, I know perfectly, though I never go up or down), at the height of the London season, to spend the evening with me, that’s the best of all. I know all about the London season, though I never go out, and I appreciate what her ladyship gives up. She is very jocular indeed, but, fortunately, I know how to take it. You can see that it would n’t do for me to be touchy, can’t you, Miss Pynsent?”
“ Dear, dear, I should be so glad to make you anything myself; it would be better — it would be better ” — Pinnie murmured, hesitating.
“ It would be better than my poor work. I don’t know how to do that sort of thing, in the least,” said Lady Aurora.
“ I’m sure I did n’t mean that, my lady — I only meant it would be more natural like. Anything in the world she might fancy,” the dressmaker went on, as if it were a question of the invalid’s appetite.
“ Ah, you see I don’t wear things — only a flannel jacket, to be a bit tidy,” Miss Muniment rejoined. “ I go in only for smart counterpanes, as you can see for yourself,” and she spread her white hands complacently over her coverlet of brilliant patchwork. " Now doesn’t that look to you, Miss Pynsent, as if it might be one of her ladyship’s jokes ? ”
“ Oh, my good friend, how can you ? I never went so far as that! ” Lady Aurora interposed, with visible anxiety.
“ Well, you’ve given me almost everything ; I sometimes forget. This only cost me sixpence; so it comes to the same thing as if it had been a present. Yes, only sixpence, in a raffle in a bazaar at Hackney, for the benefit of the Wesleyan Chapel, three years ago. A young man who works with my brother, and lives in that part, offered him a couple of tickets ; and he took one, and I took one. When I say ‘ I,’ of course I mean that he took the two ; for how should I find (by which I mean, of course, how should he find) a sixpence in that little cup on the chimneypiece unless he had put it there first ? Of course my ticket took a prize, and of course, as my bed is my dwelling-place, the prize was a beautiful counterpane, of every color of the rainbow. Oh, there never was such luck as mine ! ” Rosy exclaimed, flashing her gay, strange eyes at Hyacinth, as if on purpose to irritate him with her contradictious optimism.
“ It’s very lovely ; but if you would like another, for a change, I’ve got a great many pieces,” Pinnie remarked, with a generosity which made the young man feel that she was acquitting herself finely.
Rose Muniment laid her little hand on the dressmaker’s arm, and responded, quickly, “ No, not a change, not a change. How can there be a change when there’s already everything ? There’s everything here— every color that was ever seen, or composed, or dreamed of, since the world began ; ” and with her other hand she stroked, affectionately, her variegated quilt. You have a great many pieces, but you have n’t as many as there are here ; and the more you should patch them together the more the whole thing would resemble this dear, dazzling old friend. I have another idea, very, very charming, and perhaps her ladyship can guess what it is.” Rosy kept her fingers on Pinnie’s arm, and, smiling, turned her brilliant eyes from one of her female companions to the other, as if she wished to associate them as much as possible in their interest in her. " In connection with what we were talking about a few minutes ago — could n’t your ladyship just go a little further, in the same line? ” Then, as Lady Aurora looked troubled and embarrassed, blushing at being called upon to answer a conundrum, as it were, so publicly, her infirm friend came to her assistance. “ It will surprise you at first, but it won’t when I have explained it : my idea is just simply a pink dressing-gown ! ”
“ A pink dressing-gown ! ” Lady Aurora repeated.
“ With a neat black trimming ! Don’t you see the connection with what we were talking of before our good visitors came in ? ”
“ That would be very pretty,” said Pinnie. “ I have made them like that, in my time. Or blue, trimmed with white.”
“ No, pink and black, pink and black — to suit my complexion. Perhaps you did n’t know I have a complexion ; but there are very few things I have n’t got ! Anything at all I should fancy, you were so good as to say; well, now, I fancy that! Your ladyship does see the connection by this time, does n’t she ? ”
Lady Aurora looked distressed, as if she felt that she certainly ought to see it, but was not sure that even yet it did n’t escape her, and as if, at the same time, she were struck with the fact that this sudden evocation might result in a strain on the little dressmaker’s resources. “ A pink dressing-gown would certainly be very becoming, and Miss Pynsent would be very kind,” she said; while Hyacinth made the mental comment that it was a largish order, as Pinnie would have, obviously, to furnish the materials as well as the labor. The amiable coolness with which the invalid laid her under contribution was, however, to his sense, quite in character, and he rejected that, after all, when you were stretched on your back like that, you had the right to reach out your hands (it was n’t far you could reach them at best) and seize what you could get. Pinnie declared that she knew just the article Miss Muniment wanted, and that she would undertake to make a sweet thing of it; and Rosy went on to say that she must explain of what use such an article would be, but for this purpose there must be another guess. She would give it to Miss Pynsent and Hyacinth —as many times as they liked: What had she and Lady Aurora been talking about before they came in ? She clasped her hands, and her eyes glittered with her eagerness, while she continued to turn them from Lady Aurora to the dressmaker. What would they imagine? What would they think natural, delightful, magnificent — if one could only end, at last, by making out the right place to put it? Hyacinth suggested, successively, a printing-press, a music-box, and a shower-bath — or perhaps even a full-length portrait of her ladyship; and Pinnie looked at him askance, in a frightened way, as if perchance he were joking too broadly. Rosy at last relieved their suspense, and announced, “A sofa, just a sofa, now ! What do you say to that ? Do you suppose that’s an idea that could have come from any one but her ladyship ? She must have all the credit of it ; she came out with it in the course of conversation. I believe we were talking of the peculiar feeling that comes just under the shoulder-blades if one never has a change. She mentioned it as she might have mentioned a plaster, or another spoonful of that American stuff. We are thinking it over, and one of these days, if we give plenty of time to the question, we shall find the place, the very nicest and snuggest of all, and no other. I hope you see the connection with the pink dressing-gown,” she remarked to Pinnie, “ and I hope you see the importance of the question, Shall anything go ? I should like you to look round a bit, and tell me what you would answer if I were to say to you, Can anything go ? ”
“ I ’m sure there’s nothing I should like to part with,” Pinnie returned ; and while she surveyed the scene, Lady Aurora, with delicacy, to lighten Amanda’s responsibility, got up and turned to the window, which was open to the summer evening, and admitted, still, the last rays of the long day. Hyacinth, after a moment, placed himself beside her, looking out with her at the dusky multitude of chimney-pots and the small black houses, roofed with grimy tiles. The thick, warm air of a London July floated beneath them, suffused with the everlasting uproar of the town, which appeared to have sunk into quietness, but again became a mighty voice, as soon as one listened for it; here and there, in poor windows, glimmered a turbid light, and high above, in a clearer, smokeless zone, a sky still fair and luminous, a faint silver star looked down. The sky was the same that, far away in the country, bent over golden fields, and purple hills, and gardens where nightingales sang ; but from this point of view everything that covered the earth was ugly and sordid, and seemed to express, or to represent, the weariness of toil. In an instant, to Hyacinth’s surprise, Lady Aurora said to him, “ You never came, after all, to get the books.”
“ Those you kindly offered to lend me ? I did n’t know it was an understanding.”
Lady Aurora gave an uneasy laugh. “ I have picked them out; they are quite ready.”
“ It’s very kind of you,” the young man rejoined. I will come and get them some day, with pleasure.” He was not very sure that he would; but it was the least he could say.
“ She ’ll tell you where I live, you know,” Lady Aurora went on, with a movement of her head in the direction of the bed, as if she were too shy to mention it herself.
“ Oh, I have no doubt she knows the way — she could tell me every street and every turn ! ” Hyacinth exclaimed.
“ She has made me describe to her, very often, how I come and go. I think that few people know more about London than she. She never forgets anything.”
“ She’s a wonderful little witch — she terrifies me! ” said Hyacinth.
Lady Aurora turned her modest eyes upon him. “ Oh, she’s so good, she’s so patient! ”
“ Yes, and so wise, and so self-possessed.”
“ Oh, she’s immensely clever,” said her ladyship. “ Which do you think the cleverest ? ”
“ The cleverest ? ”
“ I mean of the girl and her brother.”
“ Oh, I think he, some day, will be prime minister of England.”
“ Do you really ? I’m so glad ! ” cried Lady Aurora, with a flush of color in her face. “ I’m so glad you think that will be possible. You know it ought to be, if things were right.”
Hyacinth had not professed this high faith for the purpose of playing upon her ladyship’s feelings, but when he perceived her eager responsiveness he felt almost as if he had been making sport of her. Still, he said no more than he believed when he remarked, in a moment, that he had the greatest expectations of Paul Muniment’s future : he was sure that the world would hear of him, that England would feel him, that the public, some day, would acclaim him. It was impossible to associate with him without feeling that he was very strong, that he must play an important part.
“Yes, people wouldn’t believe — they would n’t believe,” Lady Aurora murmured softly, appreciatively. She was evidently very much pleased with what Hyacinth was saying. It was, moreover, a pleasure to himself to place on record his opinion of his friend ; it seemed to make that opinion more clear, to give it the force of an invocation, a prophecy. This was especially the case when he asked why on earth nature had endowed Paul Muniment with such extraordinary powers of mind, and powers of body too — because he was as strong as a horse — if it had not been intended that he should do something great for his fellow-men. Hyacinth confided to her ladyship that he thought the people in his own class generally very stupid — what he should call third-rate minds, He wished it were not so, for Heaven knew that he felt kindly to them, and only asked to cast his lot with theirs; but he was obliged to confess that centuries of poverty, of ill-paid toil, of bad, insufficient food and wretched homes, had not a favorable effect upon the higher faculties. All the more reason that when there was a splendid exception, like Paul Muniment, it should count for a tremendous force— it had so much to make up for, to act for. And then Hyacinth repeated that in his own low walk of life people had really not the faculty of thought ; their minds had been simplified — reduced to two or three elements. He saw that this declaration made his interlocutress very uncomfortable ; she turned and twisted herself, vaguely, as if she wished to protest, but she was far too considerate to interrupt him. He had no desire to distress her, but there were times in which it was impossible for him to withstand the perverse satisfaction he took in insisting on his lowliness of station, in turning the knife about in the wound inflicted by such explicit reference, and in letting it be seen that if his place in the world was immeasurably small he at least had no illusions about either himself or his fellows. Lady Aurora replied, as quickly as possible, that she knew a great deal about the poor — not the poor like Rose Muniment, but the terribly, wretchedly poor, with whom she was more familiar than Hyacinth would perhaps believe—and that she was often struck with their great talents, with their quick wit, with their conversation being really much more entertaining, to her at least, than what one usually heard in drawing-rooms. She often found them very, very clever.
Hyacinth smiled at her, and said, “ Ah, when you get to the lowest depths of poverty, they may become very brilliant again. But I ’m afraid I have n’t gone so far down. In spite of my opportunities, I don’t know many absolute paupers.”
“ I know a great many.” Lady Aurora hesitated, as if she did n’t like to boast, and then she added, I dare say I know more than any one.” There was something touching, beautiful, to Hyacinth, in this simple, diffident admission ; it confirmed his impression that Lady Aurora was in some mysterious, incongruous, and even slightly ludicrous manner a heroine, a creature of a noble ideal. She perhaps guessed that he was indulging in reflections that might be favorable to her, for she said, precipitately, the next minute, as if there were nothing she dreaded so much as the danger of a compliment, “ I think your aunt’s so very attractive — and I’m sure Rose Muniment thinks so.” No sooner had she spoken than she blushed again ; it appeared to have occurred to her that he might suppose she wished to contradict him by presenting this case of his aunt as a proof that the baser sort, even in a prosaic upper stratum, were not without redeeming points. There was no reason why she should not have had this intention ; so without sparing her, Hyacinth replied —
“ You mean that she ’s an exception to what I was saying? ”
Lady Aurora stammered a little ; then, at last, as if, since he would n’t spare her, she would n’t spare him, either, “ Yes, and you ’re an exception too ; you 'll not make me believe you ’re wanting in intelligence. The Muniments don’t think so,” she added.
“ No more do I myself; but that does n’t prove that exceptions are not frequent. I have blood in my veins that is not the blood of the people.”
“ Oh, I see,” said Lady Aurora, sympathetically. And with a smile she went on : “ Then you ’re all the more of an exception—in the upper class.”
Her smile was the kindest in the world, but it did not blind Hyacinth to the fact that, from his own point of view, he had been extraordinarily indiscreet. He believed, a moment before, that he would have been proof against the strongest temptation to refer to the mysteries of his lineage, inasmuch as, if made in a boastful spirit (and he had no desire as yet to make it an exercise in humility), any such reference would inevitably contain an element of the grotesque. He had never opened his lips to any one about his birth (since the dreadful days when the question was discussed, with Mr. Vetch’s assistance, in Lomax Place); never even to Paul Muniment, never to Millicent Henning nor to Eustache Poupin. He had an impression that people had ideas about him, and with some of Miss Henning’s he had been made acquainted : they were of such a nature that he sometimes wondered whether the tie which united him to her were not, on her own side, a secret determination to satisfy her utmost curiosity before she had done with him. But he flattered himself that he was impenetrable, and none the less he had begun to swagger, idiotically, the first time a temptation (to call a temptation) presented itself. He turned crimson as soon as he had spoken, partly at the sudden image of what he had to swagger about, and partly at the absurdity of a challenge having appeared to proceed from the bashful gentlewoman before him. He hoped she did n’t particularly regard what he had said (and indeed she gave no sign whatever of being startled by his claim to a pedigree — she had too much quick delicacy for that ; she appeared to notice only the symptoms of confusion that followed it), but, as soon as possible, he gave himself a lesson in humility by saying, “ I gather that you spend most of your time among the poor, and I am sure you carry blessings with you. But I frankly confess that I don’t understand a lady giving herself up to people like us, when there is no obligation. Wretched company we must be, when there is so much better to be had.”
“I like it very much — you don’t understand.”
“ Precisely — that is what I say. Our little friend on the bed is perpetually talking about your house, your family, your splendors, your gardens and green-houses ; they must be magnificent, of course ” —
“ Oh, I wish she would n’t; really, I wish she would n’t. It makes one feel dreadfully ! ” Lady Aurora interposed, with vehemence.
“ Ah, you had better give her her way ; it ’s such a pleasure to her.”
“ Yes, more than to any of us! ” sighed her ladyship, helplessly.
“ Well, how can you leave all those beautiful things, to come and breathe this beastly air, surround yourself with hideous images, and associate with people whose smallest fault is that they are ignorant, brutal, and dirty ? I don’t speak of the ladies here present,” Hyacinth added, with the manner which most made Millicent Henning (who at once admired and hated it) wonder where on earth he had got it.
“ Oh, I wish I could make you understand ! ” cried Lady Aurora, looking at him with troubled, appealing eyes, as if he were unexpectedly discouraging.
“ After all, I do understand ! Charity exists in your nature, as a kind of passion.”
“ Yes, yes, it’s a kind of passion ! ” her ladyship repeated, eagerly, very thankful for the word. “ I don’t know whether it’s charity — I don’t mean that. But whatever it is, it’s a passion
— it’s my life—it’s all I care for.” She hesitated a moment, as if there might be something indecent in the confession, or dangerous in the recipient ; and then, evidently, she was mastered by the comfort of being able to justify herself for an eccentricity that had excited notice, as well as by the luxury of discharging her soul of a long accumulation of timid, sacred sentiment. " Already, when I was fifteen years old, I wanted to sell all I had, and give to the poor. And ever since, I have wanted to do something; it has seemed as if my heart would break, if I should n’t be able ! ”
Hyacinth was struck with a great respect, which, however, did not prevent him (the words sounded patronizing, even to himself) from saying in a moment, “ I suppose you are very religious.”
Lady Aurora looked away, into the thickening dusk, at the smutty housetops, the blurred emanation, above the streets, of lamplight. “ I don’t know — one has one’s ideas — some of them may be strange. I think a great many clergymen do good, but there are others I don’t like at all. I dare say we had too many, always, at home ; my father likes them so much. I think I have known too many bishops ; I have had the church too much on my back. I dare say they would n’t think at home, you know, that one was quite what one ought to be; but of course they consider me very odd, in every way, as there ’s no doubt I am. I should tell you that I don’t tell them everything; for what’s the use, when people don’t understand ? We are thirteen at home, and eight of us are girls ; and if you think it’s so very splendid, and she thinks so, I should like you both to try it for a little ! My father is n’t rich, and we none of us are married, and we are not at all handsome, and — oh, there are all kinds of things,” the young woman went on, looking round at him an instant, shyly but excitedly. “ I don’t like society ; and neither would you if you were to see the kind there is in London — at least in some parts,” Lady Aurora added, considerately. " I dare say you would n’t believe all the humbuggery and the tiresomeness that one has to go through. But I’ve got out of it; I do as I like, though it has been rather a struggle. I have my liberty, and that is the greatest blessing in life, except the reputation of being queer, and even a little mad, which is a greater advantage still. I ‘m a little mad, you know ; you need n’t be surprised if you hear it. That’s because I stop in town when they go into the country ; all the autumn, all the winter, when there ’s no one here (except three or four millions), and the rain drips, drips, drips, from the trees in the big, dull park, where my people live. I dare say I ought n’t to say such things to you, but, as I tell you, I ’m a little mad, and I might as well keep up my character. When one is one of eight daughters, and there’s very little money (for any of us, at least), and there’s nothing to do but to go out with three or four others in a mackintosh, one can easily go off one’s head. Of course there ’s the village, and it’s not at all a nice one, and there are the people to look after, and Heaven knows they ’re in want of it ; but one must work with the vicarage, and at the vicarage there are four more daughters, and it’s dreary, and it ’s dreadful, and one has too much of it, and they don’t understand what one thinks or feels, or a single word one says to them ! Besides, they are stupid, I admit — the country poor ; they are very, very dense. I like South Lambeth better,” said Lady Aurora, smiling and taking breath, at the end of her nervous, hurried, almost incoherent speech, of which she had delivered herself pantingly, with strange intonations and grotesque movements of her neck, as if she were afraid, from one moment to the other, that she would repent, not of her confidence, but of her egotism.
It placed her, for Hyacinth, in an unexpected light, and made him feel that her awkward, aristocratic spinsterhood was the cover of tumultuous passions. No one could have less the appearance of being animated by a vengeful irony ; but he saw that this delicate, shy, generous, and evidently most tender creature was not a person to spare, wherever she could prick them, the institutions among which she had been brought up, and against which she had violently reacted. Hyacinth had always supposed that a reactionary meant a backslider from the liberal faith, but Rosy’s devotee gave a new value to the term ; she appeared to have been driven to her present excuses by the squire and the parson, and the conservative influences of that upper-class British home which our young man had always supposed to be the highest fruit of civilization. It was clear that her ladyship was an original, and an original with force ; but it gave Hyacinth a real pang to hear her make light of Inglefield (especially the park), and of the opportunities that must have abounded in Belgrave Square. It had been his belief that in a world of suffering and injustice these things were, if not the most righteous, at least the most fascinating. If they did n’t give one the finest sensations, where were such sensations to be had ? He looked at Lady Aurora with a face which was a tribute to her sudden vividness, and said, “ I can easily understand your wanting to do some good in the world, because you 're a kind of saint.”
“A very curious kind ! ” laughed her ladyship.
“ But I don’t understand your not liking what your position gives you.”
“ I don’t know anything about my position. I want to live ! ”
“ And do you call this life? ”
“ I ’ll tell you what my position is, if you want to know : it’s the dullness of the grave! ”
Hyacinth was startled by her tone, but he nevertheless laughed back at her, “ Ah, as I say, you ’re a kind of saint! ” She made no reply, for at that moment the door opened, and Paul Muniment’s tall figure emerged from the blackness of the staircase into the twilight, now very faint, of the room. Lady Aurora’s eyes, as they rested upon him, seemed to declare that such a vision as that, at least, was life. Another person, as tall as himself, appeared behind him, and Hyacinth recognized with astonishment their insinuating friend, Captain Sholto. Muniment had brought him up for Rosy’s entertainment, being ready, and more than ready, always, to usher in any one in the world, from the prime minister to the common hangman, who might give that young lady a sensation. They must have met in Bloomsbury, and if the captain, some accident smoothing the way, had made him half as many advances as he had made some other people, Hyacinth could see that it would n’t take long for Paul to lay him under contribution. But what the mischief was the captain up to ? It cannot be said that our young man arrived, this evening, at an answer to that question. The occasion proved highly festal, and the hostess rose to it without lifting her head from the pillow. Her brother introduced Captain Sholto as a gentleman who had a great desire to know extraordinary people, and she made him take possession of the chair at her bedside, out of which Miss Pynsent quickly edged herself, and asked him who he was, and where he came from, and how Paul had made his acquaintance, and whether he had many friends in South Lambeth. Sholto had not the same grand air that hovered about him at the theatre : he was shabbily dressed, very much like Hyacinth himself; but his appearance gave our young man an opportunity to wonder what made him so unmistakably a gentleman, in spite of his seedy coat and trousers — in spite, too, of his rather overdoing the manner of being appreciative even to rapture, and thinking everything and every one most charming and curious. He stood out, in poor Rosy’s tawdry little room, among her hideous attempts at decoration, and looked to Hyacinth a being from another sphere, playing over the place and company a smile (one could n’t call it false or unpleasant, yet it was distinctly not natural), of which he had got the habit in camps and courts. It became brilliant when it rested on Hyacinth, and the captain greeted him as he might have done a dear young friend from whom he had been long and painfully separated. He was easy, he was familial, he was exquisitely benevolent and bland, and altogether incomprehensible.
Rosy was a match for him, however. He evidently did n’t puzzle her in the least; she thought his visit the most natural thing in the world. She expressed all the gratitude that decency required, but appeared to assume that people who climbed her stairs would always find themselves repaid. She remarked that her brother must have met him for the first time that day, for the way that he sealed a new acquaintance was usually by bringing the person immediately to call upon her. And when the captain said that if she did n’t like them he supposed the poor wretches were dropped on the spot, she admitted that this would be true if it ever happened that she disapproved ; as yet, however, she had not been obliged to draw the line. This was perhaps partly because he had not brought up any of his political friends — people that he knew only for political reasons. Of these people, in general, she had a very small opinion, and she would not conceal from Captain Sholto that she hoped he was not one of them. Rosy spoke as if her brother represented South Lambeth, at least, in the House of Commons, and she had discovered that a parliamentary career lowered the moral tone. The captain, however, entered quite into her views, and told her that it was as common friends of Mr. Hyacinth Robinson that Mr. Muniment and he had come together; they were both so fond of him that this had immediately constituted a kind of tie. On hearing himself commemorated in such a brilliant way, Mr. Hyacinth Robinson averted himself ; he saw that Captain Sholto might be trusted to make as great an effort for Rosy’s entertainment as he gathered that he had made for that of Millicent Henning, that evening at the theatre. There were not chairs enough to go round, and Paul fetched a three-legged stool from his own apartment, after which he undertook to make tea for the company, with the aid of a tin kettle and a spirit-lamp ; these implements having been set out, flanked by half a dozen cups, in honor, presumably, of the little dressmaker, who was to come such a distance. The little dressmaker, Hyacinth observed with pleasure, fell into earnest conversation with Lady Aurora, who bent over her, flushed, smiling, and stammering, and apparently so nervous that Pinnie, in comparison, was majestic and serene. They communicated presently to Hyacinth a plan they had unanimously evolved, to the effect that Miss Pynsent should go home to Belgrave Square with her ladyship, to settle certain preliminaries in regard to the pink dressinggown, toward which, if Miss Pynsent assented, her ladyship hoped to be able to contribute sundry morsels of stuff, which had proved their quality in honorable service, and might be dyed to the proper tint. Pinnie, Hyacinth could see, was in a state of religious exaltation ; the visit to Belgrave Square and the idea of coöperating in such a manner with the nobility were privileges she could not take solemnly enough. The latter luxury, indeed, she began to enjoy without delay ; Lady Aurora suggesting that Mr. Muniment might be rather awkward about making tea, and that they should take the business off his hands. Paul gave it up to them, with a pretense of compassion for their conceit, remarking that at any rate it took two women to supplant one man; and Hyacinth drew him to the window, to ask where he had encountered Sholto, and how he liked him.
They had met in Bloomsbury, as Hyacinth supposed, and Sholto had made up to him very much as a country curate might make up to an archbishop. He wanted to know what he thought of this and that : of the state of the labor-market at the East End, of the terrible case of the old woman who had starved to death at Walham Green, of the practicability of more systematic out-of-door agitation, and the prospects of their getting one of their own men — one of the Bloomsbury lot — into Parliament. “ He was mighty civil,” Muniment said, “ and I don’t find that he has picked my pocket. He looked as if he would like me to suggest that he should stand as one of our own men, one of the Bloomsbury lot. He asks too many questions, but he makes up for it by not paying any attention to the answers. He told me he would give the world to see a workingman’s ‘ interior.’ I did n’t know what he meant at first: he wanted a favorable specimen, one of the best; he had seen one or two that he did n’t believe to be up to the average. I suppose he meant his Dutch cabinetmaker, and he wanted to compare. I told him I did n’t know what sort of a specimen my place would be, but that he was welcome to look round, and that it contained at any rate one or two original features. I expect he has found that’s the case — with Rosy and the noble lady. I wanted to show him off to Rosy ; he ’s good for that, if he is n’t good for anything else. I told him we expected a little company this evening, so it might be a good time ; and he cried that to mingle in such an occasion as that was the dream of his existence. He seemed in a rare hurry, as if I were going to show him a hidden treasure, and insisted on driving me over in a hansom. Perhaps his idea is to introduce the use of cabs among the workingclasses ; certainly, I ’ll vote for him for Parliament, if that’s his line. On our way over he talked to me about you: told me you were an intimate friend of Ids.”
“ What did he say about me? ” Hyacinth inquired, with promptness.
“ Vain little beggar ! ”
“ Did he call me that ? ” said Hyacinth, ingenuously.
“ He said you were simply astonishing.”
“ Simply astonishing ?” Hyacinth repeated.
“ For a person of your low extraction.”
“ Well, I may be queer, but he is certainly queerer. Don’t you think so, now you know him ? ”
Paul Muniment looked at his young friend a moment. “ Do you want to know what he is ? He’s a tout.”
“ A tout ? What do you mean ? ”
“ Well, a cat’s-paw, if you like better.”
Hyacinth stared. “ For whom, pray ? ”
“ Or a fisherman, if you like better still. I give you your choice of comparison. I made them up as we came along in the hansom. He throws his nets and hauls in the little fishes — the pretty little shining, wriggling fishes. They are all for her ; she swallows ’em down.”
“For her? Do you mean the Princess ? ”
“ Her serene highness. Take care, my tadpole ! ”
“ Why should I take care ? The other day you told me not to.”
“ Yes, I remember. But now I see more.”
“ Did he speak of her ? What did he say ? ” asked Hyacinth, eagerly.
“ I can’t tell you now what he said, but I ’ll tell you what I guessed.”
“ And what’s that ? ”
They had been talking, of course, in a very low tone, and their voices were covered by Rosy’s chatter in the corner, by the liberal laughter with which Captain Sholto accompanied it, and by the much more discreet, though earnest, intermingled accents of Lady Aurora and Miss Pynsent. But Paul Muniment spoke more softly still — Hyacinth felt a kind of suspense — as he replied in a moment, “ Why, she ’s a monster ! ”
“ A monster ? ” repeated our young man, from whom, this evening, Paul Muniment seemed destined to elicit ejaculations and echoes.
Muniment glanced toward the captain, who was apparently more and more fascinated with Rosy. “ In him I think there’s no great harm. He’s only a conscientious fisherman ! ”
It must be admitted that Captain Sholto justified to a certain extent this definition by the manner in which he baited his hook for such little facts as might help him to a more intimate knowledge of his host and hostess. When the tea was made, Rose Muniment asked Miss Pynsent to be so good as to hand it about. They must let her poor ladyship rest a little, must they not ? — and Hyacinth could see that in her innocent but inveterate self-complacency she wished to reward and encourage the dressmaker, draw her out and present her still more, by offering her this graceful exercise. Sholto sprang up at this, and begged Pinnie to let him relieve her, taking a cup from her hand; and poor Pinnie, who perceived, in a moment, that he was some kind of masquerading gentleman, who was bewildered by the strange mixture of elements that surrounded her, and unused to being treated like a duchess (for the Captain’s manner was a triumph of respectful gallantry), collapsed, on the instant, into a chair, appealing to Lady Aurora with a frightened smile, and conscious that, deeply versed as she might be in the theory of decorum, she had no precedent that could meet such an occasion. " Now, how many families would there be in such a house as this, and what should you say about the sanitary arrangements ? Would there be others on this floor — what is it, the third, the fourth ? — beside yourselves, you know, and should you call it a fair specimen of a tenement of its class ? ” It was with such inquiries as this that Captain Sholto beguiled their tea-drinking, while Hyacinth made the reflection that, though he evidently meant them very well, they were characterized by a want of fine tact, by too patronizing a curiosity. The captain requested information as to the position in life, the avocations and habits, of the other lodgers, the rent they paid, their relations with each other, both in and out of the family. “ Now, would there be a good deal of close packing, do you suppose, and any perceptible want of — a — sobriety ? ”
Paul Muniment, who had swallowed his cup of tea at a single gulp — there was no offer of a second — gazed out of the window into the dark, which had now come on, with his hands in his pockets, whistling, impolitely, no doubt, but with brilliant animation. He had the manner of having made over their visitor altogether to Rosy, and of thinking that whatever he said or did it was all so much grist to her indefatigable little mill. Lady Aurora looked distressed and embarrassed, and it is a proof of the degree to which our little hero had the instincts of a man of the world that he guessed exactly how vulgar she thought this new acquaintance. She was, doubtless, rather vexed, also — Hyacinth had learned this evening that Lady Aurora could be vexed — at the alacrity of Rosy’s responses ; the little person in the bed gave the captain every satisfaction, considered his questions as a proper tribute to humble respectability, and supplied him, as regards the population of Audley Court, with statistics and anecdotes which she had picked up by mysterious processes of her own. At last Lady Aurora, upon whom Paul Muniment had not been at pains to bestow much conversation, took leave of her, and signified to Hyacinth that for the rest of the evening she would assume the care of Miss Pynsent. Pinnie looked very tense and solemn, now that she was really about to be transported to Belgrave Square, but Hyacinth was sure she would acquit herself only the more honorably ; and when he offered to call for her there, later, she reminded him, under her breath, with a little sad smile, of the many years during which, after nightfall, she had carried her work, pinned up in a cloth, about London.
Paul Muniment, according to his habit, lighted Lady Aurora down-stairs, and Captain Sholto and Hyacinth were alone for some minutes with Rosy ; which gave the former, taking up his hat and stick, an opportunity to say to his young friend, “ Which way are you going ? Not my way, by chance ? ” Hyacinth saw that he hoped for his company, and he became conscious that, strangely as Muniment had gratified him, and too promiscuously investigating as he had just shown himself, this ingratiating personage was not more easy to resist than he had been the other night at the theatre. The captain bent over Rosy’s bed as if she had been a fine lady on a satin sofa, promising to come back very soon and very often, and the two men went down-stairs. On their way they met Paul Muniment, coming up, and Hyacinth felt rather ashamed, he could scarcely tell why, that his friend should see him marching off with the " tout.” After all, if Muniment had brought him to see his sister, might not he at least walk with him ? " I ’m coming again, you know, very often. I dare say you 'll find me a great bore! ” the captain announced, as he bade good-night to his host. “ Your sister is a most interesting person, one of the most interesting persons I have ever seen, and the whole thing, you know, exactly the sort of thing I wanted to get at, only much more — really, much more—original and curious. It has been a great success, a grand success ! ” And the captain felt his way down the dusky shaft, while Paul Muniment, above, gave him the benefit of rather a wavering candlestick, and answered his civil speech with an “ Oh, well, you take us as you find us, you know ! ” and an outburst of frank but not unfriendly laughter.
Half an hour later. Hyacinth found himself in Captain Sholto’s chambers, seated on a big divan, covered with Persian rugs and cushions, and smoking the most delectable cigar that had ever touched his lips. As they left Audley Court the captain had taken his arm, and they had walked along together in a desultory, colloquial manner, till on Westminster Bridge (they had followed the embankment, beneath St. Thomas’s Hospital) Sholto said, " By the way, why should n’t you come home with me, and see my little place ? I’ve got a few things that might amuse you — some pictures, some odds and ends I’ve picked up, and a few bindings ; you might tell me what you think of them.” Hyacinth assented, without hesitation ; he had still in his ear the reverberation of the captain’s inquiries in Rose Muniment’s room, and he saw no reason why he, on his side, should not embrace an occasion of ascertaining how, as his companion would have said, a man of fashion would live now.
This particular specimen lived in a large, old-fashioned house in Queen Anne Street, of which he occupied the upper floors, and whose high, wainscoted rooms he had filled with the spoils of travel and the ingenuities of modern taste. There was not a country in the world he did not appear to have ransacked, and to Hyacinth his trophies represented a wonderfully long purse. The whole establishment, from the lowvoiced, inexpressive valet who, after he had poured brandy into tail tumblers, gave dignity to the popping of sodawater corks, to the quaint little silver receptacle in which he was invited to deposit the ashes of his cigar, was such a revelation for our appreciative hero that he felt himself hushed and made sad, so poignant was the thought that it took thousands of things which he, then, should never possess nor know to make an accomplished man. He had often, in evening walks, wondered what was behind the walls of certain spacious, bright-windowed houses in the West End, and now he got an idea. The first effect of the idea was to overwhelm him.
“ Well, now, tell me what you thought of our friend the Princess,” the captain said, thrusting out the loose yellow slippers which his servant had helped to exchange for his shoes. He spoke as if he had been waiting impatiently for the proper moment to ask that question, so much might depend on the answer.
“ She ’s beautiful — beautiful,” Hyacinth answered, almost dreamily, with his eyes wandering all over the room.
“ She was so interested in all you said to her; she would like so much to see you again. She means to write to you — I suppose she can address to the place in Bloomsbury ? — and I hope you ’ll go to her house, if she proposes a day.”
“ I don’t know — I don’t know. It seems so strange.”
“ What seems strange, my dear fellow ? ”
“ Everything ! My sitting here with you ; my introduction to that lady ; the idea of her wanting, as you say, to see me again, and of her writing to me ; and this whole place of yours, with all these dim, rich curiosities hanging on the walls, and glinting in the light of that rose-colored lamp. You yourself, too — you are strangest of all.”
The captain looked at him, in silence, so fixedly for a while, through the fumes of their tobacco, after he had made this last charge, that Hyacinth thought he was perhaps offended ; but this impression was presently dissipated by further manifestations of sociability and hospitality, and Sholto took occasion, later, to let him know how important it was, in the days they were living in, not to have too small a measure of the usual, destined as they certainly were — “ in the whole matter of the relations of class with class, and all that sort of thing, you know ” — to witness some very startling developments. The captain spoke as if, for his part, he were a child of his age (so that he only wanted to see all it could show him), down to the point of his yellow slippers. Hyacinth felt that he himself had hot been very satisfactory about the Princess; but as his nerves began to tremble a little more into tune with the situation, he repeated to his host what Millicent Henning had said about her at the theatre — asked if this young lady had correctly understood him in believing that she had been turned out of the house by her husband.
“ Yes, he literally pushed her into the street — or into the garden ; I believe the scene took place in the country. But perhaps Miss Henning did n’t mention, or perhaps I did n’t mention, that the Prince would at the present hour give everything he owns in the world to get her back. Fancy such a scene ! ” said the captain, laughing in a manner that struck Hyacinth as rather profane.
He stared, with dilated eyes, at this picture, which seemed to evoke a comparison with the only incident of the sort that had come within his experience — the forcible ejection of intoxicated females from public houses. “ That magnificent being — what had she done ? ”
“ Oh, she had made him feel he was an ass ! ” the captain answered, promptly. He turned the conversation to Miss Henning; said he was so glad Hyacinth gave him an opportunity to speak of her. He got on with her famously ; perhaps she had told him. They became immense friends — en tout bien tout honneur, s’entend. Now, there was another London type, plebeian but brilliant; and how little justice one usually did it, how magnificent it was! But she, of course, was a wonderful specimen. " My dear fellow, I have seen many women, and the women of many countries,”the captain went on, “ and I have seen them intimately, and I know what I am talking about; and when I tell you that that one —that one ” — Then he suddenly paused, laughing in his democratic way. “ But perhaps I am going too far : you must always pull me up, you know, when I do. At any rate, I congratulate you ; I do, heartily. Have another cigar. Now what sort of — a — salary would she receive at her big shop, you know ? I know where it is ; I mean to go there and buy some pocket-handkerchiefs.”
Hyacinth knew neither how far Captain Sholto had been going, nor exactly on what he congratulated him; and he pretended, at least, an equal ignorance on the subject of Millicent’s salary. He did n’t want to talk about her, moreover, nor about his own life ; he wanted to talk about the captain’s, and to elicit information that would be in harmony with his romantic chambers, which reminded our hero somehow of Bulwer’s novels. His host gratified this desire most liberally, and told him twenty stories of things that had happened to him in Albania, in Madagascar, and even in Paris. Hyacinth induced him easily to talk about Paris (from a different point of view from M. Poupin’s), and sat there drinking in enchantments. The only thing that fell below the high level of his entertainment was the bindings of the captain’s books, which he told him frankly, with the conscience of an artist, were not very good. After he left Queen Anne Street, he was quite too excited to go straight home ; he walked about, with his mind full of images and strange speculations, till the gray London streets began to grow clear with the summer dawn.
The aspect of South Street, Mayfair, on a Sunday afternoon in August, is not enlivening, yet the Prince had stood for ten minutes gazing out of the window at the genteel vacancy of the scene: at the closed blinds of the opposite houses ; the lonely policeman on the corner, covering a yawn with a white cotton hand; the low-pitched light itself, which seemed conscious of an obligation to observe the decency of the British Sabbath. The Prince, however, had a talent for that kind of attitude; it was one of the things by which he had exasperated his wife; he could remain motionless, with the aid of some casual support for his high, lean person, considering serenely and inexpressively any object that might lie before him, and presenting his aristocratic head at a favorable angle, for periods of extraordinary length. On first coming into the room he had given some attention to its furniture and decorations, perceiving at a glance that they were rich and varied ; some of the things he recognized as old friends, odds and ends the Princess was fond of, which had accompanied her in her remarkable wanderings, while others were unfamiliar, and suggested vividly that she had not ceased to " collect.” The Prince made two reflections: one was that she was living as expensively as ever ; the other that, however this might be, no one had such a feeling as she for the mise-en-scène of life, such a talent for arranging a room. She had still the most charming salon in Europe.
It was his impression that she had taken the house in South Street but for three months; yet, gracious heaven, what had she not put into it ? The Prince asked himself this question without violence, for that was not to be his line to-day. He could be angry to a point at which he himself was often frightened, but he honestly believed that this was only when he had been baited beyond endurance, and that as a usual thing he was really as mild and accommodating as the extreme urbanity of his manner appeared to announce. There was indeed nothing to suggest to the world in general that he was an impracticable or vindictive nobleman : his features were not regular, and his complexion had a bilious tone; but his dark brown eye, which was at once salient and dull, expressed benevolence and melancholy ; his head drooped from his long neck in a considerate, attentive style ; and his close-cropped black hair, combined with a short, fine, pointed beard, completed his resemblance to some old portrait of a personage of distinction under the Spanish dominion at Naples. To-day, at any rate, he had come in conciliation, almost in humility, and that is why he did not permit himself even to murmur at the long delay to which he was subjected. He knew very well that if his wife should consent to take him back it would be only after a probation to which this little wait in her drawing-room was a trifle. It was a quarter of an hour before the door opened, and even then it was not the Princess who appeared, but only Madame Grandoni.
Their greeting was a very silent one. She came to him with both hands outstretched, and took his own and held them awhile, looking up at him in a kindly, motherly manner. She had elongated her florid, humorous face to a degree that was almost comical, and the pair might have passed, in their speechless solemnity, for acquaintances meeting in a house in which a funeral was about to take place. It was indeed a house on which death had descended, as he very soon learned, from Madame Grandoni’s expression ; something had perished there forever, and he might proceed to bury it as soon as he liked. His wife’s ancient German friend, however, was not a person to keep up a manner of that sort very long, and when, after she had made him sit down on the sofa beside her, she shook her head, slowly and definitely, several times, it was with a face in which a more genial appreciation of the circumstances had already begun to appear.
“ Never — never — never ? ” said the Prince, in a deep, hoarse voice, which was at variance with his aristocratic slimness. He had much of the aspect which, in late-coming members of longdescended races, we qualify to-day as effete ; but his speech might have been the speech of some deep-chested fighting ancestor.
“ Surely you know your wife as well as I,” she replied, in Italian, which she evidently spoke with facility, though with a strong guttural accent. “ I have been talking with her: that is what has made me keep you. I have urged her to see you. I have told her that this could do no harm and would pledge her to nothing. But you know your wife,” Madame Grandoni repeated, with a smile which was now distinctly facetious.
Prince Casamassima looked down at his boots. “ How can one ever know a person like that ? I hoped she would see me for five minutes.”
“ For what purpose ? Have you anything to propose ? ”
“ For what purpose ? To rest my eyes on her beautiful face.”
“ Did you come to England for that ? ”
“ For what else should I have come ? ” the Prince inquired, turning his blighted gaze to the opposite side of South Street.
“ In London, such a day as this, già,” said the old lady, sympathetically. " I am very sorry for you ; but if I had known you were coming, I would have written to you that you might spare yourself the pain.”
The Prince gave a low, interminable sigh. “ You ask me what I wish to propose. What I wish to propose is that my wife does not kill me inch by inch.”
“ She would be much more likely" to do that if you lived with her ! ” Madame Grandoni cried.
“ Cara signora, she does n’t appear to have killed you,” the melancholy nobleman rejoined.
“ Oh, me? I am past killing. I am as hard as a stone. I went through my miseries long ago ; I suffered what you have not had to suffer ; I wished for death many times, and I survived it all. Our troubles don’t kill us, Prince; it is we who must try to kill them. I have buried not a few. Besides, Christina is fond of me, God knows why ! ” Madame Grandoni added.
“And you are so good to her,” said the Prince, laying his hand on her plump, wrinkled fist.
“ Che vuole ? I have known her so long. And she has some such great qualities.”
“ Ah, to whom do you say it ? ” And Prince Casamassima gazed at his boots again, for some moments, in silence. Suddenly he inquired, “ How does she look to-day ? ”
“ She always looks the same : like an angel who came down from heaven yesterday, and has been rather disappointed in her first day upon earth !”
The Prince was evidently a man of a simple nature, and Madame Grandoni’s rather violent metaphor took his fancy. His face lighted up for a moment, and he replied with eagerness, “ Ah, she is the only woman I have ever seen whose beauty never for a moment falls below itself. She has no bad days. She’s so handsome when she’s angry ! ”
” She is very handsome to-day, but she is not angry,” said the old lady.
“ Not when my name was announced ?”
“ I was not with her then ; but when she sent for me, and asked me to see you, it was quite without passion. And even when I argued with her, and tried to persuade her (and she does n’t like that, you know), she was still perfectly quiet.”
“ She hates me, she despises me too much, eh ? ”
“ How can I tell, dear Prince, when she never mentions you ?”
“ Never, never ? ”
“ That ’s better than if she railed at you, and abused you.”
“ You mean it should give me more hope for the future ? ” the young man asked, quickly.
Madame Grandoni hesitated a moment. “ I mean it’s better for me,” she answered, with a laugh, of which the friendly ring covered as much as possible her equivocation.
“ Ah, you like me enough to care,” he murmured, turning on her his sad, grateful eyes.
“ I am very sorry for you. Ma che vuole ? ”
The Prince had, apparently, nothing to suggest, and he only exhaled, in reply, another gloomy groan. Then he inquired whether his wife pleased herself in that country, and whether she intended to pass the summer in London. Would she remain long in England, and — might he take the liberty to ask ? — what were her plans ? Madame Grandoni explained that the Princess had found the British metropolis much more to her taste than one might have expected, and that, as for plans, she had as many, or as few, as she had always had. Had he ever known her to carry out any arrangement, or to do anything, of any kind, she had selected or determined upon ? She always, at the last moment, did the other thing, the one that had been out of the question; and it was for that that Madame Grandoni, herself, privately, made her preparations. Christina, now that everything was over, would leave London from one day to the other; but they should not kuow where they were going until they arrived. The old lady concluded by asking the Prince if he himself liked England. He thrust forward his thick lips. “ How can I like anything ? Besides, I have been here before: I have friends,” he said.
His companion perceived that he had more to say to her, to extract from her, but that he was hesitating, nervously, because he feared to incur some warning, some rebuff, with which his dignity
— which, in spite of his position of discomfiture, was really very great— might find it difficult to square itself. He looked vaguely round the room, and presently he remarked, “ I wanted to see for myself how she is living.”
“Yes, that is very natural.”
“ I have heard — I have heard ” — and Prince Casamassima stopped.
“ You have heard great rubbish, I have no doubt.” Madame Grandoni watched him, as if she foresaw what was coming.
“ She spends a terrible deal of money,” said the young man.
“ Indeed she does.” The old lady knew that, careful as he was of his very considerable property, which at one time had required much nursing, his wife’s prodigality was not what lay heaviest on his mind. She also knew that, expensive and luxurious as Christina might be, she had never yet exceeded the income settled upon her by the Prince at the time of their separation — an income determined wholly by himself, and his estimate of what was required to maintain the social consequence of his name, for which he had a boundless reverence. “ She thinks she is a model of thrift — that she counts every shilling,” Madame Grandoni continued. “ If there is a virtue she prides herself upon, it ’s her economy. Indeed, it’s the only thing for which she takes any credit.”
“ I wonder if she knows that I ” — the Prince hesitated a moment, then he went on — " that I spend really nothing. But I would rather live on dry bread than that, in a country like this, in this English society, she should not make a proper appearance.”
“ Her appearance is all you could wish. How can it help being proper, with me to set her off ? ”
“You are the best thing she has, dear lady. So long as you are with her, I feel a certain degree of security ; and one of the things I came for was to extract from you a promise that you won’t leave her.”
“ Ah, let us not tangle ourselves up with promises ! ” Madame Grandoni exclaimed. “ You know the value of any engagement one may take with regard to the Princess; it’s like promising you I will stay in the bath when the hot water is turned on. When I begin to be scalded, I have to jump out! I will stay while I can ; but I should n’t stay if she were to do certain things.” Madame Grandoni uttered these last words very gravely, and for a minute she and her companion looked deep into each other’s eyes.
“ What things do you mean ?”
“ I can’t say what things. It is utterly impossible to predict, on any occasion, what Christina will do. She is capable of giving us great surprises. The things I mean are things I should recognize as soon as I saw them, and they would make me leave the house on the instant.”
“ So that if you have not left it yet ” — the Prince asked, in a low tone, with extreme eagerness.
“ It is because I have thought I may do some good by staying.”
The young man seemed only half satisfied with this answer; nevertheless, he said, in a moment, “To me it makes all the difference. And if anything of the kind you speak of should happen, that would be only the greater reason for your staying — that you might interpose, that you might arrest”— He stopped short; Madame Grandoni was laughing, with her Teutonic homeliness, in his face.
“ You must have been in Rome, more than once, when the Tiber had overflowed, è vero ? What would you have thought then, if you had heard people telling the poor wretches in the Ghetto, on the Ripetta, up to their knees in liquid mud, that they ought to interpose, to arrest ? ”
“ Capisco bane,” said the Prince, dropping his eyes. He appeared to have closed them, for some moments, as if a slow spasm of pain were passing through him. “ I can’t tell you what torments me most,” he presently went on, “ the thought that sometimes makes my heart rise into my mouth. It’s a haunting fear.” And his pale face and distended eyes might indeed have been those of a man before whom some horrible spectre had risen.
“ You need n’t tell me. I know what you mean, my poor friend.”
“ Do you think, then, there is a danger — that she will drag my name, do what no one has ever dared to do ? That I would never forgive,” said the young man, almost under his breath ; and the hoarseness of his whisper lent a great effect to the announcement.
Madame Grandoni wondered for a moment whether she had not better tell him (as it would prepare him for the worst) that his wife cared about as much for his name as for the sediment in her teapot; but after an instant’s reflection, she reserved this information for another hour. Besides, as she said to herself, the Prince ought already to know, perfectly, to what extent Christina attached the idea of an obligation or an interdict to her ill-starred connection with an ignorant and superstitious Italian race, whom she despised for their provinciality, their parsimony, and their tiresomeness (she thought their talk the climax of puerility), and whose fatuous conception of their importance in the great modern world she had on various public occasions sufficiently covered with her derision. The old lady finally contented herself with remarking, “ Dear Prince, your wife is a very proud woman.”
“Ah, how could my wife be anything else ? But her pride is not my pride. And she has such ideas, such opinions! Some of them are monstrous ! ”
Madame Grandoni smiled. “ She does n’t think it so necessary to have them when you are not there.”
“ Why then do you say that you enter into my fears — that you recognize the stories I have heard ?”
I know not whether the good lady lost patience with his persistence; at all events, she broke out, with a certain sharpness, “Understand this — understand this : Christina will never consider you — your name, your illustrious traditions — in any case in which she does n’t consider, much more, herself ! ”
The Prince appeared to study, for a moment, this somewhat ambiguous yet portentous phrase ; then he slowly got up, with his hat in his hand, and walked about the room, softly, solemnly, as if he were suffering from his long, thin feet. He stopped before one of the windows, and took another survey of South Street; then, turning, he suddenly inquired, in a voice into which he had evidently endeavored to infuse a colder curiosity, “ Is she admired in this place? Does she see many people.”
“She is thought very strange, of course. But she sees whom she likes. And they mostly bore her to death ! ” Madame Grandoni added, with a laugh.
“ Why then do you tell me this country pleases her ? ”
Madame Grandoni left her place. She had promised Christina, who detested the sense of being under the same roof with her husband, that the Prince’s visit should be kept within narrow limits ; and this movement was intended to signify, as kindly as possible, that it had better terminate. “It is the common people that please her,” she replied, with her hands folded on her crumpled satin stomach, and her humorous eyes raised to his face. “It is the lower orders, the basso popolo.”
“ The basso popolo ? ” The Prince stared, at this fantastic announcement.
“The povera gente,” pursued the old lady, laughing at his amazement.
“ The London mob — the most horrible, the most brutal ” —
“ Oh, she wishes to raise them.”
“ After all, something like that is no more than I had heard,” said the Prince gravely.
“ Che vuole ? Don’t trouble yourself ; it won’t be for long ! ”
Madame Grandoni saw that this comforting assurance was lost upon him; his face was turned to the door of the room, which had been thrown open, and all his attention was given to the person who crossed the threshold. Madame Grandoni transferred her own to the same quarter, and recognized the little artisan whom Christina had, in a manner so extraordinary and so profoundly characteristic, drawn into her box that night at the theatre, and whom she had since told her old friend she had sent for to come and see her.
“ Mr. Robinson ! ” the butler, who had had a lesson, announced, in a loud, colorless tone.
“ It won’t be for long,” Madame Grandoni repeated, for the Prince’s beuelit; but it was to Mr. Robinson the words had the air of being addressed.
He stood there, while Madame Grandoni signaled to the servant to leave the door open and wait, looking from the queer old lady, who was as queer as before, to the tall foreign gentleman (he recognized his foreignness at a glance), whose eyes seemed to challenge him, to devour him; wondering whether he had made some mistake, and needing to remind himself that he had the Princess’s note in his pocket, with the day and hour as clear as her magnificent handwriting could make them.
“ Good-morning good-morning. I hope you are well,” said Madame Grandoni, with quick friendliness, but turning her back upon him at the same time, to ask of the Prince, in Italian, as she extended her hand, “ And do you not leave London soon — in a day or two ? ”
The Prince made no answer; he still scrutinized the little bookbinder from head to foot, as if he were wondering who the deuce he could be. His eyes seemed to Hyacinth to search for the small, neat bundle he ought to have had under his arm, and without which he was incomplete. To the reader, however, it may be confided that, dressed more carefully than he had ever been in his life before, stamped with that extraordinary transformation which the British Sunday often operates in the person of the wage-earning cockney, with his handsome head uncovered and suppressed excitement in his brilliant little face, the young man from Lomax Place might have passed for anything rather than a carrier of parcels. “ The Princess wrote to me, madam, to come and see her,” he remarked, as a precaution, in case he should have incurred the reproach of bad taste.
“ Oh, yes, I dare say ; ” and Madame Grandoni guided the Prince to the door, with an expression of the hope that he would have a comfortable journey back to Italy.
A faint flush had come into his face ; he appeared to have satisfied himself on the subject of Mr. Robinson. " I must see you once more — I must — it’s impossible ! ”
“ Ah, well, not in this house, you know.”
“ Will you do me the honor to meet me, then ? ” And as the old lady hesitated, he added, with sudden passion, “ Dearest friend, I entreat you on my knees!” After she had agreed that if he would write to her, proposing a day and place, she would see him, he raised her ancient knuckles to his lips, and, without further notice of Hyacinth, turned away. Madame Grandoni requested the servant to announce the other visitor to the Princess, and then approached Mr. Robinson, rubbing her hands and smiling, with her head on one side. He smiled back at her, vaguely ; he did n’t know what she might be going to say. What she said was, to his surprise, —
“ My poor young man, may I take the liberty of asking your age ? ”
“ Certainly, madam : I am twentyfour.”
“ And I hope you are industrious, and sober, and — what do you call it in English ? — steady.”
“I don’t think I am very wild,” said Hyacinth, smiling still. He thought the old woman patronizing, but he forgave her.
“ I don’t know how one speaks, in this country, to young men like you. Perhaps one is considered meddling, impertinent.”
“I like the way you speak,” Hyacinth interposed.
She stared, and then, with a humorous affectation of dignity, replied, “ You are very good. I am glad it amuses you. You are evidently intelligent and clever,” she went on, " and if you are disappointed it will be a pity.”
“How do you mean, if I am disappointed ? ” Hyacinth looked more grave.
“ Well, I dare say you expect great things, when you come into a house like this. You must tell me if I wound you. I am very old-fashioned, and I am not of this country. I speak as one speaks to young men, like you, in other places.”
“ I am not so easily wounded ! ” Hyacinth exclaimed, with a flight of imagination. “ To expect anything, one must know something, one must understand : is n’t it so ? And I am here without knowing, without understanding. I have come only because a lady, who seems to me very beautiful and very kind, has done me the honor to send for me.”
Madame Grandoni examined him a moment, as if she were struck by his good looks, by something delicate that was stamped upon him everywhere. “ I can see you are very clever, very intelligent ; no, you are not like the young men I mean. All the more reason ” — And she paused, giving a little sigh. “ I want to warn you a little, and I don’t know how. If you were a young Roman, it would be different.”
“ A young Roman ? ”
“ That’s where I live, properly, in Rome. If I hurt you, you can explain it that way. No, you are not like them.”
“You don’t hurt me—please believe that ; you interest me very much,” said Hyacinth, to whom it did not occur that he himself might appear patronizing. “ Of what do you want to warn me ? ”
“ Well —only to advise you a little. Do not give up anything.”
“ What can I give up ? ”
“ Do not give up yourself. I say that to you in your interest. I think you have some trade—I forget what; but whatever it may be, remember that to do it well is the best thing — it is better than paying visits, better even than a Princess ! ”
“Ah, yes, I see what you mean ! ” Hyacinth exclaimed, exaggerating a little. “ I am very fond of my trade, I assure you.”
“ I am delighted to hear it. Hold fast to it, then, and be quiet; be diligent, and honest, and good. I gathered the other night that you are one of the young men who want everything changed— I believe there are a great many in Italy, and also in my own dear old Deutschland— and even think it’s useful to throw bombs into innocent crowds, and shoot pistols at their rulers, or at any one. I won’t go into that. I might seem to be speaking for myself, and the fact is that for myself I don’t care ; I am so old that I may hope to spend the few days that are left me without receiving a bullet. But before you go any further, please think a little whether you are right.”
“ It is n’t just that you should impute to me ideas which I may not have,” said Hyacinth, turning very red, but taking more and more of a fancy, all the same, to Madame Grandoni. “ You talk at your ease about our ways and means, but if we were only to make use of those that you would like to see”— And, while he blushed, smiling, the young man shook his head two or three times, with great significance.
“ I should n’t like to see any ! ” the old lady cried. “ I like people to bear their troubles as one has done one’s self. And as for injustice, you see how kind I am to you when I say to you again, “ Don’t, don’t give anything up. I will tell them to send you some tea,” she added, as she took her way out of the room, presenting to him her round, low, aged back, and dragging over the carpet a scanty and lustreless train.