HYACINTH took several long walks by himself, beyond the gates of the park and through the neighboring country — walks during which, committed as he was to reflection on the general “ rumness ” of his destiny, he had still a delighted attention to spare for the green dimness of leafy lanes ; the attraction of meadow-paths that led from stile to stile, and seemed a clue to some pastoral happiness, some secret of the fields; the hedges thick with flowers, bewilderingly common, for which he knew no names ; the picture-making quality of thatched cottages ; the mystery and sweetness of blue distances; the bloom of rural complexions ; the sweetness of little girls bobbing curtsies by waysides (a sort of homage he had never prefigured) ; the soft sense of the turf under feet that had never ached but from paving-stones. One morning, as he had his face turned homeward, after a long stroll, he heard behind him the sound of a horse’s hoofs, and, looking back, perceived a gentleman, who would presently pass him, advancing up the road which led to the lodge-gates of Medley. He went his way, and, as the horse overtook him, he. noticed that the rider slackened pace. Then he turned again, and recognized in this personage his brilliant, occasional friend Captain Sholto. The captain pulled up alongside of him, saluting him with a smile and a movement of the whip handle. Hyacinth stared with surprise, not having heard from the Princess that she was expecting him. He gathered, however, in a moment, that she was not; and meanwhile he received an impression, on Sholto’s part, of riding-gear that was “ knowing ” — of gaiters and spurs and a curious waistcoat ; perceiving that this was a phase of the captain’s varied nature which he had not yet had an opportunity to observe. He struck him as very high in the air, perched on his big, lean chestnut, and Hyacinth noticed that if the horse was heated the rider was cool.
“ Good-morning, my dear fellow. I thought I should find you here ! ” the captain exclaimed. “ It’s a good job I’ve met you this way, without having to go to the house.”
“ Who gave you reason to think I was here ? ” Hyacinth asked : partly occupied with the appositeness of this inquiry. and partly thinking, as his eyes wandered over his handsome friend, bestriding so handsome a beast, what a jolly thing it would be to know how to ride. He had already, during the few days he had been at Medley, had time to observe that the knowledge of luxury and the extension of one’s sensations beget a taste for still newer pleasures.
“ Why, I knew the Princess was capable of asking you,” Sholto said; “ and I learned at the Sun and Moon that you had not been there for a long time. I knew, furthermore, that as a general thing you go there a good deal, don’t you ? So I put this and that together, and judged you were out of town.”
This was very luminous and straightforward, and might have satisfied Hyacinth, were it not for that irritating reference to the Princess being “ capable of asking him.” He knew as well as the captain that it had been tremendously eccentric in her to do so, but somehow a transformation had lately taken place in him which made it disagreeable for him to receive that view from another, and particularly from a gentleman of whom, on a certain occasion, several months before, he had had strong grounds for thinking unfavorably. He had not seen Sholto since the evening when a queer combination of circumstances caused him, more queerly still, to sit and listen to comic songs in the company of Millicent Henning and this admirer. The Captain did not conceal his admiration ; Hyacinth had his own ideas about his taking that line in order to look more innocent. That evening, when he accompanied Millicent to her lodgings (they parted with Sholto on coming out of the Pavilion), the situation was tense between the young lady and her childhood’s friend. She let him have it, as she said; she gave him a dressing, which she evidently intended should be memorable, for having suspected her, for having insulted her before a military gentleman. The tone she took, and the magnificent audacity with which she took it, reduced him to a kind of gratified helplessness ; he watched her, at last, with something of the excitement with which he would have watched a clever but uncultivated actress, while she worked herself into a passion which he believed to be fictitious. He gave more credence to his jealousy and to the whole air of the case than to her vehement repudiations, enlivened though these were by tremendous head-tossings and skirt-shakings. But he felt baffled and outfaced, and took refuge in sarcasms which, after all, proved as little as her high gibes; seeking a final solution in one of those beastly little French shrugs, as Millicent called them, with which she had already reproached him with interlarding his conversation.
The air was never cleared, though the subject of their dispute was afterwards dropped, Hyacinth promising himself to watch his playmate as he had never done before. She let him know, as may well be supposed, that she had her eye on him, and it must be confessed that, as regards the exercise of a right of supervision, he had felt himself at a disadvantage ever since the night at the theatre. It mattered little that she had pushed him into the Princess’s box (for she herself had not been jealous beforehand ; she had wanted too much to know what such a person could be “ up to,” desiring, perhaps, to borrow a hint), and it mattered little, also, that his relations with the great lady were all for the sake of suffering humanity ; the atmosphere, none the less, was full of thunder for many weeks, and it scarcely signified from which quarter the flash and the explosion proceeded. Hyacinth was a good deal surprised to find that he should care whether Millicent deceived him or not, and even tried to persuade himself that he did n’t; but there was a grain of conviction in his heart that some kind of personal affinity existed between them, and that it would torment him more never to see her at all than to see her go into tantrums in order to cover her tracks. An inner sense told him that her mingled beauty and grossness, her vulgar vitality, the spirit of contradiction yet at the same time of attachment, that was in her, had ended by making her indispensable to him. She bored him as much as she irritated him ; but if she was full of execrable taste, she was also full of life, and her rustlings and chatterings, her wonderful stories, her bad grammar and good health, her insatiable thirst, her shrewd perceptions and grotesque opinions, her mistakes and her felicities, were now all part of the familiar human sound of his little world. He could say to himself that she came after him much more than he went after her, and this helped him, a little, to believe, though the logic was but lame, that she was not making a fool of him. If she were really taking up with a swell, he did n’t see why she wished to retain a bookbinder. Of late, it must be added, he had ceased to devote much consideration to Millicent’s ambiguities; for although he was lingering on at Medley for the sake of suffering humanity, he was quite aware that to say so (if she should ask him for a reason) would have almost as absurd a sound as some of the girl’s own speeches. As regards Sholto, he was in the awkward position of having let him off, as it were, by accepting his hospitality, his bounty ; so that be could n’t quarrel with him except on a fresh pretext. This pretext the captain had apparently been careful not to give, and Millicent had told him, after the triple encounter in the street, that he had driven him out of England, the poor gentleman, whom he insulted by his low insinuations even more (why “ even more ” Hyacinth hardly could think) than he outraged herself. When he asked her what she knew about the captain’s movements, she made no scruple to announce to him that the latter had come to her great shop to make a little purchase (it was a pair of silk braces, if she remembered rightly, and she admitted, perfectly, the transparency of the pretext), and had asked her with much concern whether his gifted young friend (that’s what he called him — Hyacinth could see he meant well) was still in a huff. Millicent had answered that she was afraid he was — the more shame to him ; and then the captain had said that it did n’t matter, for he himself was on the point of leaving England for several weeks (Hyacinth — he called him Hyacinth this time — could n’t have ideas about a man in a foreign country, could he ?), and he hoped that by the time he returned the little cloud would have blown over. Sholto had added that she had better tell him frankly — recommending her at the same time to be gentle with their morbid friend — about his visit to the shop. Their candor, their humane precautions, were all very well ; but after this, two or three evenings, Hyacinth passed and repassed the captain’s chambers in Queen Anne Street, to see if, at the window, there were signs of his being in London, Darkness, however, prevailed, and he was forced to comfort himself a little, when at last making up his mind to ring at the door and inquire, by way of a test, for the occupant, he was informed, by the superior valet whose acquaintance he had already made, and whose air of wearing a jacket left behind by his master confirmed the statement, that the gentleman in question was at Monte Carlo.
“ Have you still got your back up a little ? ” the captain demanded, without rancor ; and in a moment he had swung a long leg over the saddle and dismounted, walking beside his young friend and leading his horse by the bridle. Hyacinth pretended not to know what he meant, for it came over him that after all, even if he had not condoned, at the time, the captain’s suspected treachery, he was in no position, sitting at the feet of the Princess, to sound the note of jealousy in relation to another woman. He reflected that the Princess had originally been, in a manner, Sholto’s property, and if he did, en fin de compte, wish to quarrel with him about Millicent, he would have to cease to appear to poach on the captain’s preserves. It now occurred to him, for the first time, that the latter had intended a kind of exchange ; though it must be added that the Princess, who on a couple of occasions had alluded slightingly to her military friend, had given him no sign of recognizing this gentleman’s claim. Sholto let him know, at present, that he was staying at Bonchester, seven miles off; he had come down from London and put up at the inn. That morning he had ridden over on a hired horse (Hyacinth had supposed this steed was a very fine animal, but Sholto spoke of it as a beastly screw) ; he had been taken by the sudden fancy of seeing how his young friend was coming on.
“ I’m coming on very well, thank you,” said Hyacinth, with some shortness, not knowing exactly what business it was of the captain’s.
“ Of course you understand my interest in you, don’t you ? I’m responsible for you — I put you forward.”
“ There are a great many things in the world that I don’t understand, but I think the thing I understand least is your interest in me. Why the devil ” — And Hyacinth paused, breathless with the force of his inquiry. Then he went on, “ If I were you, I should n’t care a filbert for the sort of person that I happen to be.”
“ That proves how different my nature is from yours ! But I don’t believe it, my boy ; you are too generous for that.” Sholto’s imperturbability always appeared to grow with the irritation it produced, and it was proof even against the just resentment excited by his want of tact. That want of tact was sufficiently marked when he went on to say, “ I wanted to see you here, with my own eyes. I wanted to see how it looked ; it is a rum sight! Of course you know what I mean, though you are always trying to make a fellow explain. I don’t explain well, in any sense, and that’s why I go in only for clever people, who can do without it. It’s very grand, her having brought you down.”
“ Grand, no doubt, but hardly surprising, considering that, as you say, I was put forward by you.”
“ Oh, that’s a great thing for me, but it doesn’t make any difference to her !” Sholto exclaimed. “ She may care for certain things for themselves, but it will never signify a jot to her what I may have thought about them. One good turn deserves another, I wish you would put me forward ! ”
“ I don’t understand you, and I don’t think I want to.” said Hyacinth, as his companion strolled beside him.
The latter put a hand on his arm, stopping him, and they stood face to face a moment. “ I say, my dear Robinson, you ’re not spoiled already, at the end of a week — how long is it ? It is n’t possible you ’re jealous ! ”
“ Jealous of whom ? ” asked Hyacinth, whose failure to comprehend was perfectly genuine.
Sholto looked at him a moment; then, with a laugh. “ I don’t mean Miss Henning.” Hyacinth turned away, and the captain resumed his walk, now taking the young man’s arm and passing his own through the bridle of the horse. “ The courage of it, the insolence, the crânerie ! There isn’t another woman in Europe who could carry it off.”
Hyacinth was silent a little; after which he remarked, “ This is nothing, here. You should have seen me the other day over at Broome, at Lady Marchant’s.”
“ Gad, did she take you there ? I ‘d have given ten pounds to see it. There’s no one like her !” cried the captain, gayly, enthusiastically.
“ There ’s no one like me, I think — for going.”
“ Why, did n’t you enjoy it ? ”
“ Too much — too much. Such excesses are dangerous.”
“ Oh, I ’ll back you,” said the captain ; then, checking their pace, he inquired, “ Is there any chance of our meeting her ? I won’t go into the park.”
“ You won’t go to the house ? ” Hyacinth demanded, staring.
“ Oh dear, no, not while you ’re there.”
“ Well, I shall ask the Princess about you, and have done with it. once for all.”
“ Lucky little beggar, with your fireside talks !” the captain exclaimed. “ Where does she sit now, in the evening? She won’t tell you anything except that I’ m a nuisance ; but even if she were willing to take the trouble to throw some light upon me, it wouldn’t be of much use, because she does n’t understand me, herself.”
“ You are the only thing in the world, then, of which that can be said,” Hyacinth returned.
“ I dare say I am, and I am rather proud of it. So far as the head is concerned, the Princess is all there. I told you, when I presented you, that she was the cleverest woman in Europe, and that is still my opinion. But there are some mysteries you can’t see into unless you happen to have a little heart. The Princess has n’t, though doubtless just now you think that’s her strong point. One of these days you ’ll see. I don’t care a straw, myself, whether she has or not. She has hurt me already so much she can’t hurt me any more, and my interest in her is quite independent of that. To watch her, to adore her, to see her lead her life and act out her extraordinary nature, all the while she treats me like a brute, is the only thing I care for to-day. It does n’t do me a scrap of good, but, all the same, it’s my principal occupation. You may believe me or not — it does n’t in the least matter ; but I’m the most disinterested human being alive. She ’ll tell you I ‘m a tremendous ass, and so one is. But that is n’t all.”
It was Hyacinth who stopped this time, arrested by something new and natural in the tone of his companion, a simplicity of emotion which he had not hitherto associated with him. He stood there a moment looking up at him, and thinking again what improbable confidences it decidedly appeared to be his lot to receive from gentle-folks. To what quality in himself were they a tribute ? The honor was one he could easily dispense with ; though as he scrutinized Sholto he found something in his curious light eyes — an expression of cheerfulness not disconnected from veracity — which put him into a more natural relation with this jaunty, factitious personage. “ Please go on,” he said, in a moment.
“ Well, what I mentioned just now is my real and only motive, in anything. The rest is mere gammon and rubbish, to cover it up — or to give myself the change, as the French say.”
“ What do you mean by the rest ? ” asked Hyacinth, thinking of Millicent Henning.
“ Oh, all the straw one chews, to cheat one’s appetite ; all the rot one dabbles in, because it may lead to something which it never does lead to; all the beastly buncombe (you know) that you and I have heard together in Bloomsbury, and that I myself have poured out, damme, with an eloquence worthy of a better cause. Don’t you remember what I have said to you — all as my own opinion — about the impending change of the relations of class with class ? Impending fiddlesticks ! I believe those that are on top the heap are better than those that are under it, that they mean to stay there, and that if they are not a pack of poltroons they will,”
“ You don’t care for the social question, then?” Hyacinth inquired, with an aspect of which he was conscious of the blankness.
“ I only took it up because she did. It has n’t helped me,” Sholto remarked, smiling. “ My dear Robinson.” he went on, “ there is only one thing I care for in life: to have a look at that woman when I can ; and when I can’t, to approach her in the sort of way I ’m doing now.”
“ It’s a very curious sort of way.”
“ Indeed it is; but if it is good enough for me it ought to be good enough for you. What I want you to do is this — to induce her to ask me over to dine.”
“ To induce her ” — Hyacinth murmured.
“ Tell her I’m staying at Bonchester, and it would be an act of common humanity.”
They proceeded till they reached the gates, and in a moment Hyacinth said, “ You took up the social question, then, because she did ; but do you happen to know why she took it up?”
“ Ah, my dear fellow, you must find that out for yourself. I found you the place, but I can’t do your work for you.”
“ I see — I see. But perhaps you ’ll tell me this : if you had free access to the Princess a year ago, taking her to the theatre and that sort of thing, why should n’t you have it now ? ”
This time Sholto’s white pupils looked strange again. “ You have it now, my dear fellow, but I ’m afraid it doesn’t follow that you ’ll have it a year lienee. She was tired of me then, and of course she’s still more tired of me now, for the simple reason that I ’m more tiresome. She has sent me to Coventry, and I want to come out for a few hours. See how conscientious I am — I won’t pass the gates.”
“ I ’ll tell her I met you,” said Hyacinth. Then, irrelevantly, he added, “ Is that what you mean by her having no heart ? ”
“ Her treating me as she treats me ? Oh, dear, no ; her treating you !”
This had a portentous sound, but it did not prevent Hyacinth from turning round with his visitor (for it was the greatest part of the oddity of the present meeting that the hope of a little conversation with him, if accident were favorable, had been the motive not only of Sholto’s riding over to Medley, but of his coming down to stay, in the neighborhood, at a musty inn, in a dull market-town)— it did not prevent him, I say, from bearing the captain company for a mile on his backward way. Our young man did not pursue this particular topic much further, but he discovered still another reason or two for admiring the light, free action with which his companion had unmasked himself, and the nature of his interest in the revolutionary idea, after he had asked him, abruptly, what he had had in his head when he traveled over that evening, the summer before (he did n’t appear to have come back as often as he promised), to Paul Muniment’s place in South Lambeth. What was he looking for, whom was he looking for, there ?
“ I was looking for anything that would turn up, that might take her fancy. Don’t you understand that I ’m always looking ? There was a time when I went in immensely for illuminated minds, and another when I collected horrible ghost stories (she wanted to cultivate a belief in ghosts), all for her. The day I saw she was turning her attention to the rising democracy, I began to collect little democrats. That’s how I collected you.”
“ Muniment read you exactly, then. And what, did you find to your purpose in Audley Court ? ”
“ Well, I think the little woman with the popping eyes — she reminded me of a bedridden grasshopper — will do. And I made a note of the other one, the old maid with the high nose, the aristocratic sister of mercy. I ’m keeping them in reserve for my next propitiatory offering.”
Hyacinth was silent a moment. “ And Muniment himself — can’t you do anything with him ? ”
“ Oh, my dear fellow, after you he’s poor! ”
“ That’s the first stupid thing you have said. But it does n’t matter, for he dislikes the Princess — what he knows of her — too much ever to consent to see her.”
“ That’s his line, is it ? Then he ’ll do ! ” Sholto cried.
“ Of course he may come, and stay as long as he likes ! ” the Princess exclaimed, when Hyacinth, that afternoon, told her of his encounter, with the sweet, bright surprise her face always wore when people went through the form (supererogatory she apparently meant to declare it) of asking her leave. From the manner in which she granted Sholto’s petition — with a geniality that made light of it, as if the question were not worth talking of, one way or the other —it might have been supposed that the account he had given Hyacinth of their relations was an elaborate, but none the less foolish hoax. She sent a messenger with a note over to Bonchester, and the captain arrived just in time to dress for dinner. The Princess was always late, and Hyacinth’s toilet, on these occasions, occupied him considerably (he was acutely conscious of its deficiencies, and yet tried to persuade himself that they were positively honorable, and that the only garb of dignity, for him, was the costume, as it were, of his profession) ; therefore, when the fourth member of the little party descended to the drawing-room, Madame Grandoni was the only person he found there.
“ Lieber Gott! I’m glad to see you ! What good wind has sent you ? ” she exclaimed, as soon as Sholto came into the room.
“ Did n’t you know I was coming ?” he asked. “ Has the idea of my arrival produced so little agitation ? ”
“ I know nothing of the affairs of this house. I have given them up at last, and it was time. I remain in my room.” There was nothing at present in the old lady’s countenance of her usual spirit of cheer ; it expressed anxiety, and even a certain sternness, and the excellent woman had, perhaps, at this moment more than she had ever had in her life of the air of a duenna who took her duties seriously. She looked almost august. “ From the moment you come it’s a little better. But it is very bad.”
“ Very bad, dear madam ? ”
“ Perhaps you will be able to tell me where Christina veut en venir. I have always been faithful to her— I have always been loyal. But to-day I have lost patience. It has no sense.”
“ I am not sure I know what you are talking about,” Sholto said; “ but if I understand you, I must tell you I think it’s magnificent.”
“ Yes, I know your tone; you are worse than she, because you are cynical. It passes all bounds. It is very serious. I have been thinking what I should do.”
“ Precisely; I know what you would do.”
“ Oh, this time I should n’t come back ! ” the old lady declared. “ The scandal is too great; it is intolerable. My only fear is to make it worse.”
“ Dear Madame Grandoni, you can’t make it worse, and you can’t make it better,” Sholto rejoined, seating himself on the sofa beside her. “ In point of fact, no idea of scandal can possibly attach itself to our friend. She is above and outside of all such considerations, such dangers. She carries everything off; she heeds so little, she cares so little. Besides, she has one great strength — she does no wrong.”
“ Pray, what do you call it when a lady sends for a bookbinder to come and stay with her ?”
“ Why not for a bookbinder as well as for a bishop? It all depends upon who the lady is, and what she is.”
“ She had better take care of one thing first,” cried Madame Grandoni — “ that she shall not have been separated from her husband ! ”
“ The Princess can carry off even that. It’s unusual, it’s eccentric, it’s fantastic, if you will, but it isn’t necessarily wicked. From her own point of view, our friend goes straight. Besides, she has her opinions.”
“ Her opinions are perversity itself.”
“ What does it matter,” asked Sholto, “ if they keep her quiet ? ”
“ Quiet ! Do you call this quiet ? ”
“ Surely, if you ’ll only be so yourself. Putting the case at the worst, moreover, who is to know he’s her bookbinder ? It’s the last thing you’d take him for.”
“ Yes, for that she chose him carefully,” the old lady murmured, still with a discontented eyebrow.
“ She chose him ? It was I who chose him, dear lady ! ” the captain exclaimed, with a laugh which showed how little he shared her solicitude.
“ Yes. I had forgotten ; at the theatre,” said Madame Grandoni, gazing at him as if her ideas were confused, but a certain repulsion from her interlocutor nevertheless disengaged itself. “ It was a fine turn you did him there, poor young man ! ”
“ Certainly, he will have to be sacrificed. But why was I bound to consider him so much ? Have n’t I been sacrificed myself ? ”
“ Oh, if he bears it like you!” cried the old lady, with a short laugh.
“ How do you know how I bear it ? One does what one can,” said the captain, settling his shirt-front. “ At any rate, remember this : she won’t tell people who he is, for his own sake ; and he won’t tell them, for hers. So, as he looks much more like a poet, or a pianist, or a painter, there won’t be that sensation you fear.”
“ Even so it’s bad enough,” said Madame Grandoni. “ And he’s capable of bringing it out, suddenly, himself.”
“ Ah, if he does n’t mind it, she won’t. But that’s his affair.”
“ It’s too terrible, to spoil him for his station,” the old lady went on. “ How can he ever go back ? ”
“ If you want him kept, then, indefinitely, you are inconsistent. Besides, if he pays for it, he deserves to pay. He ’s an abominable little conspirator against society.”
Madame Grandoni was silent a moment ; then she looked at the captain with a gravity which might have been impressive to him, had not his accomplished jauntiness suggested an insensibility to that sort of influence. “ What, then, does Christina deserve?” she asked, with solemnity.
“ Whatever she may get ; whatever, in the future, may make her suffer. But it won’t be the loss of her reputation. She is too distinguished.”
“ You English are strange. Is it because she’s a princess ? ” Madame Grandoni reflected, audibly.
“ Oh, dear, no, her princedom is nothing here. We can easily beat that. But we can’t beat”— And Sholto paused a moment.
“ What then ?” his companion asked.
“ Well, that originality, which seems perfectly natural, without any pose ; the sort, of thing by which she has bedeviled me.”
“ Oh, you!'' murmured Madame Grandoni.
“ If you think so poorly of me, why did you say just now that you were glad to see me ? ” Sholto demanded, in a moment.
“ Because you make another person in the house, and that is more regular ; the situation is by so much less — what did you call it? — eccentric. Nun,” the old lady went on, in a moment, “ so long as you arc here I won’t go off.”
“ Depend upon it that I shall be here until I ’m turned out.”
She rested her small, troubled eyes upon him, but they betrayed no particular enthusiasm at this announcement, “ I don’t understand how, for yourself, on such an occasion, you should like it.”
“ Dear Madame Grandoni, the heart of roan, without being such a hopeless labyrinth as the heart of woman, is still sufficiently complicated. Don’t I know what will become of the little beggar ?”
“ You are very horrible,” said the ancient woman. Then she added, in a different tone, “ He is much too good for his fate.”
“ And pray was n’t I, for mine ? ” the captain asked.
“ By no manner of means ! ” Madame Grandoni answered, rising and moving away from him.
The Princess had come into the room, accompanied by Hyacinth. As it was now considerably past the dinner-hour, the old lady judged that this couple, on their side, had met in the hall and had prolonged their conversation there. Hyacinth watched with extreme interest the way the Princess greeted the captain— observed that it was very simple, easy, and friendly. At dinner she made no stranger of him, including him in everything, as if he had been a useful familiar, like Madame Grandoni. only a little less venerable, yet not giving him any attention that might cause their eyes to meet. She had told Hyacinth that she did n’t like his eyes, nor indeed, very much, any part of him. Of course any admiration, from almost any source, could not fail to be in some degree agreeable to a woman, but of any little impression that one might ever have produced the mark she had made on Godfrey Sholto was the one that ministered least to her vanity. He had been useful, undoubtedly, at times, but at others he had been an intolerable bore. He was so uninteresting in himself, so shallow, so unoccupied and factitious, and really so frivolous, in spite of his pretension (of which she was unspeakably weary) of being all wrapped up in a single idea. It had never, by itself, been sufficient to interest her in any man, the fact that he was in love with her; but indeed she could honestly say that most of the people who had liked her had had, on their own side, something — something in their character or circumstances — that one could care a little about. Not so far as would do any harm, save perhaps in one or two cases ; but still, something.
Sholto was a curious and not particularly edifying English type (as the Princess further described him) ; one of those strange beings produced by old societies that have run to seed, corrupt, exhausted civilizations. He was a cumberer of the earth, and purely selfish, in spite of his devoted, disinterested airs, He was nothing whatever in himself, and had no character or merit save by tradition, reflection, imitation, superstition. He had a longish pedigree — he came of some musty, mouldy county family,” people with a local reputation and an immense lack of general importance ; he had taken the greatest care of his little fortune. He had traveled all over the globe several times, “ for the shooting,” in that grotesque way of the English. That was a pursuit which was compatible with the greatest stupidity. He had a little taste, a little cleverness, a little reading, a little good furniture, a little French and Italian (he exaggerated these latter quantities), an immense deal of assurance, and complete leisure. That, at bottom, was all he represented — idle, trifling, luxurious, yet at the same time pretentious leisure, the sort of thing that led people to invent false, humbugging duties, because they had no real ones. Sholto’s great idea of himself (after his profession of being her slave) was that he was a cosmopolite, and exempt from every prejudice. About the prejudices the Princess could n’t say and did n’t care ; but she had seen him in foreign countries, she had seen him in Italy, and she was bound to say he understood nothing about those people. It was several years before, shortly after her marriage, that she had first encountered him. He had not begun immediately to take the adoring line ; but it had come little by little. It was only alter she had separated from her husband that he had begun really to hang about her ; since when she had suffered much from him. She would do him one justice, however : he had never, so far as she knew, had the impudence to represent himself as anything but hopeless and helpless. It was on this that he took his stand ; he wished to pass for the great model of unrewarded constancy. She could n’t imagine what he was waiting for; perhaps it was for the death of the Prince. But the Prince would never die, nor had she the least desire that he should. She had no wish to be harsh, for of course that sort of thing, from any one, was very flattering; but really, whatever feeling poor Sholto might have, four fifths of it were purely theatrical. He was not in the least a natural human being, but had a hundred affectations and attitudes, the result of never having been obliged to put his hand to anything ; having no serious tastes, and yet being born to a little “ position.” The Princess remarked that she was so glad Hyacinth had no position, and had been forced to do something in life but amuse himself; that was the way she liked her friends now. She had said to Sholto again and again, “ There are plenty of others who will be much more pleased; why not go to them ? It’s such a waste of time : ” and she was sure he had taken her advice, and was by no means, as regards herself, the absorbed, annihilated creature he endeavored to appear. He had told her once that he tried to take an interest in other women — though indeed he had added that it was of no use. Of what use did he expect anything he could possibly do to be ? Hyacinth did not tell the Princess that he had reason to believe the captain’s effort in this direction had not been absolutely vain ; but he made that reflection, privately, with increased confidence. He recognized a further truth even when his companion said, at the end, that, with all she had touched upon, he was a queer combination. Trifler as he was, there was something sinister in him, too; and she confessed she had had a vague feeling, at times, that some day he might do her a hurt. Hyacinth, at this, stopped short, on the threshold of the drawing-room, and asked in a low voice, “ Are you afraid of him ?”
The Princess looked at him a moment ; then smiling, “ Dio mio, how you say that! Should you like to kill him for me ? ”
“ I shall have to kill some one, you know. Why not him, while I ’m about it, if he troubles you ? ”
“ Ah, my friend, if you should begin to kill every one who had troubled me ! ” the Princess murmured, as they went into the room.
Hyacinth knew there was something out of the way, as soon as he saw Lady Aurora’s face look forth at him, in answer to his tap, while she held the door ajar. What was she doing in Pinnie’s bedroom? — a very poor place, into which the dressmaker, with her reverence, would never have admitted a person of that quality, unless things were pretty bad. She was solemn, too ; she did n’t laugh, as usual; she had removed her large hat, with it’s limp, old-fashioned veil, and she raised her finger to her lips. Hyacinth’s first alarm had been immediately after he let himself into the house, with his latch-key, as he always did, and found the little room on the right of the passage, in which Pinnie had lived ever since he remembered, fireless and untenanted. As soon as he had paid the cabman, who put down his portmanteau for him in the hall (he was not used to paying cabmen, and was conscious he gave him too much, but was too impatient, in his sudden anxiety, to care), he hurried up the vile staircase, which seemed viler, even through his preoccupation, than ever, and gave the knock, accompanied by a call the least bit tremulous, immediately answered by Lady Aurora. She drew back into the room a moment, while he stared, in his dismay ; then she emerged again, closing the door behind her —all with the air of enjoining him to be terribly quiet. He felt, suddenly, so sick at the idea of having lingered at Medley, while there was distress at the wretched little house to which he owed so much, that he scarcely found strength for an articulate question, and obeyed, mechanically, the mute, urgent gesture by which Lady Aurora appealed to him to go down-stairs with her. It was only when they stood together in the deserted parlor (it was as if he perceived for the first time what an inelegant odor prevailed there) that he asked, " Is she dying — is she dead ? ” That was the least the strained sadness looking out from the face of the noble visitor appeared to announce.
“ Dear Mr. Robinson, I ’m so sorry for you. I wanted to write, but I promised her I would n’t. She is very ill — we are very anxious. It began ten days ago, and I suppose I must tell you how much she has gone down.” Lady Aurora spoke with more than all her usual embarrassments and precautions, eagerly, yet as if it cost her much pain : pausing a little after everything she said, to see how he would take it; then going on, with a little propitiatory rush. He learned presently what was the matter, what doctor she had sent for, and that if he would wait a little before going into the room it would be so much better ; the invalid having sunk, within half an hour, into a doze of a less agitated kind than she had had for some time, from which it would be an immense pity to run the risk of waking her. The doctor gave her the right things, as it seemed to her ladyship, but he admitted that she had very little power of resistance. He was of course not a very large practitioner, Mr. Buffery, from round the corner, but he seemed really clever ; and she herself had taken the liberty (as she confessed to this she threw off one of her odd laughs, and her color rose) of sending an elderly, respectable person — a kind of nurse. She was out just then ; she had to go, for an hour, for the air — “ only when I come, of course,” said Lady Aurora. Dear Miss Pynsent had had a cold hanging about her, and had not taken care of it. Hyacinth would know how plucky she was about that sort of thing ; she took so little interest in herself. “ Of course a cold is a cold, whoever has it; isn’t it ?” said Lady Aurora. Ten days before, she had taken an additional chill through falling asleep in her chair, in the evening, down there, and letting the fire go out. " It would have been nothing if she had been like you or me, you know,” her ladyship went on ; “ but just as she was then, it made the difference. The day was horribly damp, and it had struck into the lungs, and inflammation had set in. Mr. Buffery says she was impoverished, just rather low and languid, you know.” The next morning she had bad pains and a good deal of fever, yet she had got up. Poor Pinnie’s gracious ministrant did not make clear to Hyacinth what time had elapsed before she came to her relief, nor by what means she had been notified, and he saw that she slurred this over from the admirable motive of wishing him not to feel that the little dressmaker had suffered by his absence or called for him in vain. This, apparently, had indeed not been the case, if Pinnie had opposed, successfully, his being written to. Lady Aurora only said, “ I came in very soon, it was such a delightful chance. Since then she has had everything; only it’s sad to see a person need so little. She did want you to stay ; she has clung to that idea. I speak the simple truth, Mr. Robinson,” the excellent spinster went on.
“ I don’t know what to say to you — you are so extraordinarily good, so angelic,” Hyacinth replied, bewildered and made weak by a strange, unexpected shame. The episode he had just traversed, the splendor he had been living in and drinking so deep of, the unnatural alliance to which he had given himself up, while his wretched little fostermother struggled alone with her death stroke (he could see it was that; the presentiment of it, the last stiff horror, was in all the place) — the contrast seemed to cut him like a knife, and to make the horrible accident of his absence a perversity of his own. “ I can never blame you, when you are so kind, but I wish to God I had known ! ” he broke out.
Lady Aurora clasped her hands, begging him to judge her fairly. “ Of course it was a great responsibility for us, but we thought it right to consider what she urged upon us. She went back to it constantly, that your visit should not be cut short. When you should come of yourself, it would be time enough. I don’t know exactly where you have been, but she said it was such a pleasant house. She kept repeating that it would do you so much good.”
Hyacinth felt his eyes filling with tears. “ She’s dying — she’s dying ! How can she live when she’s like that ? ”
He sank upon the old yellow sofa, the sofa of his lifetime and of so many years before, and buried his head on the shabby, tattered arm. A succession of sobs broke from his lips — sobs in which the accumulated emotion of months and the strange, acute conflict of feelings that had possessed him for the three weeks just past found relief and a kind of solution. Lady Aurora sat down beside him, and laid her finger-tips gently on his hand. So, for a minute, while his tears flowed and she said nothing, he felt her timid, consoling touch. At the end of the minute he raised his head; it came back to him that she had said “ we ” just before, and he asked her whom she meant.
“ Oh, Mr. Vetch, don’t you know ? I have made his acquaintance; it’s impossible to be more kind.” Then, while, for an instant, Hyacinth was silent, wincing, pricked with the thought that Pinnie had been beholden to the fiddler while he was masquerading in high life, Lady Aurora added, “ He’s a charming musician. She asked him once, at first, to bring his violin ; she thought it would soothe her.”
“ I ’m much obliged to him, but now that I ’m here we need n’t trouble him,” said Hyacinth.
Apparently there was a certain dryness in his tone, which was the cause of her ladyship’s venturing to reply, after an hesitation, “ Do let him come, Mr. Robinson ; let him be near you ! I wonder whether you know that — that he has a great affection for you.”
“ The more fool he; I have always treated him like a brute ! ” Hyacinth exclaimed, coloring.
The way Lady Aurora spoke proved to him, later, that she now definitely did know his secret, or one of them, rather; for at the rate things had been going for the last few months he was regularly making a collection. She knew the smaller — not;, of course, the greater ; she had, decidedly, been illuminated by Pinnie’s divagations. At the moment he made that reflection, however, he was almost startled to perceive how completely he had ceased to resent such betrayals, and how little it suddenly seemed to signify that the innocent source of them was about to be quenched. The sense of his larger secret swallowed up that particular anxiety, making him ask himself what it, mattered, for the time that was left to him, that people should whisper to each other his little mystery. The day came quickly when he believed, and yet did n’t care, that it had been universally imparted.
After Lady Aurora left him, promising she would call him the first moment it should seem prudent, he walked up and down the little cold, stale parlor, immersed in his meditations. The shock of the danger of losing Pinnie had already passed away ; he had achieved so much, of late, in the line of accepting the idea of death that the little dressmaker, in taking her departure, seemed already to benefit by this curious discipline. What was most vivid to him, in the deserted scene of Pinnie’s unsuccessful labor, was the changed vision with which he had come back to objects familiar for twenty years. The picture was the same, and all its horrid elements, wearing a kind of greasy gloss in the impure air of Lomax Place; it made, through the mean window-panes, a dismal chiar-oscuro — showed, in their polished misery, the friction of his own little life ; but the eyes with which he looked at it had new terms of comparison. He had known the place was hideous and sordid, but its aspect to-day was pitiful to the verge of the sickening; he could n’t believe that for years together he had accepted, and even, a little, revered it. He was frightened at the sort of service that his experience of grandeur had rendered him. It was all very well to have assimilated that element with a rapidity which had surprises even for himself ; but with sensibilities now so improved, what fresh arrangement could one come to with the very humble, which was in its nature uncompromising ? Though the spring was far advanced, the day was a dark drizzle, and the room had the clamminess of a finished use, an ooze of dampness from the muddy street, where the areas were a narrow slit. No wonder Pinnie had felt it at last, and her small, underfed organism had grown numb and ceased to act. At the thought of her limited, stinted life, the patient, humdrum effort of her needle and scissors, which had ended only in a show-room where there was nothing to show, and a pensive reference to the cut of sleeves no longer worn, the tears again rose to his eyes; but he brushed them aside when he heard a cautious tinkle at the housedoor, which was presently opened by the little besmirched slavey retained for the service of the solitary lodger — a domestic easily bewildered, who had a squint, and distressed Hyacinth by wearing shoes that did n’t match, though they were of an equal antiquity and resembled each other in the facility with which they dropped off. Hyacinth had not heard Mr. Vetch’s voice in the hall, apparently because he spoke in a whisper; but the young man was not surprised when, taking every precaution not to make the door creak, he came into the parlor. The fiddler said nothing to him at first; the two men only looked at each other for a long minute. Hyacinth saw what he most wanted to know — whether he knew the worst about Pinnie ; but what was further in his eyes (they had an expression considerably different from any he had hitherto seen in them) defined itself to our hero only little by little.
“ Don’t you think you might have written me a word ?” said Hyacinth, at last. His anger at having been left in ignorance had quitted him, but he thought the question fair. None the less, he expected a sarcastic answer, and was surprised at the mild reasonableness with which Mr. Vetch replied —
“ I assure you, no responsibility, in the course of my life, ever did more to distress me. There were obvious reasons for calling you back, and yet I could n’t help wishing you might finish your visit. I balanced one thing against the other; it was very difficult.”
“ I can imagine nothing more simple. When people’s nearest and dearest are dying, they are usually sent for.”
The fiddler gave a strange, argumentative smile. If Lomax Place and Miss Pynsent’s select lodging-house wore a new face of vulgarity to Hyacinth, it may be imagined whether the scrubby seediness which had come over Mr. Vetch in his old age was unlikely to lend itself to comparison. The glossy butler at Medley had had a hundred more of the signs of success in life. “ My dear boy, this case was exceptional,” said the old man. “ Your visit had a character of importance.”
“ I don’t know what you know about it. I don’t remember that I told you anything.”
“ No, certainly, you have never told me much. But if, as is probable, you have seen that kind lady who is now up-stairs, you will have learned that Pinnie made a tremendous point of your not being disturbed. She threatened us with her displeasure if we should hurry you back. You know what Pinnie’s displeasure is.” As, at this, Hyacinth turned away with a gesture of irritation, Mr. Vetch went on, “ No doubt she is absurdly fanciful, poor, dear thing ; but don’t, now, cast any disrespect upon it. I assure you, if she had been here alone, suffering, sinking, without a creature to tend her, and nothing before her but to die in a corner, like a starved cat, she would still have faced that fate rather than cut short by a single hour your experience of novel scenes.”
Hyacinth was silent for a moment. “ Of course I know what you mean. But she spun her delusion — she always did, all of them — out of nothing. I can’t imagine what she knows about my ‘ experience ’ of any kind of scenes. I told her, when I went out of town, very little more than I told you.”
“ What she guessed, what she gathered, has been, at any rate, enough. She has made up her mind that you have formed a relation by means of which you will come, somehow or other, into your own. She has done nothing but talk about your grand kindred. To her mind, you know, it’s all one, the aristocracy, and nothing is simpler than that the person — very exalted, as she believes — with whom you have been to stay should undertake your business with her friends.”
“ Oh, well,” said Hyacinth, “I ’m very glad not to have deprived you of that entertainment.”
“ I assure you the spectacle was exquisite.” Then the fiddler added, My dear fellow, please leave her the idea.”
“ Leave it? I’ll do much more !” Hyacinth exclaimed. “ I ’ll tell her my great relations have adopted me, and that I have come back Lord Robinson.”
“ She will need nothing more to die happy,” Mr. Vetch remarked.
Five minutes later, after Hyacinth had obtained from his old friend a confirmation of Lady Aurora’s account of Miss Pynsent’s condition, Mr. Vetch explaining that he came over, like that, to see how she was half a dozen times a day — five minutes later a silence had descended upon the pair, while Hyacinth waited for some sign from Lady Aurora that he might come up-stairs. The fiddler, who had lighted a pipe, looked out of the window, studying intently the physiognomy of Lomax Place; and Hyacinth, making his tread discreet, walked about the room with his hands in his pockets. At last Mr. Vetch observed, without taking his pipe out of his lips, or looking round, “ I think you might be a little more frank with me at this time of day, and at such a crisis.”
Hyacinth stopped in his walk, wondering for a moment, sincerely, what his companion meant, for he had no consciousness, at present, of an effort to conceal anything he could possibly tell (there were some things, of course, he could n’t); on the contrary, his life seemed to him particularly open to the public view, and exposed to invidious comment. It was at this moment he first observed a certain difference; there was a tone in Mr. Vetch’s voice that he had never perceived before — an absence of that note which had made him say, in other days, that the impenetrable old man was diverting himself at his expense. It was as if his attitude had changed, become more explicitly considerate, in consequence of some alteration or promotion on Hyacinth’s part, his having grown older, or more important, or even, simply, more surpassingly curious. If the first impression made upon him by Pinnie’s old neighbor, as to whose place in the list of the sacrificial (his being a gentleman or one of the sovereign people) he formerly was so perplexed ; if the sentiment excited by Mr. Vetch in a mind familiar now for nearly a month with forms of indubitable gentility was not favorable to the idea of fraternization, this secret impatience on Hyacinth’s part was speedily corrected by one of the sudden reactions or quick conversions of which the young man was so often the victim. In the light of the fiddler’s appeal, which evidently meant more than it said ; his musty antiquity ; his typical look of having had, for years, a small, definite use, and taken all the creases and dents of it ; his visible expression, even, of ultimate parsimony, and of having ceased to care for his appearance because he cared more for something else — these things became so many reasons for turning round, going over to him, touching signs of an invincible fidelity, the humble, continuous, single-minded practice of daily duties and an art after all very charming ; pursued, moreover, while persons of the species our restored prodigal had lately been consorting with fidgeted from one selfish sensation to another, and could n’t even live in the same place for three months together.
“ What should you like me to do, to say, to tell you ? Do you want to know what I have been doing in the country ? I should have first to know, myself,” Hyacinth said.
“ Have you enjoyed it very much ?”
“ Yes, certainly, very much — not knowing anything about Pinnie. I have been in a beautiful house, with a beautiful woman.”
Mr. Vetch had turned round; he looked very solemn, through the smoke of his pipe.
“ Is she really a princess ? ”
“ I don’t know what you mean by ‘really.’ I suppose all titles are great rot. But every one seems agreed to call her so.”
“ You know I have always liked to enter into your life ; and to-day the wish is stronger than ever,” the old man remarked, presently, fixing his eyes very steadily on Hyacinth’s.
The latter returned his gaze for a moment; then he asked, “ What makes you say that just now ? ”
The fiddler appeared to deliberate upon his answer, and at last he replied, “ Because you are in danger of losing the best friend yon have ever had.”
“ Be sure I feel it. But if I have got you ” — Hyacinth added.
“ Oh, me ! I ’m very old, and very tired of life.”
“ Yes, I suppose that that’s what one arrives at. Well, if I can help you in any way, you must lean on me, you must make use of me.”
“ That’s precisely what I was going to say to you,” said Mr. Vetch. “ Should you like any money ? ”
“ Of course I should ! But why should you offer it to me ?”
“ Because in saving it up, little by little, I have had you in mind.”
“ Dear Mr. Vetch,” said Hyacinth, “ you have me too much in mind. I’m not worth it. please believe that; for all sorts of reasons. I should make money enough for any uses I have for it, or have any right to have, if I stayed quietly in London and attended to my work. As you know, I can earn a decent living.”
“ Yes, I can see that. But if you stayed quietly in London, what would become of your princess ?”
“ Oh, they can always manage, ladies in that position.”
“ Hanged if I understand her position ! ” cried Mr. Vetch, but without laughing. “ You have been for three weeks without work, and yet you look uncommonly smart.”
“ You see, my living has cost me nothing. When you stay with great people you don’t pay your score,” Hyacinth explained, with great gentleness. “ Moreover, the lady whose hospitality I have been enjoying has made me a very handsome offer of work.”
“ What kind of work ? ”
“ The only kind I know. She is going to send me a lot of books, to do up for her.”
“ And to pay yon fancy prices ? ”
“ Oh, no ; I am to fix the prices myself.”
“ Are not transactions of that kind rather disagreeable, with a lady whose hospitality one has been enjoying ? ” Mr. Vetch inquired.
“ Exceedingly ! That is exactly why I shall do the books, and then take no money.”
“ Your princess is rather clever ! ” the fiddler exclaimed, in a moment, smiling.
“ Well, she can’t force me to take it, if I won’t,” said Hyacinth.
“ No; you must only let me do that.”
“ You have curious ideas about me,” the young man observed.
Mr. Vetch turned about to the window again, remarking that he had curious ideas about everything. Then he added, after an interval —
“ And have you been making love to your great lady ? ”
He had expected a flush of impatience in reply to this inquiry, and was rather surprised at the manner in which Hyacinth answered : “ How shall I explain ? It is not a question of that sort.”
“ Has she been making love to you, then ? ”
“ If you should ever see her, you would understand how absurd that supposition is.”
“ How shall I ever see her ?” returned Mr. Vetch. “ In the absence of that privilege, I think there is something in my idea.”
“ She looks quite over my head,” said Hyacinth, simply. “ It’s by no means impossible you may see her. She wants to know my friends, to know the people who live in the Place. And she would take a particular interest in you, on account of your opinions.”
“ Ah, I have no opinions now, none any more ! ” the old man declared, sadly. “ I only had them to frighten Pinnie.”
“ She was easily frightened,” said Hyacinth.
“ Yes, and easily reassured. Well, I like to know about your life,” his neighbor sighed, irrelevantly. “ But take care the great lady does n’t lead you too far.”
“ How do you mean, too far ?”
“ Isn’t she a conspirator, a revolutionist? Doesn’t she go in for a general rectification, as Eustace calls it ?”
Hyacinth was silent a moment. “ You should see the place — you should see what she wears, what she eats and drinks.”
“ Ah, you mean that she ’s inconsistent with her theories ? My dear boy, she would be a droll woman if she were not. At any rate, I’m glad of it.”
“ Glad of it ?” Hyacinth repeated.
“ For you, I mean, when you stay with her; it’s more luxurious !” Mr. Vetch exclaimed, turning round and smiling. At this moment a little rap on the floor above, given by Lady Aurora. announced that Hyacinth might at last come up and see Pinnie. Mr. Vetch listened and recognized it, and it led him to say, with considerable force. “ There’s a woman whose theories and conduct do square! ”
Hyacinth, on the threshold, leaving the room, stopped long enough to reply, “ Well, when the day comes for my friend to give up — you ‘ll see.”
“ Yes, I have no doubt there are things she will bring herself to sacrifice,” the old man remarked ; but Hyacinth was already out of hearing.
Mr. Vetch waited below till Lady Aurora should come down and give him the news he was in suspense for. His mind was pretty well made up about Pinnie. It had seemed to him, the night before, that death was written in her face, and he judged it on the whole a very good moment for her to lay down her earthly burden. He had reasons for believing that the future could not be sweet to her. As regards Hyacinth, his mind was far from being at ease ; for though he was aware, in a general way, that he had taken up with strange company, and though he had flattered himself, of old, that he should be pleased to see the boy act out his life and solve the problem of his queer inheritance, he was worried by the absence of full knowledge. He put out his pipe, in anticipation of Lady Aurora’s reappearance, and without this consoler he was more accessible still to certain fears that had come to him in consequence of a recent talk, or rather an attempt at a talk, with Eustache Poupin. It was through the Frenchman that he had gathered the little he knew about the occasion of Hyacinth’s unprecedented excursion. His ideas on the subject had been very inferential ; for Hyacinth had made a mystery of his absence to Pinnie, merely letting her know that there was a lady in the case, and that the best luggage he could muster and the best way his shirts could be done up would still not be good enough. Poupin had seen Godfrey Sholto at the Sun and Moon, and it had come to him, through Hyacinth, that there was a remarkable feminine influence in the captain’s life, and mixed up in some way with his presence in Bloomsbury — an influence, moreover, by which Hyacinth himself, for good or for evil, was in peril of being touched. Sholto was the young man’s visible link with a society for which Lisson Grove could have no importance in the scheme of the universe, but as a short cut (too disagreeable to be frequently used) out of Bayswater; therefore, if Hyacinth left town with a new hat and a pair of kid gloves, it must have been to move in the direction of that superior circle, and in some degree, at least, at the solicitation of the before-mentioned feminine influence. So much as this the Frenchman suggested, explicitly enough, as his manner was, to the old fiddler ; but his talk had a flavor of other references which excited Mr. Vetch’s curiosity much more than they satisfied it. They were obscure; they evidently were painful to the speaker; they were confused and embarrassed, and totally wanting in the luminosity which usually characterized the lightest allusions of M. Poupin. It was the fiddler’s fancy that his friend had something on his mind which he was not at liberty to impart, and that it related to Hyacinth, and might, for those who took an interest in the singular lad, constitute a considerable anxiety. Mr. Vetch, on his own part, nursed this anxiety into a tolerably definite shape: he persuaded himself that the Frenchman had been leading the boy too far in the line of social criticism, had given him a push on some crooked path where a fall would be a likely incident. When, on a subsequent occasion, with Poupin, he indulged in a hint of this suspicion, the bookbinder flushed a good deal, and declared that his conscience was pure. It was one of his peculiarities that when his color rose he looked angry, and Mr. Vetch held that his displeasure was a proof that, in spite of his repudiations, he had been unwise; though before they parted Eustache gave this sign of softness, that he shed tears of emotion, of which the reason was not clear to the fiddler, and which appeared, in a general way, to be dedicated to Hyacinth. The interview had taken place in Lisson Grove, where Madame Poupin, however, had not shown herself.
Altogether the old man was a prey to suppositions, which led him to feel how much he himself had outlived the democratic glow of his prime. He had ended by accepting everything (though, indeed, he could n’t swallow the idea that a trick should be played upon Hyacinth), and even by taking an interest in current politics, as to which, of old, he had held the opinion (the same that the Poupins held to-day) that they had been invented on purpose to throw dust in the eyes of disinterested reformers, and to circumvent the social solution. He had given up that problem some time ago: there was no way to clear it up that did n’t seem to make a bigger mess than the actual muddle of human affairs, which, by the time one had reached sixty-five, had mostly ceased to exasperate. Mr. Vetch could still feel a certain sharpness on the subject of the prayer-book and the bishops ; and if at moments he was a little ashamed of having accepted this world, he could reflect that at all events he continued to repudiate the other. The idea of great changes, however, took its place among the dreams of his youth ; for what was any possible change in the relations of men and women but a new combination of the same elements ? If the elements could be made different the thing would be worth thinking of ; but it was not only impossible to introduce any new ones — no means had yet been discovered for getting rid of the old. The figures on the chessboard were still the passions and jealousies and superstitions and stupidities of man, and their position with regard to each other, at any given moment, could be of interest only to the grim, invisible fates that played the game — that sat, through the ages, bow-backed over the table. This laxity had come upon the old man with the increase of his measurement round the waist, of the little heap of half-crowns and half-sovereigns that had accumulated in a tin box with a very stiff padlock, which he kept under his bed, and of the interwoven threads of sentiment and custom that united him to the dressmaker and her foster-son. If he was no longer pressing about the demands he felt he should have a right to make of society, as he had been in the days when his conversation scandalized Pinnie, so he was now not pressing for Hyacinth, either; reflecting that though, indeed, the constituted powers might have to “ count ” with him, it would be in better taste for him not to be importunate about a settlement. What he had come to fear for him was that he should be precipitated by crude force, with results in which the deplorable might not exclude the ridiculous. It may even be said that Mr. Vetch had a secret project of settling a little on his behalf.
Lady Aurora peeped into the room, very noiselessly, nearly half an hour after Hyacinth had left it, and let the fiddler know that she was called to other duties, but that the nurse had come back, and the doctor had promised to look in at five o’clock. She herself would return in the evening, and, meanwhile. Hyacinth was with his aunt, who had recognized him, without a protest; indeed. seemed intensely happy that he should be near her again, and lay there with closed eyes, very weak and speechless, with his hand in hers. Her restlessness had passed and her fever abated, but she had no pulse to speak of, and Lady Aurora did not disguise the fact that, in her opinion, she was rapidly sinking. Mr. Vetch had already accepted it, and after her ladyship had quitted him he lighted another philosophic pipe upon it, lingering on, till the doctor came, in the dressmaker’s dismal, forsaken bower, where, in past years, he had indulged in so many sociable droppings-in and in hot tumblers. The echo of all her little simple surprises and pointless contradictions, her gasping reception of contemplative paradox, seemed still to float in the air ; but the place felt as relinquished and bereaved as if she were already beneath the sod. Pinnie had always been a wonderful hand at " putting away; ” the litter that testified to her most elaborate efforts was often immense, but the reaction in favor of an unspeckled carpet was greater still ; and on the present occasion, before taking to her bed, she had found strength to sweep and set in order as daintily as if she had been sure that the room would never again know her care. Even to the old fiddler, who had not Hyacinth’s sensibility to the mise-en-scène of life, it had the cold propriety of a place arranged for an interment. After the doctor had seen Pinnie, that afternoon, there was no doubt left as to its soon being the scene of dismal preliminaries.
Miss Pynsent, however, resisted her malady for nearly a fortnight more, during which Hyacinth was constantly in her room. He never went back to Mr. Crookenden’s, with whose establishment, through violent causes, his relations seemed indefinitely suspended; and in fact, for the rest of the time that Pinnie demanded his care, he absented himself but twice from Lomax Place for more than a few minutes. On one of these occasions he traveled over to Audley Court and spent an hour there ; on the other he met Millicent Henning, by appointment, and took a walk with her on the embankment. He tried to find a moment to go and thank Madame Poupin for a sympathetic offering, many times repeated, of tisane, concocted after a receipt thought supreme by the couple in Lisson Grove (though little appreciated in the neighborhood generally) ; but he was obliged to acknowledge her kindness only by a respectful letter, which he composed with some trouble, though much elation, in the French tongue, peculiarly favorable, as he believed, to little courtesies of this kind. Lady Aurora came again and again to the darkened house, where she diffused her beneficent influence in nightly watches; in the most modern sanative suggestions; in conversations with Hyacinth, directed with more ingenuity than her fluttered embarrassments might have led one to attribute to her, to the purpose of diverting his mind ; and in tea-makings (there was a great deal of this liquid consumed on the premises during Pinnie’s illness), after a system more enlightened than the usual fashion of Pentonville. She was the bearer of several messages and of a good deal of medical advice from Rose Muniment, whose interest in the dressmaker’s case irritated Hyacinth by its cheerfulness, which even at second-hand was still obtrusive; she appeared very nearly as resigned to the troubles of others as she was to her own.
Hyacinth had been seized, the day after his return from Medley, with a sharp desire to do something enterprising and superior on Pinnie’s behalf. He felt the pressure of a sort of angry sense that she was dying of her poor career, of her uneffaced remorse for the trick she had played him in his boyhood (as if he had n’t long ago. and indeed at the time, forgiven it, judging it to have been the highest wisdom !), of something basely helpless in the attitude of her little circle. He wanted to do something which should prove to himself that he had got the best opinion about the invalid that it was possible to have: so he insisted that Mr. Buffery should consult with a West End doctor, if the West End doctor would consent to meet Mr. Buffery. A physician capable of this condescension was discovered through Lady Aurora’s agency (she had not brought him of her own movement, because, on the one hand, she hesitatedt to impose on the little household in Lomax Place the expense of such a visit; and on the other, with all her narrow personal economies for the sake of her charities, had not the means to meet it herself) ; and in prevision of the great man’s fee Hyacinth applied to Mr. Vetch, as he had applied before, for a loan. The great man came, and was wonderfully civil to Mr. Buffery, whose conduct of the case he pronounced judicious ; he remained several minutes in the house, while he gazed at Hyacinth over his spectacles (he seemed rather more occupied with him than with the patient), and almost the whole of the Place turned out to stare at his chariot. After all, he consented to accept no fee. He put the question aside with a gesture full of urbanity — a course disappointing and displeasing to Hyacinth, who felt in a manner cheated of the full effect of the fine thing he had wished to do for Pinnie; though when he said as much (or something like it) to Mr. Vetch, the caustic fiddler greeted the observation with a face of amusement which, considering the situation, verged upon the unseemly.
Hyacinth, at any rate, had done the best he could, and the fashionable doctor had left directions which foreshadowed relations with an expensive chemist in Bond Street — a prospect by which our young man was to some extent consoled. Poor Pinnie’s decline, however, was not arrested, and one evening, more than a week after his return from Medley, as he sat with her alone, it seemed to Hyacinth that her spirit must already have passed away. The nurse had gone down to her supper, and a perceptible odor, on the staircase, of fizzling bacon indicated that a more cheerful state of things prevailed in the lower regions. Hyacinth could not make out whether Miss Pynsent were asleep or awake; he believed she had not lost consciousness, yet for more than an hour she had given no sign of life. At last she put out her hand, as if she knew he was near her and wished to feel for his, and murmured, “ Why did she come? I did n’t want to see her.” In a moment, as she went on, he perceived to whom she was alluding: her mind had traveled back, through all the years, to the dreadful day (she had described every incident of it to him) when Mrs. Bowerbank had invaded her quiet life and startled her sensitive conscience with a message from the prison. “ She sat there so long — so long. She was very large, and I was frightened. She moaned, and moaned, and cried — too dreadful. I could n’t help it — I could n’t help it! ” Her thought wandered from Mrs. Bowerbank in the discomposed show-room, enthroned on the yellow sofa, to the tragic creature at Milbank, whose accents again, for thehour, lived in her ears; and mixed with this mingled vision was still the haunting sense that she herself might have acted differently. That had been cleared up in the past, so far as Hyacinth’s intention was concerned ; but what was most alive in Pinnie at the present moment was the passion of repentance, of still further expiation. It sickened Hyacinth that she should believe these things were still necessary, and he leaned over her and talked tenderly, with words of comfort and reassurance, He told her not to think of that dismal, far-off time, which had ceased, long ago, to have any consequences for either of them ; to consider only the future, when she should be quite strong again, and he would look after her, and keep her all to himself, and take care of her better, far better, than he had ever done before. He had thought of many things while he sat with Pinnie, watching the shadows made by the night-lamp —high, imposing shadows of objects low and mean — and among them he had followed, with an imagination that went further in that direction than ever before, the probable consequences of his not having been adopted in his babyhood by the dressmaker. The workhouse and the gutter, ignorance and cold, filth and tatters, nights of huddling under bridges and in doorways, vermin, starvation and blows, possibly even the vigorous efflorescence of an inherited disposition to crime — these things, which he saw with unprecedented vividness, suggested themselves as his natural portion. Intimacies with a princess, visits to fine old country-houses, intelligent consideration, even, of the best means of inflicting a scare on the classes of privilege, would in that case not have been within his compass ; and that Pinnie should have rescued him from such a destiny and put these luxuries within his reach was an amelioration which really amounted to success, if he could only have the magnanimity to regard it so.
Her eyes were open and fixed on him, but the sharp ray the little dressmaker used to direct into Lomax Place as she plied her needle at the window had completely left them. “ Not there — what should I do there ? ” she inquired, very softly. " Not with the great — the great ” — and her voice failed.
“ The great what ? What do you mean ? ”
“ You know — you know,” she went on, making another effort. “ Have n’t you been with them ? Have n’t they received you ? ”
“ Ah, they won’t separate us, Pinnie ; they won’t come between us as much as that,” said Hyacinth, kneeling by her bed.
“ You must be separate — that makes me happier. I knew they would find you at last.”
“ Poor Pinnie, poor Pinnie,” murmured the young man.
“ It was only for that — now I ‘m going,” she went on.
“ If you ‘ll stay with me, you need n’t fear,” said Hyacinth, smiling at her.
“ Oh, what would they think ? ” asked the dressmaker.
“ I like you best,” said Hyacinth.
“ You have had me always. Now it’s their turn ; they have waited.”
“ Yes, indeed, they have waited ! ” Hyacinth exclaimed.
“ But, they will make it up; they will make up everything !” the invalid panted. Then she added, “ I couldn’t — could n’t help it ! ”— which was the last flicker of her strength. She gave no further sign of consciousness, and three days later she ceased to breathe. Hyacinth was with her, and Lady Aurora, but neither of them could recognize the moment.
Hyacinth and Mr. Vetch carried her bier, with the help of Eustache Poupin and Paul Muniment. Lady Aurora was at the funeral, and Madame Poupin as well, and twenty neighbors from Lomax Place ; but the most distinguished person (in appearance, at least) in the group of mourners was Millicent Henning, the grave yet brilliant beauty of whose countenance, the high propriety of whose demeanor, and the fine taste and general style of whose black “ costume ” excited no little attention, Mr. Vetch had his idea ; he had been nursing it ever since Hyacinth’s return from Medley, and three days after Pinnie had been consigned to the earth he broached it to his young friend. The funeral had been on a Friday, and Hyacinth had mentioned to him that he should return to Mr. Crookenden’s on the Monday morning. This was Sunday night, and Hyacinth had been out for a walk, neither with Millicent Henning nor with Paul Muniment, but alone, after the manner of old days. When he came in he found the fiddler waiting for him, and burning a tallow candle, in the blighted show-room. He had three or four little papers in his hand, which exhibited some jottings of his pencil, and Hyacinth guessed, what was the truth, but not all the truth, that he had come to speak to him about business. Pinnie had left a little will, of which she had appointed her old friend executor; this fact had already become known to our hero, who thought such an arrangement highly natural. Mr. Vetch informed him of the purport of this simple and judicious document, and mentioned that he had been looking into the dressmaker’s “ affairs.” They consisted, poor Pinnie’s affairs, of the furniture of the house in Lomax Place, of the obligation to pay the remainder of a quarter’s rent, and of a sum of money in the savings-bank. Hyacinth was surprised to learn that Pinnie’s economies had produced fruit at this late day (things had gone so ill with her in recent years, and there had been often such a want of money in the house), until Mr. Vetch explained to him, with genial frankness, that he himself had watched over the little hoard, accumulated during the period of her comparative prosperity, with the stiff determination that it should be sacrificed only in case of desperate necessity. Work had become scarce with Pinnie, but she could still do it when it came, and the money was to be kept for the very possible period when she should be helpless. Mercifully enough, she had not lived to see that day, and the sum in the bank had survived her, though diminished by more than half. She had left no debts but the matter of the house and those incurred during her illness. Of course the fiddler had known—he hastened to give his young friend this assurance — that Pinnie, had she become infirm, would have been able to count absolutely upon him for the equivalent, in her old age, of the protection she had given him in his youth. But what if an accident had overtaken Hyacinth ? What if he had incurred some nasty penalty for his revolutionary dabblings, which, little dangerous as they might be to society, were quite capable, in a country where authority, though good-natured, liked occasionally to make an example, to put him on the wrong side of a prison-wall ? At any rate, for better or worse, by pinching and scraping, she had saved a little, and of that little, after everything was paid off, a fraction would still be left. Everything was bequeathed to Hyacinth — everything but a couple of plated candlesticks and the old chiffonier, which had been so handsome in its day ; these Pinnie begged Mr. Vetch to accept in recognition of services beyond all price. The furniture, everything he did n’t want for his own use. Hyacinth could sell in a lump, and with the proceeds he could wipe out old scores. The sum of money would remain to him; it amounted, in its reduced condition, to about thirtyseven pounds. In mentioning this figure Mr. Vetch appeared to imply that Hyacinth would be master of a very pretty little fortune. Even to the young man himself, in spite of his recent initiations, it seemed far from contemptible; it represented sudden possibilities of still not returning to old Crookenden’s. It represented them, that is, till, presently, he remembered the various advances made him by the fiddler, and reflected that by the time these had been repaid there would hardly be twenty pounds left. That, however, was a far larger sum than he had ever had in his pocket at once. He thanked the old man for his information, and remarked —and there was no hypocrisy in the speech — that he was very sorry Pinnie had not given herself the benefit of the whole of the little fund in her lifetime. To this her executor replied that it had yielded her an interest far beyond any other investment; for he was persuaded she believed she should never live to enjoy it, and this faith was rich in pictures, visions of the effect such a windfall would produce in Hyacinth’s career,
“ What effect did she mean —do you mean ?” Hyacinth inquired. As soon as he had spoken he felt that he knew what the old man would say (it would be a reference to Pinnie’s belief in his reunion with his “ relations,” and the facilities that thirty-seven pounds would afford him for cutting a figure among them) ; and for a moment Mr. Vetch looked at him as if exactly that response were on his lips. At the end of the moment, however, he replied, quite differently, —
“ She hoped you would go abroad and see the world.” The fiddler watched his young friend ; then he added, “ She had a particular wish that you should go to Paris.”
Hyacinth had turned pale at this suggestion, and for a moment he said nothing. “ Ah, Paris ! ” he murmured at last.
“ She would have liked you even to take a little run down to Italy.”
“ Doubtless that would be pleasant. But there is a limit to what one can do with twenty pounds.”
“ How do you mean, with twenty pounds ? ” the old man asked, lifting his eyebrows, while the wrinkles in his forehead made deep shadows in the candle-light.
“ That’s about what will remain, after I have settled my account with you.”
“ How do you mean, your account with me ? I shall not take any of your money.”
Hyacinth’s eyes wandered over his interlocutor’s elderly rustiness. “ I don’t want to be ungracious, but suppose you should lose your powers.”
“ My dear boy, I shall have one of the resources that was open to Pinnie. I shall look to you to be the support of my old age.”
“ You may do so with perfect safety, except for that danger you just mentioned of my being imprisoned or hanged.”
“ It’s precisely because I think it will be less if you go abroad that I urge you to take this chance. You’ll see the world, and you ’ll like it better. You will think society, even as it is, has some good points,” said Mr. Vetch.
“ I have never liked it better than the last few months.”
“ Ah well, wait till you see Paris! ”
“ Oh, Paris — Paris,” Hyacinth repeated, vaguely, staring into the turbid flame of the candle, as if he made out the most brilliant scenes there ; an attitude, accent, and expression which the fiddler interpreted both as the vibration of a latent hereditary chord and a symptom of the acute sense of opportunity.