THE boulevard was all alive, brilliant with illuminations, with the variety and gayety of the crowd ; the dazzle of shops and cafés seen through uncovered fronts or immense lucid plates; the flamboyant porches of theatres and the flashing lamps of carriages; the far-spreading murmur of talkers and strollers, the uproar of pleasure and prosperity, the general magnificence of Paris on a perfect evening in June — the high-pitched, many-voiced Paris of the latter part of the Second Empire, the arbitress of Europe, the source of every sensation, wound up to a sort of sensual ecstasy and unconscious of her doom. Hyacinth had been walking about all day — he had walked from rising till bed-time every day of the week that had elapsed since his arrival—and now an extraordinary fatigue, which, however, was not without its delight (there was a kind of richness, a sweet satiety, in it), a tremendous lassitude, had fallen upon him, and he settled himself in a chair beside a little table in front of Tortoni’s, not so much to rest from it as to enjoy it. He had seen so much, felt so much, learned so much, thrilled and throbbed and laughed and sighed so much, during the past several days, that he was conscious at last of the danger of becoming incoherent to himself, of the need of balancing his accounts.
To-night he came to a full stop ; he simply sat at the door of the most dandified café in Paris, and felt his pulse and took stock of his impressions. He had been intending to visit the Variétés theatre, which blazed through intermediate lights and through the thin foliage of trees not favored by the asphalt, on the other side of the great avenue. But the impression of Schneider — he relinquished that, for the present; it added to the luxury of his situation to reflect that he should still have plenty of time to see the Grande Duchesse. The same effect proceeded from his determination to order a marquise, when the waiter, whose superior shirt-front and whisker emerged from the long white cylinder of an apron, came to take his commands. He knew the decoction was expensive — he had learnt as much at the moment he happened to overhear, for the first time, a mention of it; which had been the night before, in his place in a stall, during an entr’acte, at the Comédie Franchise. A gentleman beside him, a young man in evening-dress, conversing with an acquaintance in the row behind, recommended the latter to refresh himself with the article in question after the play : there was nothing like it, the speaker remarked, of a hot evening, in the open air, when one was thirsty. The waiter brought Hyacinth a tall glass of champagne, in which a pineapple ice was in solution, and our hero felt that he had hoped for a sensation no less delicate when he looked for an empty table on Tortoni’s terrace. Very few tables were empty, and it was his belief that the others were occupied by high celebrities ; at any rate, they were just the types he had had a prevision of and had wanted most to meet, when the extraordinary opportunity to come abroad with his pocket full of money (it was more extraordinary, even, than his original meeting with the Princess) became real to him in Lomax Place. He knew about Tortoni’s from his study of the French novel, and as he sat there he had a vague sense of fraternizing with Balzac and Alfred de Musset; there were echoes and reminiscences of their works in the air, confounding themselves with the indefinable exhalations, the strange composite odor, half agreeable, half impure, of the boulevard. “ Splendid Paris, charming Paris ” — that refrain, the fragment of an invocation, a beginning without an end, hummed itself perpetually in Hyacinth’s ears ; the only articulate words that got themselves uttered in the hymn of praise which his imagination had been offering to the French capital from the first hour of his stay. He recognized, he greeted, with a thousand palpitations, the seat of his maternal ancestors, and he was proud to be associated with so much splendor, so many proofs of a civilization that had no visible rough spots. He had his perplexities, and he had even now and then a revulsion for which he had made no allowance, as when it came over him that the most brilliant city in the world was also the most blood-stained ; but the great sense that he understood and sympathized was preponderant, and his comprehension gave him wings — appeared to transport him to still wider fields of knowledge, still higher sensations.
In other days, in London, he had thought again and again of his mother’s father, the revolutionary watch-maker, who had known the ecstasy of the barricade and had paid for it with his life, and his reveries had not been sensibly chilled by the fact that he knew next to nothing about him. He figured him in his mind, had a conviction that he was very short, like himself, and had curly hair, an immense talent for his work, and an extraordinary natural eloquence, together with many of the most attractive qualities of the French character. But he was reckless and a little cracked, and probably immoral ; he had difficulties and debts and irrepressible passions; his life had been an incurable fever, and its tragic termination was a matter of course. None the less, it
would have been a charm to hear him talk, to feel the influence of a gayety which even political madness could never quench ; for his grandson had a theory that he spoke the French tongue of an earlier time, delightful and sociable in accent and phrase, exempt from the commonness of modern slang. This vague yet vivid personage became Hyacinth’s constant companion, from the day of his arrival : he roamed about with Florentine’s boy, hand in hand ; sat opposite to him at dinner, at the little table in the restaurant; finished the bottle with him ; made the bill a little longer ; and treated him to innumerable revelations and counsels. He knew the lad’s secret without being told, and looked at him across the diminutive tablecloth, when the great tube of bread, pushed aside a little, left room for his elbows (it puzzled Hyacinth that the people of Paris should ever have had the fierceness of hunger when the loaves were so big), gazed at him with eyes of deep, kind, glowing comprehension, and with lips which seemed to murmur that when one was to die to-morrow one was wise to eat and drink to-day. There was nothing venerable, no constraint of importance or disapproval, in this edifying and impalpable presence; the young man considered that Hyacinthe Vivier was of his own time of life, and could enter into his pleasures as well as his pains. Wondering, repeatedly, where the barricade on which his grandfather fell had been erected, he at last satisfied himself (but I am unable to trace the process of the induction) that it had bristled across the Rue Saint-Honoré, very near to the church of Saint-Roch. The pair had now roamed together through all the museums and gardens, through the principal churches (the republican martyr was very good-natured about this), through the passages and arcades, up and down the great avenues, across all the bridges, and above all, again and again, along the river, where the quays were an endless entertainment to Hyacinth, who lingered by the half hour beside the boxes of old books on the parapets, stuffing his pockets with odd five-penny volumes, while the bright industries of the Seine flashed and glittered beneath him, and, on the other bank, the glorious Louvre stretched either way for a league. Our young man took almost the same sort of satisfaction in the Louvre as if he had invented it; he haunted the museum during all the first days, and could n’t look enough at certain pictures, nor sufficiently admire the high polish of the great floors, in which the golden, frescoed ceilings reflected themselves. All Paris struck him as tremendously artistic and decorative; he felt as if, hitherto, he had lived in a dusky, frowzy, Philistine world, in which the taste was the taste of Little Peddlington, and the idea of beautiful arrangement had never had an influence. In his ancestral city it had been active from the first, and that was why his quick sensibility responded; and he murmured again his constant refrain, when the fairness of the great monuments arrested him, in the pearly, silvery light, or he saw them take grayblue, delicate tones at the end of stately vistas. It seemed to him that Paris expressed herself, and did it in the grand style, while London remained vague and blurred, inarticulate, blunt, and dim.
Eustache Poupin had given him letters to three or four democratic friends, ardent votaries of the social question, who had by a miracle escaped the hard fate of exile, and, in spite of imperial mouchards and the periodical swoops of despotism, kept alive the sacred spark which would some day become a consuming flame. Hyacinth, however, had not had the thought of delivering these introductions; he had accepted them because Poupin had had such a solemn glee in writing them, and also because he had not the courage to let the couple in Lisson Grove know that since that terrible night at Hoffendahl’s a change had come over the spirit of his dream. He had not grown more concentrated; he had grown more relaxed, and it was inconsistent with relaxation that he should rummage out Poupin’s friends — one of whom lived in the Batignolles, and the others in the Faubourg SaintAntoine — and pretend that he cared for what they cared for in the same way as they cared for it. What was supreme in his mind to-day was not the idea of how the society that surrounded him should be destroyed ; it was, much more, the sense of the wonderful, precious things it had produced, of the brilliant, impressive fabric it had erected. That destruction was waiting for it there was forcible evidence, known to himself and others, to show ; but since this truth had risen before him, in its magnitude, he had become conscious of a transfer, partial if not complete, of his sympathies ; the same revulsion of which he had given a sign to the Princess in saying that now he pitied the rich, those that were regarded as happy. While the evening passed, therefore, as he kept his place at Tortoni’s, the emotion that was last to visit him was a compunction for not having put himself in relation with poor Poupin’s friends, for having neglected to make the acquaintance of earnest people.
Who in the world, if one should come to that, was as earnest as he himself, or had given such signal even though secret proofs of it ? He could lay that unction to his soul in spite of his having amused himself cynically, spent all his time in theatres, galleries, walks of pleasure. The feeling had not failed him with which he accepted Mr. Vetch’s furtherance — the sense that since he was destined to perish in his flower he was right to make a dash at the beautiful, horrible world. That reflection had been natural enough, but what was strange was the fiddler’s own impulse, his desire to do something pleasant for him, to beguile him and ship him off. What had been most odd in that was the way Mr. Vetch appeared to overlook the fact that his young friend had already had, that year, such an episode of dissipation as was surely rare in the experience of London artisans. This was one of the many things Hyacinth thought of ; he thought of the others in turn and out of turn; it was almost the first time he had sat still long enough (except at the theatre) to collect himself. A hundred confused reverberations of the recent past crowded upon him, and he saw that he had lived more intensely in the previous six months than in all the rest of his existence. The succession of events finally straightened itself, and he tasted some of the rarest, strangest moments over again. His last week at Medley, in especial, had already become a kind of fable, the echo of a song; he could read it over like a story, gaze at it as he would have gazed at some exquisite picture. His visit there had been perfect to the end ; and even the three days that Captain Sholto’s sojourn lasted had not broken the spell, for the three more that had elapsed before his own departure (the Princess herself had given him the signal) were the most important of all. It was then the Princess had made it clear to him that she was in earnest, was prepared for the last sacrifice. She was now his standard of comparison, his authority, his measure, his perpetual reference; and in taking possession of his mind to this extent she had completely renewed it. She was altogether a new term, and now that he was in a foreign country he observed how much her conversation, itself so foreign, had prepared him to understand it. In Paris he saw, of course, a great many women, and he noticed almost all of them, especially the actresses ; confronting, mentally, their movement, their speech, their manner of dressing, with that of his extraordinary friend. He
judged that she was beyond them in every respect, though there were one or two actresses who had the air of trying to copy her.
The recollection of the last days he had spent with her affected him now like the touch of a tear-washed cheek. She had shed tears for him, and it was his suspicion that her secret idea was to frustrate the redemption of his vow to Hoffendahl, to the immeasurable body that Hoffendahl represented. She pretended to have accepted it, and what she said was simply that when he should have played his part she would engage to save him — to fling a cloud about him, as the goddess-mother of the Trojan hero used, in Virgil’s poem, to escamoter Æneas. What she meant was, in his view, to prevent him from playing his part at all. She was earnest for herself, but not for him. The main result of his concentrated intimacy with her had been to make him feel that he was good enough for anything. When he had asked her, the last day, if he might write to her, she had said, Yes, but not for two or three weeks. He had written after Pinnies death, and again just before coming abroad, and in doing so had taken account of something else she had said in regard to their correspondence — that she did n’t wish vague phrases, protestations, or compliments; she wanted the realities of his life, the smallest, most personal details. Therefore he had treated her to the whole business of the break-up in Lomax Place, including the sale of the rickety furniture. He had told her what that transaction brought — a beggarly sum, but sufficient to help a little to pay debts ; and he had informed her furthermore that one of the ways Mr. Vetch had taken to hurry him off to Paris was to offer him a present of thirty pounds out of his curious little hoard, to add to the sum already inherited from Pinnie — which, in a manner that none of Hyacinth’s friends, of course, could possibly regard as frugal, or even as respectable, was now consecrated to a mere excursion. He even mentioned that he had ended by accepting the thirty pounds, adding that he feared there was something demoralizing in his peculiar situation (she would know what he meant by that) : it. disposed one to take what one could get, made one at least very tolerant of whims that happened to be munificent.
What he did not mention to the Princess was the manner in which he had been received by Paul Muniment and by Millicent Henning, on his return from Medley. Millicent’s reception had been the queerest; it had been quite unexpectedly mild. She made him no scene of violence, and appeared to have given up the line of throwing a blur of recrimination over her own nefarious doings. She treated him as if she liked him for having got in with the swells; she had an appreciation of success which would lead her to handle him more tenderly now that he was really successful. She tried to make him describe the style of life that was led in a house where people were invited to stay like that, without having t.o pay, and she surprised him almost as much as she gratified him by not indulging in any of her former digs at the Princess. She was lavish of ejaculations when he answered certain of her questions — ejaculations that savored of Pimlico, “ Oh, I say !” and “ Oh, my stars ! ” — and he was more than ever struck with her detestable habit of saying, “ Aye, that’s where it is,” when he had made some remark to which she wished to give an intelligent and sympathetic assent. But she did n’t jeer at the Princess’s private character ; she stayed her satire, in a case where there was such an opening for it. Hyacinth reflected that this was lucky for her: he couldn’t have stood it (nervous and anxious as he was about Pinnie), if she had had the bad taste, at such a time as that, to be profane and insulting. In that case he would have broken with her completely — he would have been too disgusted. She displeased him enough, as it was, by her vulgar tricks of speech. There were two or three little recurrent irregularities that aggravated him to a degree quite out of proportion to their importance, as when she said “full up ” for full, “sold out” for sold, or remarked to him that she supposed he was now going to chuck up his work at old Crookenden’s. These phrases had fallen upon his ear many a time before, but now they seemed almost unpardonable enough to quarrel about. Not that he had any wish to quarrel, for if the question had been pushed he would have admitted that to-day his intimacy with the Princess had caused any rights he might have had upon Millicent to lapse. Millicent did not push it, however; she only, it was evident, wished to convey to him that it was better for both parties they should respect each other’s liberty. A genial understanding on this subject was what Miss Henning desired, and Hyacinth forbade himself to inquire what use she proposed to make of her freedom. During the month that elapsed between Pinnie’s death and his visit to Paris he had seen her several times, for the respect for each other’s freedom had somehow not implied cessation of intercourse, and it was only natural she should have been soft to him in his bereaved condition. Hyacinth’s sentiment about Pinnie was deep, and Millicent was clever enough to guess it; the consequence of which was that on these occasions she was very soft indeed. She talked to him almost as if she had been his mother and he a convalescent child ; called him her dear, and a young rascal, and her old boy ; moralized a good deal; abstained from beer (till she learned he had inherited a fortune) ; and when he remarked, once (moralizing a little, too), that after the death of a person we have loved we are haunted by the memory of our failures of kindness, of generosity, rejoined, with a dignity that made the words almost a contribution to philosophy, “ Yes, that‘s where it is ! ”
Something in her behavior at this period had even made Hyacinth wonder whether there were not some mystical sign in his appearance, some subtle betrayal in the very expression of his face, of the predicament in which he had been placed by Died rich Hoffendahl; he began to suspect afresh the operation of that “ beastly attendrissement ” he had detected of old in people who had the benefit of Miss Pynsent’s innuendoes. The compassion Millicent felt for him had never been one of the reasons why he liked her ; it had fortunately been corrected, moreover, by his power to make her furious. This evening, on the boulevard, as he watched the interminable successions, one of the ideas that came to him was that it was odd he should like her even yet; for Heaven knew he liked the Princess better, and he had hitherto supposed that when a sentiment of this kind had the energy of a possession it made a clean sweep of all minor predilections. But it was clear to him that Millicent still existed for him; that he could n’t feel he had quite done with her, or she with him; and that, in spite of his having now so many other things to admire, there was still a comfort in the recollection of her robust beauty and her primitive passions. Hyacinth thought of her as some clever young barbarian who in ancient days should have made a pilgrimage to Rome might have thought of a Dacian or Iberian mistress awaiting his return on the rough provincial shore. If Millicent considered his visit at a countryhouse a proof of the sort of success that awaited him (and how he reconciled this with the supposition that she perceived, as a ghostly irradiation, intermingled with his curly hair, the aureola of martyrdom, he would have had some difficulty in explaining), if Miss Henning considered,
on his return from Medley, that he had taken his place on the winning side, it was only consistent of her to borrow a grandeur from his further excursion ; and, indeed, by the time he was ready to start she spoke of the plan as if she had invented it herself, and even contributed materially to the funds required. It had been her theory, from the first, that she only liked people of spirit ; and Hyacinth certainly had never had so much spirit as when he launched himself into Continental adventures. He could say to himself, quite without bitterness, that of course she would profit by his absence to put her relations with Sholto on a comfortable footing; yet, somehow, at this moment, as her face came back to him, amid the crowd of faces about him, it had not that gentleman’s picturesque shadow across it. It was the brilliancy of Paris, perhaps, that made him see things rosy ; at any rate, he remembered with kindness something that she had said to him the last time he saw her, and that had touched him exceedingly at the moment. He had happened to observe to her, in a friendly way, that now Miss Pynsent had gone she was, with the exception of Mr. Vetch, the person in his whole circle who had known him longest. To this Millicent had replied that Mr. Vetch would n’t live forever, and then she should have the satisfaction of being his very oldest friend. “Oh, well, I sha’n’t live forever, either,” said Hyacinth ; which led her to inquire whether by chance he had a weakness of the chest. “ Not that I know of, but I might get killed in a row ; ” and when she broke out into scorn of his silly notion of turning everything up (as if any one wanted to know what a costermonger would like, or any of that low sort at the East End !), he amused himself with asking her if she were satisfied with the condition of society, and thought nothing ought to be done for people who, at the end of a lifetime of starvation wages, had only the reward of the hideous workhouse and a pauper’s grave.
“ I should n’t be satisfied with anything, if ever you were to slip up,” Millicent answered, simply, looking at him with her beautiful boldness. Then she added, “ There’s one thing I can tell you, Mr. Robinson : that if ever any one was to do you a turn ” — And she paused again, tossing back the head she carried as if it were surmounted by a tiara, while Hyacinth inquired what would occur in that contingency. “ Well, there’d be one left behind who would take it up ! ” she announced ; and in the tone of the declaration there was something brave and genuine. It struck Hyacinth as a strange fate — though not stranger, after all, than his native circumstances — that one’s memory should come to be represented by a shop-girl overladen with bracelets of imitation silver; but he was reminded that Millicent was a fine specimen of a woman of a type opposed to the whining, and that in her free temperament many disparities were reconciled.
On the other hand, the brilliancy of Paris had not much power to transfigure the impression made upon him by such intercourse with Paul Muniment as he had enjoyed during the weeks that followed Pinnie’s death — an impression considerably more severe than any idea of renunciation or oblivion that could connect itself with Millicent. Why it should have had the taste of sadness was not altogether clear, for Muniment’s voice was as distinct as any in the chorus of approbation excited by the news that Hyacinth was about to cultivate the most characteristic of the pleasures of gentility — a sympathetic unanimity, of which the effect was to place his journey to Paris in a light almost ridiculous. What had got into them all, and did they think he was good for nothing but to amuse himself? Mr. Vetch had been the most zealous, but the others clapped him on the back in almost exactly the same manner as he had seen his mates in Soho bring their palms down on one of their number when it was disclosed to them that his " missus ” had made him yet once again a father. That had been Poupin’s tone, and his wife’s as well; and even poor Schinkel, with his everlasting bandage, whom he had met in Lisson Grove, appeared to think it necessary to remark that a little run across the Rhine, while he was about it, would open his eyes to a great many wonders. The Poupins shed tears of joy, and the letters which have already been mentioned, and which lay, day after day, on the mantel-shelf of the little room our hero occupied in a hôtel garni, tremendously tall and somewhat lopsided, in the Rue Jacob (that recommendation proceeded also from Lisson Grove, the garni being kept by a second cousin of Madame Eustache) — these valuable documents had been prepared by the obliging exile many days before his young friend was ready to start. It was almost refreshing to Hyacinth when old Crookenden, the sole outspoken dissentient, told him he was a blockhead to waste his money on the bloody French. This worthy employer of labor was evidently disgusted at such an innovation ; if he wanted a little recreation, why could n’t he take it as it had been taken in Soho from the beginning of time, in the shape of a trip to Hampton Court or two or three days of alcoholic torpor? Old Crookenden was right. Hyacinth conceded freely that he was a blockhead, and was only a little uncomfortable that he could n’t explain why he didn’t pretend not to be and had a kind of right to that compensatory luxury.
Paul guessed why, of course, and smiled approval with a candor which gave Hyacinth a strange, inexpressible heartache. He already knew that his friend’s view of him was that he was ornamental and adapted to the lighter kinds of socialistic utility—constituted to show that the revolution was not necessarily brutal nor illiterate; but in the light of the cheerful stoicism with which Muniment regarded the sacrifice our hero was committed to, the latter had found it necessary to remodel a good deal his original conception of the young chemist’s nature. The result of this process was not that he admired it less, but that he felt almost awe-stricken in the presence of it. There had been an element of that sort in his appreciation of Muniment from the first, but it had been infinitely deepened by the spectacle of his sublime consistency. Hyacinth felt, that he himself could never have risen to that point. He was competent to make the promise to Hoffendahl, and he was equally competent to keep it ; but he could not have had the same fortitude for another, could not have detached himself from personal prejudice so effectually as to put forward, in that way, for the terrible “job,” a little chap he liked. That Muniment liked him it never occurred to Hyacinth to doubt, and certainly he had all the manner of it to-day : he had never been more good-humored, more placidly talkative ; he was like an elder brother who knew that the “youngster” was clever, and was rather proud of it even when there was no one there to see. That air of suspending their partnership for the moment, which had usually marked him at the Sun and Moon, was never visible in other places ; in Audley Court he only chaffed Hyacinth occasionally for taking him too seriously. To-day his young friend hardly knew just how to take him ; the episode of which Hoffendahl was the central figure had, as far as one could see, made so little change in his life. As a conspirator he was so extraordinarily candid, and bitterness and denunciation so rarely sat on his lips. It was as if he had been ashamed to complain ; and indeed, for himself, as the months went on, he had nothing particular to complain of. He had had a rise, at the chemical works, and a plan of getting a larger room for Rosy was under serious consideration. On behalf of others he never sounded the pathetic note —he thought that sort of thing unbusiness-like ; and the most that he did in the way of expatiation on the wrongs of humanity was occasionally to mention certain statistics, certain “ returns,” in regard to the remuneration of industries, applications for employment, and the discharge of hands. In such matters as these he was deeply versed, and he moved in a dry statistical and scientific air in which it cost Hyacinth an effort of respiration to accompany him. Simple and kindly as he was, and thoughtful of the woes of beasts, attentive and merciful to small insects, and addicted even to kissing dirty babies in Audley Court, he sometimes emitted a short satiric gleam which showed that his esteem for the poor was small, and that if he had no illusions about the people who had got everything into their hands he had as few about those who had egregiously failed to do so. He was tremendously reasonable, which was largely why Hyacinth admired him, having a desire to be so himself, but finding it terribly difficult.
Muniment’s absence of passion, his fresh-colored coolness, his easy, exact knowledge, the way he kept himself clean (except for the chemical stains on his hands) in circumstances of foul contact, constituted a group of qualities that had always appeared to Hyacinth singularly enviable. Most enviable of all was the force that enabled him to sink personal sentiment where a great public good was to be attempted, and yet keep up the form of caring for that minor interest. It seemed to Hyacinth that if he had introduced a young fellow to Hoffendahl for his purposes, and Hoffendahl had accepted him on such a recommendation, and everything had been settled, he would have preferred never to look at the young fellow again. That was his weakness, and Muniment carried it off far otherwise. It must be added that he had never made an allusion to their visit to Hoffendahl ; so that Hyacinth also, out of pride, held his tongue on the subject. If his friend didn’t wish to express any sympathy for him, he was not going to beg for it (especially as he did n’t want it) by restless references. It had originally been a surprise to him that Muniment should be willing to countenance a possible assassination ; but, after all, none of his ideas were narrow (Hyacinth had a sense that they ripened all the while), and if a pistol-shot would do any good he was not the man to raise pedantic objections. It is true that, as regards his quiet acceptance of the predicament in which Hyacinth might be placed by it, our young man had given him the benefit of a certain amount of doubt; it had occurred to him that perhaps Muniment had his own reasons for believing that the summons from Hoffendahl would never really arrive, so that he might be only treating himself to the entertainment of judging of a little bookbinder’s nerve. But in this case, why did he take an interest in the little bookbinder’s going to Paris ? That was a thing he would not have cared for, if he had held that in fact there was nothing to fear. He despised the sight of idleness, and in spite of the indulgence he had more than once been good enough to express on the subject of Hyacinth’s epicurean tendencies, what he would have been most likely to say at present was, “ Go to Paris? Go to the dickens ! Have n’t you been out at grass long enough for one while, did n’t you lark enough in the country there with the noble lady, and had n’t you better take up your tools again, before you forget how to handle them ? ” Rosy had said something of that sort, in her free, familiar way (whatever her intention, she had been, in effect, only a little less sarcastic than old Crookenden) : that Mr. Robinson was going in for a life of leisure, a life of luxury, like herself ; she must congratulate him on having the means and the time. Oh, the time — that was the great thing ! She could speak with knowledge, having always enjoyed these advantages herself. And she intimated — or was she mistaken ? — that his good fortune emulated hers also in the matter of his having a high-born and beneficent friend (such a blessing, now he had lost dear Miss Pynsent), who covered him with little attentions. Rose Muniment, in short, had been more exasperating than ever.
The boulevard became even more brilliant as the evening went on, and Hyacinth wondered whether he had a right to occupy the same table for so many hours. The theatre on the other side discharged its multitude ; the crowd thickened on the wide asphalt, on the terrace of the café; gentlemen, accompanied by ladies of whom he knew already how to characterize the type — des femmes très-chic — passed into the portals of Tortoni. The nightly emanations of Paris seemed to rise more richly, to float and hang in the air, to mingle with the far-striking light and sound, to resolve itself into a thousand solicitations and opportunities,addressed, however, mainly to those in whose pockets the chink of a little loose gold might respond. Hyacinth’s retrospections had not made him drowsy, but quite the reverse : he grew restless and excited, and a kind of pleasant terror of the place and hour entered into his blood. But it was nearly midnight, and he got up to walk home, taking the line of the boulevard toward the Madeleine. He passed down the Rue Royale, where comparative stillness reigned; and when he reached the Place de la Concorde, to cross the bridge which faces the Corps Législatif, he found himself almost isolated. He had left the human swarm and the obstructed pavements behind, and the wide spaces of the splendid square lay quiet under the summer stars. The plash of the great fountains was audible, and he could almost hear the wind-stirred murmur of the little wood of the Tuileries on one side, and of the vague expanse of the Champs Elysées on the other. The place itself—the Place Louis Quinze, the Place de la Révolution — had given him a sensible emotion, from the day of his arrival; he had recognized so quickly its tremendously historic character. He had seen, in a rapid vision, the guillotine in the middle, on the site of the inscrutable obelisk, and the tumbrils, with waiting victims, were stationed round the circle now made by the majestic monuments of the cities of France. The great legend of the French Revolution, sanguinary and heroic, was more real to him here than anywhere else ; and, strangely, what was most present was not its turpitude and horror, but its magnificent energy, the spirit of life that had been in it, not the spirit of death. I fiat shadow was effaced by the modern fairness of fountain and statue, the stately perspective and composition ; and as he lingered, before crossing the Seine, a sudden sense overtook him, making his heart sink with a kind of desolation — a sense of everything that might hold one to the world, of the sweetness of not dying, the fascination of great cities, the charm of travel and discovery, the generosity of admiration. The tears rose to his eyes, as they had done more than once in the past six months, and a question, low but poignant, broke from his lips, ending in nothing: " How could he — how could he ” — It may he explained that “ he ” was a reference to Paul Muniment; for Hyacinth had dreamed of the religion of friendship.
Three weeks after this he found himself in Venice, whence he addressed to the Princess Casamassimaa letter, of which I reproduce the principal passages: —
“ This is probably the last time I shall write to you before I return to London. Of course you have been in this place, and you will easily understand why here, especially here, the spirit should move me. Dear Princess, what an enchanted city, what ineffable impressions, what a revelation of the exquisite ! I have a room in a little campo opposite to a small old church, which has cracked marble slabs let into the front, and in the cracks grow little wild, delicate flowers, of which I don’t know the name. Over the door of the church hangs an old battered leather curtain, polished and tawny, as thick as a mattress, and with buttons in it, like a sofa; and it flops to and fro, laboriously, as women and girls, with shawls on their heads and their feet in little wooden shoes which have nothing but toes, pass in and out. In the middle of the campo is a fountain, which looks still older than the church ; it has a primitive, barbaric air, and I have an idea it was put there by the first settlers — those who came to Venice from the mainland, from Aquileia. Observe how much historical information I have already absorbed; it won’t surprise you, however, for you never wondered at anything after you discovered I knew something of Schopenhauer. I assure you, I don’t think of that musty misogynist in the least today, for I bend a genial glance on the women and girls I just spoke of, as they glide, with a small clatter, and with their old copper water-jars, to the fountain. The Venetian girl - face is wonderfully sweet, and the effect is charming when its pale, sad oval (they all look underfed) is framed in the old faded shawl. They also have very fascinating hair, which never has done curling, and they slip along together, in couples or threes, interlinked by the arms, and never meeting one’s eye (so that its geniality does n’t matter), dressed in thin, cheap cotton gowns, whose limp folds make the same delightful line that everything else in Italy makes. The weather is splendid, and I roast—but I like it; apparently, I was made to be spitted and ‘ done,’ and I discover that I have been cold all my life, even when I thought I was warm. I have seen none of the beautiful patricians who sat for the great painters — the gorgeous beings whose golden hair was intertwined with pearls ; but I am studying Italian in order to talk with the shuffling, clicking maidens who work in the bead-factories — I am determined to make one or two of them look at me. When they have filled their old water-pots at the fountain, it is jolly to see them perch them on their heads and patter away over the polished Venetian stones. It ’s a charm to be in a country where the women don’t wear the hideous British bonnet. Even in my own class (excuse the expression — I remember it used to offend you), I have never known a young female, in London, to put her nose out of the door without it : and if you had frequented such young females as much as I have you would have learned of what degradation that dreary necessity is the source. The floor of my room is composed of little brick tiles, and to freshen the air, in this temperature, one sprinkles it, as you no doubt know, with water. Before long, if I keep on sprinkling, I shall be able to swim about; the green shutters are closed, and the place makes a very good tank. Through the chinks the hot light of the campo comes in. I smoke cigarettes, and in the pauses of this composition recline on a faded magenta divan in the corner. Convenient to my hand, in that attitude, are the works of Leopardi and a second-hand dictionary.
I am very happy — happier than I have ever been in my life save at Medley — and I don’t care for anything but the present hour. It won’t last long, for I am spending all my money. When I have finished this, I shall go forth and wander about in the splendid Venetian afternoon ; and I shall spend the evening in that enchanted square of St. Mark’s, which resembles an immense open-air drawing-room, listening to music, and feeling the sea-breeze blow in between those two strange old columns, in the piazzetta, which seem to make a portal for it. I can scarcely believe that it’s of myself that I am telling these fine things; I say to myself a dozen times a day that Hyacinth Robinson is not in it, and pinch my leg, to see if I’m not dreaming. But a short time hence, when I have resumed the exercise of my profession, in sweet Soho, I shall have proof enough that it has been my very self: I shall know that by the terrible grind I shall feel my work to be.
“ That will mean, no doubt, that I’m profoundly demoralized. It won’t be for you, however, in this case, to cast the stone at me; for my demoralization began from the moment I first approached you. Dear Princess, I may have done you good, but you have n’t done me much. I trust you will understand what I mean by that speech, and not think it flippant or impertinent. I may have helped you to understand and enter into the misery of the people (though, I protest, I don’t know much about it), but you have led my imagination into quite another train. However, I don’t mean to pretend that it’s all your fault, if I have lost sight of the sacred cause almost altogether in my recent adventures. It is not that it has not been there to see, for that, perhaps, is the clearest result of extending one’s horizon — the sense, increasing as we go, that want and toil and suffering are the constant lot of the immense majority of the human race. I have found them everywhere, but I have n’t minded them. Excuse the cynical confession. What has struck me is the great achievements of which man has been capable in spite of them — the splendid accumulations of the happier few, to which, doubtless, the miserable many have also in their degree contributed. The face of Europe appears to be covered with them, and they have had much the greater part of my attention. They seem to me inestimably precious and beautiful, and I have become conscious, more than ever before, of how little I understand what, in the great rectification, you and Poupin propose to do with them. Dear Princess, there are things which I shall be sorry to see you touch, even you with your hands divine; and — shall I tell you le fond de ma pensée, as you used to say ? — I feel myself capable of fighting for them. You can’t call me a traitor, for you know the obligation that I recognize. The monuments and treasures of art, the great palaces and properties, the conquests of learning and taste, the general fabric of civilization as we know it, based, if you will, upon all the despotisms, the cruelties, the exclusions, the monopolies, and the rapacities of the past, but thanks to which, all the same, the world is less impracticable and life more tolerable — our friend Hoffendahl seems to me to hold them too cheap, and to wish to substitute for them something iu which I can’t, somehow, believe as I do in things with which the aspirations and the tears of generations have been mixed. You know how extraordinary I think our Hoffendalhl (to speak only of him) ; but if there is one thing that is more clear about him than another, it is that he would n’t have the least feeling for this incomparable, abominable old Venice. He would cut up the ceilings of the Veronese into strips, so that every one might have a little piece. I don’t want every one to have a little piece of anything, and I have a great horror of that kind of invidious jealousy which is at the bottom of the idea of a redistribution. You will say that I talk of it at my ease, while, in a delicious capital, I smoke cigarettes on a magenta divan ; and I give you leave to scoff at me if it turns out that, when I come back to London without a penny in my pocket, I don’t hold the same language. I don’t know what it comes from, but during the last three months there has crept over me a deep mistrust of that same grudging attitude — the intolerance of positions and fortunes that are higher and brighter than one’s own ; a fear, moreover, that I may, in the past, have been actuated by such motives, and a devout hope that if I am to pass away while I am yet young it may not be with that odious stain upon my soul.”
Hyacinth spent three days, after his return to London, in a process which he supposed to be the quest of a lodging ; but in reality he was pulling himself together for the business of his livelihood — an effort he found by no means easy or agreeable. As he had told the Princess, he was demoralized, and the perspective of Mr. Crookenden’s dirty staircase had never seemed so steep, he lingered on the brink, before he plunged again into Soho ; he wished not to go back to the shop till he should be settled, and he delayed to get settled in order not to go back to the shop. He saw no one during this interval, not even Mr. Vetch ; he waited to call upon the fiddler till he should have the appearance of not coming as a beggar or a borrower — have recovered his employment and be able to give an address, as be had heard Captain Sholto say. He went to South Street — not meaning to go in at once, but wishing to look at the house — and there he had the surprise of perceiving a bill of sale in the window of the Princess’s late residence. He had not expected to find her in town (he had heard from her the last time three weeks before, and then she said nothing about her prospects), but he was puzzled by this indication that she had moved away altogether. There was something in this, however, which he felt that, at bottom, he had looked for; it appeared a proof of the justice of a certain suspicious, uneasy sentiment from which one could never be quite free, in one’s intercourse with the Princess — a vague apprehension that one might suddenly stretch out one’s hand and miss her altogether from one’s side. Hyacinth decided to ring at the door and ask for news of her ; but there was no response to his summons : the stillness of an August afternoon (the year had come round again from his first visit) hung over the place, the blinds were down, and the care-taker appeared to be absent. Under these circumstances Hyacinth was much at a loss ; unless, indeed, he should address a letter to his wonderful friend at Medley. It would doubtless be forwarded, though her short lease of the country-house had terminated, as he knew, several weeks before. Captain Sholto was of course a possible medium of communication: but nothing would have induced Hyacinth to ask such a service of him.
He turned away from South Street with a curious sinking of the heart; his state of ignorance struck inward, as it were — had the force of a vague, disquieting portent. He went to old Crookenden’s only when he had arrived at his last penny. This, however, was very promptly the case. He had disembarked at Loudon Bridge with only seventeen pence in his pocket, and he had lived on that sum for three days. The old fiddler in Lomax Place was having a chop before he went to the theatre, and he invited Hyacinth to share his repast, sending out at the same time for another pot of beer. He took the youth with him to the play, where, as at that season there were very few spectators, he had no difficulty in finding him a place. He seemed to wish to keep hold of him, and looked at him, strangely, over his spectacles (Mr. Vetch wore the homely double glass, in these latter years), when he learned that Hyacinth had taken a lodging, not in their old, familiar quarter, but in the unexplored portions of Westminster. What had determined our young man was the fact that from this part of the town the journey was comparatively a short one to South Lambeth; he had suffered so much, before Pinnie’s death, from being separated by such a distance from his best friends. There was a pang in his heart connected with the image of Paul Muniment, but, none the less, the prospect of an evening hour in Audley Court, from time to time, appeared one of his most definite sources of satisfaction in the future. He could have gone straight to South Lambeth to live, but that would carry him too far from the scene of his daily labor; and in Westr minster he was much nearer to old Crookenden’s than he had been in Lomax Place. He said to Mr. Vetch that if it would give him pleasure he would abandon his lodging, and take another in Pentonville. But the old man replied, after a moment, that he should be sorry to put that constraint upon him; if he were to make such an exaction, Hyacinth would think he wanted to watch him.
“ How do you mean, to watch me ?”
Mr. Vetch had begun to tune his fiddle, and he scraped it a little before answering. “ I mean it as I have always meant it. Surely you know that in Lomax Place I had my eyes on you. I watched you as a child on the edge of a pond watches the little boat he has constructed and set afloat.”
“ You could n’t discover much. You saw, after all, very little of me,” Hyacinth said.
“ I made what I could of that little ; it was better than nothing.”
Hyacinth laid his hand gently on the old man’s arm; he had never felt so kindly to him, not even when he accepted the thirty pounds, before going abroad, as at this moment. “Certainly I will come and see you.”
“ I was much obliged to you for your letters,” Mr. Vetch remarked, without heeding these words, and continuing to scrape, lie had always, even into the shabbiness of his old age, kept that mark of English good-breeding (which is composed of some such odd elements), that there was a shyness, an aversion to possible phrase-making, in his manner of expressing gratitude for favors, and that in spite of this cursory tone his acknowledgment bad ever the accent of sincerity.
Hyacinth took but little interest in the play, which was an inanimate revival ; he had been at the Théatre Français, and the tradition of that house was still sufficiently present to him to make any other style of interpretation appear of the clumsiest. He sat in one of the front stalls, close to the orchestra; and while the piece went forward — or backward, ever backward, as it. seemed to him — his thoughts wandered far from the shabby scene and the dusty boards, revolving round a question which had come up immensely during the last few hours. The Princess was a capricciosa — that, at least, was Madame Grandoni’s account of her ; and was that blank, expressionless house in South Street a sign that an end had come to the particular caprice in which he had happened to be involved ? He had returned to London with an ache of eagerness to be with her again on the same terms as at Medley, a throbbing sense that unless she had been abominably dishonest he might count upon her. This state of “mind was by no means complete security, but it was so sweet that it mattered little whether it were sound. Circumstances had favored in an extraordinary degree his visit to her, and it was by no means clear that they would again be so accommodating, or that what had been possible for a few days should be possible with continuity, in the midst of the
ceremonies and complications of London. Hyacinth felt poorer than he had ever felt before, inasmuch as he had had money and spent it, whereas in previous times he had never had it to spend. He never for an instant regretted his squandered fortune, for he said to himself that he had made a good bargain, and become master of a precious equivalent. The equivalent was a rich experience — an experience which would become richer still, as he should talk it over, in a low chair, close to hers, with the allcomprehending, all-suggesting lady of his life. His poverty would be no obstacle to their intercourse, as long as he should have a pair of legs to carry him to her door ; for she liked him better shabby than when he was furbished up, and she had given him too many pledges, they had taken together too many appointments, worked out too many programmes, to be disconcerted (on either side) by obstacles that were merely a part of the general conventionality. He was to go with her into the slums, to introduce her to the worst that London contained (he should have, precisely, to make acquaintance with it first), to show her the reality of the horrors of which she dreamed that the world might be purged. He had ceased, himself, to care for the slums, and had reasons for not wishing to spend his remnant in the contemplation of foul things; but he would go through with his part of the engagement. He might be perfunctory, but any dreariness would have a gilding that should involve an association with her. What if she should have changed, and ceased to care ? What if, from a kind of royal insolence which he suspected to lurk somewhere in the side scenes of her nature, though he had really not once seen it peep out, she should toss back her perfect head with a movement signifying that he was too basely literal, and that she knew him no more? Hyacinth’s imagination represented her this evening in places where a barrier of dazzling light shut her out from access, or even from any appeal. He saw her with other people, in splendid rooms, where “ the dukes ” had possession of her, smiling, satisfied, surrounded, covered with jewels. When this vision grew intense he found a reassurance in reflecting that after all she would be unlikely to throw him, personally, over so long as she should remain mixed up with what was being planned in the dark, and that it would not be easy for her to liberate herself from that entanglement. She had told him more, of course, at Medley of the manner in which she had already committed herself, and he remembered, with a strange, perverse elation, that she had gone very far indeed.
In the intervals of the foolish play, Mr. Vetch, who lingered in his place in the orchestra while his mates descended into the little hole under the stage, leaned over the rail and asked his young friend occasional questions, carrying his eyes at the same time up about the dingy house, at whose smoky ceiling and tarnished galleries he had been staring for so many a year. He came back to Hyacinth’s letters, and said, “Of course you know they were clever ; they entertained me immensely. But as I read them I thought of poor Pinnie: I wished she could have listened to them ; they would have made her so happy.”
“Yes, poor Pinnie,” Hyacinth murmured, while Mr. Vetch went on : —
“ I was in Paris in 1840 ; I stayed at a small hotel in the Rue Mogador. I judge everything is changed, from your letters. Does the Rue Mogador still exist ? Yes, everything is changed. I dare say it’s all much finer, but I liked it very much as it was then. At all events, I am right in supposing — am I not ? — that it cheered you up considerably, made you really happy.”
“ Why should I have wanted any cheering? I was happy enough,” Hyacinth replied.
The fiddler turned his old white face upon him; it had the unhealthy smoothness which denotes a sedentary occupation, thirty years spent in a close crowd, amid the smoke of lamps and the odor of stage-paint. “ I thought you were sad about Pinnie,” he remarked.
“ When I jumped, with that avidity, at your proposal that I should take a tour ? Poor old Pinnie ! ” Hyacinth added.
“ Well, I hope you think a little better of the world. We must n’t make up our mind too early in life.”
“ Oh, I have made up mine : it’s an awfully jolly place.”
“ Awfully jolly, no ; but I like it as I like an old pair of shoes—I like so much less the idea of putting on the new ones.”
“ Why should I complain ? ” Hyacinth asked. “ What have I known but kindness ? People have done such a lot for me.”
“ Oh, well, of course they ’ve liked you. But that’s all right,” murmured Mr. Vetch, beginning to scrape again. What remained in Hyacinth’s mind from this conversation was the fact that the old man, whom he regarded, distinctly, as cultivated, had thought his letters clever. He only wished that he had made them cleverer still ; he had no doubt of his ability to have done so.
It may be imagined whether the first hours he spent at old Crookenden’s, after he took up work again, were altogether to his taste, and what was the nature of the reception given him by his former comrades, whom he found in exactly the same attitudes and the same clothes, (he knew and hated every article they wore), and with the same primitive pleasantries on their lips. Our young man’s feelings were mingled ; the place and the people appeared to him loathsome, but there was something delightful in handling his tools. He gave a little private groan of relief when he discovered that he still liked his work, and that the pleasant swarm of his ideas (in the matter of sides and backs) returned to him. They came in still brighter, more suggestive form, and he had the satisfaction of feeling that his taste had improved, that it had been purified by experience, and that the covers of a book might be made to express an astonishing number of high conceptions. Strange enough it was, and a proof, surely, of our little hero’s being a genuine artist, that the impressions he had accumulated during the last few months appeared to mingle and confound themselves with the very sources of his craft, and to be susceptible of technical representation. He had quite determined, by this time, to carry on his life as if nothing were hanging over him, and he had no intention of remaining a little bookbinder to the end of his days; for that medium, after all, would translate only some of his conceptions. Yet his trade was a resource, an undiminished resource, for the present, and he had a particular as well as a general motive in attempting new flights—the prevision of the exquisite work that he was to do, during the coming year, for the Princess, and that it was very definite to him he owed her. When that debt should have been paid and his other arrears made up, he proposed to himself to write something. He was far from having decided, as yet, what it should be ; the only point settled was that it should be very remarkable, and should not, at least on the face of it, have anything to do with a fresh deal of the social pack. That was to be his transition — into literature; to bind the book, charming as the process might be, was after all much less fundamental than to write it. It had occurred to Hyacinth more than once that it would be a fine thing to produce a brilliant death-song.
It is not surprising that among such reveries as this he should have been conscious of a narrow range in the tone
of his old work-fellows. They had only one idea: that he had come into a thousand pounds, and had gone to spend them, in France, with a regular high one. He was aware, in advance, of the diffusion of this legend, and did his best to allow for it, taking the simplest course, which was not to contradict it, but to catch the ball as it came and toss it still farther, enlarging and embroidering, humorously, until Grugan and Roker and Hotchkin and all the rest, who struck him as not having washed since he left them, seemed really to begin to understand how it was he could have spent such a rare sum in so short a time. The impressiveness of this achievement helped him greatly to slip into his place; he could see that, though the treatment it received was superficially irreverent, the sense that he was very sharp and that the springs of his sharpness were somehow secret gained a good deal of strength from it. Hyacinth was not incapable of being rather pleased that it should be supposed, even by Grugan, Roker, and Hotchkin, that he could get rid of a thousand pounds in less than five months, especially as to his own conscience the fact had altogether yet to be proved. He got off, on the whole, easily enough to feel a little ashamed, and he reflected that the men at Crookenden’s, at any rate, showed no symptoms of the social jealousy lying at the bottom of the desire for a fresh deal. This was doubtless an accident, and not inherent in the fact that they were highly skilled workmen (old Crookenden had no others), and therefore sure of constant employment; for it was impossible to be more skilled, in one’s own line, than Paul Muniment was, and yet he (though not out of jealousy, of course) went in for the great restitution. What struck him most, after he had got used again to the sense of his apron and bent his back a while over his battered table, was the simple, synthetic patience of the others, who had bent their backs and felt the rub of that dirty drapery all the while he was lounging in the halls of Medley, dawdling through boulevards and museums, and admiring the purity of the Venetian girl-face. With Poupiu, to be sure, his relations were special; but the explanations that he owed the sensitive Frenchman were not such as could make him very unhappy, once he had determined to resist as much as possible the friction of his remaining days. There was, moreover, more sorrow than anger in Poupin’s face when he learned that his young friend and pupil had failed to cultivate, in Paris, the rich opportunities he had offered him. “ You are cooling off, my child ; there is something about you ! Have you the weakness to flatter yourself that anything has been done, or that humanity suffers a particle less ? Enfin, it’s between you and your conscience.”
“Do you think I want to get out of it?” Hyacinth asked, smiling; Eustache Poupin’s phrases about humanity, which used to thrill him so, having grown of late strangely hollow and rococo.
“ You owe me no explanations ; the conscience of the individual is absolute, except, of course, in those classes in which, from the very nature of the infamies on which they are founded, no conscience can exist. Speak to me, however, of my Paris; she is always divine,” Poupin went on ; but he showed signs of irritation when Hyacinth began to praise to him the magnificent creations of the arch-fiend of December. In the presence of this picture he was in a terrible dilemma: he was gratified as a Parisian and a patriot, but he was disconcerted as a lover of liberty; it cost him a pang to admit that anything in the sacred city was defective, yet he saw still less his way to concede that it could owe any charm to the despotism which had driven him into exile. “ Ah, yes, it’s very fine, no doubt,” he remarked at last, “ but it will be finer still when it‘s ours ! ” — a speech which caused Hyacinth to turn back to his work with a slight feeling of sickness. Everywhere, everywhere, he saw the ulcer of envy — the passion of a party which hung together for the purpose of despoiling another to its advantage. In old Eustace, one of the “ pure,” this was particularly sad.
The landing at the top of the stairs in Audley Court was always dark ; but it seemed darker than ever to Hyacinth while he fumbled for the door-latch, after he had heard Rose Muniment’s penetrating voice bid him come in. During that instant his ear caught the sound—if it could trust itself — of another voice, which prepared him, a little, for the spectacle that offered itself as soon as the door (his attempt to reach the handle, in his sudden agitation, proving fruitless) was opened to him by Paul. His friend stood there, tall and hospitable, saying something loud and jovial, which he did n’t distinguish. His eyes had crossed the threshold in a flash, but his step faltered a moment, only to obey, however, the vigor of Muniment’s outstretched hand. Hyacinth’s glance had gone straight, and though with four persons in it Rosy’s little apartment looked crowded, he saw no one but the object of his quick preconception — no one but the Princess Casamassima, seated beside the low sofa (the grand feature, introduced during his absence from London), on which, arrayed in the famous pink dressing-gown, Miss Muniment now received her visitors. He wondered afterwards why he should have been so startled ; for he had said, often enough, both to himself and to the Princess, that so far as she was concerned he was proof against astonishment; it was so evident that, in her behavior, the unexpected was the only thing to be looked for. In fact, now that he perceived she had made her way to South Lambeth without his assistance, the feeling that took possession of him was a kind of embarrassment; he blushed a little as he entered the circle, the fourth member of which was, inevitably, Lady Aurora Langrish. Was it that his intimacy with the Princess gave him a certain sense of responsibility for her conduct, in respect to people who knew her, as yet. but a little, and that there was something that required explanation in the confidence with which she had practiced a descent upon them ? It is true that it came over our young man that by this time, perhaps, they knew her a good deal ; and, moreover, a woman’s conduct spoke for itself when she could sit. looking in that fashion, like a radiant angel, dressed in a simple bonnet and mantle, and immensely interested in an appealing corner of the earth. It took Hyacinth but an instant to perceive that her character was in a different phase from any that had yet been exhibited to him. There had been a brilliant mildness about her the night he made her acquaintance, and she had never ceased, at any moment since, to strike him as an exquisitely human, sentient, pitying organization ; unless it might be, indeed, in relation to her husband, against whom — for reasons, after all, doubtless, very sufficient— her heart appeared absolutely steeled. But now her face looked at him through a sort of glorious charity. She had put off her splendor, but her beauty was unquenchably bright ; she had made herself humble for her pious excursion; she had, beside Rosy (who, in the pink dressing-gown, looked much the more luxurious of the two), almost the attitude of a hospital nurse; and it was easy to see, from the meagre line of her garments, that she was tremendously in earnest. If Hyacinth was flurried, her own countenance expressed no confusion; for her, evidently, this queer little chamber of poverty and pain was a place in which it was perfectly natural that he should turn up. The sweet, still greeting her eyes offered him might almost have conveyed to him that she had been waiting for him, that she knew he would come, and that there had been a tacit appointment for that very moment. They said other things beside, in their beautiful friendliness : they said, “ Don’t notice me too much, or make any kind of scene. I have an immense deal to say to you, but remember that I have the rest of our life before me to say it in. Consider only what will be easiest and kindest to these people, these delightful people, whom I find enchanting (why did n’t you ever tell me more — I mean really more — about them ?) ; that it won’t be particularly complimentary to them if you have the air of seeing a miracle in my presence here. I am very glad of your return. The quavering, fidgety ‘ ladyship ‘ is as fascinating as the others.”
Hyacinth’s reception at the hands of his old friends was cordial enough quite to obliterate the element of irony that had lurked, three months before, in their godspeed; their welcome was not boisterous, but it seemed to express the idea that the occasion was already so rare and agreeable that his arrival was all that was needed to make it perfect. By the time he had been three minutes in the room he was able to measure the impression produced by the Princess, who, it was clear, had thrown a spell of adoration over the little company. This was in the air, in the face of each, in their excited, smiling eyes and heightened color ; even Rosy’s wan grimace, which was at all times screwed up to ecstasy, emitted a supererogatory ray. Lady Aurora looked more than ever disheveled with interest and wonder ; the long strands of her silky hair floated like gossamer, as, in her extraordinary, religious attention (her hands were clasped in her lap, as if she were praying), her respiration rose and fell. She had never seen any one like the Princess ; but Hyacinth’s apprehension, of some months before, had been groundless— she evidently didn’t think her vulgar. She thought her divine, and a revelation of beauty and benignity ; and the illuminated, amplified room could contain no dissentient opinion. It was her beauty, primarily, that “ fetched ” them, Hyacinth could easily see, and it was not hidden from him that the sensation was as active in Paul Muniment as in his companions. It was not in Paul’s nature to be jerkily demonstrative, and he had not lost his head on the present occasion ; but he had already appreciated the difference between one’s preconception of a meretricious, factitious fine lady and the actual influence of such a personage. She was gentler, fairer, wiser, than a chemist’s assistant could have guessed in advance. In short, she held the trio in her hand (she had reduced Lady Aurora to exactly the same simplicity as the others), and she performed, admirably, artistically, for their benefit. Almost before Hyacinth had had time to wonder how she had found the Muniments out (he had no recollection of giving her specific directions), she mentioned that Captain Sholto had been so good as to introduce her ; doing so as if she owed him that explanation, and were a woman who would be scrupulous in such a case. It was rather a blow to him to hear that she had been accepting the captain’s mediation, and this was not softened by her saying that she was too impatient to wait for his own return ; he was apparently so happy on the Continent that one could n’t be sure it would ever take place. The Princess might at least have been sure that to see her again very soon was still more necessary to his happiness than anything the Continent could offer.
It came out in the conversation he had with her, to which the others lis-
tened with respectful curiosity, that Captain Sholto had brought her a week before, but then she had seen only Miss Muniment. “ I took the liberty of coming again, by myself, to-day, because I wanted to see the whole family,” the Princess remarked, looking from Paul to Lady Aurora, with a friendly gayety in her face which purified the observation (as regarded her ladyship) of impertinence. The Princess added, frankly, that she had now been careful to arrive at an hour when she thought Mr. Muniment might be at home. " When I come to see gentlemen, I like at least to find them,” she continued, and she was so great a lady that there was no small diffidence in her attitude ; it was a simple matter for her to call on a chemist’s assistant, if she had a reason. Hyacinth could see that the reason had already been brought forward — her immense interest in questions that Mr. Muniment had completely mastered, and in particular their common acquaintance with the extraordinary man whose mission it was to solve them. Hyacinth learned later that she had pronounced the name of Hoffendahl. A part of the lustre in Rosy’s eye came, no doubt, from the explanation she had inevitably been moved to make in respect to any sympathy with wicked theories that might be imputed to her ; and of course the effect of this intensely individual little protest (such was always its effect), emanating from the sofa and the pink dressing-gown, was to render the Muniment interior still more quaint and original. In that spot. Paul always gave the go-by, humorously, to any attempt to draw out his views, and you would have thought, to hear him, that he allowed himself the reputation of having them only in order to get a “ rise ” out of his sister, and let their visitors see with what wit and spirit she could repudiate them. This, however, would only be a reason the more for the Princess’s following up her scent. She would doubtless not expect to get at the bottom of his ideas in Audley Court; the opportunity would occur, rather, in case of his having the civility (on which surely she might count) to come and talk them over with her in her own house.
Hyacinth mentioned to her the disappointment he had had in South Street, and she replied, " Oh, I have given up that house, and taken quite a different one.” But she did n’t say where it was, and in spite of her having given him so much the right to expect she would communicate to him a matter so nearly touching them both as a change of address, he felt a great shyness about asking-
Their companions watched them, as if they considered that something rather brilliant, now, would be likely to come off between them ; but Hyacinth was too full of regard to the Princess’s tacit notification to him that they must not appear too thick, which was after all more flattering than the most pressing inquiries or the most liberal announcements about herself could have been. She never asked him when he had come back; and indeed it was not long before Rose Muniment took that business upon herself. Hyacinth, however, ventured to assure himself whether Madame Grandoni were still with the Princess, and even to remark (when she had replied, “ Oh yes, still, still. The great refusal, as Dante calls it, has not yet come off ”), “ You ought to bring her to see Miss Rosy. She is a person Miss Rosy would particularly appreciate.”
“ I am sure I should be most happy to receive any friend of the Princess Casamassima,” said this young lady, from the sofa; and when the Princess answered that she certainly would not fail to produce Madame Grandoni some day, Hyacinth (though he doubted whether the presentation would really take place) guessed how much she wished her old friend might have heard the strange, bedizened little invalid make that speech.
There were only three other seats, for the introduction of the sofa (a question so profoundly studied in advance) had rendered necessary the elimination of certain articles; so that Muniment, on his feet, hovered round the little circle, with his hands in his pockets, laughing freely and sociably, but not looking at the Princess ; though, as Hyacinth was sure, he was none the less agitated by her presence.
“ You ought to tell us about foreign parts and the grand things you have seen ; except that, doubtless, our distinguished visitor knows all about them,” Muniment said to Hyacinth. Then he added, “ Surely, at any rate, you have seen nothing more worthy of your respect than South Lambeth.”
“ Is this the worst part ? ” the Princess asked, looking up with her noble, interested face.
“ The worst, madam ? What grand ideas you must have ! We admire South Lambeth immensely.”
“It’s my brother’s ideas that are grand!” cried Rose Muniment, betraying him conscientiously. “ He does want everything changed, no less than you, Princess; though he is more cunning than you, and won’t give one a handle where one can take him up. He thinks all this part most objectionable (as if dirty people won’t always make everything dirty where they live!). I dare say he thinks there ought to be no dirty people, and it may be so ; only, if every one was clean, where would be the merit? You would get no credit for keeping yourself tidy. At any rate, if it’s a question of soap and water, every one can begin by himself. My brother thinks the whole place ought to be as handsome as Brompton.”
“ All, yes, that’s where the artists and literary people live, isn’t it?” asked the Princess, attentively.
“ I have never seen it, but it’s very well laid out,” Rosy rejoined, with her competent air.
“ Oh, I like South Lambeth better than that,” said Muniment, hilariously.
The Princess turned to Lady Aurora, and with the air of appealing to her for her opinion gave her a glance which traveled in a flash from the topmost bow of her large, misfitting hat to the crumpled points of her substantial shoes. “ I must get you to tell me the truth,” she murmured. “ I want so much to know London — the real London. It seems so difficult! ”
Lady Aurora looked a little frightened, but at the same time gratified, and after a moment she responded, “ I believe a great many artists live in St. John’s Wood.”
“ I don’t care about the artists ! ” the Princess exclaimed, shaking her head, slowly, with the sad smile which sometimes made her beauty so inexpressibly touching.
“ Not when they have painted you such beautiful pictures ? ” Rosy demanded. " We know about your pictures — we have admired them so much. Mr. Hyacinth has described to us your precious possessions.”
The Princess transferred her smile to Rosy, and rested it on that young lady’s shrunken countenance with the same ineffable head-shake. “ You do me too much honor. I have no possessions.”
“Gracious! was it all a make-believe ? ” Rosy cried, flashing at Hyacinth an eye that was never so eloquent as when it demanded an explanation.
“ I have nothing in the world — nothing but the clothes on my back!” the Princess repeated, very gravely, without looking at the young man.
The words struck him as an admonition, so that, though he was much puzzled, he made no attempt, for the moment, to reconcile the contradictions. He only replied, “ I meant the things in the house. Of course I did n’t know whom they belonged to.”
“ There are no things in my house now,” the Princess went on ; and there was a touch of pure, high resignation in the words.
“ Laws, I should n’t like that! ” Rose Muniment declared, glancing, with complacency, over her own decorated walls.
“ Everything here belongs to me.”
“ I shall bring Madame Grandoni to see you,” said the Princess, irrelevantly, but kindly.
“ Do you think it’s not right to have a lot of things about?” Lady Aurora, with sudden courage, questioned of her distinguished companion, pointing her chin at her, but looking into the upper angle of the room.
“ I suppose one must always settle that for one’s self. I don’t like to be surrounded with objects I don’t care for ; and I can care only for one thing — that is, for one class of things — at a time. Dear lady,” the Princess went on, “ I fear I must confess to you that my heart is not in bibelots. When thousands and tens of thousands have n’t bread to put m their mouths, I can dispense with tapestry and old china.” And her fair face, bent charmingly, conciliatingly, on Lady Aurora, appeared to argue that if she was narrow, at least she was candid.
Hyacinth wondered, rather vulgarly, what strange turn she had taken, and whether this singular picture of her denuded personality were not one of her famous caprices, a whimsical joke, a nervous perversity. Meanwhile, he heard Lady Aurora urge, anxiously, " But don’t you think we ought to make the world more beautiful ? ”
“ Does n’t the Princess make it so by the mere fact of her existence ? ” Hyacinth demanded ; his perplexity escaping, in a harmless manner, through this graceful hyperbole. He had observed that, though the lady in question could dispense with old china and tapestry, she could not dispense with a pair of immaculate gloves which fitted her like a charm.
“ My people have a mass of things, you know, but I have really nothing myself,”said Lady Aurora, as if she owed this assurance to such a representative of suffering humanity.
“ The world will be beautiful enough when it becomes good enough,” the Princess resumed. “ Is there anything so ugly as unjust distinctions, as the privileges of the few contrasted with the degradation of the many ? When we want to beautify, we must begin at the right end.”
“ Surely there are none of us but what have our privileges ! ” Rose Muniment exclaimed, with eagerness. “ What do you say to mine, lying here between two members of the aristocracy, and with Mr. Hyacinth thrown in ? ”
“ You are certainly lucky — with Lady Aurora Langrish. I wish she would come and see me,” the Princess murmured, getting up.
“Do go, my lady, and tell me if it’s so poor ! ” Rosy went on, gayly.
“ I think there can’t be too many pictures and statues and works of art,” Hyacinth broke out. “ The more the better, whether people are hungry or not. In the way of ameliorating influences, are not those the most definite ? ”
“ A piece of bread and butter is more to the purpose, if your stomach’s empty,” the Princess declared.
“ Robinson has been corrupted by foreign influences.” Paul Muniment suggested. “ He does n’t care for bread and butter now; he likes French cookery.”
“Yes, but I don’t get it. And have you sent away the little man, the Italian, with the white cap and apron ? ” Hyacinth asked of the Princess.
She hesitated a moment, and then she replied, laughing, and not in the least offended at his question, though it was an attempt to put her in the wrong from which Hyacinth had not been able to refrain, in his astonishment at these ascetic pretensions, “ I have sent him away many times.”
Lady Aurora had also got up : she stood there gazing at her beautiful fellow-visitor with a timidity which made her wonder only more apparent. “ Your servants must be awfully fond of you,” she said.
“ Oh, my servants ! ” murmured the Princess, as if it were only by a stretch of the meaning of the word that she could be said to enjoy the ministrations of menials. Her manner seemed to imply that she had a char-woman for an hour a day. Hyacinth caught the tone, and determined that since she was going, as it appeared, he would break off his own visit and accompany her. He had flattered himself, at the end of three weeks of Medley, that he knew her in every phase, but here was a field of freshness. She turned to Paul Muniment and put out her hand to him, and while he took it in his own his face was visited by the most beautiful eyes that had ever rested there. “ Will you come and see me, one of these days ? ” she asked, with a voice as sweet and clear as her glance.
Hyacinth waited for Paul’s answer with an emotion that could only be accounted for by his affectionate sympathy, the manner in which he had spoken of him to the Princess and which he wished him to justify, the interest he had in his appearing, completely, the fine fellow he believed him. Muniment neither stammered nor blushed ; he held himself straight, and looked back at his interlocutress with an eye almost as admirable as her own. Then, by way of answer, lie inquired, “ Well, madam, pray what good will it do me ? ” And the tone of the words was so humorous and kindly, and so instinct with a plain, manly sense, that, though they were not gallant, Hyacinth was not ashamed for him. At the same moment he observed that Lady Aurora was watching their friend, as if she had at least an equal stake in what he might say.
“ Ah, none ; only me, perhaps, a little.” With this rejoinder, and with a wonderful sweet, indulgent dignity, in which there was none of the stiffness of pride or of resentment, the Princess quitted him and approached Lady Aurora. She asked her if she would n’t do her the kindness to come. She should like so much to know her, and she had an idea there was a great deal they might talk about. Lady Aurora said she should be delighted, and the Princess took one of her cards out of her pocket and gave it to the noble spinster. After she had done so, she stood a moment, holding her hand, and remarked, “ It has really been such a happiness to me to meet you. Please don’t think it’s very clumsy if I say I do like you so! ” Lady Aurora was evidently exceedingly moved and impressed ; but Rosy, when the Princess took farewell of her, and the irrepressible invalid had assured her of the pleasure with which she should receive her again, admonished her that in spite of this she could never conscientiously enter into such theories.
“ If every one was equal,” she asked, “ where would be the gratification I feel in getting a visit from a grandee ? That’s what I have often said to her ladyship, and I consider that I’ve kept her in her place a little. No, no ; no equality while I’m about the place! ”
The company appeared to comprehend that there was a natural fitness in Hyacinth’s seeing the great lady on her way, and accordingly no effort was made to detain him. He guided her, with the help of an attendant illumination from Muniment, down the dusky staircase, and at the door of the house there was a renewed brief leave-taking with the young chemist, who, however, showed no signs of relenting or recanting in respect to the Princess’s invitation. The warm evening had by this time grown thick, and the population of Audley Court appeared to be passing it, for the most part, in the open air. As Hyacinth assisted his companion to thread her way through groups of sprawling, chattering children, gossiping women with bare heads and babies at the breast, and heavily - planted men smoking very bad pipes, it seemed to him that their project of exploring the slums was already in the way of execution. He said nothing till they had gained the outer street, and then, pausing a moment, he inquired how she would be conveyed. Had she a carriage somewhere, or should he try and get a cab ?
“ A carriage, my dear fellow ? For what do you take me? I won’t trouble you about a cab: I walk everywhere now.”
“ But if I had not been here ? ”
“I should have gone alone,” said the Princess, smiling at him through the turbid twilight of South Lambeth.
“ And where, please gracious Heaven ? I may at least have the honor of accompanying you.”
“ Certainly, if you can walk so far.”
“ So far as what, dear Princess ? ”
“ As Madeira Crescent, Paddington.”
“Madeira Crescent, Paddington?” Hyacinth stared.
“ That’s what I call it when I’m with people with whom I wish to be fine, like you. I have taken a small house there.”
“ Then it’s really true that you have given up your beautiful things?”
“ I have sold them all, to give to the poor.”
“ Ah, Princess ! ” the young man almost moaned ; for the memory of some of her treasures was vivid within him.
She became very grave, even stern, and with an accent of reproach that seemed to show she had been wounded where she was most sensitive, she demanded, “ When I said I was willing to make the last sacrifice, did you then believe I was lying?”
“Have n’t you kept anything?” Hyacinth went on, without heeding this challenge.
She looked at him a moment. “ I have kept you ! ” Then she took his arm, and they moved forward. He saw what she had done; she was living in a little ugly, bare, middle-class house and wearing simple gowns ; and the energy and good faith of her behavior, with the abruptness of the transformation, took away his breath. “ I thought I should please you so much,” she added, after they had gone a few steps. And before he had time to reply, as they came to a part of the street where there were small shops, those of butchers, greengrocers, and pork-pie men, with open fronts, flaring lamps, and humble purchasers, she broke out, joyously, “ Ah, this is the way I like to see London ! ”