THE house in Madeira Crescent was a low, stucco-fronted edifice, in a shabby, shallow semicircle, and Hyacinth could see, as they approached it, that the window-place in the parlor (which was on a level with the street-door) was ornamented by a glass case containing stuffed birds and surmounted by an alabaster Cupid. He was sufficiently versed in his London to know that the descent in the scale of the gentility was almost immeasurable for a person who should have moved into that quarter from the neighborhood of Park Lane. The street was not squalid, and it was strictly residential ; but it was mean and meagre and fourth-rate, and had in the highest degree that diminutive, paltry, parochial air, that absence of style and elevation, which is the stamp of whole districts of London, and which Hyacinth had already more than once mentally compared with the high-piled, important look of the Parisian perspective. It possessed in combination every quality which should have made it detestable to the Princess; it was almost as bad as Lomax Place. As they stopped before the narrow, ill-painted door, on which the number of the house was marked with a piece of common porcelain, cut in a fanciful shape, it appeared to Hyacinth that he had felt, in their long walk, the touch of the passion which led his companion to divest herself of her superfluities, but that it would take the romantic out of one’s heroism to settle one’s self in such a mesquin, Philistine row. However, if the Princess had wished to mortify the flesh, she had chosen an effective means of doing so, and of mortifying the spirit as well.
The long light of the gray summer evening was still in the air, and Madeira Crescent wore a soiled, dusty expression. A hand-organ droned in front of a neighboring house, and the cart of the local washer-woman, to which a donkey was harnessed, was drawn up opposite. The local children, as well, were dancing on the pavement, to the music of the organ, and the scene was surveyed, from one of the windows, by a gentleman in a dirty dressing-gown, smoking a pipe, who made Hyacinth think of Mr. Micawber. The young man gave the Princess a deep look, before they went into the house, and she smiled, as if she understood everything that was passing in his mind.
The long, circuitous walk with her, from the far-away South of London, had been strange and delightful; it reminded Hyacinth, more queerly than he could have expressed, of some of the rambles he had taken on summer evenings with Millicent Henning. It was impossible to resemble this young lady less than the Princess resembled her, but in her enjoyment of her unwonted situation (she had never before, on a summer’s evening, — to the best of Hyacinth’s belief, at least, — lost herself in the unfashionable districts on the arm of a seedy artisan) the distinguished personage exhibited certain coincidences with the shop-girl. She stopped, as Millicent had done, to look into the windows of vulgar establishments, and amused herself with picking out abominable objects that she should like to possess; selecting them from a new point of view, that of a reduced fortune and the domestic arrangements of the “lower middle class,”deriving extreme diversion from the idea that she now belonged to that body. She was in a state of light, fresh, sociable exhilaration which Hyacinth had hitherto, in the same degree, not seen in her, and before they reached Madeira Crescent it had become clear to him that her present phase was little more than a brilliant tour de force, which he could not imagine her keeping up long, for the simple reason that, after the novelty and strangeness of the affair had passed away, she would not be able to endure the contact of so much that was common and ugly. For the moment, her discoveries in this line diverted her, as all discoveries did, and she pretended to be sounding, in a scientific spirit — that of the social philosopher, the student and critic of manners — the depths of British Philistinism. Hyacinth was struck, more than ever, with the fund of life that was in her, the energy of feeling, the high, free, reckless spirit. These things expressed themselves, as the couple proceeded, in a hundred sallies and droll proposals, kindling the young man’s pulses, and making him conscious of the joy with which, in any extravagance, he would bear her company to the death. She appeared to him, at this moment, to be playing with life so audaciously and defiantly that the end of it all would inevitably be some violent catastrophe.
She desired exceedingly that Hyacinth should take her to a music-hall or a coffee-tavern ; she even professed a curiosity to see the inside of a publichouse. As she still had self-possession enough to remember that if she stayed out beyond a certain hour Madame Grandoni would begin to worry about her, they were obliged to content themselves with the minor “ lark,” as the Princess was careful to designate their peep into an establishment, glittering with polished pewter and brass, which bore the name of the Happy Land. Hyacinth had feared that she would be nervous after the narrow, befingered door had swung behind her, or that, at all events, she would be disgusted at what she might see and hear in such a place, and would immediately wish to retreat. By good luck, however, there were only two or three convivial spirits in occupancy, and the presence of the softer sex was apparently not so rare as to excite surprise. The softer sex, furthermore, was embodied in a big, hard, red woman, the publican’s wife, who looked as if she were in the habit of dealing with all sorts, and mainly interested in seeing whether even the finest put down their money before they were served. The Princess pretended to “ have something,” and to admire the ornamentation of the bar; and when Hyacinth asked her, in a low tone, what disposal they should make, when the great changes came, of such an embarrassing type as that, replied, off-hand, “ Oh, drown her in a barrel of beer.” She professed, when they came out, to have been immensely interested in the Happy Land, and was not content until Hyacinth had fixed an evening on which they might visit a music-hall together. She talked with him, largely, by fits and starts, about his adventures abroad and his impressions of France and Italy ; breaking off, suddenly, with some irrelevant but almost extravagantly appreciative allusion to Rose Muniment and Lady Aurora; then returning with a question as to what he had seen and done, the answer to which, however, in many cases, she was not at pains to wait for. Yet it implied that she had paid considerable attention to what he told her that she should be able to say, towards the end, with that fraternizing frankness which was always touching because it appeared to place her at one’s mercy, to show that she counted on one’s having an equal loyalty, “Well, my dear friend, you have not wasted your time ; you know everything, you have missed nothing; there are lots of things you can tell me, and we shall have some famous talks in the winter evenings.” This last refereuce was apparently to the coming season, and there was something in the tone of quiet friendship with which it was uttered, and which seemed to involve so many delightful things, something that, for Hyacinth, bound them still closer together. To live out of the world with her, that way, lost among the London millions, in a queer little cockneyfied retreat, was a refinement of intimacy, and better even than the splendid chance he had enjoyed at Medley.
They found Madame Grandoni sitting alone in the twilight, very patient and peaceful, and having, after all, it was clear, accepted the situation too completely to fidget at such a trifle as her companion’s not coming home at a ladylike hour. She had placed herself in the back part of the tawdry little drawing-room, which looked into a small, smutty garden, and, from the front window, which was open, the sound of the hurdy-gurdy and the voices of the children, who were romping to its music, came in to her through the summer dusk. The influence of London was there, in a kind of mitigated, far-away hum, and for some reason or other, at that moment, the place, to Hyacinth, took on the semblance of the home of an exile — a spot and an hour to be remembered with a throb of fondness, in some danger or sorrow of after years. The old lady never moved from her chair as she saw the Princess come in with the little bookbinder, and her eyes rested on Hyacinth as familiarly as if she had seen him go out with her in the afternoon. The Princess stood before Madame Grandoni a moment, smiling. “ I have done a great thing. What do you think I have done ? ” she asked, as she drew off her gloves.
“ God knows! I have ceased to think ! ” said the old woman, staring up, with her fat, empty hands on the arms of her chair.
“ I have come on foot from the far South of London — how many miles ? four or five — and I ‘m not a particle tired.”
“ Che forza, che forza ! ” murmured Madame Grandoni. “ She will knock you up, completely,” she added, turning to Hyacinth with a kind of customary compassion.
“ Poor darling, she misses the carriage,” Christina remarked, passing out of the room.
Madame Grandoni followed her with her eyes, and Hyacinth thought he perceived a considerable lassitude, a plaintive bewilderment and hébétement, in the old woman’s face. “ Don’t you like to use cabs—I mean hansoms?” he asked, wishing to say something comforting to her.
“ It is not true that I miss anything; my life is only too full,” she replied. “ I lived worse than this — in my bad days.” In a moment she went on : “ It’s because you are here — she does n’t like Assunta to come.”
“ Assunta — because I am here ? ” Hyacinth did not immediately catch her meaning.
“ You must have seen her Italian maid at Medley. She has kept her, and she’s ashamed of it. When we are alone Assunta comes for her bonnet. But she likes you to think she waits on herself.”
“ That’s a weakness — when she’s so strong ! And what does Assunta think of it ? ” Hyacinth asked, looking at the stuffed birds in the window, the alabaster Cupid, the wax flowers on the chimney-piece, the florid antimacassars on the chairs, the sentimental engravings on the walls — in frames of papier-mâché and “ composition,” some of them enveloped in pink tissue-paper— and the prismatic glass pendants which seemed attached to everything.
“ She says, ‘ What on earth will it matter to-morrow ? ’ ”
“ Does she mean that to-morrow the Princess will have her luxury back again? Has n’t she sold all her beautiful things? ”
Madame Grandoni was silent a moment. " She has kept a few. They are put away.”
“ A la bonne heure ! ” cried Hyacinth, laughing. He sat down with the ironical old woman; he spent nearly half an hour in desultory conversation with her, before candles were brought in, and while Christina was in Assunta’s hands. He noticed how resolutely the Princess had withheld herself from any attempt to sweeten the dose she had taken it into her head to swallow, to mitigate the ugliness of her vulgar little house. She had respected its horrible idiosyncrasies, and left, rigidly, in their places the gimcracks which found favor in Madeira Crescent. She had flung no draperies over the pretentious furniture, and disposed no rugs upon the staring carpet; and it was plainly her theory that the right way to acquaint one’s self with the sensations of the wretched was to suffer the anguish of exasperated taste. Presently a female servant came in — not the skeptical Assunta, but a stunted young woman of the maid-of-all-work type, the same who had opened the door to the pair a short time before—and informed Hyacinth that the Princess wished him to understand that he was expected to remain to tea. He learned from Madame Grandoni that the custom of an early dinner, followed in the evening by the frugal repast of the lower orders, was another of Christina’s mortifications ; and when, shortly afterwards, he saw the table laid in the back parlor, which was also the dining-room, and observed the nature of the crockery with which it was decorated, he perceived that whether or no her earnestness were durable, it was at any rate, for the time, intense. Madame Grandoni narrated to him, definitely, as the Princess had done only in scraps, the history of the two ladies since his departure from Medley, their relinquishment of that fine house, and the sudden arrangements Christina had made to change her mode of life, after they had been only ten days in South Street. At the climax of the London season, in a society which only desired to treat her as one of its brightest ornaments, she had retired to Madeira Crescent, concealing her address (with only partial success, of course) from every one, and inviting a celebrated curiosity-monger to come and look at her bibelots, and tell her what he would give her for the lot. In this manner she had parted with them at a fearful sacrifice. She had wished to avoid the nine days’ wonder of a public sale ; for, to do her justice, though she liked to be original, she did n’t like to be notorious, an occasion of vulgar chatter. What had precipitated her determination was a remonstrance received from her husband, just after she left Medley, on the subject of her excessive expenditure ; he had written to her that it was past a joke (as she had appeared to consider it), and that she must really pull up. Nothing could gall her more than an interference on that head (she maintained that she knew the exact figure of the Prince’s income, and that her allowance was an insignificant part of it), and she had pulled up with a vengeance, as Hyacinth perceived. The young man divined on this occasion one of the Princess’s sharpest anxieties (he had never thought of it before), the danger of Casamassima’s really putting the screw on — attempting to make her come back and live with him by withholding supplies altogether. In this case she would find herself in a very tight place, though she had a theory that if she should go to law about the matter the courts would allow her a separate maintenance. This course, however, it would scarcely be in her character to adopt; she would be more likely to waive her right, and support herself by lessons in music and the foreign tongues, supplemented by the remnant of property that had come to her from her mother. That she was capable of returning to the Prince some day, through not daring to face the loss of luxury, was an idea that could not occur to Hyacinth, in the midst of her assurances, uttered at various times, that she positively yearned for a sacrifice ; and such an apprehension was less present to him than ever as he listened to Madame Grandoni’s account of the manner in which her rupture with the fashionable world had been effected. It must be added that the old lady remarked, with a sigh, that she did n’t know how it would all end, as some of Christina’s economies were very costly; and when Hyacinth pressed her a little, she went on to say that it was not, at present, the question of complications arising from the Prince that troubled her most, but the fear that Christina was seriously compromised by her reckless, senseless correspondences — letters arriving from foreign countries, from God knew whom (Christina never told her, nor did she desire it), all about uprisings and liberations (of so much one could be sure) and other matters that were no concern of honest folks. Hyacinth scarcely knew what Madame Grandoni meant by this allusion, which seemed to show that, during the last few months, the Princess had considerably extended her revolutionary connection : he only thought of Hoffendahl, whose name, however, he was careful not to pronounce, and wondered whether his hostess had been writing to the Master to intercede for him, to beg that he might be let off. His cheeks burned at the thought, but he contented himself with remarking to Madame Grandoni that their extraordinary friend enjoyed the sense of danger. The old lady wished to know how she would enjoy the hangman’s rope (with which, du train dont elle allait, she might easily make acquaintance) ; and when he expressed the hope that she did n’t regard him as a counselor of imprudence, replied, “You, my poor child ? Oh, I saw into you at Medley. You are a simple codino !“
The Princess came in to tea in a plain white frock, with a bunch of keys at her girdle ; and nothing could have suggested the thrifty housewife better than the manner in which she superintended the laying of the cloth and the placing on it of a little austere refreshment — a pile of bread and butter, flanked by a pot of marmalade and a morsel of bacon. She filled the teapot out of a little tin canister locked up in a cupboard, of which the key worked with difficulty, and made the tea with her own superb hands; taking pains, however, to explain to Hyacinth that she was far from imposing that régime on Madame Grandoni, who understood that the grocer had a standing order to supply her, for her private consumption, with any delicacy she might desire. For herself, she had never been so well as since she had followed a homely diet. On Sundays they had muffins, and sometimes, for a change, a kippered herring, or even a fried sole. Hyacinth was lost in adoration of the Princess’s housewifely ways and of the exquisite figure that she made as a little bourgeoise; judging that if her attempt to combine plain living with high thinking were all a comedy, at least it was the most finished entertainment she had yet offered him. She talked to Madame Grandoni about Lady Aurora : described her with much drollery, even to the details of her dress ; declared that she was a delightful creature, and one of the most interesting persons she had seen for an age; expressed to Hyacinth the conviction that she should like her exceedingly, if Lady Aurora would only believe a little in her. " But I shall like her, whether she does or not,” said the Princess. “ I always know when that ’s going to happen ; it is n’t so common. She will begin very well with me, and be ‘ fascinated ’ — is n’t that the way people begin with me? — but she won’t understand me at all, or make out in the least what kind of a queer fish I am, though I shall try to show her. When she thinks she does, at last, she will give me up in disgust, and will never know that she has understood me quite wrong. That has been the way with most of the people I have liked; they have run away from me à toutes jambes. Oh, I have inspired aversions ! ” laughed the Princess, handing Hyacinth his cup of tea. He recognized it by the aroma as a mixture not inferior to that of which he had partaken at Medley. “ I have never succeeded in knowing any one who would do me good ; for by the time I began to improve, under their influence, they could put up with me no longer.”
“You told me you were going to visit the poor. I don’t understand what your Gräfin was doing there,” said Madame Grandoni.
“She had come out of charity—in the same way as I. She evidently goes about immensely over there; I shall entreat her to take me with her.”
“ I thought you had promised to let me be your guide, in those explorations,” Hyacinth remarked.
The Princess looked at him a moment. “ Dear Mr. Robinson, Lady Aurora knows more than you.”
“ There have been times, surely, when you have complimented me on my knowledge.”
“ Oh, I mean more about the lower classes ! " the Princess exclaimed ; and, oddly enough, there was a sense in which Hyacinth was unable to deny the allegation. He presently returned to something she had said a moment before, declaring that it had not been the way with Madame Grandoni and him to take to their heels, and to this she replied, “ Oh, you ’ll run away yet ; don’t be afraid ! ”
“ I think that if I had been capable of quitting you I should have done it by this time ; I have neglected such opportunities,” the old lady sighed. Hyacinth now perceived that her eye had quite lost its ancient twinkle; she was troubled about many things.
“ It is true that if you did n’t leave me when I was rich, it would n’t look well for you to leave me at present,” the Princess suggested; and before Madame Grandoni could reply to this speech she said to Hyacinth, “I liked the man, your friend Muniment, so much for saying he would n’t come to see me. ‘ What good would it do him,’ poor fellow ? What good would it do him, indeed ? You were not so difficult: you held off a little and pleaded obstacles, but one could see you would come down,” she continued, covering her guest with her mystifying smile. “ Besides, I was smarter then, more splendid ; I had on gewgaws and suggested worldly lures. I must have been more attractive. But I liked him for refusing,” she repeated; and of the many words she uttered that evening, it was these that made most impression on Hyacinth. He remained for an hour after tea, for on rising from the table she had gone to the piano (she had not deprived herself of this resource, and had a humble instrument, of the so-called “ cottage ” kind), and begun to play in a manner that reminded him of her playing the day of his arrival at Medley. The night had grown close, and as the piano was in the front room he opened, at her request, the window that looked into Madeira Crescent. Beneath it assembled the youth of both sexes, the dingy loiterers who had clustered an hour before around the hurdygurdy. But on this occasion they did not caper about; they remained still, leaning against the area-rails and listening to the wondrous music. When Hyacinth told the Princess of the spell she had thrown upon them she declared that it made her singularly happy ; she added that she was really glad, almost proud, of her day ; she felt as if she had begun to do something for the people. Just before he took leave, she encountered some occasion for saying to him that she was certain the man in Audley Court would n’t come; and Hyacinth did not contradict her, because he believed that in fact he would n’t.
How right she had been to say that Lady Aurora would probably be fascinated at first was proved the first time Hyacinth went to Belgrave Square, a visit he was led to pay very promptly, by a deep sense of the obligations under which her ladyship had placed him at the time of Pinnie’s death. The circumstances in which he found her were quite the same as those of his visit the year before ; she was spending the unfashionable season in her father’s empty house, amid a desert of brown hollands and the dormant echoes of heavy conversation. He had seen so much of her during Pinnie’s illness that he felt (or had felt then) that he knew her almost intimately — that they had become real friends, almost comrades, and might meet henceforth without reserves or ceremonies; yet she was as fluttered and awkward as she had been on the other occasion — not distant, but enmeshed in a new growth of shyness, and apparently unmindful of what had happened to draw them closer. Hyacinth, however, always liked extremely to be with her, for she was the person in the world who quietly, delicately, and as a matter of course treated him most like a gentleman. She had never said the handsome, flattering things to him that had fallen from the lips of the Princess, and never explained to him her view of him; but her timid, cursory, receptive manner, which took all sorts of equalities for granted, was a homage to the idea of his refinement. It was in this manner that she now conversed with him on the subject of his foreign travels ; he found himself discussing the political indications of Paris and the Ruskinian theories of Venice, in Belgrave Square, quite like one of the cosmopolites bred in that region. It took him, however, but a few minutes to perceive that Lady Aurora’s heart was not in these considerations; the deferential smile she bent upon him, while she sat with her head thrust forward and her long hands clasped in her lap, was slightly mechanical, her attitude perfunctory. When he gave her his views of some of the arrière-pensées of Napoleon III. (for he had views uot altogether, as he thought, deficient in originality), she did not interrupt, for she never interrupted ; but she took advantage of his first pause to say, quickly, irrelevantly, “ Will the Princess Casamassima come again to Audley Court?”
“ I have no doubt she will come again, if they would like her to.”
“ I do hope she will. She is very wonderful,” Lady Aurora continued.
“ Oh, yes, she is very wonderful. I think she gave Rosy pleasure,” said Hyacinth.
“ Rosy can talk of nothing else. It would really do her great good to see the Princess again. Don’t you think she is different from anybody that one has ever seen ? ” But her ladyship added, before waiting for an answer to this, “ I liked her quite extraordinarily.”
“ She liked you just as much. I know it would give her great pleasure if you should go to see her.”
“ Fancy ! ” exclaimed Lady Aurora ; but she instantly obtained the Princess’s address from Hyacinth, and made a note of it in a small, shabby book. Then she said, hesitating a little, “ Does she really care for the poor ? ”
“ If she does n’t,” the young man replied, “ I can’t imagine what interest she has in pretending to.”
“If she does, she’s very remarkable — she deserves great honor.”
“You really care; why is she more remarkable than you?” Hyacinth demanded.
“ Oh, it’s very different — she’s so wonderfully attractive! ” Lady Aurora replied, making, recklessly, the only allusion to the oddity of her own appearance in which Hyacinth was destined to hear her indulge. She became conscious of it the moment she had spoken, and said, quickly, to turn it off, “ I should like to talk with her, but I ’m rather afraid. She’s tremendously clever.”
“ Ah, what she is you ’ll find out when you know her! ” Hyacinth sighed, expressively.
His hostess looked at him a little, and then, vaguely, exclaimed, “ Fancy! ” again. The next moment she continued, “ She might do so many other things ; she might charm the world.”
“ She does that, whatever she does,” said Hyacinth, smiling. “It’s all by the way ; it need n’t interfere.”
“ That’s what I mean, that most other people would be content — beautiful as she is. There’s merit, when you give up something.”
“ She has known a great many bad people, and she wants to know some good,” Hyacinth rejoined. “ Therefore be sure to go to her soon.”
“ She looks as if she had known nothing bad since she was born,” said Lady Aurora, blinking candidly. “ I can’t imagine her going into all the dreadful places that she would have to.”
“ You have gone into them, and it has n’t hurt you,” Hyacinth suggested.
“ How do you know that ? My family think it has.”
“ You make me glad that I have n’t a family,” said the young man.
“ And the Princess—has she no one ? ”
“Ah, yes, she has a husband. But she does n’t live with him.”
“ Is he one of the bad persons ? ” asked Lady Aurora, as earnestly as a child listening to a tale.
“ Well, I don’t like to abuse him, because he is down.”
“ If I were a man, I should be in love with her,” said Lady Aurora. Then she pursued, “ I wonder whether we might work together.”
“That’s exactly what she hopes.”
“ I won’t show her the worst places,” said her ladyship, smiling.
To which Hyacinth replied, “I suspect you will do what every one else has done, namely, exactly what she wants ! ” Before he took leave he said to her, “ Do you know whether Paul Muniment liked the Princess?”
Lady Aurora considered a moment, apparently with some intensity. “ I think he considered her extraordinarily beautiful — the most beautiful person he had ever seen.”
“ Does he still believe her to be a humbug ? ”
“ Still ? ” asked Lady Aurora, as if she did n’t understand.
“ I mean that that was the impression apparently made upon him last winter by my description of her.”
“ Oh, I’m sure he thinks her immensely clever ! ” That was all the satisfaction Hyacinth got just then as to Muniment’s estimate of the Princess.
A few days afterward he returned to Madeira Crescent, in the evening, the only time he was free, the Princess having given him a general invitation to take tea with her. He felt that he ought to be discreet in acting upon it, though he was not without reasons that would have warranted him in going early and often. He had a peculiar dread of her growing tired of him — boring herself in his society : yet at the same time he had rather a sharp vision of her boring herself without him, in the dull summer evenings, when even Notting Hill was out of town. He wondered what she did, what visitors dropped in, what pastimes she cultivated, what saved her from the sudden vagary of throwing up the whole of her present game. He remembered that there was a complete side of her life with which he was almost unacquainted (Lady Marchant and her daughters, at Medley, and three or four other persons who had called while he was there, being, in his experience, the only illustrations of it), and knew not to what extent she had, in spite of her transformation, preserved relations with her old friends ; but he could easily imagine a day when she should discover that what she found in Madeira Crescent was less striking than what she missed. Going thither a second time, Hyacinth perceived that he had done her great injustice ; she was full of resources; she had never been so happy ; she found time to read, to write, to commune with her piano, and above all to think — a delightful detachment from the invasive, vulgar, gossiping, distracting world she had known hitherto. The only interruption to her felicity was that she received quantities of notes from her former acquaintance, challenging her to give some account of herself, to say what had become of her, to come and stay with them in the country ; but with these importunate missives she took a very short way — she simply burned them, without answering. She told Hyacinth immediately that Lady Aurora had called on her, two days before, at an hour when she was not in, and she had straightway addressed her, in return, an invitation to come to tea, any evening, at eight o’clock. That was the way the people in Madeira Crescent entertained each other (the Princess knew everything about them now, and was eager to impart her knowledge) ; and the evening, she was sure, would be much more convenient to Lady Aurora, whose days were filled with good works, peregrinations of charity. Her ladyship arrived ten minutes after Hyacinth; she told the Princess that her invitation had been expressed in a manner so irresistible that she was unwilling to wait more than a day to respond. She was introduced to Madame Grandoni, and tea was immediately served; Hyacinth being gratefully conscious the while of the kindly way in which Lady Aurora forbore to appear bewildered at meeting him in such society. She knew he frequented it, and she had been witness of his encounter with the Princess in Audley Court ; but it might have startled her to have ocular evidence of the footing on which he stood. Everything the Princess did or said, at this time, had for effect, whatever its purpose, to make her seem more rare and fine; and she had seldom given him greater pleasure than by the exquisite art she put forward to win Lady Aurora’s confidence, to place herself under the pure and elevating influence of the noble spinster. She made herself small and simple; she spoke of her own little aspirations and efforts; she appealed and persuaded ; she laid her white hand on Lady Aurora’s, and gazed at her with an interest which was evidently deeply sincere, but which, all the same, derived half its effect from the contrast between the quality of her beauty, the whole air of her person, and the hard, dreary problems of misery and crime. It was touching, and Lady Aurora was touched ; that was very evident as they sat together on the sofa, after tea, and the Princess protested that she only wanted to know what her new friend was doing — what she had done for years —in order that she might go and do likewise. She asked personal questions with a directness that was sometimes embarrassing to the subject — Hyacinth had seen that habit in her from the first — and Lady Aurora, though she was charmed and excited, was not quite comfortable at being so publicly probed and sounded. The public was formed of Madame Grandoni and Hyacinth ; but the old lady (whose intercourse with the visitor had consisted almost wholly of watching her with a quiet, speculative anxiety) presently shuffled away, and was heard, through the thin partitions that prevailed in Madeira Crescent, to ascend to her own apartment. It seemed to Hyacinth that he ought also, in delicacy, to retire, and this was his intention, from one moment to the other; to him, certainly (and the second time she met him), Lady Aurora had made as much of her confession as he had a right to look for. After that one little flash of egotism he had never again heard her allude to her own feelings or circumstances.
“ Do you stay in town, like this, at such a season, on purpose to attend to your work ? ” the Princess asked ; and there was something archly rueful in the tone in which she made this inquiry, as if it cost her just a pang to find that in taking such a line she herself had not been so original as she hoped. “ Mr. Robinson has told me about your big house in Belgrave Square — you must let me come and see you there. Nothing would make me so happy as that you should allow me to help you a little — how little soever. Do you like to be helped, or do you like to go alone ? Are you very independent, or do you need to look up, to cling, to lean upon some one ? Excuse me if I ask impertinent questions ; we speak that way — rather, you know — in Rome, where I have spent a large part of my life. That idea of your being there alone in your great dull house, with all your charities and devotions, makes a kind of picture in my mind ; it’s quaint and touching, like something in some English novel. Englishwomen are so accomplished, are they not ? I am really a foreigner, you know, and though I have lived here a while it takes one some time to find those things out au juste. Therefore, is your work for the people only one of your occupations, or is it everything, does it absorb your whole life ? That’s what I should like it to be for me ! Do your family like you to throw yourself into all this, or have you had to brave a certain amount of ridicule ? I dare say you have ; that’s where you English are strong, in braving ridicule. They have to do it so often, have n’t they ? I don’t know whether I could do it. I never tried; but with you I would brave anything. Are your family clever and sympathetic? No? the kind of thing that one’s family generally is ? Ah, well, dear lady, we must make a little family together. Are you encouraged or disgusted ? Do you go on doggedly, or have you any faith, any great idea, that lifts you up ? Are you religious, now,par exemple ? Do you do your work in connection with any ecclesiasticism, any priests or sisters ? I ’m a Catholic — but so little ! I should n’t mind in the least joining hands with any one who is really doing anything. I express myself awkwardly, but perhaps you know what I mean. Possibly you don’t know that I am one of those who believe that a great social cataclysm is destined to take place, and that it can’t make things worse than they are already. I believe, in a word, in the people doing something for themselves (the others will never do anything for them), and I am quite willing to help them. If that shocks you I shall be immensely disappointed, because there is something in the impression you make on me that seems to say that you have n’t the usual prejudices, and that if certain things were to happen you would n’t be afraid. You are shy, are you not? —but you are not timorous. I suppose that if you thought the inequalities and oppressions and miseries which now exist were a necessary part of life, and were going on forever, you would n’t be interested in those people over the river (the bedridden girl and her brother, I mean) ; because Mr. Robinson tells me that they are advanced socialists — or at least the brother is. Perhaps you ’ll say that you don’t care for him ; the sister, to your mind, being the remarkable one. She is, indeed, a perfect little femme dumonde — she talks so much better than most of the people in society. I hope you don’t mind my saying that, because I have an idea that you are not in society. You can imagine whether I am ! Have n’t you judged it, like me, condemned it, and given it up ? Are you not sick of the egotism, the snobbery, the meanness, the frivolity, the immorality, the hypocrisy ? Is n’t there a great resemblance in our situation ? I don’t mean in our nature, for you are far better than I shall ever be. Are n’t you quite divinely good ? When I see a woman of your sort (not that I often do !), I try to be a little less bad. You have helped hundreds, thousands, of people ; you must help me!”
These remarks, which I have strung together, did not, of course, fall from the Princess’s lips in an uninterrupted stream ; they were arrested and interspersed by frequent inarticulate responses and embarrassed protests. Lady Aurora shrank from them even while they gratified her, blinking and fidgeting in the brilliant, direct light of her hostess’s attentions. I need not repeat her answers, the more so as they none of them arrived at completion, but passed away into nervous laughter and averted looks, the latter directed at the ceiling, the floor, the windows, and appearing to constitute a kind of entreaty to some occult or supernatural power that the conversation should become more impersonal. In reply to the Princess’s allusion to the convictions prevailing in the Muniment family, she said that the brother and sister thought differently about public questions, but were of the same mind with regard to persons of the upper class taking an interest in the working people, attempting to enter into their life : they held it was a great mistake. At this information the Princess looked much disappointed; she wished to know if the Muniments thought it was impossible to do them any good. " Oh, I mean a mistake from our point of view,” said Lady Aurora. “ They would n’t do it in our place ; they think we had much better occupy ourselves with our own pleasures.” And as the Princess stared, not comprehending, she went on: “ Rosy thinks we have a right to our own pleasures under all circumstances, no matter how badly off the poor may be; and her brother takes the ground that we will not have them long, and that, in view of what may happen, we are great fools not to make the most of them.”
“ I see, I see. That is very strong,” the Princess murmured, in a tone of high appreciation.
“ I dare say. But all the same, whatever is going to come, one must do something.”
“ You do think, then, that something is going to come ? ” said the Princess.
“ Oh, immense changes, I dare say. But I don’t belong to anything, you know.”
The Princess hesitated a moment. “ No more do I. But many people do. Mr. Robinson, for instance.” And she gave Hyacinth a familiar smile.
“ Oh, if the changes depend on me ! ” the young man exclaimed, blushing.
“They won’t set the Thames on fire — I quite agree to that! ”
Lady Aurora had the manner of not considering that she had a warrant for going into the question of Hyacinth’s affiliations; so she stared, delicately, at the piano, and in a moment remarked to the Princess, “ I am sure you play awfully well ; I should like so much to hear you.”
Hyacinth felt that their hostess thought this banal. She had not asked Lady Aurora to spend the evening with her simply that they should fall back on the resources of the vulgar. Nevertheless, she replied with perfect goodnature that she should be delighted to play; only there was a thing she should like much better, namely, that Lady Aurora should narrate her life.
“ Oh, don’t talk about mine ; yours, yours! ” her ladyship cried, coloring with eagerness, and, for the first time since her arrival, indulging in the free gesture of laying her hand upon that of the Princess.
“ With so many narratives in the air, I certainly had better take myself off,” said Hyacinth, and the Princess offered no opposition to his departure. She and Lady Aurora were evidently on the point of striking up a tremendous intimacy, and as he turned this idea over, walking away, it made him sad, for strange, vague reasons, which he could not have expressed.
The Sunday following this occasion Hyacinth spent almost entirely with the Muniments, with whom, since his return to his work, he had been able to have no long, fraternizing talk, of the kind that had marked their earlier relations. The present, however, was a happy day ; it refreshed exceedingly the sentiments with which he now regarded the inscrutable Paul. The warm, bright September weather gilded even the dinginess of Audley Court, and while, in the morning, Rosy’s brother and their visitor sat beside her sofa, the trio amused themselves with discussing a dozen different plans for giving a festive turn to the day. There had been moments, in the last six months, when Hyacinth had the sense that he should never again be able to enter into such ideas as that, and these moments had been connected with the strange perversion taking place in his mental image of the man whose hardness (of course he was obliged to be hard) he had never expected to see turned upon a passionate admirer. But now, for the hour at least, the darkness had cleared away, and Paul’s company was in itself a comfortable, inspiring influence. He had never been kinder, jollier, safer, as it were; it had never appeared more desirable to hold fast to him and trust him. Less than ever would an observer have guessed there was a reason why the two young men might have winced as they looked at each other. Rosy naturally took part in the question debated between her companions — the question whether they should limit their excursion to a walk in Hyde Park ; should embark at Lambeth pier on the penny steamer, which would convey them to Greenwich ; or should start presently for Waterloo station, and go thence by train to Hampton Court. Miss Muniment had visited none of these places, but she contributed largely to the discussion, for which she seemed perfectly qualified; talked about the crowd on the steamer, and the inconvenience arising from drunken persons on the return, quite as if she had suffered from these drawbacks ; said that the view from the hill at Greenwich was terribly smoky, and at that season the fashionable world — half the attraction, of course — was wholly absent from Hyde Park; and expressed strong views in favor of Wolsey’s old palace, with whose history she appeared intimately acquainted. She threw herself into her brother’s holiday with eagerness and glee, and Hyacinth marveled again, as he had done before, at the stoicism of the hard, bright little creature, whose imagination appeared never to concern itself with her own privations, so that she could lie in her close little room the whole golden afternoon, without bursting into sobs as she saw the western sunbeams slant upon the shabby, ugly, familiar paper of her wall, and thought of the far-off fields and gardens which she should never see. She talked immensely of the Princess, for whose beauty, grace, and benevolence she could find no sufficient praise ; declaring that of all the fair faces that had ever hung over her couch (and Rosy spoke as from immense opportunities for comparison) she had far the noblest and most refreshing. She seemed to make a kind of light in the room, and to leave it behind her after she had gone. Rosy could call up her image as she could hum a tune she had heard, and she expressed in her quaint, particular way how, as she lay there in the quiet hours, she repeated over to herself the beautiful air. The Princess might be anything, she might be royal or imperial, and Rosy was well aware how little she should complain of the dullness of her life when such apparitions as that could pop in any day. She made a difference in the place — it gave it a kind of finish for her to have come there ; if it was good enough for a princess, it was good enough for her, and she hoped she should n’t hear again of Paul’s wishing her to move out of a room with which she should have henceforth such delightful associations. The Princess had found her way to Audley Court, and perhaps she would n’t find it to another lodging — they could n’t expect her to follow them about London at their pleasure; and at any rate she had evidently been very much struck with the little room, so that, if they were quiet and patient, who could say but the fancy would take her to send them a bit of carpet, or a picture, or even a mirror with a gilt frame, to make it a bit more tasteful ? Rosy’s transitions from pure enthusiasm to the imaginative calculation of benefit were performed with a serenity peculiar to herself. Her chatter had so much spirit and point that it always commanded attention, but to-day Hyacinth was less patient of it than usual, because, so long as it lasted, Muniment held his tongue, and what he had been anxious about was much more Paul’s impression of the Princess. Rosy made no remark to him on the monopoly he had so long enjoyed of this wonderful lady; she had always had the manner of a kind of indulgent incredulity about Hyacinth’s social adventures, and he saw the day might easily come when she would begin to talk of the Princess as if she herself had been the first to discover her. She had much to say, however, about the nature of the acquaintance Lady Aurora had formed with her, and she was mainly occupied with the glory she had drawn upon herself by bringing two such exalted persons together. She fancied them alluding, in the great world, to the occasion on which “ we first met, at Miss Muniment’s, yon know ; ” and she related how Lady Aurora, who had been in Audley Court the day before, had declared that she owed her a debt she could never repay. The two ladies had liked each other more, almost, than they liked any one ; and was n’t it a rare picture to think of them moving hand in hand, like twin roses, through the bright upper air ? Muniment inquired, in rather a coarse, unsympathetic way, what the mischief she ever wanted of her ; which led Hyacinth to demand in return, “ What do you mean ? What does who want of whom ? ”
“ What does the beauty want of our poor lady ? She has a totally different stamp. I don’t know much about women, hut I can see that.”
“ How do you mean — a different stamp ? They both have the stamp of their rank ! ” cried Rosy.
“ Who can ever tell what women want, at any time? ” Hyacinth said, with the off-handedness of a man of the world.
“ Well, my boy, if you don’t know any more than I, you disappoint me! Perhaps, if we wait long enough, she will tell us some day, herself.”
“ Tell you what she wants of Lady Aurora ? ”
“ I don’t mind about Lady Aurora so much ; but what in the name of long journeys does she want with us?”
“ Don’t you think you ’re worth a long journey ? ” Rosy asked, gayly. " If you were not my brother, which is handy for seeing you, and I were not confined to my sofa, I would go from one end of England to the other to make your acquaintance ! He’s in love with the Princess,” she went on, to Hyacinth, " and he asks those senseless questions to cover it up. What does any one want of anything?”
It was decided, at last, that the two young men should go down to Greenwich, and after they had partaken of bread and cheese with Rosy they embarked on a penny-steamer. The boat was densely crowded, and they leaned, rather squeezed together, in the fore part of it, against the rail of the deck, and watched the big black fringe of the yellow stream. The river was always fascinating to Hyacinth. The mystified entertainment which, as a child, he had found in all the aspects of London came back to him from the murky scenery of its banks and the sordid agitation of its bosom : the great arches and pillars of the bridges, where the water rushed, and the funnels tipped, and sounds made an echo, and there seemed an overhanging of interminable processions; the miles of ugly wharves and warehouses ; the lean protrusions of chimney, mast, and crane; the painted signs of grimy industries, staring from shore to shore ; the strange, flat, obstructive barges, straining and bumping on some business as to which everything was vague but that it was remarkably dirty; the clumsy coasters and colliers, which thickened as one went down ; the small, loafing boats, whose occupants, somehow, looking up from their oars at the steamer, as they rocked in the oily undulations of its wake, appeared profane and sarcastic ; in short, all the grinding, puffing, smoking, splashing activity of the turbid flood. In the good-natured crowd, amid the fumes of vile tobacco, beneath the shower of sooty particles, and to the accompaniment of a bagpipe of a dingy Highlander, who sketched occasionally a smothered reel, Hyacinth forbore to speak to his companion of what he had most at heart; but later, as they lay on the brown, crushed grass, on one of the slopes of Greenwich Park, and saw the river stretch away and shine beyond the pompous colonnades of the hospital, he asked him whether there was any truth in what Rosy had said about his being sweet on their friend the Princess. He said “ their friend ” on purpose, speaking as if, now that she had been twice to Audley Court, Muniment might be regarded as knowing her almost as well as he himself did. He wished to conjure away the idea that he was jealous of Paul, and if he desired information on the point I have mentioned, this was because it still made him almost as uncomfortable as it had done at first that his comrade should take the scoffing view. He did n’t easily see such a fellow as Muniment wheel about from one day to the other, but he had been present at the most exquisite exhibition he had ever observed the Princess make of that divine power of conciliation which was not, perhaps, in social intercourse, the art she chiefly exercised, but was certainly the most wonderful of her secrets, and it would be remarkable indeed that a sane young man should not have been affected by it. It was familiar to Hyacinth that Muniment was not easily touched by women, but this might perfectly have been the case without detriment to the Princess’s ability to work a miracle. The companions had wandered through the great halls and courts of the hospital ; had gazed up at the glories of the famous painted chamber and admired the long and lurid series of the naval victories of England (Muniment remarking to his friend that he supposed he had seen the match to all that in foreign parts — offensive little traveled beggar that he was). They had not ordered a fish-dinner either at the Trafalgar or the Ship (having a frugal vision of tea and shrimps with Rosy, on their return), but they had labored up and down the steep undulations of the shabby, charming park; made advances to the tame deer, and seen them amble foolishly away; watched the young of both sexes, hilarious and red in the face, roll in promiscuous entanglement over the slopes ; gazed at the little brick observatory, perched on one of the knolls, which sets the time of English history, and in which Hyacinth could see that his companion took a kind of technical interest; wandered out of one of the upper gates, and admired the trimness of the little villas at Blackheath, where Muniment declared that it was his idea of supreme social success to be able to live. He pointed out two or three small, semidetached houses, faced with stucco, and with “ Mortimer Lodge ” or “ The Sycamores ” inscribed upon the gate-posts, and Hyacinth guessed that these were the sort of place he would like to end his days in — in high, pure air, with a genteel window for Rosy’s couch and a cheerful view of suburban excursions. It was when they came back into the park that, being rather hot and a little satiated, they stretched themselves under a tree and Hyacinth yielded to his curiosity.
“Sweet on her — sweet on her, my boy ! ” said Muniment. “ I might as well be sweet on the dome of St. Paul’s, which I just make out off there.”
“ The dome of St. Paul’s does n’t come to see you, and does n’t ask you to return the visit.”
“ Oh, I don’t return visits — I ‘ve got a lot of jobs of my own to do. If I don’t put myself out for the Princess, is n’t that a sufficient answer to your question ? ”
“ I’m by no means sure,” said Hyacinth. “ If you went to see her, simply and civilly, because she asked you,
I should n’t regard it as a proof that you had taken a fancy to her. Your hanging off is more suspicious ; it may mean that you don’t trust yourself — that you are in danger of falling in love if you go in for a more intimate acquaintance.”
“ It’s a rum job, your wanting me to make up to her. I should n’t think it would suit your book,” Muniment rejoined, staring at the sky, with his hands clasped under his head.
“ Do you suppose I ’m afraid of you ? ” his companion asked. “ Besides.” Hyacinth added in a moment, “ why the devil should I care, now ? ”
Muniment, for a little, made no rejoinder; he turned over on his side, and with his arm resting on the ground leaned his head on his hand. Hyacinth felt his eyes on his face, but he also felt himself coloring, and did n’t meet them. He had taken a private vow never to indulge, to Muniment, in certain inauspicious references, and the words he had just spoken had slipped out of his mouth too easily. “ What do you mean by that ? ” Paul demanded, at last; and when Hyacinth looked at him he saw nothing but his companion’s strong, fresh, irresponsible face. Muniment, before speaking, had had time to guess what he meant by it.
Suddenly, an impulse that he had never known before, or rather that he had always resisted, took possession of him. There was a mystery which it concerned his happiness to clear up, and he became unconscious of his scruples, of his pride, of the strength that he had believed to be in him — the strength for going through his work and passing away without a look behind. He sat forward on the grass, with his arms round his knees, and bent upon Muniment a face lighted up by his difficulties. For a minute the two men’s eyes met with extreme clearness, and then Hyacinth exclaimed, “ What an extraordinary fellow you are ! ”
“ You’ve hit it there ! ” said Muniment, smiling.
“ I don’t want to make a scene, or work on your feelings, but how will you like it when I’m strung up on the gallows ? ”
“You mean for Hoffendahl’s job? That’s what you were alluding to just now ? ” Muniment lay there, in the same attitude, chewing a long blade of dry grass, which he held to his lips with his free hand.
“ I did n’t mean to speak of it; but after all, why should n’t it come up ? Naturally, I have thought of it a good deal.”
“ What good does that do ? ” Muniment returned. “I hoped you did n’t, and I noticed you never spoke of it. You don’t like it; you would rather throw it up,” he added.
There was not in his voice the faintest note of irony or contempt, no sign whatever that he passed judgment on such a tendency. He spoke in a quiet, human, memorizing manner, as if it had originally quite entered into his thought to allow for weak regrets. Nevertheless, the complete reasonableness of his tone itself cast a chill on his companion’s spirit; it was like the touch of a hand at once very firm and very soft, but strangely cold.
“ I don’t want in the least to throw the business up, but did you suppose I liked it?” Hyacinth asked, with rather a forced laugh.
“ My dear fellow, how could I tell ? You like a lot of things I don’t. You like excitement and emotion and change, you like remarkable sensations, whereas I go in for a holy calm, for sweet repose.”
“ If you object for yourself to change, and are so fond of still waters, why have you associated yourself with a revolutionary movement ? ” Hyacinth demanded, with a little air of making rather a good point.
“ Just for that reason ! ” Muniment answered, with a smile. “ Is n’t our revolutionary movement as quiet as the grave ? Who knows, who suspects, anything like the full extent of it? ”
“ I see — you take only the quiet parts ! ”
In speaking these words Hyacinth had had no derisive intention, but a moment later he flushed with the sense that they had a sufficiently petty sound. Muniment, however, appeared to see no offense in them, and it was in the gentlest, most suggestive way, as if he had been thinking over what might comfort his comrade, that he replied, “ There’s one thing you ought to remember — that it’s quite on the cards it may never come off.”
“ I don’t desire that reminder,” Hyacinth said ; “ and, moreover, you must let me say that, somehow, I don’t easily fancy you mixed up with things that don’t come off. Anything you have to do with will come off, I think.”
Muniment reflected a moment, as if his little companion were charmingly ingenious. “ Surely, I have nothing to do with this idea of Hoffendahl’s.”
‘‘With the execution, perhaps not; but how about the conception ? You seemed to me to have a great deal to do with it the night you took me to see him.”
Muniment changed his position, raising himself, and in a moment he was seated, Turk-fashion, beside his mate. He put his arm over his shoulder and held him, studying his face; and then, in the kindest manner in the world, he remarked, “ There are three or four definite chances in your favor.”
“ I don’t want comfort, you know,” said Hyacinth, with his eyes on the distant atmospheric mixture that represented London.
“ What the devil do you want ? ” Muniment asked, still holding him, and with perfect good-humor.
“ Well, to get inside of you a little ; to know how a chap feels when he’s going to part with his best friend,”
“ To part with him ? ” Muniment repeated.
“ I mean, putting it at the worst.”
“ I should think you would know by yourself, if you ’re going to part with me! ”
At this Hyacinth prostrated himself, tumbled over on the grass, on his face, which he buried in his arms. He remained in this attitude, saying nothing, for a long time ; and while he lay there he thought, with a sudden, quick flood of association, of many strange things. Most of all, he had the sense of the brilliant, charming day; the warm stillness, touched with cries of amusement; the sweetness of loafing there, in an interval of work, with a friend who was a tremendously fine fellow, even if he did n’t understand the inexpressible. Muniment also kept silent, and Hyacinth perceived that he was unaffectedly puzzled. He wanted now to relieve him, so that he pulled himself together again and turned round, saying the first thing he could think of, in relation to the general subject of their conversation, that would carry them away from the personal question : “ I have asked you before, and you have told me, but somehow I have never quite grasped it (so I just touch on the matter again), exactly what good you think it will do.”
“ This idea of Hoffendahl’s? You must remember that as yet we know only very vaguely what it is. It is difficult, therefore, to measure closely the importance it may have, and I don’t think I have ever, in talking with you, pretended to fix that importance. I don’t suppose it will matter immensely whether your own engagement is carried out or not; but if it is, it will have been a detail in a scheme of which the general effect will be decidedly useful. I believe, and you pretend to believe, though I am not sure you do, in the advent of the democracy. It will help the democracy to get possession, that the classes that keep them down shall be admonished from time to time that they have a very definite and very determined intention of doing so. An immense deal will depend upon that. Hoffendahl is an excellent admonisher.”
Hyacinth listened to this explanation with an expression of interest that was not feigned; and after a moment he rejoined, “ When you say you believe in the democracy, I take for granted you mean you positively wish for their coming into power, as I have always supposed. Now what I really have never understood is this — why you should desire to put forward a lot of people whom you regard, almost without exception, as donkeys.”
“ Ah, my dear lad,” laughed Muniment, “ when one undertakes to meddle in human affairs one must deal with human material. The upper classes have the longest ears.”
“ I have heard you say that you were working for an equality in human conditions, to abolish the immemorial inequality. What you want, then, for all mankind is a similar nuance of asininity.”
“That’s very clever; did you pick it up in France ? The low tone of our fellow-mortals is a result of bad conditions ; it is the conditions I want to alter. When those that have no start to speak of have a good one, it is but fair to infer that they will go further. I want to try them, you know.”
“ But why equality ? ” Hyacinth asked. “ Somehow, that word does n’t say so much to me as it used to. Inequality — inequality ! I don’t know whether it’s by dint of repeating it over to myself, but that does n’t shock me as it used.”
“ They did n’t put you up to that in France, I’m sure!” Muniment exclaimed. “Your point of view has changed; you have risen in the world.”
“ Risen ? Good God, what have I risen to ? ”
“ True enough ; you were always a bloated little swell! ” And Muniment gave his young friend a sociable slap on the back. There was a momentary bitterness in its being imputed to such a one as Hyacinth, even in joke, that he had taken sides with the fortunate ones of the earth, and he had it on his tongue’s end to ask his friend if he had never guessed what his proud titles were — the bastard of a murderess, spawned in a gutter, out of which he had been picked by a sewing-girl. But his lifelong reserve on this point was a habit not easily broken, and before such an inquiry could flash through it Muniment had gone on : “ If you ‘ve ceased to believe we can do anything, it will be rather awkward, you know.”
“ I don’t know what I believe, God help me! ” Hyacinth remarked, in a tone of an effect so lugubrious that Paul gave one of his longest, most boyish-sounding laughs. And he added, “ I don’t want you to think I have ceased to care for the people. What am I but one of the poorest and meanest of them ? ”
“You, my boy? You’re a duke in disguise, and so I thought the first time I ever saw you. That night I took you to Hoffendahl you had a little way with you that made me forget it; I mean that your disguise happened to be better than usual. As regards caring for the people, there’s surely no obligation at all,” Muniment continued. “ I would n’t if I could help it — I promise you that. It all depends on what you see. The way I’ve used my eyes in this abominable metropolis has led to my seeing that present arrangements won’t do. They won’t do,” he repeated, placidly.
“ Yes, I see that, too,” said Hyacinth, with the same dolefulness that had marked his tone a moment before — a dolefulness begotten of the rather helpless sense that, whatever he saw, he saw (and this was always the case) so many other things beside. He saw the immeasurable misery of the people, and yet he saw all that had been, as it were, saved and marked off from it: the treasures, the felicities, the splendors, the successes, of the world. All this took the form, sometimes, to his imagination, of a vast, vague, dazzling presence, an irradiation of light from objects undefined, mixed with the atmosphere of Paris and of Venice. He presently added that a hundred things Muniment had told him about the foul horrors of the worst districts of London, pictures of incredible shame and suffering that he had put before him, came back to him now, with the memory of the passion they had kindled at the time.
“ Oh, I don’t want you to go by what I have told you ; I want you to go by what you have seen yourself. I remember there were things you told me that were n’t bad in their way.” And at this Paul Muniment sprang to his feet, as if their conversation had drawn to an end, or they must at all events be thinking of their homeward way. Hyacinth got up, too, while his companion stood there. Muniment was looking off toward London, with a face that expressed all the healthy singleness of his vision. Suddenly Paul remarked, as if it occurred to him to complete, or at any rate confirm, the declaration he had made a short time before, “ Yes, I don’t believe in the millennium, but I do believe in the democracy.”
The young man, as he spoke these words, struck his comrade as such a fine embodiment of the spirit of the people; he stood there, in his powerful, sturdy freshness, with such an air of having learnt what he had learnt and of goodnature that had purposes in it, that our hero felt the simple inrush of his old, frequent pride at having a person of that promise, a nature of that capacity, for a friend. He passed his hand into Muniment’s arm, and said, with an imperceptible tremor in his voice, “It’s no use your saying I ’m not to go by what you tell me. I would go by what you tell me, anywhere. There’s no awkwardness to speak of. I don’t know that I believe exactly what you believe, but I believe in you, and does n’t that come to the same thing?”
Muniment evidently appreciated the cordiality and candor of this little tribute, and the way he showed it was by a movement of his arm, to check his companion, before they started to leave the spot, and by looking down at him with a certain anxiety of friendliness. “ I should never have taken you to Hoffendahl if I had n’t thought you would jump at the job. It was that flaring little oration of yours, at the club, when you floored Delancey for saying you were afraid, that put me up to it.”
“ I did jump at it — upon my word I did ; and it was just what I was looking for. That’s all correct! ” said Hyacinth, cheerfully, as they went forward. There was a strain of heroism in these words — of heroism of which the sense was not conveyed to Muniment by a vibration in their interlocked arms. Hyacinth did not make the reflection that he was infernally literal; he dismissed the sentimental problem that had bothered him; he condoned, excused, admired, and merged himself, resting happy for the time in the consciousness that Paul was a grand fellow, that friendship was a purer feeling than love, and that there was an immense deal of affection between them. He did not even observe at that moment that it was preponderantly on his own side.
A certain Sunday in November, more than three months after she had gone to live in Madeira Crescent, was so important an occasion for the Princess Casamassima that I must give as complete an account of it as the limits of my space will allow. Early in the afternoon a loud peal from her door knocker came to her ear ; it had a sound of resolution, expressing almost defiance, which made her look up from her book and listen. She was sitting by the fire, alone, with a volume of a heavy work on Labor and Capital in her hand. It was not yet four o’clock, but she had had candles for an hour; a dense brown fog made the daylight impure, without suggesting an answer to the question whether the scheme of nature had been to veil or to deepen the sabbatical dreariness. She was not tired of Madeira Crescent —such an idea she would indignantly have repudiated ; but the prospect of a visitor was rather pleasant to her — the possibility even of his being an ambassador, or a cabinet minister, or another of the eminent personages with whom she had associated before embracing the ascetic life. They had not knocked at her present door hitherto in any great numbers, for more reasons than one ; they were out of town, and she had taken pains to diffuse the belief that she had left England. If the impression prevailed, it was exactly the impression she had desired; she forgot this fact whenever she felt a certain surprise, even, it may be, a certain irritation, in perceiving that people were not taking the way to Madeira Crescent. She was making the discovery, in which she had had many predecessors, that in London it is only too possible to hide one’s self. It was very much in that fashion that Godfrey Sholto was in the habit of announcing himself, when he reappeared after the intervals she explicitly imposed upon him ; there was a kind of artlessness, for so world-worn a personage, in the point he made of showing that he knocked with confidence, that he had as good a right as any other. This afternoon she was ready to accept a visit from him : she was perfectly detached from the shallow, frivolous world in which he lived, but there was still a freshness in her renunciation which coveted reminders and enjoyed comparisons ; he would prove to her how right she had been to do exactly what she was doing. It did not occur to her that Hyacinth Robinson might be at her door, for it was understood between them that, except by special appointment, he was to come to see her only in the evening. She heard in the hall, when the servant arrived, a voice that she failed to recognize ; but in a moment the door of the room was thrown open, and the name of Mr. Muniment was pronounced. It may be said at once that she felt great pleasure in hearing it, for she had both wished to see more of Hyacinth’s extraordinary friend and had given him up, so little likely had it begun to appear that he would put himself out for her. She had been glad he would n’t come, as she had told Hyacinth three months before; but now that he had come she was still more glad.
Presently he was sitting opposite to her, on the other side of the fire, with his big foot crossed over his big knee, his large, gloved hands fumbling with each other, drawing and smoothing the gloves (of very red, new-looking dogskin) in places, as if they hurt him. So far as the size of his extremities, and even his attitude and movement, went, he might have belonged to her former circle. With the details of his dress remaining vague in the lamp-light, which threw into relief mainly his powerful, important head, he might have been one of the most considerable men she had ever known. The first thing she said to him was that she wondered extremely what had brought him at last to come to see her: the idea, when she proposed it, evidently had so little attraction for him. She had only seen him once since then — the day she met him coming into Audley Court as she was leaving it, after a visit to his sister — and, as he probably remembered, she had not on that occasion repeated her invitation.
“ It would n’t have done any good, at the time, if you had,” Muniment rejoined, with his natural laugh.
“ Oh, I felt that; my silence was n’t accidental ! ” the Princess exclaimed, joining in his merriment.
“ I have only come now — since you have asked me the reason — because my sister hammered at me, week after week, dinning it into me that I ought to. Oh, I’ve been under the lash ! If she had left me alone, I would n’t have come.”
The Princess blushed on hearing these words; but not with shame or with pain ; rather, with the happy excitement of being spoken to in a manner so fresh and original. She had never before had a visitor who practiced so racy a frankness, or who, indeed, had so curious a story to tell. She had never before so completely failed, and her failure greatly interested her, especially as it seemed now to be turning a little to success. She had succeeded promptly with every one, and the sign of it was that every one had rendered her a monotony of homage. Even poor little Hyacinth had tried, in the beginning, to say sweet things to her. This very different type of man appeared to have his thoughts fixed on anything but sweetness; she felt the liveliest hope that he would move further and further away from it. " I remember what you asked me — what good it would do you. I could n’t tell you then ; and though I now have had a long time to turn it over, I have n’t thought of it yet.”
“ Oh, but I hope it will do me some,” said Paul. “ A fellow wants a reward, when he has made a great effort.”
“ It does me some,” the Princess remarked, gayly.
“ Naturally, the awkward things I say amuse you. But I don’t say them for that, but just to give you an idea.”
“ You give me a great many ideas. Besides, I know you already a good deal.”
“ From little Robinson, I suppose,” said Muniment.
The Princess hesitated. “ More particularly from Lady Aurora.”
“ Oh, she does n’t know much about me ! ” the young man exclaimed.
“ It’s a pity you say that, because she likes you.”
“ Yes, she likes me,” Muniment replied, serenely.
Again the Princess hesitated. “ And I hope you like her.”
“ Ay, she’s a dear old girl ! ”
The Princess reflected that her visitor was not a gentleman, like Hyacinth ; but this made no difference in her present attitude. The expectation that he would be a gentleman had had nothing to do with her interest in him ; that, in fact, had rested largely on the supposition that he was a natural democrat. “ I don’t know that there is any one in the world I envy so much,” she remarked, an observation which her visitor received in silence. “ Better than any one I have ever met, she has solved the problem — which, if we are wise, we all try to solve, don’t we ? — of getting out of herself. She has got out of herself more perfectly than any one I have ever known. She has merged herself in the passion of doing something for others. That’s why I envy her,” said the Princess, with an explanatory smile, as if perhaps he did n’t understand her.
“ It’s an amusement, like any other,” said Paul Muniment.
“ Ah, not like any other ! It carries light into dark places ; it makes a great many wretched people considerably less wretched.”
“ How many, eh?” asked the young man, not exactly as if he wished to dispute, but as if it were always in him to enjoy an argument.
The Princess wondered why he should desire to argue at Lady Aurora’s expense. “Well, one who is very near to you, to begin with.”
“ Oh, she’s kind, most kind ; it’s altogether wonderful. But Rosy makes her considerably less wretched,” Paul Muniment rejoined.
“ Very likely, of course; and so she does me.”
“ May I inquire what you are wretched about ?” Muniment went on.
“ About nothing at all. That’s the worst of it. But I am much happier now than I have ever been.”
“ Is that also about nothing? ”
“ No, about a sort of change that has taken place in my life. I have been able to do some little things.”
“ For the poor, I suppose you mean. Do you refer to the presents you have made to Rosy ? ” the young man inquired.
“ The presents ? ” The Princess appeared not to remember. “ Oh, those are trifles. It isn’t anything one has been able to give; it’s some talks one has had, some convictions one has arrived at.”
“ Convictions are a source of very innocent pleasure,” said the young man, smiling at his interlocutress with his bold, pleasant eyes, which seemed to project their glance further than any she had seen.
“Having them is nothing. It’s the acting on them,” the Princess replied.
“Yes; that doubtless, too, is good.” He continued to look at her serenely, as if he liked to consider that this might be what she had asked him to come for. He said nothing more, and she went on:
“ It’s far better, of course, when one is a man.”
“ I don’t know. Women do pretty well what they like. My sister and you have managed, between you, to bring me to this.”
“ It’s more your sister, I suspect, than I. But why, after all, should you have disliked so much to come ? ”
“ Well, since you ask me,” said Paul Muniment. “ I will tell you frankly, though I don’t mean it uncivilly, that I don’t know what to make of you.”
“ Most people don’t,” returned the Princess. “ But they usually take the risk.”
“ Ah, well, I’m the most prudent of men.”
“ I was sure of it; that is one of the reasons why I wanted to know you. I know what some of your ideas are — Hyacinth Robinson has told me; and the source of my interest in them is partly the fact that you consider very carefully what you attempt.”
“ That I do — I do,” said Muniment, simply.
The tone in which he said this would have been almost ignoble, as regards a kind of northern canniness which it expressed, had it not been corrected by the character of his face, his youth and strength, and his military eye. The Princess recognized both the shrewdness and the latent audacity as she rejoined, “ To do anything with you would be very safe. It would be sure to succeed.”
“That’s what poor Hyacinth thinks,” said Paul Muniment.
The Princess wondered a little that he could allude in that light tone to the faith their young friend had placed in him, considering the consequences such a trustfulness had had for him; but this curious mixture of qualities could only make her visitor, as a tribune of the people, more interesting to her. She abstained, for the moment, from touching on the subject of Hyacinth’s peculiar position, and only said, “ Has n’t he told you about me? Has n’t he explained me a little ? ”
“Oh, his explanations are grand!” Muniment exclaimed, gayly. “ He’s rare sport when he talks about you.”
“ Don’t betray him,” said the Princess, gently.
“ There’s nothing to betray. You would be the first to admire it if you were there. Besides, I don’t betray,” the young man added.
“ I love him very much,” said the Princess; and it would have been impossible for the most impudent cynic to smile at the manner in which she made the declaration.
Paul accepted it, respectfully. “ He’s a sweet little lad, and, putting her ladyship aside, quite the light of our home.”
There was a short pause after this exchange of amenities, which the Princess terminated by inquiring, “Would n’t some one else do his work quite as well ? ”
“ His work? Why, I ’m told he’s a master hand.”
“ Oh, I don’t mean his bookbinding.” Then the Princess added, “ I don’t know whether you know it, but I am in correspondence with Hoffendahl. I am acquainted with many of our most important men.”
“Yes, I know it. Hyacinth has told me. Do you mention it as a guarantee, so that I may know you are genuine ? ”
“ Not exactly ; that would be weak, would n’t it ? ” the Princess asked. “ My genuineness must be in myself — a matter for you to appreciate as you know me better; not in my references and vouchers.”
“ I shall never know you better. What business is it of mine ? ”
“ I want to help you,” said the Princess, and as she made this earnest appeal her face became transfigured; it wore an expression of the most passionate yet the purest longing. “ I want to do something for the cause you represent; for the millions that are rotting under our feet — the millions whose whole life is passed on the brink of starvation, so that the smallest accident pushes them over. Try me, test me ; ask me to put my hand to something, to prove that I am as deeply in earnest as those who have already given proof. I know what I am talking about — what one must meet and face and count with, the nature and the immensity of your organization. I am not playing. No, I am not playing.”
Paul Muniment watched her with his steady smile until this sudden outbreak had spent itself. “ I was afraid you would be like this — that you would be eloquent and passionate.”
“ Permit me to believe you thought nothing about it. There is no reason my eloquence should disturb you.”
“ I have always had a fear of women.”
“ I see— that’s a part of your prudence,” said the Princess, reflectively. “ But you ’re the sort of man who ought to know how to use them.”
Muniment said nothing, immediately, in answer to this; the way he appeared to consider the Princess suggested that he was not following closely what she said, so much as losing himself in certain matters which were beside that question — her beauty, for instance, her grace, her fragrance, the spectacle of a manner and quality so new to him. After a little, however, he remarked, irrelevantly, “ I ’m afraid I ’m very rude.”
“ Of course you are, but it does n’t signify. What I mainly object to is that you don’t answer my questions. Would not some one else do Hyacinth Robinson’s work quite as well ? Is it necessary to take a nature so delicate, so intellectual ? Ought n’t we to keep him for something finer ? ”
“ Finer than what ? ”
“ Than what Hoffendahl will call upon him to do.”
“ And pray what is that ? ” the young man demanded. “ You know nothing about it; no more do I,” he added in a moment. “ It will require whatever it will. Besides, if some one else might have done it, no one else volunteered. It happened that Hyacinth did.”
“ Yes, and you nipped him up ! ” the Princess exclaimed.
At this expression Muniment burst out laughing. “ I have no doubt you can easily keep him, if you want him.”
“ I should like to do it in his place — that’s what I should like,” said the Princess.
“ As I say, you don’t even know what it is.”
“ It may be nothing,” she went on, with her grave eyes fixed on her visitor.
“ I dare say you think that what I wanted to see you for was to beg you to let him off. But it was n’t. Of course it’s his own affair, and you can do nothing. But ought n’t it to make some difference, when his opinions have changed?”
“ His opinions ? He never had any opinions,” Muniment replied. “ He is not like you and me.”
“Well, then, his feelings, his attachments. He has n’t the passion for democracy he had when I first knew him. He’s much more tepid.”
“ Ah, well, he’s quite right.”
The Princess stared. “ Do you mean that you are giving up ” —
“ A fine stiff conservative is a thing I perfectly understand,” said Paul Muniment. “ If I were on the top, I’d stick there.”
“ I see, you are not narrow,” the Princess murmured, appreciatively.
“ I beg your pardon, I am. I don’t call that wide. One must be narrow to penetrate.”
“ Whatever you are, you ’ll succeed,” said the Princess. “ Hyacinth won’t, but you will.”
“ It depends upon what you call success ! ” the young man exclaimed. And in a moment, before she replied, he added, looking about the room, “ You’ve got a very lovely dwelling.”
“ Lovely ? My dear sir, it’s hideous. That’s what I like it for,” the Princess added.
“Well, I like it; but perhaps I don’t know the reason. I thought you had given up everything — despoiled and disinherited yourself.”
“Well, so I have. You should have seen me before.”
“I should have liked that,” said Muniment, smiling. “ I like to see wealth.”
“ Ah, you ’re as bad as Hyacinth. I am the only consistent one.” the Princess sighed.
“ You have a great deal left, for a person who has given everything away.”
“ These are not mine — these abominations — or I would give them, too ! ” Paul’s hostess rejoined, artlessly.
Muniment got up from his chair, still looking about the room. “ I would give my nose for such a place as this. At any rate, you are not yet reduced to poverty.”
“ I have a little left — to help you.”
“ I dare say you ’ve a great deal,” said Paul, with his north country accent.
“ I could get money — I could get money,” the Princess continued, gravely. She had also risen, and was standing before him.
These two remarkable persons faced each other, their eyes met again, and they exchanged a long, deep glance of mutual scrutiny. Each seemed to drop a plummet into the other’s mind. Then a strange and, to the Princess, unexpected expression passed over the countenance of the young man; his lips compressed themselves, as if he were making a strong effort, his color rose, and in a moment he stood there blushing like a boy. He dropped his eyes and stared at the carpet, while he remarked, " I don’t trust women — I don’t trust women ! ”
“ I am sorry, but, after all, I can understand it,” said the Princess ; “ therefore I won’t insist on the question of your allowing me to work with you. But this appeal I will make to you : help me a little yourself — help me ! ”
“How do you mean, help you?” Muniment demanded, raising his eyes, which had a new, conscious look.
“ Advise me ; you will know how. I am in trouble — I have gone very far.”
“ I have no doubt of that! ” said Paul, laughing.
“ I mean with some of those people abroad. I’m not frightened, but I ’m perplexed ; I want to know what to do.”
“No, you are not frightened,” Muniment rejoined, after a moment.
“ I am, however, in a sad entanglement. I think you can straighten it out. I will give you the facts, but not now, for we shall be interrupted; I hear my old lady on the stairs. For this, you must come to see me again.”
At this point the door opened, and Madame Grandoni appeared, cautiously, creepingly, as if she did n’t know what might be going on in the parlor. “ Yes, I will come again,” said Paul Muniment, in a low but distinct tone ; and he walked away, passing Madame Grandoni on the threshold, without having exchanged the hand-shake of farewell with his hostess. In the hall he paused an instant, feeling she was behind him ; and he learned that she had not come to exact from him this omitted observance, but to say once more, dropping her voice, so that her companion, through the open door, might not hear, —
“ I could get money — I could ! ”
Muniment passed his hand through his hair, and, as if he had not heard her, remarked, “ I have not given you, after all, half Rosy’s messages.”
“ Oh, that does n’t matter! ” the Princess answered, turning back into the parlor.
Madame Grandoni was in the middle of the room, wrapped in an old shawl, looking vaguely around her, and the two ladies heard the house door close. “ And pray, who may that be ? Is n’t it a new face ? ” the elder one inquired.
“He’s the brother of the little person I took you to see over the river — the chattering cripple with the wonderful manners.”
“ Ah, she had a brother! That, then, was why you went?”
It was striking, the good-humor with which the Princess received this rather coarse thrust, which could have been drawn from Madame Grandoni only by the petulance and weariness of increasing age, and the antipathy she now felt to Madeira Crescent and everything it produced. Christina bent a calm, charitable smile upon her ancient companion, and replied, —
“ There could have been no question of our seeing him. He was, of course, at his work.”
“ Ah, how do I know, my dear ? And is he a successor ? ”
“ A successor ? ”
“ To the little bookbinder.”
“ My darling,” said the Princess, “ you will see how absurd that question is when I tell you he is his greatest friend! ”