On Saturday afternoons Paul Muniment was able to leave his work at four o’clock, and on one of these occasions, some time after his visit to Madeira Crescent, he came into Rosy’s room at about five, carefully dressed and brushed, and ruddy with the freshness of an abundant washing. He stood at the foot of her sofa, with a conscious smile, knowing how she chaffed him when his necktie was new; and after a moment, during which she ceased singing to herself as she twisted the strands of her long black hair together and let her eyes travel over his whole person, inspecting every detail, she said to him, “My dear Mr Muniment, you are going to see the Princess.”
“Well, have you anything to say against it?” Mr Muniment asked.
“Not a word; you know I like princesses. But you have.”
“Well, my girl, I’ll not speak it to you,” the young man rejoined. “There’s something to be said against everything, if you’ll give yourself trouble enough.”
“I should be very sorry if ever anything was said against you.”
“The man’s a sneak who is only and always praised,” Muniment remarked. “If you didn’t hope to be finely abused, where would be the encouragement?”
“Ay, but not with reason,” said Rosy, who always brightened to an argument.
“The better the reason, the greater the incentive to expose one’s self. However, you won’t hear it, if people do heave bricks at me.”
“I won’t hear it? Pray, don’t I hear everything? I should like any one to keep anything from me!” And Miss Muniment gave a toss of her recumbent head.
“There’s a good deal I keep from you, my dear,” said Paul, rather dryly.
“You mean there are things I don’t want, I don’t take any trouble, to know. Indeed and indeed there are: things that I wouldn’t know for the world – that no amount of persuasion would induce me, not if you was to go down on your knees. But if I did – if I did, I promise you that just as I lie here I should have them all in my pocket. Now there are others,” the young woman went on – “there are others that you will just be so good as to tell me. When the Princess asked you to come and see her you refused, and you wanted to know what good it would do. I hoped you would go, then; I should have liked you to go, because I wanted to know how she lived, and whether she had things handsome, or only in the poor way she said. But I didn’t push you, because I couldn’t have told you what good it would do you: that was only the good it would have done me. At present I have heard everything from Lady Aurora, and I know that it’s all quite decent and tidy (though not really like a princess a bit), and that she knows how to turn everything about and put it best end foremost, just as I do, like, though I oughtn’t to say it, no doubt. Well, you have been, and more than once, and I have had nothing to do with it; of which I am very glad now, for reasons that you perfectly know – you’re too honest a man to pretend you don’t. Therefore, when I see you going again, I just inquire of you, as you inquired of her, what good does it do you?”
“I like it – I like it, my dear,” said Paul, with his fresh, unembarrassed smile.
“I dare say you do. So should I, in your place. But it’s the first time I have heard you express the idea that we ought to do everything we like.”
“Why not, when it doesn’t hurt any one else?”
“Oh, Mr Muniment, Mr Muniment!” Rosy exclaimed, with exaggerated solemnity, holding up a straight, attenuated forefinger at him. Then she added, “No, she doesn’t do you good, that beautiful, brilliant woman.”
“Give her time, my dear – give her time,” said Paul, looking at his watch.
“Of course you are impatient, but you must hear me. I have no doubt she’ll wait for you; you won’t lose your turn. Please, what would you do if any one was to break down altogether?”
“My bonny lassie,” the young man rejoined, “if you only keep going, I don’t care who fails.”
“Oh, I shall keep going, if it’s only to look after my friends and get justice for them,” said Miss Muniment – “the delicate, sensitive creatures who require support and protection. Have you really forgotten that we have such a one as that?”
The young man walked to the window, with his hands in his pockets, and looked out at the fading light. “Why does she go herself, then, if she doesn’t like her?”
Rose Muniment hesitated a moment. “Well, I’m glad I’m not a man!” she broke out. “I think a woman on her back is cleverer than a man on his two legs. And you such a wonderful one, too!”
“You are all too clever for me, my dear. If she goes – and twenty times a week, too – why shouldn’t I go, once in ever so long? Especially as I like her, and Lady Aurora doesn’t.”
“Lady Aurora doesn’t? Do you think she’d be guilty of hypocrisy? Lady Aurora delights in her; she won’t let me say that she herself is fit to dust the Princess’s shoes. I needn’t tell you how she goes down before them she likes. And I don’t believe you care a button; you have got something in your head, some wicked game or other, that you think she can hatch for you.”
At this Paul Muniment turned round and looked at his sister a moment, smiling still and whistling just audibly. “Why shouldn’t I care? Ain’t I soft, ain’t I susceptible?”
“I never thought I should hear you ask that, after what I have seen these four years. For four years she has come, and it’s all for you, as well it might be, and you never showing any more sense of what she’d be willing to do for you than if you had been that woollen cat on the hearth-rug!”
“What would you like me to do? Would you like me to hang round her neck and hold her hand, the same as you do?” Muniment asked.
“Yes, it would do me good, I can tell you. It’s better than what I see – the poor lady getting spotted and dim, like a mirror that wants rubbing.”
“You know a good deal, Rosy, but you don’t know everything,” Muniment remarked in a moment, with a face that gave no sign of seeing a reason in what she said. “Your mind is too poetical. There’s nothing that I should care for that her ladyship would be willing to do for me.”
“She would marry you at a day’s notice – she’d do that.”
“I shouldn’t care for that. Besides, if I was to ask her she would never come into the place again. And I shouldn’t care for that, for you.”
“Never mind me; I’ll take the risk!” cried Rosy, gaily.
“But what’s to be gained, if I can have her, for you, without any risk?”
“You won’t have her for me, or for any one, when she’s dead of a broken heart.”
“Dead of a broken tea-cup!” said the young man. “And, pray, what should we live on, when you had got us set up? – the three of us, without counting the kids.”
He evidently was arguing from pure good-nature, and not in the least from curiosity; but his sister replied as eagerly as if he would be floored by her answer: “Hasn’t she got two hundred a year of her own? Don’t I know every penny of her affairs?”
Paul Muniment gave no sign of any mental criticism he may have made on Rosy’s conception of the delicate course, or of a superior policy; perhaps, indeed, for it is perfectly possible, her inquiry did not strike him as having a mixture of motives. He only rejoined, with a little pleasant, patient sigh, “I don’t want the dear old girl’s money.”
His sister, in spite of her eagerness, waited twenty seconds; then she flashed at him, “Pray, do you like the Princess’s better?”
“If I did, there would be more of it,” he answered, quietly.
“How can she marry you? Hasn’t she got a husband?” Rosy cried.
“Lord, how you give me away!” laughed her brother. “Daughters of earls, wives of princes – I have only to pick.”
“I don’t speak of the Princess, so long as there’s a prince. But if you haven’t seen that Lady Aurora is a beautiful, wonderful exception, and quite unlike any one else in all the wide world – well, all I can say is that I have.”
“I thought it was your opinion,” Paul objected, “that the swells should remain swells, and the high ones keep their place.”
“And, pray, would she lose hers if she were to marry you?”
“Her place at Inglefield, certainly,” said Paul, as patiently as if his sister could never tire him with any insistence or any minuteness.
“Hasn’t she lost that already? Does she ever go there?”
“Surely you appear to think so, from the way you always question her about it,” replied Paul.
“Well, they think her so mad already that they can’t think her any madder,” his sister continued. “They have given her up, and if she were to marry you —”
“If she were to marry me, they wouldn’t touch her with a ten-foot pole,” Paul broke in.
Rosy flinched a moment; then she said, serenely, “Oh, I don’t care for that!”
“You ought to, to be consistent, though, possibly, she shouldn’t, admitting that she wouldn’t. You have more imagination than logic – which of course, for a woman, is quite right. That’s what makes you say that her ladyship is in affliction because I go to a place that she herself goes to without the least compulsion.”
“She goes to keep you off,” said Rosy, with decision.
“To keep me off?”
“To interpose, with the Princess; to be nice to her and conciliate her, so that she may not take you.”
“Did she tell you any such rigmarole as that?” Paul inquired, this time staring a little.
“Do I need to be told things, to know them? I am not a fine, strong, superior male; therefore I can discover them for myself,” answered Rosy, with a dauntless little laugh and a light in her eyes which might indeed have made it appear that she was capable of wizardry.
“You make her out at once too passionate and too calculating,” the young man rejoined. “She has no personal feelings, she wants nothing for herself. She only wants one thing in the world – to make the poor a little less poor.”
“Precisely; and she regards you, a helpless, blundering bachelor, as one of them.”
“She knows I am not helpless so long as you are about the place, and that my blunders don’t matter so long as you correct them.”
“She wants to assist me to assist you, then!” the girl exclaimed, with the levity with which her earnestness was always interfused; it was a spirit that seemed, at moments, in argument, to mock at her own contention. “Besides, isn’t that the very thing you want to bring about?” she went on. “Isn’t that what you are plotting and working and waiting for? She wants to throw herself into it – to work with you.”
“My dear girl, she doesn’t understand a pennyworth of what I think. She couldn’t if she would.”
“And no more do I, I suppose you mean.”
“No more do you; but with you it’s different. If you would, you could. However, it matters little who understands and who doesn’t, for there’s mighty little of it. I’m not doing much, you know.”
Rosy lay there looking up at him. “It must be pretty thick, when you talk that way. However, I don’t care what happens, for I know I shall be looked after.”
“Nothing will happen – nothing will happen,” Paul remarked, simply.
The girl’s rejoinder to this was to say in a moment, “You have a different tone since you have taken up the Princess.”
She spoke with a certain severity, but he broke out, as if he had not heard her, “I like your idea of the female aristocracy quarrelling over a dirty brute like me.”
“I don’t know how dirty you are, but I know you smell of soap,” said Rosy, with serenity. “They won’t quarrel; that’s not the way they do it. Yes, you are taking a different tone, for some purpose that I can’t discover just yet.”
“What do you mean by that? When did I ever take a tone?” her brother asked.
“Why then do you speak as if you were not remarkable, immensely remarkable – more remarkable than anything any one, male or female, good or bad, of the aristocracy or of the vulgar sort, can ever do for you?”
“What on earth have I ever done to show it?” Paul demanded.
“Oh, I don’t know your secrets, and that’s one of them. But we’re out of the common beyond any one, you and I, and, between ourselves, with the door fastened, we might as well admit it.”
“I admit it for you, with all my heart,” said the young man, laughing.
“Well, then, if I admit it for you, that’s all that’s required.”
The brother and sister considered each other a while in silence, as if each were tasting, agreeably, the distinction the other conferred; then Muniment said, “If I’m such an awfully superior chap, why shouldn’t I behave in keeping?”
“Oh, you do, you do!”
“All the same, you don’t like it.”
“It isn’t so much what you do; it’s what she does.”
“How do you mean, what she does?”
“She makes Lady Aurora suffer.”
“Oh, I can’t go into that,” said Paul. “A man feels like a muff, talking about the women that ‘suffer’ for him.”
“Well, if they do it, I think you might bear it!” Rosy exclaimed. “That’s what a man is. When it comes to being sorry, oh, that’s too ridiculous!”
“There are plenty of things in the world I’m sorry for,” Paul rejoined, smiling. “One of them is that you should keep me gossiping here when I want to go out.”
“Oh, I don’t care if I worry her a little. Does she do it on purpose?” Rosy continued.
“You ladies must settle all that together,” Muniment answered, rubbing his hat with the cuff of his coat. It was a new one, the bravest he had ever possessed, and in a moment he put it on his head, as if to reinforce his reminder to his sister that it was time she should release him.
“Well, you do look genteel,” she remarked, complacently, gazing up at him. “No wonder she has lost her head! I mean the Princess,” she explained. “You never went to any such expense for her ladyship.”
“My dear, the Princess is worth it – she’s worth it,” said the young man, speaking seriously now, and reflectively.
“Will she help you very much?” Rosy demanded, with a strange, sudden transition to eagerness.
“Well,” said Paul, “that’s rather what I look for.”
She threw herself forward on her sofa, with a movement that was rare with her, and shaking her clasped hands she exclaimed, “Then go off, go off quickly!”
He came round and kissed her, as if he were not more struck than usual with her freakish inconsequence. “It’s not bad to have a little person at home who wants a fellow to succeed.”
“Oh, I know they will look after me,” she said, sinking back upon her pillow with an air of agreeable security.
He was aware that whenever she said ‘they’, without further elucidation, she meant the populace surging up in his rear, and he rejoined, always hilarious, “I don’t think we’ll leave it much to ‘them’.”
“No, it’s not much you’ll leave to them, I’ll be bound.”
He gave a louder laugh at this, and said, “You’re the deepest of the lot, Miss Muniment.”
Her eyes kindled at his praise, and as she rested them on her brother’s she murmured, “Well, I pity the poor Princess, too, you know.”
“Well, now, I’m not conceited, but I don’t,” Paul returned, passing in front of the little mirror on the mantel-shelf.
“Yes, you’ll succeed, and so shall I – but she won’t,” Rosy went on.
Muniment stopped a moment, with his hand on the latch of the door, and said, gravely, almost sententiously, “She is not only beautiful, as beautiful as a picture, but she is uncommon sharp, and she has taking ways, beyond anything that ever was known.”
“I know her ways,” his sister replied. Then, as he left the room, she called after him, “But I don’t care for anything, so long as you become prime minister of England!”
Three quarters of an hour after this Muniment knocked at the door in Madeira Crescent, and was immediately ushered into the parlour, where the Princess, in her bonnet and mantle, sat alone. She made no movement as he came in; she only looked up at him with a smile.
“You are braver than I gave you credit for,” she said, in her rich voice.
“I shall learn to be brave, if I associate a while longer with you. But I shall never cease to be shy,” Muniment added, standing there and looking tall in the middle of the small room. He cast his eyes about him for a place to sit down, but the Princess gave him no help to choose; she only watched him, in silence, from her own place, with her hands quietly folded in her lap. At last, when, without remonstrance from her, he had selected the most uncomfortable chair in the room, she replied –
“That’s only another name for desperate courage. I put on my bonnet, on the chance, but I didn’t expect you.”
“Well, here I am – that’s the great thing,” Muniment said, good-humouredly.
“Yes, no doubt it’s a very great thing. But it will be a still greater thing when you are there.”
“I am afraid you hope too much,” the young man observed. “Where is it? I don’t think you told me.”
The Princess drew a small folded letter from her pocket, and, without saying anything, held it out to him. He got up to take it from her, opened it, and, as he read it, remained standing in front of her. Then he went straight to the fire and thrust the paper into it. At this movement she rose quickly, as if to save the document, but the expression of his face, as he turned round to her, made her stop. The smile that came into her own was a little forced. “What are you afraid of?” she asked. “I take it the house is known. If we go, I suppose we may admit that we go.”
Muniment’s face showed that he had been annoyed, but he answered, quietly enough, “No writing – no writing.”
“You are terribly careful,” said the Princess.
“Careful of you – yes.”
She sank down upon her sofa again, asking her companion to ring for tea; they would do much better to have some before going out. When the order had been given, she remarked, “I see I shall have much less keen emotion than when I acted by myself.”
“Is that what you go in for – keen emotion?”
“Surely, Mr Muniment. Don’t you?”
“God forbid! I hope to have as little of it as possible.”
“Of course one doesn’t want any vague rodomontade; one wants to do something. But it would be hard if one couldn’t have a little pleasure by the way.”
“My pleasure is in quietness,” said Paul Muniment, smiling.
“So is mine. But it depends on how you understand it. Quietness, I mean, in the midst of a tumult.”
“You have rare ideas about tumults. They are not good in themselves.”
The Princess considered this a moment; then she remarked, “I wonder if you are too prudent. I shouldn’t like that. If it is made an accusation against you that you have been – where we are going – shall you deny it?”
“With that prospect it would be simpler not to go at all, wouldn’t it?” Muniment inquired.
“Which prospect do you mean? That of being found out, or that of having to lie?”
“I suppose that if you lie you are not found out,” Muniment replied, humorously.
“You won’t take me seriously,” said the Princess. She spoke without irritation, without resentment, with a kind of resigned sadness. But there was a certain fineness of reproach in the tone in which she added, “I don’t believe you want to go at all.”
“Why else should I have come, especially if I don’t take you seriously?”
“That has never been a reason for a man’s not going to see a woman,” said the Princess. “It’s usually a reason in favour of it.”
Muniment turned his smiling eyes over the room, looking from one article of furniture to another: this was a way he had when he was engaged in a discussion, and it suggested not so much that he was reflecting on what his interlocutor said as that his thoughts were pursuing a cheerfully independent course. Presently he observed, “I don’t know that I quite understand what you mean by that question of taking a woman seriously.”
“Ah, you are very perfect,” murmured the Princess. “Don’t you consider that the changes you look for will be also for our benefit?”
“I don’t think they will alter your position.”
“If I didn’t hope for that, I wouldn’t do anything,” said the Princess.
“Oh, I have no doubt you’ll do a great deal.”
The young man’s companion was silent for some minutes, during which he also was content to say nothing. “I wonder you can find it in your conscience to work with me,” she observed at last.
“It isn’t in my conscience I find it,” said Muniment, laughing.
The maid-servant brought in the tea, and while the Princess was making a place for it on a little table beside her she exclaimed, “Well, I don’t care, for I think I have you in my power!”
“You have every one in your power,” returned Muniment.
“Every one is no one,” the Princess replied, rather dryly; and a moment later she said to him, “That extraordinary little sister of yours – surely you take her seriously?”
“I’m wonderful fond of her, if that’s what you mean. But I don’t think her position will ever be altered.”
“Are you alluding to her position in bed? If you consider that she will never recover her health,” the Princess said, “I am very sorry to hear it.”
“Oh, her health will do. I mean that she will continue to be, like all the most amiable women, just a kind of ornament to life.”
The Princess had already perceived that he pronounced amiable ‘emiable’; but she had accepted this peculiarity of her visitor in the spirit of imaginative transfigurement in which she had accepted several others. “To your life, of course. She can hardly be said to be an ornament to her own.”
“Her life and mine are all one.”
“She is certainly magnificent,” said the Princess. While he was drinking his tea she remarked to him that for a revolutionist he was certainly most extraordinary; and he inquired, in answer, whether it were not rather in keeping for revolutionists to be extraordinary. He drank three cups, declaring that his hostess’s decoction was fine; it was better, even, than Lady Aurora’s. This led him to observe, as he put down his third cup, looking round the room again, lovingly, almost covetously, “You’ve got everything so handy, I don’t see what interest you can have.”
“How do you mean, what interest?”
“In getting in so uncommon deep.”
On the instant the Princess’s expression flashed into pure passion. “Do you consider that I am in – really far?”
“Up to your neck, ma’am.”
“And do you think that il y va of my neck – I mean that it’s in danger?” she translated, eagerly.
“Oh, I understand your French. Well, I’ll look after you,” Muniment said.
“Remember, then, definitely, that I expect not to lie.”
“Not even for me?” Then Muniment added, in the same familiar tone, which was not rough nor wanting in respect, but only homely and direct, suggestive of growing acquaintance, “If I was your husband I would come and take you away.”
“Please don’t speak of my husband,” said the Princess, gravely. “You have no qualification for doing so; you know nothing whatever about him.”
“I know what Hyacinth has told me.”
“Oh, Hyacinth!” the Princess murmured, impatiently. There was another silence of some minutes, not disconnected, apparently, from this reference to the little bookbinder; but when Muniment spoke, after the interval, it was not to carry on the allusion –
“Of course you think me very plain, very rude.”
“Certainly, you have not such a nice address as Hyacinth,” the Princess rejoined, not desiring, on her side, to evade the topic. “But that is given to very few,” she added; “and I don’t know that pretty manners are exactly what we are working for.”
“Ay, it won’t be very endearing when we cut down a few allowances,” said Muniment. “But I want to please you; I want to be as much as possible like Hyacinth,” he went on.
“That is not the way to please me. I don’t forgive him; he’s very silly.”
“Ah, don’t say that; he’s a little brick!” Muniment exclaimed.
“He’s a dear fellow, with extraordinary qualities, but so deplorably conventional.”
“Yes, talking about taking things seriously – he takes them seriously,” remarked Muniment.
“Has he ever told you his life?” asked the Princess.
“He hasn’t required to tell me. I’ve seen a good bit of it.”
“Yes, but I mean before you knew him.”
Muniment reflected a moment. “His birth, and his poor mother? I think it was Rosy told me about that.”
“And, pray, how did she know?”
“Ah, when you come to the way Rosy knows!” said Muniment, laughing. “She doesn’t like people in that predicament. She thinks we ought all to be finely born.”
“Then they agree, for so does poor Hyacinth.” The Princess hesitated an instant; then she said, as if with a quick effort, “I want to ask you something. Have you had a visit from Mr Vetch?”
“The old gentleman who fiddles? No, he has never done me that honour.”
“It was because I prevented him, then. I told him to leave it to me.”
“To leave what, now?” Muniment looked at her in placid perplexity.
“He is in great distress about Hyacinth – about the danger he runs. You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I know what you mean,” Muniment replied, slowly. “But what does he know about it? I thought it was supposed to be a deadly secret.”
“So it is. He doesn’t know anything; he only suspects.”
“How do you know, then?”
The Princess hesitated again. “Oh, I’m like Rosy – I find out. Mr Vetch, as I suppose you are aware, has known Hyacinth all his life; he takes a most affectionate interest in him. He believes there is something hanging over him, and he wants it to be turned off, to be stopped.” The Princess paused at this, but her visitor made no response, and she continued: “He was going to see you, to beg you to do something, to interfere; he seemed to think that your power, in such a matter, would be very great; but, as I tell you, I requested him, as a particular favour to me, to let you alone.”
“What favour would it be to you?” Muniment asked.
“It would give me the satisfaction of feeling that you were not worried.”
Muniment appeared struck with the curious inadequacy of this explanation, considering what was at stake; he broke into a laugh and remarked, “That was considerate of you, beyond everything.”
“It was not meant as consideration for you; it was a piece of calculation.” The Princess, having made this announcement, gathered up her gloves and turned away, walking to the chimney-piece, where she stood a moment arranging her bonnet-ribbons in the mirror with which it was decorated. Muniment watched her with evident curiosity; in spite both of his inaccessibility to nervous agitation and of the sceptical theories he entertained about her, he was not proof against her general faculty of creating a feeling of suspense, a tension of interest, on the part of those who associated with her. He followed her movements, but plainly he didn’t follow her calculations, so that he could only listen more attentively when she inquired suddenly, “Do you know why I asked you to come and see me? Do you know why I went to see your sister? It was all a plan,” said the Princess.
“We hoped it was just an ordinary humane, social impulse,” the young man returned.
“It was humane, it was even social, but it was not ordinary. I wanted to save Hyacinth.”
“To save him?”
“I wanted to be able to talk with you just as I am talking now.”
“That was a fine idea!” Muniment exclaimed, ingenuously.
“I have an exceeding, a quite inexpressible, regard for him. I have no patience with some of his opinions, and that is why I permitted myself to say just now that he is silly. But, after all, the opinions of our friends are not what we love them for, and therefore I don’t see why they should be what we hate them for. Hyacinth Robinson’s nature is singularly generous and his intelligence very fine, though there are some things that he muddles up. You just now expressed strongly your own regard for him; therefore we ought to be perfectly agreed. Agreed, I mean, about getting him out of his scrape.”
Muniment had the air of a man who felt that he must consider a little before he assented to these successive propositions; it being a limitation of his intellect that he could not respond without understanding. After a moment he answered, referring to the Princess’s last remark, in which the others appeared to culminate, and at the same time shaking his head a little and smiling, “His scrape isn’t important.”
“You thought it was when you got him into it.”
“I thought it would give him pleasure,” said Muniment.
“That’s not a reason for letting people do what isn’t good for them.”
“I wasn’t thinking so much about what would be good for him as about what would be bad for some others. He can do as he likes.”
“That’s easy to say. They must be persuaded not to call upon him.”
“Persuade them, then, dear madam.”
“How can I persuade them? If I could, I wouldn’t have approached you. I have no influence, and even if I had my motives would be suspected. You are the one to interpose.”
“Shall I tell them he funks it?” Muniment asked.
“He doesn’t – he doesn’t!” exclaimed the Princess.
“On what ground, then, shall I put it?”
“Tell them he has changed his opinions.”
“Wouldn’t that be rather like denouncing him as a traitor, and doing it hypocritically?”
“Tell them then it’s simply my wish.”
“That won’t do you much good,” Muniment said, with his natural laugh.
“Will it put me in danger? That’s exactly what I want.”
“Yes; but as I understand you, you want to suffer for the people, not by them. You are very fond of Robinson; it couldn’t be otherwise,” the young man went on. “But you ought to remember that, in the line you have chosen, our affections, our natural ties, our timidities, our shrinkings —” His voice had become low and grave, and he paused a little, while the Princess’s deep and lovely eyes, attaching themselves to his face, showed that in an instant she was affected by this unwonted adjuration. He spoke now as if he were taking her seriously. “All those things are as nothing, and must never weigh a feather beside our service.”
The Princess began to draw on her gloves. “You’re a most extraordinary man.”
“That’s what Rosy tells me.”
“Why don’t you do it yourself?”
“Do Hyacinth’s job? Because it’s better to do my own.”
“And, pray, what is your own?”
“I don’t know,” said Paul Muniment, with perfect serenity and good-nature. “I expect to be instructed.”
“Have you taken an oath, like Hyacinth?”
“Ah, madam, the oaths I take I don’t tell,” said the young man, gravely.
“Oh, you . . .!” the Princess murmured, with an ambiguous cadence. She appeared to dismiss the question, but to suggest at the same time that he was very abnormal. This imputation was further conveyed by the next words she uttered: “And can you see a dear friend whirled away like that?”
At this, for the first time, Paul Muniment exhibited a certain irritation. “You had better leave my dear friend to me.”
The Princess, with her eyes still fixed upon him, gave a long, soft sigh. “Well, then, shall we go?”
Muniment took up his hat again, but he made no movement toward the door. “If you did me the honour to seek my acquaintance, to ask me to come and see you, only in order to say what you have just said about Hyacinth, perhaps we needn’t carry out the form of going to the place you proposed. Wasn’t this only your pretext?”
“I believe you are afraid!” the Princess exclaimed; but in spite of her exclamation the pair presently went out of the house. They quitted the door together, after having stood on the step for a moment, looking up and down, apparently for a cab. So far as the darkness, which was now complete, permitted the prospect to be scanned, there was no such vehicle within hail. They turned to the left, and after a walk of several minutes, during which they were engaged in small, dull by-streets, emerged upon a more populous way, where there were lighted shops and omnibuses and the evident chance of a hansom. Here they paused again, and very soon an empty hansom passed, and, at a sign, pulled up near them. Meanwhile, it should be recorded, they had been followed, at an interval, by a cautious figure, a person who, in Madeira Crescent, when they came out of the house, was stationed on the other side of the street, at a considerable distance. When they appeared he retreated a little, still however keeping them in sight. When they moved away he moved in the same direction, watching them but maintaining his distance. He drew nearer, seemingly because he could not control his eagerness, as they turned into Westbourne Grove, and during the minute they stood there he was exposed to recognition by the Princess if she had happened to turn her head. In the event of her having felt such an impulse she would have discovered, in the lamp-light, that her noble husband was hovering in her rear. But the Princess was otherwise occupied; she failed to see that at one moment he came so close as to suggest that he had an intention of addressing himself to the couple. The reader scarcely needs to be informed that his real intention was to satisfy himself as to the kind of person his wife was walking with. The time allowed him for this research was brief, especially as he had perceived, more rapidly than he sometimes perceived things, that they were looking for a vehicle and that with its assistance they would pass out of his range – a reflection which caused him to give half his attention to the business of hailing any second cab which should come that way. There are parts of London in which you may never see a cab at all, but there are none in which you may see only one; in accordance with which fortunate truth Prince Casamassima was able to wave his stick to good purpose as soon as the two objects of his pursuit had rattled away. Behind them now, in the gloom, he had no fear of being seen. In little more than an instant he had jumped into another hansom, the driver of which accompanied the usual exclamation of “All right, sir!” with a small, amused grunt, which the Prince thought eminently British, after he had hissed at him, over the hood, expressively, and in a manner by no means indicative of that nationality, the injunction, “Follow, follow, follow!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56