So he indulged his imagination, while Ned dressed in haste, with the fear of the tyrant evident upon him. Poor fellow, he would have to choose between two cups of coffee and two eggs and five minutes late! Probably he would split the difference, bolt one cup of coffee and one egg, and arrive two and a half minutes late. Henry watched him with compassion; and when he had gone his ways, himself rose languidly and dressed indolently, as with the aid of an invisible valet. At length he sauntered down to breakfast, and sent out for a morning paper, which he on no account ever read. He could imagine no more insulting waste of time. He looked it through, but found no reference to the real significance of the day.
Breakfast over, he wondered what he should do with himself, how he should spend the day. His clear duty was to begin being a great man on the spot, and work at being a great man every day punctually from nine till six. But where should he begin? Should he sit down in a business-like way and begin his long romantic poem, or should he write an essay, or again should he make a start on his novel?
Romantic poems, he felt, however, are only well begun on special days not easy to define; essays are only written on days when we have determined to be idle,—and this, after the opening flirtation with indolence, must be a busy day,—and it is not every day that one can begin a novel. He might arrange his books, but really they were very well arranged already. Or suppose he went out for a walk. Walking quickened the brain. He might go and look in at the Art Gallery, where he hadn’t been for a long while, and see the new picture the morning paper was talking about. It was by a painter whose poems he already knew and loved. That might inspire him. So, by an accident of idleness, he presently found himself standing rapt before the most wonderful picture he had ever seen,—a picture to see which, he said to himself, men would make pilgrimages to Tyre, when Tyre was a moss-grown, ruinous seaport, from which the traffic of the world had long since passed away.
Henry at this time had visited none of the great galleries and, except in a few reproductions, knew nothing of the great Italian masters. Therefore to him this picture was Italy, the Renaissance, and Catholicism, all concentrated into one enthralling canvas. But it was something greater than that. It was the terrible meeting of Youth and Love and Death in one tremendous moment of infinite loss. Infinite passion and infinite loss were here pictured, in a medium which combined all that was spiritual and all that was sensual in a harmony of beauty that was in the same moment delirium and peace. The irresistible cry of the colour to the senses, the spheral call of the theme and its agony to the soul. Beatrice dead, and Dante taken in a dream across the strewn poppies of her death-chamber, to look his last on the sleeping face, yet a little smiling in the after-glow