His friends smile and applaud. Mr. Rossetti congratulates him. Mrs. Browning, too, politely admires the work. Mr. Tennyson asks about the progress of her own long poem, but she demurs. The others are happy to talk of their various ongoing projects.
Eventually the conversation turns, as it usually will, to politics. Mr. Tennyson finds himself trying to bait Mrs. Browning into a defense of Italian revolutionism, though she easily and repeatedly eludes these attempts, nodding silently as she considers his opinions without ever offering her own. Mr. Tennyson comforts himself with the thought that she has finally given up on the hysterical radicalism of her girlhood; but he often has the unpleasant feeling that he is only being humored. His good friend Mr. Browning, on the other hand, obliges him with such volume and inconsistency as to reassure Mr. Tennyson of the irrefutable maturity of his own convictions.
Later he goes to see them both off on their way back to Florence. They exchange long goodbyes, and once again Mr. Tennyson feels inexplicably awkward in his interactions with the poetess. He stays until after the ship has set out. The couple wave from its decks. Against the dark water of the Thames, the boat seems to glow like silver. Something gold shines—probably just the sun caught in the reflective surface of a vaguely familiar ornament—just above Mrs. Browning’s head. Mr. Tennyson shudders uneasily.