Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 33

The ladies were much interested by Colonel Albert. Mrs. Neuchatel exercised on him all the unrivalled arts by which she so unmistakably discovered character. She threw on him her brown velvet eyes with a subdued yet piercing beam, which would penetrate his most secret and even undeveloped intelligence. She asked questions in a hushed mystical voice, and as the colonel was rather silent and somewhat short in his replies, though ever expressed in a voice of sensibility and with refined deference of manner, Mrs. Neuchatel opened her own peculiar views on a variety of subjects of august interest, such as education, high art, the influence of women in society, the formation of character, and the distribution of wealth, on all of which this highly gifted lady was always in the habit of informing her audience, by way of accompaniment, that she was conscious that the views she entertained were peculiar. The views of Mrs. Neuchatel were peculiar, and therefore not always, or even easily, comprehended. That indeed she felt was rather her fate in life, but a superior intelligence like hers has a degree of sublimated self-respect which defies destiny.

When she was alone with the ladies, the bulletin of Mrs. Neuchatel was not so copious as had been expected. She announced that Colonel Albert was sentimental, and she suspected a poet. But for the rest she had discovered nothing, not even his nationality. She had tried him both in French and German, but he persisted in talking English, although he spoke of himself as a foreigner. After dinner he conversed chiefly with the men, particularly with the Governor of the Bank, who seemed to interest him much, and a director of one of the dock companies, who offered to show him over their establishment, an offer which Colonel Albert eagerly accepted. Then, as if he remembered that homage was due at such a moment to the fairer sex, he went and seated himself by Adriana, and was playful and agreeable, though when she was cross-examined afterwards by her friends as to the character of his conversation, she really could not recall anything particular except that he was fond of horses, and said that he should like very much to take a ride with her. Just before he took his departure, Colonel Albert addressed Myra, and in a rather strange manner. He said, “I have been puzzling myself all dinner, but I cannot help feeling that we have met before.”

Myra shook her head and said, “I think that is impossible.”

“Well,” said the colonel with a look a little perplexed and not altogether satisfied, “I suppose then it was a dream. May dreams so delightful,” and he bowed, “never be wanting!”

“So you think he is a poet, Emily,” said Mr. Neuchatel when they had all gone. “We have got a good many of his papers in Bishopsgate Street, but I have not met with any verses in them yet.”

The visit of Colonel Albert was soon repeated, and he became a rather frequent guest at Hainault. It was evident that he was a favourite with Mr. Neuchatel. “He knows very few people,” he would say, “and I wish him to make some friends. Poor young fellow: he has had rather a hard life of it, and seen some service for such a youth. He is a perfect gentleman, and if he be a poet, Emily, that is all in your way. You like literary people, and are always begging that I should ask them. Well, next Saturday you will have a sort of a lion — one of the principal writers in ‘Scaramouch.’ He is going to Paris as the foreign correspondent of the ‘Chuck–Farthing,’ with a thousand a year, and one of my friends in the Stock Exchange, who is his great ally, asked me to give him some letters. So he came to Bishopsgate Street — they all come to Bishopsgate Street — and I asked him to dine here on Saturday. By the by, Miss Ferrars, ask your brother to come on the same day and stay with us till Monday. I will take him up to town with me quite in time for his office.”

This was the first time that Endymion had remained at Hainault. He looked forward to the visit with anticipation of great pleasure. Hainault, and all the people there, and everything about it, delighted him, and most of all the happiness of his sister and the consideration, and generosity, and delicate affection with which she was treated. One morning, to his astonishment, Myra had insisted upon his accepting from her no inconsiderable sum of money. “It is no part of my salary,” she said, when he talked of her necessities. “Mr. Neuchatel said he gave it to me for outfit and to buy gloves. But being in mourning I want to buy nothing, and you, dear darling, must have many wants. Besides, Mrs. Neuchatel has made me so many presents that I really do not think that I shall ever want to buy anything again.”

It was rather a grand party at Hainault, such as Endymion had little experience of. There was a cabinet minister and his wife, not only an ambassador, but an ambassadress who had been asked to meet them, a nephew Neuchatel, the M.P. with a pretty young wife, and several apparently single gentlemen of note and position. Endymion was nervous when he entered, and more so because Myra was not in the room. But his trepidation was absorbed in his amazement when in the distance he observed St. Barbe, with a very stiff white cravat, and his hair brushed into unnatural order, and his whole demeanour forming a singular contrast to the rollicking cynicisms of Joe’s and the office.

Mr. Neuchatel presented St. Barbe to the lady of the mansion. “Here is one of our greatest wits,” said the banker, “and he is going to Paris, which is the capital of wits.” The critical moment prevented prolonged conversation, but the lady of the mansion did contrive to convey to St. Barbe her admiring familiarity with some of his effusions, and threw out a phrase which proved how finely she could distinguish between wit and humour.

Endymion at dinner sate between two M.P.‘s, whom his experience at the House of Commons allowed him to recognise. As he was a young man whom neither of them knew, neither of them addressed him, but with delicate breeding carried on an active conversation across him, as if in fact he were not present. As Endymion had very little vanity, this did not at all annoy him. On the contrary, he was amused, for they spoke of matters with which he was not unacquainted, though he looked as if he knew or heard nothing. Their conversation was what is called “shop:” all about the House and office; criticisms on speakers, speculations as to preferment, what Government would do about this, and how well Government got out of that.

Endymion was amused by seeing Myra, who was remote from him, sitting by St. Barbe, who, warmed by the banquet, was evidently holding forth without the slightest conception that his neighbour whom he addressed had long become familiar with his characteristics.

After dinner St. Barbe pounced upon Endymion. “Only think of our meeting here!” he said. “I wonder why they asked you. You are not going to Paris, and you are not a wit. What a family this is!” he said; “I had no idea of wealth before! Did you observe the silver plate? I could not hold mine with one hand, it was so heavy. I do not suppose there are such plates in the world. It gives one an idea of the galleons and Anson’s plunder. But they deserve their wealth,” he added, “nobody grudges it to them. I declare when I was eating that truffle, I felt a glow about my heart that, if it were not indigestion, I think must have been gratitude; though that is an article I had not believed in. He is a wonderful man, that Neuchatel. If I had only known him a year ago! I would have dedicated my novel to him. He is a sort of man who would have given you a cheque immediately. He would not have read it, to be sure, but what of that? If you had dedicated it to a lord, the most he would have done would have been to ask you to dinner, and then perhaps cut up your work in one of the Quality reviews, and taken money for doing it out of our pockets! Oh! it’s too horrid! There are some topsawyers here today, Ferrars! It would make Seymour Hicks’ mouth water to be here. We should have had it in the papers, and he would have left us out of the list, and called us, etc. Now I dare say that ambassador has been blundering all his life, and yet there is something in that star and ribbon; I do not know you feel, but I could almost go down on my knees to him. And there is a cabinet minister; well, we know what he is; I have been squibbing him for these two years, and now that I meet him I feel like a snob. Oh! there is an immense deal of superstition left in the world. I am glad they are going to the ladies. I am to be honoured by some conversation with the mistress of the house. She seems a first-rate woman, familiar with the glorious pages of a certain classic work, and my humble effusions. She praised one she thought I wrote, but between ourselves it was written by that fellow Seymour Hicks, who imitates me; but I would not put her right, as dinner might have been announced every moment. But she is a great woman, sir — wonderful eyes! They are all great women here. I sat next to one of the daughters, or daughters-in-law, or nieces, I suppose. By Jove! it was tierce and quart. If you had been there, you would have been run through in a moment. I had to show my art. Now they are rising. I should not be surprised if Mr. Neuchatel were to present me to some of the grandees. I believe them to be all impostors, but still it is pleasant to talk to a man with a star.

“‘Ye stars, which are the poetry of heaven,’

“Byron wrote; a silly line; he should have written,

“‘Ye stars, which are the poetry of dress.’”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19