“What do you think of her, mamma?” said Adriana, with glistening eyes, as she ran into Mrs. Neuchatel’s dressing-room for a moment before dinner.
“I think her manners are perfect,” replied Mrs. Neuchatel; “and as there can be no doubt, after all we have heard, of her principles, I think we are most fortunate. But what do you think of her, Adriana? For, after all, that is the main question.”
“I think she is divine,” said Adriana; “but I fear she has no heart.”
“And why? Surely it is early to decide on such a matter as that!”
“When I took her to her room,” said Adriana, “I suppose I was nervous; but I burst into tears, and threw my arms round her neck and embraced her, but she did not respond. She touched my forehead with her lips, and withdrew from my embrace.”
“She wished, perhaps, to teach you to control your emotions,” said Mrs. Neuchatel. “You have known her only an hour, and you could not have done more to your own mother.”
It had been arranged that there should be no visitors today; only a nephew and a foreign consul-general, just to break the formality of the meeting. Mr. Neuchatel placed Myra next to himself at the round table, and treated her with marked consideration — cordial but courteous, and easy, with a certain degree of deference. His wife, who piqued herself on her perception of character, threw her brown velvet eyes on her neighbour, Mr. Penruddock, and cross-examined him in mystical whispers. She soon recognised his love of nature; and this allowed her to dissert on the subject, at once sublime and inexhaustible, with copiousness worthy of the theme. When she found he was an entomologist, and that it was not so much mountains as insects which interested him, she shifted her ground, but treated it with equal felicity. Strange, but nature is never so powerful as in insect life. The white ant can destroy fleets and cities, and the locusts erase a province. And then, how beneficent they are! Man would find it difficult to rival their exploits: the bee, that gives us honey; the worm, that gives us silk; the cochineal, that supplies our manufactures with their most brilliant dye.
Mr. Penruddock did not seem to know much about manufactures, but always recommended his cottagers to keep bees.
“The lime-tree abounds in our village, and there is nothing the bees love more than its blossoms.”
This direct reference to his village led Mrs. Neuchatel to an inquiry as to the state of the poor about Hurstley, and she made the inquiry in a tone of commiseration.
“Oh! we do pretty well,” said Mr. Penruddock.
“But how can a family live on ten or twelve shillings a week?” murmured Mrs. Neuchatel.
“There it is,” said Mr. Penruddock. “A family has more than that. With a family the income proportionately increases.”
Mrs. Neuchatel sighed. “I must say,” she said, “I cannot help feeling there is something wrong in our present arrangements. When I sit down to dinner every day, with all these dishes, and remember that there are millions who never taste meat, I cannot resist the conviction that it would be better if there were some equal division, and all should have, if not much, at least something.”
“Nonsense, Emily!” said Mr. Neuchatel, who had an organ like Fine-ear, and could catch, when necessary, his wife’s most mystical revelations. “My wife, Mr. Penruddock, is a regular Communist. I hope you are not,” he added, with a smile, turning to Myra.
“I think life would be very insipid,” replied Myra, “if all our lots were the same.”
When the ladies withdrew, Adriana and Myra walked out together hand-inhand. Mr. Neuchatel rose and sate next to Mr. Penruddock, and began to talk politics. His reverend guest could not conceal his alarm about the position of the Church and spoke of Lord John Russell’s appropriation clause with well-bred horror.
“Well, I do not think there is much to be afraid of,” said Mr. Neuchatel. “This is a liberal age, and you cannot go against it. The people must be educated, and where are the funds to come from? We must all do something, and the Church must contribute its share. You know I am a Liberal, but I am not for any rash courses. I am not at all sorry that Sir Robert Peel gained so much at the last general election. I like parties to be balanced. I am quite content with affairs. My friends, the Liberals, are in office, and, being there, they can do very little. That is the state of things, is it not, Melchior?” he added, with a smile to his nephew, who was an M.P. “A balanced state of parties, and the house of Neuchatel with three votes — that will do. We poor City men get a little attention paid to us now, but before the dissolution three votes went for nothing. Now, shall we go and ask my daughter to give us a song?”
Mrs. Neuchatel accompanied her daughter on the piano, and after a time not merely on the instrument. The organ of both was fine and richly cultivated. It was choice chamber music. Mr. Neuchatel seated himself by Myra. His tone was more than kind, and his manner gentle. “It is a little awkward the first day,” he said, “among strangers, but that will wear off. You must bring your mind to feel that this is your home, and we shall all of us do everything in our power to convince you of it. Mr. Penruddock mentioned to me your wish, under present circumstances, to enter as little as possible into society, and this is a very social house. Your feeling is natural, and you will be in this matter entirely your own mistress. We shall always be glad to see you, but if you are not present we shall know and respect the cause. For my own part, I am one of those who would rather cherish affection than indulge grief, but every one must follow their mood. I hear you have a brother, to whom you are much attached; a twin, too, and they tell me strongly resembling you. He is in a public office, I believe? Now, understand this; your brother can come here whenever he likes, without any further invitation. Ask him whenever you please. We shall always be glad to see him. No sort of notice is necessary. This is not a very small house, and we can always manage to find a bed and a cutlet for a friend.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07