Nothing could be more successful than the connection formed between the Neuchatel family and Myra Ferrars. Both parties to the compact were alike satisfied. Myra had “got out of that hole” which she always hated; and though the new life she had entered was not exactly the one she had mused over, and which was founded on the tradition of her early experience, it was a life of energy and excitement, of splendour and power, with a total absence of petty vexations and miseries, affording neither time nor cause for the wearing chagrin of a monotonous and mediocre existence. But the crowning joy of her emancipation was the prospect it offered of frequent enjoyment of the society of her brother.
With regard to the Neuchatels, they found in Myra everything they could desire. Mrs. Neuchatel was delighted with a companion who was not the daughter of a banker, and whose schooled intellect not only comprehended all her doctrines, however abstruse or fanciful, but who did not hesitate, if necessary, to controvert or even confute them. As for Adriana, she literally idolised a friend whose proud spirit and clear intelligence were calculated to exercise a strong but salutary influence over her timid and sensitive nature. As for the great banker himself, who really had that faculty of reading character which his wife flattered herself she possessed, he had made up his mind about Myra from the first, both from her correspondence and her conversation. “She has more common sense than any woman I ever knew, and more,” he would add, “than most men. If she were not so handsome, people would find it out; but they cannot understand that so beautiful a woman can have a headpiece, that, I really believe, could manage the affairs in Bishopsgate Street.”
In the meantime life at Hainault resumed its usual course; streams of guests, of all parties, colours, and classes, and even nations. Sometimes Mr. Neuchatel would say, “I really must have a quiet day that Miss Ferrars may dine with us, and she shall ask her brother. How glad I shall be when she goes into half-mourning! I scarcely catch a glimpse of her.” And all this time his wife and daughter did nothing but quote her, which was still more irritating, for, as he would say, half-grumbling and half-smiling, “If it had not been for me she would not have been here.”
At first Adriana would not dine at table without Myra, and insisted on sharing her imprisonment. “It does not look like a cell,” said Myra, surveying, not without complacency, her beautiful little chamber, beautifully lit, with its silken hangings and carved ceiling and bright with books and pictures; “besides, there is no reason why you should be a prisoner. You have not lost a father, and I hope never will.”
“Amen!” said Adriana; “that would indeed be the unhappiest day of my life.”
“You cannot be in society too much in the latter part of the day,” said Myra. “The mornings should be sacred to ourselves, but for the rest of the hours people are to see and to be seen, and,” she added, “to like and be liked.”
Adriana shook her head; “I do not wish any one to like me but you.”
“I am sure I shall always like you, and love you,” said Myra, “but I am equally sure that a great many other people will do the same.”
“It will not be myself that they like or love,” said Adriana with a sigh.
“Now, spare me that vein, dear Adriana; you know I do not like it. It is not agreeable, and I do not think it is true. I believe that women are loved much more for themselves than is supposed. Besides, a woman should be content if she is loved; that is the point; and she is not to inquire how far the accidents of life have contributed to the result. Why should you not be loved for yourself? You have an interesting appearance. I think you very pretty. You have choice accomplishments and agreeable conversation and the sweetest temper in the world. You want a little self-conceit, my dear. If I were you and admired, I should never think of my fortune.”
“If you were the greatest heiress in the world, Myra, and were married, nobody would suppose for a moment that it was for your fortune.”
“Go down to dinner and smile upon everybody, and tell me about your conquests tomorrow. And say to your dear papa, that as he is so kind as to wish to see me, I will join them after dinner.”
And so, for the first two months, she occasionally appeared in the evening, especially when there was no formal party. Endymion came and visited her every Sunday, but he was also a social recluse, and though he had been presented to Mrs. Neuchatel and her daughter, and been most cordially received by them, it was some considerable time before he made the acquaintance of the great banker.
About September Myra may be said to have formally joined the circle at Hainault. Three months had elapsed since the terrible event, and she felt, irrespective of other considerations, her position hardly justified her, notwithstanding all the indulgent kindness of the family, in continuing a course of life which she was conscious to them was sometimes an inconvenience and always a disappointment. It was impossible to deny that she was interested and amused by the world which she now witnessed — so energetic, so restless, so various; so full of urgent and pressing life; never thinking of the past and quite heedless of the future, but worshipping an almighty present that sometimes seemed to roll on like the car of Juggernaut. She was much diverted by the gentlemen of the Stock Exchange, so acute, so audacious, and differing so much from the merchants in the style even of their dress, and in the ease, perhaps the too great facility, of their bearing. They called each other by their Christian names, and there were allusions to practical jokes which intimated a life something between a public school and a garrison. On more solemn days there were diplomatists and men in political office; sometimes great musical artists, and occasionally a French actor. But the dinners were always the same; dishes worthy of the great days of the Bourbons, and wines of rarity and price, which could not ruin Neuchatel, for in many instances the vineyards belonged to himself.
One morning at breakfast, when he rarely encountered them, but it was a holiday in the City, Mr. Neuchatel said, “There are a few gentlemen coming to dine here today whom you know, with one exception. He is a young man, a very nice young fellow. I have seen a good deal of him of late on business in the City, and have taken a fancy to him. He is a foreigner, but he was partly educated in this country and speaks English as well as any of us.”
“Then I suppose he is not a Frenchman,” said Mrs. Neuchatel, “for they never speak English.”
“I shall not say what he is. You must all find out; I dare say Miss Ferrars will discover him; but, remember, you must all of you pay him great attention, for he is not a common person, I can assure you.”
“You are mysterious, Adrian,” said his wife, “and quite pique our curiosity.”
“Well, I wish somebody would pique mine,” said the banker. “These holidays in the City are terrible things. I think I will go after breakfast and look at the new house, and I dare say Miss Ferrars will be kind enough to be my companion.”
Several of the visitors, fortunately for the banker whose time hung rather heavily on his hands, arrived an hour or so before dinner, that they might air themselves in the famous gardens and see some of the new plants. But the guest whom he most wished to greet, and whom the ladies were most curious to welcome, did not arrive. They had all entered the house and the critical moment was at hand, when, just as dinner was about to be announced, the servants ushered in a young man of distinguished appearance, and the banker exclaimed, “You have arrived just in time to take Mrs. Neuchatel in to dinner,” and he presented to her — COLONEL ALBERT.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53