Colonel Albert from this day became an object of increased and deeper interest to Myra. His appearance and manners had always been attractive, and the mystery connected with him was not calculated to diminish curiosity in his conduct or fate. But when she discovered that he was the unseen hero of her childhood, the being who had been kind to her Endymion in what she had ever considered the severest trial of her brother’s life, had been his protector from those who would have oppressed him, and had cherished him in the desolate hour of his delicate and tender boyhood, her heart was disturbed. How often had they talked together of the Count of Otranto, and how often had they wondered who he was! His memory had been a delightful mystery to them in their Berkshire solitude, and Myra recalled with a secret smile the numberless and ingenious inquiries by which she had endeavoured to elicit from her brother some clue as to his friend, or to discover some detail which might guide her to a conclusion. Endymion had known nothing, and was clear always that the Count of Otranto must have been, and was, an English boy. And now the Count of Otranto called himself Colonel Albert, and though he persisted in speaking English, had admitted to Mrs. Neuchatel that he was a foreigner.
Who was he? She resolved, when she had an opportunity, to speak to the great banker on the subject.
“Do you know, Mr. Neuchatel,” she said, “that Endymion, my brother, was at school with Colonel Albert?”
“Ah, ah!” said Mr. Neuchatel.
“But when he was at school he had another name,” said Myra.
“Oh, oh!” said Mr. Neuchatel.
“He was then called the Count of Otranto.”
“That is a very pretty name,” said Mr. Neuchatel.
“But why did he change it?” asked Myra.
“The great world often change their names,” said Mr. Neuchatel. “It is only poor City men like myself who are always called Mr., and bear the same name as their fathers.”
“But when a person is called a count when he is a boy, he is seldom called only a colonel when he is a man,” said Myra. “There is a great mystery in all this.”
“I should not be surprised,” said Mr. Neuchatel, “if he were to change his name again before this time year.”
“Why?” asked Myra.
“Well, when I have read all his papers in Bishopsgate Street, perhaps I shall be able to tell you,” said Mr. Neuchatel, and Myra felt that she could pursue the theme no further.
She expected that Endymion would in time be able to obtain this information, but it was not so. In their first private conversation after their meeting in the forest, Endymion had informed Colonel Albert that, though they had met now for the first time since his return, they had been for some time lodgers in London under the same roof. Colonel Albert smiled when Endymion told him this; then falling into thought, he said; “I hope we may often meet, but for the moment it may be as well that the past should be known only to ourselves. I wish my life for the present to be as private as I can arrange it. There is no reason why we should not be sometimes together — that is, when you have leisure. I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance at my banker’s.”
Parliament had been dissolved through the demise of the crown in the summer of this year (1837), and London society had been prematurely broken up. Waldershare had left town early in July to secure his election, in which he was successful, with no intention of settling again in his old haunts till the meeting of the new House of Commons, which was to be in November. The Rodneys were away at some Kentish watering-place during August and September, exhibiting to an admiring world their exquisitely made dresses, and enjoying themselves amazingly at balls and assemblies at the public rooms. The resources of private society also were not closed to them. Mr. and Mrs. Gamme were also there and gave immense dinners, and the airy Mrs. Hooghley, who laughed a little at the Gammes’ substantial gatherings and herself improvised charming pic-nics. So there was really little embarrassment in the social relations between Colonel Albert and Endymion. They resolved themselves chiefly into arranging joint expeditions to Hainault. Endymion had a perpetual invitation there, and it seemed that the transactions between Mr. Neuchatel and the colonel required much conference, for the banker always expected him, although it was well known that they met not unfrequently in Bishopsgate Street in the course of the week. Colonel Albert and Endymion always stayed at Hainault from Saturday till Monday. It delighted the colonel to mount Endymion on one of his choice steeds, and his former fag enjoyed all this amazingly.
Colonel Albert became domiciled at Hainault. The rooms which were occupied by him when there were always reserved for him. He had a general invitation, and might leave his luggage and books and papers behind him. It was evident that the family pleased him. Between Mr. Neuchatel and himself there were obviously affairs of great interest; but it was equally clear that he liked the female members of the family — all of them; and all liked him. And yet it cannot be said that he was entertaining, but there are some silent people who are more interesting than the best talkers. And when he did speak he always said the right thing. His manners were tender and gentle; he had an unobtrusive sympathy with all they said or did, except, indeed, and that was not rarely, when he was lost in profound abstraction.
“I delight in your friend the colonel, Adrian,” said Mrs. Neuchatel, “but I must say he is very absent.”
“He has a good deal to think about,” said Mr. Neuchatel.
“I wonder what it can be,” thought Myra.
“He has a claim to a great estate,” said Mr. Neuchatel, “and he has to think of the best mode of establishing it; and he has been deprived of great honours, and he believes unjustly, and he wishes to regain them.”
“No wonder, then, he is absent,” said Mrs. Neuchatel. “If he only knew what a burthen great wealth is, I am sure he would not wish to possess it, and as for honours I never could make out why having a title or a ribbon could make any difference in a human being.”
“Nonsense, my dear Emily,” said Mr. Neuchatel. “Great wealth is a blessing to a man who knows what to do with it, and as for honours, they are inestimable to the honourable.”
“Well, I ardently hope Colonel Albert may succeed,” said Myra, “because he was so kind to my brother at Eton. He must have a good heart.”
“They say he is the most unscrupulous of living men,” said Mr. Neuchatel, with his peculiar smile.
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Mrs. Neuchatel.
“How terrible!” said Adriana. “It cannot be true.”
“Perhaps he is the most determined,” said Myra. “Moral courage is the rarest of qualities, and often maligned.”
“Well, he has got a champion,” said Mr. Neuchatel.
“I ardently wish him success,” said Myra, “in all his undertakings. I only wish I knew what they were.”
“Has not he told your brother, Miss Ferrars?” asked Mr. Neuchatel, with laughing eyes.
“He never speaks of himself to Endymion,” said Myra.
“He speaks a good deal of himself to me,” said Mr. Neuchatel; “and he is going to bring a friend here tomorrow who knows more about his affairs even than I do. So you will have a very good opportunity, Miss Ferrars, of making yourself acquainted with them, particularly if you sit next to him at dinner, and are very winning.”
The friend of Colonel Albert was Baron Sergius, the baron who used to visit him in London at twilight in a dark brougham. Mrs. Neuchatel was greatly taken by his appearance, by the calmness of his mien, his unstudied politeness, and his measured voice. He conversed with her entirely at dinner on German philosophy, of which he seemed a complete master, explained to her the different schools, and probably the successful ones, and imparted to her that precise knowledge which she required on the subject, and which she had otherwise been unable to obtain. It seemed, too, that he personally knew all the famous professors, and he intimated their doctrines not only with profound criticism, but described their persons and habits with vividness and picturesque power, never, however, all this time, by any chance raising his voice, the tones of which were ever distinct and a little precise.
“Is this the first visit of your friend to this country?” asked Myra of Colonel Albert.
“Oh no; he has been here often — and everywhere,” added Colonel Albert.
“Everywhere! he must be a most interesting companion then.”
“I find him so: I never knew any one whom I thought equal to him. But perhaps I am not an impartial judge, for I have known him so long and so intimately. In fact, I had never been out of his sight till I was brought over to this country to be placed at Eton. He is the counsellor of our family, and we all of us have ever agreed that if his advice had been always followed we should never have had a calamity.”
“Indeed, a gifted person! Is he a soldier?”
“No; Baron Sergius has not followed the profession of arms.”
“He looks a diplomatist.”
“Well, he is now nothing but my friend,” said the colonel. “He might have been anything, but he is a peculiarly domestic character, and is devoted to private life.”
“You are fortunate in such a friend.”
“Well, I am glad to be fortunate in something,” said Colonel Albert.
“And are you not fortunate in everything?”
“I have not that reputation; but I shall be more than fortunate if I have your kind wishes.”
“Those you have,” said Myra, rather eagerly. “My brother taught me, even as a child, to wish nothing but good for you. I wish I knew only what I was to wish for.”
“Wish that my plans may succeed,” said Colonel Albert, looking round to her with interest.
“I will more than wish,” said Myra; “I will believe that they will succeed, because I think you have resolved to succeed.”
“I shall tell Endymion when I see him,” said Colonel Albert, “that his sister is the only person who has read my character.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53