Lady Montfort heard with great satisfaction from Mr. Neuchatel that Lord Roehampton was going to pay a visit to Hainault at Easter, and that he had asked himself. She playfully congratulated Mrs. Neuchatel on the subject, and spoke as if the affair was almost concluded. That lady, however, received the intimation with a serious, not to say distressed countenance. She said that she should be grieved to lose Adriana under any circumstances; but if her marriage in time was a necessity, she trusted she might be united to some one who would not object to becoming a permanent inmate of their house. What she herself desired for her daughter was a union with some clergyman, and if possible, the rector of their own parish. But it was too charming a dream to realise. The rectory at Hainault was almost in the Park, and was the prettiest house in the world, with the most lovely garden. She herself much preferred it to the great mansion — and so on.
Lady Montfort stared at her with impatient astonishment, and then said, “Your daughter, Mrs. Neuchatel, ought to make an alliance which would place her at the head of society.”
“What a fearful destiny,” said Mrs. Neuchatel, “for any one, but overwhelming for one who must feel the whole time that she occupies a position not acquired by her personal qualities!”
“Adriana is pretty,” said Lady Montfort. “I think her more than pretty; she is highly accomplished and in every way pleasing. What can you mean, then, my dear madam, by supposing she would occupy a position not acquired by her personal qualities?”
Mrs. Neuchatel sighed and shook her head, and then said, “We need not have any controversy on this subject. I have no reason to believe there is any foundation for my fears. We all like and admire Lord Roehampton. It is impossible not to admire and like him. So great a man, and yet so gentle and so kind, so unaffected — I would say, so unsophisticated; but he has never given the slightest intimation, either to me or her father, that he seriously admired Adriana, and I am sure if he had said anything to her she would have told us.”
“He is always here,” said Lady Montfort, “and he is a man who used to go nowhere except for form. Besides, I know that he admires her, that he is in love with her, and I have not a doubt that he has invited himself to Hainault in order to declare his feelings to her.”
“How very dreadful!” exclaimed Mrs. Neuchatel. “What are we to do?”
“To do!” said Lady Montfort; “why, sympathise with his happiness, and complete it. You will have a son-in-law of whom you may well be proud, and Adriana a husband who, thoroughly knowing the world, and women, and himself, will be devoted to her; will be a guide and friend, a guide that will never lecture, and a friend who will always charm, for there is no companion in the world like him, and I think I ought to know,” added Lady Montfort, “for I always tell him that I was the last of his conquests, and I shall ever be grateful to him for his having spared to me so much of his society.”
“Adriana on this matter will decide for herself,” said Mrs. Neuchatel, in a serious tone, and with a certain degree of dignity. “Neither Mr. Neuchatel, nor myself, have ever attempted to control her feelings in this respect.”
“Well, I am now about to see Adriana,” said Lady Montfort; “I know she is at home. If I had not been obliged to go to Princedown, I would have asked you to let me pass Easter at Hainault myself.”
On this very afternoon, when Myra, who had been walking in Regent’s Park with her brother, returned home, she found Adriana agitated, and really in tears.
“What is all this, dearest?” inquired her friend.
“I am too unhappy,” sobbed Adriana, and then she told Myra that she had had a visit from Lady Montfort, and all that had occurred in it. Lady Montfort had absolutely congratulated her on her approaching alliance with Lord Roehampton, and when she altogether disclaimed it, and expressed her complete astonishment at the supposition, Lady Montfort had told her she was not justified in giving Lord Roehampton so much encouragement and trifling with a man of his high character and position.
“Fancy my giving encouragement to Lord Roehampton!” exclaimed Adriana, and she threw her arms round the neck of the friend who was to console her.
“I agree with Lady Montfort,” said Myra, releasing herself with gentleness from her distressed friend. “It may have been unconsciously on your part, but I think you have encouraged Lord Roehampton. He is constantly conversing with you, and he is always here, where he never was before, and, as Lady Montfort says, why should he have asked himself to pass the Easter at Hainault if it were not for your society?”
“He invited himself to Hainault, because he is so fond of papa,” said Adriana.
“So much the better, if he is to be your husband. That will be an additional element of domestic happiness.”
“O Myra! that you should say such things!” exclaimed Adriana.
“That I should marry Lord Roehampton.”
“I never said anything of the kind. Whom you should marry is a question you must decide for yourself. All that I said was, that if you marry Lord Roehampton, it is fortunate he is so much liked by Mr. Neuchatel.”
“I shall not marry Lord Roehampton,” said Adriana with some determination, “and if he has condescended to think of marrying me,” she continued, “as Lady Montfort says, I think his motives are so obvious that if I felt for him any preference it would be immediately extinguished.”
“Ah! now you are going to ride your hobby, my dear Adriana. On that subject we never can agree; were I an heiress, I should have as little objection to be married for my fortune as my face. Husbands, as I have heard, do not care for the latter too long. Have more confidence in yourself, Adriana. If Lord Roehampton wishes to marry you, it is that he is pleased with you personally, that he appreciates your intelligence, your culture, your accomplishments, your sweet disposition, and your gentle nature. If in addition to these gifts you have wealth, and even great wealth, Lord Roehampton will not despise it, will not — for I wish to put it frankly — be uninfluenced by the circumstances, for Lord Roehampton is a wise man; but he would not marry you if he did not believe that you would make for him a delightful companion in life, that you would adorn his circle and illustrate his name.”
“Ah! I see you are all in the plot against me,” said Adriana. “I have no friend.”
“My dear Adriana, I think you are unreasonable; I could say even unkind.”
“Oh! pardon me, dear Myra,” said Adriana, “but I really am so very unhappy.”
“About what? You are your own mistress in this matter. If you do not like to marry Lord Roehampton, nobody will attempt to control you. What does it signify what Lady Montfort says? or anybody else, except your own parents, who desire nothing but your happiness? I should never have mentioned Lord Roehampton to you had you not introduced the subject yourself. And all that I meant to say was, what I repeat, that your creed that no one can wish to marry you except for your wealth is a morbid conviction, and must lead to unhappiness; that I do not believe that Lord Roehampton is influenced in his overture, if he make one, by any unworthy motive, and that any woman whose heart is disengaged should not lightly repudiate such an advance from such a man, by which, at all events, she should feel honoured.”
“But my heart is engaged,” said Adriana in an almost solemn tone.
“Oh! that is quite a different thing!” said Myra, turning pale.
“Yes!” said Adriana; “I am devoted to one whose name I cannot now mention, perhaps will never mention, but I am devoted to him. Yes!” she added with fire, “I am not altogether so weak a thing as the Lady Montforts and some other persons seem to think me — I can feel and decide for myself, and it shall never be said of me that I purchased love.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07