There was to be no great party at Hainault; Lord Roehampton particularly wished that there should be no fine folks asked, and especially no ambassadors. All that he wanted was to enjoy the fresh air, and to ramble in the forest, of which he had heard so much, with the young ladies.
“And, by the by, Miss Ferrars,” said Mr. Neuchatel, “we must let what we were talking about the other day drop. Adriana has been with me quite excited about something Lady Montfort said to her. I soothed her and assured her she should do exactly as she liked, and that neither I nor her mother had any other wishes on such a subject than her own. The fact is, I answered Lady Montfort originally only half in earnest. If the thing might have happened, I should have been content — but it really never rested on my mind, because such matters must always originate with my daughter. Unless they come from her, with me they are mere fancies. But now I want you to help me in another matter, if not more grave, more businesslike. My lord must be amused, although it is a family party. He likes his rubber; that we can manage. But there must be two or three persons that he is not accustomed to meet, and yet who will interest him. Now, do you know, Miss Ferrars, whom I think of asking?”
“Not I, my dear sir.”
“What do you think of the colonel?” said Mr. Neuchatel, looking in her face with a rather laughing eye.
“Well, he is very agreeable,” said Myra, “and many would think interesting, and if Lord Roehampton does not know him, I think he would do very well.”
“Well, but Lord Roehampton knows all about him,” said Mr. Neuchatel.
“Well, that is an advantage,” said Myra.
“I do not know,” said Mr. Neuchatel. “Life is a very curious thing, eh, Miss Ferrars? One cannot ask one person to meet another even in one’s own home, without going through a sum of moral arithmetic.”
“Is it so?” said Myra.
“Well, Miss Ferrars,” said Mr. Neuchatel, “I want your advice and I want your aid; but then it is a long story, at which I am rather a bad hand,” and Mr. Neuchatel hesitated. “You know,” he said, suddenly resuming, “you once asked me who Colonel Albert was.”
“But I do not ask you now,” said Myra, “because I know.”
“Hah, hah!” exclaimed Mr. Neuchatel, much surprised.
“And what you want to know is,” continued Myra, “whether Lord Roehampton would have any objection to meet Prince Florestan?”
“That is something; but that is comparatively easy. I think I can manage that. But when they meet — that is the point. But, in the first place, I should like very much to know how you became acquainted with the secret.”
“In a very natural way; my brother was my information,” she replied.
“Ah! now you see,” continued Mr. Neuchatel, with a serious air, “a word from Lord Roehampton in the proper quarter might be of vast importance to the prince. He has a large inheritance, and he has been kept out of it unjustly. Our house has done what we could for him, for his mother, Queen Agrippina, was very kind to my father, and the house of Neuchatel never forgets its friends. But we want something else, we want the British Government to intimate that they will not disapprove of the restitution of the private fortune of the prince. I have felt my way with the premier; he is not favourable; he is prejudiced against the prince; and so is the cabinet generally; and yet all difficulties would vanish at a word from Lord Roehampton.”
“Well, this is a good opportunity for you to speak to him,” said Myra.
“Hem!” said Mr. Neuchatel, “I am not so sure about that. I like Lord Roehampton, and, between ourselves, I wish he were first minister. He understands the Continent, and would keep things quiet. But, do you know, Miss Ferrars, with all his playful, good-tempered manner, as if he could not say a cross word or do an unkind act, he is a very severe man in business. Speak to him on business, and he is completely changed. His brows knit, he penetrates you with the terrible scrutiny of that deep-set eye; he is more than stately, he is austere. I have been up to him with deputations — the Governor of the Bank, and all the first men in the City, half of them M.P.s, and they trembled before him like aspens. No, it will not do for me to speak to him, it will spoil his visit. I think the way will be this; if he has no objection to meet the prince, we must watch whether the prince makes a favourable impression on him, and if that is the case, and Lord Roehampton likes him, what we must do next is this —you must speak to Lord Roehampton.”
“Yes, Miss Ferrars, you. Lord Roehampton likes ladies. He is never austere to them, even if he refuses their requests, and sometimes he grants them. I thought first of Mrs. Neuchatel speaking to him, but my wife will never interfere in anything in which money is concerned; then I thought Adriana might express a hope when they were walking in the garden, but now that is all over; and so you alone remain. I have great confidence in you,” added Mr. Neuchatel, “I think you would do it very well. Besides, my lord rather likes you, for I have observed him often go and sit by you at parties, at our house.”
“Yes, he is very high-bred in that,” said Myra, gravely and rather sadly; “and the fact of my being a dependent, I have no doubt, influences him.”
“We are all dependents in this house,” said Mr. Neuchatel with his sweetest smile; “and I depend upon Miss Ferrars.”
Affairs on the whole went on in a promising manner. The weather was delightful, and Lord Roehampton came down to Hainault just in time for dinner, the day after their arrival, and in the highest spirits. He seemed to be enjoying a real holiday; body and mind were in a like state of expansion; he was enchanted with the domain; he was delighted with the mansion, everything pleased and gratified him, and he pleased and gratified everybody. The party consisted only of themselves, except one of the nephews, with whom indeed Lord Roehampton was already acquainted; a lively youth, a little on the turf, not too much, and this suited Lord Roehampton, who was a statesman of the old aristocratic school, still bred horses, and sometimes ran one, and in the midst of an European crisis could spare an hour to Newmarket. Perhaps it was his only affectation.
Mrs. Neuchatel, by whom he was seated, had the happy gift of conversation; but the party was of that delightful dimension, that it permitted talk to be general. Myra sate next to Lord Roehampton, and he often addressed her. He was the soul of the feast, and yet it is difficult to describe his conversation; it was a medley of graceful whim, interspersed now and then with a very short anecdote of a very famous person, or some deeply interesting reminiscence of some critical event. Every now and then he appealed to Adriana, who sate opposite to him in the round table, and she trusted that her irrepressible smiles would not be interpreted into undue encouragement.
Lord Roehampton had no objection to meet Prince Florestan, provided there were no other strangers, and the incognito was observed. He rather welcomed the proposal, observing he liked to know public men personally; so, you can judge of their calibre, which you never can do from books and newspapers, or the oral reports of their creatures or their enemies. And so on the next day Colonel Albert was expected.
Lord Roehampton did not appear till luncheon; he had received so many boxes from Downing Street which required his attention. “Business will follow one,” he said; “yesterday I thought I had baffled it. I do not like what I shall do without my secretaries. I think I shall get you young ladies to assist me.”
“You cannot have better secretaries,” said Mr. Neuchatel; “Miss Ferrars often helps me.”
Then what was to be done after luncheon? Would he ride, or would he drive? And where should they drive and ride to? But Lord Roehampton did not much care to drive, and was tired of riding. He would rather walk and ramble about Hainault. He wanted to see the place, and the forest and the fern, and perhaps hear one of those nightingales that they had talked of in Portland Place. But Mrs. Neuchatel did not care to walk, and Mr. Neuchatel, though it was a holiday in the City, had a great many letters to write, and so somehow or other it ended in Lord Roehampton and the two young ladies walking out together, and remaining so long and so late, that Mrs. Neuchatel absolutely contemplated postponing the dinner hour.
“We shall just be in time, dear Mrs. Neuchatel,” said Myra; “Lord Roehampton has gone up to his rooms. We have heard a nightingale, and Lord Roehampton insisted upon our sitting on the trunk of a tree till it ceased — and it never ceased.”
Colonel Albert, who had arrived, was presented to Lord Roehampton before dinner. Lord Roehampton received him with stately courtesy. As Myra watched, not without interest, the proceeding, she could scarcely believe, as she marked the lofty grace and somewhat haughty mien of Lord Roehampton, that it could be the same being of frolic and fancy, and even tender sentiment, with whom she had been passing the preceding hours.
Colonel Albert sate next to Myra at dinner, and Lord Roehampton between Mrs. Neuchatel and her daughter. His manner was different today, not less pleased and pleasing, but certainly more restrained. He encouraged Mrs. Neuchatel to occupy the chief part in conversation, and whispered to Adriana, who became somewhat uneasy; but the whispers mainly consisted of his delight in their morning adventures. When he remarked that it was one of the most agreeable days of his life, she became a little alarmed. Then he addressed Colonel Albert across the table, and said that he had heard from Mr. Neuchatel that the colonel had been in America, and asked some questions about public men, which brought him out. Colonel Albert answered with gentleness and modesty, never at any length, but in language which indicated, on all the matters referred to, thought and discrimination.
“I suppose their society is like the best society in Manchester?” said Lord Roehampton.
“It varies in different cities,” said Colonel Albert. “In some there is considerable culture, and then refinement of life always follows.”
“Yes, but whatever they may be, they will always be colonial. What is colonial necessarily lacks originality. A country that borrows its language, its laws, and its religion, cannot have its inventive powers much developed. They got civilised very soon, but their civilisation was second-hand.”
“Perhaps their inventive powers may develop themselves in other ways,” said the prince. “A nation has a fixed quantity of invention, and it will make itself felt.”
“At present,” said Lord Roehampton, “the Americans, I think, employ their invention in imaginary boundary lines. They are giving us plenty of trouble now about Maine.”
After dinner they had some music; Lord Roehampton would not play whist. He insisted on comparing the voices of his companions with that of the nightingales of the morning. He talked a great deal to Adriana, and Colonel Albert, in the course of the evening much to Myra, and about her brother. Lord Roehampton more than once had wished to tell her, as he had already told Miss Neuchatel, how delightful had been their morning; but on every occasion he had found her engaged with the colonel.
“I rather like your prince,” he had observed to Mr. Neuchatel, as they came from the dining-room. “He never speaks without thinking; very reserved, I apprehend. They say, an inveterate conspirator.”
“He has had enough of that,” said Mr. Neuchatel. “I believe he wants to be quiet.”
“That class of man is never quiet,” said Lord Roehampton.
“But what can he do?” said Mr. Neuchatel.
“What can he not do? Half Europe is in a state of chronic conspiracy.”
“You must keep us right, my dear lord. So long as you are in Downing Street I shall sleep at nights.”
“Miss Ferrars,” said Lord Roehampton abruptly to Mr. Neuchatel, “must have been the daughter of William Ferrars, one of my great friends in old days. I never knew it till today, and she did not tell me, but it flashed across me from something she said.”
“Yes, she is his daughter, and is in mourning for him at this moment. She has had sorrows,” said Mr. Neuchatel. “I hope they have ceased. It was one of the happiest days of my life when she entered this family.”
“Ah!” said Lord Roehampton.
The next day, after they had examined the famous stud and stables, there was a riding party, and in the evening Colonel Albert offered to perform some American conjuring tricks, of which he had been speaking in the course of the day. This was a most wonderful performance, and surprised and highly amused everybody. Colonel Albert was the last person who they expected would achieve such marvels; he was so quiet, not to say grave. They could hardly credit that he was the same person as he poured floods of flowers over Myra from her own borrowed pocket-handkerchief, and without the slightest effort or embarrassment, robbed Lord Roehampton of his watch, and deposited it in Adriana’s bosom. It was evident that he was a complete master of slight-of-hand.
“Characteristic!” murmured Lord Roehampton to himself.
It was the day after this, that Myra being in the music room and alone, Lord Roehampton opened the door, looked in, and then said, “Where is Miss Neuchatel?”
“I think she is on the terrace.”
“Let us try to find her, and have one of our pleasant strolls. I sadly want one, for I have been working very hard all this morning, and half the night.”
“I will be with you, Lord Roehampton, in a moment.”
“Do not let us have anybody else,” he said, as she left the room.
They were soon on the terrace, but Adriana was not there.
“We must find her,” said Lord Roehampton; “you know her haunts. Ah! what a delight it is to be in this air and this scene after those dreadful boxes! I wish they would turn us out. I think they must soon.”
“Now for the first time,” said Myra, “Lord Roehampton is not sincere.”
“Then you think me always sincere?” he replied.
“I have no reason to think you otherwise.”
“That is very true,” said Lord Roehampton, “truer perhaps than you imagine.” Then rather abruptly he said, “You know Colonel Albert very well?”
“Pretty well. I have seen him here frequently, and he is also a friend of my brother.”
“Ah! a friend of your brother.” Then, after a slight pause, he said, “He is an interesting man.”
“I think so,” said Myra. “You know all about him, of course.”
“Well, he looks unhappy, I think, and worn.”
“One is never worn when one is young,” said Lord Roehampton.
“He must have great anxieties and great sorrows,” said Myra. “I cannot imagine a position more unfortunate than that of an exiled prince.”
“I can,” said Lord Roehampton. “To have the feelings of youth and the frame of age.”
Myra was silent, one might say dumbfounded. She had just screwed herself up to the task which Mr. Neuchatel had imposed on her, and was about to appeal to the good offices of Lord Roehampton in favour of the prince, when he had indulged in a remark which was not only somewhat strange, but from the manner in which it was introduced hardly harmonised with her purpose.
“Yes, I would give up everything,” said Lord Roehampton. “I would even be an exile to be young; to hear that Miss Ferrars deems me interesting and good-looking, though worn.”
“What is going to happen?” thought Myra. “Will the earth open to receive me?”
“You are silent,” said Lord Roehampton. “You will not speak, you will not sigh, you will not give a glance of consolation or even pity. But I have spoken too much not to say more. Beautiful, fascinating being, let me at least tell you of my love.”
Myra could not speak, but put her left hand to her face. Gently taking her other hand, Lord Roehampton pressed it to his lips. “From the first moment I met you, my heart was yours. It was love at first sight; indeed I believe in no other. I was amused with the projects of my friend, and I availed myself of them, but not unfairly. No one can accuse me of trifling with the affections of your sweet companion, and I must do her the justice to say that she did everything to convince me that she shrank from my attentions. But her society was an excuse to enjoy yours. I was an habitual visitor in town that I might cherish my love, and, dare I say it, I came down here to declare it. Do not despise it, dearest of women; it is not worthy of you, but it is not altogether undeserving. It is, as you kindly believed it — it is sincere!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07