The Signora Neroni, The Countess de Courcy, and Mrs Proudie meet each other at Ullathorne

And now there were new arrivals. Just as Eleanor reached the drawing–room the signora was being wheeled into it. She had been brought out of the carriage into the dining–room and there placed on a sofa, and was now in the act of entering the other room, by the joint aid of her brother and sister, Mr Arabin, and two servants in livery. She was all in her glory, and looked so pathetically happy, so full of affliction and grace, was so beautiful, so pitiable, and so charming, that it was almost impossible not to be glad she was there.

Miss Thorne was unaffectedly glad to welcome her. In fact, the signora was a sort of lion; and though there was no drop of the Leohunter blood in Miss Thorne’s veins, she nevertheless did like to see attractive people at her house.

The signora was attractive, and on her first settlement in the dining–room she had whispered two or three soft feminine words into Miss Thorne’s ear, which, at the moment, had quite touched that lady’s heart.

‘Oh, Miss Thorne; where is Miss Thorne?’ she said, as soon as her attendants had placed her in her position just before one of the windows, from whence she could see all that was going on upon the lawn; ‘How am I to thank you for permitting a creature like me to be here? But if you knew the pleasure you give me, I am sure you would excuse the trouble I bring with me.’ And as she spoke she squeezed the spinster’s little hand between her own.

‘We are delighted to see you here,’ said Miss Thorne; ‘you give us no trouble at all, and we think it a great favour conferred by you to come and see us; don’t we, Wilfred?’

‘A very great favour indeed,’ said Mr Thorne, with a gallant bow, but of somewhat less cordial welcome than that conceded by his sister. Mr Thorne had learned perhaps more of the antecedents of his guest than his sister had done, and not as yet undergone the power of the signora’s charms.

But while the mother of the last of the Neros was thus in he full splendour, with crowds of people gazing at her and the élite of the company standing round her couch, her glory was paled by the arrival of the Countess De Courcy. Miss Thorne had now been waiting three hours for the countess, and could not therefore but show very evident gratification when the arrival at last took place. She and her brother of course went off to welcome the titled grandee, and with them, alas, went many of the signora’s admirers.

‘Oh, Mr Thorne,’ said the countess, while the act of being disrobed of her fur cloaks, and re–robed in her gauze shawls, ‘what dreadful roads you have; perfectly frightful.’

It happened that Mr Thorne was way–warden for the district, and not liking the attack, began to excuse his roads.

‘Oh yes, indeed they are,’ said the countess, not minding him in the least, ‘perfectly dreadful; are they not, Margaretta? Why, dear Miss Thorne, we left Courcy Castle just at eleven; it was only just past eleven, was it not, John? and—’

‘Just past one, I think you mean,’ said the Honourable John, turning from the group and eyeing the signora through his glass. The signora gave him back his own, as the saying is, and more with it; so that the young nobleman was forced to avert his glance, and drop his glass.

‘I say, Thorne,’ whispered he, ‘who the deuce is that on the sofa?’

‘Dr Stanhope’s daughter,’ whispered back Mr Thorne. ‘Signora Neroni she calls herself.’

‘Whew–ew–ew!’ whistled the Honourable John. ‘The devil she is! I have heard no end of stories about that filly. You must positively introduce me, Thorne; you positively must.’

Mr Thorne who was respectability itself, did not quite like having a guest about whom the Honourable John De Courcy had heard no end of stories; but he couldn’t help himself. He merely resolved that before

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