Her husband, the Earl of Merivale, she regarded as a necessary encumbrance, inevitable to the possession of the famous Merivale diamonds. His hobby was farming, and he detested Society; though quite content that his wife should be made queen so long as he was left in peace with his shorthorns.
Certainly Eveline Merivale was not in love with her husband; but, on the other hand, neither was she in love with Adrien Leroy. It simply added a zest to her otherwise monotonous round of amusements to imagine that she was; and it pleased her vanity to correspond in cypher, through the medium of the Morning Post, though every member of her set might have read the flippant messages if put in an open letter. There was a spice of intrigue, too, in the way in which she planned meetings at their mutual friends’ houses, or beneath the trees of Brierly Park, or at Richmond.
Not for worlds would her ladyship have risked a scandal. She prized her position, and loved her diamonds far better than she was ever likely to love any human being under the sun. Still, it was the fashion to have one special favourite; and it was a great thing to have conquered the handsome and popular Adrien Leroy. It was little wonder, therefore, that, when midnight had struck and still Leroy was absent from her side, Eveline Merivale beneath the calm conventional smile, was secretly anxious and inclined to be angry.
She was looking her best to-night; and although she had already been surfeited with compliments from duke to subaltern, she yet longed to hear one other voice praise her appearance. There was, indeed, every reason why Lady Merivale should be lauded as the greatest beauty of her time, for she carried all before her by the sheer force of her personality. Dazzlingly fair, with hair of a bronze Titian hue, which clustered in great waves about her forehead; her eyes of a deep, lustrous blue, shading almost to violet. To-night she would have borne off the palm of beauty from any Court in the world, for her dress was a creation of Paquin, and enhanced to perfection her delicate colouring, which needed no artificial aids.
Diamonds glistened round her perfect throat, upon her head rested a magnificent tiara of the same stones, her hands flashed as if touched with living fire. She might have stood as a figure of Undine—as beautiful and as soulless.
All around her the little band of courtiers thronged ever-changing, and passing on to the ball-room as others eagerly took their place. Half-past twelve struck, and she grew more impatient; the blue eyes sparkled frostily, the red lips became more tightly set.
“Lady Merivale looks riled,” Mortimer Shelton said to his partner as they passed her. “You can see that by the sweetness of the smile with which she has just favoured Hadley. She wishes him anywhere—I know. Funny thing about you ladies! the madder you are with one poor dev—fellow, the sweeter and deadlier you are to the rest of us.”