Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 1

“I remember him a little boy,” said the duchess, “a pretty little boy, but very shy. His mother brought him to us one day. She was a dear friend of mine; you know she was one of my bridesmaids?”

“And you have never seen him since, mamma?” inquired a married daughter, who looked like the younger sister of her mother.

“Never; he was an orphan shortly after; I have often reproached myself, but it is so difficult to see boys. Then, he never went to school, but was brought up in the Highlands with a rather savage uncle; and if he and Bertram had not become friends at Christchurch, I do not well see how we ever could have known him.”

These remarks were made in the morning-room of Brentham, where the mistress of the mansion sat surrounded by her daughters, all occupied with various works. One knitted a purse, another adorned a slipper a third emblazoned a page. Beautiful forms in counsel leaned over frames embroidery, while two fair sisters more remote occasionally burst into melody as they tried the passages of a new air, which had been dedicated to them in the manuscript of some devoted friend.

The duchess, one of the greatest heiresses of Britain, singularly beautify and gifted with native grace, had married in her teens one of the wealthiest and most powerful of our nobles, and scarcely order than herself. Her husband was as distinguished for his appearance and his manners as his bride, and those who speculate on race were interested in watching the development of their progeny, who in form and color, and voice, and manner, and mind, were a reproduction of their parents, who seemed only the elder brother and sister of a gifted circle. The daughters with one exception came first, and all met the same fate. After seventeen years of a delicious home they were presented, and immediately married; and all to personages of high consideration. After the first conquest, this fate seemed as regular as the order of Nature. Then came a son, who was now at Christchurch, and then several others, some at school, and some scarcely out of the nursery. There was one daughter unmarried, and she was to be presented next season. Though the family likeness was still apparent in Lady Corisande, in general expression she differed from her sisters. They were all alike with their delicate aquiline noses, bright complexions, short upper lips, and eyes of sunny light. The beauty of Lady Corisande was even more distinguished and more regular, but whether it were the effect of her dark-brown hair and darker eyes, her countenance had not the lustre of the res, and its expression was grave and perhaps pensive.

The duke, though still young, and naturally of a gay and joyous temperament, had a high sense of duty, and strong domestic feelings. He was never wanting in his public place, and he was fond of his wife and his children; still more, proud of them. Every day when he looked into the glass, and gave the last touch to his consummate toilet, he offered his grateful thanks to Providence that his family was not unworthy of him.

His grace was accustomed to say that he had only one misfortune, and it was a great one; he had no home. His family had married so many heiresses, and he, consequently, possessed so many halls and castles, at all of which, periodically, he wished, from a right feeling, to reside, that there was no sacred spot identified with his life in which his heart, in the bustle and tumult of existence, could take refuge. Brentham was the original seat of his family, and he was even passionately fond of it; but it was remarkable how very short a period of his yearly life was passed under its stately roof. So it was his custom always to repair to Brentham the moment the season was over, and he would exact from his children, that, however short might be the time, they would be his companions under those circumstances. The daughters loved Brentham, and they loved to please their father; but the sons-in-law, though they were what is called devoted to their wives, and, unusual as it may seem, scarcely less attached to their legal parents, did not fall very easily into this arrangement. The country in August without sport was unquestionably to them a severe trial: nevertheless, they rarely omitted making their appearance, and, if they did occasionally vanish, sometimes to Cowes, sometimes to Switzerland, sometimes to Norway, they always wrote to their wives, and always alluded to their immediate or approaching return; and their letters gracefully contributed to the fund of domestic amusement.

And yet it would be difficult to find a fairer scene than Brentham offered, especially in the lustrous effulgence of a glorious English summer. It was an Italian palace of freestone; vast, ornate, and in scrupulous condition; its spacious and graceful chambers filled with treasures of art, and rising itself from statued and stately terraces. At their foot spread a gardened domain of considerable extent, bright with flowers, dim with coverts of rare shrubs, and musical with fountains. Its limit reached a park, with timber such as the midland counties only can produce. The fallow deer trooped among its ferny solitudes and gigantic oaks; but, beyond the waters of the broad and winding lake, the scene became more savage, and the eye caught the dark forms of the red deer on some jutting mount, shrinking with scorn from communion with his gentler brethren.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19