Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 10

As the cardinal was regaining his carriage on leaving Mrs. Giles’s party, there was, about the entrance of the house, the usual gathering under such circumstances; some zealous linkboys marvellously familiar with London life, and some midnight loungers, who thus take their humble share of the social excitement, and their happy chance of becoming acquainted with some of the notables of the wondrous world of which they form the base. This little gathering, ranged at the instant into stricter order by the police to facilitate the passage of his eminence, prevented the progress of a passenger, who exclaimed in an audible, but not noisy voice, as if, he were ejaculating to himself, “A bas les pretres!”

This exclamation, unintelligible to the populace, was noticed only by the only person who understood it. The cardinal, astonished at the unusual sound — for, hitherto, he had always found the outer world of London civil; or at least indifferent — threw his penetrating glance at the passenger, and caught clearly the visage on which the lamplight fully shone. It was a square, sinewy face, closely shaven, with the exception of a small but thick mustache, brown as the well-cropped hair, and blending with the hazel eye; a calm, but determined countenance; clearly not that of an Englishman, for he wore ear-rings.

The carriage drove off, and the passenger, somewhat forcing his way through the clustering group, continued his course until he reached the cab-stand near the Marble Arch, when he engaged a vehicle and ordered to be driven to Leicester Square. That quarter of the town exhibits an animated scene toward the witching hour; many lights and much population, illuminated coffee-houses, the stir of a large theatre, bands of music in the open air, and other sounds, most of them gay, and some festive. The stranger, whose compact figure was shrouded by a long fur cape, had not the appearance of being influenced by the temptation of amusement. As he stopped in the square and looked around him, the expression of his countenance was moody, perhaps even anxious. He seemed to be making observations on the locality, and, after a few minutes, crossed the open space and turned up into a small street which opened into the square. In this street was a coffee-house of some pretension, connected indeed with an hotel, which had been formed out of two houses, and therefore possessed no inconsiderable accommodation.

The coffee-room was capacious, and adorned in a manner which intimated it was not kept by an Englishman, or much used by Englishmen. The walls were painted in frescoed arabesques. There were many guests, principally seated at small tables of marble, and on benches and chairs covered with a coarse crimson velvet. Some were sipping coffee, some were drinking wine, others were smoking or playing dominoes, or doing both; while many were engaged in reading the foreign journals which abounded.

An ever-vigilant waiter was at the side of the stranger the instant he entered, and wished to know his pleasure. The stranger was examining with his keen eye every individual in the room while this question was asked and repeated.

“What would I wish?” said the stranger, having concluded his inspection, and as it were summoning back his recollection. “I would wish to see, and at once, one Mr. Perroni, who, I believe, lives here.”

“Why, ’tis the master!” exclaimed the waiter.

“Well, then, go and tell the master that I want him.”

“But the master is much engaged,” said the waiter, “— particularly.”

“I dare say; but you will go and tell him that I particularly want to see him.”

The waiter, though prepared to be impertinent to any one else, felt that one was speaking to him who must be obeyed, and, with a subdued, but hesitating manner, said, “There is a meeting to-night up-stairs, where the master is secretary, and it is difficult to see him; but, if I could see him, what name am I to give?”

“You will go to him instantly,” said the stranger, “and you will tell him that he is wanted by Captain Bruges.”

The waiter was not long absent, and returning with an obsequious bow, he invited the stranger to follow him to a private room, where he was alone only for a few seconds, for the door opened and he was joined by Perroni.

“Ah! my general,” exclaimed the master of the coffee-house, and he kissed the stranger’s hand. “You received my telegram?”

“I am here. Now what is your business?”

“There is business, and great business, if you will do it; business for you.”

“Well, I am a soldier, and soldiering is my trade, and I do not much care what I do in that way, provided it is not against the good cause. But I must tell you at once, friend Perroni, I am not a man who will take a leap in the dark. I must form my own staff, and I must have my commissariat secure.”

“My general, you will be master of your own terms. The Standing Committee of the Holy Alliance of Peoples are sitting upstairs at this moment. They were unanimous in sending for you. See them; judge for yourself; and, rest assured, you will be satisfied.”

“I do not much like having to do with committees,” said the general. “However, let it be as you like — I will see them.”

“I had better just announce your arrival,” said Perroni. “And will you not take something, my general after your travel you must be wearied.”

“A glass of sugar-and-water. You know, I am not easily tired. And, I agree with you, it is better to come to business at once: so prepare them.”

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