Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 12

“Did you read that paragraph, mamma?” inquired Lady Corisande of the duchess, in a tone of some seriousness.

“I did.”

“And what did you think of it?”

“It filled me with so much amazement that I have hardly begun to think.”

“And Bertram never gave a hint of such things!”

“Let us believe they are quite untrue.”

“I hope Bertram is in no danger,” said his sister.

“Heaven forbid!” exclaimed the mother, with unaffected alarm.

“I know not how it is,” said Lady Corisande, “but I frequently feel that some great woe is hanging over our country.”

“You must dismiss such thoughts, my child; they are fanciful.”

“But they will come, and when least expected — frequently in church, but also in the sunshine; and when I am riding too, when, once, every thing seemed gay. But now I often think of strife, and struggle, and war — civil war: the stir of our cavalcade seems like the tramp of cavalry.”

“You indulge your imagination too much, dear Corisande. When you return to London, and enter the world, these anxious thoughts will fly.”

“Is it imagination? I should rather have doubted my being of an imaginative nature. It seems to me that I am rather literal. But I cannot help hearing and reading things, and observing things, and they fill me with disquietude. All seems doubt and change, when it would appear that we require both faith and firmness.”

“The duke is not alarmed about affairs,” said his wife.

“And, if all did their duty like papa, there might be less, or no cause,” said Corisande. “But, when I hear of young nobles, the natural leaders of the land, going over to the Roman Catholic Church, I confess I lose heart and patience. It seems so unpatriotic, so effeminate.”

“It may not be true,” said the duchess.

“It may not be true of him, but it is true of others,” said Lady Corisande. “And why should he escape? He is very young, rather friendless, and surrounded by wily persons. I am disappointed about Bertram too. He ought to have prevented this, if it be true. Bertram seemed to me to have such excellent principles, and so completely to feel that he was born to maintain the great country which his ancestors created, that I indulged in dreams. I suppose you are right, mamma; I suppose I am imaginative without knowing it; but I have, always thought, and hoped, that when the troubles came the country might, perhaps, rally round Bertram.”

“I wish to see Bertram in Parliament,” said the duchess. “That will be the best thing for him. The duke has some plans.”

This conversation had been occasioned by a paragraph in the Morning Post, circulating a rumor that a young noble, obviously Lothair, on the impending completion of his minority, was about to enter the Roman Church. The duchess and her daughter were sitting in a chamber of their northern castle, and speculating on their return to London, which was to take place after the Easter which had just arrived. It was an important social season for Corisande, for she was to be formally introduced into the great world, and to be presented at court.

In the mean while, was there any truth in the report about Lothair?

After their meeting at their lawyer’s, a certain intimacy had occurred between the cardinal and his ward. They met again immediately and frequently, and their mutual feelings were cordial. The manners of his eminence were refined and affectionate; his conversational powers were distinguished; there was not a subject on which his mind did not teem with interesting suggestions; his easy knowledge seemed always ready and always full; and whether it were art, or letters, or manners, or even political affairs, Lothair seemed to listen to one of the wisest, most enlightened, and most agreeable of men. There was only one subject on which his eminence seemed scrupulous never to touch, and that was religion; or so indirectly, that it was only when alone that Lothair frequently found himself musing over the happy influence on the arts, and morals, and happiness of mankind — of the Church.

In due time, not too soon, but when he was attuned to the initiation, the cardinal presented Lothair to Lady St. Jerome. The impassioned eloquence of that lady germinated the seed which the cardinal had seemed so carelessly to scatter. She was a woman to inspire crusaders. Not that she ever: condescended to vindicate her own particular faith, or spoke as if she were conscious that Lothair did not possess it. Assuming that religion was true, for otherwise man would be in a more degraded position than the beasts of the field, which are not aware of their own wretchedness, then religion should be the principal occupation of man, to which all other pursuits should be subservient. The doom of eternity, and the fortunes of life, cannot be placed in competition. Our days should be pure, and holy, and heroic — full of noble thoughts and solemn sacrifice. Providence, in its wisdom, had decreed that the world should be divided between the faithful and atheists; the latter even seemed to predominate. There was no doubt that, if they prevailed, all that elevated man would become extinct. It was a great trial; but happy was the man who was privileged even to endure the awful test. It might develop the highest qualities and the most sublime conduct. If he were equal to the occasion, and could control and even subdue these sons of Korah, he would rank with Michael the Archangel.

This was the text on which frequent discourses were delivered to Lothair, and to which he listened at first with eager, and soon with enraptured attention. The priestess was worthy of the shrine. Few persons were ever gifted with more natural eloquence: a command of language, choice without being pedantic; beautiful hands that fluttered with irresistible grace; flashing eyes and a voice of melody.

Lothair began to examine himself, and to ascertain whether he possessed the necessary qualities, and was capable of sublime conduct. His natural modesty and his strong religious feeling struggled together. He feared he was not an archangel, and yet he longed to struggle with the powers of darkness.

One day he ventured to express to Miss Arundel a somewhat hopeful view of the future, but Miss Arundel shook her head.

“I do not agree with my aunt, at least as regards this country,” said Miss Arundel; “I think our sins are too great. We left His Church, and God is now leaving us.”

Lothair looked grave, but was silent.

Weeks had passed since his introduction to the family of Lord St. Jerome, and it was remarkable how large a portion of his subsequent time had passed under that roof. At first there were few persons in town, and really of these Lothair knew none; and then the house in St. James’s Square was not only an interesting but it was an agreeable house. All Lady St. Jerome’s family connections were persons of much fashion, so there was more variety and entertainment than sometimes are to be found under a Roman Catholic roof. Lady St. Jerome was at home every evening before Easter. Few dames can venture successfully on so decided a step; but her saloons were always attended, and by “nice people.” Occasionally the cardinal stepped in, and, to a certain degree, the saloon was the rendezvous of the Catholic party; but it was also generally social and distinguished. Many bright dames and damsels, and many influential men, were there, who little deemed that deep and daring thoughts were there masked by many a gracious countenance. The social atmosphere infinitely pleased Lothair. The mixture of solemn duty and graceful diversion, high purposes and charming manners, seemed to realize some youthful dreams of elegant existence. All, too, was enhanced by the historic character of the roof and by the recollection that their mutual ancestors, as Clare Arundel more than once intimated to him, had created England. Having had so many pleasant dinners in St. James’s Square, and spent there so many evening hours, it was not wonderful that Lothair had accepted an invitation from Lord St. Jerome to pass Easter at his country-seat.

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