Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 13

Vauxe, the seat of the St. Jeromes, was the finest specimen of the old English residence extant. It was the perfection of the style, which had gradually arisen after the Wars of the Roses had alike destroyed all the castles and the purpose of those stern erections. People said Vauxe looked like a college: the truth is, colleges looked like Vauxe, for, when those fair and civil buildings rose, the wise and liberal spirits who endowed them intended that they should resemble, as much as possible, the residence of a great noble.

There were two quadrangles at Vauxe of gray-stone; the outer one of larger dimensions and much covered with ivy; the inner one not so extensive, but more ornate, with a lofty tower, a hall, and a chapel. The house was full of galleries, and they were full of portraits. Indeed there was scarcely a chamber in this vast edifice of which the walls were not breathing with English history in this interesting form. Sometimes more ideal art asserted a triumphant claim — transcendental Holy Families, seraphic saints, and gorgeous scenes by Tintoret and Paul of Verona.

The furniture of the house seemed never to have been changed. It was very old, somewhat scanty, but very rich — tapestry and velvet hangings, marvellous cabinets, and crystal girandoles. Here and there a group of ancient plate; ewers and flagons and tall salt-cellars, a foot high and richly chiselled; sometimes a state bed shadowed with a huge pomp of stiff brocade and borne by silver poles.

Vauxe stood in a large park, studded with stately trees; here and there an avenue of Spanish chestnuts or a grove of oaks; sometimes a gorsy dell, and sometimes a so great spread of antlered fern, taller than the tallest man.

It was only twenty miles from town, and Lord St. Jerome drove Lothair down; the last ten miles through a pretty land, which, at the right season, would have been bright with orchards, oak-woods, and hop-gardens. Lord St. Jerome loved horses, and was an eminent whip. He had driven four-inhand when a boy, and he went on driving four-inhand; not because it was the fashion, but because he loved it. Toward the close of Lent, Lady St. Jerome and Clare Arundel had been at a convent in retreat, but they always passed Holy Week at home, and they were to welcome Lord St. Jerome again at Vauxe.

The day was bright, the mode of movement exhilarating, all the anticipated incidents delightful, and Lothair felt the happiness of health and youth.

“There is Vauxe,” said Lord St. Jerome, in a tone of proud humility, as a turn in the road first displayed the stately pile.

“How beautiful!” said Lothair. “Ah! our ancestors understood the country.”

“I used to think when I was a boy,” said Lord St. Jerome, “that I lived in the prettiest village in the world; but these railroads have so changed every thing that Vauxe seems to me now only a second town-house.”

The ladies were in a garden, where they were consulting with the gardener and Father Coleman about the shape of some new beds, for the critical hour of filling them was approaching. The gardener, like all head-gardeners, was opinionated. Living always at Vauxe, he had come to believe that the gardens belonged to him, and that the family were only occasional visitors; and he treated them accordingly. The lively and impetuous Lady St. Jerome had a thousand bright fancies, but her morose attendant never indulged them. She used to deplore his tyranny with piteous playfulness. “I suppose,” she would say, “it is useless to resist, for I observe ’tis the same everywhere. Lady Roehampton says she never has her way with her gardens. It is no use speaking to Lord St. Jerome, for, though he is afraid of nothing else, I am sure he is afraid of Hawkins.”

The only way that Lady St. Jerome could manage Hawkins was through Father Coleman. Father Coleman, who knew every thing, knew a great deal about gardens; from the days of Le Notre to those of the fine gentlemen who now travel about, and when disengaged deign to give us advice.

Father Coleman had only just entered middle-age, was imperturbable and mild in his manner. He passed his life very much at Vauxe, and imparted a great deal of knowledge to Mr. Hawkins without apparently being conscious of so doing. At the bottom of his mind, Mr. Hawkins felt assured that he had gained several distinguished prizes, mainly through the hints and guidance of Father Coleman; and thus, though on the surface, a little surly, he was ruled by Father Coleman, under the combined influence of self-interest and superior knowledge.

“You find us in a garden without flowers,” said Lady St. Jerome; “but the sun, I think, alway loves these golden yews.”

“These are for you, dear uncle,” said Clare Arundel, as she gave him a rich cluster of violets. “Just now the woods are more fragrant than the gardens, and these are the produce of our morning walk. I could have brought you some primroses, but I do not like to mix violets with any thing.”

“They say primroses make a capital salad,” said Lord St. Jerome.

“Barbarian!” exclaimed Lady St. Jerome. “I see you want luncheon; it must, be ready;” and she took Lothair’s arm. “I will show you a portrait of one of your ancestors,” she said; “he married an Arundel.”

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