Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 18

Lothair returned to town excited and agitated. He felt that he was on the eve of some great event in his existence, but its precise character was not defined. One conclusion, however, was indubitable: life must be religion; when we consider what is at stake, and that our eternal welfare depends on our due preparation for the future, it was folly to spare a single hour from the consideration of the best means to secure our readiness. Such a subject does not admit of half measures or of halting opinions. It seemed to Lothair that nothing could interest him in life that was not symbolical of divine truths and an adumbration of the celestial hereafter.

Could truth have descended from heaven ever to be distorted, to be corrupted, misapprehended, misunderstood? Impossible! Such a belief would confound and contradict all the attributes of the All-wise and the All-mighty. There must be truth on earth now as fresh and complete is it was at Bethlehem. And how could it be preserved but by the influence of the Paraclete acting on an ordained class? On this head his tutor at Oxford had fortified him; by a conviction of the Apostolical succession of the English bishops, which no Act of Parliament could alter or affect. But Lothair was haunted by a feeling that the relations of his Communion with the Blessed Virgin were not satisfactory. They could not content either his heart or his intellect. Was it becoming that a Christian should live as regards the hallowed Mother of his God in a condition of harsh estrangement? What mediatorial influence more awfully appropriate than the consecrated agent of the mighty mystery? Nor could he, even in his early days, accept without a scruple the frigid system that would class the holy actors in the divine drama of the Redemption as mere units in the categories of vanished generations. Human beings who had been in personal relation with the Godhead must be different from other human beings. There must be some transcendent quality in their lives and careers, in their very organization, which marks them out from all secular heroes. What was Alexander the Great, or even Caius Julius, compared with that apostle whom Jesus loved?

Restless and disquieted, Lothair paced the long and lofty rooms which had been secured for him in a London hotel which rivalled the colossal convenience of Paris and the American cities. Their tawdry ornaments and their terrible new furniture would not do after the galleries and portraits of Vauxe. Lothair sighed.

Why did that visit ever end? Why did the world consist of any thing else but Tudor palaces in ferny parks, or time be other than a perpetual Holy Week? He never sighed at Vauxe. Why? He supposed it was because their religion was his life, and here — and he looked around him with a shudder. The cardinal was right: it was a most happy thing for him to be living so much with so truly a religious family.

The door opened, and servants came in bearing a large and magnificent portfolio. It was of morocco and of prelatial purple with broad bands of gold and alternate ornaments of a cross and a coronet. A servant handed to Lothair a letter, which enclosed the key that opened its lock. The portfolio contained the plans and drawings of the cathedral.

Lothair was lost in admiration of these designs and their execution. But after the first fever of investigation was over, he required sympathy and also information. In a truly religious family there would always be a Father Coleman or a Monsignore Catesby to guide and to instruct. But a Protestant, if he wants aid or advice on any matter, can only go to his solicitor. But as he proceeded in his researches he sensibly felt that the business was one above even an oratorian or a monsignore. It required a finer and a more intimate sympathy; a taste at the same time more inspired and more inspiring; some one who blended with divine convictions the graceful energy of human feeling, and who would not only animate him to effort but fascinate him to its fulfilment. The counsellor he required was Miss Arundel.

Lothair had quitted Vauxe one week, and it seemed to him a year. During the first four-and-twenty hours he felt like a child who had returned to school, and, the day after, like a man on a desert island. Various other forms of misery and misfortune were suggested by his succeeding experience. Town brought no distractions to him; he knew very few people, and these be had not yet encountered; he had once ventured to White’s, but found only a group of gray-beaded men, who evidently did not know him, and who seemed to scan him with cynical nonchalance. These were not the golden youth whom he had been assured by Bertram would greet him; so, after reading a newspaper for a moment upside downward, he got away. But he had no harbor of refuge, and was obliged to ride down to Richmond and dine alone, and meditate on symbols and celestial adumbrations. Every day he felt how inferior was this existence to that of a life in a truly religious family.

But, of all the members of the family to which his memory recurred with such unflagging interest, none more frequently engaged his thoughts than Miss Arundel. Her conversation, which stimulated his intelligence while it rather piqued his self-love, exercised a great influence over him, and he had omitted no opportunity of enjoying her society. That society and its animating power he sadly missed; and now that he had before him the very drawings about which they had frequently talked, and she was not by his side to suggest and sympathize and criticism and praise, he felt unusually depressed.

Lothair corresponded with Lady St. Jerome, and was aware of her intended movements. But the return the family to London had been somewhat delayed. When this disappointment was first made known to him, his impulse was to ride down to Vauxe; but the tact in which he was not deficient assured him that he ought not to reappear on a stage where he had already figured for perhaps too considerable a time, and so another week had to be passed, softened, however, by visits from the father of the oratory and the chamberlain of his holiness, who came to look after Lothair with much friendliness, and with whom it was consolatory and even delightful for him to converse on sacred art, still holier things, and also Miss Arundel.

At length, though it seemed impossible, this second week elapsed, and tomorrow Lothair was to lunch with Lady St. Jerome in St. James’s Square, and to meet all his friends. He thought of it all day, and he passed a restless night. He took an early canter to rally his energies, and his fancy was active in the splendor of the spring. The chestnuts were in silver bloom, and the pink May had flushed the thorns, and banks of sloping turf were radiant with plots of gorgeous flowers. The waters glittered in the sun, and the air was fragrant with that spell which only can be found in metropolitan mignonette. It was the hour and the season when heroic youth comes to great decisions, achieves exploits, or perpetrates scrapes.

Nothing could be more cordial, nothing more winning, than the reception of Lothair by Lady St. Jerome. She did not conceal her joy at their being again together. Even Miss Arundel, though still calm, even a little demure, seemed glad to see him: her eyes looked kind and pleased, and she gave him her hand with graceful heartiness. It was the sacred hour of two when Lothair arrived, and they were summoned to luncheon almost immediately. Then they were not alone; Lord St. Jerome was not there, but the priests were present and some others. Lothair, however, sat next to Miss Arundel.

“I have been thinking of you very often since I left Vauxe,” said Lothair to his neighbor.

“Charitably, I am sure.”

“I have been thinking of you every day,” he continued, “for I wanted your advice.”

“Ah! but that is not a popular thing to give.”

“But it is precious — at least, yours is to me — and I want it now very much.”

“Father Coleman told me you had got the plans for the cathedral,” said Miss Arundel.

“And I want to show them to you.”

“I fear I am only a critic,” said Miss Arundel, “and I do not admire mere critics. I was very free in my comments to you on several subjects at Vauxe; and I must now say I thought you bore it very kindly.”

“I was enchanted,” said Lothair, “and desire nothing but to be ever subject to such remarks. But this affair of the cathedral, it is your own thought — I would fain hope your own wish, for unless it were your own wish I do not think I ever should be able to accomplish it.”

“And when the cathedral is built,” said Miss Arundel “what then?”

“Do you not remember telling me at Vauxe that all sacred buildings should be respected, for that in the long-run they generally fell to the professors of the true faith?”

“But when they built St. Peter’s, they dedicated it to a saint in heaven,” said Miss Arundel. “To whom is yours to be inscribed?”

“To a saint in heaven and in earth,” said Lothair, blushing; “to St. Clare.”

But Lady St. Jerome and her guests rose at this moment, and it is impossible to say with precision whether this last remark of Lothair absolutely reached the ear of Miss Arundel. She looked as if it had not. The priests and the other guests dispersed. Lothair accompanied the ladies to the drawing-room; he lingered, and he was meditating if the occasion served to say more.

Lady St. Jerome was writing a note, Mss Arundel was arranging some work, Lothair was affecting an interest in her employment in order that he might be seated by her and ask her questions, when the groom of the chambers entered and inquired whether her ladyship was at home, and being answered in the affirmative, retired, and announced and ushered in the duchess and Lady Corisande.

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