Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 20

The duke was one of the few gentlemen in, London who lived in a palace. One of the half-dozen of those stately structures that our capital boasts had fallen to his lot.

An heir-apparent to the throne, in the earlier days of the present dynasty, had resolved to be lodged as became a prince, and had raised, amid gardens which he had diverted from one of the royal parks, an edifice not unworthy of Vicenza in its best days, though on a far more extensive scale than any pile that favored city boasts. Before the palace was finished, the prince died, and irretrievably in debt. His executors were glad to sell to the trustees of the ancestors of the chief of the house of Brentham the incomplete palace, which ought never to have been commenced. The ancestor of the duke was by no means so strong a man as the duke himself, and prudent people rather murmured at the exploit. But it was what is called a lucky family — that is to say, a family with a charm that always attracted and absorbed heiresses; and perhaps the splendor of CRECY HOUSE— for it always retained its original title — might have in some degree contributed to fascinate the taste or imagination of the beautiful women who, generation after generation, brought their bright castles and their broad manors to swell the state and rent-rolls of the family who were so kind to Lothair.

The centre of Crecy House consisted of a hall of vast proportion, and reaching to the roof. Its walls commemorated, in paintings by the most celebrated artists of the age, the exploits of the Black Prince; and its coved ceiling, in panels resplendent with Venetian gold, contained the forms and portraits of English heroes. A corridor round this hall contained the most celebrated private collection of pictures in England and opened into a series of sumptuous saloons.

It was a rather early hour when Lothair, the morning after his meeting the duchess at Lady St. Jerome’s, called at Crecy House; but it was only to leave his card. He would not delay for a moment paying his respects there, and yet he shrank from thrusting himself immediately into the circle. The duke’s brougham was in the court-yard. Lothair was holding his groom’s horse, who had dismounted, when the hall-door opened, and his grace and Bertram came forth.

“Halloa, old fellow!” exclaimed Bertram, “only think of your being here. It seems an age since we met. The duchess was telling us about you at breakfast.”

“Go in and see them,” said the duke, “there is a large party at luncheon; Augusta Montairy is there. Bertram and I are obliged to go to Lincoln’s Inn, something about his election.”

But Lothair murmured thanks and declined.

“What are you going to do with yourself today?” said the duke. And Lothair hesitating, his grace continued: “Well, then, come and dine with us.”

“Of course you will come, old fellow. I have not seen you since you left Oxford at the beginning of the year. And then we can settle about your term.” And Lothair assenting, they drove away.

It was nine o’clock before they dined. The days were getting very long, and soft, and sweet; the riding-parties lingered amid the pink May and the tender twilight breeze. The Montairys dined today at Crecy House, and a charming married daughter without her husband, and Lord and Lady Clanmorne, who were near kin to the duchess, and themselves so good-looking and agreeable that they were as good at a dinner-party as a couple of first-rate entr es. There was also Lord Carisbrooke, a young man of distinguished air and appearance; his own master, with a large estate, and three years or so older than Lothair.

They dined in the Chinese saloon, which was of moderate dimensions, but bright with fantastic forms and colors, brilliantly lit up. It was the privilege of Lothair to hand the duchess to her seat. He observed that Lord Carisbrooke was placed next to Lady Corisande, though he had not taken her out.

“This dinner reminds me of my visit to Brentham,” said Lothair.

“Almost the same party,” said the duchess.

“The visit to Brentham was the happiest time of my life,” said Lothair, moodily.

“But you have seen a great deal since,” said the duchess.

“I am not a sure it is of any use seeing things,” said Lothair.

When the ladies retired, there was some talk about horses. Lord Carisbrooke was breeding; Lothair thought it was a duty to breed, but not to go on the turf. Lord Carisbrooke thought there could be no good breeding without racing; Lothair was of opinion that races might be confined to one’s own parks, with no legs admitted, and immense prizes, which must cause emulation. Then they joined the ladies, and then, in a short time, there was music. Lothair hovered about Lady Corisande, and at last seized a happy opportunity of addressing her.

“I shall never forget your singing at Brentham,” he said; “at first I thought it might be as Lady Montairy said, because I was not used to fine singing; but I heard the Venusina the other day, and I prefer your voice and style.”

“Have you heard the Venusina?” said Lady Corisande, with animation; “I know nothing that I look forward to with more interest. But I was told she was not to open her mouth until she appeared at the opera. Where did you hear her?”

“Oh, I heard her,” said Lothair, “at the Roman Catholic cathedral.”

“I am sure I shall never hear her there,” said Lady Corisande, looking very grave.

“Do not you think music a powerful accessory to religion?” said Lothair, but a little embarrassed.

“Within certain limits,” said Lady Corisande —“the limits I am used to; but I should prefer to hear opera-singers at the opera.”

“Ah! if all amateurs could sing like you,” said Lothair, “that would be unnecessary. But a fine mass by Mozart — it requires great skill as well as power to render it. I admire no one so much as Mozart, and especially his masses. I have been hearing a great many of them lately.”

“So we understood,” said Lady Corisande, rather dryly, and looking about her as if she were not much interested, or at any rate not much gratified by the conversation.

Lothair felt he was not getting on, and he wished to get on, but he was socially inexperienced, and his resources not much in hand. There was a pause — it seemed to him an awkward pause; and then Lady Corisande walked away and addressed Lady Clanmorne.

Some very fine singing began at this moment; the room was hushed, no one moved, and Lothair, undisturbed, had the opportunity of watching his late companion. There was something in Lady Corisande that to him was irresistibly captivating; and as he was always thinking and analyzing, he employed himself in discovering the cause. “She is not particularly gracious,” he said to himself, “at least not to me; she is beautiful, but so are others; and others, like her, are clever — perhaps more clever. But there is something in her brow, her glance, her carriage, which intimate what they call character, which interests me. Six months ago I was in love with her, because I thought she was like her sisters. I love her sisters, but she is not the least like them.”

The music ceased; Lothair moved away, and he approached the duke.

“I have a favor to ask your grace,” he said. “I have made up my mind that I shall not go back to Oxford this term; would your grace do me the great favor of presenting me at the next lev e?”

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