Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 22

Although Lothair was not in the slightest degree shaken in his conviction that life should be entirely religious, he was perplexed by the inevitable obstacles which seemed perpetually to oppose themselves to the practice of his opinions. It was not merely pleasure in its multiform appearances that he had to contend against, but business began imperiously to solicit his attention. Every month brought him nearer to his majority, and the frequent letters from Mr. Putney Giles now began to assume the pressing shape of solicitations for personal interviews. He had a long conversation one morning with Father Coleman on this subject, who greatly relieved him by the assurance that a perfectly religious life was one of which the sovereign purpose was to uphold the interests of the Church of Christ, the father added after a momentary pause. Business, and even amusement, were, not only compatible with such a purpose, but might even be conducive to its fulfilment.

Mr. Putney Giles reminded Lothair that the attainment of his majority must be celebrated, and in a becoming manner. Preparation, and even considerable preparation, was necessary. There were several scenes of action — some very distant. It was not too early to contemplate arrangements. Lothair really must confer with his guardians. They were both now in town, the Scotch uncle having come up to attend Parliament. Could they be brought together? Was it indeed impossible? If so, who was to give the necessary instructions?

It was much more than a year since Lothair had met his uncle, and he did not anticipate much satisfaction from the renewal of their intimacy; but every feeling of propriety demanded that it should be recognized, and to a certain degree revived. Lord Culloden was a black Scotchman, tall and lean, with good features, a hard red face and iron-gray hair. He was a man who shrank from scenes, and he greeted Lothair as if they had only parted yesterday. Looking at him with his keen, unsentimental, but not unkind, eye, he said: “Well, sir, I thought you would have been at Oxford.”

“Yes, my dear uncle; but circumstances —”

“Well, well, I don’t want to hear the cause. I am very glad you are not there; I believe you might as well be at Rome.”

And then in due course, and after some talk of the past and old times, Lothair referred to the suggestions of Mr. Giles, and hinted at a meeting of his guardians to confer and advise together.

“No, no,” said the Scotch peer, shaking his head; “I will have nothing to do with the Scarlet Lady. Mr. Giles is an able and worthy man; he may well be trusted to draw up a programme for our consideration, and indeed it is an affair in which yourself should be most consulted. Let all be done liberally, for you have a great inheritance, and I would be no curmudgeon in these matters.”

“Well, my dear uncle, whatever is arranged, I hope you and my cousins will honor and gratify me with your presence throughout the proceedings.”

“Well, well, it is not much in my way. You will be having balls and fine ladies. There is no fool like an old fool, they say; but I think, from what I hear, the young fools will beat us in the present day. Only think of young persons going over to the Church of Rome. Why, they are just naturals!”

The organizing genius of Mr. Putney Giles had rarely encountered a more fitting theme than the celebration of the impending majority. There was place for all his energy and talent and resources; a great central inauguration; sympathetical festivals and gatherings in half a dozen other counties; the troth, as it were, of a sister kingdom to be pledged; a vista of balls and banquets, and illuminations and addresses, of ceaseless sports and speeches, and processions alike endless.

“What I wish to effect,” said Mr. Giles, as he was giving his multifarious orders, “is to produce among all classes an impression adequate to the occasion. I wish the lord and the tenantry alike to feel they have a duty to perform.”

In the mean time, Monsignore Catesby was pressing Lothair to become one of the patrons of a Roman Catholic Bazaar, where Lady St. Jerome and Miss Arundel were to preside over a stall. It was of importance to show that charity was not the privilege of any particular creed.

Between his lawyers, and his monsignores, and his architects, Lothair began to get a little harassed. He was disturbed in his own mind, too, on greater matters, and seemed to feel every day that it was more necessary to take a decided step, and more impossible to decide upon what it should be. He frequently saw the cardinal, who was very kind to him, but who had become more reserved on religious subjects. He had dined more than once with his eminence, and had met some distinguished prelates and some of his fellow-nobles who had been weaned from the errors of their cradle. The cardinal, perhaps, thought that the presence of these eminent converts would facilitate the progress, perhaps the decision, of his ward; but something seemed always to happen to divert Lothair in his course. It might-be sometimes apparently a very slight cause, but yet for the time sufficient; a phrase of Lady Corisande for example, who, though she never directly addressed him on the subject, was nevertheless deeply interested in his spiritual condition.

“You ought to speak to him, Bertram,” she said one day to her brother very indignantly, as she read a fresh paragraph alluding to an impending conversion. “You are his friend. What is the use of friendship if not in such a crisis as this?”

“I see no use in speaking to a man about love or religion,” said Bertram; “they are both stronger than friendship. If there be any foundation for the paragraph, my interference would be of no avail; if there be none, I should only make myself ridiculous.”

Nevertheless, Bertram looked a little more after his friend, and disturbing the monsignore, who was at breakfast with Lothair one morning, Bertram obstinately outstayed the priest, and then said: “I tell you what, old fellow, you are rather hippish; I wish you were in the House of Commons.”

“So do I,” said Lothair, with a sigh; “but I have come into every thing ready-made. I begin to think it very unfortunate.”

“What are you going to do with yourself today? If you be disengaged, I vote we dine together at White’s, and then we will go down to the House. I will take you to the smoking-room and introduce you to Bright, and we will trot him out on primogeniture.”

At this moment the servant brought Lothair two letters: one was an epistle from Father Coleman, meeting Lothair’s objections to becoming a patron of the Roman Catholic Bazaar, in a very unctuous and exhaustive manner; and the other from his stud-groom at Oxford, detailing some of those disagreeable things which will happen with absent masters who will not answer letters. Lothair loved his stable, and felt particularly anxious to avoid the threatened visit of Father Coleman on the morrow. His decision was rapid. “I must go down, this afternoon to Oxford, my dear fellow. My stable is in confusion. I shall positively return tomorrow, and I will dine with you at White’s, and we will go to the House of Commons together, or go to the play.”

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