Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 23

Lothair’s stables were about three miles from Oxford. They were a rather considerable establishment, in which he had taken much interest, and, having always intended to return to Oxford in the early part of the year, although he had occasionally sent for a hack or two to London, his stud had been generally maintained.

The morning after his arrival, he rode over to the stables, where he had ordered his drag to be ready. About a quarter of a mile before he reached his place of destination, he observed at some little distance a crowd in the road, and, hastening on, perceived as he drew nearer a number of men clustered round a dismantled vehicle, and vainly endeavoring to extricate and raise a fallen horse; its companion, panting and foaming, with broken harness but apparently uninjured, standing aside and held by a boy. Somewhat apart stood a lady alone. Lothair immediately dismounted and approached her, saying, “I fear you are in trouble, madam. Perhaps I may be of service?”

The lady was rather tall, and of a singularly distinguished presence. Her air and her costume alike intimated high breeding and fashion. She seemed quite serene amid the tumult and confusion, and apparently the recent danger. As Lothair spoke, she turned her head to him, which had been at first a little averted, and he beheld a striking countenance, but one which he instantly felt he did not see for the first time.

She bowed with dignity to Lothair, and said in a low but distinct voice: “You are most courteous, sir. We have had a sad: accident, but a great escape. Our horses ran away with us, and, had it not been for that heap of stones, I do not see how we could have been saved.”

“Fortunately my stables are at hand,” said Lothair, “and I have a carriage waiting for me at this moment, not a quarter of a mile away. It is at your service, and I will send for it,” and his groom, to whom he gave directions, galloped off.

There was a shout as the fallen horse was on his legs again, much cut, and the carriage shattered and useless. A gentleman came from the crowd and approached the lady. He was tall and fair, and not ill-favored, with fine dark eyes and high cheekbones, and still young, though an enormous beard at the first glance gave him an impression of years, the burden of which he really did not bear. His dress, though not vulgar, was richer and more showy than is usual in this country, and altogether there was something in his manner which, though calm and full of self-respect, was different from the conventional refinement of England. Yet he was apparently an Englishman, as he said to the lady, “It is a bad business, but we must be thankful it is no worse. What troubles me is how you are to get back. It will be a terrible walk over these stony roads, and I can hear of no conveyance.”

“My husband,” said the lady, as with dignity she presented the person to Lothair. “This gentleman,” she continued, “has most kindly offered us the use of his carriage, which is almost at hand.”

“Sir, you are a friend,” said the gentleman. “I thought there were no horses that I could not master, but it seems I am mistaken. I bought these only yesterday; took a fancy to them as we were driving about, and bought them of a dealer in the road.”

“That seems a clever animal,” said Lothair, pointing to the one uninjured.

“Ah! you like horses?” said the gentleman.

“Well, I have some taste that way.”

“We are visitors to Oxford,” said the lady. “Colonel Campian, like all Americans, is very interested in the ancient parts of England.”

“To-day we were going to Blenheim,” said the colonel, “but I thought I would try these new tits a bit on a by-road first.”

“All’s well that ends well,” said Lothair; “and there is no reason why you should not fulfil your intention of going to Blenheim, for here is my carriage, and it is entirely at your service for the whole day, and, indeed, as long as you stay at Oxford.”

“Sir, there requires no coronet on Your carriage to tell me you are a nobleman,” said the colonel. “I like frank manners, and I like your team. I know few things that would please me more than to try them.”

They were four roans, highly bred, with black manes and tails. They had the Arab eye, with arched neck and seemed proud of themselves and their master.

“I do not see why we should not go to Blenheim,” said the colonel.

“Well, not today,” said the lady, “I think. We have had an escape, but one feels these things a little more afterward than at the time. I would rather go back to Oxford and be quiet; and there is more than one college which you have not yet seen.”

“My team is entirely at your service wherever you go,” said Lothair; “but I cannot venture to drive you to Oxford, for I am there in statu pupillari and a proctor might arrest us all. But perhaps,” and he approached the lady, “you will permit me to call on you tomorrow, when I hope I may find you have not suffered by this misadventure.”

“We have got a professor dining with us today at seven o’clock,” said the colonel, “at our hotel, and if you be disengaged and would join the party you would add to the favors which you know so well how to confer.”

Lothair handed the lady into the carriage, the colonel mounted the box and took the ribbons like a master, and the four roans trotted away with their precious charge and their two grooms behind with folded arms and imperturbable countenances.

Lothair watched the equipage until it vanished in the distance.

“It is impossible to forget that countenance,” he said; “and I fancy I did hear at the time that she had married an American. Well, I shall meet her at dinner — that is something.” And he sprang into his saddle.

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