Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 25

They were in the private gardens at Blenheim. The sun was brilliant over the ornate and yet picturesque scene.

“Beautiful, is it not?” exclaimed Lothair.

“Yes, certainly beautiful,” said Theodora. “But, do you know, I do not feel altogether content in these fine gardens? The principle of exclusion on which they are all founded is to me depressing. I require in all things sympathy. You would not agree with me in this. The manners of your country are founded on exclusion.”

“But, surely, there are times and places when one would like to be alone.”

“Without doubt,” said the lady; “only I do not like artificial loneliness. Even your parks, which all the world praises, do not quite satisfy me. I prefer a forest where all may go — even the wild beasts.”

“But forests are not at command,” said Lothair.

“So you make a solitude and call it peace,” said the lady, with a slight smile. “For my part, my perfect life would be a large and beautiful village. I admire Nature, but I require the presence of humanity. Life in great cities is too exhausting; but in my village there should be air, streams, and beautiful trees, a picturesque scene, but enough of my fellow-creatures to insure constant duty.”

“But the fulfilment of duty and society, founded on what you call the principle of exclusion, are not incompatible,” said Lothair.

“No, but difficult. What should be natural becomes an art; and in every art it is only the few who can be first rate.”

“I have an ambition to be a first-rate artist in that respect,” said Lothair, thoughtfully.

“That does you much honor,” she replied, “for you necessarily embark in a most painful enterprise. The toiling multitude have their sorrows, which, I believe, will some day be softened, and obstacles hard to overcome; but I have always thought that the feeling of satiety, almost inseparable from large possessions, is a surer cause of misery than ungratified desires.”

“It seems to me that there is a great deal to do,” said Lothair.

“I think so,” said the lady.

“Theodora,” said the colonel, who was a little in advance with the professor, and turning round his head, “this reminds me of Mirabel,” and he pointed to the undulating banks covered with rare shrubs, and touching the waters of the lake.

“And where is Mirabel?” said Lothair.

“It was a green island in the Adriatic,” said the lady, “which belonged to Colonel Campian; we lost it in the troubles. Colonel Campian was very fond of it. I try to persuade him that our home was of volcanic origin, and has only vanished and subsided into its native bed.”

“And were not you fond of it?”

“I never think of the past,” said the lady.

“Oxford is not the first place where I had the pleasure of meeting you,” Lothair ventured at length to observe.

“Yes, we have met before, in Hyde Park Gardens. Our hostess is a clever woman, and has been very kind to some friends of mine.”

“And have you seen her lately?”

“She comes to see us sometimes. We do not live in London, but in the vicinity. We only go to London for the opera, of which we are devotees. We do not at all enter general society; Colonel Campian only likes people who interest or amuse him, and he is fortunate in having rather a numerous acquaintance of that kind.”

“Rare fortune!” said Lothair.

“Colonel Campian lived a great deal at Paris before we marred,” said the lady, “and in a circle of considerable culture and excitement. He is social, but not conventional.”

“And you — are you conventional?”

“Well, I live only for climate and the affections,” said the lady “I am fond of society that pleases me, that is, accomplished and natural and ingenious; otherwise I prefer being alone. As for atmosphere, as I look upon it as the main source of felicity, you may be surprised that I should reside in your country. I should myself like to go to America, but that would not suit Colonel Campian; and, if we are to live in Europe, we must live in England. It is not pleasant to reside in a country where, if you happen to shelter or succor a friend, you may be subject to a domiciliary visit.”

The professor stopped to deliver a lecture or address on the villa of Hadrian. Nothing could be more minute or picturesque than his description of that celebrated pleasaunce. It was varied by portraits of the emperor and some of his companions, and, after a rapid glance at the fortunes of the imperial patriciate, wound up with some conclusions favorable to communism. It was really very clever, and would have made the fortune of a literary society.

“I wonder if they had gravel-walks in the villa of Hadrian?” said the colonel. “What I admire most in your country, my lord, are your gravel-walks, though that lady would not agree with me that matter.”

“You are against gravel-walks,” said Lothair.

“Well, I cannot bring myself to believe that they had gravel-walks in the garden of Eden,” said the lady.

They had a repast at Woodstock, too late for luncheon, too early for dinner, but which it was agreed should serve as the latter meal.

“That suits me exactly,” said the lady; “I am a great foe to dinners, and indeed to all meals. I think when the good time comes we shall give up eating in public, except perhaps fruit on a green bank with music.”

It was a rich twilight as they drove home, the lady leaning back in the carriage silent. Lothair sat opposite to her, and gazed upon a countenance on which the moon began to glisten, and which seemed unconscious of all human observation.

He had read of such countenances in Grecian dreams; in Corinthian temples, in fanes of Ephesus, in the radiant shadow of divine groves.

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