Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 27

Lothair reached London late in the afternoon. Among the notes and cards and letters on his table was a long and pressing dispatch from Mr. Putney Giles awaiting his judgment and decision on many points.

“The central inauguration, if I may use the term,” said Mr. Putney Giles, “is comparatively easy. It is an affair of expense and of labor — great labor; I may say unremitting labor. But your lordship will observe the other points are not mere points of expense and labor. We have to consult the feelings of several counties where your lordship cannot be present, at least certainly not on this occasion, and yet where an adequate recognition of those sentiments which ought to exist between the proprietor and all classes connected with him ought to be secured. Then Scotland: Scotland is a very difficult business to manage. It is astonishing how the sentiment lingers in that country connected with its old independence. I really am quite surprised at it. One of your lordship’s most important tenants wrote to me only a few days back that great dissatisfaction would prevail among your lordship’s friends and tenantry in Scotland, if that country on this occasion were placed on the same level as a mere English county. It must be recognized as a kingdom. I almost think it would be better if we could persuade Lord Culloden, not to attend the English inauguration, but remain in the kingdom of Scotland, and take the chair and the lead throughout the festal ceremonies. A peer of the realm, and your lordship’s guardian, would impart something of national character to the proceedings, and this, with a judicious emblazoning on some of the banners of the royal arms of Scotland, might have a conciliatory effect. One should always conciliate. But your lordship, upon all these points, and especially with reference to Lord Culloden, must be a much better judge than I am.”

Lothair nearly gave a groan. “I almost wish,” he thought, “my minority would never end. I am quite satisfied with things as they are. What is the kingdom of Scotland to me and all these counties? I almost begin to feel that satiety which she said was inseparable from vast possessions.”

A letter from Bertram, reminding him that he had not dined at White’s as he had promised, and suggesting some new arrangement, and another from Monsignore Catesby, earnestly urging him to attend a most peculiar and solemn function of the Church next Sunday evening, where the cardinal would officiate and preach, and in which Lady St. Jerome and Miss Arundel were particularly interested, did not restore his equanimity.

A dinner at White’s! He did not think he could stand a dinner at White’s. Indeed, he was not sure that he could stand any dinner anywhere, especially in this hot weather. There was a good deal in what she said: “One ought to eat alone.”

The ecclesiastical function was a graver matter. It had been long contemplated, often talked about, and on occasions looked forward to by him even with a certain degree of eagerness. He wished he had had an opportunity of speaking with her on these matters. She was eminently religious; that she had voluntarily avowed. And he felt persuaded that no light or thoughtless remark could fall from those lips. He wondered to what Church she belonged? Protestant or papal? Her husband, being an American, was probably a Protestant, but he was a gentleman of the South, and with nothing puritanical about him. She was a European, and probably of a Latin race. In all likelihood she was a Roman Catholic.

It was Wednesday evening, and his valet reminded him that he was engaged to dine with Lord and Lady Montairy.

Lothair sighed. He was so absorbed by his new feelings that he shrunk from society with a certain degree of aversion. He felt it quite out of his power to fulfil his engagement. He sent an excuse. It was Lothair’s first excuse. In short, he “threw over” the Montairys, to whom he was so much attached, whom he so much admired, and whose society he had hitherto so highly prized.

To “throw over” a host is the most heinous of social crimes. It ought never to be pardoned. It disjoints a party, often defeats the combinations which might affect the results of a season, and generally renders the society incoherent and unsatisfactory. If the outrage could ever be condoned, it might be in the instance of a young man very inexperienced, the victim of some unexpected condition of nervous feelings over which the defaulter has really no control.

It was evening, and the restless Lothair walked forth without a purpose, and in a direction which he rarely visited. “It is a wonderful place,” said he, “this London; a nation, not a city; with a population greater than some kingdoms, and districts as different as if they were under different governments and spoke different languages. And what do I know of it? I have been living here six months, and my life has been passed in a park, two or three squares, and half a dozen streets!”

So he walked on and soon crossed Oxford Street, like the Rhine a natural boundary, and then got into Portland Place, and then found himself in the New Road, and then he hailed a cruising Hansom, which he had previously observed was well horsed.

“’Tis the gondola of London,” said Lothair as he sprang in.

“Drive on till I tell you to stop.”

And the Hansom drove on, through, endless boulevards, some bustling, some dingy, some tawdry and flaring, some melancholy and mean; rows of garden gods, planted on the walls of yards full of vases and divinities of concrete, huge railway halls, monster hotels, dissenting chapels in the form of Gothic churches, quaint ancient almshouses that were once built in the fields, and tea-gardens and stingo-houses and knackers’ yards. They were in a district far beyond the experience of Lothair, which indeed had been exhausted when he had passed Eustonia, and from that he had been long separated. The way was broad but ill-lit, with houses of irregular size but generally of low elevation, and sometimes detached in smoke-dried gardens. The road was becoming a bridge which crossed a canal, with barges and wharves and timber-yards, when their progress was arrested by a crowd. It seemed a sort of procession; there was a banner, and the lamp-light fell upon a religious emblem. Lothair was interested, and desired the driver not to endeavor to advance. The procession was crossing the road and entering a building.

“It’s a Roman Catholic chapel,” said a bystander in answer to Lothair. “I believe it is a meeting about one of their schools. They always have banners.”

“I think I will get out,” said Lothair to his driver. “This, I suppose, will pay your fare.”

The man stared with delight at the sovereign in his astonished palm, and in gratitude suggested that he should remain and wait for the gentleman, but the restless Lothair declined the proposal.

“Sir, sir,” said the man, leaning down his head as low as possible from his elevated seat, and speaking in a hushed voice, “you are a real gentleman. Do you know what all this is?”

“Yes, yes; some meeting about a Roman Catholic school.”

The man shook his head. “You are a real gentleman, and I will tell you the truth. They meet about the schools of the order of St. Joseph — over the left — it is a Fenian meeting.”

“A Fenian meeting?”

“Ay, ay, and you cannot enter that place without a ticket. Just you try! However, if a gentleman like you wants to go, you shall have my ticket,” said the cab-driver; “and here it is. And may I drive tomorrows as true a gentleman as I have driven today!”

So saying, he took a packet from his breast-pocket, and opening it offered to Lothair a green slip of paper, which was willingly accepted. “I should like above all things to go,” he said, and he blended with the rear of those who were entering the building. The collector of the tickets stared at Lothair and scrutinized his pass, but all was in order, and Lothair was admitted.

He passed through a house and a yard, at the bottom of which was a rather spacious building. When he entered it, he saw in an instant it was not a chapel. It was what is called a temperance-hall, a room to be hired for public assemblies, with a raised platform at the end, on which were half a dozen men. The hall was tolerably full, and Lothair came in among the last. There were some children sitting on a form placed against the wall of the room, each with a bun which kept them quiet; the banner belonged to this school, and was the banner of St. Joseph.

A man dressed like a pries and known as Father O’Molloy, came forward. He was received with signs of much sympathy, succeeded by complete silence. He addressed them in a popular and animated style on the advantages of education. They knew what that was, and then they cheered.. Education taught them to know their rights. But what was the use of knowing their rights unless they enforced them? That was not to be done by prayer-books, but by something else, and something else wanted a subscription.

This was the object of the meeting and the burden of all the speeches which followed, and which were progressively more outspoken than the adroit introductory discourse. The Saxon was denounced, sometimes with coarseness, but sometimes in terms of picturesque passion; the vast and extending organization of the brotherhood was enlarged on, the great results at hand intimated; the necessity of immediate exertion on the part of every individual pressed with emphasis. All these views and remarks received from the audience an encouraging response; and when Lothair observed men going round with boxes, and heard the clink of coin, he felt very embarrassed as to what he should do when asked to contribute to a fund raised to stimulate and support rebellion against his sovereign. He regretted the rash restlessness which had involved him in such a position.

The collectors approached Lothair, who was standing at the end of the room opposite to the platform, where the space was not crowded.

“I should like to speak to Father O’Molloy,” said Lothair; “he is a priest, and will understand my views.”

“He is a priest here,” said one of the collectors with a sardonic laugh, “but I am glad to say you will not find his name in the directory. Father O’Molloy is on the platform and engaged.”

“If you want to speak to the father, speak from where you are,” said the other collector. “Here, silence! a gentleman wants to address the meeting.”

And there was silence, and Lothair felt extremely embarrassed, but he was not wanting, though it was the first time in his life that he had addressed a public meeting.

“Gentlemen,” said Lothair, “I really had no wish to intrude upon you; all I desired was to speak to Father O’Molloy. I wished to tell him that it would have given me pleasure to subscribe to these schools. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I respect the Roman Catholic religion. But I can do nothing that will imply the slightest sanction of the opinions I have heard expressed this evening. For your own sakes —” but here a yell arose which forever drowned his voice.

“A spy, a spy!” was the general exclamation. “We are betrayed! Seize him! Knock him over!” and the whole meeting seemed to have turned their backs on the platform and to be advancing on the unfortunate Lothair. Two of the leaders on the platform at the same time leaped down from it, to direct as it were the enraged populace.

But at this moment a man who had been in the lower part of the hall, in the vicinity of Lothair and standing alone, pushed forward, and by his gestures and general mien arrested somewhat the crowd, so that the two leaders who leaped from the platform and bustled through the crowd came in contact with him.

The stranger was evidently not of the class or country of the rest assembled. He had a military appearance, and spoke with a foreign accent when he said, “This is no spy. Keep your people off.”

“And who are you?” inquired the leader thus addressed.

“One accustomed to be obeyed,” said the stranger.

“You may be a spy yourself,” said the leader.

“I will not undertake to say that there are no spies in this room,” said the stranger, “but this person is not one, and anybody who touches this person will touch this person at his peril. Stand off, men!” And they stood off. The wave retreated backward, leaving the two leaders in front. A couple of hundred men, a moment before apparently full of furious passion and ready to take refuge in the violence of fear, were cowed by a single human being.

“Why, you are not afraid of one man?” said the leaders, ashamed of their following. “Whatever betides, no one unknown shall leave this room, or it will be Bow Street tomorrow morning.”

“Nevertheless,” said the stranger, “two unknown men will leave this room and with general assent. If any one touches this person or myself I will shoot him dead,” and he drew out his revolver, “and as for the rest, look at that,” he added, giving a paper to the leader of the Fenian Lodge, “and then give it me back again.”

The leader of the Fenian Lodge glanced at the paper; he grew pale, then scarlet, folded the paper with great care and returned it reverentially to the stranger, then looking round to the assembly and waving his hand he said, “All right, the gentlemen are to go.”

“Well, you have got out of a scrape, young air,” said the stranger to Lothair when they had escaped from the hall.

“And how can I express my gratitude to you?” Lothair replied.

“Poh!” said the stranger, “a mere affair of common duty. But what surprises me is how you got your pass-ticket.”

Lothair told him all.

“They manage their affairs in general wonderfully close,” said the stranger, “but I have no opinion of them. I have just returned from Ireland, where I thought I would go and see what they really are after. No real business in them. Their treason is a fairy tale, and their sedition a child talking in its sleep.”

They walked together about half a mile, and then the stranger said, “At the end of this we shall get into the City Road, and the land again of omnibus and public conveyances, and I shall wish you good night.”

“But it is distressing to me to part thus,” said Lothair. “Pray let me call and pay my respects to my benefactor.”

“No claim to any such title,” said the stranger; “I am always glad to be of use. I will not trouble you to call on me, for, frankly, I have no wish to increase the circle of my acquaintance. So, good-night; and, as you seem to be fond of a little life, take my advice, and never go about unarmed.”

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