Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 28

The Fenian adventure furnished the distraction which Lothair required It broke that absorbing spell of sentiment which is the delicious but enervating privilege of the youthful heart; yet, when Lothair woke in the morning from his well-earned slumbers, the charm returned, and he fell at once into a reverie of Belmont, and a speculation when he might really pay his first visit there. Not today — that was clearly out of the question. They had separated only yesterday, and yet it seemed an age, and the adventure of another world. There are moods of feeling which defy alike time and space.

But on the morrow, Friday, he might venture to go. But, then, would tomorrow ever come? It seemed impossible. How were the intervening hours to pass? The world, however, was not so devoid of resources as himself, and had already appropriated his whole day. And, first, Monsignore Catesby came to breakfast with him, talking of every thing that was agreeable or interesting, but in reality bent on securing his presence at the impending ecclesiastical ceremony of high import, where his guardian was to officiate, and where the foundation was to be laid of the reconciliation of all churches in the bosom of the true one. Then, in the afternoon, Lothair had been long engaged to a match of pigeon-shooting, in which pastime Bertram excelled. It seemed there was to be a most exciting sweepstakes today, in which the flower of England were to compete; Lothair among them, and for the first time.

This great exploit of arms was to be accomplished at the Castle in the Air, a fantastic villa near the banks of the Thames, belonging to the Duke of Brecon. His grace had been offended by the conduct or the comments of the outer world, which in his pastime had thwarted or displeased him in the free life of Battersea. The Duke of Brecon was a gentleman easily offended, but not one of those who ever confined their sense of injury to mere words. He prided himself on “putting down” any individual or body of men who chose to come into collision with him. And so in the present instance he formed a club of pigeon-shooters, and lent them his villa for their rendezvous and enjoyment. The society was exquisite, exclusive, and greatly sought after. And the fine ladies, tempted, of course, by the beauty of the scene, honored and inspired the competing confederates by their presence.

The Castle in the Air was a colossal thatched cottage, built by a favorite of, King George IV. It was full of mandarins and pagodas and green dragons, and papered with birds of many colors and with vast tails. The gardens were pretty, and the grounds park-like, with some noble cedars and some huge walnut-trees.

The Duke of Brecon was rather below the middle size, but he had a singularly athletic frame not devoid of symmetry. His head was well placed on his broad shoulders, and his mien was commanding. He was narrow-minded and prejudiced, but acute, and endowed with an unbending will. He was an eminent sportsman, and brave even to brutality. His boast was that he had succeeded in every thing he had attempted, and he would not admit the possibility of future failure. Though still a very young man, he had won the Derby, training his own horse; and he successfully managed a fine stud in defiance of the ring, whom it was one of the secret objects of his life to extirpate. Though his manner to men was peremptory, cold, and hard, he might be described as popular, for there existed a superstitious belief in his judgment, and it was known that in some instances, when he had been consulted, he had given more than advice. It could not be said that he was beloved, but he was feared and highly considered. Parasites were necessary to him, though he despised them.

The Duke of Brecon was an avowed admirer, of Lady Corisande, and was intimate with her family. The duchess liked him much, and was often seen at ball or assembly on his arm. He had such excellent principles, she said; was so straight-forward, so true and firm. It was whispered that even Lady Corisande had remarked that the Duke of Brecon was the only young man of the time who had “character.” The truth is, the duke, though absolute and hard to men, could be soft and deferential to women, and such an exception to a general disposition has a charm. It was said, also, that he had, when requisite, a bewitching smile.

If there were any thing or any person in the world that St. Aldegonde hated more than another, it was the Duke of Brecon. Why St. Aldegonde hated him was not very clear, for they had never crossed each other, nor were the reasons for his detestation, which he occasionally gave, entirely satisfactory: sometimes it was because the duke drove piebalds; sometimes because he had a large sum in the funds, which St. Aldegonde thought disgraceful for a duke; sometimes because he wore a particular hat, though, with respect to this last allegation, it does not follow that St. Aldegonde was justified in his criticism, for in all these matters St. Aldegonde was himself very deficient, and had once strolled up St. James’s Street with his dishevelled looks crowned with a wide-awake. Whatever might be the cause, St. Aldegonde generally wound up —“I tell you what, Bertha, if Corisande marries that follow, I have made up my mind to go to the Indian Ocean. It is a country I never have seen, and Pinto tells me you cannot do it well under five years.”

“I hope you will take me, Grenville, with you,” said Lady St. Aldegonde, “because it is highly probable Corisande will marry the duke; mamma, you know, likes him so much.”

“Why cannot Corisande marry Carisbrooke?” said St. Aldegonde, pouting; “he is a really good fellow, much better-looking, and so far as land is concerned, which after all is the only thing, has as large an estate as the duke.”

“Well, these things depend a little upon taste,” said Lady St. Aldegonde.

“No, no,” said St. Aldegonde; “Corisande must marry Carisbrooke. Your father would not like my going to the Indian Archipelago and not returning for five years, perhaps never returning. Why should Corisande break up our society? — why are people so selfish? I never could go to Brentham again if the Duke of Brecon is always to be there, giving his opinion, and being what your mother calls ‘straightforward’— I hate a straightforward fellow. As Pinto says, if every man were straightforward in his opinions, there would be no conversation. The fun of talk is to find out what a man really thinks, then contrast it with the enormous lies he has been telling all dinner, and, perhaps, all his life.”

It was a favorable day for the Castle in the Air; enough, but not too much sun, and a gentle breeze. Some pretty feet, not alone, were sauntering in the gardens, some pretty lips lingered in the rooms sipping tea; but the mass of the fair visitors, marvellously attired, were assembled at the scene of action, seated on chairs and in groups, which assumed something of the form of an amphitheatre. There were many gentlemen in attendance on them, or independent spectators of the sport. The field was large, not less than forty competitors, and comprising many of the best shots in England. The struggle therefore, was long and ably maintained; but, as the end approached, it was evident that the contest would be between Bertram, Lothair, and the Duke of Brecon.

Lady St. Aldegonde and Lady Montairy were there and their unmarried sister. The married sisters were highly excited in favor of their brother, but Lady Corisande said nothing. At last Bertram missed a bird, or rather his bird, which he had hit, escaped, and fell beyond the enclosure. Lothair was more successful, and it seemed that it might be a tie between him and the duke. His grace, when called, advanced with confident composure, and apparently killed both his birds, when, at this moment, a dog rushed forward and chased one of the mortally-struck pigeons. The blue-rock, which was content to die by the hand of a duke, would not deign to be worried by a dog, and it frantically moved its expiring wings, scaled the paling, and died. So Lothair won the prize.

“Well,” said Lady Montairy to Lothair, “as Bertram was not to win, I am glad it was you.”

“And you will not congratulate me?” said Lothair to Lady Corisande.

She rather shook her head. “A tournament of doves,” she said. “I would rather see you all in the lists of Ashby.”

Lothair had to dine this day with one of the vanquished. This was Mr. Brancepeth, celebrated for his dinners, still more for his guests. Mr. Brancepeth was a grave young man. It was supposed that he was always meditating over the arrangement of his menus, or the skilful means by which he could assemble together the right persons to partake of them. Mr. Brancepeth had attained the highest celebrity in his peculiar career. To dine with Mr. Brancepeth was a social incident that was mentioned. Royalty had consecrated his banquets, and a youth of note was scarcely a graduate of society who had not been his guest. There was one person, however, who, in this respect, had not taken his degree, and, as always happens under such circumstances, he was the individual on whom Mr. Brancepeth was most desirous to confer it; and this was St. Aldegonde. In vain Mr. Brancepeth had approached him with vast cards of invitation to hecatombs, and with insinuating little notes to dinners sans fa on; proposals which the presence of princes might almost construe into a command, or the presence of some one even more attractive than princes must invest with irresistible charm. It was all in vain. “Not that I dislike Brancepeth,” said St. Aldegonde; “I rather like him: I like a man who can do only one thing, but does that well. But then I hate dinners.”

But the determined and the persevering need never despair of gaining their object in this world. And this very day, riding home from the Castle in the Air, Mr. Brancepeth overtook St. Aldegonde, who was lounging about on a rough Scandinavian cob, as dishevelled as himself, listless and groomless. After riding together for twenty minutes, St. Aldegonde informed Mr. Brancepeth, as was his general custom with his companions, that he was bored to very extinction, and that he did not know what he should do with himself for the rest of the day. “If I could only get Pinto to go with me, I think I would run down to the Star and Garter, or perhaps to Hampton Court.”

“You will not be able to get Pinto today,” said Mr. Brancepeth, “for he dines with me.”

“What an unlucky fellow I am!” exclaimed St. Aldegonde, entirely to himself. “I had made up my mind to dine with Pinto today.”

“And why should you not? Why not meet Pinto at my house?”

“Well, that is not my way,” said St. Aldegonde, but not in a decided tone. “You know I do not like strangers, and crowds of wine-glasses, and what is called all the delicacies of the season.”

“You will meet no one that you do not know and like. It is a little dinner I made for —” and he mentioned Lothair.

“I like Lothair,” said St. Aldegonde, dreamily. “He is a nice boy.”

“Well, you will have him and Pinto to yourself.”

The large fish languidly rose and swallowed the bait, and the exulting Mr. Brancepeth cantered off to Hill Street to give the necessary instructions.

Mr. Pinto was one of the marvels of English society; the most sought after of all its members, though no one could tell you exactly why. He was a little oily Portuguese, middle-aged, corpulent, and somewhat bald, with dark eyes of sympathy, not unmixed with humor. No one knew who he was, and in a country the most scrutinizing as to personal details, no one inquired or cared to know. A quarter of a century ago an English noble had caught him in his travels, and brought him young to England, where he had always remained. From the favorite of an individual, he had become the oracle of a circle, and then the idol of society. All this time his manner remained unchanged. He was never at any time either humble or pretentious. Instead of being a parasite, everybody flattered him; and instead of being a hanger-on of society, society hung on Pinto.

It must have been the combination of many pleasing qualities, rather than the possession of any commanding one, that created his influence. He certainly was not a wit yet he was always gay, and always said things that made other people merry. His conversation was sparkling, interesting, and fluent, yet it was observed he never gave an opinion on any subject and never told an anecdote. Indeed, he would sometimes remark, when a man fell into his anecdotage, it was a sign for him to retire from the world. And yet Pinto rarely opened his mouth without everybody being stricken with mirth. He had the art of viewing common things in a fanciful light, and the rare gift of raillery which flattered the self-love of those whom it seemed sportively not to spare. Sometimes those who had passed a fascinating evening with Pinto would try to remember on the morrow what he had said, and could recall nothing. He was not an intellectual Croesus, but his pockets were full of six-pences.

One of the ingredients of his social spell was no doubt his manner, which was tranquil even when he was droll. He never laughed except with his eyes, and delivered himself of his most eccentric fancies in an unctuous style. He had a rare gift of mimicry, which he used with extreme reserve, and therefore was proportionately effective when displayed. Add to all this, a sweet voice, a soft hand, and a disposition both soft and sweet, like his own Azores. It was understood that Pinto was easy in his circumstances, though no one know where these circumstances were. His equipage was worthy of his position, and in his little house in May Fair he sometimes gave a dinner to a fine lady, who was as proud of the event as the Queen of Sheba of her visit to Solomon the Great.

When St. Aldegonde arrived in Hill Street, and slouched into the saloon with as uncouth and graceless a general mien as a handsome and naturally graceful man could contrive to present, his keen though listless glance at once revealed to him that he was as he described it at dinner to Hugo Bohun in a social jungle, in which there was a great herd of animals that he particularly disliked, namely, what he entitled “swells.” The scowl on his distressed countenance at first intimated a retreat; but after a survey, courteous to his host, and speaking kindly to Lothair as he passed on, he made a rush to Mr. Pinto, and, cordially embracing him, said, “Mind we sit together.”

The dinner was not a failure, though an exception to the polished ceremony of the normal Brancepeth banquet. The host headed his table, with the Duke of Brecon on his right and Lothair on his left hand, and “swells” of calibre in their vicinity; but St. Aldegonde sat far away, next to Mr. Pinto, and Hugo Bohun on the other side of that gentleman. Hugo Bohun loved swells, but he loved St. Aldegonde more. The general conversation in the neighborhood of Mr. Brancepeth did not flag: they talked of the sport of the morning, and then, by association of ideas, of every other sport. And then from the sports of England they ranged to the sports of every other country. There were several there who had caught salmon in Norway and killed tigers in Bengal, and visited those countries only for that purpose. And then they talked of horses, and then they talked of women.

Lothair was rather silent; for in this society of ancients, the youngest of whom was perhaps not less than five-and-twenty, and some with nearly a lustre added to that mature period, he felt the awkward modesty of a freshman. The Duke of Brecon talked much, but never at length. He decided every thing, at least to his own satisfaction; and if his opinion were challenged, remained unshaken, and did not conceal it.

All this time a different scene was enacting at the other end of the table. St. Aldegonde, with his back turned to his other neighbor, hung upon the accents of Mr. Pinto, and Hugo Bohun imitated St. Aldegonde. What Mr. Pinto said or was saying was quite inaudible, for he always spoke low, and in the present case he was invisible, like an ortolan smothered in vine-leaves; but every now and then St. Aldegonde broke into a frightful shout, and Hugo Bohun tittered immensely. Then St. Aldegonde, throwing himself back in his chair, and talking to himself or the ceiling, would exclaim, “Best thing I ever heard,” while Hugo nodded sympathy with a beaming smile.

The swells now and then paused in their conversation and glanced at the scene of disturbance.

“They seem highly amused there,” said Mr. Brancepeth. “I wish they would pass it on.”

“I think St. Aldegonde,” said the Duke of Brecon, “is the least conventional man of my acquaintance.”

Notwithstanding this stern sneer, a practiced general like Mr. Brancepeth felt he had won the day. All his guests would disperse and tell the world that they had dined with him and met St. Aldegonde, and tomorrow there would be a blazoned paragraph in the journals commemorating the event, and written as if by a herald. What did a little disturb his hospitable mind was that St. Aldegonde literally tasted nothing. He did not care so much for his occasionally leaning on the table with both his elbows, but that he should pass by every dish was distressing. So Mr. Brancepeth whispered to his own valet — a fine gentleman, who stood by his master’s chair and attended on no one else, except, when requisite, his master’s immediate neighbor — and desired him to suggest to St. Aldegonde whether the side-table might not provide, under the difficulties, some sustenance. St. Aldegonde seemed quite gratified by the attention, and said he should like to have some cold meat. Now, that was the only thing the side-table, bounteous as was its disposition, could not provide. All the joints of the season were named in vain, and pies and preparations of many climes. But nothing would satisfy St. Aldegonde but cold meat.

“Well, now I shall begin my dinner,” he said to Pinto, when he was at length served. “What surprises me most in you is your English. There is not a man who speaks such good English as you do.”

“English is an expressive language,” said Mr. Pinto, “but not difficult to master. Its range is limited. It consists, as far as I can observe, of four words: ‘nice,’ ‘jolly,’ ‘charming,’ and ‘bore;’ and some grammarians add ‘fond.’”

When the guests rose and returned to the saloon, St. Aldegonde was in high spirits, and talked to every one, even to the Duke of Brecon, whom he considerately reminded of his defeat in the morning, adding that from what he had seen of his grace’s guns he had no opinion of them, and that he did not believe that breech-loaders suited pigeon-shooting.

Finally, when he bade farewell to his host, St. Aldegonde assured him that he “never in his life made so good a dinner, and that Pinto had never been so rich.”

When the party broke up, the majority of the guests went, sooner or later, to a ball that was given this evening by Lady St. Jerome. Others, who never went to balls, looked forward with refined satisfaction to a night of unbroken tobacco. St. Aldegonde went to play whist at the house of a lady who lived out of town. “I like the drive home,” he said; “the morning air is so refreshing when one has lost one’s money.”

A ball at St. Jerome House was a rare event, but one highly appreciated. It was a grand mansion, with a real suite of state apartments, including a genuine ballroom in the Venetian style, and lighted with chandeliers of rock-crystal. Lady St. Jerome was a woman of taste and splendor and romance, who could do justice to the scene and occasion. Even Lord St. Jerome, quiet as he seemed, in these matters was popular with young men. It was known that Lord St. Jerome gave, at his ball suppers, the same champagne that he gave at his dinners, and that was of the highest class. In short, a patriot. We talk with wondering execration of the great poisoners of past ages, the Borgias, the inventor of aqua tofana, and the amiable Marchioness de Brinvilliers; but Pinto was of opinion that there were more social poisoners about in the present day than in the darkest, and the most demoralized periods, and then none of them are punished; which is so strange, he would add, as they are all found out.

Lady St. Jerome received Lothair, as Pinto said, with extreme unction. She looked in his eyes, she retained his hand, she said that what she had heard had made her so happy. And then, when he was retiring, she beckoned him back and said she must have some tea, and, taking his arm, they walked away together. “I have so much to tell you,” she said, “and every thing is so interesting. I think we are on the eve of great events. The monsignore told me your heart was with us. It must be. They are your own thoughts, your own wishes. We are realizing your own ideal. I think next Sunday will be remembered as a great day in English history; the commencement of a movement that may save every thing. The monsignore, I know, has told you all.”

Not exactly; the Oxford visit had deranged a little the plans of the monsignore, but he had partially communicated the vast scheme. It seems there was a new society to be instituted for the restoration of Christendom. The change of name from Christendom to Europe had proved a failure and a disastrous one. “And what wonder?” said Lady St. Jerome. “Europe is not even a quarter of the globe, as the philosophers pretended it was. There is already a fifth division, and probably there will be many more, as the philosophers announce it impossible.” The cardinal was to inaugurate the institution on Sunday next at the Jesuits’ Church, by one of his celebrated sermons. It was to be a function of the highest class. All the faithful of consideration were to attend, but the attendance was not to be limited to the faithful. Every sincere adherent of church principles who was in a state of prayer and preparation, was solicited to be present and join in the holy and common work of restoring to the Divine Master His kingdom upon earth with its rightful name.

It was a brilliant ball. All the “nice” people in London were there. All the young men who now will never go to balls were present. This was from respect to the high character of Lord St. Jerome. Clare Arundel looked divine, dressed in a wondrous white robe garlanded with violets, just arrived from Paris, a present from her god-mother, the Duchess of Lorrain–Sehulenbourg. On her head a violet-wreath, deep and radiant as her eyes, and which admirably contrasted with her dark golden-brown hair.

Lothair danced with her, and never admired her more. Her manner toward him was changed. It was attractive, even alluring. She smiled on him, she addressed him in tones of sympathy, even of tenderness. She seemed interested in all he was doing; she flattered him by a mode which is said to be irresistible to a man, by talking only of himself. When the dance had finished, he offered to attend her to the tea-room. She accepted the invitation even with cordiality.

“I think I must have some tea,” she said, “and I like to go with my kinsman.”

Just before supper was announced, Lady St. Jerome told Lothair, to his surprise, that he was to attend Miss Arundel to the great ceremony. “It is Clare’s ball,” said Lady St. Jerome, “given in her honor, and you are to take care of her.”

“I am more than honored,” said Lothair. “But does Miss Arundel wish it, for, to tell you the truth, I thought I had rather abused her indulgence this evening?”

“Of course she wishes it,” said Lady St. Jerome. “Who should lead her out on such an occasion — her own ball — than the nearest and dearest relation she has in the world, except ourselves?”

Lothair made no reply to this unanswerable logic, but was as surprised as he was gratified. He recalled the hour when the kinship was, at the best, but coldly recognized, the inscrutable haughtiness, even distrust, with which Miss Arundel listened to the exposition of his views and feelings, and the contrast which her past mood presented to her present brilliant sympathy and cordial greeting. But he yielded to the magic of the flowing hour. Miss Arundel, seemed, indeed, quite a changed being to-night, full of vivacity, fancy, feeling — almost fun. She was witty, and humorous, and joyous, and fascinating. As he fed her with cates as delicate as her lips, and manufactured for her dainty beverages which would not outrage their purity, Lothair, at last, could not refrain from intimating his sense of her unusual but charming joyousness.

“No,” she said, turning round with animation, “my natural disposition, always repressed, because I have felt overwhelmed by the desolation of the world. But now I have hope; I have more than hope, I have joy. I feel sure this idea of the restoration of Christendom comes from Heaven. It has restored me to myself, and has given me a sense of happiness in this life which I never could contemplate. But what is the climax of my joy is, that you, after all my own blood, and one in whose career I have ever felt the deepest interest, should be ordained to lay, as it were, the first stone of this temple of divine love.”

It was break of day when Lothair jumped into his brougham. “Thank Heaves,” he exclaimed, “it is at last Friday!”

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