Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 30

Lothair returned to town in a not altogether satisfactory state of mind. He was not serene or content. On the contrary, he was rather agitated and perplexed. He could not say he regretted his visit. He had seen her, and he had seen her to great advantage. He had seen much too that was pleasing, and had heard also many things that, if not pleasing, were certainly full of interest. And yet, when he cantered back over the common, the world somehow did not seem to him so bright and exhilarating as in the ambling morn. Was it because she was not alone? And yet why should he expect she should be alone? She had many friends, and she was as accessible to them as to himself. And yet a conversation with her, as in the gardens of Blenheim, would have been delightful, and he had rather counted on it. Nevertheless, it was a great thing to know men like Mr. Phoebus, and hear their views on the nature of things. Lothair was very young, and was more thoughtful than studious. His education hitherto had been, according to Mr. Phoebus, on the right principle, and chiefly in the open air; but he was intelligent and susceptible, and in the atmosphere of Oxford, now stirred with many thoughts, he had imbibed some particles of knowledge respecting the primeval races which had permitted him to follow the conversation of Mr. Phoebus not absolutely in a state of hopeless perplexity. He determined to confer with Father Coleman on the Aryan race and the genius of Semitism. As he returned through the park, he observed the duchess, and Lady Corisande in their barouche, resting for a moment in the shade, with Lord Carisbrooke on one side and the Duke of Brecon on the other.

As he was dressing for dinner, constantly brooding on one thought, the cause of his feeling of disappointment occurred to him. He had hoped in this visit to have established some basis of intimacy, and to have ascertained his prospect and his means of occasionally seeing her. But he had done nothing of the kind. He could not well call again at Belmont under a week, but even then Mr. Phoebus or some one else might be there. The world seemed dark. He wished he had never gone to Oxford. However a man may plan his life, he is the creature of circumstances. The unforeseen happens and upsets every thing. We are mere puppets.

He sat next to an agreeable woman at dinner, who gave him an interesting account of a new singer she had heard the night before at the opera — a fair Scandinavian, fresh as a lily and sweet as a nightingale.

“I was resolved to go and hear her,” said the lady; “my sister Feodore, at Paris, had written to me so much about her. Do you know, I have never been to the opera for an age! That alone was quite a treat to me. I never go to the opera, nor to the play, nor to any thing else. Society has become so large and so exacting, that I have found out one never gets any amusement.”

“Do you know, I never was at the opera?” said Lothair.

“I am not at all surprised; and when you go — which I suppose you will some day — what will most strike you is, that you will not see a single person you ever saw in your life.”

“Strange!”

“Yes; it shows what a mass of wealth and taste and refinement there is in this wonderful metropolis of ours, quite irrespective of the circles in which we move, and which we once thought entirely engrossed them.”

After the ladies had retired, Bertram, who dined at the same house, moved up to him; and Hugo Bohun came over and took the vacant seat on his other side.

“What have you been doing with yourself?” said Hugo. “We have not seen you for a week.”

“I went down to Oxford about some horses,” said Lothair.

“Fancy going down to Oxford about some horses in the heart of the season,” said Hugo. “I believe you are selling us, and that, as the Scorpion announces, you are going to be married.”

“To whom?” said Lothair.

“Ah! that is the point. It is a dark horse at present, and we want you to tell us.”

“Why do not you marry, Hugo?” said Bertram.

“I respect the institution,” said Hugo, “which is admitting something in these days; and I have always thought that every woman should marry, and no man.”

“It makes a woman and it mars a man, you think?” said Lothair.

“But I do not exactly see how your view would work practically,” said Bertram.

“Well my view is a social problem,” said Hugo, “and social problems are the fashion at present. It would be solved through the exceptions, which prove the principle. In the first place, there are your swells who cannot avoid the halter — you are booked when you are born; and then there are moderate men like myself, who have their weak moments. I would not answer for myself if I could find an affectionate family with good shooting and first-rate claret.”

“There must be many families with such conditions,” said Lothair.

Hugo shook his head. “You try. Sometimes the wine is good and the shooting bad; sometimes the reverse; sometimes both are excellent, but then the tempers and the manners are equally bad.”

“I vote we three do something tomorrow,” said Bertram.

“What shall it be?” said Hugo.

“I vote we row down to Richmond at sunset and dine, and then drive our teams up by moonlight. What say you, Lothair?”

“I cannot, I am engaged. I am engaged to go to the opera.”

“Fancy going to the opera in this sweltering weather!” exclaimed Bertram.

“He must be going to be married,” said Hugo.

And yet on the following evening, though the weather was quite as sultry and he was not going to be married, to the opera Lothair went. While the agreeable lady the day before was dilating at dinner on this once famous entertainment, Lothair remembered that a certain person went there every Saturday evening, and he resolved that he should at least have the satisfaction of seeing her.

It was altogether a new scene for Lothair, and, being much affected by music, he found the general influence so fascinating that some little time elapsed before he was sufficiently master of himself to recur to the principal purpose of his presence. His box was on the first tier, where he could observe very generally and yet himself be sufficiently screened. As an astronomer surveys the starry heavens until his searching sight reaches the desired planet, so Lothair’s scrutinizing vision wandered till his eye at length lighted on the wished-for orb. In the circle above his own, opposite to him but nearer the stage, he recognized the Campians. She had a star upon her forehead, as when he first met her some six months ago; it seemed an age.

Now what should he do? He was quite unlearned in the social habits of an opera-house. He was not aware that he had the privilege of paying the lady a visit in her box, and, had he been so, he was really so shy in little things that he never could have summoned resolution to open the door of his own box and request an attendant to show him that of Mrs. Campian. He had contrived to get to the opera for the first time in his life, and the effort seemed to have exhausted his social enterprise. So h remained still, with his glass fixed very constantly on Mrs. Campian, and occasionally giving himself up to the scene. The performance did not sustain the first impression. There were rival prima-donnas, and they indulged in competitive screams; the choruses were coarse, and the orchestra much too noisy. But the audience were absorbed or enthusiastic. We may be a musical nation, but our taste would seem to require some refinement.

There was a stir in Mrs. Campian’s box: a gentleman entered and seated himself. Lothair concluded he was an invited guest, and envied him. In about a quarter of an hour the gentleman bowed and retired, and another person came in, and one whom Lothair recognized as a young man who had been sitting during the first act in a stall beneath him. The system of paying visits at the opera then flashed upon his intelligence, as some discovery in science upon a painful observer. Why should he not pay a visit too? But how to do it? At last he was bold enough to open the door of his own box and go forth, but he could find no attendant, and some persons passing his open door, and nearly appropriating his lodge, in a fit of that nervous embarrassment which attends inexperience in little things, he secured his rights by returning baffled to his post.

There had been a change in Mrs. Campian’s box in the interval. Colonel Campian had quitted it, and Mr. Phoebus occupied his place. Whether it were disappointment at his own failure or some other cause, Lothair felt annoyed. He was hot and cold by turns; felt awkward and blundering; fancied people were looking at him; that in some inexplicable sense he was ridiculous; wished he had never gone to the opera.

As time, and considerable time, elapsed, he became even miserable. Mr. Phoebus never moved, and Mrs. Campian frequently conversed with him. More than one visitor had in the interval paid their respects to the lady, but Mr. Phoebus never moved. They did not stay, perhaps because Mr. Phoebus never moved.

Lothair never liked that fellow from the first. Sympathy and antipathy share our being as day and darkness share our lives. Lothair had felt an antipathy for Mr. Phoebus the moment he saw him. He had arrived at Belmont yesterday before Lothair, and he had outstayed him. These might be Arian principles, but they were not the principles of good-breeding.

Lothair determined to go home, and never to come to the opera again. He opened the door of his box with firmness, and slammed it with courage; he had quite lost his shyness, was indeed ready to run a muck with any one who crossed him. The slamming of the door summoned a scudding attendant from a distant post, who with breathless devotion inquired whether Lothair wanted any thing.

“Yes, I want you to show me the way to Mrs. Campian’s box.”

“Tier above, No. 22,” said the box-keeper.

“Ay, ay; but conduct me to it,” said Lothair, and he presented the man with an overpowering honorarium.

“Certainly, my lord,” said the attendant.

“He knows me,” thought Lothair; but it was not so. When the British nation is at once grateful and enthusiastic, they always call you “my lord.”

But in his progress, to “No. 22, tier above,” all his valor evaporated, and when the box-door was opened he felt very much like a convict on the verge of execution; he changed color, his legs tottered, his heart beat, and he made his bow with a confused vision. The serenity of Theodora somewhat reassured him, and he seated himself, and even saluted Mr. Phoebus.

The conversation was vapid and conventional — remarks about the opera and its performers — even the heat of the weather was mentioned. Lothair had come, and he had nothing to say. Mrs. Campian seemed much interested in the performance; so, if he had had any thing to say, there was no opportunity of expressing it. She had not appeared to be so engrossed with the music before his arrival. In the mean time that Phoebus would not move; a quarter of an hour elapsed, and that Phoebus would not move. Lothair could not stand it any longer; he rose and bowed.

“Are you going?” said Theodora. “Colonel Campian will be here in a moment; he will be quite grieved not to see you.”

But Lothair was inflexible. “Perhaps,” she added, “we may see you tomorrow night?”

“Never,” said Lothair to himself, as he clinched his teeth; “my visit to Belmont was my first and my last. The dream is over.”

He hurried to a club in which he had been recently Initiated, and of which the chief purpose is to prove to mankind that night to a wise man has its resources as well as gaudy day. Here striplings mature their minds in the mysteries of whist, and stimulate their intelligence by playing at stakes which would make their seniors look pale; here matches are made; and odds are settled, and the cares or enterprises of life are soothed or stimulated by fragrant cheroots or beakers of Badminton. Here, in the society of the listless and freakish St. Aldegonde, and Hugo Bohun, and Bertram, and other congenial spirits, Lothair consigned to oblivion the rival churches of Christendom, the Aryan race, and the genius of Semitism.

It was an hour past dawn when he strolled home. London is often beautiful in summer at that hour, the architectural lines clear and defined in the smokeless atmosphere, and ever and anon a fragrant gale from gardened balconies wafted in the blue air. Nothing is stirring except wagons of strawberries and asparagus, and no one visible except a policeman or a member of Parliament returning from a late division, where they have settled some great question that need never have been asked. Eve has its spell of calmness and consolation, but dawn brings hope and joy.

But not to Lothair. Young, sanguine, and susceptible, he had, for a moment, yielded to the excitement of the recent scene, but with his senses stilled by the morning air, and free from the influence of Bertram’s ready sympathy, and Hugo Bohun’s gay comments on human life, and all the wild and amusing caprice, and daring wilfulness, and grand affectation, that distinguish and inspire a circle of patrician youth, there came over him the consciousness that to him something dark had occurred, something bitter and disappointing and humiliating, and that the breaking morn would not bring to him a day so bright and hopeful as his former ones.

At first he fell into profound slumber: it was the inevitable result of the Badminton and the late hour. There was a certain degree of physical exhaustion which commanded repose. But the slumber was not long, and his first feeling, for it could not be called thought, was that some great misfortune had occurred to him; and then the thought following the feeling brought up the form of the hated Phoebus. After that he had no real sleep, but a sort of occasional and feverish doze with intervals of infinite distress, waking always to a consciousness of inexpressible mortification and despair.

About one o’clock, relinquishing all hope of real and refreshing slumber, he rang his bell, and his valet appearing informed him that Father Coleman had called, and the monsignore had called, and that now the cardinal’s secretary had just called, but the valet had announced that his lord was indisposed. There was also a letter from Lady St. Jerome. This news brought a new train of feeling. Lothair remembered that this was the day of the great ecclesiastical function, under the personal auspices of the cardinal, at which indeed Lothair hid never positively promised to assist, his presence at which he had sometimes thought they pressed unreasonably, not to say even indelicately, but at which he had perhaps led them, not without cause, to believe that he would be present. Of late the monsignore had assumed that Lothair had promised to attend it.

Why should he not? The world was all vanity. Never did he feel more convinced than at this moment of the truth of his conclusion, that if religion were a real thing, man should live for it alone; but then came the question of the Churches. He could not bring himself without a pang to contemplate a secession from the Church of his fathers. He took refuge in the wild but beautiful thought of a reconciliation between Rome and England. If the consecration of the whole of his fortune to that end could assist in effecting the purpose, he would cheerfully make the sacrifice. He would then go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, and probably conclude his days in a hermitage on Mount Athos.

In the mean time he rose, and, invigorated by his bath, his thoughts became in a slight degree more mundane. They recurred to the events of the last few days of his life, but in a spirit of self-reproach and of conscious vanity and weakness. Why, he had not known her a week! This was Sunday morning, and last Sunday he had attended St. Mary’s and offered up his earnest supplications for the unity of Christendom. That was then his sovereign hope and thought. Singular that a casual acquaintance with a stranger, a look, a glance, a word, a nothing, should have so disturbed his spirit and distracted his mind.

And yet —

And then he fell into an easy-chair, with a hair-brush in either hand, and conjured up in reverie all that had passed since that wondrous morn when he addressed her by the road-side, until the last dark hour when they parted — and forever. There was not a word she had uttered to him, or to any one else, that he did not recall; not a glance, not a gesture — her dress, her countenance, her voice, her hair. And what scenes had all this passed in! What refined and stately loveliness! Blenheim, and Oxford, and Belmont! They became her. Ah! why could not life consist of the perpetual society of such delightful people in such delightful places?

His valet entered and informed him that the monsignore had returned, and would not be denied. Lothair roused himself from his delicious reverie, and his countenance became anxious and disquieted. He would have struggled against the intrusion, and was murmuring resistance to his hopeless attendant, who shook his head, when the monsignore glided into the room without permission, as the valet disappeared.

It was a wonderful performance: the monsignore had at the same time to make a reconnoissance and to take up a position — to find out what Lothair intended to do, and yet to act and speak as if he was acquainted with those intentions, and was not only aware of, but approved them. He seemed hurried and yet tranquil, almost breathless with solicitude and yet conscious of some satisfactory consummation. His tones were at all times hushed, but today he spoke in a whisper, though a whisper of emphasis, and the dark eyes of his delicate aristocratic visage peered into Lothair, even when he was making a remark which seemed to require no scrutiny.

“It is one of the most important days for England that have happened in our time,” said the monsignore. “Lady St. Jerome thinks of nothing else. All our nobility will be there — the best blood in England — and some others who sympathize with the unity of the Church, the real question. Nothing has ever gratified the cardinal more than your intended presence. He sent to you this morning. He would have called himself, bat he has much to go through today. His eminence said to me: ‘It is exactly what I want. Whatever way be our differences, and they are really slight, what I want is to show to the world that the sons of the Church will unite for the cause of Divine truth. It is the only course that can save society.’ When Lady St. Jerome told him that you were coming this evening, his eminence was so affected that —”

“But I never said I was coming this evening,” said Lothair, rather dryly, and resolved to struggle, “either to Lady St. Jerome or to any one else. I said I would think of it.”

“But for a Christian to think of duty is to perform it,” said the monsignore. “To be ignorant of a duty is a sin, but to be aware of duty, and not to fulfil it, is heinous.”

“But is it a duty?” said Lothair, rather doggedly.

“What! to serve God and save society? Do you doubt it? Have you read the ‘Declaration of Geneva?’ They have declared war against the Church, the state, and the domestic principle. All the great truths and laws on which the family reposes are denounced. Have you seen Garibaldi’s letter? When it was read, and spoke of the religion of God being propagated throughout the world, there was a universal cry of ‘No, no! no religion!’ But the religion of God was soon so explained as to allay all their fears. It is the religion of science. Instead of Adam, our ancestry is traced to the most grotesque of creatures, thought is phosphorus, the soul complex nerves, and our moral sense a secretion of sugar. Do you want these views in England? Rest assured they are coming. And how are we to contend against them? Only by Divine truth. And where is Divine truth? In the Church of Christ — in the gospel of order, peace, and purity.”

Lothair rose, and paced the room with his eyes on the ground.

“I wish I had been born in the middle ages,” he exclaimed, “or on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, or in some other planet: anywhere, or at any time, but in this country and in this age!”

“That thought is not worthy of you, my lord,” said Catesby. “It is a great privilege to live in this country and in this age. It is a great privilege, in the mighty contest between the good and the evil principle, to combat for the righteous. They stand face to face now, as they have stood before. There is Christianity, which, by revealing the truth, has limited the license of human reason; there is that human reason which resists revelation as a bondage — which insists upon being atheistical, or polytheistical, or pantheistical — which looks upon the requirements of obedience, justice, truth, and purity, as limitations of human freedom. It is to the Church that God has committed the custody and execution of His truth and law. The Church, as witness, teacher, and judge, contradicts and offends the spirit of license to the quick. This is why it is hated; this is why it is to be destroyed, and why they are preparing a future of rebellion, tyranny, falsehood, and degrading debauchery. The Church alone can save us, and you are asked to supplicate the Almighty to-night, under circumstances of deep hope, to favor the union of churchmen, and save the human race from the impending deluge.”

Lothair threw himself again into his seat and sighed. “I am rather indisposed today, my dear monsignore, which is unusual with me, and scarcely equal to such a theme, doubtless of the deepest interest to me and to all. I myself wish, as you well know, that all mankind were praying under the same roof. I shall continue in seclusion this morning. Perhaps you will permit me to think over what you have said with so much beauty and force.”

“I had forgotten that I had a letter to deliver to you,” said Catesby; and he drew from his breast-pocket a note which he handed to Lothair, who opened it quite unconscious of the piercing and even excited observation of his companion.

Lothair read the letter with a changing countenance, and then he read it again and blushed deeply. The letter was from Miss Arundel. After a slight pause, without looking up, he said, “Nine o’clock is the hour, I believe.”

“Yes,” said the monsignore rather eagerly, “but, were I you, I would be earlier than that. I would order my carnage at eight. If you will permit me, I will order it for you. You are not quite well. It will save you some little trouble, people coming into the room and all that, and the cardinal will be there by eight o’clock.”

“Thank you,” said Lothair; “have the kindness then, my dear monsignore, to order my brougham for me at half-past eight and just say that I can see no one. Adieu!”

And the priest glided away.

Lothair remained the whole morning in a most troubled state, pacing his rooms, leaning sometimes with his arm upon the mantel-piece, and his face buried in his arm, and often he sighed. About half-past five he rang for his valet and, dressed, and in another hour he broke his fast — a little soup, a cutlet, and a glass or two of claret. And then he looked at his watch; and he looked at his watch every five minutes for the next hour.

He was in deep reverie, when the servant announced that his carriage was ready. He started as from a dream, then pressed his hand to his eyes, and kept it there for some moments, and then, exclaiming, “Jacta est alea,” he descended the stairs.

“Where to, my lord?” inquired the servant when he had entered the carriage.

Lothair seemed to hesitate, and then he said, “To Belmont.”

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