Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 37

Muriel Tower crowned a wooded steep, part of a wild, and winding, and sylvan valley, at the bottom of which rushed a foaming stream. On the other side of the castle the scene, though extensive, was not less striking, and was essentially romantic. A vast park spread in all directions beyond the limit of the eye, and with much variety of character — ornate near the mansion, and choicely timbered; in other parts glens and spreading dolls, masses of black pines and savage woods; everywhere, sometimes glittering, and sometimes sullen, glimpses of the largest natural late that inland England boasts, Muriel Mere, and in the extreme distance moors, and the first crest of mountains. The park, too, was full of life, for there were not only herds of red and fallow deer, but, in its more secret haunts, wandered a race of wild-cattle, extremely savage, white and dove-colored, and said to be of the time of the Romans.

It was not without emotion that Lothair beheld the chief seat of his race. It was not the first time he had visited it. He had a clear and painful recollection of a brief, hurried, unkind glimpse caught of it in his very earliest boyhood. His uncle had taken him there by some inconvenient cross-railroad, to avail themselves of which they had risen in the dark on a March morning, and in an east wind. When they arrived at their station they had hired an open fly drawn by a single horse, and, when they had thus at last reached the uninhabited Towers, they entered by the offices, where Lothair was placed in the steward’s room, by a smoky fire, given something to eat, and told that he might walk about and amuse himself, provided he did not go out of sight of the castle, while his uncle and the steward mounted their horses and rode over the estate; leaving Lothair for hours without companions, and returning just in time, in a shivering twilight, to clutch him up, as it were, by the nape of the neck, twist him back again into the one-horse fly, and regain the railroad; his uncle praising himself the whole time for the satisfactory and business-like manner in which he had planned and completed the edition.

What a contrast to present circumstances! Although Lothair had wished, and thought he had secured, that his arrival at Muriel should be quite private, and even unknown, and that all ceremonies and celebrations should be postponed for a few days, during which he hoped to become a little more familiar with his home, the secret could not be kept, and the county would not tolerate this reserve. He was met at the station by five hundred horsemen, all well mounted, and some of them gentlemen of high degree, who insisted upon accompanying him to his gates. His carriage passed under triumphal arches, and choirs of enthusiastic children; waving parochial banners, hymned his auspicious approach.

At the park gates his cavalcade quitted him with that delicacy of feeling which always distinguishes Englishmen, however rough their habit. As their attendance was self-invited, they would not intrude upon his home.

“Your lordship will have enough to do today, without being troubled with us,” said their leader, as he shook hands with Lothair.

But Lothair would not part with them thus. With the inspiring recollection of his speech at the Fenian meeting, Lothair was not afraid of rising in his barouche and addressing them. What he said was said very well and it was addressed to a people who, though the shyest in the world, have a passion for public speaking, than which no achievement more tests reserve. It was something to be a great peer and a great proprietor, and to be young and singularly well-favored; but to be able to make a speech, and such a good one, such cordial words in so strong and musical a voice — all felt at once they were in the presence of the natural leader of the county. The enthusiasm of the hunting-field burst forth. They gave him three ringing cheers, and jostled their horses forward, that they might grasp his hand.

The park gates were open, and the postillions dashed along through scenes of loveliness on which Lothair would fain have lingered, but be consoled himself with the recollection that he should probably have an opportunity of seeing them again. Sometimes his carriage seemed in the heart of an ancient forest; sometimes the deer, startled at his approach, were scudding over expanding lawns; then his course wound by the margin of a sinuous lake with green islands and golden gondolas; and then, after advancing through stately avenues, he arrived at mighty gates of wondrous workmanship, that once had been the boast of a celebrated convent on the Danube, but which, in the days of revolutions, had reached England, and had been obtained by the grandfather of Lothair to guard the choice demesne that was the vicinage of his castle.

When we remember that Lothair, notwithstanding his rank and vast wealth, had never, from the nature of things, been the master of an establishment, it must be admitted that the present occasion was a little trying for his nerves. The whole household of the Towers were arrayed and arranged in groups on the steps of the chief entrance. The steward of the estate, who had been one of the cavalcade, had galloped on before, and he was, of course, the leading spirit, and extended his arm to his lord as Lothair descended from his carriage. The house-steward, the chief butler, the head-gardener, the chief of the kitchen, the head-keeper, the head-forester, and grooms of the stud and of the chambers, formed one group behind the housekeeper, a grave and distinguished-looking female, who courtesied like the old court; half a dozen powdered gentlemen, glowing, in crimson liveries, indicated the presence of my lord’s footmen; while the rest of the household, considerable in numbers, were arranged in two groups, according to their sex, and at a respectful distance.

What struck Lothair — who was always thinking, and who had no inconsiderable fund of humor in his sweet and innocent nature — was the wonderful circumstance that, after so long an interval of neglect and abeyance, he should find himself the master of so complete and consummate a household.

“Castles and parks,” he thought, “I had a right to count on, and, perhaps, even pictures, but how I came to possess such a work of art as my groom of the chambers, who seems as respectfully haughty, and as calmly grateful, as if he were at Brentham itself, and whose coat must have been made in Saville Row, quite bewilders me.”

But Lothair, though he appreciated Putney Giles, had not yet formed a full conception of the resource and all-accomplished providence of that wondrous man, acting under the inspiration of the consummate Apollonia.

Passing through the entrance-hall, a lofty chamber, though otherwise of moderate dimensions, Lothair was ushered into his armory, a gallery two hundred feet long, with suits of complete mail ranged on each side, and the walls otherwise covered with rare and curious weapons. It was impossible, even for the master of this collection, to suppress the delight and the surprise with which he beheld the scene. We must remember, in his excuse, that he beheld it for the first time.

The armory led to a large and lofty octagonal chamber, highly decorated, in the centre of which was the tomb of Lothair’s grandfather. He had raised it in his lifetime. The tomb was of alabaster surrounded by a railing of pure gold, and crowned with a recumbent figure of the deceased in his coronet — a fanciful man, who lived in solitude, building castles and making gardens.

What charmed Lothair most as he proceeded were the number of courts and quadrangles in the castle, all of bright and fantastic architecture, and each of which was a garden, glowing with brilliant colors, and gay with the voice of fountains or the forms of gorgeous birds. Our young friend did not soon weary in his progress; even the suggestions of the steward, that his lordship’s luncheon was at command, did not restrain him. Ballrooms, and baronial halls, and long libraries with curiously-stained windows, and suites of dazzling saloons, where he beheld the original portraits of his parents, of which he had miniatures — he saw them all, and was pleased, and interested. But what most struck and even astonished him was the habitable air which pervaded the whole of this enormous structure; too rare even when families habitually reside in such dwellings; but almost inconceivable, when it was to be remembered that more than a generation had passed without a human being living in these splendid chambers, scarcely a human word being spoken in them. There was not a refinement of modern furniture that was wanting; even the tables were covered with the choicest publications of the day.

“Mr. Putney Giles proposes to arrive here tomorrow,” said the steward. “He thought your lordship would like to be a day or two alone.”

“He is the most sensible man I know,” said Lothair; “he always does the right thing. I think I will have my luncheon now, Mr. Harvey, and I will go ever the cellars tomorrow.”

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