Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 41

The arrival of the guests was arranged with judgment. The personal friends came first; the formal visitors were invited only for the day before the public ceremonies commenced. No more dinners in small green dining-rooms. While the duchess was dressing, Bertha St. Aldegonde and Victoria Montairy, who had just arrived, came in to give her a rapid embrace while their own toilets were unpacking.

“Granville, has come, mamma; I did not think that he would till the last moment. He said he was so afraid of being bored. There is a large party by this train; the St. Jeromes, Bertram, Mr. Bohun, Lord Carisbrooke, and some others we do not know.”

The cardinal had been expected today, but he had telegraphed that his arrival must be postponed in consequence: of business until the morrow, which day had been previously fixed for the arrival of his fellow guardian and trustee, the Earl of Culloden, and his daughters, the Ladies Flora and Grizell Falkirk. Monsignore Catesby had, however, arrived by this train, and the persons “whom they did not know,” the Campians.

Lothair waited on Colonel Campian immediately and welcomed him, but he did not see Theodora. Still he had inquired after her, and left her a message, and hoped that she would take some tea; and thus, as he flattered himself, broken a little the strangeness of their meeting under his roof; but, notwithstanding all this, when she really entered the drawing-room he was seized with such a palpitation of the heart that for a moment he thought he should be unequal to the situation. But the serenity of Theodora reassured him. The Campians came in late, and all eyes were upon them. Lothair presented Theodora to the duchess, who, being prepared for the occasion, said exactly the right thing in the best manner, and invited Mrs. Campian to sit by her, and then, Theodora being launched, Lothair whispered something to the duke, who nodded, and the colonel was introduced to his grace. The duke, always polite but generally cold, was more than courteous — he was cordial; he seemed to enjoy the opportunity of expressing his high consideration for a gentleman of the Southern States.

So the first step was over; Lothair recovered himself; the palpitation subsided; and the world still went on. The Campians had made a good start, and the favorable impression hourly increased. At dinner Theodora sat between Lord St. Jerome and Bertram, and talked more to the middle-aged peer than to the distinguished youth, who would willingly have engrossed her attention. All mothers admire such discretion, especially in a young and beautiful married woman, so the verdict of the evening among the great ladies was, that Theodora was distinguished, and that all she said or did was in good taste. On the plea of her being a foreigner, she was at once admitted into a certain degree of social intimacy. Had she had the misfortune of being native-born and had flirted with Bertram, she would probably, particularly with so much beauty, have been looked upon as “a horrid woman,” and have been relegated for amusement, during her visit, to the attentions of the dark sex. But, strange to say, the social success of Colonel Campian was not less eminent than that of his distinguished wife. The character which the duke gave of him commanded universal sympathy. “You know he is a gentleman,” said the duke; “he is not a Yankee. People make the greatest mistakes about these things. He is a gentleman of the South; they have no property, but land; and I am told his territory was immense. He always lived at Paris, and in the highest style — disgusted, of course, with his own country. It is not unlikely he may have lost his estates now; but that makes no difference to me. I shall treat him, and all Southern gentlemen, as our fathers treated the emigrant nobility of France.”

“Hugo,” said St. Aldegonde to Mr. Bohun, “I wish you would tell Bertha to come to me. I want her. She is talking to a lot of women at the other end of the room, and, if I go to her, I am afraid they will get hold of me.”

The future duchess, who lived only to humor her lord, was at his side in an instant. “You wanted me, Granville?”

“Yes; you know I was afraid, Bertha, I should be bored here. I am not bored. I like this American fellow. He understands the only two subjects which interest me; horses and tobacco.”

“I am charmed, Granville, that you are not bored; I told mamma that you were very much afraid you would be.”

“Yes; but I tell you what, Bertha, I cannot stand any of the ceremonies. I shall go before they begin. Why cannot Lothair be content with receiving his friends in a quiet way? It is all humbug about the county. If he wants to do something for the county, he can build a wing to the infirmary, or something of that sort, and not bore us with speeches and fireworks. It is a sort of thing I cannot stand.”

“And you shall not, dear Granville. The moment you are bored, you shall go. Only you are not bored at present.”

“Not at present; but I expected to be.”

“Yes; so I told mamma; but that makes the present more delightful.”

The St. Jeromes were going to Italy and immediately. Their departure had only been postponed in order that they might be present at the majority of Lothair. Miss Arundel had at length succeeded in her great object. They were to pass the winter at Rome. Lord St. Jerome was quite pleased at having made the acquaintance at dinner of a Roman lady, who spoke English so perfectly; and Lady St. Jerome, who in consequence fastened upon Theodora, was getting into ecstasies, which would have been embarrassing had not her new acquaintance skilfully checked her.

“We must be satisfied that we both admire Rome,” said Mrs. Campian, “though we admire it for different reasons. Although a Roman, I am not a Roman Catholic; and Colonel Campian’s views on Italian affairs generally would, I fear, not entirely agree with Lord St. Jerome’s.”

“Naturally,” said Lady St. Jerome, gracefully dropping the subject, and remembering that Colonel Campian was a citizen of the United States, which accounted in her apprehension for his peculiar opinions.

Lothair, who had been watching his opportunity the whole evening, approached Theodora. He meant to have expressed his hope that she was not wearied by her journey, but instead of that he said, “Your presence here makes me inexpressibly happy.”

“I think everybody seems happy to be your guest,” she replied, parrying, as was her custom, with a slight kind smile, and a low, sweet, unembarrassed voice, any personal allusion from Lothair of unusual energy or ardor.

“I wanted to meet you at the station today,” he continued, “but there were so many people coming, that —” and he hesitated.

“It would really have been more embarrassing to us than to yourself,” she said. “Nothing could be better than all the arrangements.”

“I sent my own brougham to you,” said Lothair. “I hope there was no mistake about it.”

“None: your servant gave us your kind message; and as for the carriage, it was too delightful. Colonel Campian was so; pleased with it, that he has promised to give me one, with your permission, exactly the same.”

“I wish you would accept the one you used today.”

“You are too magnificent; you really must try to forget, with us, that you are the lord of Muriel Towers. But I will willingly use your carriages as much as you please, for I caught glimpses of beauty today in our progress from the station that made me anxious to explore your delightful domain.”

There was a slight burst of merriment from a distant part of the room, and everybody looked around. Colonel Campian had been telling a story to a group formed of the duke, St. Aldegonde, and Mr. Bohun.

“Best story I ever heard In my life,” exclaimed St. Aldegonde, who prided himself, when he did laugh, which was rare, on laughing loud. But even the duke tittered, and Hugo Bohun smiled.

“I am glad to see the colonel get on so well with every one,” said Lothair; “I was afraid he might have been bored.”

“He does not know what that means,” said Theodora; “and he is so natural and so sweet-tempered, and so intelligent, that it seems to me he always is popular.”

“Do you think that will be a match?” said Monsignore Catesby to Miss Arundel.

“Well, I rather believe in the Duke of Brecon,” she replied. They were referring to Lord Carisbrooke, who appeared to be devoted to Lady Corisande. “Do you admire the American lady?”

“Who is an Italian, they tell me, though she does not look like one. What do you think of her?” said the monsignore, evading, as was his custom, a direct reply.

“Well, I think she is very distinguished: unusual. I wonder where our host became acquainted with them? Do you know?”

“Not yet: but I dare say Mr. Bohun can tell us;” and he addressed that gentleman accordingly as he was passing by.

“Not the most remote idea,” said Mr. Bohun. “You know the colonel is not a Yankee; he is a tremendous swell. The duke says, with more land than he has.”

“He seems an agreeable person,” said Miss Arundel.

“Well, he tell anecdotes; he has just been telling one; Granville likes anecdotes; they amuse him, and he likes to be amused: that is all he cares about. I hate anecdotes, and I always get away when conversation falls into, what Pinto calls, its anecdotage.”

“You do not like to be amused?”

“Not too much; I like to be interested.”

“Well,” said Miss Arundel, “so long as a person can talk agreeably, I am satisfied. I think to talk well a rare gift; quite as rare as singing; and yet you expect every one to be able to talk, and very few to be able to sing.”

“There are amusing people who do not interest,” said the monsignore, “and interesting people who do not amuse. What I like is an agreeable person.”

“My idea of an agreeable person,” said Hugo Bohun, “is a person who agrees with me.”

“Talking of singing, something is going to happen,” said Miss Arundel.

A note was heard; a celebrated professor had entered the room and was seated at the piano, which he had just touched. There was a general and unconscious hush, and the countenance of Lord St. Aldegonde wore a rueful expression. But affairs turned out better than could be anticipated. A young and pretty girl, dressed in white, with a gigantic sash of dazzling beauty, played upon the violin with a grace, and sentimental and marvellous skill, and passionate expression, worthy of St. Cecilia. She was a Hungarian lady, and this was her English debut. Everybody praised her, and every body was pleased; and Lord St. Aldegonde, instead of being bored, took a wondrous rose out of his button-hole and presented it to her.

The performance only lasted half an hour, and then the ladies began to think of their bowers. Lady St. Aldegonde, before she quit the room, was in earnest conversation with her lord.

“I have arranged all that you wished, Granville,” she said, speaking rapidly and holding a candlestick. “We are to see the castle tomorrow, and the gardens and the parks and every thing else, but you are not to be bored at all, and not to lose your shooting. The moors are sixteen miles off, but our host says, with an omnibus and a good team — and he will give you a first-rate one — you can do it in an hour and ten minutes, certainly an hour and a quarter; and you are to make your own party in the smoking-room to-night, and take a capital luncheon with you.”

“All right: I shall ask the Yankee; and I should like to take that Hungarian girl too, if she would only fiddle to us at luncheon.”

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