Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 42

Next day the cardinal, with his secretary and his chaplain, arrived. Monsignore Catesby received his eminence at the station and knelt and kissed his hand as he stepped from the carriage. The monsignore had wonderfully manoeuvred that the whole of the household should have been marshalled to receive this prince of the Church, and perhaps have performed the same ceremony: no religious recognition, he assured them, in the least degree involved, only an act of not unusual respect to a foreign prince; but considering that the bishop of the diocese and his suite were that day expected, to say nothing of the Presbyterian guardian, probably arriving by the same train, Lothair would not be persuaded to sanction any ceremony whatever. Lady St. Jerome and Miss Arundel, however, did their best to compensate for this omission with reverences which a posture-master might have envied, and certainly would not have surpassed. They seemed to sink into the earth, and then slowly and supernaturally to emerge. The bishop had been at college with the cardinal and intimate with him, though they now met for the first time since his secession — a not uninteresting rencounter. The bishop was high-church, and would not himself have made a bad cardinal, being polished and plausible, well-lettered, yet quite a man of the world. He was fond of society, and justified his taste in this respect by the flattering belief that by his presence he was extending the power of the Church; certainly favoring an ambition which could not be described as being moderate. The bishop had no abstract prejudice against gentlemen who wore red hats, and under ordinary circumstances would have welcomed his brother churchman with unaffected cordiality, not to say sympathy; but in the present instance, however gracious his mien and honeyed his expressions, he only looked upon the cardinal as a dangerous rival, intent upon clutching from his fold the most precious of his flock, and he had long looked to this occasion as the one which might decide the spiritual welfare and career of Lothair. The odds were not to be despised. There were two monsignores in the room besides the cardinal, but the bishop was a man of contrivance and resolution, not easily disheartened or defeated. Nor was he without allies. He did not count much on the university don, who was to arrive on the morrow in the shape of the head of an Oxford house, though he was a don of magnitude. This eminent personage had already let Lothair slip from his influence. But the bishop had a subtle counsellor in his chaplain, who wore as good a cassock as any monsignore, and he brought with him also a trusty archdeacon in a purple coat, whose countenance was quite entitled to a place in the Acta Sanctorum.

It was amusing to observe the elaborate courtesy and more than Christian kindness which the rival prelates and their official followers extended to each other. But under all this unction on both sides were unceasing observation, and a vigilance that never flagged; and on both sides there was an uneasy but irresistible conviction that they were on the eve of one of the decisive battles of the social world. Lord Culloden also at length appeared with his daughters, Ladies Flora and Grizell. They were quite as tall as Mr. Putney Giles had reported, but very pretty, with radiant complexions, sunny blue eyes, and flaxen looks. Their dimples and white shoulders and small feet and hands were much admired. Mr. Giles also returned with Apollonia, and, at length, also appeared the rival of Lord Carisbrooke, his grace of Brecon.

Lothair had passed a happy morning, for he had contrived, without difficulty, to be the companion of Theodora during the greater part of it. As the duchess and Lady Corisande had already inspected the castle, they disappeared after breakfast to write letters; and, when the after-luncheon expedition took place, Lothair allotted them to the care of Lord Carisbrooke, and himself became the companion of Lady St. Jerome and Theodora.

Notwithstanding all his efforts in the smoking-room, St. Aldegonde had only been able to induce Colonel Campian to be his companion in the shooting expedition, and the colonel fell into the lure only through his carelessness and good-nature. He much doubted the discretion of his decision as he listened to Lord St. Aldegonde’s reasons for the expedition, in their rapid journey to the moors.

“I do not suppose,” he said, “we shall have any good sport; but when you are in Scotland, and come to me, as I hope you will, I will give you something you will like. But it is a great thing to get off seeing the Towers, and the gardens, and all that sort of thing. Nothing bores me so much as going over a man’s house. Besides, we get rid of the women.”

The meeting between the two guardians did not promise to be as pleasant as that between the bishop and the cardinal, but the crusty Lord Culloden was scarcely a match for the social dexterity of his eminence. The cardinal, crossing the room, with winning ceremony approached and addressed his colleague.

“We can have no more controversies, my lord, for our reign is over;” and he extended a delicate hand, which the surprised peer touched with a huge finger.

“Yes; it all depends on himself now,” replied Lord Culloden, with a grim smile; “and I hope he will not make a fool of himself.”

“What have you got for us to-night?” inquired Lothair of Mr. Giles, as the gentlemen rose from the dining-table.

Mr. Giles said he would consult his wife, but Lothair observing he would himself undertake that office, when he entered the saloon, addressed Apollonia. Nothing could be more skilful than the manner in which Mrs. Giles, in this party, assumed precisely the position which equally became her and suited her own views; at the same time the somewhat humble friend, but the trusted counsellor, of the Towers, she disarmed envy and conciliated consideration. Never obtrusive, yet always prompt and prepared with unfailing resource, and gifted apparently, with universal talents, she soon became the recognized medium by which every thing was suggested or arranged; and before eight-and-forty hours had passed she was described by duchesses and their daughters as that “dear Mrs. Giles.”

“Monsieur Raphael and his sister came down in the train with us,” said Mrs. Giles to Lothair; “the rest of the troupe will not be here until tomorrow; but they told me they could give you a perfect proverbe if your lordship would like it; and the Spanish conjuror is here; but I rather think, from what I gather, that the young ladies would like a dance.”

“I do not much fancy acting the moment these great churchmen have arrived, and with cardinals and bishops I would rather not have dances the first-night. I almost wish we had kept the Hungarian lady for this evening.”

“Shall I send for her? She is ready.”

“The repetition would be too soon, and would show a great poverty of resources,” said Lothair, smiling; “what we want is some singing.”

“Mardoni ought to have been here today,” said Mrs. Giles; “but he never keeps his engagements.”

“I think our amateur materials are rather rich,” said Lothair.

“There is Mrs. Campian,” said Apollonia in a low voice; but Lothair shook his head.

“But, perhaps, if others set her the example,” he added, after a pause; “Lady Corisande is first rate, and all her sisters sing; I will go and consult the duchess.”

There was soon a stir in the room. Lady St. Aldegonde and her sisters approached the piano, at which was seated the eminent professor. A note was heard, and there was silence. The execution was exquisite; and, indeed, there are few things more dainty than the blended voices of three women. No one seemed to appreciate the performance more than Mrs. Campian, who, greatly attracted by what was taking place, turned a careless ear, even to the honeyed sentences of no less a personage than the lord-bishop.

After an interval Lady Corisande was handed to the piano by Lothair. She was in fine voice, and sang with wonderful effect. Mrs. Campian, who seemed much interested, softly rose, and stole to the outward circle of the group which had gathered round the instrument. When the sounds had ceased, amid the general applause her voice of admiration was heard. The duchess approached her, evidently prompted by the general wish, and expressed her hope that Mrs. Campian would now favor them. It was not becoming to refuse when others had contributed so freely to the general entertainment, but Theodora was anxious not to place herself in competition with those who had preceded her. Looking over a volume of music, she suggested to Lady Corisande a duet, in which the peculiarities of their two voices, which in character were quite different, one being a soprano and the other a contralto, might be displayed. And very seldom, in a private chamber, had any thing of so high a class been heard. Not a lip moved except those of the singers, so complete was the fascination, till the conclusion elicited a burst of irresistible applause.

“In imagination I am throwing endless bouquets,” said Hugo Bohun.

“I wish we could induce her to give us a recitation from Alfieri,” said Mrs. Putney Giles in a whisper to Lady St. Aldegonde. “I heard it once: it was the finest thing I ever listened to.”

“But cannot we?” said Lady St. Aldegonde.

Apollonia shook her head. “She is extremely reserved. I am quite surprised that she sang; but she could not well refuse after your ladyship and your sisters had been so kind.”

“But if the Lord of the Towers asks her,” suggested Lady St. Aldegonde.

“No, no,” said Mrs. Giles, “that would not do; nor would he. He knows she dislikes it. A word from Colonel Campian, and the thing would be settled; but it is rather absurd to invoke the authority of a husband for so light a matter.”

“I should like so much to hear her,” said Lady St. Aldegonde. “I think I will ask her myself. I will go and speak to mamma.”

There was much whispering and consulting in the room, but unnoticed, as general conversation had now been resumed. The duchess sent for Lothair, and conferred with him; but Lothair seemed to shake his head. Then her grace rose and approached Colonel Campian, who was talking to Lord Culloden, and then the duchess and Lady St. Aldegonde went to Mrs. Campian. Then, after a short time, Lady St. Aldegonde rose and fetched Lothair.

“Her grace tells me,” said Theodora, “that Colonel Campian wishes me to give a recitation. I cannot believe that such a performance can ever be generally interesting, especially in a foreign language, and I confess that I would rather not exhibit. But I do not like to be churlish when all are so amiable and compliant, and her grace tells me that it cannot well be postponed, for this is the last quiet night we shall have. What I want is a screen, and I must be a moment alone, before I venture on these enterprises. I require it to create the ideal presence.”

Lothair and Bertram arranged the screen, the duchess and Lady St. Aldegonde glided about, and tranquilly intimated what was going to occur, so that, without effort, there was in a moment complete silence and general expectation. Almost unnoticed Mrs. Campian had disappeared, whispering a word as she passed to the eminent conductor, who was still seated at the piano. The company had almost unconsciously grouped themselves in the form of a theatre, the gentlemen generally standing behind the ladies who were seated. There were some bars of solemn music, and then, to an audience not less nervous than herself, Theodora came forward as Electra in that beautiful appeal to Clytemnestra, where she veils her mother’s guilt even while she intimates her more than terrible suspicion of its existence, and makes one last desperate appeal of pathetic duty in order to save her parent and her fated house:

“O amata madre,

Che fai? Non credo io, no, che ardente fiamma

Il cor ti avvampi.”

The ineffable grace of her action, simple without redundancy, her exquisite elocution, her deep yet controlled passion, and the magic of a voice thrilling even in a whisper — this form of Phidias with the genius of Sophocles — entirely enraptured a fastidious audience. When she ceased, there was an outburst of profound and unaffected appreciation; and Lord St. Aldegonde, who had listened in a sort of ecstasy, rushed forward, with a countenance as serious as the theme, to offer his thanks and express his admiration.

And then they gathered round her — all these charming women and some of these admiring men — as she would have resumed her seat, and entreated her once more — only once more — to favor them. She caught the adoring glance of the lord of the Towers, and her eyes seemed to inquire what she should do. “There will be many strangers here tomorrow,” said Lothair, “and next week all the world. This is a delight only for the initiated,” and he entreated her to gratify them.

“It shall be Alfieri’s ode to America, then,” said Theodora, “if you please.”

“She is a Roman, I believe,” said Lady St. Jerome to his eminence, “but not, alas! a child of the Church. Indeed, I fear her views generally are advanced,” and she shook her head.

“At present,” said the cardinal, “this roof and this visit may influence her. I should like to see such powers engaged in the cause of God.”

The cardinal was an entire believer in female influence, and a considerable believer in his influence over females; and he had good cause for his convictions. The catalogue of his proselytes was numerous and distinguished. He had not only converted a duchess and several countesses, but he had gathered into his fold a real Mary Magdalen. In the height of her beauty and her fame, the most distinguished member of the demi-monde had suddenly thrown up her golden whip and jingling reins, and cast herself at the feet of the cardinal. He had a right, therefore, to be confident; and, while his exquisite taste and consummate cultivation rendered it impossible that he should not have been deeply gratified by the performance of Theodora, he was really the whole time considering the best means by which such charms and powers could be enlisted in the cause of the Church.

After the ladies had retired, the gentlemen talked for a few minutes over the interesting occurrence of the evening.

“Do you know,” said the bishop to the duke and some surrounding auditors, “fine as was the Electra, I preferred the ode to the tragedy? There was a tumult of her brow, especially in the address to Liberty, that was sublime — quite a Moenad look.”

“What do you think of it, Carry?” said St. Aldegonde to Lord Carisbrooke.

“Brecon says she puts him in mind of Ristori.”

“She is not in the least like Ristori, or any one else,” said St. Aldegonde. “I never heard, I never saw any one like her. I’ll tell you what — you must take care what you say about her in the smoking-room, for her husband will be there, and an excellent fellow too. We went together to the moors this morning, and he did not bore me in the least. Only, if I had known as much about his wife as I do now, I would have stayed at home, and passed my morning with the women.”

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