Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 44

The bishop was particularly playful on the morrow at breakfast. Though his face beamed with Christian kindness, there was a twinkle in his eye which seemed not entirely superior to mundane self-complacency, even to a sense of earthly merriment. His seraphic raillery elicited sympathetic applause from the ladies, especially from the daughters of the house of Brentham, who laughed occasionally, even before his angelic jokes were well launched. His lambent flashes sometimes even played over the cardinal, whose cerulean armor, nevertheless, remained always unscathed. Monsignore Chidioch, however, who would once unnecessarily rush to the aid of his chief, was tumbled over by the bishop with relentless gayety, to the infinite delight of Lady Corisande, who only wished it had been that dreadful Monsignore Catesby. But, though less demonstrative, apparently not the least devout, of his lordship’s votaries, were the Lady Flora and the Lady Grizell. These young gentlewomen, though apparently gifted with appetites becoming their ample, but far from graceless, forms, contrived to satisfy all the wants of nature without taking their charmed vision for a moment off the prelate, or losing a word which escaped his consecrated lips. Sometimes even they ventured to smile, and then they looked at their father and sighed. It was evident, notwithstanding their appetites and their splendid complexions, which would have become the Aurora of Guido, that these young ladies had some secret sorrow which required a confidante. Their visit to Muriel Towers was their introduction to society, for the eldest had only just attained sweet seventeen. Young ladies under these circumstances always fall in love, but with their own sex. Lady Flora and Lady Grizell both fell in love with Lady Corisande, and before the morning had passed away she had become their friend and counsellor, and the object of their devoted adoration. It seems that their secret sorrow had its origin in that mysterious religious sentiment which agitates or affects every class and condition of man, and which creates or destroys states, though philosophers are daily assuring us “that there is nothing in it.” The daughters of the Earl of Culloden could not stand any longer the Free Kirk, of which their austere parent was a fiery votary. It seems that they had been secretly converted to the Episcopal Church of Scotland by a governess, who pretended to be a daughter of the Covenant, but who was really a niece of the primus, and, as Lord Culloden accurately observed, when he ignominiously dismissed her, “a Jesuit in disguise.” From that moment there had been no peace in his house. His handsome and gigantic daughters, who had hitherto been all meekness, and who had obeyed him as they would a tyrant father of the feudal ages, were resolute, and would not compromise their souls. They humbly expressed their desire to enter a convent, or to become at least sisters of mercy. Lord Culloden raged and raved, and delivered himself of cynical taunts, but to no purpose. The principle that forms Free Kirks is a strong principle, and takes many forms, which the social Polyphemes, who have only one eye, cannot perceive. In his desperate confusion, he thought that change of scene might be a diversion when things were at the worst, and this was the reason that he had, contrary to his original intention, accepted the invitation of his ward.

Lady Corisande was exactly the guide the girls required. They sat on each side of her, each holding her hand, which they frequently pressed to their lips. As her form was slight, though of perfect grace and symmetry, the contrast between herself and her worshippers was rather startling; but her noble brow, full of thought and purpose, the firmness of her chiselled lip, and the rich fire of her glance vindicated her post as the leading spirit.

They breakfasted in a room which opened on a gallery, and at the other end of the gallery was an apartment similar to the breakfast-room, which was the male morning-room, and where the world could find the newspapers, or join in half an hour’s talk over the intended arrangements of the day. When the breakfast-party broke up, the bishop approached Lothair, and looked at him earnestly.

“I am at your lordship’s service,” said Lothair, and they quitted the breakfast-room together. Half-way down the gallery they met Monsignore Catesby, who had in his hand a number, just arrived, of a newspaper which was esteemed an Ultramontane organ. He bowed as he passed them, with an air of some exultation, and the bishop and himself exchanged significant smiles, which, however, meant different things. Quitting the gallery, Lothair led the way to his private apartments; and, opening the door, ushered in the bishop.

Now, what was contained in the Ultramontane organ which apparently occasioned so much satisfaction to Monsignore Catesby? A deftly drawn-up announcement of some important arrangements which had been deeply planned. The announcement would be repeated In all the daily papers, which were hourly expected. The world was informed that his eminence, Cardinal Grandison, now on a visit at Muriel Towers to his ward, Lothair, would celebrate high mass on the ensuing Sunday in the city which was the episcopal capital of the bishop’s see, and afterward preach on the present state of the Church of Christ. As the bishop must be absent from his cathedral that day, and had promised to preach in the chapel at Muriel, there was something dexterous in thus turning his lordship’s flank, and desolating his diocese when he was not present to guard it from the fiery dragon. It was also remarked that there would be an unusual gathering of the Catholic aristocracy for the occasion. The rate of lodgings in the city had risen in consequence. At the end of the paragraph it was distinctly contradicted that Lothair had entered the Catholic Church. Such a statement was declared to be “premature,” as his guardian, the cardinal, would never sanction his taking such a step until he was the master of his own actions; the general impression left by the whole paragraph being, that the world was not to be astonished if the first stop of Lothair, on accomplishing his majority, was to pursue the very course which was now daintily described as premature.

At luncheon the whole party were again assembled. The newspapers had arrived in the interval, and had been digested. Every one was aware of the popish plot, as Hugo Bohun called it. The bishop, however, looked serene, and, if not as elate as in the morning, calm and content. He sat by the duchess, and spoke to her in a low voice, and with seriousness. The monsignore watched every expression.

When the duchess rose, the bishop accompanied her into the recess of a window, and she said: “You may depend upon me; I cannot answer for the duke. It is not the early rising; he always rises early in the country, but he likes to read his letters before he dresses, and that sort of thing. I think you had better speak to Lady Corisande yourself.”

What had taken place at the interview of the bishop with Lothair, and what had elicited from the duchess an assurance that the prelate might depend upon her, generally transpired, in consequence of some confidential communications, in the course of the afternoon. It appeared that the right reverend lord had impressed, and successfully, on Lothair, the paramount duty of commencing the day of his majority by assisting in an early celebration of the most sacred rite of the Church. This, in the estimation of the bishop, though he had not directly alluded to the subject in the interview, but had urged the act on higher grounds, would be a triumphant answer to the insidious and calumnious paragraphs which had circulated during the last six months, and an authentic testimony that Lothair was not going to quit the Church of his fathers.

This announcement, however, produced consternation in the opposite camp. It seemed to more than neutralize the anticipated effect of the programme, and the deftly-conceived paragraph. Monsignore Catesby went about whispering that he feared Lothair was going to overdo it; and considering what he had to go through on Monday, if it were only for considerations of health, an early celebration was inexpedient. He tried the duchess — about whom he was beginning to hover a good deal — as he fancied she was of an impressible disposition, and gave some promise of results; but here the ground had been too forcibly preoccupied: then he flew to Lady St. Aldegonde, but he had the mortification of learning, from her lips, that she herself contemplated being a communicant at the same time. Lady Corisande had been before him. All the energies of that young lady were put forth in order that Lothair should be countenanced on this solemn occasion. She conveyed to the bishop before dinner the results of her exertions.

“You may count on Alberta St. Aldegonde and Victoria Montairy, and, I think, Lord Montairy also, if she presses him, which she has promised to do. Bertram must kneel by his friend at such a time. I think Lord Carisbrooke may: Duke of Brecon, I can say nothing about at present.”

“Lord St. Aldegonde?” said the bishop.

Lady Corisande shook her head.

There had been a conclave in the bishop’s room before dinner, in which the interview of the morning was discussed.

“It was successful; scarcely satisfactory,” said the bishop. “He is a very clever fellow, and knows a great deal. They have got hold of him, and he has all the arguments at his fingers’ ends. When I came to the point, he began to demur; I saw what was passing through his mind, and I said at once: ‘Your views are high: so are mine: so are those of the Church. It is a sacrifice, undoubtedly, in a certain sense. No sound theologian would maintain the simplicity of the elements; but that does not involve the coarse interpretation of the dark ages.’”

“Good, good,” said the archdeacon; “and what is it your lordship did not exactly like?”

“He fenced too much; and he said more than once, and in a manner I did not like, that, whatever were his views as to the Church, he thought he could on the whole conscientiously partake of this rite as administered by the Church of England.”

“Every thing depends on this celebration,” said the chaplain; “after that his doubts and difficulties will dispel.”

“We must do our best that he is well supported,” said the archdeacon.

“No fear of that,” said the bishop. “I have spoken to some of our friends. We may depend on the duchess and her daughters — all admirable women; and they will do what they can with others. It will be a busy day, but I have expressed my hope that the heads of the household may be able to attend. But the county notables arrive today, and I shall make it a point with them, especially the lord-lieutenant.”

“It should be known,” said the chaplain. “I will send a memorandum to the Guardian.”

“And John Bull,” said the bishop.

The lord-lieutenant and Lady Agramont, and their daughter, Lady Ida Alice, arrived today; and the high-sheriff, a manufacturer, a great liberal who delighted in peers, but whose otherwise perfect felicity today was a little marred and lessened by the haunting and restless fear that Lothair was not duly aware that he took precedence of the lord-lieutenant. Then there were Sir Hamlet Clotworthy, the master of the hounds, and a capital man of business; and the Honorable Lady Clotworthy, a haughty dame who ruled her circle with tremendous airs and graces, but who was a little subdued in the empyrean of Muriel Towers. The other county member, Mr. Ardenne, was a refined gentleman, and loved the arts. He had an ancient pedigree, and knew everybody else’s, which was not always pleasant. What he most prided himself on was being the hereditary owner of a real deer — park the only one, he asserted, in the county. Other persons had parks which had deer in them, but that was quite a different thing. His wife was a pretty woman, and the inspiring genius of archeological societies, who loved their annual luncheon in her Tudor Halls, and illustrated by their researches the deeds and dwellings of her husband’s ancient race.

The clergy of the various parishes on the estate all dined at the Towers today, in order to pay their respects to their bishop. “Lothair’s oecumenical council,” said Hugo Bohun, as he entered the crowded room, and looked around him with an air of not ungraceful impertinence. Among the clergy was Mr. Smylie, the brother of Apollonia.

A few years ago, Mr. Putney Giles had not unreasonably availed himself of the position which he so usefully and so honorably filled, to recommend this gentleman to the guardians of Lothair to fill a vacant benefice. The Reverend Dionysius Smylie had distinguished himself at Trinity College, Dublin, and had gained a Hebrew scholarship there; after that he had written a work on the Revelations, which clearly settled the long-controverted point whether Rome in the great apocalypse was signified by Babylon. The bishop shrugged his shoulders when he received Mr. Smylie’s papers, the examining chaplain sighed, and the archdeacon groaned. But man is proverbially short-sighted. The doctrine of evolution affords no instances so striking as those of sacerdotal development. Placed under the favoring conditions of clime and soil, the real character of the Reverend Dionysius Smylie gradually, but powerfully, developed itself. Where he now ministered, he was attended by acolytes, and incensed by thurifers. The shoulders of a fellow countryman were alone equal to the burden of the enormous cross which preceded him; while his ecclesiastical wardrobe furnished him with many colored garments, suited to every season of the year, and every festival of the Church.

At first there was indignation, and rumors or prophecies that we should soon have another case of perversion, and that Mr. Smylie was going over to Rome; but these superficial commentators misapprehended the vigorous vanity of the man. “Rome may come to me,” said Mr. Smylie, “and it is perhaps the best thing it could do. This is the real Church without Romish error.”

The bishop and his reverend stuff, who were at first so much annoyed at the preferment of Mr. Smylie, had now, with respect to him, only one duty, and that was to restrain his exuberant priestliness; but they fulfilled that duty in a kindly and charitable spirit; and, when the Reverend Dionysius Smylie was appointed chaplain to Lothair, the bishop did not shrug his shoulders, the chaplain did not sigh, nor the archdeacon groan.

The party was so considerable today that they dined in the great hall. When it was announced to Lothair that his lordship’s dinner was served, and he offered his arm to his destined companion, he looked around, and, then in an audible voice, and with a stateliness becoming such an incident, called upon the high-sheriff to lead the duchess to the table. Although that eminent personage had been thinking of nothing else for days, and during the last half-hour had felt as a man feels, and can only feel, who knows that some public function is momentarily about to fall to his perilous discharge, he was taken quite aback, changed color, and lost his head. But the band of Lothair, who were waiting at the door of the apartment to precede the procession to the hall, striking up at this moment “The Roast Beef of Old England,” reanimated his heart; and, following Lothair, and preceding all the other guests down the gallery, and through many chambers, he experienced the proudest moment of a life of struggle, ingenuity, vicissitude, and success.

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