Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 45

Under all this flowing festivity there was already a current of struggle and party passion. Serious thoughts and some anxiety occupied the minds of several of the guests, amid the variety of proffered dishes and sparkling wines, and the subdued strains of delicate music. This disquietude did not touch Lothair. He was happy to find himself in his ancestral hall, surrounded by many whom he respected, and by some whom he loved. He was an excellent host, which no one can be who does not combine a good heart with high breeding.

Theodora was rather far from him, but he could catch her grave, sweet countenance at an angle of the table, as she bowed her head to Mr. Ardenne, the county member, who was evidently initiating her in all the mysteries of deer-parks. The cardinal sat near him, winning over, though without apparent effort, the somewhat prejudiced Lady Agramont. His eminence could converse with more facility than others, for he dined off biscuits and drank only water.

Lord Culloden had taken out Lady St. Jerome, who expended on him all the resources of her impassioned tittle-tattle, extracting only grim smiles; and Lady Corisande had fallen to the happy lot of the Duke of Brecon; according to the fine perception of Clare Arundel — and women are very quick in these discoveries — the winning horse. St. Aldegonde had managed to tumble in between Lady Flora and Lady Grizell, and seemed immensely amused.

The duke inquired of Lothair how many he could dine in his hall.

“We must dine more than two hundred on Monday,” he replied.

“And now, I should think, we have only a third of that number,” said his grace. “It will be a tight fit.”

“Mr. Putney Giles has had a drawing made, and every seat apportioned. We shall just do it.”

“I fear you will have too busy a day on Monday,” said the cardinal, who had caught up the conversation.

“Well, you know, sir, I do not sit up smoking with Lord St. Aldegonde.”

After dinner, Lady Corisande seated herself by Mrs. Campian. “You must have thought me very rude,” she said, “to have left you so suddenly at tea, when the bishop looked into the room; but he wanted me on a matter of the greatest importance. I must, therefore, ask your pardon. You naturally would not feel on this matter as we all do, or most of us do,” she added with some hesitation; “being — pardon me — a foreigner, and the question involving national as well as religious feelings;” and then, somewhat hurriedly, but with emotion, she detailed to Theodora all that had occurred respecting the early celebration on Monday, and the opposition it was receiving from the cardinal and his friends. It was a relief to Lady Corisande thus to express all her feelings on a subject on which she had been brooding the whole day.

“You mistake,” said Theodora, quietly, when Lady Corisande had finished. “I am much interested in what you tell me. I should deplore our friend falling under the influence of the Romish priesthood.”

“And yet there is danger of it,” said Lady Corisande, “more than danger,” she added in a low but earnest voice. “You do not know what a conspiracy is going on, and has been going on for months, to effect this end. I tremble.”

“That is the last thing I ever do,” said Theodora, with a faint, sweet smile. “I hope, but I never tremble.”

“You have seen the announcement in the newspapers today!” said Lady Corisande.

“I think, if they were certain of their prey, they would be more reserved,” said Theodora.

“There is something in that,” said Lady Corisande, musingly. “You know not what a relief it is to me to speak to you on this matter. Mamma agrees with me, and so do my sisters; but still they may agree with me because they are my mamma and my sisters; but I look upon our nobility joining the Church of Rome as the greatest calamity that has ever happened to England. Irrespective of all religious considerations, on which I will not presume to touch, it is an abnegation of patriotism; and in this age, when all things are questioned, a love of our country seems to me the one sentiment to cling to.”

“I know no higher sentiment,” said Theodora in a low voice, and yet which sounded like the breathing of some divine shrine, and her Athenian eye met the fiery glance of Lady Corisande with an expression of noble sympathy.

“I am so glad that I spoke to you on this matter,” said Lady Corisande, “for there is something in you which encourages me. As you say, if they were certain, they would be silent; and yet, from what I hear, their hopes are high. You know,” she added in a whisper, “that he has absolutely engaged to raise a popish cathedral. My brother, Bertram, has seen the model in his rooms.”

“I have known models that were never realized,” said Theodora.

“Ah! you are hopeful; you said you were hopeful. It is a beautiful disposition. It is not mine,” she added, with a sigh.

“It should be,” said Theodora; “you were not born to sigh. Sighs should be for those who have no country, like myself; not for the daughters of England — the beautiful daughters of proud England.”

“But you have your husband’s country, and that is proud and great.”

“I have only one country, and it is not my husband’s; and I have only one thought, and it is to set it free.”

“It is a noble one,” said Lady Corisande, “as I am sure are all your thoughts. There are the gentlemen; I am sorry they have come. There,” she added, as Monsignore Catesby entered the room, “there is his evil genius.”

“But you have baffled him,” said Theodora.

“Ah,” said Lady Corisande, with a long-drawn sigh. “Their manoeuvres never cease. However, I think Monday must be safe. Would you come?” she said, with a serious, searching glance, and in a kind of coaxing murmur.

“I should be an intruder, my dear lady,” said Theodora, declining the suggestion; “but, so far as hoping that our friend will never join the Church of Rome, you will have ever my ardent wishes.”

Theodora might have added her belief, for Lothair had never concealed from her a single thought or act of his life in this respect. She knew all and had weighed every thing, and flattered herself that their frequent and unreserved conversations had not confirmed his belief in the infallibility of the Church of Rome, and perhaps of some other things.

It had been settled that there should be dancing this evening — all the young ladies had wished it. Lothair danced with Lady Flora Falkirk, and her sister, Lady Grizell, was in the same quadrille. They moved about like young giraffes in an African forest, but looked bright and happy. Lothair liked his cousins; their inexperience and innocence, and the simplicity with which they exhibited and expressed their feelings, had in them something bewitching. Then the rough remembrance of his old life at Falkirk and its contrast with the present scene had in it something stimulating. They were his juniors by several years, but they were always gentle and kind to him; and sometimes it seemed he was the only person whom they, too, had found kind and gentle. He called his cousin, too, by her Christian name, and he was amused, standing by this beautiful giantess, and calling her Flora. There were other amusing circumstances in the quadrille; not the least, Lord St. Aldegonde dancing with Mrs. Campian. The wonder of Lady St. Aldegonde was only equalled by her delight.

The lord-lieutenant was standing by the duke, in a comer of the saloon, observing, not with dissatisfaction, his daughter, Lady Ida Alice, dancing with Lothair.

“Do you know this is the first time I ever had the honor of meeting a cardinal?” he said.

“And we never expected that it would happen to either of us in this country when we were at Christchurch together,” replied the duke.

“Well, I hope every thing is for the best,” said Lord Agramont. “We are to have all these gentlemen in our good city of Grandchester, tomorrow.”

“So I understand.”

“You read that paragraph in the newspapers? Do you think there is any thing in it?”

“About our friend? It would be a great misfortune.”

“The bishop says there is nothing in it,” said the lord-lieutenant.

“Well, he ought to know. I understand he has had some serious conversation recently with our friend?”

“Yes; he has spoken to me about it. Are you going to attend the early celebration tomorrow? It is not much to my taste; a little new-fangled, I think; but I shall go, as they say it will do good.”

“I am glad of that; it is well that he should be impressed at this moment with the importance and opinion of his county.”

“Do you know I never saw him before?” said the lord-lieutenant. “He is winning.”

“I know no youth,” said the duke, “I would not except my own son, and Bertram has never given me an uneasy moment, of whom I have a better opinion, both as to heart and head. I should deeply deplore his being smashed by a Jesuit.”

The dancing had ceased for a moment; there was a stir; Lord Carisbrooke was enlarging, with unusual animation, to an interested group, about a new dance at Paris — the new dance. Could they not have it here? Unfortunately, he did not know its name, and could not describe its figure; but it was something new; quite new; they got it at Paris. Princess Metternich dances it. He danced it with her, and she taught it him; only he never could explain any thing, and indeed never did exactly make it out. “But you danced it with a shawl, and then two ladies hold the shawl, and the cavaliers pass under it. In fact, it is the only thing; it is the new dance at Paris.”

What a pity that any thing so delightful should be so indefinite and perplexing, and indeed impossible, which rendered it still more desirable! If Lord Carisbrooke only could have remembered its name, or a single step in its figure — it was so tantalizing!

“Do not you think so?” said Hugo Bohun to Mrs. Campian, who was sitting apart, listening to Lord St. Aldegonde’s account of his travels in the United States, which he was very sorry he ever quitted. And then they inquired to what Mr. Bohun referred, and then he told them all that had been said.

“I know what he means,” said Mrs. Campian. “It is not a French dance; it is a Moorish dance.”

“That woman knows everything, Hugo,” said Lord St. Aldegonde in a solemn whisper. And then he called to his wife. “Bertha, Mrs. Campian will tell you all about this dance that Carisbrooke is making such a mull of. Now, look here, Bertha; you must get the Campians to come to us as soon as possible. They are going to Scotland from this place, and there is no reason, if you manage it well, why they should not come on to us at once. Now, exert yourself.”

“I will do all I can, Granville.”

“It is not French, it is Moorish; it is called the Tangerine,” said Theodora to her surrounding votaries. “You begin with a circle.”

“But how are we to dance without the music?” said Lady Montairy.

“Ah! I wish I had known this,” said Theodora, “before dinner, and I think I could have dotted down something that would have helped us. But let me see,” and she went up to the eminent professor, with whom she was well acquainted, and said, “Signor Ricci, it begins so,” and she hummed divinely a fantastic air, which, after a few moments’ musing, he reproduced; “and then it goes off into what they call in Spain a saraband. Is there a shawl in the room?”

“My mother has always a shawl in reserve,” said Bertram, “particularly when she pays visits to houses where there are galleries;” and he brought back a mantle of Cashmere.

“Now, Signor Ricci,” said Mrs. Campian, and she again hummed an air, and moved forward at the same time with brilliant grace, waving at the end the shawl.

The expression of her countenance, looking round to Signor Ricci, as she was moving on to see whether he had caught her idea, fascinated Lothair.

“It is exactly what I told you,” said Lord Carisbrooke, “and, I can assure you, it is the only dance now. I am very glad I remembered it.”

“I see it all,” said Signor Ricci, as Theodora rapidly detailed to him the rest of the figure. “And at any rate it will be the Tangerine with variations.”

“Let me have the honor of being your partner in this great enterprise,” said Lothair; “you are the inspiration of Muriel.”

“Oh! I am very glad I can do any thing, however slight, to please you and your friends. I like them all; but particularly Lady Corisande.”

A new dance in a country-house is a festival of frolic grace. The incomplete knowledge, and the imperfect execution, are themselves causes of merry excitement, in their contrast with the unimpassioned routine and almost unconscious practice of traditionary performances. And gay and frequent were the bursts of laughter from the bright and airy band who were proud to be the scholars of Theodora. The least successful among them was perhaps Lord Carisbrooke.

“Princess Metternich must have taught you wrong, Carisbrooke,” said Hugo Bohun.

They ended with a waltz, Lothair dancing with Miss Arundel. She accepted his offer to take some tea on its conclusion. While they were standing at the table, a little withdrawn from the others, and he holding a sugar-basin, she said in a low voice, looking on her cup and not at him, “the cardinal is vexed about the early celebration; he says it should have been at midnight.”

“I am sorry he is vexed,” said Lothair.

“He was going to speak to you himself,” continued Miss Arundel; “but he felt a delicacy about it. He had thought that your common feelings respecting the Church might have induced you if not to consult, at least to converse, with him on the subject; I mean as your guardian.”

“It might have been perhaps as well,” said Lothair; “but I also feel a delicacy on these matters.”

“There ought to be none on such matters,” continued Miss Arundel, “when every thing is at stake.”

“I do not see that I could have taken any other course than I have done,” said.Lothair. “It can hardly be wrong. The bishop’s church views are sound.”

“Sound!” said Miss Arundel; “moonshine instead of sunshine.”

“Moonshine would rather suit a midnight than a morning celebration,” said Lothair; “would it not?”

“A fair repartee, but we are dealing with a question that cannot be settled by jests. See,” she said with great seriousness, putting down her cup and taking again his offered arm, “you think you are only complying with a form befitting your position and the occasion. You deceive yourself. You are hampering your future freedom by this step, and they know it. That is why it was planned. It was not necessary; nothing can be necessary so pregnant with evil. You might have made, you might yet make, a thousand excuses. It is a rite which hardly suits the levity of the hour, even with their feelings; but, with your view of its real character, it is sacrilege. What at is occurring tonight might furnish you with scruples?” And she looked up in his face.

“I think you take an exaggerated view of what I contemplate,” said Lothair. “Even with your convictions, it may be an imperfect rite; but it never can be an injurious one.”

“There can be no compromise on such matters,” said Miss Arundel. “The Church knows nothing of imperfect rites. They are all perfect, because they are all divine; any deviation from them is heresy, and fatal. My convictions on this subject are your convictions; act up to them.”

“I am sure, if thinking of these matters would guide a man right —” said Lothair, with a sigh, and he stopped.

“Human thought will never guide you; and very justly, when you have for a guide Divine truth. You are now your own master; go at once to its fountain-head; go to Rome, and then all your perplexities will vanish, and forever.”

“I do not see much prospect of my going to Rome,” said Lothair, “at least at present.”

“Well,” said Miss Arundel, “in a few weeks I hope to be there; and if so, I hope never to quit it.”

“Do not say that; the future is always unknown.”

“Not yours,” said Miss Arundel. “Whatever you think, you will go to Rome. Mark my words. I summon you to meet me at Rome.”

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