Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 48

The ball at Muriel which followed the concert on the lake was one of those balls which, it would seem, never would end. All the preliminary festivities, instead of exhausting the guests of Lothair, appeared only to have excited them, and rendered them more romantic and less tolerant of the routine of existence. They danced in the great gallery, which was brilliant and crowded, and they danced as they dance in a festive dream, with joy and the enthusiasm of gayety. The fine ladies would sanction no exclusiveness. They did not confine their inspiring society, as is sometimes too often the case, to the Brecons and the Bertrams and the Carisbrookes; they danced fully and freely with the youth of the county, and felt that in so doing they were honoring and gratifying their host.

At one o’clock they supped in the armory, which was illuminated for the first time, and a banquet in a scene so picturesque and resplendent renovated not merely their physical energies. At four o’clock the duchess and a few others quietly disappeared, but her daughters remained, and St. Aldegonde danced endless reels, which was a form in which he preferred to worship Terpsichore. Perceiving by an open window that it was dawn, he came up to Lothair and said, “This is a case of breakfast.”

Happy and frolicsome suggestion! The invitations circulated, and it was soon known that they were all to gather at the matin meal.

“I am so sorry that her grace has retired,” said Hugo Bohun to Lady St. Aldegonde, as he fed her with bread and butter, “because she always likes early breakfasts in the country.”

The sun was shining as the guests of the house retired, and sank into couches from which it seemed they never could rise again; but, long after this, the shouts of servants and the scuffle of carriages intimated that the company in general were not so fortunate and expeditious in their retirement from the scene; and the fields were all busy, and even the towns awake, when the great body of the wearied but delighted wassailers returned from celebrating the majority of Lothair.

In the vast and statesmanlike programme of the festivities of the week, which had been prepared by Mr and Mrs. Putney Giles, something of interest and importance had been appropriated to the morrow, but it was necessary to erase all this; and for a simple reason — no human being on the morrow morn even appeared — one might say, even stirred. After all the gay tumult in which even thousands had joined, Muriel Towers on the morrow presented a scene which only could have been equalled by the castle in the fairy tale inhabited by the Sleeping Beauty.

At length, about two hours after noon, bells began to sound which were not always answered. Then a languid household prepared a meal of which no one for a time partook, till at last a monsignore appeared, and a rival Anglican or two. Then St. Aldegonde came in with a troop of men who had been bathing in the mere, and called loudly for kidneys, which happened to be the only thing not at hand, as is always the case. St. Aldegonde always required kidneys when he had sat up all night and bathed. “But the odd thing is,” he said, “you never can get any thing to eat in these houses. Their infernal cooks spoil every thing. That’s why I hate staying with Bertha’s people in the north at the end of the year. What I want in November is a slice of cod and a beefsteak, and by Jove I never could get them; I was obliged to come to town. If is no joke to have to travel three hundred miles for a slice of cod and a beefsteak.”

Notwithstanding all this, however, such is the magic of custom, that by sunset civilization had resumed its reign at Muriel Towers. The party were assembled before dinner in the saloon, and really looked as fresh and bright as if the exhausting and tumultuous yesterday had never happened. The dinner, too, notwithstanding the criticism of St. Aldegonde, was first rate, and pleased palates not so simply fastidious as his own. The bishop and his suite were to depart on the morrow, but the cardinal was to remain. His eminence talked much to Mrs. Campian, by whom, from the first, he was much struck. He was aware that she was born a Roman, and was not surprised that, having married a citizen of the United States, her sympathies were what are styled liberal; but this only stimulated his anxious resolution to accomplish her conversion, both religious and political. He recognized in her a being whose intelligence, imagination, and grandeur of character, might be of invaluable service to the Church.

In the evening Monsieur Raphael and his sister, and their colleagues, gave a representation which was extremely well done. There was no theatre at Muriel, but Apollonia had felicitously arranged a contiguous saloon for the occasion, and, as everybody was at ease in an arm-chair, they all agreed it was preferable to a regular theatre.

On the morrow they were to lunch with the mayor and corporation of Grandchester, and view some of the principal factories; on the next day the county gave a dinner to Lothair in their hall, the lord-lieutenant in the chair; on Friday there was to be a ball at Grandchester given by the county and city united to celebrate the great local event. It was whispered that this was to be a considerable affair. There was not an hour of the week that was not appropriated to some festive ceremony.

It happened on the morning of Friday, the cardinal being alone with Lothair, transacting some lingering business connected with the guardianship, and on his legs as he spoke, that he said: “We live in such a happy tumult here, my dear child, that I have never had an opportunity of speaking to you on one or two points which interest me and should not be uninteresting to you. I remember a pleasant morning-walk we had in the park at Vauxe, when we began a conversation which we never finished. What say you to a repetition of our stroll? ’Tis a lovely day, and I dare say we might escape by this window, and gain some green retreat without any one disturbing us.”

“I am quite of your eminence’s mind,” said Lothair, taking up a wide-awake, “and I will lead you where it is not likely we shall be disturbed.”

So, winding their way through the pleasure-grounds, they entered by a wicket a part of the park where the sunny glades soon wandered among the tall fern and wild groves of venerable oaks.

“I sometimes feel,” said the cardinal, “that I may have been too punctilious in avoiding conversation with you on a subject the most interesting and important to man. But I felt a delicacy in exerting my influence as a guardian on a subject my relations to which, when your dear father appointed me to that office, were so different from those which now exist. But you are now your own master; I can use no control over you but that influence which the words of truth must always exercise over an ingenuous mind.”

His eminence paused for a moment and looked at his companion; but Lothair remained silent, with his eyes fixed upon the ground.

“It has always been a source of satisfaction, I would even say consolation, to me,” resumed the cardinal, “to know you were a religious man; that your disposition was reverential, which is the highest order of temperament, and brings us nearest to the angels. But we live in times of difficulty and danger — extreme difficulty and danger; a religious disposition may suffice for youth in the tranquil hour, and he may find, in due season, his appointed resting-place: but these are days of imminent peril; the soul requires a sanctuary. Is yours at hand?”

The cardinal paused, and Lothair was obliged to meet a direct appeal. He said then, after a momentary hesitation: “When you last spoke to me, sir, on these grave matters, I said I was in a state of great despondency. My situation now is not so much despondent as perplexed.”

“And I wish you to tell me the nature of your perplexity,” replied the cardinal, “for there is no anxious embarrassment of mind which Divine truth cannot disentangle and allay.”

“Well,” said Lothair, “I must say I am often perplexed at the differences which obtrude themselves between Divine truth and human knowledge.”

“Those are inevitable,” said the cardinal. “Divine truth being unchangeable, and human knowledge changing every century; rather, I should say, every generation.”

“Perhaps, instead of human knowledge, I should have said human progress,” rejoined Lothair.

“Exactly,” said the cardinal, “but what is progress? Movement. But what if it be movement in the wrong direction? What if it be a departure from Divine truth?”

“But I cannot understand why religion should be inconsistent with civilization,” said Lothair.

“Religion is civilization,” said the cardinal; “the highest: it is a reclamation of man from savageness by the Almighty. What the world calls civilization, as distinguished from religion, is a retrograde movement, and will ultimately lead us back to the barbarism from which we have escaped. For instance, you talk of progress: what is the chief social movement of all the countries that three centuries ago separated from the unity of the Church of Christ? The rejection of the sacrament of Christian matrimony. The introduction of the law of divorce, which is, in fact, only a middle term to the abolition of marriage. What does that mean? The extinction of the home and the household on which God has rested civilization. If there be no home, the child belongs to the state, not to the parent. The state educates the child, and without religion, because the state in a country of progress acknowledges no religion. For every man is not only to think as he likes, but to write and to speak as he likes, and to sow with both hands broadcast, where he will, errors, heresies, and blasphemies, without any authority on earth to restrain the scattering of this seed of universal desolation. And this system, which would substitute for domestic sentiment and Divine belief the unlimited and licentious action of human intellect and human will, is called progress. What is it but a revolt against God?”

“I am sure I wish there were only one Church and one religion,” said Lothair.

“There is only one Church and only one religion,” said the cardinal; “all other forms and phrases are mere phantasms, without root, or substance, or coherency. Look at that unhappy Germany, once so proud of its Reformation. What they call the leading journal tells us today, that it is a question there whether four-fifths or three-fourths of the population believe in Christianity. Some portion of it has already gone back, I understand, to Number Nip. Look at this unfortunate land, divided, subdivided, parcelled out in infinite schism, with new oracles every day, and each more distinguished for the narrowness of his intellect or the loudness of his lungs; once the land of saints and scholars, and people in pious pilgrimages, and finding always solace and support in the divine offices of an ever-present Church, which were a true though a faint type of the beautiful future that awaited man. Why, only three centuries of this rebellion against the Most High have produced throughout the world, on the subject the most important that man should possess a clear, firm faith, an anarchy of opinion, throwing out every monstrous and fantastic form, from a caricature of the Greek philosophy to a revival of fetichism.”

“It is a chaos,” said Lothair, with a sigh.

“From which I wish to save you,” said the cardinal, with some eagerness. “This is not a time to hesitate. You must be for God, or for Antichrist. The Church calls upon her children.”

“I am not unfaithful to the Church,” said Lothair, “which was the Church of my fathers.”

“The Church of England,” said the cardinal. “It was mine. I think of it ever with tenderness and pity. Parliament made the Church of England, and Parliament will unmake the Church of England. The Church of England is not the Church of the English. Its fate is sealed. It will soon become a sect, and all sects are fantastic. It will adopt new dogmas, or it will abjure old ones; any thing to distinguish it from the non-conforming herd in which, nevertheless, it will be its fate to merge. The only consoling hope is that, when it falls, many of its children, by the aid of the Blessed Virgin, may return to Christ.”

“What I regret, sir,” said Lothair, “is that the Church of Rome should have placed itself in antagonism with political liberty. This adds to the difficulties which the religious cause has to encounter; for it seems impossible to deny that political freedom is now the sovereign passion of communities.”

“I cannot admit,” replied the cardinal, “that the Church is in antagonism with political freedom. On the contrary, in my opinion, there can be no political freedom which is not founded on Divine authority; otherwise it can be at the best but a specious phantom of license inevitably terminating in anarchy. The rights and liberties of the people of Ireland have no advocates except the Church; because, there, political freedom is founded on Divine authority; but if you mean by political freedom the schemes of the illuminati and the freemasons, which perpetually torture the Continent, all the dark conspiracies of the secret societies, there, I admit, the Church is in antagonism with such aspirations after liberty; those aspirations, in fact, are blasphemy and plunder; and, if the Church were to be destroyed, Europe would be divided between the atheist and the communist.”

There was a pause; the conversation had unexpectedly arrived at a point where neither party cared to pursue it. Lothair felt he had said enough; the cardinal was disappointed with what Lothair had said. His eminence felt that his late ward was not in that ripe state of probation which he had fondly anticipated; but, being a man not only of vivid perception, but also of fertile resource, while he seemed to close the present conversation, he almost immediately pursued his object by another combination of means. Noticing an effect of scenery which pleased him, reminded him of Styria, and so on, he suddenly said: “You should travel.”

“Well, Bertram wants me to go to Egypt with him,” said Lothair.

“A most interesting country,” said the cardinal, “and well worth visiting. It is astonishing what a good guide old Herodotus still is in that land! But you should know something of Europe before you go there. Egypt is rather a land to end with. A young man should visit the chief capitals of Europe, especially the seats of learning and the arts. If my advice were asked by a young man who contemplated travelling on a proper scale, I should say begin with Rome. Almost all that Europe contains is derived from Rome. It is always best to go to the fountain-head, to study the original. The society too, there, is delightful; I know none equal to it. That, if you please, is civilization — pious and refined. And the people — all so gifted and so good — so kind, so orderly, so charitable, so truly virtuous. I believe the Roman people to be the best people that ever lived, and this too while the secret societies have their foreign agents in every quarter, trying to corrupt them, but always in vain. If an act of political violence occurs, you may be sure it is confined entirely to foreigners.”

“Our friends the St. Jeromes are going to Rome,” said Lothair.

“Well, and that would be pleasant for you. Think seriously of this, my dear, young friend. I could be of some little service to you if you go to Rome, which, after all, every man ought to do. I could put you, in the way of easily becoming acquainted with all the right people, who would take care that you saw Rome with profit and advantage.”

Just at this moment, in a winding glade, they were met abruptly by a third person. All seemed rather to start at the sudden rencounter; and then Lothair eagerly advanced and welcomed the stranger with a proffered hand.

“This is a most unexpected, but to me most agreeable, meeting,” he said. “You must now be my guest.”

“That would be a great honor,” said the stranger, “but one I cannot enjoy. I had to wait at the station a couple of hours or so for my train, and they told me if I strolled here I. should find some pretty country. I have been so pleased with it, that I fear I have strolled too long, and I literally have not an instant at my command,” and he hurried away.

“Who is that person?” asked the cardinal with some agitation.

“I have not the slightest idea,” said Lothair. “All I know is, he once saved my life.”

“And all I know is,” said the cardinal, “he once threatened mine.”

“Strange!” said Lothair, and then he rapidly recounted to the cardinal his adventure at the Fenian meeting.

“Strange!” echoed his eminence.

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