Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 6

One of the least known squares in London is Hexham Square, though it is one of the oldest. Not that it is very remote from the throng of existence, but it is isolated in a dingy district of silent and decaying streets. Once it was a favored residence of opulence and power, and its architecture still indicates its former and prouder destiny. But its noble mansions are now divided and broken up into separate dwellings, or have been converted into chambers and offices. Lawyers, and architects, and agents, dwell in apartments where the richly-sculptured chimney-pieces, the carved and gilded pediments over the doors, and sometimes even the painted ceilings, tell a tale of vanished stateliness and splendor.

A considerable portion of the north side of the square is occupied by one house standing in a courtyard, with iron gates to the thoroughfare. This is Hexham House, and where Lord Hexham lived in the days of the first Georges. It is reduced in size since his time, two considerable wings, having been pulled down about sixty years ago, and their materials employed in building some residences of less pretension. But the body of the dwelling-house remains, and the court-yard, though reduced in size, has been retained.

Hexham House has an old oak entrance-hall panelled with delicacy, and which has escaped the rifling of speculators in furniture; and out of it rises a staircase of the same material, of a noble character, adorned occasionally with figures; armorial animals holding shields, and sometimes a grotesque form rising from fruits and flowers, all doubtless the work of some famous carver. The staircase led to a corridor, on which several doors open, and through one of these, at the moment of our history, a man, dressed in a dark cassock, and holding a card in his hand, was entering a spacious chamber, meagrely, but not shabbily, furnished. There was a rich cabinet and a fine picture. In the next room, not less spacious, but which had a more inhabited look, a cheerful fire, tables covered with books and papers, and two individuals busily at work with their pens; he gave the card to a gentleman who wore also the cassock, and who stood before the fire with a book in his hand, and apparently dictating to one of the writers.

“Impossible!” said the gentleman shaking his head; “I could not even go in, as Monsignore Berwick is with his eminence.”

“But what shall I do?” said the attendant; “his eminence said that when Mr. Giles called he never was to be denied.”

“The monsignore has been here a long time; you must beg Mr. Giles to wait. Make him comfortable; give him a newspaper; not the Tablet, the Times; men like Mr. Giles love reading the advertisements. Or stop, give him this, his eminence’s lecture on geology; it will show him the Church has no fear of science. Ah! there’s my bell; Mr. Giles will not have to wait long.” So saying, the gentleman put down his volume and disappeared, through an antechamber, into a farther apartment.

It was a library, of moderate dimensions, and yet its well-filled shelves contained all the weapons of learning and controversy which the deepest and the most active of ecclesiastical champions could require. It was unlike modern libraries, for it was one in which folios greatly predominated; and they stood in solemn and sometimes magnificent array, for they bore, many of them, on their ancient though costly bindings, the proofs that they had belonged to many a prince and even sovereign of the Church. Over the mantel-piece hung a portrait of his holiness Pius IX., and on the table, in the midst of many papers, was an ivory crucifix.

The master of the library had risen from his seat when the chief secretary entered, and was receiving an obeisance. Above the middle height, his stature seemed magnified by the attenuation of his form. It seemed that the soul never had so frail and fragile a tenement. He was dressed in a dark cassock with a red border, and wore scarlet stockings; and over his cassock a purple tippet, and on his breast a small golden cross. His countenance was naturally of an extreme pallor, though at this moment slightly flushed with the animation of a deeply-interesting conference. His cheeks were hollow, and his gray eyes seemed sunk into his clear and noble brow, but they flashed with irresistible penetration. Such was Cardinal Grandison.

“All that I can do is,” said his eminence, when his visitor was, ushered out, and slightly shrugging his shoulders, “is to get it postponed until I go to Rome, and even then I must not delay my visit. This crossing the Alps in winter is a trial — but we must never repine; and there is nothing which we must not encounter to prevent incalculable mischief. The publication of the Scotch hierarchy at this moment will destroy the labors of years. And yet they will not see it! I cannot conceive who is urging them, for I am sure they must have some authority from home. — You have something for me, Chidioch,” he added inquiringly, for his keen eye caught the card.

“I regret to trouble your eminence when you need repose, but the bearer of this card seems to have been importunate, and to have appealed to, your name and personal orders;” and he gave the cardinal the card.

“Yes,” said the cardinal, looking at the card with much interest; “this is a person I must always see.”

And so, in due course, they ushered into the library a gentleman with a crimson and well-stuffed bag, of a composed yet cheerful aspect, who addressed the cardinal with respect but without embarrassment, saying, “I am ashamed to trouble your eminence with only matters of form — absolutely mere matters of form; but I obey, Sir, your own instructions.”

“It is not for me to depreciate form,” replied the cardinal; “and in business there are no mere matters of form.”

“Merely the wood accounts,” continued the visitor; “they must be approved by both the guardians or the money cannot be received by the bankers. Your eminence, you see, has sanctioned the felling, and authorized the sales, and these are the final accounts, which must be signed before we pay in.”

“Give them to me,” said the cardinal, stretching out both his hands as he received a mass of paper folios. His eminence resumed his chair, and hastily examined the sheets. “Ah!” he said, “no ordinary felling — it reaches, over seven counties. By-the-by, Bracewood Forest — what about the enclosure? I have heard no more of it.” Then, murmuring to himself —“Grentham Wood — how well I remember Grentham Wood, with his dear father!”

“If we could sign today,” said the visitor in a tone of professional cajolery; “time is important.”

“And if shall not be wasted,” replied the cardinal. “But I must look over the accounts. I doubt not all is quite regular, but I wish to make myself a little familiar with the scene of action; perhaps to recall the past,” he added. “You shall have them tomorrow, Mr. Giles.”

“Your eminence will have very different accounts to settle in a short time,” said Mr. Giles, smiling. “We are hard at work; it takes three of our clerks constantly occupied.”

“But you have yet got time.”

“I don’t know that,” said Mr. Giles. “The affairs are very large. And the mines — they give us the greatest trouble. Our Mr. James Roundell was two months in Wales last year about them. It took up the whole of his vacation. And your eminence must remember that time flies. In less than eight months he will be of age.”

“Very true,” said the cardinal; “time indeed flies, and so much to be done! By-the-by, Mr. Giles, have you by any chance heard any thing lately of my child?”

“I have heard of him a good deal of late, for a client of ours, Lord Montairy, met him at Brentham this summer, and was a long time there with him. After that, I hear, he went deer-stalking with some of his young friends; but he is not very fond of Scotland; had rather too much of it, I suspect; but the truth is, sir, I saw him this very day.”

“Indeed!”

“Some affairs have brought him up to town, and I rather doubt whether he will return to Oxford — at least, so he talks.”

“Ah! I have never seen him since he was an infant, I might say,” said the cardinal. “I suppose I shall see him again, if only when I resign my trust; but I know not. And yet few things would be more interesting to me than to meet him!”

Mr. Giles seemed moved, for him almost a little embarrassed; he seemed to blush, and then he cleared his throat. “It would be too great a liberty,” said Mr. Giles, “I feel that very much — and yet, if your eminence would condescend, though I hardly suppose it possible, his lordship is really going to do us the honor of dining with us today; only a few friends, and if your eminence could make the sacrifice, and it were not an act of too great presumption, to ask your eminence to join our party.”

“I never eat and I never drink,” said the cardinal. “I am sorry, to say I cannot. I like dinner society very much. You see the world, and you hear things which you do not hear otherwise. For a time I presumed to accept invitations, though I sat with an empty plate, but, though the world was indulgent to me, I felt that my habits were an embarrassment to the happier feasters: it was not fair, and so I gave it up. But I tell you what, Mr. Giles: I shall be in your quarter this evening: perhaps you would permit me to drop in and pay my respects to Mrs. Giles — I have wished to do so before.”

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