Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 65

Lady St. Jerome was much interested in the accounts which the cardinal and Lothair gave her of their excursions in the city and their visits.

“It is very true,” she said, “I never knew such good people; and they ought to be; so favored by Heaven, and leading a life which, if any thing earthly can, must give them, however faint, some foretaste of our joys hereafter. Did your eminence visit the Pellegrini?” This was the hospital, where Miss Arundel had found Lothair.

The cardinal looked grave. “No,” he replied. “My object was to secure for our young friend some interesting but not agitating distraction from certain ideas which, however admirable and transcendently important, are nevertheless too high and profound to permit their constant contemplation with impunity to our infirm natures. Besides,” he added, in a lower, but still distinct tone, “I was myself unwilling to visit in a mere casual manner the scene of what I must consider the greatest event of this century.”

“But you have been there?” inquired Lady St. Jerome.

His eminence crossed himself.

In the course of the evening Monsignore Catesby told Lothair that a grand service was about to be celebrated in the church of St. George: thanks were to be offered to the Blessed Virgin by Miss Arundel for the miraculous mercy vouchsafed to her in saving the life of a countryman, Lothair. “All her friends will make a point of being there,” added the monsignore, “even the Protestants and some Russians. Miss Arundel was very unwilling at first to fulfil this office, but the Holy Father has commanded it. I know that nothing will induce her to ask you to attend; and yet, if I were you, I would turn it over in your mind. I know she said that she would sooner that you were present than all her English friends together. However, you can think about it. One likes to do what is proper.”

One does; and yet it is difficult. Sometimes, in doing what we think proper, we get into irremediable scrapes; and often, what we hold to be proper, society in its caprice resolves to be highly improper.

Lady St. Jerome had wished Lothair to see Tivoli, and they were all consulting together when they might go there. Lord St. Jerome who, besides his hunters, had his drag at Rome, wanted to drive them to the place. Lothair sat opposite Miss Arundel, gazing on her beauty. It was like being at Vauxe again. And yet a great deal had happened since they were at Vauxe; and what? So far as they two were concerned, nothing but what should create or confirm relations of confidence and affection. Whatever may have been the influence of others on his existence, hers at least had been one of infinite benignity. She had saved his life; she had cherished it. She had raised him from the lowest depth of physical and moral prostration to health and comparative serenity. If at Vauxe he had beheld her with admiration, had listened with fascinated interest to the fervid expression of her saintly thoughts, and the large purposes of her heroic mind, all these feelings were naturally heightened now when he had witnessed her lofty and consecrated spirit in action, and when that action in his own case had only been exercised for his ineffable advantage.

“Your uncle cannot go tomorrow,” continued Lady St. Jerome, “and on Thursday I am engaged.”

“And on Friday — ” said Miss Arundel, hesitating.

“We are all engaged,” said Lady St. Jerome.

“I should hardly wish to go out before Friday anywhere,” said Miss Arundel, speaking to her aunt, and in a lower tone.

Friday was the day on which the thanksgiving service was to be celebrated in the Jesuit church of St. George of Cappadocia. Lothair knew this well enough and was embarrassed: a thanksgiving for the mercy vouchsafed to Miss Arundel in saving the life of a fellow-countryman, an that fellow-countryman not present! All her Protestant friends would be there, and some Russians. And he not there! It seemed, on his part, the most ungracious and intolerable conduct. And he knew that she would prefer his presence to that of all her acquaintances together. It was more than ungracious on his part; it was ungrateful, almost inhuman.

Lothair sat silent, and stupid, and stiff, and dissatisfied with himself. Once or twice he tried to speak, but his tongue would not move, or his throat was not clear. And, if he had spoken, he would only have made some trifling and awkward remark. In his mind’s eye he saw, gliding about him, the veiled figure of his sick-room, and he recalled with clearness the unceasing and angelic tenderness of which at the time he seemed hardly conscious.

Miss Arundel had risen and had proceeded some way down the room to a cabinet where she was accustomed to place her work. Suddenly Lothair rose and followed her. “Miss Arundel!” he said, and she looked round, hardly stopping when he had reached her. “Miss Arundel, I hope you will permit me to be present at the celebration on Friday?”

She turned round quickly, extending, even eagerly, her hand with mantling cheek. Her eyes glittered with celestial fire. The words hurried from her palpitating lips: “And support me,” she said, “for I need support.”

In the evening reception, Monsignore Catesby approached Father Coleman. “It is done,” he said, with a look of saintly triumph. “It is done at last. He will not only be present, but he will support her. There are yet eight-and-forty hours to elapse. Can any thing happen to defeat us? It would seem not; yet, when so much is at stake, one is fearful. He must never be out of our sight; not a human being must approach him.”

“I think we can manage that,” said Father Coleman.

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