Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 70

“They have overdone it, Gertrude, with Lothair,” said Lord Jerome to his wife. “I spoke to Monsignore Catesby about it some time ago, but he would not listen to me; I had more confidence in the cardinal and am disappointed; but a priest is ever too hot. His nervous system has been tried too much.”

Lady St. Jerome still hoped the best, and believed in it. She was prepared to accept the way Lothair was found senseless in the Coliseum as a continuance of miraculous interpositions. He might have remained there for a day or days, and never have been recognized when discovered. How marvelously providential that Father Coleman should have been in the vicinity, and tempted to visit the great ruin that very night!

Lord St. Jerome was devout, and easy in his temper. Priests and women seemed to have no difficulty in managing him. But he was an English gentleman, and there was at the bottom of his character a fund of courage, firmness, and commonsense, that sometimes startled and sometimes perplexed those who assumed that he could be easily controlled. He was not satisfied with the condition of Lothair, “a peer of England and my connection;” and he had not unlimited confidence in those who had been hitherto consulted as to his state. There was a celebrated English physician at that time visiting Rome, and Lord St. Jerome, notwithstanding the multiform resistance of Monsignors Catesby, insisted he should be called in to Lothair.

The English physician was one of those men who abhor priests, and do not particularly admire ladies. The latter, in revenge, denounced his manners as brutal, though they always sent for him, and were always trying, though vainly, to pique him into sympathy. He rarely spoke, but he listened to every one with entire patience. He sometimes asked a question, but he never made a remark.

Lord St. Jerome had seen the physician, alone before he visited the Palazzo Agostini, and had talked to him freely about Lothair. The physician saw at once that Lord St. Jerome was truthful, and that, though his intelligence might be limited, it was pure and direct. Appreciating Lord St. Jerome, that nobleman found the redoubtable doctor not ungenial, and assured his wife that she would meet on the morrow by no means so savage a being as she anticipated. She received him accordingly, and in the presence of Monsignore Catesby. Never had she exercised her distinguished powers of social rhetoric with more art and fervor, and never apparently had they proved less productive of the intended consequences. The physician said not a word, and merely bowed when exhausted Nature consigned the luminous and impassioned Lady St. Jerome to inevitable silence. Monsignore Catesby felt he was bound in honor to make some diversion in her favor; repeat some of her unanswered inquiries, and reiterate some of her unnoticed views; but the only return he received was silence, without a bow, and then the physician remarked, “I presume I can now see the patient.”

The English physician was alone with Lothair for some time, and then he met in consultation the usual attendants. The result of all these proceedings was that he returned to the saloon, in which he found Lord and Lady St. Jerome, Monsignore Catesby, and Father Coleman, and he then said: “My opinion is, that his lordship should quit Rome immediately, and I think he had better return at once to his own country.”

All the efforts of the English Propaganda were now directed to prevent the return of Lothair to his own country. The cardinal and Lady St. Jerome, and the monsignore, and Father Coleman, all the beautiful young countesses who had “gone over” to Rome, and all the spirited young earls who had come over to bring their wives back, but had unfortunately remained themselves, looked very serious, and spoke much in whispers. Lord St. Jerome was firm that Lothair should immediately leave the city, and find that change of scene and air which were declared by authority to be indispensable for his health, both of mind and body. But his return to England, at this moment, was an affair of serious difficulty. He could not return unattended, and attended, too, by some intimate and devoted friend. Besides, it was very doubtful whether Lothair had strength remaining to bear so great an exertion, and at such a season of the year — and he seemed disinclined to it himself. He also wished to leave Rome, but he wished also in time to extend his travels. Amid these difficulties, a Neapolitan duke, a great friend of Monsignore Catesby, a gentleman who always had a friend in need, offered to the young English noble, the interesting young Englishman so favored by Heaven, the use of his villa on the coast of the remotest part of Sicily, near Syracuse. Here was a solution of many difficulties: departure from Rome, change of scene and air — sea air, too, particularly recommended — and almost the same as a return to England, without an effort, for was it not an island, only with a better climate, and a people with free institutions, or a taste for them, which is the same?

The mode in which Lady St. Jerome and Monsignors Catesby consulted Lord St. Jerome on the subject took the adroit but insidious form of congratulating him on the entire and unexpected fulfilment of his purpose. “Are we not fortunate?” exclaimed her ladyship, looking up brightly in his face, and gently pressing one of his arms.

“Exactly everything your lordship required,” echoed Monsignore Catesby, congratulating him by pressing the other.

The cardinal said to Lord St. Jerome, in the course of the morning, in an easy way, and as if he were not thinking too much of the matter, “So, you have got out of all your difficulties.”

Lord St. Jerome was not entirely satisfied, but he thought he had done a great deal, and, to say the truth, the effort for him had not been inconsiderable; and so the result was that Lothair, accompanied by Monsignore Catesby and Father Coleman, travelled by easy stages, and chiefly on horseback, through a delicious and romantic country, which alone did Lothair a great deal of good, to the coast; crossed the straits on a serene afternoon, visited Messina and Palermo, and finally settled at their point of destination — the Villa Catalano.

Nothing could be more satisfactory than the monsignore’s bulletin, announcing to his friends at Rome their ultimate arrangements. Three weeks’ travel, air, horse exercise, the inspiration of the landscape and the clime, had wonderfully restored Lothair, and they might entirely count on his passing Holy Week at Rome, when all they had hoped and prayed for would, by the blessing of the Holy Virgin, be accomplished.

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