Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 73

Mr. Phoebus pursued a life in his island partly feudal, partly Oriental, partly Venetian, and partly idiosyncratic. He had a grand studio, where he could always find interesting occupation in drawing every fine face and form in his dominions. Then he hunted, and that was a remarkable scene. The ladies, looking like Diana or her nymphs, were mounted on cream-colored Anatolian chargers, with golden bells; while Mr. Phoebus himself, in green velvet and seven-leagued boots, sounded a wondrous twisted horn, rife with all the inspiring or directing notes of musical and learned venerie. His neighbors of condition came mounted, but the field was by no means confined to cavaliers. A vast crowd of men, in small caps and jackets and huge white breeches, and armed with all the weapons of Palikari, handjars and ataghans and silver-sheathed muskets of uncommon length and almost as old as the battle of Lepanto, always rallied round his standard. The equestrians caracoled about the park, and the horns sounded, and the hounds bayed, and the men shouted, till the deer had all scudded away. Then, by degrees, the hunters entered the forest, and the notes of venerie became more faint and the shouts more distant. Then, for two or three hours, all was silent, save the sound of an occasional shot or the note of a stray hound, until the human stragglers began to reappear emerging from the forest, and in due time the great body of the hunt, and a gilded cart drawn by mules and carrying the prostrate forms of fallow-deer and roebuck. None of the ceremonies of the chase were omitted, and the crowd dispersed, refreshed by Samian wine, which Mr. Phoebus was teaching them to make without resin, and which they quaffed with shrugging shoulders.

“We must have a wolf-hunt for you,” said Euphrosyne to Lothair. “You like excitement, I believe?”

“Well, I am rather inclined for repose at present, and I came here with the hope of obtaining it.”

“Well, we are never idle here; in fact, that would be impossible with Gaston. He has established here an academy of the fine arts, and also revived the gymnasia; and my sister and myself have schools — only music and dancing; Gaston does not approve of letters. The poor people have, of course, their primary schools, with their priests, and Gaston does not interfere with them, but he regrets their existence. He looks upon reading and writing as very injurious to education.”

Sometimes reposing on divans, the sisters received the chief persons of the isle, and regaled them with fruits and sweetmeats, and coffee and sherbets, while Gaston’s chibouques and tobacco of Salonica were a proverb. These meetings always ended with dance and song, replete, according to Mr. Phoebus, with studies of Aryan life.

“I believe these islanders to be an unmixed race,” said Mr. Phoebus. “The same form and visage prevails throughout; and very little changed in any thing — even in their religion.”

“Unchanged in their religion!” said Lothair, with some astonishment.

“Yes; you will find it so. Their existence is easy; their wants are not great, and their means of subsistence plentiful. They pass much of their life in what is called amusement — and what is it? They make parties of pleasure; they go in procession to a fountain or a grove. They dance and eat fruit, and they return home singing songs. They have, in fact, been performing unconsciously the religious ceremonies of their ancestors, and which they pursue, and will forever, though they may have forgotten the name of the dryad or the nymph who presides over their waters.”

“I should think their priests would guard them from these errors,” said Lothair.

“The Greek priests, particularly in these Asian islands, are good sort of people,” said Mr. Phoebus. “They marry and have generally large families, often very beautiful. They have no sacerdotal feelings, for they never can have any preferment; all the high posts in the Greek Church being reserved for the monks, who study what is called theology. The Greek parish priest is not at all Semitic; there is nothing to counteract his Aryan tendencies. I have already raised the statue of a nymph at one of their favorite springs and places of pleasant pilgrimage, and I have a statue now in the island, still in its case, which I contemplate installing in a famous grove of laurel not far off and very much resorted to.”

“And what then?” inquired Lothair.

“Well, I have a conviction that among the great races the old creeds will come back,” said Mr. Phoebus, “and it will be acknowledged that true religion is the worship of the beautiful. For the beautiful cannot be attained without virtue, if virtue consists, as I believe, in the control of the passions, in the sentiment of repose, and the avoidance in all things of excess.”

One night Lothair was walking home with the sisters from a village festival where they had been much amused.

“You have had a great many adventures since we first met?” said Madame Phoebus.

“Which makes it seem longer ago than it really is,” said Lothair.

“You count time by emotion, then?” said Euphrosyne.

“Well, it is a wonderful thing, however it be computed,” said Lothair.

“For my part, I do not think that it ought to be counted at all,” said Madame Phoebus; “and there is nothing to me so detestable in Europe as the quantity of clocks and watches.”

“Do you use a watch, my lord?” asked Euphrosyne, in a tone which always seemed to Lothair one of mocking artlessness.

“I believe I never wound it up when I had one,” said Lothair.

“But you make such good use of your time,” said Madame Phoebus, “you do not require watches.”

“I am glad to hear I make good use of my time,” said Lothair, “but a little surprised.”

“But you are so good, so religious,” said Madame Phoebus. “That is a great thing; especially for one so young.”

“Hem!” said Lothair.

“That must have been a beautiful procession at Rome,” said Euphrosyne.

“I was rather a spectator of it than an actor in it,” said Lothair, with some seriousness. “It is too long a tale to enter into, but my part in those proceedings was entirely misrepresented.”

“I believe that nothing in the newspapers is ever true,” said Madame Phoebus.

“And that is why they are so popular,” added Euphrosyne; “the taste of the age being so decidedly for fiction.”

“Is it true that you escaped from a convent to Malta?” said Madame Phoebus.

“Not quite,” said Lothair, “but true enough for conversations.”

“As confidential as the present, I suppose?” said Euphrosyne.

“Yes, when we are grave, as we are inclined to be now,” said Lothair.

“Then, you have been fighting a good deal,” said Madame Phoebus.

“You are putting me on a court-martial, Madame Phoebus,” said Lothair.

“But we do not know on which side you were,” said Euphrosyne.

“That is matter of history,” said Lothair, “and that, you know, is always doubtful.”

“Well, I do not like fighting,” said Madame Phoebus, “and for my part I never could find out that it did an good.”

“And what do you like?” said Lothair. “Tell me how would you pass your life?”

“Well, much as I do. I do not know that I want any change, except I think I should like it to be always summer.”

“And I would have perpetual spring,” said Euphrosyne.

“But, summer or spring, what would be your favorite pursuit?”

“Well, dancing is very nice,” said Madame Phoebus.

“But we cannot always, be dancing,” said Lothair.

“Then we would sing,” said Euphrosyne.

“But the time comes when one can neither dance nor sing,” said Lothair.

“Oh, then we become part of the audience,” said Madame Phoebus, “the people for whose amusement everybody labors.”

“And enjoy power without responsibility,” said Euphrosyne, “detect false notes and mark awkward gestures. How can any one doubt of Providence with such a system of constant compensation!”

There was something in the society of these two sisters that Lothair began to find highly attractive. Their extraordinary beauty, their genuine and unflagging gayety, their thorough enjoyment of existence, and the variety of resources with which they made life amusing and graceful, all contributed to captivate him. They had, too, a great love and knowledge both of art and nature, and insensibly they weaned Lothair from that habit of introspection which, though natural to him, he had too much indulged, and taught him to find sources of interest and delight in external objects. He was beginning to feel happy in this islands and wishing that his life might never change, when one day Mr. Phoebus informed them that the Prince Agathonides, the eldest son of the Prince of Samos, would arrive from Constantinople in a few days, and would pay them a visit. “He will come with some retinue,” said Mr. Phoebus, “but I trust we shall be able by our reception to show that the Cantacuzenes are not the only princely family in the world.”

Mr. Phoebus was confident in his resources in this respect, for his yacht’s crew in their Venetian dresses could always furnish a guard of honor which no Grecian prince or Turkish pacha could easily rival. When the eventful day arrived, he was quite equal to the occasion. The yacht was dressed in every part with the streaming colors of all nations, the banner of Gaston Phoebus waved from his pavilion, the guard of honor kept the ground, but the population of the isle were present in numbers and in their most showy costume, and a battery of ancient Turkish guns fired a salute without an accident.

The Prince Agathonides was a youth, good looking and dressed in a splendid Palikar costume, though his manners were quite European, being an attach to the Turkish embassy at Vienna. He had with him a sort of governor, a secretary, servants in Mamlouk dresses, pipe-bearers, and grooms, there being some horses as presents from his father to Mr. Phoebus, and some rarely-embroidered kerchiefs and choice perfumes and Persian greyhounds for the ladies.

‘The arrival of the young prince was the signal for a series of entertainments on the island. First of all, Mr. Phoebus resolved to give a dinner in the Frank style, to prove to Agathonides that there were other members of the Cantacuzene family besides himself who comprehended a first-rate Frank dinner. The chief people of the island were invited to this banquet. They drank the choicest grapes of France and Germany, were stuffed with truffles, and sat on little cane chairs. But one might detect in their countenances how they sighed for their easy divans, their simple dishes, and their resinous wine. Then there was a wolf-hunt, and other sport; a great day of gymnasia, many dances and much music; in fact, there were choruses all over the island, and every night was a serenade.

Why such general joy? Because it was understood that the heir-apparent of the isle, their future sovereign, had in fact arrived to make his bow to the beautiful Euphrosyne, as though he saw her for the first time.

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