Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 78

Time passed very agreeably to St. Aldegonde and Bertram at Jerusalem, for it was passed entirely at the Russian consulate, or with its interesting and charming inmates, who were always making excursions, or, as they styled them, pilgrimages. They saw little of Lothair, who would willingly have conversed with his friend on many topics, but his friend was almost always engaged, and, if by some chance they succeeded in finding themselves alone, Bertram appeared to be always preoccupied. One day he said to Lothair: “I tell you what, old fellow, if you want to know all about what has happened at home, I will give you Corisande’s letters. They are a sort of journal which she promised to keep for me, and they will tell you every thing. I found an immense packet of them on our return from Cairo, and I meant to have read them here; but I do not know how it is — I suppose there is so much to be seen here — but I never seem to have a moment to myself. I have got an engagement now to the consulate. We are going to Elisha’s Fountain today. Why do not you come?”

“Well, I am engaged too,” said Lothair. “I have settled to go to the Tombs of the Kings today, with Signor Paraclete, and I cannot well get off; but remember the letters.”

The box of letters arrived at Lothair’s rooms in due season, and their perusal deeply interested him. In their pages, alike earnest and lively, and a picture of a mind of high intelligence adorned with fancy and feeling, the name of Lothair frequently appeared, and sometimes accompanied with expressions that made his heart beat. All the rumors of his adventures, as they gradually arrived in England, generally distorted, were duly chronicled, and sometimes with comments, which intimated the interest they occasioned to the correspondent of Bertram. More than once she could not refrain from reproaching her brother for having left his friend so much to himself. “Of all your friends,” she said, “the one who always most interested me, and seemed most worthy of your affection.” And then she deplored the absolute ruin of Lothair, for such she deemed his entrance into the Roman Church.

“I was right in my appreciation of that woman, though I was utterly inexperienced in life,” thought Lothair. “If her mother had only favored my views two years ago, affairs would have been different. Would they have been better? Can they be worse? But I have gained experience. Certainly; and paid for it with my heart’s blood. And might I not have gained experience tranquilly, in the discharge of the duties of my position at home — dear home? Perhaps not. And suppose I never had gained experience, I still might have been happy? And what am I now? Most lone and sad. So lone and sad that nothing but the magical influence of the scene around me saves me from an overwhelming despondency.”

Lothair passed his life chiefly with Paraclete, and, a few weeks after their first acquaintance, they left Jerusalem together for Galilee.

The month of May had disappeared, and June was advancing. Bertram and Saint Aldegonde no longer talked about their pair, and their engagements in the House of Commons. There seemed a tacit understanding between them to avoid the subject; remarkable on the part of Bertram, for he had always been urgent on his brother-in-law to fulfil their parliamentary obligation.

The party at the Russian consulate had gone on a grand expedition to the Dead Sea, and had been absent for many days from Jerusalem. They were conveyed by one of the sheiks of the Jordan valley. It was a most successful expedition — constant adventure, novel objects and habits, all the spell of a romantic life. The ladies were delighted with the scenery of the Jordan valley, and the gentlemen had good sport; St. Aldegonde had killed a wild-boar, and Bertram an ibex, whose horns were preserved for Brentham. Mr. Phoebus intensely studied the camel and its habits. He persuaded himself that the ship of the desert entirely understood him. “But it is always so,” he added. “There is no animal that in a week does not perfectly comprehend me. Had I time and could give myself up to it, I have no doubt I could make them speak. Nature has endowed me, so far as dumb animals are concerned, with a peculiar mesmeric power.”

At last this happy caravan was again within sight of the walls of Jerusalem.

“I should like to have remained in the valley of the Jordan forever,” said St. Aldegonde.

“And so should I,” whispered Bertram to Euphrosyne, “with the same companions.”

When they had returned to the consulate, they found the post from England had arrived during their absence. There were dispatches for all. It is an agitating moment — that arrival of letters in a distant land. Lord St. Aldegonde seemed much disturbed when he tore open and perused his. His countenance became clouded; he dashed his hand through his dishevelled locks; he pouted; and then he said to Bertram, “Come to my room.”

“Anything wrong at home?”

“Not at home,” said St. Aldegonde. “Bertha is all right. But a most infernal letter from Glyn — most insolent. If I do return I will vote against them. But I will not return. I have made up my mind to that. People are so selfish,” exclaimed St. Aldegonde, with indignation. “They never think of any thing but themselves.”

“Show me his letter,” said Bertram. “I have got a letter too; it is from the duke.”

The letter of the Opposition whip did not deserve the epithets ascribed to it by St. Aldegonde. It was urgent and courteously peremptory; but, considering the circumstances of the case, by no means too absolute. Paired to Easter by great indulgence, St. Aldegonde was passing Whitsuntide at Jerusalem. The parliamentary position was critical, and the future of the Opposition seemed to depend on the majority by which their resolutions on the Irish Church were sent up to the House of Lords.

“Well,” said Bertram. “I see nothing to complain of in that letter. Except a little more urgency, it is almost the same language as reached us at Cairo, and then you said Glyn was a capital fellow, and seemed quite pleased.”

“Yes, because I hated Egypt,” said St. Aldegonde. “I hated the pyramids, and I was disappointed with the dancing-girls; and it seemed to me that, if it had not been for the whip, we never should have been able to escape. But things are very different now.”

“Yes, they are,” said Bertram, in a melancholy tone.

“You do not think of returning?” said St. Aldegonde.

“Instantly,” replied Bertram. “I have a letter from the duke which is peremptory. The county is dissatisfied with my absence. And mine is a queer constituency; very numerous and several large towns; the popularity of my family gained me the seat, not their absolute influence.”

“My constituents never trouble me,” said St. Aldegonde.

“You have none,” said Bertram.

“Well, if I were member for a metropolitan district I would hot budge. And I little thought you would have deserted me.”

“Ah!” sighed Bertram. “You’re discontented, because your amusements are interrupted. But think of my position, torn from a woman whom I adore.”

“Well, you know you must have left her sooner or later,” urged St. Aldegonde.

“Why?” asked Bertram.

“You know what Lothair told us. She is engaged to her cousin the Prince of Samos, and —”

“If I had only the Prince of Samos to deal with, I should care little,” said Bertram.

“Why, what do you mean?”

“That Euphrosyne is mine, if my family will sanction our union, but not otherwise.”

St. Aldegonde gave a long whistle, and he added, “I wish Bertha were here. She is the only person I know who has a head.”

“You see, my dear Granville, while you are talking of your little disappointments, I am involved in awful difficulties.”

“You are sure about the Palace of Samos?”

“Clear your head of that. There is no engagement of any kind between him and Euphrosyne. The visit to the island was only a preliminary ceremony — just to show himself. No doubt the father wishes the alliance; nor is there any reason to suppose that it would be disagreeable to the son; but, I repeat it — no engagement exists.”

“If I were not your brother-in-law, I should have been very glad to have married Euphrosyne myself,” said St. Aldegonde.

“Yes, but what am I to do?” asked Bertram, rather impatiently.

“It will not do to write to Brentham,” said St. Aldegonde, gravely; “that I see clearly.” Then, after musing a while, he added: “I am vexed to leave our friends here and shall miss them sadly. They are the most agreeable people I ever knew. I never enjoyed myself so much. But we must think of nothing but your affairs. We must return instantly. The whip will be an excuse, but the real business will be Euphrosyne. I should delight in having her for a sister-in-law, but the affair will require management. We can make short work of getting home: steam to Marseilles, leave the yacht there, and take the railroad. I have half a mind to telegraph to Bertha to meet us there. She would be of great use.”

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