Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 80

Mrs. Putney Giles, in full toilet, was standing before the mantel-piece of her drawing-room in Hyde Park Gardens, and watching, with some anxiety, the clock that rested on it. It was the dinner-hour, and Mr. Putney Giles, particular in such matters, had not returned. No one looked forward to his dinner, and a chat with his wife, with greater zest than Mr. Putney Giles; and he deserved the gratification which both incidents afforded him, for he fairly earned it. Full of news and bustle, brimful of importance and prosperity, sunshiny and successful, his daily return home — which, with many, perhaps most, men, is a process lugubriously monotonous — was in Hyde Park Gardens, even to Apollonia, who possessed many means of amusement and occupation, a source ever of interest and excitement.

To-day too, particularly, for their great client, friend, and patron, Lothair, had arrived last night, from the Continent, at Muriel House, and had directed Mr. Putney Giles to be in attendance on him on the afternoon of this day.

Muriel House was a family mansion in the Green Park. It was built of hewn stone, during the last century — a Palladian edifice, for a time much neglected, but now restored and duly prepared for the reception of its lord and master by the same combined energy and taste which had proved so satisfactory and successful at Muriel Towers.

It was a long room, the front saloon at Hyde Park Gardens, and the door was as remote as possible from the mantel-piece. It opened suddenly, but only the panting face of Mr. Putney Giles was seen, as he poured forth in hurried words: “My dear, dreadfully late, but I can dress in five minutes. I only opened the door in passing, to tell you that I have seen our great friend; wonderful man! but I will tell you all at dinner, or after. It was not he who kept me, but the Duke of Brecon. The duke has been with me two hours. I had a good mind to bring him home to dinner, and give him a bottle of my ‘48. They like that sort of thing, but it will keep,” and the head vanished.

The Duke of Brecon would not have dined ill, had he honored this household. It is a pleasant thing to see an opulent and prosperous man of business, sanguine and full of health, and a little overworked, at that royal meal, dinner. How he enjoys his soup! And how curious in his fish! How critical in his entr e, and how nice in his Welsh mutton! His exhausted brain rallies under the glass of dry sherry, and he realizes all his dreams with the aid of claret that has the true flavor of the violet.

“And now, my dear Apollonia,” said Mr. Putney Giles, when the servants had retired, and he turned his chair and played with a new nut from the Brazils, “about our great friend. Well, I was there at two o’clock, and found him at breakfast. Indeed, he said that, had he not given me an appointment, he thought he should not have risen at all. So delighted he was to find himself again in an English bed. Well, he told me every thing that had happened. I never knew a man so unreserved, and so different from what he was when I first knew him, for he never much cared then to talk about himself. But no egotism, nothing of that sort of thing — all his mistakes, all his blunders, as he called them. He told me every thing, that I might thoroughly understand his position, and that he might judge whether the steps I had taken in reference to it were adequate.”

“I suppose about his religion,” said Apollonia. “What is he, after all?”

“As sound as you are. But you are right; that was the point on which he was most anxious. He wrote, you know, to me from Malta, when the account of his conversion first appeared, to take all necessary steps to contradict the announcement, and counteract its consequences. He gave me carte blanche, and was anxious to know precisely what I had done. I told him that a mere contradiction, anonymous, or from a third person, however unqualified its language, would have no effect in the face of a detailed narrative, like that in all the papers, of his walking in procession and holding a lighted taper, and all that sort of thing. What I did was this. I commenced building, by his direction, two new churches on his estate, and announced in the local journals, copied in London, that he would be present at the consecration of both. I subscribed, in his name, and largely, to all the diocesan societies, gave a thousand pounds to the Bishop of London’s fund, and accepted for him the office of steward, for this year, for the Sons of the Clergy. Then, when the public feeling was ripe, relieved from all its anxieties, and beginning to get indignant at the calumnies that had been so freely circulated, the time for paragraphs had arrived, and one appeared stating that a discovery had taken place of the means by which an unfounded and preposterous account of the conversion of a distinguished young English nobleman at Rome had been invented and circulated, and would probably furnish the occasion for an action for libel. And now his return and appearance at the Chapel Royal, next Sunday, will clinch the whole business.”

“And he was satisfied?”

“Most satisfied; a little anxious whether his personal friends, and particularly the Brentham family, were assured of the truth. He travelled home with the duke’s son and Lord St. Aldegonde, but they came from remote parts, and their news from home was not very recent.”

“And how does he look?”

“Very well; never saw him look better. He is handsomer than he was. But he is changed. I could not conceive in a year that any one could be so changed. He was young for his years; he is now old for his years. He was, in fact, a boy; he is now a man; and yet it is only a year. He said it seemed to him ten.”

“He has been through a fiery furnace,” said Apollonia.

“Well, he has borne it well,” said Mr. Giles. “It is worth while serving such a client, so cordial, so frank, and yet so full of thought. He say he does not in the least regret all the money he has wasted. Had he remained at home, it would have gone to building a cathedral.”

“And a popish one!” said Apollonia. “I cannot agree with him,” she continued, “that his Italian campaign was a waste of money. It will bear fruit. We shall still see the end of the ‘abomination of desolation.’”

“Very likely,” said Mr. Giles; “but I trust my client will have no more to do with such questions either way.”

“And did he ask after his friends?” said Apollonia.

“Very much: he asked after you. I think he went through all the guests at Muriel Towers except the poor Campians. He spoke, to me about the colonel, to whom it appears he has written; but Theodora he never mentioned, except by some periphrasis, some allusion to a great sorrow, or to some dear friend whom he had lost. He seems a little embarrassed about the St. Jeromes, and said more than once that he owed his life to Miss Arundel. He dwelt a good deal upon this. He asked also a great deal about the Brentham family. They seem the people whom he most affects. When I told him of Lady Corisande’s approaching union with the Duke of Brecon, I did not think he half liked it.”

“But is it settled?”

“The same as —. The duke has been with me two hours today about his arrangements. He has proposed to the parents, who are delighted with the match, and has received every encouragement from the young lady. He looks upon it as certain.”

“I wish our kind friend had not gone abroad,” said Apollonia.

“Well, at any rate, he has come back,” said Mr. Giles; “that is something. I am sure I more than once never expected to see him again.”

“He has every virtue, and every charm,” said Apollonia, “and principles that are now proved. I shall never forget his kindness at the Towers. I wish he were settled for life. But who is worthy of him? I hope he will not fall into the clutches of that popish girl. I have sometimes, from what I observed at Muriel, and other reasons, a dread misgiving.”

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