Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 83

On the morning of the very Saturday on which Lothair was to pay his visit to Vauxe, riding in the park, he was joined by that polished and venerable nobleman who presides over the destinies of art in Great Britain. This distinguished person had taken rather a fancy to Lothair, and liked to talk to him about the Phoebus family; about the great artist himself, and all his theories and styles; but especially about the fascinating Madame Phoebus and the captivating Euphrosyne.

“You have not found time, I dare say,” said the nobleman, “to visit the exhibition of the Royal Academy?”

“Well, I have only been here a week,” said Lothair, “and have had so many things to think of, and so many persons to see.”

“Naturally,” said the nobleman; “but I recommend you to go. I am now about to make my fifth visit there; but it is only to a single picture, and I envy its owner.”

“Indeed!” said Lothair. “Pray tell me its subject, that I may not fail to see it.”

“It is a portrait,” said the nobleman, “only a portrait, some would say, as if the finest pictures in the world were not only portraits. The masterpieces of the English school are portraits, and some day when you have leisure and inclination, and visit Italy, you will see portraits by Titian and Raffaelle and others, which are the masterpieces of art. Well, the picture in question is a portrait by a young English painter at Rome and of an English lady. I doubt not the subject was equal to the genius of the artist, but I do not think that the modern pencil has produced any thing equal to it, both, in design and color and expression. You should see it, by all means, and I have that opinion of your taste that I do not think you will be content by seeing it once. The real taste for fine art in this country is proved by the crowd that always surrounds that picture; and yet only a portrait of an English lady, a Miss Arundel.”

“A Miss Arundel?” said Lothair.

“Yes, of a Roman Catholic family; I believe a relative of the St. Jeromes. They were at Rome last year, when this portrait was executed.”

“If you will permit me,” said Lothair, “I should like to accompany you to the Academy. I am going out of town this afternoon, but not far, and could manage it.”

So they went together. It was the last exhibition of the Academy in Trafalgar Square. The portrait in question was in the large room, and hung on the eye line; so, as the throng about it was great, it was not easy immediately to inspect it. But one or two R. A’s who were gliding about, and who looked upon the noble patron of art as a sort of divinity, insensibly controlled the crowd, and secured for their friend and his companion the opportunity which they desired.

“It is the finest thing since the portrait of the Cenci,” said the noble patron.

The painter had represented Miss Arundel in her robe of a sister of mercy, but with uncovered head. A wallet was at her side, and she held a crucifix. Her beautiful eyes, full of mystic devotions met those of the spectator with a fascinating power that kept many spell-bound. In the background of the picture was a masterly glimpse of the papal gardens and the wondrous dome.

“That must be a great woman,” said the noble patron of art.

Lothair nodded assent in silence.

The crowd about the picture seemed breathless and awe-struck. There were many women, and in some eyes there were tears.

“I shall go home,” said one of the spectators; “I do not wish to see any thing else.”

“That is religion,” murmured her companion. “They may say what they like, but it would be well for us if we were all like her.”

It was a short half-hour by the railroad to Vauxe, and the station was close to the park gates. The sun was in its last hour when Lothair arrived, but he was captivated by the beauty of the scene, which he had never witnessed in its summer splendor. The rich foliage of the great avenues, the immense oaks that stood alone, the deer glancing in the golden light, and the quaint and stately edifice itself, so finished and so fair, with its freestone pinnacles and its gilded vanes glistening and sparkling in the warm and lucid sky, contrasted with the chilly hours when the cardinal and himself had first strolled together in that park, and when they tried to flatter themselves that the morning mist clinging to the skeleton trees was perhaps the burst of spring.

Lothair found himself again in his old rooms, and, as his valet unpacked his toilet, he fell into one of his reveries.

“What,” he thought to himself, “if life after all be only a dream? I can scarcely realize what is going on. It seems to me; I have passed through a year of visions. That I should be at Vauxe again! A roof I once thought rife with my destiny. And perhaps it may prove so. And, were it not for the memory of one event, I should be a ship without a rudder.”

There were several guests in the house, and, when Lothair entered the drawing-room, he was glad to find that it was rather full. The cardinal was by the side of Lady St. Jerome when Lothair entered, and immediately after saluting his hostess it was his duty to address his late guardian. Lothair had looked forward to this meeting with apprehension. It seemed impossible that it should not to a certain degree be annoying. Nothing of the kind. It was impossible to greet him more cordially, more affectionately than did Cardinal Grandison.

“You have seen a great deal since we parted,” said the cardinal. “Nothing could be wiser than your travelling. You remember that at Muriel I recommended you to go to Egypt, but I thought it better that you should see Rome first. And it answered: you made the acquaintance of its eminent men, men whose names will be soon in everybody’s mouth, for before another year elapses Rome will be the cynosure of the world. Then, when the great questions come on which will decide the fate of the human race for centuries, you will feel the inestimable advantage of being master of the situation, and that you are familiar with every place and every individual. I think you were not very well at Rome; but next time you must choose your season. However, I may congratulate you on your present looks. The air of the Levant seems to have agreed with you.”

Dinner was announced almost at this moment, and Lothair, who had to take out Lady Clanmorne, had no opportunity before dinner of addressing any one else except his hostess and the cardinal. The dinner-party was large, and it took some time to reconnoitre all the guests. Lothair observed Miss Arundel, who was distant from him and on the same side of the table, but neither Monsignore Capel nor Father Coleman were present.

Lady Clanmorne chatted agreeably. She was content to talk, and did not insist on conversational reciprocity. She was a pure free-trader in gossip. This rather suited Lothair. It pleased Lady Clanmorne today to dilate upon marriage and the married state, but especially on all her acquaintances, male and female, who were meditating the surrender of their liberty and about to secure the happiness of their lives.

“I suppose the wedding of the season — the wedding of weddings — will be the Duke of Brecon’s,” she said. “But I do not hear of any day being fixed.”

“Ah!” said Lothair, “I have been abroad and am very deficient in these matters. But I was travelling with the lady’s brother, and he has never yet told me that his sister was going to be married.”

“There is no doubt about that,” said Lady Clanmorne. “The duchess said to a friend of mine the other day, who congratulated her, that there was no person in whom she should have more confidence as a son-in-law than the duke.”

“But most marriages turn out unhappy,” said Lothair, rather morosely.

“Oh! my dear lord, what can you mean?”

“Well I think so,” he said doggedly. “Among the lower orders, if we may judge from the newspapers, they are always killing their wives, and in our class we get rid of them in a more polished way, or they get rid of us.”

“You quite astonish me with such sentiments,” said Lady Clanmorne. “What would Lady St. Jerome think if she heard you, who told me the other day that she believed you to be a faultless character? And the duchess too, your friend’s mamma, who thinks you so good, and that it is so fortunate for her son to have such a companion?”

“As for Lady St. Jerome, she believes in every thing,” said Lothair; “and it is no compliment that she believes in me. As for my friend’s mamma, her ideal character, according to you, is the Duke of Brecon, and I cannot pretend to compete with him. He may please the duchess, but I cannot say the Duke of Brecon is a sort of man I admire.”

“Well, he is no great favorite of mine,” said Lady Clanmorne; “I think him overbearing and selfish, and I should not like at all to be his wife.”

“What do you think of Lady Corisande?” said Lothair.

“I admire her more than any girl in society, and I think she will be thrown away on the Duke of Brecon. She is clever and she has strong character, and, I am told, is capable of great affections. Her manners are good, finished, and natural; and she is beloved by her young friends, which I always think a test.”

“Do you think her handsome?”

“There can be no question about that: she is beautiful, and her beauty is of a high class. I admire her much more than all her sisters. She has a grander mien.”

“Have you seen Miss Arundel’s picture at the Academy?”

“Everybody has seen that: it has made a fury.”

“I heard an eminent judge say today, that it was the portrait of one who must be a great woman.”

“Well, Miss Arundel is a remarkable person.”

“Do you admire her?”

“I have heard first-rate critics say that there was no person to be compared to Miss Arundel. And unquestionably it is a most striking countenance: that profound brow and those large deep eyes — and then her figure is so fine; but, to tell you the truth, Miss Arundel is a person I never could make out.”

“I wonder she does not marry,” said Lothair.

“She is very difficult,” said Lady Clanmorne. “Perhaps, too, she is of your opinion about marriage.”

“I have a good mind to ask her after dinner whether she is,” said Lothair. “I fancy she would not marry a Protestant?”

“I am no judge of such matters,” said Lady Clanmorne; “only I cannot help thinking that there would be more chance of a happy marriage when both were of the same religion.”

“I wish we were all of the same religion. Do not you?”

“Well, that depends a little on what the religion might be.”

“Ah!” sighed Lothair, “what between religion and marriage and some other things, it appears to me one never has a tranquil moment. I wonder what religious school the Duke of Brecon belongs to? Very high and dry, I should think.”

The moment the gentlemen returned to the drawing-room, Lothair singled out Miss Arundel, and attached himself to her.

“I have been to see your portrait today,” he said. She changed color.

“I think it,” he continued, “the triumph of modern art, and I could not easily fix on any production of the old masters that excels it.”

“It was painted at Rome,” she said, in a low voice.

“So I understood. I regret that, when I was at Rome, I saw so little of its art. But my health, you know, was wretched. Indeed, if it had not been for some friends — I might say for one friend — I should not have been here or in this world. I can never express to that person my gratitude, and it increases every day. All that I have dreamed of angels was then realized.”

“You think too kindly of us.”

“Did Lady St. Jerome give you my message about the earth from the holy places which I had placed in a crucifix, and which I hope you will accept from me, in remembrance of the past and your Christian kindness to me? I should have left it at St. James’s Square before this, but it required some little arrangement after its travels.”

“I shall prize it most dearly, both on account of its consecrated character and for the donor’s sake, whom I have ever wished to see the champion of our Master.”

“You never had a wish, I am sure,” said Lothair, “that was not sublime and pure.”

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