Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 89

Lothair, who was very sensible to the charms of Nature, found at first relief in the beauties of Muriel. The season was propitious to the scene. August is a rich and leafy month, and the glades and avenues and stately trees of his parks and pleasaunces seemed, at the same time, to soothe and gladden his perturbed spirit. Muriel was still new to him, and there was much to examine and explore for the first time. He found a consolation also in the frequent remembrance that these scenes had been known to those whom he loved. Often in the chamber, and often in the bower, their forms arose; sometimes their voices lingered in his ear; a frolic laugh, or whispered words of kindness and enjoyment. Such a place as Muriel should always be so peopled. But that is impossible. One cannot always have the most agreeable people in the world assembled under one’s roof. And yet the alternative should not be the loneliness he now experienced. The analytical Lothair resolved that there was no happiness without sympathy.

The most trying time were the evenings. A man likes to be alone in the morning. He writes his letters and reads the newspapers, attempts to examine his steward’s accounts, and if he wants society can gossip with his stud-groom. But a solitary evening in the country is gloomy, however brilliant the accessories. As Mr. Phoebus was not present, Lothair violated the prime principles of a first-class Aryan education, and ventured to read a little. It is difficult to decide which is the most valuable companion to a country eremite at his nightly studies, the volume that keeps him awake or the one that sets him a-slumbering.

At the end of a week Lothair had some good sport on his moors — and this reminded him of the excellent Campian, who had received and answered his letter. The colonel, however, held out but a faint prospect of returning at present to Europe, though, whenever he did, he promised to be the guest of Lothair. Lothair asked some of his neighbors to dinner, and he made two large parties to slaughter his grouse. They were grateful and he was popular, but “we have not an idea in common,” thought Lothair, as, wearied and uninterested, he bade his last guest his last good-night. Then Lothair paid a visit to the lord-lieutenant, and stayed two nights at Agramont Castle. Here he met many county notables, and “great was the company of the preachers;” but the talk was local or ecclesiastical, and, after the high-spiced condiments of the conversation to which he was accustomed, the present discourse was insipid even to nausea. He sought some relief in the society of Lady Ida Alice, but she blushed when she spoke to him, and tittered when he replied to her; and at last he found refuge in pretty Mrs. Ardenne, who concluded by asking him for his photograph.

On the morrow of his return to Muriel, the servant bringing in his letters, he seized one in the handwriting of Bertram, and, discarding the rest, devoured the communication of his friend, which was eventful.

It seems that the Phoebus family had returned to England, and were at Brentham, and had been there a week. The family were delighted with them, and Euphrosyne was an especial favorite. But this was not all. It seems that Mr. Cantacuzene had been down to Brentham, and stayed, which he never did anywhere, a couple of days. And the duke was particularly charmed with Mr. Cantacuzene. This gentleman, who was only in the earlier term of middle age, and looked younger than his age, was distinguished in appearance, highly polished, and singularly acute. He appeared to be the master of great wealth, for he offered to make upon Euphrosyne any settlement which the duke desired. He had no son, and did not wish his sons-in-law to be sighing for his death. He wished his daughters, therefore, to enjoy the bulk of their inheritances in his lifetime. He told the duke that he had placed one hundred thousand pounds in the names of trustees on the marriage of Madame Phoebus, to accumulate, “and when the genius and vanity of her husband are both exhausted, though I believe they are inexhaustible,” remarked Mr. Cantacuzene, “it will be a nest’s-egg for them to fall back upon, and at least save them from penury.” The duke had no doubt that Mr. Cantacuzene was of imperial lineage. But the latter portion of the letter was the most deeply interesting to Lothair. Bertram wrote that his mother had just observed that she thought the Phoebus family would like to meet Lothair, and begged Bertram to invite him to Brentham. The letter ended by an urgent request, that, if disengaged, he should arrive immediately.

Mr. Phoebus highly approved of Brentham. All was art, and art of a high character. He knew no residence with an aspect so thoroughly Aryan. Though it was really a family party, the house was quite full; at least, as Bertram said to Lothair on his arrival, “there is only room for you — and you are in your old quarters.”

“That is exactly what I wished,” said Lothair.

He had to escort the duchess to dinner. Her manner was of old days. “I thought you would like to meet your friends,” she said.

“It gives me much pleasure, but much more to find myself at Brentham.”

“There seems every prospect of Bertram being happy. We are enchanted with the young lady. You know her, I believe, well? The duke is highly pleased with her, father, Mr. Cantacuzene — he says one of the most sensible men he ever met, and a thorough gentleman, which he may well be, for I believe there is no doubt he is of the highest descent — emperors they say, princes even now. I wish you could have met him, but he would only stay eight-and-forty hours. I understand his affairs are vast.”

“I have always heard a considerable person; quite the head of the Greek community in this country — indeed, in Europe generally.”

“I see by the morning papers that Miss Arundel has taken the veil.”

“I missed my papers today,” said Lothair, a little agitated, “but I have long been aware of her intention of doing so.”

“Lady St. Jerome will miss her very much. She was quite the soul of the house.”

“It must be a great and painful sacrifice,” said Lothair; “but, I believe, long meditated. I remember when I was at Vauxe, nearly two years ago, that I was told this was to be her fate. She was quite determined on it.”

“I saw the beautiful crucifix you gave her, at Mr. Ruby’s.”

“It was an homage to her for her great goodness to me when I was ill at Rome — and it was difficult to find any thing that would please or suit her. I fixed on the crucifix, because it permitted me to transfer to it the earth of the holy places, which were included in the crucifix, that was given to me by the monks of the Holy Sepulchre, when I made my pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”

In the evening St. Aldegonde insisted on their dancing, and he engaged himself to Madame Phoebus. Bertram and Euphrosyne seemed never separated; Lothair was successful in inducing Lady Corisande to be his partner.

“Do you remember your first ball at Crecy House?” asked Lothair. “You are not nervous now?”

“I would hardly say that,” said Lady Corisande, “though I try not to show it.”

“It was the first ball for both of us,” said Lothair. “I have not danced so much in the interval as you have. Do you know, I was thinking, just now, I have danced oftener with you than with any one else?”

“Are not you glad about Bertram’s affair ending so well?”

“Very; he will be a happy man. Every body is happy, I think, except myself.”

In the course of the evening, Lady St. Aldegonde, on the arm of Lord Montairy, stopped for a moment as she passed Lothair, and said: “Do you remember our conversation at Lord Culloden’s breakfast? Who was right about mamma?”

They passed their long summer days in rambling and riding, and in wondrous new games which they played in the hall. The striking feature, however, were the matches at battledore and shuttlecock between Madame Phoebus and Lord St. Aldegonde, in which the skill and energy displayed were supernatural, and led to betting. The evenings were always gay; sometimes they danced; more or less they always had some delicious singing. And Mr. Phoebus arranged some tableaux most successfully.

All this time, Lothair hung much about Lady Corisande; he was by her side in the riding-parties, always very near her when they walked, and sometimes he managed unconsciously to detach her from the main party, and they almost walked alone. If he could not sit by her at dinner, he joined her immediately afterward, and whether it were a dance, a tableau, or a new game, somehow or other he seemed always to be her companion.

It was about a week after the arrival of Lothair, and they were at breakfast at Brentham, in that bright room full of little round tables which Lothair always admired, looking, as it did, upon a garden of many colors.

“How I hate modern gardens!” said St. Aldegonde. “What a horrid thing this is! One might as well have a mosaic pavement there. Give me cabbage-roses, sweet-peas, and wall-flowers. That is my idea of a garden. Corisande’s garden is the only sensible thing of the sort.”

“One likes a mosaic pavement to look like a garden,” said Euphrosyne, “but not a garden like a mosaic pavement.”

“The worst of these mosaic beds,” said Madame Phoebus, “is, you can never get a nosegay, and if it were not for the kitchen-garden, we should be destitute of that gayest and sweetest of creations.”

“Corisande’s garden is, since your first visit to Brentham,” said the duchess to Lothair. “No flowers are admitted that have not perfume. It is very old-fashioned. You must get her to show it you.”

It was agreed that after breakfast they should go and see Corisande’s garden. And a party did go — all the Phoebus family, and Lord and Lady St. Aldegonde, and Lady Corisande, and Bertram, and Lothair.

In the pleasure-grounds of Brentham were the remains of an ancient garden of the ancient house that had long ago been pulled down. When the modern pleasure-grounds were planned and created, notwithstanding the protests of the artists in landscape, the father of the present duke would not allow this ancient garden to be entirely destroyed, and you came upon its quaint appearance in the dissimilar world in which it was placed, as you might in some festival of romantic costume upon a person habited in the courtly dress of the last century. It was formed upon a gentle southern slope, with turfen terraces walled in on three sides, the fourth consisting of arches of golden yew. The duke had given this garden to Lady Corisande, in order that she might practise her theory, that flower-gardens should be sweet and luxuriant, and not hard and scentless imitations of works of art. Here, in their season, flourished abundantly all those productions of Nature which are now banished from our once delighted senses; huge bushes of honey-suckle, and bowers of sweet-pea and sweet-brier, and jessamine clustering over the walls, and gillyflowers scenting with their sweet breath the ancient bricks from which they seemed to spring. There were banks of violets which the southern breeze always stirred, and mignonette filled every vacant nook. As they entered now, it seemed a blaze of roses and carnations, though one recognized in a moment the presence of the lily, the heliotrope, and the stock. Some white peacocks were basking on the southern wall, and one of them, as their visitors entered, moved and displayed its plumage with scornful pride. The bees were busy in the air, but their homes were near, and you might watch them laboring in their glassy hives.

“Now, is not Corisande quite right?” said Lord St. Aldegonde, as he presented Madame Phoebus with a garland of woodbine, with which she said she would dress her head at dinner. All agreed with him, and Bertram and Euphrosyne adorned each other with carnations, and Mr. Phoebus placed a flower on the uncovered head of Lady St. Aldegonde, according to the principles of high art, and they sauntered and rambled in the sweet and sunny air amid a blaze of butterflies and the ceaseless hum of bees.

Bertram and Euphrosyne had disappeared; and the rest were lingering about the hives while Mr. Phoebus gave them a lecture on the apiary and its marvellous life. The bees understood Mr. Phoebus, at least he said so, and thus his friends had considerable advantage in this lesson in entomology. Lady Corisande and Lothair were in a distant corner of the garden, and she was explaining to him her plans; what she had done and what she meant to do.

“I wish I had a garden like this at Muriel,” said Lothair.

“You could easily make one.”

“If you helped me.”

“I have told you all my plans,” said Lady Corisande.

“Yes; but I was thinking of something else when you spoke,” said Lothair.

“That was not very complimentary.”

“I do not wish to be complimentary,” said Lothair, “if compliments mean less than they declare. I was not thinking of your garden, but of you.”

“Where can they have all gone?” said Lady Corisande, looking round. “We must find them.”

“And leave this garden?” said Lothair. “And I without a flower, the only one without a flower? I am afraid that is significant of my lot.”

“You shall choose a rose,” said Lady Corisande.

“Nay; the charm is, that it should be your choice.”

But choosing the rose lost more times and, when Corisande and Lothair reached the arches of golden yew, there were no friends in sight.

“I think I hear sounds this way,” said Lothair, and he led his companion farther from home.

“I see no one,” said Lady Corisande, distressed, and when they had advanced a little way.

“We are sure to find them in good time,” said Lothair. “Besides, I wanted to speak to you about the garden at Muriel. I wanted to induce you to go there and help me to make it. Yes,” he added, after some hesitation, “on this spot — I believe on this very spot — I asked the permission of your mother two years ago to express to you my love. She thought me a boy, and she treated me as a boy. She said I knew nothing of the world, and both our characters were unformed. I know the world now. I have committed many mistakes, doubtless many follies — have formed many opinions, and have changed many opinions; but to one I have been constant, in one I am unchanged — and that is my adoring love to you.”

She turned pale, she stopped, then, gently taking his arm, she hid her face in his breast.

He soothed and sustained her agitated frame, and sealed with an embrace her speechless form. Then, with soft thoughts and softer words, clinging to him, he induced her to resume their stroll, which both of them now wished might assuredly be undisturbed. They had arrived at the limit of the pleasure-grounds, and they wandered into the park and its most sequestered parts. All this time Lothair spoke much, and gave her the history of his life since he first visited her home. Lady Corisande said little, but, when she was more composed, she told him that from the first her heart had been his, but every thing seemed to go against her hopes. Perhaps at last, to please her parents, she would have married the Duke of Brecon, had not Lothair returned; and what he had said to her that morning at Crecy House had decided her resolution, whatever might be her lot; to unite it to no one else but him. But then came the adventure of the crucifix, and she thought all was over for her, and she quitted town in despair.

“Let us rest here for a while;” said Lothair, “under the shade of this oak;” and Lady Corisande reclined against its mighty trunk, and Lothair threw himself at her feet. He had a great deal still to tell her, and, among other things, the story of the pearls, which he had wished to give to Theodora.

“She was, after all, your good genius,” said Lady Corisande. “I always liked her.”

“Well, now,” said Lothair, “that case has never been opened. The year has elapsed, but I would not open it, for I had always a wild wish that the person who opened it should be yourself. See, here it is.” And he gave her the case.

“We will not break the seal,” said Corisande. “Let us respect it for her sake — ROMA!” she said, examining it; and then they opened the case. There was the slip of paper which Theodora, at the time, had placed upon the pearls, and on which she had written some unseen words. They were read now, and ran thus:

“THE OFFERING OF THEODORA TO LOTHAIR’S BRIDE.”

“Let me place them on you now,” said Lothair.

“I will wear them as your chains,” said Corisande.

The sun began to tell them that some hours had elapsed since they quitted Brentham House. At last a soft hand, which Lothair retained, gave him a slight pressure, and a sweet voice whispered: “Dearest, I think we ought to return.”

And they returned almost in silence. They rather calculated that, taking advantage of the luncheon-hour, Corisande might escape to her room, but they were a little too late. Luncheon was over, and they met the duchess and a large party on the terrace.

“What has become of you, my good people?” said her grace; “bells have been ringing for you in every direction. Where can you have been?”

“I have been in Corisande’s garden,” said Lothair, “and she has given me a rose.”

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