Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 9

About the same time that Lothair had repaired to the residence of Mr. Giles, Monsignore Berwick, whose audience of the cardinal in the morning had preceded that of the legal adviser of the trustees, made his way toward one of the noblest mansions in St. James’s Square, where resided Lord St. Jerome.

It was a mild winter evening; a little fog still hanging about, but vanquished by the cheerful lamps, and the voice of the muffin-bell was just heard at intervals; a genial sound that calls up visions of trim and happy hearths. If we could only so contrive our lives as to go into the country for the first note of the nightingale, and return to town for the first note of the muffin-bell, existence, it is humbly presumed, might be more enjoyable.

Monsignore Berwick was a young man, but looking younger from a countenance almost of childhood; fair, with light-blue eyes, and flaxen hair and delicate features. He was the last person you would have fixed upon as a born Roman; but Nature, in one of the freaks of race, had resolved that his old Scottish blood should be reasserted, though his: ancestors had sedulously blended it, for, many generations, with that of the princely houses of the eternal city. The monsignore was the greatest statesman of Rome, formed and favored by Antonelli and probably his successor.

The mansion of Lord St. Jerome was a real family mansion, built by his ancestors a century and a half ago, when they believed that, from its central position, its happy contiguity to the court, the senate, and the seats of government, they at last, in St. James’s Square, had discovered a site which could defy the vicissitudes of fashion, and not share the fate of the river palaces, which they had been obliged in turn to relinquish. And in a considerable degree they were right in their anticipation; for, although they have somewhat unwisely, permitted the clubs to invade too successfully their territory, St. James’s Square may be looked upon as our Faubourg St. Germain, and a great patrician residing there dwells in the heart of that free and noble life of which he ought to be a part.

A marble hall and a marble staircase, lofty chambers with silk or tapestried hangings, gilded cornices, and painted ceilings, gave a glimpse of almost Venetian splendor, and rare in our metropolitan houses of this age; but the first dwellers in St. James’s Square had tender and inspiring recollections of the Adrian bride, had frolicked in St. Mark’s, and glided in adventurous gondolas. The monsignore was ushered into a chamber bright with lights and a blazing fire, and welcomed with extreme cordiality by his hostess, who was then alone. Lady St. Jerome was still the young wife of a nobleman not old. She was the daughter of a Protestant house, but, during a residence at Rome after her marriage, she had reverted to the ancient faith, which she professed with the enthusiastic convictions of a convert. Her whole life was dedicated to the triumph of the Catholic cause; and, being a woman of considerable intelligence and of an ardent mind, she had become a recognized power in the great confederacy which has so much influenced the human race, and which has yet to play perhaps a mighty part in the fortunes of the world.

“I was in great hopes that the cardinal would have met you at dinner,” said Lady St. Jerome, “but he wrote only this afternoon to say unexpected business would prevent him, but he would be here in the evening, though late.”

“It must be something sudden, for I was with his eminence this morning, and he then contemplated our meeting here.”

“Nothing from abroad?”

“I should think not, or it would be known to me. There is nothing new from abroad this afternoon: my time has been spent in writing, not receiving, dispatches.”

“And all well, I hope?”

“This Scotch business plagues us. So far as Scotland is concerned, it is quite ripe; but the cardinal counsels delay on account of this country, and he has such a consummate knowledge of England, that —”

At this moment Lord St Jerome entered the room — a grave but gracious personage, polished but looking silent, though he immediately turned the conversation to the weather. The monsignore began denouncing English fogs; but Lord St. Jerome maintained that, on the whole, there were not more fogs in England than in any other country; “and as for the French,” he added, “I like their audacity, for, when they revolutionized the calendar, they called one of their months Brumaire.”

Then came in one of his lordships chaplains, who saluted the monsignore with reverence, and immediately afterward a beautiful young lady, his niece, Clare Arundel.

The family were living in a convenient suite of small rooms on the ground-floor, called the winter-rooms so dinner was announced by the doors of an adjoining chamber being thrown open, and there they saw, in the midst of a chamber hung with green silk and adorned with some fine cabinet-pictures, a small round table, bright and glowing.

It was a lively dinner. Lord St. Jerome loved conversation, though he never conversed. “There must be an audience,” he would say, “and I am the audience.” The partner of his life, whom he never ceased admiring, had originally fascinated him by her conversational talents; and, even if Nature had not impelled her, Lady St. Jerome was too wise a woman to relinquish the spell. The monsignore could always, when necessary, sparkle with anecdote or blaze with repartee; and all the chaplains, who abounded in this house, were men of bright abilities, not merely men of reading, but of the world, learned in the world’s ways, and trained to govern mankind by versatility of their sympathies. It was a dinner where there could not be two conversations going on, and where even the silent take their share in the talk by their sympathy.

And among the silent, as silent even as Lord St. Jerome, was Miss Arundel; and yet her large violet eyes, darker even than her dark-brown hair, and gleaming with intelligence, and her rich face mantling with emotion, proved she was not insensible to the witty passages and the bright and interesting narratives that were sparkling and flowing about her.

The gentlemen left the dining-room with the ladies, in the Continental manner. Lady St. Jerome, who was leaning on the arm of the monsignore, guided him into a saloon farther than the one they had reentered, and then seating herself said, “You were telling me about Scotland, that you yourself thought it ripe.”

“Unquestionably. The original plan was to have established our hierarchy when the Kirk split up; but that would have been a mistake, it was not then ripe. There would have been a fanatical reaction. There is always a tendency that way in Scotland: as it is, at this moment, the Establishment and the Free Kirk are mutually sighing for some compromise which may bring them together and, if the proprietors would give up their petty patronage, some flatter themselves it might be arranged. But we are thoroughly well informed, and have provided for all this. We sent two of our best men into Scotland some time ago, and they have invented a new church, called the United Presbyterians. John Knox himself was never more violent, or more mischievous. The United Presbyterians will do the business: they will render Scotland simply impossible to live in; and then, when the crisis arrives, the distracted and despairing millions will find refuge in the bosom of their only mother. That is why, at home, we wanted no delay in the publication of the bull and the establishment of the hierarchy.”

“But the cardinal says no?”

“And must be followed. For these islands he has no equal. He wishes great reserve at present. Affairs here are progressing, gradually but surely. But it is Ireland where matters are critical, or will be soon.”

“Ireland! I thought there was a sort of understanding there — at least for the present.”

The monsignore shook his head. “What do you think of an American invasion of Ireland?”

“An American invasion!”

“Even so; nothing more probable, and nothing more to be deprecated by us. Now that the civil war in America is over, the Irish soldiery are resolved to employ their experience and their weapons in their own land; but they have no thought for the interest of the Holy See, or the welfare of our holy religion. Their secret organization is tampering with the people and tampering with the priests. The difficulty of Ireland is that the priests and the people will consider every thing in a purely Irish point of view. To gain some local object, they will encourage the principles of the most lawless liberalism, which naturally land them in Fenianism and atheism. And the danger is not foreseen, because the Irish political object of the moment is alone looked to.”

“But surely they can be guided?”

“We want a statesman in Ireland. We have never been able to find one; we want a man like the cardinal. But the Irish will have a native for their chief. We caught Churchill young, and educated him in the Propaganda; but he has disappointed us. At first all seemed well; he was reserved and austere; and we heard with satisfaction that he was unpopular. But, now that critical times are arriving, his peasant-blood cannot resist the contagion. He proclaims the absolute equality of all religious, and of the power of the state to confiscate ecclesiastical property, and not restore it to us, but alienate it forever. For the chance of subverting the Anglican Establishment, he is favoring a policy which will subvert religion itself. In his eagerness he cannot see that the Anglicans have only a lease of our property, a lease which is rapidly expiring.”

“This is sad.”

“It is perilous, and difficult to deal with. But it must be dealt with. The problem is to suppress Fenianism, and not to strengthen the Protestant confederacy.”

“And you left Rome for this? We understood you were coming for something else,” said Lady St. Jerome, in a significant tone.

“Yes, yes, I have been there, and I have seen him.”

“And have you succeeded?”

“No; and no one will — at least at present.”

“Is all lost, then? Is the Malta scheme again on the carpet?”

“Our Holy Church in built upon a rock,” said the monsignore, “but not upon the rock of Malta. Nothing is lost; Antonelli is calm and sanguine, though, rest assured, there is no doubt about what I tell you. France has washed her hands of us.”

“Where, then, are we to look for aid?” exclaimed Lady St. Jerome, “against the assassins and atheists? Austria, the alternative ally, is no longer near you; and if she were — that I should ever live to say it — even Austria is our foe.”

“Poor Austria!” said the monsignore with an unctuous sneer. “Two things made her a nation; she was German and she was Catholic, and now she is neither.”

“But you alarm me, my dear lord, with your terrible news. We once thought that Spain would be our protector, but we hear bad news from Spain.”

“Yes,” said the monsignore, “I think it highly probable that, before a few years have elapsed, every government in Europe will be atheistical except France. Vanity will always keep France the eldest son of the Church, even if she wear a bonnet rouge. But, if the Holy Father keep Rome, these strange changes will only make the occupier of the chair of St. Peter more powerful. His subjects will be In every clime and every country, and then they will be only his subjects. We shall get rid of the difficulty of the divided allegiance, Lady St. Jerome, which plagued our poor forefathers so much.”

“If we keep Rome,” said Lady St. Jerome.

“And we shall. Let Christendom give us her prayers for the next few years, and Pio Nono will become the most powerful monarch In Europe, and perhaps the only one.”

“I hear a sound,” exclaimed Lady St. Jerome. “Yes! the cardinal has come. Let us greet him.”

But as they were approaching the saloon the cardinal met them, and waved them back. “We will return,” he said, “to our friends immediately, but I want to say one word to you both.”

He made them sit down. “I am a little restless,” he said, and stood before the fire. “Something interesting has happened; nothing to do with public affairs. Do not pitch your expectations too high — but still of importance, and certainly of great interest — at least to me. I have seen my child — my ward.”

“Indeed an event!” said Lady St. Jerome, evidently much interested.

“And what is he like?” inquired the monsignore.

“All that one could wish. Extremely good-looking, highly bred, and most ingenuous; a considerable intelligence, and not untrained; but the most absolutely unaffected person I ever encountered.”

“Ah! if he had been trained by your eminence,” sighed Lady St. Jerome. “Is it too late?”

“’Tis an immense position,” murmured Berwick.

“What good might he not do?” said Lady St. Jerome; “and if he be so ingenuous, it seems impossible that he can resist the truth.”

“Your ladyship is a sort of cousin of his,” said the cardinal, musingly.

“Yes; but very remote. I dare say he would not acknowledge the tie. But we are kin; we have the same blood in our veins.”

“You should make his acquaintance,” said the cardinal.

“I more than desire it. I hear he has been terribly neglected, brought up among the most dreadful people, entirely infidels and fanatics.”

“He has been nearly two years at Oxford,” said the cardinal. “That may have mitigated the evil.”

“Ah! but you, my lord cardinal, you must interfere. Now that you at last know him, you must undertake the great task; you must save him.”

“We must all pray, as I pray every morn and every night,” said the cardinal, “for the conversion of England.”

“Or the conquest,” murmured Berwick.

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