Although Lothair was the possessor of as many palaces and castles as the duke himself, it is curious that his first dinner at Brentham was almost his introduction into refined society. He had been a guest at the occasional banquets of his uncle; but these were festivals of the Picts and Scots; rude plenty and coarse splendor, with noise instead of conversation, and a tumult of obstructive defendants, who impeded, by their want of skill, the very convenience which they were purposed to facilitate. How different the surrounding scene! A table covered with flowers, bright with fanciful crystal, and porcelain that had belonged to sovereigns, who had given a name to its color or its form. As for those present, all seemed grace and gentleness, from the radiant daughters of the house to the noiseless attendants that anticipated all his wants, and sometimes seemed to suggest his wishes.
Lothair sat between two of the married daughters. They addressed him with so much sympathy that he was quite enchanted. When they asked their pretty questions and made their sparkling remarks, roses seemed to drop from their lips, and sometimes diamonds. It was a rather large party, for the Brentham family were so numerous that they themselves made a festival. There were four married daughters, the duke and two sons-in-law, a clergyman or two, and some ladies and gentlemen who were seldom absent from this circle, and who, by their useful talents and various accomplishments, alleviated the toil or cares of life from which even princes are not exempt.
When the ladies had retired to the duchess’s drawing-room, all the married daughters clustered round their mother.
“Do you know, mamma, we all think him very, good-looking,” said the youngest married daughter, the wife of the listless and handsome St. Aldegonde.
“And not at all shy,” said Lady Montairy, “though reserved.”
“I admire deep-blue eyes with dark lashes,” said the duchess.
Notwithstanding the decision of Lady Montairy, Lothair was scarcely free from embarrassment when he rejoined the ladies; and was so afraid of standing alone, or talking only to men, that he was almost on the point of finding refuge in his dinner-companions, had not he instinctively felt that this would have been a social blunder. But the duchess relieved him: her gracious glance caught his at the right moment, and she rose and met him some way as he advanced. The friends had arrived so late, that Lothair had had only time to make a reverence of ceremony before dinner.
“It is not our first meeting,” said her grace; “but that you cannot remember.”
“Indeed I do,” said Lothair, “and your grace gave me a golden heart.”
“How can you remember such things,” exclaimed the duchess, “which I had myself forgotten!”
“I have rather a good memory,” replied Lothair; “and it is not wonderful that I should remember this, for it is the only present that ever was made me.”
The evenings at Brentham were short, but they were sweet. It was a musical family, without being fanatical on the subject. There was always music, but it was not permitted that the guests should be deprived of other amusements. But music was the basis of the evening’s campaigns. The duke himself sometimes took a second; the four married daughters warbled sweetly; but the great performer was Lady Corisande. When her impassioned tones sounded, there was a hushed silence in every chamber; otherwise, many things were said and done amid accompanying melodies, that animated without distracting even a whistplayer. The duke himself rather preferred a game of piquet or cart with Captain Mildmay, and sometimes retired with a troop to a distant, but still visible, apartment, where they played with billiard-balls games which were not billiards.
The ladies had retired, the duke had taken his glass of seltzer-water, and had disappeared. The gentry lingered and looked at each other, as if they were an assembly of poachers gathering for an expedition, and then Lord St. Aldegonde, tall, fair, and languid, said to Lothair, “do you smoke?”
“I should have thought Bertram would have seduced you by this time. Then let us try. Montairy will give you one of his cigarettes, so mild that his wife never finds him out.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07