Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 34

Lothair had returned home from his last visit to Belmont agitated by many thoughts, but, generally speaking, deeply musing over its mistress. Considerable speculation on religion, the churches, the solar system, the cosmical order, the purpose of creation, and the destiny of man, was maintained in his too rapid progress from Roehampton to his Belgravian hotel; but the association of ideas always terminated the consideration of every topic by a wondering and deeply interesting inquiry when he should see her again. And here, in order to simplify this narrative, we will at once chronicle the solution of this grave question. On the afternoon of the next day, Lothair mounted his horse with the intention of calling on Lady St. Jerome, and perhaps some other persons, but it is curious to observe that he soon found himself on the road to Roehampton, where he was in due time paying a visit to Theodora. But what is more remarkable is that the same result occurred every day afterward. Regularly every day he paid a visit to Belmont. Nor was this all; very often he paid two visits, for he remembered that in the evening Theodora was always at home. Lothair used to hurry to town from his morning visit, dine at some great house, which satisfied the demands of society, and then drive down to Roehampton. The guests of the evening saloon, when they witnessed the high ceremony of Lothair’s manner, which was natural to him, when he entered, and the welcome of Theodora, could hardly believe that a few hours only had elapsed since their separation.

And what was the manner of Theodora to him when they were alone? Precisely as before. She never seemed in the least surprised that he called on her every day, or even twice a day. Sometimes she was alone, frequently she had companions, but she was always the same, always appeared gratified at his arrival, and always extended to him the same welcome, graceful and genial, but without a spark of coquetry. Yet she did not affect to conceal that she took a certain interest in him, because she was careful to introduce him to distinguished men, and would say, “You should know him, he is master of such a subject. You will hear things that you ought to know.” But all this in a sincere and straightforward manner. Theodora had not the slightest affectation; she was always natural, though a little reserved. But this reserve appeared to be the result of modesty, rather than of any desire of concealment. When they were alone, though always calm, she would talk with freedom and vivacity; but in the presence of others she rather led to their display, and encouraged them, often with a certain degree of adroit simplicity, to descant on topics which interested theme or of which they were competent to treat. Alone with Lothair, and they were often alone, though she herself never obtruded the serious subjects round which he was always fluttering, she never avoided them, and without involving herself in elaborate arguments, or degenerating into conversational controversy, she had a habit of asking a question, or expressing a sentiment, which greatly affected his feelings or perplexed his opinions.

Had not the season been long waning, this change in the life of Lothair must have been noticed, and its cause ultimately discovered. But the social critics cease to be observant toward the end of July. All the world then are thinking of themselves, and have no time to speculate on the fate and fortunes of their neighbors. The campaign is too near its. close; the balance of the season must soon be struck, the great book of society made. In a few weeks, even in a few days, what long and subtle plans shattered or triumphant! — what prizes gained or missed! — what baffled hopes, and what broken hearts! The baffled hopes must go to Cowes, and the broken hearts to Baden. There were some great ladies who did remark that Lothair was seldom seen at balls; and Hugo Bohun, who had been staying at his aunt Lady Gertrude’s villa for change of air, did say to Bertram that he had met Lothair twice on Barnes Common, and asked Bertram if he knew the reason why. But the fact that Lothair was cruising in waters which their craft never entered combined with the lateness of the season to baffle all the ingenuity of Hugo Bohun, though he generally found out every thing.

The great difficulty which Lothair had to apprehend was with his Roman Catholic friends. The system of the monsignori was never to let him be out of sight, and his absence from the critical function had not only disappointed but alarmed them. But the Jesuits are wise men; they never lose their temper. They know when to avoid scenes as well as when to make them. Monsignore Catesby called on Lothair as frequently as before, and never made the slightest allusion to the miscarriage of their expectations. Strange to say, the innocent Lothair, naturally so straightforward and so honorable, found himself instinctively, almost it might be said unconsciously, defending himself against his invaders with some of their own weapons. He still talked about building his cathedral, of which, not contented with more plans, he even gave orders that a model should be made, and he still received statements on points of faith from Father Coleman, on which he made marginal notes and queries. Monsignore Catesby was not altogether satisfied. He was suspicious of some disturbing cause, but at present it baffled him. Their hopes, however, were high; and they had cause to be sanguine. In a month’s time or so, Lothair would be in the country to celebrate his majority; his guardian the cardinal was to be his guest; the St. Jeromes were invited, Monsignore Catesby himself. Here would be opportunity and actors to avail themselves of it.

It was a very few days after the first evening visit of Lothair to Belmont that he found himself one morning alone with Theodora. She was in her bowery boudoir, copying some music for Madame Phoebus, at least in the intervals of conversation. That had not been of a grave character, but the contrary when Lothair rather abruptly said, “Do you agree, Mrs. Campian, with what Mr. Phoebus said the other night, that the greatest pain must be the sense of death?”

“Then mankind is generally spared the greatest pain,” she replied, “for I apprehend few people are sensible of death — unless indeed,” she added, “it be on the field of battle; and there, I am sure, it cannot be painful.”

“Not on the field of battle?” asked Lothair, inducing her to proceed.

“Well, I should think for all, on the field of battle, there must be a degree of excitement, and of sympathetic excitement, scarcely compatible with overwhelming suffering; but, if death were encountered there for a great cause, I should rather associate it with rapture than pain.”

“But still a good number of persons must die in their beds and be conscious,” said Lothair.

“It may be, though I should doubt it. The witnesses of such a demise are never impartial. All I have loved and lost have died upon the field of battle; and those who have suffered pain have been those whom they have left behind; and that pain,” she added with some emotion, “may perhaps deserve the description of Mr. Phoebus.”

Lothair would not pursue the subject, and there was rather an awkward pause. Theodora herself broke it, and in a lighter vein, though recurring to the same theme, she said with a slight smile: “I am scarcely a competent person to consult upon this subject, for, to be candid with you, I do not myself believe in death. There is a change, and doubtless a great one, painful it may be, certainly very perplexing, but I have a profound conviction of my immortality, and I do not believe that I shall rest in my grave in saecula saeculorum, only to be convinced of it by the last trump.”

“I hope you will not leave this world before I do,” said Lothair, “but, if that sorrow be reserved for me, promise that to me, if only once, you will reappear.”

“I doubt whether the departed have that power,” said Theodora, “or else I think my heroes would have revisited me. I lost a father more magnificent than Jove, and two brothers brighter than Apollo, and all of them passionately loved me — and yet they have not come; but I shall see them — and perhaps soon. So you see, my dear lord,” speaking more briskly, and rising rather suddenly from her seat, “that for my part I think it best to arrange all that concerns one in this world while one inhabits it, and this reminds me that I have a little business to fulfil in which you can help me,” and she opened a cabinet and took out a flat antique case, and then said, resuming her seat at her table: “Some one, and anonymously, has made me a magnificent present; some strings of costly pearls. I am greatly embarrassed with them, for I never wear pearls or anything else, and I never wish to accept presents. To return them to an unknown is out of my power, but it is not impossible that I may some day become acquainted with the donor. I wish them to be kept in safety, and therefore not by myself, for my life is subject to too great vicissitudes. I have therefore placed them in this case, which I shall now seal and intrust them to your care, as a friend in whom I have entire confidence. See,” she said, lighting a match, and opening the case, “here are the pearls — are they not superb? — and here is a note which will tell you what to do with them in case of my absence, when you open the case, which will not be for a year from this day. There, it is locked. I have directed it to you, and I will seal it with my father’s seal.”

Lothair wag about to speak. “Do not say a word,” she said “this seal is a religious ceremony with me.” She was some little time fulfilling it, so that the impression might be deep and clear. She looked at it earnestly while the wax was cooling, and then she said, “I deliver the custody of this to a friend whom I entirely trust. Adieu!” and she disappeared.

The amazed Lothair glanced at the seal. It was a single word, “ROMA,” and then, utterly mystified, he returned to town with his own present.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53