St. Aldegonde loved to preside over the mysteries of the smoking-room. There, enveloped in his Egyptian robe, occasionally blurting out some careless or headstrong paradox to provoke discussion among others, which would amuse himself, rioting in a Rabelaisan anecdote, and listening with critical delight to endless memoirs of horses and prima-donnas, St. Aldegonde was never bored. Sometimes, too, when he could get hold of an eminent traveller, or some individual distinguished for special knowledge, St. Aldegonde would draw him out with skill; himself displaying an acquaintance with the particular topic which often surprised his habitual companions, for St. Aldegonde professed never to read; but he had no ordinary abilities, and an original turn of mind and habit of life, which threw him in the way of unusual persons of all classes; from whom he imbibed or extracted a vast variety of queer, always amusing, and not altogether useless information.
“Lothair has only one weakness,” he said to Colonel Campian as the ladies disappeared; “he does not smoke. Carry, you will come?”
“Well, I do not think I shall to-night,” said Lord Carisbrooke. Lady Corisande, it appears, particularly disapproved of smoking.
“Hum!” said St. Aldegonde; “Duke of Brecon, I know, will come, and Hugo and Bertram. My brother Montairy would give his ears to come, but is afraid of his wife; and then there is the monsignore, a most capital fellow, who knows every thing.”
There were other gatherings, before the midnight bell struck at the Towers, which discussed important affairs, though they might not sit so late as the smoking-party. Lady St. Aldegonde had a reception in her room as well as her lord. There the silent observation of the evening found avenging expression in sparkling criticism, and the summer lightning, though it generally blazed with harmless brilliancy, occasionally assumed a more arrowy character. The gentlemen of the smoking-room have it not all their own way quite as much as they think. If, indeed, a new school of Athens were to be pictured, the sages and the students might be represented in exquisite dressing-gowns, with slippers rarer than the lost one of Cinderella, and brandishing beautiful brushes over tresses still more fair. Then is the time when characters are never more finely drawn, or difficult social questions more accurately solved; knowledge without reasoning and truth without logic — the triumph of intuition! But we must not profane the mysteries of Bona Dea.
The archdeacon and the chaplain had also been in council with the bishop in his dressing-room, who, while he dismissed them with his benison, repeated his apparently satisfactory assurance that something would happen “the first thing after breakfast.”
Lothair did not smoke, but he did not sleep. He was absorbed by the thought of Theodora. He could not but be conscious, and so far he was pleased by the consciousness, that she was as fascinating to others as to himself. What then? Even with the splendid novelty of his majestic home, and all the excitement of such an incident in his life, and the immediate prospect of their again meeting, he had felt, and even acutely, their separation. Whether it were the admiration of her by others which proved his own just appreciation, or whether it were the unobtrusive display of exquisite accomplishments, which, with all their intimacy, she had never forced on his notice — whatever the cause, her hold upon his heart and life, powerful as it was before, had strengthened. Lothair could not conceive existence tolerable without her constant presence; and with her constant presence existence would be rapture. It had come to that. All his musings, all his profound investigation and high resolve, all his sublime speculations on God and man, and life, and immortality, and the origin of things, and religious truth, ended in an engrossing state of feeling, which could be denoted in that form and in no other.
What, then, was his future? It seemed dark and distressing. Her constant presence his only happiness; her constant presence impossible. He seemed on an abyss.
In eight-and-forty hours or so one of the chief provinces of England would be blazing with the celebration of his legal accession to his high estate. If any one in the queen’s dominions had to be fixed upon as the most fortunate and happiest of her subjects, it might well be Lothair. If happiness depend on lofty station, his ancient and hereditary rank was of the highest; if, as there seems no doubt, the chief source of felicity in this country is wealth, his vast possessions and accumulated treasure could not easily be rivalled, while he had a matchless advantage over those who pass, or waste, their gray and withered lives in acquiring millions, in his consummate and healthy youth. He had bright abilities, and a brighter heart. And yet the unknown truth was, that this favored being, on the eve of this critical event, was pacing his chamber agitated and infinitely disquieted, and struggling with circumstances and feelings over which alike he seemed to have no control, and which seemed to have been evoked without the exercise of his own will, or that of any other person.
“I do not think I can blame myself,” he said; “and I am sure I cannot blame her. And yet —”
He opened his window and looked upon the moonlit garden, which filled the fanciful quadrangle. The light of the fountain seemed to fascinate his eye, and the music of its fall soothed him into reverie. The distressful images that had gathered round his heart gradually vanished, and all that remained to him was the reality of his happiness. Her beauty and her grace, the sweet stillness of her searching intellect, and the refined pathos of her disposition, only occurred to him, and he dwelt on them with spell-bound joy.
The great clock of the Towers sounded two.
“Ah!” said Lothair, “I must try to sleep. I have got to see the bishop tomorrow morning. I wonder what he wants?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07