Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 46

There can be little doubt, generally speaking, that it is more satisfactory to pass Sunday in the country than in town. There is something in the essential stillness of country-life, which blends harmoniously with the ordinance of the most divine of our divine laws. It is pleasant, too, when the congregation breaks up, to greet one’s neighbors; to say kind words to kind faces; to hear some rural news profitable to learn, which sometimes enables you to do some good, and sometimes prevents others from doing some harm. A quiet, domestic walk, too, in the afternoon, has its pleasures; and so numerous and so various are the sources of interest in the country, that, though it be Sunday, there is no reason why your walk should not have an object.

But Sunday in the country, with your house full of visitors, is too often an exception to this general truth. It is a trial. Your guests cannot always be at church, and, if they could, would not like it. There is nothing to interest or amuse them; no sport; no castles or factories to visit; no adventurous expeditions; no gay music in the morn, and no light dance in the evening. There is always danger of the day becoming a course of heavy meals and stupid walks, for the external scene and all teeming circumstances, natural and human, though full of concern to you, are to your visitors an insipid blank.

How did Sunday go off at Muriel Towers?

In the first place, there was a special train, which, at an early hour, took the cardinal and his suite and the St. Jerome family to Grandchester, where they were awaited with profound expectation. But the Anglican portion of the guests were not without their share of ecclesiastical and spiritual excitement, for the bishop was to preach this day in the chapel of the Towers, a fine and capacious sanctuary of florid Gothic, and hit lordship was a sacerdotal orator of repute.

It had been announced that the breakfast-hour was to be somewhat earlier. The ladies in general were punctual, and seemed conscious of some great event impending. The Ladies Flora and Grizell entered with, each in her hand, a prayer-book of purple velvet, adorned with a decided cross, the gift of the primus. Lord Culloden, at the request of Lady Corisande, had consented to their hearing the bishop, which he would not do himself. He passed his morning in finally examining the guardians’ accounts, the investigation of which he conducted and concluded, during the rest of the day, with Mr. Putney Giles. Mrs. Campian did not leave her room. Lord St. Aldegonde came down late, and looked about him with an uneasy, ill-humored air.

Whether it were the absence of Theodora, or some other cause, he was brusk, ungracious, scowling, and silent, only nodding to the bishop, who benignly saluted him, refusing every dish that was offered; then getting up, and helping himself at the side-table, making a great noise with the carving instruments, and flouncing down his plate when he resumed his seat. Nor was his costume correct. All the other gentlemen, though their usual morning-dresses were sufficiently fantastic — trunk-hose of every form, stockings bright as paroquets, wondrous shirts, and velvet-coats of every tint — habited themselves today, both as regards form and color, in a style indicative of the subdued gravity of their feelings. Lord St. Aldegonde had on his shooting-jacket of brown velvet and a pink-shirt and no cravat, and his rich brown locks, always, to a certain degree, neglected, were peculiarly dishevelled.

Hugo Bohun, who was not afraid of him, and was a high-churchman, being, in religion, and in all other matters, always on the side of the duchesses, said: “Well, St. Aldegonde, are you going to chapel in that dress?” But St. Aldegonde would not answer; he gave a snort, and glanced at Hugo, with the eye of a gladiator.

The meal was over. The bishop was standing near the mantel-piece talking to the ladies, who were clustered round him; the archdeacon and the chaplain and some other clergy a little in the background; Lord St. Aldegonde, who, whether there were a fire or not, always stood with his back to the fireplace with his hands in his pockets, moved discourteously among them, assumed his usual position, and listened, as it were, grimly, for a few moments to their talk; then he suddenly exclaimed in a loud voice, and with the groan of a rebellious Titan, “How I hate Sunday!”

“Granville!” exclaimed Lady St. Aldegonde, turning pale. There was a general shudder.

“I mean in a country-house,” said Lord St. Aldegonde. “Of course, I mean in a country-house. I do not dislike it when alone, and I do not dislike it in London. But Sunday in a country-house is infernal.”

“I think it is now time for us to go,” said the bishop, walking away with dignified reserve, and they all dispersed.

The service was choral and intoned; for, although the Rev. Dionysius Smylie had not yet had time or opportunity, as was his intention, to form and train a choir from the household of the Towers, he had secured from his neighboring parish and other sources external and effective aid in that respect. The parts of the service were skillfully distributed, and rarely were a greater number of priests enlisted in a more imposing manner. A good organ was well played; the singing, as usual, a little too noisy; there was an anthem and an introit — but no incense, which was forbidden by the bishop; and, though there were candles on the altar, they were not permitted to be lighted.

The sermon was most successful; the ladies returned with elate and animated faces, quite enthusiastic and almost forgetting in their satisfaction the terrible outrage of Lord St. Aldegonde. He himself had by this time repented of what he had done, and recovered his temper, and greeted his wife with a voice and look which indicated to her practised senses the favorable change.

“Bertha,” he said, “you know I did not mean any thing personal to the bishop in what I said. I do not like bishops; I think there is no use in them; but I have no objection to him personally; I think him an agreeable man; not at all a bore. Just put it right, Bertha. But I tell you what, Bertha, I cannot go to church here. Lord Culloden does not go, and he is a very religious man. He is the man I most agree with on these matters. I am a free-church man, and there is on end of it. I cannot go this afternoon. I do not approve of the whole thing. It is altogether against my conscience. What I mean to do, if I can manage it, is to take a real long walk with the Campians.”

Mrs. Campian appeared at luncheon. The bishop was attentive to her; even cordial. He was resolved she should not feel he was annoyed by her not having been a member of his congregation in the morning. Lady Corisande too had said to him: “I wish so much you would talk to Mrs. Campian; she is a sweet, noble creature, and so clever! I feel that she might be brought to view things in the right light.”

“I never know,” said the bishop, “how to deal with these American ladies. I never can make out what they believe, or what they disbelieve. It is a sort of confusion between Mrs. Beecher Stowe and the Fifth Avenue congregation and — Barnum,” he added with a twinkling eye.

The second service was late; the dean preached. The lateness of the hour permitted the lord-lieutenant and those guests who had arrived only the previous day to look over the castle, or ramble about the gardens. St. Aldegonde succeeded in his scheme of a real long walk with the Campians, which Lothair, bound to listen to the head of his college, was not permitted to share.

In the evening Signor Mardoni, who had arrived, and Madame Isola Bella, favored them with what they called sacred music; principally prayers from operas and a grand Stabat Mater.

Lord Culloden invited Lothair into a farther saloon, where they might speak without disturbing the performers or the audience.

“I’ll just take advantage, my dear boy,” said Lord Culloden, in a tone of unusual tenderness, and of Doric accent, “of the absence of these gentlemen to have a little quiet conversation with you. Though I have not seen so much of you of late as in old days, I take a great interest in you, no doubt of that, and I was very pleased to see how good-natured you were to the girls. You have romped with them when they were little ones. Now, in a few hours, you will be master of a great inheritance, and I hope it will profit ye. I have been over the accounts with Mr. Giles, and I was pleased to hear that you had made yourself properly acquainted with them in detail. Never you sign any paper without reading It first, and knowing well what it means. You will have to sign a release to us if you be satisfied, and that you may easily be. My poor brother-in-law left you as large an income as may be found on this side Trent, but I will be bound he would stare if he saw the total of the whole of your rent-roll, Lothair. Your affairs have been well administered, though I say it who ought not. But it is not my management only, or principally, that has done it. It is the progress of the country, and you owe the country a good deal, and you should never forget you are born to be a protector of its liberties, civil and religious. And if the country sticks to free trade, and would enlarge its currency, and be firm to the Protestant faith, it will, under Divine Providence, continue to progress.

“And here, my boy, I’ll just say a word, in no disagreeable manner, about your religious principles. There are a great many stories about, and perhaps they are not true, and I am sure I hope they are not. If popery were only just the sign of the cross, and music, and censer-pots, though I think them all superstitious, I’d be free to leave them alone if they would leave me. But popery is a much deeper thing than that, Lothair, and our fathers found it out. They could not stand it, and we should be a craven crew to stand it now. A man should be master in his own house. You will be taking a wife, some day; at least it is to be hoped so; and how will you like one of these monsignores to be walking into her bedroom, eh; and talking to her alone when he pleases, and where he pleases; and when you want to consult your wife, which a wise man should often do, to find there is another mind between hers and yours? There’s my girls, they are just two young geese, and they have a hankering after popery, having had a Jesuit in the house. I do not know what has become of the women. They are for going into a convent, and they are quite right in that, for if they be papists they will not find a husband easily in Scotland, I ween.

“And as for you, my boy, they will be telling you that it is only just this and just that, and there’s no great difference, and what not; but I tell you that, if once you embrace the scarlet lady, you are a tainted corpse. You’ll not be able to order your dinner without a priest, and they will ride your best horses without saying with your leave or by your leave.”

The concert in time ceased; there was a stir in the room; the Rev. Dionysius Smylie moved about mysteriously, and ultimately seemed to make an obeisance before the bishop. It was time for prayers.

“Shall you go?” said Lord St. Aldegonde to Mrs. Campian, by whom he was sitting.

“I like to pray alone,” she answered.

“As for that,” said Aldegonde, “I am not clear we ought to pray at all, either in public or private. It seems very arrogant in us to dictate to an all-wise Creator what we desire.”

“I believe in the efficacy of prayer,” said Theodora.

“And I believe in you,” said St. Aldegonde, after a momentary pause.


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