Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 63

Lothair was not destined to meet Clare Arundel alone or only in the presence of her family. He had acceded, after a short time, to the wish of Lady St. Jerome, and the advice of Monsignore Catesby, to wait on her in the evening, when Lady St. Jerome was always at home and never alone. Her rooms were the privileged resort of the very cream of Roman society and of those English who, like herself, had returned to the Roman Church. An Italian palace supplied an excellent occasion for the display of the peculiar genius of our countrywomen to make a place habitable. Beautiful carpets, baskets of flowers and cases of ferns, and chairs which you could sit upon, tables covered with an infinity of toys — sparkling, useful, and fantastic — huge silken screens of rich color, and a profusion of light, produced a scene of combined comfort and brilliancy which made every one social who entered it, and seemed to give a bright and graceful turn even to the careless remarks of ordinary gossip.

Lady St. Jerome rose the moment her eye caught the entry of Lothair, and, advancing, received him with an air of ceremony, mixed, however, with an expression of personal devotion which was distressing to him, and singularly contrasted with the easy and genial receptions that he remembered at Vauxe. Then Lady St. Jerome led Lothair to her companion whom she had just quitted, and presented him to the Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento, a dame in whose veins, it was said, flowed both consular and pontifical blood of the rarest tint.

The Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento was the greatest lady in Rome; had still vast possessions — palaces and villas and vineyards and broad farms. Notwithstanding all that had occurred, she still looked upon the kings and emperors of the world as the mere servants of the pope, and on the old Roman nobility as still the conscript fathers of the world. Her other characteristic was superstition. So she was most distinguished by an irrepressible haughtiness and an illimitable credulity. The only softening circumstance was that, being in the hands of the Jesuits, her religion did not assume an ascetic or gloomy character. She was fond of society, and liked to show her wondrous jewels, which were still unrivalled, although she had presented his holiness in his troubles with a tiara of diamonds.

There were rumors that the Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento had on occasions treated even the highest nobility of England with a certain indifference; and all agreed that to laymen, however distinguished, her highness was not prone too easily to relax. But, in the present instance, it is difficult to convey a due conception of the graciousness of her demeanor when Lothair bent before her. She appeared even agitated, almost rose from her seat, and blushed through her rouge. Lady St. Jerome, guiding Lothair into her vacant seat, walked away.

“We shall never forget what you have done for us,” said the princess to Lothair.

“I have done nothing,” said Lothair, with a surprised air.

“Ali, that is so like gifted beings like you,” said the princess. “They never will think they have done any thing, even were they to save the world.”

“You are too gracious, princess,” said Lothair; “I have no claims to esteem which all must so value.”

“Who has, if you have not?” rejoined the princess. “Yes, it is to you, and to you alone, that we must look. I am very impartial in what I say, for, to be frank, I have not been of those who believed that the great champion would rise without the patrimony of St. Peter. I am ashamed to say that I have even looked with jealousy on the energy that has been shown by individuals in other countries; but I now confess that I was in error. I cannot resist this manifestation. It was a privilege to have lived when it happened. All that we can do now is to cherish your favored life.”

“You are too kind, madam,” murmured the perplexed Lothair.

“I have done nothing,” rejoined the princess, “and am ashamed that I have done nothing. But it is well for you, at this season, to be at Rome; and you cannot be better, I am sure, than under this roof. But, when the spring breaks, I hope you will honor me, by accepting for your use a villa which I have at Albano, and which, at that season, has many charms.”

There were other Roman ladies in the room only inferior in rank and importance to the Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento; and in the course of the evening, at their earnest request, they were made acquainted with Lothair, for it cannot be said he was presented to them. These ladies, generally so calm, would not wait for the ordinary ceremony of life, but, as he approached to be introduced, sank to the ground with the obeisance offered only to royalty.

There were some cardinals in the apartment and several monsignori. Catesby was there in close attendance on a pretty English countess, who had just “gone over.” Her husband had been at first very much distressed at the event, and tore himself from the severe duties of the House of Lords, in the hope that he might yet arrive in time at Rome to save her soul. But he was too late; and, strange to say, being of a domestic turn, and disliking family dissensions, he remained at Rome during the rest of the session, and finally “went over” himself.

Later in the evening arrived his eminence, Cardinal Berwick, for our friend had gained, and bravely gained, the great object of a churchman’s ambition, and which even our Laud was thinking at one time of accepting, although he was to remain a firm Anglican. In the death-struggle between the Church and the secret societies, Berwick had been the victor, and no one in the Sacred College more truly deserved the scarlet hat.

His eminence had a reverence of radiant devotion for the Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento, a glance of friendship for Lady St. Jerome — for all, a courtly and benignant smile; but, when he recognized Lothair, he started forward, seized and retained his hand, and then seemed speechless with emotion. “Ah! my comrade in the great struggle!” he at length exclaimed; “this is, indeed, a pleasure — and to see you here!”

Early in the evening, while Lothair was sitting by the side of the princess, his eye had wandered round the room, not unsuccessfully, in search of Miss Arundel; and, when he was free, he would immediately have approached her, but she was in conversation with a Roman prince. Then, when she was for a moment free, he was himself engaged; and, at last, he had to quit abruptly a cardinal of taste, who was describing to him a statue just discovered in the baths of Diocletian, in order to seize the occasion that again offered itself.

Her manner was constrained when he addressed her, but she gave him her hand, which he pressed to his lips. Looking deeply into her violet eyes, he said: “You summoned me to meet you at Rome; I am here.”

“And I summoned you to other things,” she answered, at first with hesitation and a blush; but then, as if rallying herself to the performance of a duty too high to allow of personal embarrassment, she added: “all of which you will perform, as becomes one favored by Heaven.”

“I have been favored by you,” said Lothair, speaking low and hurriedly; “to whom I owe my life, and more than my life. Yes,” he continued, “this is not the scene I would have chosen to express my gratitude to you for all that you have done for me, and my admiration of your sublime virtues; but I can no longer repress the feelings of my heart, though their utterance be as inadequate as your deeds have been transcendent.”

“I was but the instrument of a higher power.”

“We are all instruments of a higher power, but the instruments chosen are always choice.”

“Ay, there it is!” said Miss Arundel; “and that is what I rejoice you feel. For it is impossible that such a selection could have been made, as in your case, without your being reserved for great results.”

“I am but a shattered actor for great results,” said Lothair, shaking his head.

“You have had trials,” said Miss Arundel, “so had St. Ignatius, so had St. Francis, and great temptations; but these are the tests of character, of will, of spiritual power — the fine gold is searched. All things that have happened have tended and have been ordained to one end, and that was to make you the champion of the Church of which you are now more than the child.”

“More than the child?”

“Indeed I think so. However, this is hardly the place and occasion to dwell on such matters; and, indeed, I know your friends — my friends equally — are desirous that your convalescence should not be unnecessarily disturbed by what must be, however delightful, still agitating thoughts; but you touched yourself unexpectedly on the theme, and, at any rate, you will pardon one who has the inconvenient quality of having only one thought.”

“Whatever you say or think must always interest me.”

“You are kind to say so. I suppose you know that our cardinal, Cardinal Grandison, will be here in a few days?”


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