Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 81

It was the first night that Lothair had slept in his own house, and, when he awoke in the morning, he was quite bewildered, and thought for a moment he was in the Palazzo Agostini. He had not reposed in so spacious and lofty a chamber since he was at Rome. And this brought all his recollection to his Roman life, and every thing that had happened there. “And yet, after all,” he said, “had it not been for Clare Arundel, I should never have seen Muriel House. I owe to her my life.” His relations with the St. Jerome family were doubtless embarrassing, even painful; and yet his tender and susceptible nature could not for a moment tolerate that he should passively submit to an estrangement from those who had conferred on him so much kindness, and whose ill-considered and injurious courses, as he now esteemed them, were perhaps, and probably, influenced and inspired by exalted, even sacred motives.

He wondered whether they were in London; and, if so, what should he do? Should he call, or should he write? He wished he could do something to show to Miss Arundel how much he appreciated her kindness, and how grateful he was. She was a fine creature, and all her errors were noble ones; enthusiasm, energy, devotion to a sublime cause. Errors, but are these errors? Are they not, on the contrary, qualities which should command admiration in any one? and in a woman — and a beautiful woman — more than admiration?

There is always something to worry you. It comes as regularly as sunrise. Here was Lothair under his own roof again, after strange and trying vicissitudes, with his health restored, his youth little diminished, with some strange memories and many sweet ones; on the whole, once more in great prosperity, and yet his mind harped only on one vexing thought, and that was his painful and perplexed relations with the St. Jerome family.

His thoughts were a little distracted from this harassing theme by the novelty of his house, and the pleasure it gave him. He admired the double staircase and the somewhat heavy, yet richly-carved ceilings; and the look into the park, shadowy and green, with a rich summer sun, and the palace in the distance. What an agreeable contrast to his hard, noisy sojourn in a bran-new, brobdingnagian hotel, as was his coarse fate when he was launched into London life! This made him think of many comforts for which he ought to be grateful, and then he remembered Muriel Towers, and how completely and capitally every thing was there prepared and appointed, and while he was thinking over all this — and kindly of the chief author of these satisfactory arrangements, and the instances in which that individual had shown, not merely professional dexterity and devotion, but some of the higher qualities that make life sweet and pleasant — Mr. Putney Giles was announced, and Lothair sprang forward and gave him his hand with a cordiality which repaid at once that perfect but large-hearted lawyer for all his exertions, and some anxieties that he had never expressed even to Apollonia.

Nothing in life is more remarkable than the unnecessary anxiety which we endure, and generally, occasion ourselves. Between four and five o’clock, having concluded his long conference with Mr. Putney Giles, Lothair, as if he were travelling the principal street of a foreign town, or rather treading on tiptoe like a prince in some enchanted castle, ventured to walk down St. James Street, and the very first person he met was Lord St. Jerome!

Nothing could be more unaffectedly hearty than his greeting by that good man and thorough gentleman. “I saw, by the Post, you had arrived,” said Lord St. Jerome, “and we were all saying at breakfast how glad we should be to see you again. And looking so well! Quite yourself! I never saw you looking better. You have been to Egypt with Lord St. Aldegonde, I think? It was the wisest thing you could do. I said to Gertrude, when you went to Sicily, ‘If I were Lothair, I would go a good deal farther than Sicily.’ You wanted change of scene and air, more than any man I know.”

“And how are they all?” said Lothair; “my first visit will be to them.”

“And they will be delighted to see you. Lady St. Jerome is a little indisposed — a cold caught at one of her bazaars. She will hold them, and they say that no one ever sells so much. But still, as I often say, ‘My dear Gertrude, would it not be better if I were to give you a check for the institution; it would be the same to them, and would save you a great deal of trouble.’ But she fancies her presence inspires others, and perhaps there is something in it.”

“I doubt not; and Miss Arundel?”

“Clare is quite well, and I am hurrying home now to ride with her. I shall tell her that you asked after her.”

“And offer her my kindest remembrances.”

“What a relief!” exclaimed Lothair, when once more alone. “I thought I should have sunk into the earth when he first addressed me, and now I would not have missed this meeting for any consideration.”

He had not the courage to go into White’s. He was under a vague impression that the whole population of the metropolis, and especially those who reside in the sacred land, bounded on the one side by Piccadilly, and on the other by Pall Mall, were unceasingly talking of his scrapes and misadventures; but he met Lord Carisbrooke and Mr. Brancepeth.

“Ah! Lothair,” said Carisbrooke, “I do not think we have seen you this season — certainly not since Easter. What have you been doing with yourself?”

“You have been in Egypt?” said Mr. Brancepeth. “The duke was mentioning at White’s today that you had returned with his son and Lord St. Aldegonde.”

“And does it pay?” inquired Carisbrooke. “Egypt? What I have found generally in this sort of thing is, that one hardly knows what to do with one’s evenings.”

“There is something in that,” said Lothair, “and perhaps it applies to other countries besides Egypt. However, though it is true I did return with St. Aldegonde and Bertram, I have myself not been to Egypt.”

“And where did you pick them up?”

“At Jerusalem.”

“Jerusalem! What on earth could they go to Jerusalem for?” said Lord Carisbrooke. “I am told there is no sort of sport there. They say, in the Upper Nile, there is good shooting.”

“St. Aldegonde was disappointed. I suppose our countrymen have disturbed the crocodiles and frightened away the pelicans?”

“We were going to look in at White’s — come with us.”

Lothair was greeted with general kindness; but nobody seemed aware that he had been long and unusually absent from them. Some had themselves not come up to town till after Easter, and had therefore less cause to miss him. The great majority, however, were so engrossed with themselves that they never missed anybody. The Duke of Brecon appealed to Lothair about something that had happened at the last Derby, and was under the impression, until better informed, that Lothair had been one of his party. There were some exceptions to this general unacquaintance with events which an hour before Lothair had feared fearfully engrossed society. Hugo Bohun was doubly charmed to see him, “because we were all in a fright one day that they were going to make you a cardinal, and it turned out that, at the very time they said you were about to enter the conclave, you happened to be at the second cataract. What lies these newspapers do tell!”

But the climax of relief was reached when the noble and gray-headed patron of the arts in Great Britain approached him with polished benignity, and said, “I can give you perhaps even later news than you can give me of our friends at Jerusalem. I had a letter from Madame Phoebus this morning, and she mentioned with great regret that you had just left them. Your first travels, I believe?”

“My first.”

“And wisely planned. You were right in starting out and seeing the distant parts. One may not always have the energy which such an expedition requires. You can keep Italy for a later and calmer day.”

Thus, one by one, all the cerulean demons of the morn had vanished, and Lothair had nothing to worry him. He felt a little dull as the dinner-hour approached. Bertram was to dine at home, and then go to the House of Commons; St. Aldegonde, concluding the day with the same catastrophe, had in the most immoral manner, in the interval, gone to the play to see “School,” of which he had read an account in Galignani when he was in quarantine. Lothair was so displeased with this unfeeling conduct on his part that he declined to accompany him; but Lady St. Aldegonde, who dined at Crecy House, defended her husband, and thought it very right and reasonable that one so fond of the drama as he, who had been so long deprived of gratifying his taste in that respect, should take the first opportunity of enjoying this innocent amusement. A solitary dinner at Muriel House, in one of those spacious and lofty chambers, rather appalled Lothair, and he was getting low again, remembering nothing but his sorrows, when Mr. Pinto came up to him and said: “The impromptu is always successful in life; you cannot be engaged to dinner, for everybody believes you are at Jericho. What say you to dining with me? Less than the Muses and more than the Graces, certainly, if you come. Lady Beatrice has invited herself, and she is to pick up a lady, and I was to look out for a couple of agreeable men. Huge is coming, and you will complete the charm.”

“The spell then is complete,” said Lothair; “I suppose a late eight.”


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