Lothair was breakfasting alone on the morrow, when his servant announced the arrival of Mr. Ruby, who had been ordered to be in attendance.
“Show him up,” said Lothair, “and bring me the dispatch-box which is in my dressing-room.”
Mr. Ruby was deeply gratified to be again in the presence of a nobleman so eminently distinguished, both for his property and his taste, as Lothair. He was profuse in his congratulations to his lordship on his return to his native land, while at the same time he was opening a bag, from which he extracted a variety of beautiful objects, none of them for sale, all executed commissions, which were destined to adorn the fortunate and the fair. “This is lovely, my lord, quite new, for the Queen of Madagascar; for the empress this, her majesty’s own design, at least almost. Lady Melton’s bridal necklace, and my lord’s George, the last given by King James II.; broken up during the revolution, but reset by us from an old drawing with picked stones.”
“Very pretty,” said Lothair; “but it is not exactly this sort of thing that I want. See,” and he opened the dispatch-box, and took from out of it a crucifix. It was made of some Eastern wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl; the figure carved in brass, though not without power, and at the end of each of the four terminations of the cross was a small cavity, enclosing something, and covered with glass.
“See,” continued Lothair, “this is the crucifix, given with a carved shell to each pilgrim who visits the Holy Sepulchre. Within these four cavities is earth from the four holy places: Calvary, Sion, Bethlehem, and Gethsemane. Now, what I want is a crucifix, something of this dimension, but made of the most costly materials; the figure must be of pure gold; I should like the cross to be of choice emeralds, which I am told are now more precious even than brilliants, and I wish the earth of the sacred places to be removed from this crucifix, and introduced in a similar manner into the one which you are to make; and each cavity must be covered with a slit diamond. Do you understand?”
“I follow you, my lord,” said Mr. Ruby, with glistening eyes. “It will be a rare jewel. Is there to be a limit as to the cost?”
“None but such as taste and propriety suggest,” said Lothair. “You will of course make a drawing and an estimate, and send them to me; but I desire dispatch.”
When Mr. Ruby had retired, Lothair took from the dispatch-box a sealed packet, and looked at it for some moments, and then pressed it to his lips.
In the afternoon, Lothair found himself again in the saddle, and was riding about London, as if he had never quitted it. He left his cards at Crecy House, and many other houses, and he called at the St. Jeromes’ late, but asked if they were at home. He had reckoned that they would not be, and his reckoning was right. It was impossible to conceal from himself that it was a relief. Mr. Putney Giles dined alone with Lothair this evening, and they talked over many things; among others the approaching marriage of Lady Corisande with the Duke of Brecon.
“Everybody marries except myself,” said Lothair, rather peevishly.
“But your lordship is too young to think of that yet,” said Mr. Putney Giles.
“I feel very old,” said Lothair.
At this moment there arrived a note from Bertram, saying his mother was quite surprised and disappointed that Lothair had not asked to see her in the morning. She had expected him, as a matter of course, at luncheon, and begged that he would come on the morrow.
“I have had many pleasant luncheons in that house,” said Lothair, “but this will be the last. When all the daughters are married, nobody eats luncheon.”
“That would hardly apply to this family,” said Mr. Putney Giles, who always affected to know every thing, and generally did. “They are so united, that I fancy the famous luncheons at Crecy House will always go on, and be a popular mode of their all meeting.”
“I half agree with St. Aldegonde,” said Lothair, grumbling to himself, “that if one is to meet that Duke of Brecon every day at luncheon, for my part I had rather stay away.”
In the course of the evening there also arrived invitations to all the impending balls and assemblies, for Lothair; and there seemed little prospect of his again being forced to dine with his faithful solicitor as a refuge from melancholy.
On the morrow he went in his brougham to Crecy House, and he had such a palpitation of the heart when he arrived, that, for a moment, he absolutely thought he must retire. His mind was full of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, and the Sea of Galilee. He was never nervous there, never agitated, never harassed, no palpitations of the heart, no dread suspense. There was repose alike of body and soul. Why did he ever leave Palestine and Paraclete? He should have remained in Syria forever, cherishing, in a hallowed scene, a hallowed sorrow, of which even the bitterness was exalted and ennobling.
He stood for a moment in the great hall at Crecy House, and the groom of the chambers in vain solicited his attention. It was astonishing how much passed through his mind while the great clock hardly described sixty seconds. But in that space he had reviewed his life, arrived at the conclusion that all was vanity and bitterness, that he had failed in every thing, was misplaced, had no object and no hope, and that a distant and unbroken solitude in some scene, where either the majesty of Nature was overwhelming, or its moral associations were equally sublime, must be his only refuge. In the meditation of the Cosmos, or in the divine reverie of sacred lands, the burden of existence might be endured.
“Her grace is at luncheon, my lord,” at length said the groom of the chamber — and Lothair was ushered into the gay, and festive, and cordial scene. The number of the self-invited guests alone saved him. His confusion was absolute, and the duchess remarked afterward that Lothair seemed to have regained all his shyness.
When Lothair had rallied and could survey the scene, he found he was sitting by his hostess; that the duke, not a luncheon man, was present, and, as it turned out afterward, for the pleasure of meeting Lothair. Bertram also was present, and several married daughters, and Lord Montairy, and Captain Mildmay, and one or two others; and next to Lady Corisande was the Duke of Brecon.
So far as Lothair was concerned, the luncheon was unsuccessful. His conversational powers deserted him. He answered in monosyllables, and never originated a remark. He was greatly relieved when they rose and returned to the gallery, in which they seemed all disposed to linger. The duke approached him, and, in his mood, he found it easier to talk to men than to women. Male conversation is of a coarser grain, and does not require so much play of thought and manner; discourse about Suez Canal, and Arab horses, and pipes, and pachas, can be carried on without any psychological effort, and, by degrees, banishes all sensibility. And yet he was rather dreamy, talked better than he listened, did not look his companion in the face, as the duke spoke, which was his custom, and his eye was wandering. Suddenly, Bertram having joined them, and speaking to his father, Lothair darted away and approached Lady Corisande, whom Lady Montairy had just quitted.
“As I may never have the opportunity again,” said Lothair, “let me thank you, Lady Corisande, for some kind thoughts which you deigned to bestow on me in my absence.”
His look was serious; his tone almost sad. Neither were in keeping with the scene and the apparent occasion; and Lady Corisande, not displeased, but troubled, murmured: “Since I last met you, I heard you had seen much and suffered much.”
“And that makes the kind thoughts of friends more precious,” said Lothair. “I have few; your brother is the chief, but even he never did me any kindness so great as when he told me that you had spoken of me with sympathy.”
“Bertram’s friends are mine,” said Lady Corisande; “but, otherwise, it would be impossible for us all not to feel an interest in-, one of whom we had seen so much,” she added, with some hesitation.
“Ah, Brentham!” said Lothair; “dear Brentham! Do you remember once saying to me that you hoped you should never leave Brentham?”
“Did I say so?” said Lady Corisande.
“I wish I had never left Brentham,” said Lothair; “it was the happiest time of my life. I had not then a sorrow or a care.”
“But everybody has sorrows and cares,” said Lady Corisande; “you have, however, a great many things which ought to make you happy.”
“I do not deserve to be happy,” said Lothair, “for I have made so many mistakes. My only consolation is that one great error, which you most deprecated, I have escaped.”
“Take a brighter and a nobler view of your life,” said Lady Corisande; “feel rather you have been tried and not found wanting.”
At this moment the duchess approached them, and interrupted their conversation; and, soon after this, Lothair left Crecy House, still moody, but less despondent.
There was a ball at Lady Clanmorne’s in the evening, and Lothair was present. He was astonished at the number of new faces he saw, the new phrases he heard, the new fashions alike in dress and manner. He could not believe it was the same world that he had quitted only a year ago. He was glad to take refuge with Hugo Bohun as with an old friend, and could not refrain from expressing to that eminent person his surprise at the novelty of all around him.
“It is you, my dear Lothair,” replied Hugo, “that is surprising, not the world — that has only developed in your absence. What could have induced a man like you to be away for a whole season from the scene? Our forefathers might afford to travel — the world was then stereotyped. It will not do to be out of sight now. It is very well for St. Aldegonde to do these things, for the great object of St. Aldegonde is not to be in society, and he has never succeeded in his object. But here is the new beauty.”
There was a stir and a sensation. Men made way, and even women retreated — and, leaning on the arm of Lord Carisbrooke, in an exquisite costume that happily displayed her splendid figure, and, radiant with many charms, swept by a lady of commanding mien and stature, self-possessed, and even grave, when, suddenly turning her head, her pretty face broke into enchanting dimples, as she exclaimed: “Oh, cousin Lothair!”
Yes, the beautiful giantesses of Muriel Towers had become the beauties of the season. Their success had been as sudden and immediate as it was complete and sustained. “Well, this is stranger than all!” said Lothair to Hugo Bohun when Lady Flora had passed on.
“The only persons talked of,” said Hugo. “I am proud of my previous acquaintance with them. I think Carisbrooke has serious thoughts; but there are some who prefer Lady Grizell.”
“Lady Corisande was your idol last season,” said Lothair.
“Oh, she is out of the running,” said Hugo; “she is finished. But I have not heard yet of any day being fixed. I wonder, when he marries, whether Brecon will keep on his theatre?”
“Yes; the high mode now for a real swell is to have a theatre. Brecon has the Frolic; Kate Simmons is his manager, who calls herself Athalie de Montfort. You ought to have a theatre, Lothair; and, if there is not one to hire, you should build one. It would show that you are alive again and had the spirit of an English noble, and atone for some of your eccentricities.”
“But I have no Kate Simmons who calls herself Athalie de Montfort,” said Lothair. “I am not so favored, Hugo. However, I might succeed Brecon, as I hardly suppose he will maintain such an establishment when he is married.”
“I beg your pardon,” rejoined Hugo. “It is the thing. Several of our greatest swells have theatres and are married. In fact, a first-rate man should have every thing, and therefore he ought to have both a theatre and a wife.”
“Well, I do not think your manners have improved since, last year, or your words,” said Lothair. “I have half a mind to go down to Muriel, and shut myself up there.”
He walked away and sauntered into the ballroom. The first forms he recognized were Lady Corisande waltzing with the Duke of Brecon, who was renowned for this accomplishment. The heart of Lothair felt bitter. He remembered his stroll to the dairy with the Duchess at Brentham, and their conversation. Had his views then been acceded to, how different would have been his lot! And it was not his fault that they had been rejected. And yet, had they been accomplished, would they have been happy? The character of Corisande, according to her mother, was not then formed, nor easily scrutable. Was it formed now? and what were its bent and genius? And his own character? It could not be denied that his mind was somewhat crude then, and his general conclusions on life and duty hardly sufficiently matured and developed to offer a basis for domestic happiness on which one might confidently depend.
And Theodora? Had he married then, he should never have known Theodora. In this bright saloon, amid the gayety of festive music, and surrounded by gliding forms of elegance and brilliancy, his heart was full of anguish when he thought of Theodora. To have known such a woman and to have lost her! Why should a man live after this? Yes; he would retire to Muriel, once hallowed by her presence, and he would raise to her memory some monumental fane, beyond the dreams ever of Artemisia, and which should commemorate alike her wondrous life and wondrous mind.
A beautiful hand was extended to him, and a fair face, animated with intelligence, welcomed him without a word. It was Lady St. Jerome. Lothair bowed lowly and touched her hand with his lip.
“I was sorry to have missed you yesterday. We had gone down to Vauxe for the day, but I heard of you from my lord with great pleasure. We are all of us so happy that you have entirely recovered your health.”
“I owe that to you, dearest lady,” said Lothair, “and to those under your roof. I can never forget your goodness to me. Had it not been for you, I should not have been here or anywhere else.”
“No, no; we did our best for the moment. But I quite agree with my lord, now, that you stayed too long at Rome under the circumstances. It was a good move — that going to Sicily, and so wise of you to travel in Egypt. Men should travel.”
“I have not been to Egypt,” said Lothair; “I have been to the Holy Land, and am a pilgrim. I wish you would tell Miss Arundel that I shall ask her permission to present her with my crucifix, which contains the earth of the holy places. I should have told her this myself, if I had seen her yesterday. Is she here?”
“She is at Vauxe; she could not tear herself away from the roses.”
“But she might have brought them with her as companions,” said Lothair, “as you have, I apprehend, yourself.”
“I will give you this in Clare’s name,” said Lady St. Jerome, as she selected a beautiful flower and presented it to Lothair. “It is in return for your crucifix, which I am sure she will highly esteem. I only wish it were a rose of Jericho.”
Lothair started. The name brought up strange and disturbing associations: the procession in the Jesuits’ church, the lighted tapers, the consecrated children, one of whom had been supernaturally presented with the flower in question. There was an awkward silence, until Lothair, almost without intending it, expressed a hope that the cardinal was well.
“Immersed in affairs, but I hope well,” replied Lady St. Jerome. “You know what has happened? But you will see him. He will speak to you of these matters himself.”
“But I should like also to hear from you.”
“Well, they are scarcely yet to be spoken of,” said Lady St. Jerome. “I ought not perhaps even to have alluded to the subject; but I know how deeply devoted you are to religion. We are on the eve of the greatest event of this century. When I wake in the morning, I always fancy that I have heard of it only in dreams. And many — all this room — will not believe in the possibility of its happening. They smile when the contingency is alluded to, and if I were not present they would mock. But it will happen — I am assured it will happen,” exclaimed Lady St. Jerome, speaking with earnestness, though in a hushed voice. “And no human imagination can calculate or conceive what may be its effect on the destiny of the human race.”
“You excite my utmost curiosity,” said Lothair.
“Hush! there are listeners. But we shall soon meet again. You will come and see us, and soon. Come down to Vauxe on Saturday; the cardinal will be there. And the place is so lovely now. I always say Vauxe at Whitsuntide, or a little later, is a scene for Shakespeare. You know you always liked Vauxe.”
“More than liked it,” said Lothair; “I have passed at Vauxe some of the happiest hours of my life.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53