"My soldiering has not been very fortunate," said Lothair; "and I am not quite as great an admirer of the Turks as you are, general. My mind is rather on the pursuits of peace, and twenty hours ago I had a dream of settling on the shores of the Sea of Galilee."
"Whatever you do," said the general, "give up dreams."
"I think you may be right in that," said Lothair, with half a sigh.
"Action may not always be happiness," said the general; "but there is no happiness without action. If you will not fight the Egyptians, were I you, I would return home and plunge into affairs. That was a fine castle of yours I visited one morning; a man who lives in such a place must be able to find a great deal to do."
"I almost wish I were there, with you for my companion," said Lothair.
"The wheel may turn," said the general; "but I begin to think I shall not see much of Europe again. I have given it some of my best years and best blood; and, if I had assisted in establishing the Roman republic, I should not have lived in vain; but the old imposture seems to me stronger than ever. I have got ten good years in me yet; and, if I be well supported and in luck, for, after all, every thing depends on fortune, and manage to put a couple of hundred thousand men in perfect discipline, I may find some consolation for not blowing up St. Peter's, and may do something for the freedom of mankind on the banks of the Danube."
Mrs. Putney Giles, in full toilet, was standing before the mantel-piece of her drawing-room in Hyde Park Gardens, and watching, with some anxiety, the clock that rested on it. It was the dinner-hour, and Mr. Putney Giles, particular in such matters, had not returned. No one looked forward to his dinner, and a chat with his wife, with greater zest than Mr. Putney Giles; and he deserved the gratification which both incidents afforded him, for he fairly earned it. Full of news and bustle, brimful of importance and prosperity, sunshiny and successful, his daily return home—which, with many, perhaps most, men, is a process lugubriously monotonous—was in Hyde Park Gardens, even to Apollonia, who possessed many means of amusement and occupation, a source ever of interest and excitement.
To-day too, particularly, for their great client, friend, and patron, Lothair, had arrived last night, from the Continent, at Muriel House, and had directed Mr. Putney Giles to be in attendance on him on the afternoon of this day.
Muriel House was a family mansion in the Green Park. It was built of hewn stone, during the last century—a Palladian edifice, for a time much neglected, but now restored and duly prepared for the reception of its lord and master by the same combined energy and taste which had proved so satisfactory and successful at Muriel Towers.
It was a long room, the front saloon at Hyde Park Gardens, and the door was as remote as possible from the mantel-piece. It opened suddenly, but only the panting face of Mr. Putney Giles was seen, as he poured forth in hurried words: "My dear, dreadfully late, but I can dress in five minutes. I only opened the door in passing, to tell you that I have seen our great friend; wonderful man! but I will tell you all at dinner, or after. It was not he who kept me, but the Duke of Brecon. The duke has been with me two hours. I had a good mind to bring him home to dinner, and give him a bottle of my '48. They like that sort of thing, but it will keep," and the head vanished.
The Duke of Brecon would not have dined ill, had he honored this household. It is a pleasant thing to see an opulent and prosperous man of business, sanguine and full of health, and a little overworked, at that royal meal, dinner. How he enjoys his soup! And how curious in his fish! How critical in his entr e, and how nice in his Welsh mutton! His exhausted brain rallies under the glass of dry sherry, and he realizes all his dreams with the aid of claret that has the true flavor of the violet.
"And now, my dear Apollonia," said Mr. Putney Giles, when the servants had retired, and he turned his chair and played with a new nut from the Brazils, "about our great friend. Well, I was there at two o'clock, and found him at breakfast. Indeed, he said that, had he not given me an appointment, he thought he should not have risen at all. So delighted he was to find himself again in an English bed. Well, he told me every thing that had happened. I never knew a man so unreserved, and so different from what he was when I first knew him, for he never much cared then to talk about himself. But no egotism, nothing of that sort of thing—all his mistakes, all his blunders, as he called them. He told me every thing, that I might thoroughly understand his position, and that he might judge whether the steps I had taken in reference to it were adequate."
"I suppose about his religion," said Apollonia. "What is he, after all?"
"As sound as you are. But you are right; that was the point on which he was most anxious. He wrote, you know, to me from Malta, when the account of his conversion first appeared, to take all necessary steps to contradict the announcement, and counteract its consequences. He gave me carte blanche, and was anxious to know precisely what I had done. I told him that a mere contradiction, anonymous, or from a third person, however unqualified its language, would have no effect in the face of a detailed narrative, like that in all the papers, of his walking in procession and holding a lighted taper, and all that sort of thing. What I did was this. I commenced building, by his direction, two new churches on his estate, and announced in the local journals, copied in London, that he would be present at the consecration of both. I subscribed, in his name, and largely, to all the diocesan societies, gave a thousand pounds to the Bishop of London's fund, and accepted for him the office of steward, for this year, for the Sons of the Clergy. Then, when the public feeling was ripe, relieved from all its anxieties, and beginning to get indignant at the calumnies that had been so freely circulated, the time for paragraphs had arrived, and one appeared stating that a discovery had taken place of the means by which an unfounded and preposterous account of the conversion of a distinguished young English nobleman at Rome had been invented and circulated, and would probably furnish the occasion for an action for libel. And now his return and appearance at the Chapel Royal, next Sunday, will clinch the whole business."
"And he was satisfied?"
"Most satisfied; a little anxious whether his personal friends, and particularly the Brentham family, were assured of the truth. He travelled home with the duke's son and Lord St. Aldegonde, but they came from remote parts, and their news from home was not very recent."
"And how does he look?"
"Very well; never saw him look better. He is handsomer than he was. But he is changed. I could not conceive in a year that any one could be so changed. He was young for his years; he is now old for his years. He was, in fact, a boy; he is now a man; and yet it is only a year. He said it seemed to him ten."
"He has been through a fiery furnace," said Apollonia.
"Well, he has borne it well," said Mr. Giles. "It is worth while serving such a client, so cordial, so frank, and yet so full of thought. He say he does not in the least regret all the money he has wasted. Had he remained at home, it would have gone to building a cathedral."
"And a popish one!" said Apollonia. "I cannot agree with him," she continued, "that his Italian campaign was a waste of money. It will bear fruit. We shall still see the end of the 'abomination of desolation.'"
"Very likely," said Mr. Giles; "but I trust my client will have no more to do with such questions either way."
"And did he ask after his friends?" said Apollonia.
"Very much: he asked after you. I think he went through all the guests at Muriel Towers except the poor Campians. He spoke, to me about the colonel, to whom it appears he has written; but Theodora he never mentioned, except by some periphrasis, some allusion to a great sorrow, or to some dear friend whom he had lost. He seems a little embarrassed about the St. Jeromes, and said more than once that he owed his life to Miss Arundel. He dwelt a good deal upon this. He asked also a great deal about the Brentham family. They seem the people whom he most affects. When I told him of Lady Corisande's approaching union with the Duke of Brecon, I did not think he half liked it."
"But is it settled?"
"The same as—. The duke has been with me two hours to-day about his arrangements. He has proposed to the parents, who are delighted with the match, and has received every encouragement from the young lady. He looks upon it as certain."
"I wish our kind friend had not gone abroad," said Apollonia.
"Well, at any rate, he has come back," said Mr. Giles; "that is something. I am sure I more than once never expected to see him again."
"He has every virtue, and every charm," said Apollonia, "and principles that are now proved. I shall never forget his kindness at the Towers. I wish he were settled for life. But who is worthy of him? I hope he will not fall into the clutches of that popish girl. I have sometimes, from what I observed at Muriel, and other reasons, a dread misgiving."
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 to-day 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?"
"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?"
"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."
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."
On the morning of the very Saturday on which Lothair was to pay his visit to Vauxe, riding in the park, he was joined by that polished and venerable nobleman who presides over the destinies of art in Great Britain. This distinguished person had taken rather a fancy to Lothair, and liked to talk to him about the Phoebus family; about the great artist himself, and all his theories and styles; but especially about the fascinating Madame Phoebus and the captivating Euphrosyne.
"You have not found time, I dare say," said the nobleman, "to visit the exhibition of the Royal Academy?"
"Well, I have only been here a week," said Lothair, "and have had so many things to think of, and so many persons to see."
"Naturally," said the nobleman; "but I recommend you to go. I am now about to make my fifth visit there; but it is only to a single picture, and I envy its owner."
"Indeed!" said Lothair. "Pray tell me its subject, that I may not fail to see it."
"It is a portrait," said the nobleman, "only a portrait, some would say, as if the finest pictures in the world were not only portraits. The masterpieces of the English school are portraits, and some day when you have leisure and inclination, and visit Italy, you will see portraits by Titian and Raffaelle and others, which are the masterpieces of art. Well, the picture in question is a portrait by a young English painter at Rome and of an English lady. I doubt not the subject was equal to the genius of the artist, but I do not think that the modern pencil has produced any thing equal to it, both, in design and color and expression. You should see it, by all means, and I have that opinion of your taste that I do not think you will be content by seeing it once. The real taste for fine art in this country is proved by the crowd that always surrounds that picture; and yet only a portrait of an English lady, a Miss Arundel."
"A Miss Arundel?" said Lothair.
"Yes, of a Roman Catholic family; I believe a relative of the St. Jeromes. They were at Rome last year, when this portrait was executed."
"If you will permit me," said Lothair, "I should like to accompany you to the Academy. I am going out of town this afternoon, but not far, and could manage it."
So they went together. It was the last exhibition of the Academy in Trafalgar Square. The portrait in question was in the large room, and hung on the eye line; so, as the throng about it was great, it was not easy immediately to inspect it. But one or two R. A's who were gliding about, and who looked upon the noble patron of art as a sort of divinity, insensibly controlled the crowd, and secured for their friend and his companion the opportunity which they desired.
"It is the finest thing since the portrait of the Cenci," said the noble patron.
The painter had represented Miss Arundel in her robe of a sister of mercy, but with uncovered head. A wallet was at her side, and she held a crucifix. Her beautiful eyes, full of mystic devotions met those of the spectator with a fascinating power that kept many spell-bound. In the background of the picture was a masterly glimpse of the papal gardens and the wondrous dome.
"That must be a great woman," said the noble patron of art.
Lothair nodded assent in silence.
The crowd about the picture seemed breathless and awe-struck. There were many women, and in some eyes there were tears.
"I shall go home," said one of the spectators; "I do not wish to see any thing else."
"That is religion," murmured her companion. "They may say what they like, but it would be well for us if we were all like her."
It was a short half-hour by the railroad to Vauxe, and the station was close to the park gates. The sun was in its last hour when Lothair arrived, but he was captivated by the beauty of the scene, which he had never witnessed in its summer splendor. The rich foliage of the great avenues, the immense oaks that stood alone, the deer glancing in the golden light, and the quaint and stately edifice itself, so finished and so fair, with its freestone pinnacles and its gilded vanes glistening and sparkling in the warm and lucid sky, contrasted with the chilly hours when the cardinal and himself had first strolled together in that park, and when they tried to flatter themselves that the morning mist clinging to the skeleton trees was perhaps the burst of spring.
Lothair found himself again in his old rooms, and, as his valet unpacked his toilet, he fell into one of his reveries.
"What," he thought to himself, "if life after all be only a dream? I can scarcely realize what is going on. It seems to me; I have passed through a year of visions. That I should be at Vauxe again! A roof I once thought rife with my destiny. And perhaps it may prove so. And, were it not for the memory of one event, I should be a ship without a rudder."
There were several guests in the house, and, when Lothair entered the drawing-room, he was glad to find that it was rather full. The cardinal was by the side of Lady St. Jerome when Lothair entered, and immediately after saluting his hostess it was his duty to address his late guardian. Lothair had looked forward to this meeting with apprehension. It seemed impossible that it should not to a certain degree be annoying. Nothing of the kind. It was impossible to greet him more cordially, more affectionately than did Cardinal Grandison.
"You have seen a great deal since we parted," said the cardinal. "Nothing could be wiser than your travelling. You remember that at Muriel I recommended you to go to Egypt, but I thought it better that you should see Rome first. And it answered: you made the acquaintance of its eminent men, men whose names will be soon in everybody's mouth, for before another year elapses Rome will be the cynosure of the world. Then, when the great questions come on which will decide the fate of the human race for centuries, you will feel the inestimable advantage of being master of the situation, and that you are familiar with every place and every individual. I think you were not very well at Rome; but next time you must choose your season. However, I may congratulate you on your present looks. The air of the Levant seems to have agreed with you."
Dinner was announced almost at this moment, and Lothair, who had to take out Lady Clanmorne, had no opportunity before dinner of addressing any one else except his hostess and the cardinal. The dinner-party was large, and it took some time to reconnoitre all the guests. Lothair observed Miss Arundel, who was distant from him and on the same side of the table, but neither Monsignore Capel nor Father Coleman were present.
Lady Clanmorne chatted agreeably. She was content to talk, and did not insist on conversational reciprocity. She was a pure free-trader in gossip. This rather suited Lothair. It pleased Lady Clanmorne to-day to dilate upon marriage and the married state, but especially on all her acquaintances, male and female, who were meditating the surrender of their liberty and about to secure the happiness of their lives.
"I suppose the wedding of the season—the wedding of weddings—will be the Duke of Brecon's," she said. "But I do not hear of any day being fixed."
"Ah!" said Lothair, "I have been abroad and am very deficient in these matters. But I was travelling with the lady's brother, and he has never yet told me that his sister was going to be married."
"There is no doubt about that," said Lady Clanmorne. "The duchess said to a friend of mine the other day, who congratulated her, that there was no person in whom she should have more confidence as a son-in-law than the duke."
"But most marriages turn out unhappy," said Lothair, rather morosely.
"Oh! my dear lord, what can you mean?"
"Well I think so," he said doggedly. "Among the lower orders, if we may judge from the newspapers, they are always killing their wives, and in our class we get rid of them in a more polished way, or they get rid of us."
"You quite astonish me with such sentiments," said Lady Clanmorne. "What would Lady St. Jerome think if she heard you, who told me the other day that she believed you to be a faultless character? And the duchess too, your friend's mamma, who thinks you so good, and that it is so fortunate for her son to have such a companion?"
"As for Lady St. Jerome, she believes in every thing," said Lothair; "and it is no compliment that she believes in me. As for my friend's mamma, her ideal character, according to you, is the Duke of Brecon, and I cannot pretend to compete with him. He may please the duchess, but I cannot say the Duke of Brecon is a sort of man I admire."
"Well, he is no great favorite of mine," said Lady Clanmorne; "I think him overbearing and selfish, and I should not like at all to be his wife."
"What do you think of Lady Corisande?" said Lothair.
"I admire her more than any girl in society, and I think she will be thrown away on the Duke of Brecon. She is clever and she has strong character, and, I am told, is capable of great affections. Her manners are good, finished, and natural; and she is beloved by her young friends, which I always think a test."
"Do you think her handsome?"
"There can be no question about that: she is beautiful, and her beauty is of a high class. I admire her much more than all her sisters. She has a grander mien."
"Have you seen Miss Arundel's picture at the Academy?"
"Everybody has seen that: it has made a fury."
"I heard an eminent judge say to-day, that it was the portrait of one who must be a great woman."
"Well, Miss Arundel is a remarkable person."
"Do you admire her?"
"I have heard first-rate critics say that there was no person to be compared to Miss Arundel. And unquestionably it is a most striking countenance: that profound brow and those large deep eyes—and then her figure is so fine; but, to tell you the truth, Miss Arundel is a person I never could make out."
"I wonder she does not marry," said Lothair.
"She is very difficult," said Lady Clanmorne. "Perhaps, too, she is of your opinion about marriage."
"I have a good mind to ask her after dinner whether she is," said Lothair. "I fancy she would not marry a Protestant?"
"I am no judge of such matters," said Lady Clanmorne; "only I cannot help thinking that there would be more chance of a happy marriage when both were of the same religion."
"I wish we were all of the same religion. Do not you?"
"Well, that depends a little on what the religion might be."
"Ah!" sighed Lothair, "what between religion and marriage and some other things, it appears to me one never has a tranquil moment. I wonder what religious school the Duke of Brecon belongs to? Very high and dry, I should think."
The moment the gentlemen returned to the drawing-room, Lothair singled out Miss Arundel, and attached himself to her.
"I have been to see your portrait today," he said. She changed color.
"I think it," he continued, "the triumph of modern art, and I could not easily fix on any production of the old masters that excels it."
"It was painted at Rome," she said, in a low voice.
"So I understood. I regret that, when I was at Rome, I saw so little of its art. But my health, you know, was wretched. Indeed, if it had not been for some friends—I might say for one friend—I should not have been here or in this world. I can never express to that person my gratitude, and it increases every day. All that I have dreamed of angels was then realized."
"You think too kindly of us."
"Did Lady St. Jerome give you my message about the earth from the holy places which I had placed in a crucifix, and which I hope you will accept from me, in remembrance of the past and your Christian kindness to me? I should have left it at St. James's Square before this, but it required some little arrangement after its travels."
"I shall prize it most dearly, both on account of its consecrated character and for the donor's sake, whom I have ever wished to see the champion of our Master."
"You never had a wish, I am sure," said Lothair, "that was not sublime and pure."
They breakfasted at Vauxe, in the long gallery. It was always a merry meal, and it was the fashion of the house that all should be present. The cardinal was seldom absent. He used to say: "I feel more on equal terms with my friends at breakfast, and rather look forward to my banquet of dry toast." Lord St. Jerome was quite proud of receiving his letters and newspapers at Vauxe earlier by far than he did at St. James's Square; and, as all were supplied with their letters and journals, there was a great demand, for news, and a proportional circulation of it. Lady Clanmorne indulged this passion for gossip amusingly one morning, and read a letter from her correspondent, written with the grace of a Sevigne, but which contained details of marriages, elopements, and a murder among their intimate acquaintance, which made all the real intelligence quite insipid, and was credited for at least half an hour.
The gallery at Vauxe was of great length, and the breakfast-table was laid at one end of it. The gallery was of panelled oak, with windows of stained glass in the upper panes, and the ceiling, richly and heavily carved, was entirely gilt, but with deadened gold. Though stately, the general effect was not free from a certain character of gloom. Lit, as it was, by sconces, this was at night much softened; but, on a rich summer morn, the gravity and repose of this noble chamber were grateful to the senses.
The breakfast was over; the ladies had retired, stealing off with the Morning Post, the gentlemen gradually disappearing for the solace of their cigars. The cardinal, who was conversing with Lothair, continued their conversation while walking up and down the gallery, far from the hearing of the servants, who were disembarrassing the breakfast-table, and preparing it for luncheon. A visit to a country-house, as Pinto says, is a series of meals mitigated by the new dresses of the ladies.
"The more I reflect on your travels," said the cardinal, "the more I am satisfied with what has happened. I recognize the hand of Providence in your preliminary visit to Rome and your subsequent one to Jerusalem. In the vast events which are impending, that man is in a strong position who has made a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre. Yo remember our walk in the park here," continued the cardinal; "I felt then that we were on the eve of some mighty change, but it was then indefinite, though to me inevitable. You were destined, I was persuaded, to witness it, even, as I hoped, to take no inconsiderable share in its fulfilment. But I hardly believed that I should have been spared for this transcendent day, and, when it is consummated, I will gratefully exclaim, 'Nunc me dimittis!'"
"You, allude, sir, to some important matter which Lady St. Jerome a few days ago intimated to me, but it was only an intimation, and purposely very vague."
"There is no doubt," said the cardinal, speaking with solemnity, "of what I now communicate to you. The Holy Father, Pius IX., has resolved to summon an Oecumenical Council."
"An Oecumenical Council!" said Lothair.
"It is a weak phrase," resumed the cardinal, "to say it will be the greatest event of this century. I believe it will be the greatest event since the Episcopate of St. Peter; greater, in its consequences to the human race, than the fall of the Roman Empire, the pseudo-Reformation, or the Revolution of France. It is much more than three hundred years since the last Oecumenical Council, the Council of Trent, and the world still vibrates with its decisions. But the Council of Trent, compared with the impending Council of the Vatican, will be as the mediaeval world of Europe compared with the vast and complete globe which man has since discovered and mastered."
"Indeed!" said Lothair.
"Why, the very assembly of the Fathers of the Church will astound the Freemasons, and the secret societies, and the atheists. That alone will be a demonstration of power on the part of the Holy Father which no conqueror from Sesostris to Napoleon has ever equalled. It was only the bishops of Europe that assembled at Trent, and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, their decisions have governed man for more than three hundred years. But now the bishops of the whole world will assemble round the chair of St. Peter, and prove by their presence the catholic character of the Church. Asia will send its patriarchs and pontiffs, and America and Australia its prelates; and at home, my dear young friend, the Council of the Vatican will offer a striking contrast to the Council of Trent; Great Britain will be powerfully represented. The bishops of Ireland might have been counted on, but it is England also that will send her prelates now, and some of them will take no ordinary share in transactions that will give a new form and color to human existence."
"Is it true, sir, that the object of the council is to declare the infallibility of the pope?"
"In matters of faith and morals," said the cardinal quickly. "There is no other infallibility. That is a secret with God. All that we can know of the decision of the council on this awful head is, that its decision, inspired by the Holy Spirit, must infallibly be right. We must await that decision, and, when made known, we must embrace it, not only with obedience, but with the interior assent of mind and will. But there are other results of the council on which we may speculate; and which, I believe, it will certainly accomplish: first, it will show in a manner that cannot be mistaken that there is only one alternative for the human intellect: Rationalism or Faith; and, secondly, it will exhibit to the Christian powers the inevitable future they are now preparing for themselves."
"I am among the faithful," said Lothair.
"Then you must be a member of the Church Catholic," said the cardinal. "The basis on which God has willed that His revelation should rest in the world is the testimony of the Catholic Church, which, if considered only as a human and historical witness, affords the highest and most certain evidence for the fact and the contents of the Christian religion. If this be denied, there is no such thing as history. But the Catholic Church is not only a human and historical witness of its own origin, constitution, and authority, it is also a supernatural and divine witness, which can neither fail nor err. When it oecumenically speaks, it is not merely the voice of the fathers of the world; it declares what 'it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.'"
There was a pause, and then Lothair remarked: "You said, air, that the council would show to the civil powers of the Christian world the inevitable future they are preparing for themselves?"
"Even so. Now mark this, my child. At the Council of Trent the Christian powers were represented, and properly so. Their seats will be empty at the Council of the Vatican. What does that mean? The separation between Church and State, talked of for a long time, now demonstrated. And what does separation between Church and State mean? That society is no longer consecrated. The civil governments of the world no longer profess to be Catholic. The faithful indeed among their subjects will be represented at the council by their pastors, but the civil powers have separated themselves from the Church; either by royal edict, or legislative enactment, or revolutionary changes, they have abolished the legal status of the Catholic Church within their territory. It is not their choice; they are urged on by an invisible power that is anti-Christian, and which is the true, natural, and implacable enemy of the one visible and universal Church. The coming anarchy is called progress, because it advances along the line of departure from the old Christian order of the world. Christendom was the offspring of the Christian family, and the foundation of the Christian family is the sacrament of matrimony, the sprit of all domestic and public morals. The anti-Christian societies are opposed to the principle of home. When they have destroyed the hearth, the morality of society will perish. A settlement in the foundations may be slow in sinking, but it brings all down at last. The next step in de-Christianizing the political life of nations is to establish national education without Christianity. This is systematically aimed at wherever the revolution has its way. The period and policy of Julian are returning. Some think this bodes ill for the Church; no, it is the State that will suffer. The secret societies are hurrying the civil governments of the world, and mostly the governments who disbelieve in their existence, to the brink of a precipice, over which monarchies, and law, and civil order, will ultimately fall and perish together."
"Then all is hopeless," said Lothair.
"To human speculation," said the cardinal; "but none can fathom the mysteries of Divine interposition. This coming council may save society, and on that I would speak to you most earnestly. His holiness has resolved to invite the schismatic priesthoods to attend it, and labor to bring about the unity of Christendom. He will send an ambassador to the patriarch of the heresy of Photius, which is called the Greek Church. He will approach Lambeth. I have little hope of the latter, though there is more than one of the Anglican bishops who revere the memory and example of Laud. But I by no means despair of your communion being present in some form at the council. There are true spirits at Oxford who sigh for unity. They will form, I hope, a considerable deputation; but, as not yet being prelates, they cannot take their seats formally in the council, I wish, in order to increase and assert their influence, that they should be accompanied by a band of powerful laymen, who shall represent the pious and pure mind of England—the coming guardians of the land in the dark hour that may be at hand. Considering your previous knowledge of Rome, your acquaintance with its eminent men and its language, and considering too, as I well know, that the Holy Father looks to you as one marked out by Providence to assert the truth, it would please me—and, trust me, it would be wise in you—were you to visit Rome on this sublime occasion, and perhaps put your mark on the world's history."
"It must yet be a long time before the council meets," said Lothair, after a pause.
"Not too long for preparation," replied the cardinal. "From this hour, until its assembling, the pulse of humanity will throb. Even at this hour they are speaking of the same matters as ourselves alike on the Euphrates and the St. Lawrence. The good Catesby is in Ireland, conferring with the bishops, and awakening them to the occasion. There is a party among them narrow-minded and local, the effects of their education. There ought not to be an Irish priest who was not brought up at the Propaganda. You know that admirable institution. We had some happy hours at Rome together—may we soon repeat them! You were very unwell there; next time you will judge of Rome in health and vigor."
They say there is a skeleton in every house; it may be doubted. What is more certain are the sorrow and perplexity which sometimes, without a warning and preparation, suddenly fall upon a family living in a world of happiness and ease, and meriting their felicity by every gift of fortune and disposition.
Perhaps there never was a circle that enjoyed life more, and deserved to enjoy life more, than the Brentham family. Never was a family more admired and less envied. Nobody grudged them their happy gifts and accidents, for their demeanor was so winning, and their manners so cordial and sympathetic, that every one felt as if he shared their amiable prosperity. And yet, at this moment, the duchess, whose countenance was always as serene as her soul, was walking with disturbed visage and agitated step up and down the private room of the duke; while his grace, seated, his head upon his arm, and with his eyes on the ground, was apparently in anxious thought.
Now, what had happened? It seems that these excellent parents had become acquainted, almost at the same moment, with two astounding and disturbing facts: their son wanted to marry Euphrosyne Cantacuzene, and their daughter would not marry the Duke of Brecon.
"I was so perfectly unprepared for the communication," said the duke, looking up, "that I have no doubt I did not express myself as I ought to have done. But I do not think I said any thing wrong. I showed surprise, sorrow—no anger. I was careful not to say any thing to hurt his feelings—that is a great point in these matters—nothing disrespectful of the young lady. I invited him to speak to me again about it when I had a little got over my surprise."
"It is really a catastrophe," exclaimed the duchess; "and only think, I came to you for sympathy in my sorrow, which, after all, though distressing, is only a mortification!"
"I am very sorry about Brecon," said the duke, "who is a man of honor, and would have suited us very well; but, my dear Augusta, I never took exactly the same view of this affair as you did—I was never satisfied that Corisande returned his evident, I might say avowed, admiration of her."
"She spoke of him always with great respect," said the duchess, "and that is much in a girl of Corisande's disposition. I never heard her speak of any of her admirers in the same tone—certainly not of Lord Carisbrooke; I was quite prepared for her rejection of him. She never encouraged him."
"Well," said the duke, "I grant you it is mortifying—infinitely distressing; and Brecon is the last man I could have wished that it should occur to; but, after all, our daughter must decide for herself in such affairs. She is the person most interested in the event. I never influenced her sisters in their choice, and she also must be free. The other subject is more grave."
"If we could only ascertain who she really is," said the duchess.
"According to Bertram, fully our equal; but I confess I am no judge of Levantine nobility," his grace added, with a mingled expression of pride and despair.
"That dreadful travelling abroad!" exclaimed the duchess. "I always had a foreboding of something disastrous from it. Why should he have gone abroad, who has never been to Ireland, or seen half the counties of his own country?"
"They all will go," said the duke; "and I thought, with St. Aldegonde, he was safe from getting into any scrape of this kind."
"I should like to speak to Granville about it," said the duchess. "When he is serious, his judgment is good."
"I am to see St. Aldegonde before I speak to Bertram," said the duke. "I should not be surprised if he were here immediately."
One of the social mysteries is, "how things get about!" It is not the interest of any of the persons immediately connected with the subject that society should be aware that the Lady Corisande had declined the proposal of the Duke of Brecon. Society had no right even to assume that such a proposal was either expected or contemplated. The Duke of Brecon admired Lady Corisande, so did many others; and many others were admired by the Duke of Brecon. The duchess even hoped that, as the season was waning, it might break up, and people go into the country or abroad, and nothing be observed. And yet it "got about." The way things get about is through the Hugo Bohuns. Nothing escapes their quick eyes and slow hearts. Their mission is to peer into society, like professional astronomers ever on the watch to detect the slightest change in the phenomena. Never embarrassed by any passion of their own, and their only social scheming being to maintain their transcendent position, all their life and energy are devoted to the discovery of what is taking place around them; and experience, combined with natural tact, invests them with almost a supernatural skill in the detection of social secrets. And so it happened that scarcely a week had passed before Hugo began to sniff the air, and then to make fine observations at balls, as to whom certain persons danced with, or did not dance with; and then he began the curious process of what he called putting two and two together, and putting two and two together proved in about a fortnight that it was all up between Lady Corisande and the Duke of Brecon.
Among others he imparted this information to Lothair, and it set Lothair a thinking; and he went to a ball that evening solely with the purpose of making social observations like Hugo Bohun. But Lady Corisande was not there, though the Duke of Brecon was, apparently in high spirits, and waltzing more than once with Lady Grizell Falkirk. Lothair was not very fortunate in his attempts to see Bertram. He called more than once at Crecy House too, but in vain. The fact is, Bertram was naturally entirely engrossed with his own difficulties, and the duchess, harassed and mortified, could no longer be at home in the morning.
Her grace, however, evinced the just appreciation of character for which women are remarkable, in the confidence which she reposed in the good sense of Lord St. Aldegonde at this crisis. St. Aldegonde was the only one of his sons-in-law whom the duke really considered and a little feared. When St. Aldegonde was serious, his influence over men was powerful. And he was serious now. St. Aldegonde, who was not conventional, had made the acquaintance of Mr. Cantacuzene immediately on his return to England, and they had become friends. He had dined in the Tyburnian palace of the descendant of the Greek emperors more than once, and had determined to make his second son, who was only four years of age, a Greek merchant. When the duke therefore consulted him on "the catastrophe," St. Aldegonde took high ground, spoke of Euphrosyne in the way she deserved, as one equal to an elevated social position, and deserving it. "But if you ask me my opinion, sir," he continued, "I do not think, except for Bertram's sake, that you have any cause to fret yourself. The family wish her to marry her cousin, the eldest son of the Prince of Samos. It is an alliance of the highest, and suits them much better than any connection with us. Besides, Cantacuzene will give his children large fortunes, and they like the money to remain in the family. A hundred or a hundred and fifty thousand pounds—perhaps more—goes a great way on the coasts of Asia Minor. You might buy up half the Archipelago. The Cantacuzenes are coming to dine with us next week. Bertha is delighted with them. Mr. Cantacuzene is so kind as to say he will take Clovis into his counting-house. I wish I could induce your grace to come and meet him: then you could judge for yourself. You would not be in the least shocked were Bertram to marry the daughter of some of our great merchants or bankers. This is a great merchant and banker, and the descendant of princes, and his daughter one of the most beautiful and gifted of women and worthy to be a princess."
"There is a good deal in what St. Aldegonde says," said the duke afterward to his wife. "The affair takes rather a different aspect. It appears they are really people of high consideration, and great wealth too. Nobody could describe them as adventurers."
"We might gain a little time," said the duchess. "I dislike peremptory decisions. It is a pity we have not an opportunity of seeing the young lady."
"Granville says she is the most beautiful woman he ever met, except her sister."
"That is the artist's wife?" said the duchess.
"Yes," said the duke, "I believe a most distinguished man, but it rather adds to the imbroglio. Perhaps things may turn out better than they first promised. The fact is, I am more amazed than annoyed. Granville knows the father, it seems, intimately. He knows so many odd people. He wants me to meet him at dinner. What do you think about it? It is a good thing sometimes to judge for one's self. They say this Prince of Samos she is half betrothed to is attach to the Turkish embassy at Vienna, and is to visit England."
"My nervous system is quite shaken," said the duchess. "I wish we could all go to Brentham. I mentioned it to Corisande this morning, and I was surprised to find that she wished to remain in town."
"Well, we will decide nothing, my dear, in a hurry. St. Aldegonde says that, if we decide in that sense, he will undertake to break off the whole affair. We may rely on that. We need consider the business only with reference to Bertram's happiness and feelings. That is an important issue, no doubt, but it is a limited one. The business is not of so disagreeable a nature as it seemed. It is not an affair of a rash engagement, in a discreditable quarter, from which he cannot extricate himself. There is no doubt they are thoroughly reputable people, and will sanction nothing which is not decorous and honorable. St. Aldegonde has been a comfort to me in this matter; and you will find out a great deal when you speak to him about it. Things might be worse. I wish I was as easy about the Duke of Brecon. I met him this morning and rode with him—to show there was no change in my feelings."
The world goes on with its aching hearts and its smiling faces, and very often, when a year has revolved, the world finds out there was no sufficient cause for the sorrows or the smiles. There is too much unnecessary anxiety in the world, which is apt too hastily to calculate the consequences of any unforeseen event, quite forgetting that, acute as it is in observation, the world, where the future is concerned, is generally wrong. The duchess would have liked to have buried herself in the shades of Brentham, but Lady Corisande, who deported herself as if there were no care at Crecy House except that occasioned by her brother's rash engagement, was of opinion that "mamma would only brood over this vexation in the country," and that it would be much better not to anticipate the close of the waning season. So the duchess and her lovely daughter were seen everywhere where they ought to be seen, and appeared the pictures of serenity and satisfaction.
As for Bertram's affair itself, under the manipulation of St. Aldegonde, it began to assume a less anxious and more practicable aspect. The duke was desirous to secure his son's happiness, but wished nothing to be done rashly. If, for example, in a year's time or so, Bertram continued in the same mind, his father would never be an obstacle to his well-considered wishes. In the mean time, an opportunity might offer of making the acquaintance of the young lady and her friends.
And, in the mean time, the world went on dancing, and betting, and banqueting, and making speeches, and breaking hearts and heads, till the time arrived when social stock is taken, the results of the campaign estimated and ascertained, and the question asked, "Where do you think of going this year?"
"We shall certainly winter at Rome," said Lady St. Jerome to Lady Clanmorne, who was paying a morning visit. "I wish you could induce Lord Clanmorne to join us."
"I wish so, too," said the lady, "but that is impossible. He never will give up his hunting."
"I am sure there are more foxes in the Campagna than at Vauxe," said Lady St. Jerome.
"I suppose you have heard of what they call the double event?" said Lady Clanmorne.
"Well, it is quite true; Mr. Bohun told me last night, and he always knows every thing."
"Every thing!" said Lady St. Jerome; "but what is it that he knows now?"
"Both the Ladies Falkirk are to be married! And on the same day."
"But to whom?"
"Whom should you think?"
"I will not even guess," said Lady St. Jerome.
"Clare," she said to Miss Arundel, who was engaged apart, "you always find out conundrums. Lady Clanmorne has got some news for us. Lady Flora Falkirk and her sister are going to be married, and on the same day. And to whom, think you?"
"Well, I should think that somebody has made Lord Carisbrooke a happy man," said Miss Arundel.
"Very good," said Lady Clanmorne. "I think Lady Flora will make an excellent Lady Carisbrooke. He is not quite as tall as she is, but he is a man of inches. And now for Lady Grizell."
"My powers of divination are quite exhausted," said Miss Arundel.
"Well, I will not keep you in suspense," said Lady Clanmorne. "Lady Grizell is to be Duchess of Brecon."
"Duchess of Brecon!" exclaimed both Miss Arundel and Lady St. Jerome.
"I always admired the ladies," said Miss Arundel. "We met them at a country-house last year, and I thought them pleasing in every way—artless and yet piquant; but I did not anticipate their fate being so soon sealed."
"And so brilliantly," added Lady St. Jerome.
"You met them at Muriel Towers," said Lady Clanmorne. "I heard of you there: a most distinguished party. There was an American lady there, was there not? a charming person, who sang, and acted, and did all sorts of things."
"Yes; there was. I believe, however, she was an Italian, married to an American."
"Have you seen much of your host at Muriel Towers?" said Lady Clanmorne.
"We see him frequently," said Lady St. Jerome.
"Ah! yes, I remember; I met him at Vauxe the other day. He is a great admirer of yours," Lady Clanmorne added, addressing Miss Arundel.
"Oh! we are friends, and have long been so," said Miss Arundel, and she left the room.
"Clare does not recognize admirers," said Lady St. Jerome, gravely.
"I hope the ecclesiastical fancy is not reviving," said Lady Clanmorne. "I was half in hopes that the lord of Muriel Towers might have deprived the Church of its bride."
"That could never be," said Lady St. Jerome; "though, if it could have been, a source of happiness to Lord St. Jerome and myself would not have been wanting. We greatly regard our kinsman, but, between ourselves," added Lady St. Jerome in a low voice, "it was supposed that he was attached to the American lady of whom you were speaking."
"And where is she now?"
"I have heard nothing of late. Lothair was in Italy at the same time as ourselves, and was ill there, under our roof; so we saw a great deal of him. Afterward he travelled for his health, and has now just returned from the East."
A visitor was announced, and Lady Clanmorne retired.
Nothing happens as you expect. On his voyage home Lothair had indulged in dreams of renewing his intimacy at Crecy House, around whose hearth all his sympathies were prepared to cluster. The first shock to this romance was the news he received of the impending union of Lady Corisande with the Duke of Brecon. And, what with this unexpected obstacle to intimacy, and the domestic embarrassments occasioned by Bertram's declaration, he had become a stranger to a roof which had so filled his thoughts. It seemed to him that he could not enter the house either as the admirer of the daughter or as the friend of her brother. She was probably engaged to another, and, as Bertram's friend and fellow-traveller, he fancied he was looked upon by the family as one who had in some degree contributed to their mortification. Much of this was imaginary, but Lothair was very sensitive, and the result was that he ceased to call at Crecy House, and for some time, kept aloof from the duchess and her daughter, when he met them in general society. He was glad to hear from Bertram and St. Aldegonde that the position of the former was beginning to soften at home, and that the sharpness of his announcement was passing away. And, when he had clearly ascertained that the contemplated union of Lady Corisande with the duke was certainly not to take place, Lothair began to reconnoitre, and try to resume his original position. But his reception was not encouraging, at least not sufficiently cordial for one who by nature was retiring and reserved. Lady Corisande was always kind, and after some time he danced with her again. But there were no invitations to luncheon from the duchess; they never asked him to dinner. His approaches were received with courtesy, but he was not courted.
The announcement of the marriage of the Duke of Brecon did not, apparently, in any degree, distress Lady Corisande. On the contrary, she expressed much satisfaction at her two young friends settling in life with such success and splendor. The ambition both of Lady Flora and Lady Grizell was that Corisande should be a bridesmaid. This would be a rather awkward post to occupy under the circumstances, so she embraced both, and said that she loved them both so equally, that she would not give a preference to either, and therefore, though she certainly would attend their wedding, she would refrain from taking part in the ceremony.
The duchess went with Lady Corisande one morning to Mr. Ruby's to choose a present from her daughter to each of the young ladies. Mr. Ruby in a back shop poured forth his treasures of bracelets, and rings, and lockets. The presents must be similar in value and in beauty, and yet there must be some difference between them; so it was a rather long and troublesome investigation, Mr. Ruby, as usual, varying its monotony, or mitigating its wearisomeness, by occasionally, or suddenly, exhibiting some splendid or startling production of his art. The parure of an empress, the bracelets of grand-duchesses, a wonderful fan that was to flutter in the hands of majesty, had all in due course appeared, as well as the black pearls and yellow diamonds that figure and flash on such occasions, before eyes so favored and so fair.
At last—for, like a prudent general, Mr. Ruby had always a great reserve—opening a case, he said, "There!" and displayed a crucifix of the most exquisite workmanship and the most precious materials.
"I have no hesitation in saying the rarest jewel which this century has produced. See! the figure by Monti; a masterpiece. Every emerald in the cross a picked stone. These corners, your grace is aware," said Mr. Ruby, condescendingly, "contain the earth of the holy places at Jerusalem. It has been shown to no one but your grace."
"It is indeed most rare and beautiful," said the duchess, "and most interesting, too, from containing the earth of the holy places. A commission, of course?"
"From one of our most eminent patrons," and then he mentioned Lothair's name.
Lady Corisande looked agitated.
"Not for himself," said Mr. Ruby.
Lady Corisande seemed relieved.
"It is a present to a young lady—Miss Arundel."
Lady Corisande changed color, and, turning away, walked toward a case of works of art, which was in the centre of the shop, and appeared to be engrossed in their examination.
A day or two after this adventure of the crucifix, Lothair met Bertram, who said to him, "By-the-by, if you want to see my people before they leave town, you must call at once."
"You do not mean that," replied Lothair, much surprised. "Why, the duchess told me, only three or four days ago, that they should not leave town until the end of the first week of August. They are going to the weddings."
"I do not know what my mother said to you, my dear fellow, but they go to Brentham the day after to-morrow, and will not return. The duchess has been for a long time wishing this, but Corisande would stay. She thought they would only bother themselves about my affairs, and there was more distraction for them in town. But now they are going, and it is for Corisande they go. She is not well, and they have suddenly resolved to depart."
"Well, I am very sorry to hear it," said Lothair; "I shall call at Crecy House. Do you think they will see me?"
"And what are your plans?"
"I have none," said Bertram. "I suppose I must not leave my father alone at this moment. He has behaved well; very kindly, indeed. I have nothing to complain of. But still all is vague, and I feel somehow or other I ought to be about him."
"Have you heard from our dear friends abroad?"
"Yes," said Bertram, with a sigh, "Euphrosyne writes to me; but I believe St. Aldegonde knows more about their views and plans than I do. He and Mr. Phoebus correspond much. I wish to Heaven they were here, or rather that we were with them!" he added, with another sigh. "How happy we all were, at Jerusalem! How I hate London! And Brentham worse. I shall have to go to a lot of agricultural dinners and all sorts of things. The duke expects it, and I am bound now to do every thing to please him. What do you think of doing?"
"I neither know nor care," said Lothair, in a tone of great despondency.
"You are a little hipped."
"Not a little. I suppose it is the excitement of the last two years that has spoiled me for ordinary life. But I find the whole thing utterly intolerable, and regret now that I did not rejoin the staff of the general. I shall never have such a chance again. It was a mistake; but one is born to blunder."
Lothair called at Crecy House. The hall-porter was not sure whether the duchess was at home, and the groom of the chambers went to see. Lothair had never experienced this form. When the groom of the chambers came down again, he gave her grace's compliments; but she had a headache, and was obliged to lie down, and was sorry she could not see Lothair, who went away livid.
Crecy House was only yards from St. James's Square, and Lothair repaired to an accustomed haunt. He was not in a humor for society, and yet he required sympathy. There were some painful associations with the St. Jerome family, and yet they had many charms. And the painful associations had been greatly removed by their easy and cordial reception of him, and the charms had been renewed and increased by subsequent intercourse. After all, they were the only people who had always been kind to him. And, if they had erred in a great particular, they had been animated by pure, and even sacred, motives. And had they erred? Were not his present feelings of something approaching to desolation a fresh proof that the spirit of man can alone be sustained by higher relations than merely human ones? So he knocked at the door, and Lady St. Jerome was at home. She had not a headache; there were no mysterious whisperings between hall-porters and grooms of the chamber, to ascertain whether he was one of the initiated. Whether it were London or Vauxe, the eyes of the household proved that he was ever a welcome and cherished guest.
Lady St. Jerome was alone, and rose from her writing-table to receive him. And then—for she was a lady who never lost a moment—she resumed some work, did not interfere with their conversation. Her talking resources were so happy and inexhaustible, that it signified little that her visitor, who was bound in that character to have something to say, was silent and moody.
"My lord," she continued, "has taken the Palazzo Agostini for a term. I think we should always pass our winters at Rome under any circumstances, but—the cardinal has spoken to you about the great event—if that comes off, of which, between ourselves, whatever the world may say, I believe there is no sort of doubt, we should not think of being absent from Rome for a day during the council."
"Why! it may last years," said Lothair. "There is no reason why it should not last the Council of Trent. It has in reality much more to do."
"We do things quicker now," said Lady St. Jerome.
"That depends on what there is to do. To revive faith is more difficult than to create it."
"There will be no difficulty when the Church has assembled," said Lady St. Jerome. "This sight of the universal Fathers coming from the uttermost ends of the earth to bear witness to the truth will at once sweep away all the vain words and vainer thoughts of this unhappy century. It will be what they call a great fact, dear Lothair; and when the Holy Spirit descends upon their decrees, my firm belief is the whole world will rise as it were from a trance, and kneel before the divine tomb of St. Peter."
"Well, we shall see," said Lothair.
"The cardinal wishes you very much to attend the council. He wishes you to attend it as an Anglican, representing with a few others our laity. He says it would have the very best effect for religion."
"He spoke to me."
"And you agreed to go?"
"I have not refused him. If I thought I could do any good I am not sure I would not go," said Lothair; "but, from what I have seen of the Roman court, there is little hope of reconciling our differences. Rome is stubborn. Now, look at the difficulty they make about the marriage of a Protestant and one of their own communion. It to cruel, and I think on their part unwise."
"The sacrament of marriage is of ineffable holiness," said Lady St. Jerome.
"I do not wish to deny that," said Lothair, "but I see no reason why I should not marry a Roman Catholic if I liked, without the Roman Church interfering and entirely regulating my house and home."
"I wish you would speak to Father Coleman about this," said Lady St. Jerome.
"I have had much talk with Father Coleman about many things in my time," said Lothair, "but not about this. By-the-by, have you any news of the monsignore?"
"He is in Ireland, arranging about the Oecumenical Council. They do not understand these matters there as well as we do in England, and his holiness, by the cardinal's advice, has sent the monsignore to put things right."
"All the Father Colemans in the world cannot alter the state of affairs about mixed marriages," said Lothair; "they can explain, but they cannot alter. I want change in this matter, and Rome never changes."
"It is impossible for the Church to change," said Lady St. Jerome, "because it is Truth."
"Is Miss Arundel at home?" said Lothair.
"I believe so," said Lady St. Jerome.
"I never see her now," he said, discontentedly. "She never goes to balls, and she never rides. Except occasionally under this roof, she is invisible."