Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 32

When the stranger, who had proved so opportune an ally to Lothair at the Fenian meeting, separated from his companion, he proceeded in the direction of Pentonville, and, after pursuing his way through a number of obscure streets, but quiet, decent, and monotonous, he stopped at a small house in a row of many residences, yet all of them, in, form, size, color, and general character, so identical, that the number on the door could alone assure the visitor that he was not in error when he sounded the knocker.

“Ah! is it you, Captain Bruges?” said the smiling and blushing maiden who answered to his summons. “We have not seen you for a long time.”

“Well, you look as kind and as pretty as ever, Jenny,” said the captain, “and how is my friend?”

“Well,” said the damsel, and she shrugged her shoulders, “he mopes. I’m very glad you have come back, captain, for he sees very few now, and is always writing. I cannot bear that writing; if he would only go and take a good walk, I am sure he would be better.”

“There is something in that,” said Captain Bruges. “And is he at home, and will he see me?”

“Oh! he is always at home to you, captain; but I will just run up and tell him you are here. You know it is long since we have seen you, captain — coming on half a year, I think.”

“Time flies, Jenny. Go, my good girl, and I will wait below.”

“In the parlor, if you please, Captain Bruges. It is to let now. It is more than a mouth since the doctor left us. That was a loss, for, as long as the doctor was here, he always had some one to speak with.”

So Captain Bruges entered the little dining-room with its mahogany table, and half a dozen chairs, and cellaret, and over the fireplace a portrait of Garibaldi, which had been left as a legacy to the landlady by her late lodger, Dr. Tresorio.

The captain threw a quick glance at the print, and then, falling into reverie, with his hands crossed behind him, paced the little chamber, and was soon lost in thoughts which made him unconscious how long had elapsed when the maiden summoned him.

Following her, and ascending the stair-case, he was ushered into the front room of the first floor, and there came forward to meet him a man rather below the middle height, but of a symmetrical and imposing mien. His face was grave, not to say sad; thought, not time, had partially silvered the clustering of his raven hair; but intellectual power reigned in his wide brow, while determination was the character of the rest of his countenance, under great control, yet apparently, from the dark flashing of his eye, not incompatible with fanaticism.

“General,” he exclaimed, “your presence always reanimates me. I shall at least have some news on which I rely. Your visit is sudden — sudden things are often happy ones. Is there any thing stirring in the promised land? Speak, speak! You have a thousand things to say, and I have a thousand ears.”

“My dear Mirandola,” replied the visitor, “I will take leave to call into council a friend whose presence is always profitable.”

So saying, he took out a cigar-case, and offered it to his companion.

“We have smoked together in palaces,” said Mirandola, accepting the proffer with a delicate white hand.

“But not these cigars,” replied the general. “They are superb, my only reward for all my transatlantic work, and sometimes I think a sufficient one.”

“And Jenny shall give us a capital cup of coffee,” said Mirandola; “it is the only hospitality that I can offer my friends. Give me a light, my general; and now, how are things?”

“Well, at the first glance, very bad; the French have left Rome, and we are not in it.”

“Well, that is an infamy not of today or yesterday,” replied Mirandola, “though not less an infamy. We talked over this six months ago, when you were over here about something else, and from that moment unto the present I have with unceasing effort labored to erase this stigma from the human consciousness, but with no success. Men are changed; public spirit is extinct; the deeds of ‘48 are to the present generations as incomprehensible as the Punic wars, or the feats of Marius against the Cimbri. What we want are the most natural things in the world, and easy of attainment because they are natural. We want our metropolis, our native frontiers, and true liberty. Instead of these, we have compromises, conventions, provincial jealousies, and French prefects. It is disgusting, heart-rending; sometimes I fear my own energies are waning. My health is wretched; writing and speaking are decidedly bad for me, and I pass my life in writing and speaking. Toward evening I feel utterly exhausted, and am sometimes, which I thought I never could be, the victim of despondency. The loss of the doctor was a severe blow, but they hurried him out of the place. The man of Paris would never rest till he was gone. I was myself thinking of once more trying Switzerland, but the obstacles are great; and, in truth, I was at the darkest moment when Jenny brought me the light of your name.”

The general, who had bivouacked on a group of small chairs, his leg on one, his elbow on another, took his cigar from his mouth and delivered himself of a volume of smoke, and then said dryly: “Things may not be so bad as they seem, comrade. Your efforts have not been without fruit. I have traced them in many quarters, and, indeed, it is about their possible consequences that I have come over to consult with you.”

“Idle words, I know, never escape those lips,” said Mirandola; “speak on.”

“Well,” said the general, “you see that people are a little exhausted by the efforts of last year; and it must be confessed that no slight results were accomplished. The freedom of Venice —”

“A French intrigue,” exclaimed Mirandola. “The freedom of Venice is the price of the slavery of Rome. I heard of it with disgust.”

“Well, we do not differ much on that head,” said the general. “I am not a Roman as you are, but I view Rome, with reference to the object of my life, with feelings not less ardent and absorbing than yourself, who would wish to see it again the empress of the world. I am a soldier, and love war, and, left to myself, would care little perhaps for what form of government I combated, provided the army was constituted on the principles of fraternity and equality; but the passion of my life, to which I have sacrificed military position, and perhaps,” he added in a lower tone, “perhaps even military fame, has been to destroy priestcraft, and, so long as the pope rules in Rome, it will be supreme.”

“We have struck him down once,” said Mirandola.

“And I hope we shall again, and forever,” said the general, “and it is about that I would speak. You are in error in supposing that your friends do not sympathize with you, or that their answers are dilatory or evasive. There is much astir; the old spirit is not extinct, but the difficulties are greater than in former days when we had only the Austrians to encounter, and we cannot afford to make another failure.”

“There could be no failure if we were clear and determined. There must be a hundred thousand men who would die for our metropolis, our natural frontiers, and true liberty. The mass of the pseudo-Italian army must be with us. As for foreign interference, its repetition seems to me impossible. The brotherhood in the different countries, if well guided, could alone prevent it. There should be at once a manifesto addressed to the peoples. They have become absorbed in money-grubbing and what they call industry. The external life of a nation is its most important one. A nation, as an individual, has duties to fulfil appointed by God and His moral law; the individual toward his family, his town, his country; the nation toward the country of countries, humanity — the outward world. I firmly believe that we fail and renounce the religious and divine element of our life whenever we betray or neglect those duties. The internal activity of a nation is important and sacred because it prepares the instrument for its appointed task. It is mere egotism if it converges toward itself, degrading and doomed to expiation — as will be the fate of this country in which we now dwell,” added Mirandola in a hushed voice. “England had a mission; it had belief, and it had power. It announced itself the representative of religious, commercial, and political freedom, and yet, when it came to action, it allowed Denmark to be crushed by Austria and Prussia, and, in the most nefarious transaction of modern times, uttered the approving shriek of ‘Perish Savoy!’”

“My dear Mirandola,” said the general, trimming his cigar, “there is no living man who appreciates your genius and your worth more than myself; perhaps I might say there is no living man who has had equal opportunities of estimating them. You formed the mind of our country; you kindled and kept alive the sacred flame when all was gloom, and all were without heart. Such prodigious devotion, so much resource and pertinacity and patience, such unbroken spirit, were never before exhibited by man; and, whatever may be said by your enemies, I know that in the greatest hour of action you proved equal to it; and yet at this moment, when your friends are again stirring, and there is a hope of spring, I am bound to tell you that there are only two persons in the world who can effect the revolution, and you are not one of them.”

“I am ardent, my general, perhaps too sanguine, but I have no self-love, at least none when the interests of the great cause are at stake. Tell me, then, their names, and count, if required, on my cooperation.”

“Garibaldi and Mary–Anne.”

“A Polchinello and a Bayadere!” exclaimed Mirandola, and, springing from his seat, he impatiently paced the room.

“And yet,” continued the general calmly, “there is no manner of doubt that Garibaldi is the only name that could collect ten thousand men at any given point in Italy; while in France, though her influence is mythical, the name of Mary–Anne is a name of magic. Though never mentioned, it is never forgotten. And the slightest allusion to it among the initiated will open every heart. There are more secret societies in France at this moment than at any period since ‘85, though you hear nothing of them; and they believe in Mary–Anne, and in nothing else.”

“You have been at Caprera?” said Mirandola.

“I have been at Caprera.”

“And what did he say?”

“He will do nothing without the sanction of the Savoyard.”

“He wants to get wounded in his other foot,” said Mirandola, with savage sarcasm. “Will he never weary of being betrayed?”

“I found him calm and sanguine,” said the general.

“What of the woman?”

“Garibaldi will not move without the Savoyard, and Mary–Anne will not move without Garibaldi; that is the situation.”

“Have you seen her?”

“Not yet; I have been to Caprera, and I have come over to see her and you. Italy is ready for the move, and is only waiting for the great man. He will not act without the Savoyard; he believes in him. I will not be skeptical. There are difficulties enough without imagining any. We have no money, and all our sources of supply are drained; but we have the inspiration of a sacred cause, we have you — we may gain others — and, at any rate, the French are no longer at Rome.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19