Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 49

Mrs. Campian did not appear at luncheon, which was observed but not noticed. Afterward, while Lothair was making some arrangements for the amusement of his guests, and contriving that they should fit in with the chief incident of the day, which was the banquet given to him by the county, and which it was settled the ladies were not to attend, the colonel took him aside and said, “I do not think that Theodora will care to go out today.”

“She is not unwell, I hope?”

“Not exactly — but she has had some news, some news of some friends, which has disturbed her. And, if you will excuse me, I will request your permission not to attend the dinner today, which I had hoped to have had the honor of doing. But I think our plans must be changed a little. I almost think we shall not go to Scotland after all.”

“There is not the slightest necessity for your going to the dinner. You will have plenty to keep you in countenance at home. Lord St. Aldegonde is not going, nor I fancy any of them. I shall take the duke with me and Lord Culloden, and, if you do not go, I shall take Mr. Putney Giles. The lord-lieutenant will meet us there. I am sorry about Mrs. Campian, because I know she is not ever put out by little things. May I not see her in the course of the day? I should be very sorry that the day should pass over without seeing her.”

“Oh! I dare say she will see you in the course of the day, before you go.”

“When she likes. I shall not go out today; I shall keep in my rooms, always at her commands. Between ourselves, I shall not be sorry to have a quiet morning and collect my ideas a little. Speech-making is a new thing for me. I wish you would tell me what to say to the county.”

Lothair had appropriated to the Campians one of the most convenient and complete apartments in the castle. It consisted of four chambers, one of them a saloon which had been fitted up for his mother when she married; a pretty saloon, hung with pale-green silk, and portraits and scenes inlaid by Vanloo and Boucher. It was rather late in the afternoon when Lothair received a message from Theodora in reply to the wish that he had expressed of seeing her.

When he entered the room, she was not seated; her countenance was serious. She advanced, and thanked him for wishing to see her, and regretted she could not receive him at an earlier hour. “I fear it may have inconvenienced you,” she added; “but my mind has been much disturbed, and too agitated for conversation.”

“Even now I may be an intruder?”

“No, it is past; on the contrary, I wish to speak to you; indeed, you are the only person with whom I could speak,” and she sat down.

Her countenance, which was unusually pale when he entered, became flushed. “It is not a subject for the festive hour of your life,” she said, “but I cannot resist my fate.”

“Your fate must always interest me,” murmured Lothair.

“Yes; but my fate is the fate of ages and of nations,” said Theodora, throwing up her head with that tumult of the brow which he had once before noticed. “Amid the tortures of my spirit at this moment, not the least is that there is only one person I can appeal to, and he is one to whom I have no right to make that appeal.”

“If I be that person,” said Lothair, “you have every right, for I am devoted to you.”

“Yes; but it is not personal devotion that is the qualification needed. It is not sympathy with me that would authorize such an appeal. It must be sympathy with a cause, and a cause for which, I fear, you do not — perhaps I should say you cannot — feel.”

“Why?” said Lothair.

“Why should you feel for my fallen country, who are the proudest citizen of the proudest of lands? Why should you feel for its debasing thraldom — you who, in the religious mystification of man, have, at least, the noble privilege of being a Protestant?”

“You speak of Rome?”

“Yes, of the only thought I have, or ever had. I speak of that country which first impressed upon the world a general and enduring form of masculine virtue; the land of liberty, and law, and eloquence, and military genius, now garrisoned by monks, and governed by a doting priest.”

“Everybody must be interested about Rome,” said Lothair. “Rome is the country of the world, and even the doting priest you talk of boasts of two hundred millions of subjects.”

“If he were at Avignon again, I should not care for his boasts,” said Theodora. “I do not grudge him his spiritual subjects; I am content to leave his superstition to Time. Time is no longer slow; his scythe mows quickly in this age. But when his debasing creeds are palmed off on man by the authority of our glorious capitol, and the slavery of the human mind is schemed and carried on in the forum, then, if there be real Roman blood left — and I thank my Creator there is much — it is time for it to mount and move,” and she rose and walked up and down the room.

“You have had news from Rome?” said Lothair.

“I have had news from Rome,” she replied, speaking slowly in a deep voice; and there was a pause.

Then Lothair said: “When you have alluded to these matters before, you never spoke of them in a sanguine spirit.”

“I have seen the cause triumph,” said Theodora; “the sacred cause of truth, of justice, of national honor. I have sat at the feet of the triumvirate of the Roman Republic; men who, for virtue, and genius, and warlike skill and valor, and every quality that exalts man, were never surpassed in the olden time — no, not by the Catos and the Scipios; and I have seen the blood of my own race poured, like a rich vintage, on the victorious Roman soil; my father fell, who, in stature and in mien, was a god; and, since then, my beautiful brothers, with shapes to enshrine in temples; and I have smiled amid the slaughter of my race, for I believed that Rome was free; and yet all this vanished. How, then, when we talked, could I be sanguine?”

“And yet you are sanguine now?” said Lothair, with a scrutinizing glance; and he rose and joined her, leaning slightly on the mantel-piece.

“There was only one event that could secure the success of our efforts,” said Theodora, “and that event was so improbable, that I had long rejected it from calculation. It has happened, and Rome calls upon me to act.”

“The Papalini are strong,” continued Theodora, after a pause; “they have been long preparing for the French evacuation; they have a considerable and disciplined force of janizaries, a powerful artillery, the strong places of the city. The result of a rising, under such circumstances, might be more than doubtful; if unsuccessful, to us it would be disastrous. It is necessary that the Roman States should be invaded, and the papal army must then quit their capital. We have no fear of them in the field. Yes,” she added, with energy, “we could sweep them from the face of the earth!”

“But the army of Italy,” said Lothair, “will that be inert?”

“There it is,” said Theodora. “That has been our stumbling-block. I have always known that, if ever the French quitted Rome, it would be on the understanding that the house of Savoy should inherit the noble office of securing our servitude. He in whom I alone confide would never credit this; but my information, in this respect, was authentic. However, it is no longer necessary to discuss the question. News has come, and in no uncertain shape, that whatever may have been the understanding, under no circumstances will the Italian army enter the Roman state. We must strike, therefore, and Rome will be free. But how am I to strike? We have neither money nor arms. We have only men. I can give them no more, because I have already given them every thing, except my life, which is always theirs. As for my husband, who, I may say, wedded me on the battle-field, so fax as wealth was concerned, he was then a prince among princes, and would pour forth his treasure, and his life, with equal eagerness. But things have changed since Aspromonte. The struggle in his own country has entirely deprived him of revenues as great as any forfeited by their Italian princelings. In fact, it is only by a chance that he is independent. Had it not been for an excellent man, one of your great English merchants, who was his agent here, and managed his affairs, we should have been penniless. His judicious investments of the superfluity of our income, which, at the time, my husband never even noticed, have secured for Colonel Campian the means of that decorous life which he appreciates — but no more. As for myself, these considerations are nothing. I will not say I should be insensible to a refined life with refined companions, if the spirit were content and the heart serene; but I never could fully realize the abstract idea of what they call wealth; I never could look upon it except as a means to an end, and my end has generally been military material. Perhaps the vicissitudes of my life have made me insensible to what are called reverses of fortune, for, when a child, I remember sleeping on the moonlit flags of Paris, with no pillow except my tambourine; and I remember it not without delight. Let us sit down. I feel I am talking in an excited, injudicious, egotistical, rhapsodical, manner. I thought I was calm, and I meant to have been clear. But the fact is, I am ashamed of myself. I am doing a wrong thing, and in a wrong manner. But I have had a sleepless night, and a day of brooding thought. I meant once to have asked you to help me, and now I feel that you are the last person to whom I ought to appeal.”

“In that you are in error,” said Lothair, rising and taking her hand with an expression of much gravity; “I am the right person for you to appeal to — the only person.”

“Nay,” said Theodora, and she shook her head.

“For I owe to you a debt that I never can repay,” continued Lothair. “Had it not been for you, I should have remained what I was when we first met, a prejudiced, narrow-minded being, with contracted sympathies and false knowledge, wasting my life on obsolete trifles, and utterly insensible to the privilege of living in this wondrous age of change and progress. Why, had it not been for you I should have at this very moment been lavishing my fortune on an ecclesiastical toy, which I think of with a blush. There may be-doubtless there are — opinions in which we may not agree; but in our love of truth and justice there is no difference, dearest lady. No; though you must have felt that I am not — that no one could be-insensible to your beauty and infinite charms, still it is your consummate character that has justly fascinated my thought and heart; and I have long resolved, were I permitted, to devote to you my fortune and my life.”

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