Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 50

The month of September was considerably advanced when a cab, evidently from its luggage fresh from the railway, entered the court-yard of Hexham House, of which the shuttered windows indicated the absence of its master, the cardinal, then in Italy. But it was evident that the person who had arrived was expected, for before his servant could ring the hall-bell the door opened, and a grave-looking domestic advanced with much deference, and awaited the presence of no less a personage than Monsignore Berwick.

“We have had a rough passage, good Clifford,” said the great man, alighting, “but I see you duly received my telegram. You are always ready.”

“I hope my lord will find it not uncomfortable,” said Clifford. “I have prepared the little suite which you mentioned, and have been careful that there should be no outward sign of any one having arrived.”

“And now,” said the monsignore, stopping for a moment in the ball, “here is a letter which must be instantly delivered, and by a trusty hand,” and he gave it to Mr. Clifford, who, looking at the direction, nodded his head and said, “By no one but myself. I will show my lord to his rooms and depart with this instantly.”

“And bring back a reply,” added the monsignore.

The well-lit room, the cheerful fire, the judicious refection on a side-table, were all circumstances which usually would have been agreeable to a wearied traveller, but Monsignore Berwick seemed little to regard them. Though a man in general superior to care, and master of thought, his countenance was troubled and pensive even to dejection.

“Even the winds and waves are against us,” he exclaimed, too restless to be seated, and walking up and down the room with his arms behind his back. “That such a struggle should fall to my lot! Why was I not a minister in the days of the Gregorys, the Innocents, even the Leos! But this is craven. There should be inspiration in peril, and the greatest where peril is extreme. I am a little upset — with travel and the voyage and those telegrams not being answered. The good Clifford was wisely provident,” and he approached the table and took one glass of wine. “Good! One must never despair in such a cause. And if the worse happens, it has happened before — and what then? Suppose Avignon over again, or even Gaeta, or even Paris? So long as we never relinquish our title to the Eternal City we shall be eternal. But then, some say, our enemies before were the sovereigns; now it is the people. Is it so? True we have vanquished kings, and baffled emperors — but the French Republic and the Roman Republic have alike reigned and ruled in the Vatican, and where are they? We have lost provinces, but we have also gained them. We have twelve millions of subjects in the United States of America, and they will increase like the sands of the sea. Still it is a hideous thing to have come back, as it were, to the days of the Constable of Bourbon, and to be contemplating the siege of the Holy See, and massacre and pillage and ineffable horrors! The papacy may survive such calamities, as it undoubtedly will, but I shall scarcely figure in history if, under my influence, such visitations should accrue. If I had only to deal with men, I would not admit of failure; but when your antagonists are human thoughts, represented by invisible powers, there is something that might baffle a Machiavel and appall a Borgia.”

While he was meditating in this vein the door opened, and Mr. Clifford, with some hasty action and speaking rapidly, exclaimed: “He said he would be here sooner than myself. His carriage was at the door. I drove back as soon as possible — and indeed I hear something now in the court,” and he disappeared.

It was only to usher in, almost immediately, a stately personage in an evening dress, and wearing a decoration of a high class, who saluted the monsignore with great cordiality.

“I am engaged to dine with the Prussian ambassador, who has been obliged to come to town to receive a prince of the blood who is visiting the dockyards here; but I thought you might be later than you expected, and I ordered my carriage to be in waiting, so that we have a good little hour — and I can come on to you again afterward, if that will not do.”

“A little hour with us is a long hour with other people,” said the monsignore, “because we are friends and can speak without windings. You are a true friend to the Holy See; you have proved it. We are in great trouble and need of aid.”

“I hear that things are not altogether as we could wish,” said the gentleman in an evening dress; “but I hope, and should think, only annoyances.”

“Dangers,” said Berwick, “and great.”

“How so?”

“Well, we have invasion threatening us without and insurrection within,” said Berwick. “We might, though it is doubtful, successfully encounter one of these perils, but their united action must be fatal.”

“All this has come suddenly,” said the gentleman. “In the summer you had no fear, and our people wrote to us that we might be perfectly tranquil.”

“Just so,” said Berwick. “If we had met a month ago, I should have told you the same thing. A month ago the revolution seemed lifeless, penniless; without a future, without a resource. They had no money, no credit, no men. At present, quietly but regularly, they are assembling by thousands on our frontiers; thy have to our knowledge received two large consignments of small arms, and apparently have unlimited credit with the trade, both in Birmingham and Li ge; they have even artillery; every thing is paid for in coin or in good bills — and, worst of all, they have a man, the most consummate soldier in Europe. I thought he was at New York, and was in hopes he would never have recrossed the Atlantic — but I know that he passed through Florence a fortnight ago, and I have seen a man who says he spoke to him at Narni.”

“The Italian government must stop all this,” said the gentleman.

“They do not stop it,” said Berwick. “The government of his holiness has made every representation to them: we have placed in their hands indubitable evidence of the illegal proceedings that are taking place and of the internal dangers we experience in consequence of their exterior movements. But they do nothing: it is even believed that the royal troops are joining the insurgents, and Garibaldi is spouting with impunity in every balcony of Florence.”

“You may depend upon it that our government is making strong representations to the government of Florence.”

“I come from Paris and elsewhere,” said Berwick, with animation and perhaps a degree of impatience. “I have seen everybody there, and I have heard every thing. It is not representations that are wanted from your government; it is something of a different kind.”

“But if you have seen everybody at Paris and heard every thing, how can I help you?”

“By acting upon the government here. A word from you to the English minister would have great weight at this juncture. Queen Victoria is interested in the maintenance of the papal throne. Her Catholic subjects are counted by millions. The influence of his holiness has been hitherto exercised against the Fenians. France would interfere, if she was sure the step would not be disapproved by England.”

“Interfere!” said the gentleman. “Our return to Rome almost before we have paid our laundresses’ bills in the Eternal City would be a diplomatic scandal.”

“A diplomatic scandal would be preferable to a European revolution.”

“Suppose we were to have both?” and the gentleman drew his chair near the fire.

“I am convinced that a want of firmness now,” said Berwick, “would lead to inconceivable calamities for all of us.”

“Let us understand each other, my very dear friend Berwick,” said his companion, and he threw his arm over the back of his chair and looked the Roman full in his face. “You say you have been at Paris and elsewhere, and have seen everybody and heard every thing?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Something has happened to us also during the last month, and as unexpectedly as to yourselves.”

“The secret societies? Yes, he spoke to me on that very point, and fully. ’Tis strange, but is only, in my opinion, an additional argument in favor of crushing the evil influence.”

“Well, that he must decide. But the facts are startling. A month ago the secret societies in France were only a name; they existed only in the memory of the police, and almost as a tradition. At present we know that they are in complete organization, and what is most strange is that the prefects write they have information that the Mary–Anne associations, which are essentially republican and are scattered about the provinces, are all revived, and are astir. Mary–Anne, as you know, was the red name for the republic years ago, and there always was a sort of myth that these societies had been founded by a woman. Of course that is all nonsense, but they keep it up; it affects the public imagination, and my government has undoubted evidence that the word of command has gone round to all these societies that Mary–Anne has; returned and will issue her orders, which must be obeyed.”

“The Church is stronger, and especially in the provinces, than the Mary–Anne societies,” said Berwick.

“I hope so,” said his friend; “but you see, my dear monsignore, the question with us is not so simple as you put It. The secret societies will not tolerate another Roman interference, to say nothing of the diplomatic hubbub, which we might, if necessary, defy; but what if, taking advantage of the general indignation, your new kingdom of Italy may seize the golden opportunity of making a popular reputation, and declare herself the champion of national independence against the interference of the foreigner? My friend, we tread on delicate ground.”

“If Rome falls, not an existing dynasty in Europe will survive five years,” said Berwick.

“It may be so,” said his companion, but with no expression of incredulity. “You know how consistently and anxiously I have always labored to support the authority of the Holy See, and to maintain its territorial position as the guarantee of its independence; but Fate has decided against us. I cannot indulge in the belief that his holiness will ever regain his lost provinces; a capital without a country is an apparent anomaly, which I fear will always embarrass us. We can treat the possession as the capital of Christendom, but, alas! all the world are not as good Christians as ourselves, and Christendom is a country no longer marked out in the map of the world. I wish,” continued the gentleman in a tone almost coaxing —“I wish we could devise some plan which, humanly speaking, would secure to his holiness the possession of his holy throne forever. I wish I could induce you to consider more favorably that suggestion, that his holiness should content himself with the ancient city, and, in possession of St. Peter’s and the Vatican, leave the rest of, Rome to the vulgar cares and the mundane anxieties of the transient generation. Yes,” he added with energy, “if, my dear Berwick, you could see your way to this, or something like this, I think even now and at once, I could venture to undertake that the emperor, my master, would soon put an end to all these disturbances and dangers, and that —”

“Non possumus,” said Berwick, sternly stopping him; “sooner than that Attila, the Constable of Bourbon, or the blasphemous orgies of the Red Republic! After all, it is the Church against the secret societies. They are the only two strong things in Europe, and will survive kings, emperors, or parliaments.”

At this moment there was a tap at the door, and, bidden to enter, Mr. Clifford presented himself with a sealed paper, for the gentleman in evening dress. “Your secretary, sir, brought this, which he said must be given you before you went to the ambassador.”

“’Tis well,” said the gentleman, and he rose, and with a countenance of some excitement read the paper, which contained a telegram; and then he said: “This, I think, will help us out of our immediate difficulties, my dear monsignore. Rattazzi has behaved like a man of sense, and has arrested Garibaldi. But you do not seem, my friend, as pleased as I should have anticipated.”

“Garibaldi has been arrested before,” said Berwick.

“Well, well, I am hopeful; but I must go to my dinner. I will see you again tomorrow.”

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