Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 51

The continuous gathering of what, in popular language, were styled the Garibaldi Volunteers, on the southern border of the papal territory in the autumn of 1867, was not the only or perhaps the greatest danger which then threatened the Holy See, though the one which most attracted its alarmed attention. The considerable numbers in which this assemblage was suddenly occurring; the fact that the son of the Liberator had already taken its command, and only as the precursor of his formidable sire; the accredited rumor that Ghirelli at the head of a purely Roman legion was daily expected to join the frontier force; that Nicotera was stirring in the old Neapolitan kingdom, while the Liberator himself at Florence and in other parts of Tuscany was even ostentatiously, certainly with impunity, preaching the new crusade and using all his irresistible influence with the populace to excite their sympathies and to stimulate their energy, might well justify the extreme apprehension of the court of Rome. And yet dangers at least equal, and almost as close, were at the same time preparing unnoticed and unknown.

In the mountainous range between Fiascone and Viterbo, contiguous to the sea, is a valley surrounded by chains of steep and barren hills, but which is watered by a torrent scarcely dry, even in summer; so that the valley itself, which is not inconsiderable in its breadth, is never without verdure, while almost a forest of brushwood formed of shrubs, which in England we should consider rare, bounds the natural turf and ascends sometimes to no inconsiderable height the nearest hills.

Into this valley, toward the middle of September, there defiled one afternoon through a narrow pass a band of about fifty men, all armed, and conducting a cavalcade or rather a caravan of mules laden with munitions of war and other stores. When they had gained the centre of the valley and a general halt was accomplished, their commander, accompanied by one who was apparently an officer, surveyed all the points of the locality; and, when their companions had rested and refreshed themselves, they gave the necessary orders for the preparation of a camp. The turf already afforded a sufficient area for their present wants, but it was announced that on the morrow they must commence clearing the brushwood. In the mean time, one of the liveliest scenes of military life soon rapidly developed itself: the canvas houses were pitched, the sentries appointed, the videttes established. The commissariat was limited to bread and olives, and generally the running stream, varied sometimes by coffee, and always consoled by tobacco.

On the third day, amid their cheerful though by no means light labors, a second caravan arrived, evidently expected and heartily welcomed. Then, in another eight-and-forty hours, smaller bodies of men seemed to drop down from the hills, generally without stores, but always armed. Then men came from neighboring islands in open boats, and one morning a considerable detachment crossed the water from Corsica. So that at the end of a week or ten days there was an armed force of several hundred men in this once silent valley, now a scene of constant stir and continual animation, for some one or something was always arriving, and from every quarter; men and arms and stores crept in from every wild pass of the mountains and every little rocky harbor of the coast.

About this time, while the officer in command was reviewing a considerable portion of the troops, the rest laboring in still clearing the brushwood and establishing the many works incidental to a camp, half a dozen horsemen were seen descending the mountain-pass by which the original body had entered the valley. A scout had preceded them, and the troops with enthusiasm awaited the arrival of that leader, a message from whose magic name had summoned them to this secluded rendezvous from many a distant state and city. Unruffled, but with an inspiring fire in his pleased keen eye, that general answered their devoted salute, whom hitherto we have known by his travelling name of Captain Bruges.

It was only toward the end of the preceding month that he had resolved to take the field; but the organization of the secret societies is so complete that he knew he could always almost instantly secure the assembling of a picked force in a particular place. The telegraph circulated its mystic messages to every part of France and Italy and Belgium, and to some old friends not so conveniently at hand, but who he doubted not would arrive in due time for action. He himself had employed the interval in forwarding all necessary supplies, and he had passed through Florence in order that he might confer with the great spirit of Italian movement and plan with him the impending campaign.

After he had passed in review the troops, the general, with the officers of his staff who had accompanied him, visited on foot every part of the camp. Several of the men he recognized by name; to all of them he addressed some inspiring word; a memory of combats in which they had fought together, or happy allusions to adventures if romantic peril; some question which indicated that local knowledge which is magical for those who are away from home; mixed with all this, sharp, clear inquiries as to the business of the hour, which proved the master of detail, severe in discipline, but never deficient in sympathy for his troops.

After sunset, enveloped in their cloaks, the general and his companions, the party increased by the officers who had been in command previous to his arrival, smoked their cigars round the camp-fire.

“Well, Sarano,” said the general, “I will look over your muster-roll tomorrow, but I should suppose I may count on a thousand rifles or so. I want three, and we shall get them. The great man would have supplied them me at once, but I will not have boys. He must send those on to Menotti. I told him: ‘I am not a man of genius; I do not pretend to conquer kingdoms with boys. Give me old soldiers, men who have served a couple of campaigns, and been seasoned with four-and-twenty months of camp-life, and I will not disgrace you or myself.’”

“We have had no news from the other place for a long time,” said Sarano. “How is it?”

“Well enough. They are in the mountains about Nerola, in a position not very unlike this; numerically strong, for Nicotera has joined them, and Ghirelli with the Roman Legion is at hand. They must be quiet till the great man joins them; I am told they are restless. There has been too much noise about the whole business. Had they been as mum as you have been, we should not have had all these representations from France and these threatened difficulties from that quarter. The Papalini would have complained and remonstrated, and Rattazzi could have conscientiously assured the people at Paris that they were dealing with exaggerations and bugbears; the very existence of the frontier force would have become a controversy, and, while the newspapers were proving it was a myth, we should have been in the Vatican.”

“And when shall we be there, general?”

“I do not want to move for a month. By that time I shall have two thousand five hundred or three thousand of my old comrades, and the great man will have put his boys in trim. Both bodies must leave their mountains at the same time, join in the open country, and march to Rome.”

As the night advanced, several of the party rose and left the camp-fire — some to their tents, some to their duties. Two of the staff remained with the general.

“I am disappointed and uneasy that we have not heard from Paris,” said one of them.

“I am disappointed,” said the general, “but not uneasy; she never makes a mistake.”

“The risk was too great,” rejoined the speaker in a depressed tone.

“I do not see that,” said the general. “What is the risk? Who could possibly suspect the lady’s maid of the Princess of Tivoli! I am told that the princess has become quite a favorite at the Tuileries.”

“They say that the police is not so well informed as it used to be; nevertheless, I confess I should be much happier were she sitting round this camp-fire.”

“Courage!” said the general. “I do not believe in many things, but I do believe in the divine Theodora. What say you, Captain Muriel? I hope you are not offended by my criticism of young soldiers. You are the youngest in our band, but you have good military stuff in you, and will be soon seasoned.”

“I feel I serve under a master of the art,” replied Lothair, “and will not take the gloomy view of Colonel Campian about our best friend, though I share all his disappointment. It seems to me that detection is impossible. I am sure that I could not have recognized her when I handed the princess into her carriage.”

“The step was absolutely necessary,” said the general; “no one could be trusted but herself — no other person has the influence. All our danger is from France. The Italian troops will never cross the frontier to attack us, rest assured of that. I have proof of it. And it is most difficult, almost impossible, for the French to return. There never would have been an idea of such a step, if there had been a little more discretion at Florence, less of those manifestoes and speeches from balconies. But we must not criticise one who is above criticism. Without him we could do nothing, and when he stamps his foot men rise from the earth. I will go the rounds; come with me, Captain Muriel. Colonel, I order you to your tent; you are a veteran — the only one among us, at least on the staff, who was wounded at Aspromonte.”

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