Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 52

The life of Lothair had been so strange and exciting since he quitted Muriel Towers that he had found little time for that reflection in which he was once so prone to indulge. Perhaps he shrank from it. If he wanted an easy distraction from self — criticism it may be a convenient refuge from the scruples, or even the pangs, of conscience — it was profusely supplied by the startling affairs of which he formed a part, the singular characters with whom he was placed in contact, the risk and responsibility which seemed suddenly to have encompassed him with their ever-stimulating influence, and, lastly, by the novelty of foreign travel, which, even under ordinary circumstances, has a tendency to rouse and stir up even ordinary men.

So long as Theodora was his companion in their counsels, and he was listening to her deep plans and daring suggestions, enforced by that calm enthusiasm which was not the least powerful of her commanding spells, it is not perhaps surprising that he should have yielded without an effort to her bewitching ascendancy. But when they had separated, and she had embarked on that perilous enterprise of personally conferring with the chiefs of those secret societies of France, which had been fancifully baptized by her popular name, and had nurtured her tradition as a religious faith, it might have been supposed that Lothair, left to himself, might have recurred to the earlier sentiments of his youth. But he was not left to himself. He was left with her injunctions, and the spirit of the oracle, though the divinity was no longer visible, pervaded his mind and life.

Lothair was to accompany the general as one of his aides-decamp, and he was to meet Theodora again on what was contemplated as the field of memorable actions. Theodora had wisely calculated on the influence, beneficial in her view, which the character of a man like the general would exercise over Lothair. This consummate military leader, though he had pursued a daring career, and was a man of strong convictions, was distinguished by an almost unerring judgment, and a mastery of method rarely surpassed. Though he was without imagination or sentiment, there were occasions on which he had shown he was not deficient in a becoming sympathy, and he had a rapid and correct perception of character. He was a thoroughly honest man, and, in the course of a life of great trial and vicissitude, even envenomed foes had never impeached his pure integrity. For the rest, he was unselfish, but severe in discipline, inflexible, and even ruthless in the fulfilment of his purpose. A certain simplicity of speech and conduct, and a disinterestedness which, even in little things, was constantly exhibiting itself, gave to his character even charm, and rendered personal intercourse with him highly agreeable.

In the countless arrangements which had to be made, Lothair was never wearied in recognizing and admiring the prescience and precision of his chief; and when the day had died, and for a moment they had ceased from their labors, or were travelling together, often through the night, Lothair found in the conversation of his companion, artless and unrestrained, a wonderful fund of knowledge both of men and things, and that, too, in very different climes and countries.

The camp in the Apennines was not favorable to useless reverie. Lothair found unceasing and deeply-interesting occupation in his numerous and novel duties; and, if his thoughts for a moment wandered beyond the barren peaks around him, they were attracted and engrossed by one subject — and that was, naturally, Theodora. From her they had heard nothing since her departure, except a mysterious, though not discouraging, telegram which was given to them by Colonel Campian when he had joined them at Florence. It was difficult not to feel anxious about her, though the general would never admit the possibility of her personal danger.

In this state of affairs, a week having elapsed since his arrival at the camp, Lothair, who had been visiting the outposts, was summoned one morning by an orderly to the tent of the general. That personage was on his legs when Lothair entered it, and was dictating to an officer writing at a table.

“You ought to know my military secretary,” said the general, as Lothair entered, “and therefore I will introduce you.”

Lothair was commencing a suitable reverence of recognition as the secretary raised his head to receive it, when he suddenly stopped, changed color, and for a moment seemed to lose himself, and then murmured, “Is it possible?”

It was indeed Theodora: clothed in male attire, she seemed a stripling.

“Quite possible,” she said, “and all is well. But I found it a longer business than I had counted on. You see, there are so many new persons who knew me only by tradition, but with whom it was necessary I should personally confer. And I had more difficulty, just now, in getting through Florence than I had anticipated. The Papalini and the French are both worrying our allies in that city about the gathering on the southern frontier, and there is a sort of examination, true or false, I will not aver, of all who depart. However, I managed to pass with some soldiers’ wives who were carrying fruit as far as Narni, and there I met an old comrade of Aspromonte, who is a custom-officer now, but true to the good cause, and he, and his daughter, who is with me, helped me through every thing, and so I am with my dear friends again.”

After some slight conversation in this vein, Theodora entered into a detailed narrative of her proceedings, and gave to them her views of the condition of affairs.

“By one thing, above all others,” she said, “I am impressed, and that is, the unprecedented efforts which Rome is making to obtain the return of the French. There never was such influence exercised, such distinct offers made, such prospects intimated. You may prepare yourself for any thing; a papal coronation, a family pontiff — I could hardly say a King of Rome, though he has been reminded of that royal fact. Our friends have acted with equal energy and with perfect temper. The heads of the societies have met in council, and resolved that, if France will refuse to interfere, no domestic disturbance shall be attempted during this reign, and they have communicated this resolution to headquarters. He trusts them; he knows they are honest men. They did something like this before the Italian War, when he hesitated about heading the army from the fear of domestic revolution. Anxious to recover the freedom of Italy, they apprized him that, if he personally entered the field, they would undertake to insure tranquillity at home. The engagement was scrupulously fulfilled. When I left Paris all looked well, but affairs require the utmost vigilance and courage. It is a mighty struggle; it is a struggle between the Church and the secret societies; and it is a death-struggle.”

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