Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 58

This exaltation of feeling in the camp did not evaporate. All felt that they were on the eve of some great event, and that the hour was at hand. And it was in this state of enthusiasm that couriers arrived with the intelligence that Garibaldi had escaped from Caprera, that he had reached Nerola in safety, and was in command of the assembled forces; and that the general was, without loss of time, to strike his camp, join the main body at a given place, and then march to Rome.

The breaking-up of the camp was as the breaking-up of a long frost and the first scent of spring. There was a brightness in every man’s face and a gay elasticity in all their movements. But when the order of the day informed them that they must prepare for instant combat, and that in eight-and-forty hours they would probably be in face of the enemy, the hearts of the young recruits fluttered with strange excitement, and the veterans nodded to each other with grim delight.

It was nearly midnight when the troops quitted the valley, through a defile, in an opposite direction to the pass by which they had entered it. It was a bright night. Colonel Campian had the command of the division in advance, which was five hundred strong. After the defile, the country, though hilly, was comparatively open, and here the advanced guard was to halt until the artillery and cavalry had effected the passage, and this was the most laborious and difficult portion of the march, but all was well considered, and all went right. The artillery and cavalry, by sunrise, had joined the advanced guard, who were bivouacking in the rocky plain, and about noon the main columns of the infantry began to deploy from the heights, and, in a short time, the whole force was in the field. Soon after this some of the skirmishers, who had been sent forward, returned, and reported the enemy in force, and in a strong position, commanding the intended route of the invading force. On this the general resolved to halt for a few hours, and rest and refresh the troops, and to recommence their march after sunset, so that, without effort, they might be in the presence of the enemy by dawn.

Lothair had been separated from Theodora during this, to him, novel and exciting scene. She had accompanied her husband, but, when the whole force advanced in battle array, the general had desired that she should accompany the staff. They advanced through the night, and by dawn they were fairly in the open country. In the distance, and in the middle of the rough and undulating plain, was a round hill with an ancient city, for it was a bishop’s see, built all about and over it. It would have looked like a gigantic beehive, had it not been for a long convent on the summit, flanked by some stone-pines, as we see in the pictures of Gaspar and Claude.

Between this city and the invading force, though not in a direct line, was posted the enemy in a strong position; their right wing protected by one of the mounds common in the plain, and their left backed by an olive-wood of considerable extent, and which grew on the last rocky spur of the mountains. They were, therefore, as regards the plain, on commanding ground. The strength of the two forces was not unequal, and the papal troops were not to be despised, consisting, among others, of a detachment of the legion of Antibes and the Zouaves. They had artillery, which was well posted.

The general surveyed the scene, for which he was not unprepared. Disposing his troops in positions in which they were as much protected as possible from the enemy’s fire, he opened upon them a fierce and continuous cannonade, while he ordered Colonel Campian and eight hundred men to fall back among the hills, and, following a circuitous path which had been revealed by a shepherd, gain the spur of the mountains, and attack the enemy in their rear through the olive-wood. It was calculated that this movement, if successful, would require about three hours, and the general, for that period of the time, had to occupy the enemy and his own troops with what were, in realty, feint attacks.

When the calculated time had elapsed, the general became anxious, and his glass was never from his eye. He was posted on a convenient ridge, and the wind, which was high this day from the sea, frequently cleared the field from the volumes of smoke; so his opportunities of observation were good. But the three hours passed, and there was no sign of the approach of Campian, and he ordered Sarano, with his division, to advance toward the mound and occupy the attention of the right wing of the enemy; but, very shortly after Lothair had carried this order, and four hours having elapsed, the general observed some confusion in the left wing of the enemy, and, instantly countermanding the order, commanded a general attack in line. The troops charged with enthusiasm, but they were encountered with a resolution as determined. At first they carried the mound, broke the enemy’s centre, and were mixed up with their great guns; but the enemy fiercely rallied, and the invaders were repulsed. The papal troops retained their position, and their opponents were in disorder on the plain, and a little dismayed. It was at this moment that Theodora rushed forward, and, waving a sword in one hand, and in the other the standard of the republic, exclaimed, “Brothers, to Rome!”

This sight inflamed their faltering hearts, which, after all, were rather confounded than dismayed. They formed and rallied round her, and charged with renewed energy at the very moment that Campian had brought the force of his division on the enemy’s rear. A panic came over the papal troops, thus doubly assailed, and their rout was complete. They retreated in the utmost disorder to Viterbo, which they abandoned that night, and hurried to Rome.

At the last moment, when the victory was no longer doubtful, and all were in full retreat or in full pursuit, a Zouave, in wantonness, firing his weapon before he throw it away, sent a random-shot which struck Theodora, and she fell. Lothair, who had never left her during the battle, was at her side in a moment, and a soldier, who had also marked the fatal shot; and, strange to say, so hot and keen was the pursuit, that, though a moment before they seemed to be in the very thick of the strife, they almost instantaneously found themselves alone, or rather with no companions than the wounded near them. She looked at Lothair, but, at first, could not speak. She seemed stunned, but soon murmured: “Go! go! you are wanted!”

At this moment the general rode up with some of his staff. His countenance was elate, and his eye sparkled with fire. But, catching the figure of Lothair kneeling on the field, he reined in his charger and said, “What is this?” Then looking more closely, he instantly dismounted, and muttering to himself, “This mars the victory,” he was at Theodora’s side.

A slight smile came over her when she recognized the general, and she faintly pressed his hand, and then said again: “Go, go; you are all wanted.”

“None of up are wanted. The day is won; we must think of you.”

“Is it won?” she murmured.

“Complete.”

“I die content.”

“Who talks of death?” said the general. “This is a wound, but I have had some worse. What we must think of now are remedies. I passed an ambulance this moment. Run for, it,” he said to his aide-decamp. “We must stanch the wound at once; but it is only a mile to the city, and then we shall find every thing, for we were expected. I will ride on, and there shall be proper attendance ready before you arrive. You will conduct our friend to the city,” he said to Lothair, “and be of good courage, as I am.”

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