Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 59

The troops were rushing through the gates of the city when the general rode up. There was a struggling and stifling crowd; cheers and shrieks. It was that moment of wild fruition, when the master is neither recognized nor obeyed. It is not easy to take a bone out of a dog’s mouth; nevertheless, the presence of the general in time prevailed, something like order was established, and, before the ambulance could arrive, a guard had been appointed to receive it, and the ascent to the monastery, where a quarter was prepared, kept clear.

During the progress to the city Theodora never spoke, but she seemed stunned rather than suffering; and once, when Lothair, who was walking by her side, caught her glance with his sorrowful and anxious face, she put forth her head, and pressed his.

The ascent to the convent was easy, and the advantages of air and comparative tranquillity which the place offered counterbalanced the risk of postponing, for a very brief space, the examination of the wound.

They laid her on their arrival on a large bed, without poles or canopy, in a lofty whitewashed room of considerable dimensions, clean and airy, with high, open windows. There was no furniture in the room except a chair, a table, and a crucifix. Lothair took her in his arms and laid her on the bed; and the common soldier who had hitherto assisted him, a giant in stature, with a beard a foot long, stood by the bedside crying like a child. The chief surgeon almost at the same moment arrived with an aide-decamp of the general, and her faithful female attendant, and in a few minutes her husband, himself wounded and covered with dust.

The surgeon at once requested that all should withdraw except her devoted maid, and they waited his report without, in that deep sad silence which will not despair, and yet dares not hope.

When the wound had been examined and probed and dressed, Theodora in a faint voice said, “Is it desperate?”

“Not desperate,” said the surgeon, “but serious. All depends upon your perfect tranquility — of mind as well as body.”

“Well I am here and cannot move; and as for my mind, I am not only serene, but happy.”

“Then we shall get through this,” said the surgeon, encouragingly.

“I do not like you to stay with me,” said Theodora. “There are other sufferers besides myself.”

“My orders are not to quit you,” said the surgeon, “but I can be of great use within these walls. I shall return when the restorative has had its effect. But remember, if I be wanted, I am always here.”

Soon after this Theodora fell into a gentle slumber, and after two hours woke refreshed. The countenance of the surgeon when he again visited her was less troubled; it was hopeful.

The day was now beginning to decline; notwithstanding the scenes of tumult and violence near at hand, all was here silent; and the breeze, which had been strong during the whole day, but which blew from the sea, and was very soft, played gratefully upon the pale countenance of the sufferer. Suddenly she said, “What is that?”

And they answered and said, “We heard nothing.”

“I hear the sound of great guns,” said Theodora.

And they listened, and in a moment both the surgeon and the maid heard the sound of distant ordnance.

“The liberator is at hand,” said the maid.

“I dare say,” said the surgeon.

“No,” said Theodora, looking distressed. “The sounds do not come from his direction. Go and see, Dolores; ask, and tell me what are these sounds.”

The surgeon was sitting by her side, and occasionally touching her pulse, or wiping the slight foam from her brow, when Dolores returned and said, “Lady, the sounds are the great guns of Civita Vecchia.”

A deadly change come over the countenance of Theodora, and the surgeon looked alarmed. He would have given her some restorative, but she refused it. “No, kind friend,” she said; “it is finished. I have just received a wound more fatal than the shot in the field this morning. The French are at Rome. Tell me, kind friend, how long do you think I may live?”

The surgeon felt her pulse; his look was gloomy. “In such a case as yours,” he said, “the patient is the best judge.”

“I understand,” she said. “Send, then, at once for my husband.”

He was at hand, for his wound had been dressed in the convent, and he came to Theodora with his arm in a sling, but with the attempt of a cheerful visage.

In the mean time, Lothair, after having heard the first, and by no means hopeless, bulletin of the surgeon, had been obliged to leave the convent to look after his men, and having seen theme in quarters and made his report to the general, he obtained permission to return to the convent and ascertain the condition of Theodora. Arrived there, he heard that she had had refreshing slumber, and that her husband was now with her, and a ray of hope lighted up the darkness of his soul. He was walking up and down the refectory of the convent with that sickening restlessness which attends impending and yet uncertain sorrow, when Colonel Campian entered the apartment and beckoned to him.

There was an expression in his face which appalled Lothair, and he was about to inquire after Theodora, when his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth, and he could not speak. The Colonel shook his head, and said in a low, hollow voice, “She wishes to see you, and alone. Come.”

Theodora was sitting in the bed, propped up by cushions, when Lothair entered, and, as her wound was internal, there was no evidence of her sufferings. The distressful expression of her face, when she heard the great guns of Civita Vecchia, had passed away. It was serious, but it was serene. She bade her maid leave the chamber, and then she said to Lothair, “It is the last time I shall speak to you, and I wish that we should be alone. There is something much on my mind at this moment, and you can relieve it.”

“Adored being,” murmured Lothair with streaming eyes, “there is no wish of yours that I will not fulfil.”

“I know your life, for you have told it me, and you are true. I know your nature; it is gentle and brave, but perhaps too susceptible. I wished it to be susceptible only of the great and good. Mark me — I have a vague but strong conviction that there will be another and a more powerful attempt to gain you to the Church of Rome. If I have ever been to you, as you have sometimes said, an object of kind thoughts — if not a fortunate, at least a faithful friend — promise me now, at this hour of trial, with all the solemnity that becomes the moment, that you will never enter that communion.”

Lothair would have spoken, but his voice was choked, and he could only press her hand and bow his head.

“But promise me,” said Theodora.

“I promise,” said Lothair.

“And now,” she said, “embrace me, for I wish that your spirit should be upon me as mine departs.”

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