Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 67

The Princess Tarpeia–Cinque Cento gave an entertainment in the evening in honor of “the great event.” Italian palaces are so vast, are so ill-adapted to the moderate establishments of modern tones, that their grand style in general only impresses those who visit them with a feeling of disappointment and even mortification. The meagre retinue are almost invisible as they creep about the corridors and galleries, and linger in the sequence of lofty chambers. These should be filled with crowds of serving-men and groups of splendid retainers. They were built for the days when a great man was obliged to have a great following; and when the safety of his person, as well as the success of his career, depended on the number and the lustre of his train.

The palace of the Princess Tarpeia was the most celebrated in Rome, one of the most ancient, and certainly the most beautiful. She dwelt in it in a manner not unworthy of her consular blood and her modern income. To-night her guests were received by a long line of foot-servants in showy liveries, and bearing the badge of her house, while in every convenient spot pages and gentlemen-ushers, in courtly dress, guided the guests to their place of destination. The palace blazed with light, and showed to advantage the thousand pictures which, it is said, were there enshrined, and the long galleries full of the pale statues of Grecian gods and goddesses, and the busts of the former rulers of Rome and the Romans. The atmosphere was fragrant with rare odors, and music was heard, amid the fall of fountains, in the dim but fancifully-illumined gardens.

The princess herself wore all those famous jewels which had been spared by all the Goths from the days of Brennus to those of Garibaldi, and on her bosom reposed the celebrated transparent cameo of Augustus, which Caesar himself is said to have presented to Livia, and which Benvenuto Cellini had set in a framework of Cupids and rubies. If the weight of her magnificence were sometimes distressing, she had the consolation of being supported by the arm of Lothair.

Two young Roman princes, members of the Guarda Nobile, discussed the situation.

“The English here say,” said one, “that he is their richest man.”

“And very noble, too,” said the other.

“Certainly, truly noble — a kind of cousin of the queen.”

“This great event must have an effect upon all their nobility. I cannot doubt they will all return to the Holy Father.”

“They would if they were not afraid of having to restore their church lands. But they would be much more happy if Rome were again the capital of the world.”

“No shadow of doubt. I wonder if this young prince will hunt in the Campagna?”

“All Englishmen hunt.”

“I make no doubt he rides well, and has famous horses, and will sometimes lend us one. I am glad his soul is saved.”

“Yes; it is well, when the Blessed Virgin interferes, it should be in favor of princes. When princes become good Christians, it is an example. It does good. And this man will give an impulse to our opera, which wants it, and, as you say, he will have many horses.”

In the course of the evening, Miss Arundel, with a beaming face, but of deep expression, said to Lothair: “I could tell you some good news, had I not promised the cardinal that he should communicate it to you himself. He will see you tomorrow. Although it does not affect me personally, it will be to me the happiest event that ever occurred, except, of course, one.”

“What can she mean?” thought Lothair. But at that moment Cardinal Berwick approached him, and Miss Arundel glided away.

Father Coleman attended Lothair home to the Agostini Palace, and when they parted said, with much emphasis, “I must congratulate you once more on the great event.”

On the following morning, Lothair found on his table a number of the Roman journal published that day. It was customary to place it there, but in general he only glanced at it, and scarcely that. On the present occasion his own name caught immediately his eye. It figured in a long account of the celebration of the preceding day. It was with a continually changing countenance, now scarlet, now pallid as death; with a palpitating heart, a trembling hand, a cold perspiration, and, at length, a disordered vision, that Lothair read the whole of an article, of which we now give a summary:

“Rome was congratulated on the service of yesterday, which celebrated the greatest event of this century. And it came to pass in this wise. It seems that a young English noble of the highest rank, family, and for tune” (and here the name and titles of Lothair were accurately given), “like many of the scions of the illustrious and influential families of Britain, was impelled by an irresistible motive to enlist as a volunteer in the service of the pope, when the Holy Father was recently-attacked by the secret societies of atheism. This gallant and gifted youth, after prodigies of valor and devotion, had fallen at Mentana in the sacred cause, and was given up for lost. The day after the battle, when the ambulances laden with the wounded were hourly arriving at Rome from the field, an English lady, daughter of an illustrious house, celebrated throughout centuries for its devotion to the Holy See, and who during the present awful trial had never ceased in her efforts to support the cause of Christianity, was employed, as was her wont, in offices of charity, and was tending, with her companion sisters, her wounded countrymen at the Hospital La Consolazione, in the new ward which has been recently added to that establishment by the Holy Father.

“While she was leaning over one of the beds, she felt a gentle and peculiar pressure on her shoulder, and, looking round, beheld a most beautiful woman, with a countenance of singular sweetness and yet majesty. And the visitor said: ‘You are attending to those English who believe in the Virgin Mary. Now at the Hospital Santissima Trinita di Pellegrini there is in an ambulance a young Englishman apparently dead, but who will not die if you go to him immediately and say you came in the name of the Virgin.’

“The influence of the stranger was so irresistible that the young English lady, attended by a nurse and one of the porters of La Consolazione, repaired instantly to the Di Pellegrini, and there they found in the court-yard, as they had been told, an ambulance, in form and color and equipment unlike any ambulance used by the papal troops, and in the ambulance the senseless body of a youth, who was recognized by the English lady as her young and gallant countryman. She claimed him in the name of the Blessed Virgin, and, after due remedies, was permitted to take him at once to his noble relatives, who lived in the Palazzo Agostini.

“After a short time much conversation began to circulate about this incident. The family wished to testify their gratitude to the individual whose information had led to the recovery of the body, and subsequently of the life of their relation; but all that they could at first learn at La Consolazione was, that the porter believed the woman was Maria Serafina di Angelis, the handsome wife of a tailor in the Strada di Ripetta. But it was soon shown that this could not be true, for it was proved that, on the day in question, Maria Serafina di Angelis was on a visit to a friend at La Riccia; and, in the second place, that she did not bear the slightest resemblance to the stranger who had given the news. Moreover, the porter of the gate being required to state why he had admitted any stranger without the accustomed order, denied that he had so done; that he was in his lodge and the gates were locked, and the stranger had passed through without his knowledge.

“Two priests were descending the stairs when the stranger came upon them, and they were so struck by the peculiarity of her carriage, that they turned round and looked at her, and clearly observed at the back of her head a sort of halo. She was out of their sight when they made this observation, but in consequence of it they made inquiries of the porter of the gate, and remained in the court-yard till she returned.

“This she did a few minutes before the English lady and her attendants came down, as they had been detained by the preparation of some bandages and other remedies, without which they never moved. The porter of the gate having his attention called to the circumstance by the priests, was most careful in his observations as to the halo, and described it as most distinct. The priests then followed the stranger, who proceeded down a long and solitary street, made up in a great degree of garden and convent walls, and without a turning. They observed her stop and speak to two or three children, and then, though there was no house to enter and no street to turn into, she vanished.

“When they had reached the children they found each of them holding in its hand a beautiful flower. It seems the lady had given the boy a rose of Jericho, and to his sister a white and golden lily. Inquiring whether she had spoken to them, they answered that she had said, ‘Let these flowers be kept in remembrance of me; they will never fade.’ And truly, though months had elapsed, these flowers had never failed, and, after the procession of yesterday, they were placed under crystal in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin in the Jesuit Church of St. George of Cappadocia, and may be seen every day, and will be seen forever in primeval freshness.

“This is the truthful account of what really occurred with respect to this memorable event, and as it was ascertained by a consulta of the Holy Office, presided over by the cardinal prefect himself. The Holy Office is most severe in its inquisition of the truth, and, though it well knows that the Divine presence never leaves His Church, it is most scrupulous in its investigations whenever any miraculous interposition is alleged. It was entirely by its exertions that the somewhat inconsistent and unsatisfactory evidence of the porter of the gate, in the first instance, was explained, cleared, and established; the whole chain of evidence worked out; all idle gossip and mere rumors rejected; and the evidence obtained of above twenty witnesses of all ranks of life, some of them members of the learned profession, and others military officers of undoubted honor and veracity, who witnessed the first appearance of the stranger at the Pellegrini and the undoubted fact of the halo playing round her temples.

“The consulta of the Holy Office could only draw one inference, sanctioned by the Holy Father himself, as to the character of the personage who thus deigned to appear; and interpose; and no wonder that, in the great function of yesterday, the eyes of all Rome were fixed upon Lothair as the most favored of living men.”

He himself now felt as one sinking into an unfathomable abyss. The despair came over him that involves a man engaged in a hopeless contest with a remorseless power. All his life during the last year passed rushingly across his mind. He recalled the wiles that had been employed to induce him to attend a function in a Jesuits’ chapel, in an obscure nook of London; the same agencies had been employed there; then, as now, the influence of Clare Arundel had been introduced to sway him when all others had failed. Belmont had saved him then. There was no Belmont now. The last words of Theodora murmured in his ear like the awful voice of a distant sea. They were the diapason of all the thought and feeling of that profound and passionate spirit.

That seemed only a petty plot in London, and he had since sometimes smiled when he remembered how it had been baffled. Shallow apprehension! The petty plot was only part of a great and unceasing and triumphant conspiracy, and the obscure and inferior agencies which he had been rash enough to deride had consummated their commanded purpose in the eyes of all Europe, and with the aid of the great powers of the world.

He felt all the indignation natural to a sincere and high-spirited man, who finds that he has been befooled by those whom he has trustee; but, summoning all his powers to extricate himself from his desolate dilemma, he found himself without resource. What public declaration on his part could alter the undeniable fact, now circulating throughout the world, that in the supernatural scene of yesterday he was the willing and the principal actor? Unquestionably he had been very imprudent, not only in that instance, but in his habitual visits to the church; he felt all that now. But he was tom and shattered, infinitely distressed, both in body and in mind; weak and miserable; and he thought he was leaning on angelic hearts, when he found himself in the embrace of spirits of another sphere.

In what a position of unexampled pain did he not now find himself! To feel it your duty to quit the faith in which you have been bred must involve an awful pang; but to be a renegade without the consolation of conscience, against your sense, against your will, alike for no celestial hope and no earthly object — this was agony mixed with self-contempt.

He remembered what Lady Corisande had once said to him about those who quitted their native church for the Roman communion. What would she say now? He marked in imagination the cloud of sorrow on her imperial brow and the scorn of her curled lip.

Whatever happened, he could never return to England — at least for many years, when all the things and persons he cared for would have disappeared or changed, which is worse; and then what would be the use of returning? He would go to America, or Australia, or the Indian Ocean, or the interior of Africa; but even in all these places, according to the correspondence of the Propaganda, he would find Roman priests, and active priests. He felt himself a lost man; not free from faults in this matter, but punished beyond his errors. But this is the fate of men who think they can struggle successfully with a supernatural power.

A servant opened a door and said, in a loud voice, that, with his permission, his eminence, the English cardinal, would wait on him.

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