Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 74

Very shortly after his arrival at Malta, Mr. Phoebus had spoken to Lothair about Theodora. It appeared that Lucien Campian, though severely wounded, had escaped with Garibaldi after the battle of Mentana into the Italian territories. Here they were at once arrested, but not severely detained, and Colonel Campian took the first opportunity of revisiting England, where, after settling his affairs, he had returned to his native country, from which he had been separated for many years. Mr. Phoebus during the interval had seen a great deal of him, and the colonel departed for America under the impression that Lothair had been among the slain at the final struggle.

“Campian is one of the beat men I over knew,” said Phoebus. “He was a remarkable instance of energy combined with softness of disposition. In my opinion, however, he ought never to have visited Europe: he was made to clear the backwoods, and govern man by the power of his hatchet and the mildness of his words. He was fighting for freedom all his life, yet slavery made and slavery destroyed him. Among all the freaks of Fate nothing is more surprising than that this Transatlantic planter should have been ordained to be the husband of a divine being — a true Hellenic goddess, who in the good days would have been worshipped in this country, and have inspired her race to actions of grace, wisdom, and beauty.”

“I greatly esteem him,” said Lothair “and I shall write to him directly.”

“Except by Campian, who spoke probably about you to no one save myself,” continued Phoebus, “your name has never been mentioned with reference to those strange transactions. Once there was a sort of rumor that you had met with some mishap, but these things were contradicted and explained, and then forgotten: and people were all out of town. I believe that Cardinal Grandison communicated with your man of business, and between them every thing was kept quiet, until this portentous account of your doings at Rome, which transpired after we left England and which met us at Malta.”

“I have written to my man of business about that,” said Lothair, “but I think it will tax all his ingenuity to explain, or to mystify it as successfully as he did the preceding adventures. At any rate, he will not have the assistance of my lord cardinal.”

“Theodora was a remarkable woman on many accounts,” said Mr. Phoebus, “but particularly on this, that, although one of the most beautiful women that ever existed, she was adored by beautiful women. My wife adored her; Euphrosyne, who has no enthusiasm, adored her; the Princess of Tivoli, the most capricious being probably that ever existed, adored; and always adored, Theodora. I think it must have been that there was on her part a total absence of vanity, and this the more strange in one whose vocation in her earlier life had been to attract and live on popular applause; but I have seen her quit theatres ringing with admiration and enter her carriage with the serenity of a Phidian muse.”

“I adored her,” said Lothair, “but I never could quite solve her character. Perhaps it was too rich and deep far rapid comprehension.”

“We shall never perhaps see her like again,” said Mr. Phoebus. “It was a rare combination, peculiar to the Tyrrhenian sea. I am satisfied that we must go there to find the pure Hellenic blood, and from thence it got to Rome.”

“We may not see her like again, but we may see her again,” said Lothair; “and sometimes I think she is always hovering over me.”

In this vein, when they were alone, they were frequently speaking of the departed, and one day — it was before the arrival of Prince Agathonides — Mr. Phoebus said to Lothair: “We will ride this morning to what we call the grove of Daphne. It is a real laurel-grove. Some of the trees must be immemorial, and deserve to have been sacred, if once they were not so. In their huge, grotesque forms you would not easily recognize your polished friends of Europe, so trim and glossy and shrub-like. The people are very fond of this grove, and make frequent processions there. Once a year they must be headed by their priest. No one knows why, nor has he the slightest idea of the reason of the various ceremonies which he that day performs. But we know, and some day he or his successors will equally understand them. Yes, if I remain here long enough — and I sometimes think I will never again quit the isle — I shall expect some fine summer night, when there is that rich stillness which the whispering waves only render more intense, to hear a voice of music on the mountains declaring that the god Pan has returned to earth.”

It was a picturesque ride, as every ride was on this island, skirting the sylvan hills with the sea glimmering in the distance. Lothair was pleased with the approaches to the sacred grove: now and then a single tree with gray branches and a green head, then a great spread of underwood, all laurel, and then spontaneous plantations of young trees.

“There was always a vacant space in the centre of the grove,” said Mr. Phoebus, “once sadly overrun with wild shrubs, but I have cleared it and restored the genius of the spot. See!”

They entered the sacred circle and beheld a statue raised on a porphyry pedestal. The light fell with magical effect on the face of the statue. It was the statue of Theodora, the placing of which in the pavilion of Belmont Mr. Phoebus was superintending when Lothair first made his acquaintance.

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