Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 79

Lothair was delighted with Galilee, and particularly with the blue waters of its lake slumbering beneath the surrounding hills. Of all its once pleasant towns, Tiberias alone remains, and that in ruins from a recent earthquake. But where are Chorazin, and Bethsaida, and Capernaum? A group of hovels and an ancient tower still bear the magic name of Magdala, and all around are green mounts and gentle slopes, the scenes of miracles that softened the heart of man, and of sermons that never tire his ear. Dreams passed over Lothair of settling forever on the shores of these waters, and of reproducing all their vanished happiness: rebuilding their memorable cities, reviving their fisheries, cultivating the plain of Gennesaret and the country of the Gadarenes, and making researches in this cradle of pure and primitive Christianity.

The heritage of Paraclete was among the oaks of Bashan, a lofty land, rising suddenly from the Jordan valley, verdant and well watered, and clothed in many parts with forest; there the host of Lothair resided among his lands and people, and himself dwelt in a stone and castellated building, a portion of which was of immemorial antiquity, and where he could rally his forces and defend himself in case of the irruption and invasion of the desert tribes. And here one morn arrived a messenger from Jerusalem summoning Lothair back to that city, in consequence of the intended departure of his friends.

The call was urgent, and was obeyed immediately with that promptitude which the manners of the East, requiring no preparation, admit. Paraclete accompanied his guest. They had to cross the Jordan, and then to trace their way till they reached the southern limit of the plain of Esdraelon, from whence they counted on the following day to reach Jerusalem. While they were encamped on this spot, a body of Turkish soldiery seized all their horses, which were required, they said, by the Pacha of Damascus, who was proceeding to Jerusalem, attending a great Turkish general, who was on a mission to examine the means of defence of Palestine on the Egyptian side. This was very vexatious, but one of those incidents of Eastern life against which it is impossible to contend; so Lothair and Paraclete were obliged to take refuge in their pipes beneath a huge and solitary sycamore-tree, awaiting the arrival of the Ottoman magnificoes.

They came at last, a considerable force of cavalry, then mules and barbarous carriages with the harem, all the riders and inmates enveloped in what appeared to be winding-sheets, white and shapeless; about them eunuchs and servants. The staff of the pachas followed, preceding the grandees who closed the march, mounted on Anatolian chargers.

Paraclete and Lothair had been obliged to leave the grateful shade of the sycamore-tree, as the spot had been fixed on by the commander of the advanced guard for the resting-place of the pachas. They were standing aside and watching the progress of the procession, and contemplating the earliest opportunity of representing their grievances to high authority, when the Turkish general, or the seraskier, as the Syrians inaccurately styled him, suddenly reined in his steed, and said, in a loud voice, “Captain Muriel!”

Lothair recognized the well-known voice of his commanding officer in the Apennine, and advanced to him with a military salute. “I must first congratulate you on being alive, which I hardly hoped,” said the general. “Then let me know why you are here.”

And Lothair told him.

“Well, you shall have back your horses,” said the general; “and I will escort you to El Khuds. In the mean time you must be our guest;” and he presented him to the Pacha of Damascus with some form. “You and I have bivouacked in the open air before this, and not in so bland a clime.”

Beneath the shade of the patriarchal sycamore, the general narrated to Lothair his adventures since they were fellow-combatants on the fatal field of Mentana.

“When all was over,” continued the general, “I fled with Garibaldi, and gained the Italian frontier at Terrni. Here we were of course arrested by the authorities, but not very maliciously. I escaped one morning, and got among the mountains in the neighborhood of our old camp. I had to wander about these parts for some time, for the Papalini were in the vicinity, and there was danger. It was a hard time; but I found a friend now and then among the country people, though they are dreadfully superstitious. At last I got to the shore, and induced an honest fellow to put to sea in an open boat, on the chance of something turning up. It did, in the shape of a brigantine from Elba bound for Corfu. Here I was sure to find friends, for the brotherhood are strong in the Ionian Isles. And I began to look about for business. The Greeks made me some offers, but their schemes were all vanity, worse than the Irish. You remember our Fenian squabble? From something that transpired, I had made up my mind, so soon as I was well equipped, to go to Turkey. I had had some transactions with the house of Cantacuzene, through the kindness of our dear friend whom we will never forget, but will never mention; and through them I became acquainted with the Prince of Samos, who is the chief of their house. He is in the entire confidence of Aali Pacha. I soon found out that there was real business on the carpet. The Ottoman army, after many trials and vicissitudes, is now in good case; and the Porte has resolved to stand no more nonsense either in this direction —” and the general gave a significant glance —“or in any other. But they wanted a general; they wanted a man who knew his business. I am not a Garibaldi, you know, and never pretended to be. I have no genius, or volcanic fire, or that sort of thing; but I do presume to say, with fair troops, paid with tolerable regularity, a battery or two of rifled cannon, and a well-organized commissariat, I am not afraid of meeting any captain of my acquaintance, whatever his land or language. The Turks are a brave people, and there is nothing in their system, political or religious, which jars with my convictions. In the army, which is all that I much care for, there is the career of merit, and I can promote any able man that I recognize. As for their religion, they are tolerant and exact nothing from me; and if I had any religion except Madre Natura, I am not sure I would not prefer Islamism; which is at least simple, and as little sacerdotal as any organized creed can be. The Porte made me a liberal offer, and I accepted it. It so happened that, the moment I entered their service, I was wanted. They had a difficulty on their Dalmatian frontier; I settled it in a way they liked. And now I am sent here with full powers, and am a pacha of the highest class, and with a prospect of some warm work. I do not know what your views are, but, if you would like a little more soldiering, I will put you on my staff; and, for aught I know, we may find your winter-quarters at Grand Cairo — they say a pleasant place for such a season.”

“My soldiering has not been very fortunate,” said Lothair; “and I am not quite as great an admirer of the Turks as you are, general. My mind is rather on the pursuits of peace, and twenty hours ago I had a dream of settling on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.”

“Whatever you do,” said the general, “give up dreams.”

“I think you may be right in that,” said Lothair, with half a sigh.

“Action may not always be happiness,” said the general; “but there is no happiness without action. If you will not fight the Egyptians, were I you, I would return home and plunge into affairs. That was a fine castle of yours I visited one morning; a man who lives in such a place must be able to find a great deal to do.”

“I almost wish I were there, with you for my companion,” said Lothair.

“The wheel may turn,” said the general; “but I begin to think I shall not see much of Europe again. I have given it some of my best years and best blood; and, if I had assisted in establishing the Roman republic, I should not have lived in vain; but the old imposture seems to me stronger than ever. I have got ten good years in me yet; and, if I be well supported and in luck, for, after all, every thing depends on fortune, and manage to put a couple of hundred thousand men in perfect discipline, I may find some consolation for not blowing up St. Peter’s, and may do something for the freedom of mankind on the banks of the Danube.”

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