Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 53

During the week that elapsed after the arrival of Theodora at the camp, many recruits, and considerable supplies of military stores, reached the valley. Theodora really acted as secretary to the general, and her labors were not light. Though Lothair was frequently in her presence, they were, never, or rarely, alone, and, when they conversed together, her talk was of details. The scouts, too, had brought information, which might have been expected, that their rendezvous was no longer a secret at Rome. The garrison of the neighboring town of Viterbo had, therefore, been increased, and there was even the commencement of an intrenched camp in the vicinity of that place, to be garrisoned by a detachment of the legion of Antibes and other good troops, so that any junction between the general and Garibaldi, if contemplated, should not be easily effected.

In the mean time, the life of the camp was busy. The daily drill and exercise of two thousand men was not a slight affair, and the constant changes in orders which the arrival of bodies of recruits occasioned, rendered this primary duty more difficult; the office of quartermaster required the utmost resource and temper; the commissariat, which, from the nature of the country, could depend little upon forage, demanded extreme husbandry and forbearance. But, perhaps, no labors were more severe than those of the armorers, the clink of whose instruments resounded unceasingly in the valley. And yet such is the magic of method, when directed by a master-mind, that the whole went on with the regularity and precision of machinery. More than two thousand armed men, all of whom had been accustomed to an irregular, some to a lawless, life, were as docile as children; animated, in general, by what they deemed a sacred cause, and led by a chief whom they universally alike adored and feared.

Among these wild warriors, Theodora, delicate and fragile, but with a mien of majesty, moved, like the spirit of some other world, and was viewed by them with admiration not unmixed with awe. Veterans round the camp-fire, had told to the new recruits her deeds of prowess and devotion; how triumphantly she had charged at Voltorno, and how heroically she had borne their standard when they were betrayed at fatal Aspromonte.

The sun had sunk behind the mountains, but was still high in the western heaven, when a mounted lancer was observed descending a distant pass into the valley. The general and his staff had not long commenced their principal meal of the day, of which the disappearance of the sun behind the peak was the accustomed signal. This permitted them, without inconvenience, to take their simple repast in the open, but still warm, air. Theodora was seated between the general and her husband, and her eye was the first that caught the figure of the distant but descending stranger.

“What is that?” she asked.

The general, immediately using his telescope, after a moment’s examination, said: “A lancer of the royal guard.”

All eyes were now fixed upon the movements of the horseman. He had descended the winding steep, and now was tracking the craggy path which led into the plain. As he reached the precinct of the camp, he was challenged, but not detained. Nearer and nearer he approached, and it was evident, from his uniform, that the conjecture of his character by the general was correct.

“A deserter from the guard,” whispered Colonel Campian, to Lothair.

The horseman wag conducted by an officer to the presence of the commander. When that presence was reached, the lancer, still silent, slowly lowered his tall weapon, and offered the general the dispatch which was fastened to the head of his spear.

Every eye was on the countenance of their chief as he perused the missive, but that countenance was always inscrutable. It was observed, however, that he read the paper twice. Looking up, the general said, to the officer: “See that the bearer is well quartered. — This is for you,” he added in a low voice to Theodora, and he gave her an enclosure; “read it quietly, and then come into my tent.”

Theodora read the letter, and quietly; though, without the preparatory hint, it might have been difficult to have concealed her emotion. Then, after a short pause, she rose, and the general, requesting his companions not to disturb themselves, joined her, and they proceeded in silence to his tent.

“He is arrested,” said the general when they had entered it, “and taken to Alessandria, where he is a close prisoner. ’Tis a blow, but I am more grieved than surprised.”

This was the arrest of Garibaldi at Sinigaglia by the Italian government, which had been communicated at Hexham House to Monsignore Berwick by his evening visitor.

“How will it affect operations in the field?” inquired Theodora.

“According to this dispatch, in no degree. Our original plan is to be pursued, and acted upon the moment we are ready. That should be in a fortnight, or perhaps three weeks. Menotti is to take the command on the southern frontier. Well, it may prevent jealousies. I think I shall send Sarano there to reconnoitre; he is well both with Nicotera and Ghirelli, and may keep things straight.”

“But there are other affairs besides operations in the field,” said Theodora, “and scarcely less critical. Read this,” and she gave him the enclosure, which ran in these words:

“The general will tell thee what has happened. Have no fear for that. All will go right. It will not alter our plans a bunch of grapes. Be perfectly easy about this country. No Italian soldier will ever cross the frontier except to combat the French. Write that on thy heart. Are other things as well? Other places? My advices are bad. All the prelates are on their knees to him — with blessings on their lips and curses in their pockets. Archbishop of Paris is as bad as any. Berwick is at Biarritz — an inexhaustible intriguer; the only priest I fear. I hear from one who never misled me that the Polhes brigade has orders to be in readiness. The Mary–Anne societies are not strong enough for the situation — too local; he listens to them, but he has given no pledge. We must go deeper. ’Tis an affair of ‘Madre Natura.’ Thou must see Colonna.”

“Colonna is at Rome,” said the general, “and cannot be spared. He is acting president of the National Committee, and has enough upon his hands.”

“I must see him,” said Theodora.

“I had hoped I had heard the last of the ‘Madre Natura,’” said the general with an air of discontent.

“And the Neapolitans hope they have heard the last of the eruptions of their mountain,” said Theodora; “but the necessities of things are sterner stuff than the hopes of men.”

“Its last effort appalled and outraged Europe,” said the general.

“Its last effort forced the French into Italy, and has freed the country from the Alps to the Adriatic,” rejoined Theodora.

“If the great man had only been as quiet as we have been,” said the general, lighting a cigar, “we might have been in Rome by this time.”

“If the great man had been quiet, we should not have had a volunteer in our valley,” said Theodora. “My faith in him is implicit; he has been right in every thing, and has never failed except when he has been betrayed. I see no hope for Rome except in his convictions and energy. I do not wish to die, and feel I have devoted my life only to secure the triumph of Savoyards who have sold their own country, and of priests whose impostures have degraded mine.”

“Ah! those priests!” exclaimed the general. “I really do not much care for any thing else. They say the Savoyard is not a bad comrade, and at any rate he can charge like a soldier. But those priests? I fluttered them once! Why did I spare any? Why did I not burn down St. Peter’s? I proposed it, but Mirandola, with his history and his love of art and all that old furniture, would reserve it for a temple of the true God and for the glory of Europe! Fine results we have accomplished! And now we are here, hardly knowing where we are, and, as it appears, hardly knowing what to do.”

“Not so, dear general,” said Theodora. “Where we are is the threshold of Rome, and if we are wise we shall soon cross it. This arrest of our great friend is a misfortune, but not an irredeemable one. I thoroughly credit what he says about the Italian troops. Rest assured he knows what he is talking about; they will never cross the frontier against us. The danger is from another land. But there will be no peril if we are prompt and firm. Clear your mind of all these dark feelings about the ‘Madre Natura.’ All that we require is that the most powerful and the most secret association in Europe should ratify what the local societies of France have already intimated. It will be enough. Send for Colonna, and leave the rest to me.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53