Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 68

It is proverbial to what drowning men will cling. Lothair, in his utter hopelessness, made a distinction between the cardinal and the conspirators. The cardinal had been absent from Rome during the greater portion of the residence of Lothair in that city. The cardinal was his father’s friend, an English gentleman, with an English education, once an Anglican, a man of the world, a man of honor, a good, kind-hearted man. Lothair explained the apparent and occasional cooperation of his eminence with the others, by their making use of him without a due consciousness of their purpose on his part. Lothair remembered how delicately his former guardian had always treated the subject of religion in their conversations. The announcement of his visit, instead of aggravating the distresses of Lothair, seemed, as all these considerations rapidly occurred to him, almost to impart a ray of hope.

“I see,” said the cardinal, as he entered serene and graceful as usual, and glancing at the table, “that you have been reading the account of our great act of yesterday.”

“Yes; and I have been reading it,” said Lothair, reddening, “with indignation; with alarm; I should add, with disgust.”

“How is this?” said the cardinal, feeling or affecting surprise.

“It is a tissue of falsehood and imposture,” continued Lothair; “and I will take care that my opinion is known of it.”

“Do nothing rashly,” said the cardinal. “This is an official journal, and I have reason to believe that nothing appears in it which is not drawn up, or well considered, by truly pious men.”

“You yourself, sir, must know,” continued Lothair, “that the whole of this statement is founded on falsehood.”

“Indeed, I should be sorry to believe,” said the cardinal, “that there was a particle of misstatement, or even exaggeration, either in the base or the superstructure of the narrative.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Lothair. “Why, take the very first allegation, that I fell at Mentana, fighting in the ranks of the Holy Father. Everyone knows that I fell fighting against him, and that I was almost slain by one of his chassepots. It is notorious; and though, as a matter of taste, I have not obtruded the fact in the society in which I have been recently living, I have never attempted to conceal it, and have not the slightest doubt that it must be as familiar to every member of that society as to your eminence.”

“I know there are two narratives of your relations with the battle of Mentana,” observed the cardinal, quietly. “The one accepted as authentic is that which appears in this journal; the other account, which can only be traced to yourself, bears no doubt a somewhat different character; but considering that it is in the highest degree improbable, and that there is not a tittle of confirmatory or collateral evidence to extenuate its absolute unlikelihood, I hardly think you are justified in using, with reference to the statement in this article, the harsh expression, which I am persuaded, on reflection, you will feel you have hastily used.”

“I think,” said Lothair, with a kindling eye and a burning cheek, “that I am the best judge of what I did at Mentana.”

“Well, well,” said the cardinal, with dulcet calmness, “you naturally think so; but you must remember you have been very ill, my dear young friend, and laboring under much excitement. If I were you — and I speak as your friend, I hope your best one — I would not dwell too much on this fancy of yours about the battle of Mentana. I would myself always deal tenderly with a fixed idea: harsh attempts to terminate hallucination are seldom successful. Nevertheless, in the case of a public event, a matter of fact, if a man finds that he is of one opinion, and all orders of society of another, he should not be encouraged to dwell on a perverted view; he should be gradually weaned from it.”

“You amaze me!” said Lothair.

“Not at all,” said the cardinal. “I am sure you will benefit by my advice. And you must already perceive that, assuming the interpretation which the world without exception places on your conduct in the field to be the just one, there really is not a single circumstance in the whole of this interesting and important statement, the accuracy of which you yourself would for a moment dispute.”

“What is there said about me at Mentana makes me doubt of all the rest,” said Lothair.

“Well, we will not dwell on Mentana,” said the cardinal, with a sweet smile; “I have treated of that point. Your case is by no means an uncommon one. It will wear off with returning health. King George IV believed that he was at the battle of Waterloo, and indeed commanded there; and his friends were at one time a little alarmed; but Knighton, who was a sensible man, said, ‘His majesty has only to leave off Curacao, and rest assured he will gain no more victories.’ The rest of this statement, which is today officially communicated to the whole world, and which in its results will probably be not less important even than the celebration of the centenary of St. Peter, is established by evidence so incontestable — by witnesses so numerous, so various — in all the circumstances and accidents of testimony so satisfactory — I may say so irresistible, that controversy on this head would be a mere impertinence and waste of time.”

“I am not convinced,” said Lothair.

“Hush!” said the cardinal; “the freaks of your own mind about personal incidents, however lamentable, may be viewed with indulgence — at least for a time. But you cannot be permitted to doubt of the rest. You must be convinced, and on reflection you will be convinced. Remember, sir, where you are. You are in the centre of Christendom, where truth, and where alone truth resides. Divine authority has perused this paper and approved it. It is published for the joy and satisfaction of two hundred millions of Christians, and for the salvation of all those who, unhappily for themselves, are not yet converted to the faith. It records the most memorable event of this century. Our Blessed Lady has personally appeared to her votaries before during that period, but never at Rome. Wisely and well she has worked in villages and among the illiterate as at the beginning did her Divine Son. But the time is now ripe for terminating the infidelity of the world. In the eternal city, amid all its matchless learning and profound theology, in the sight of thousands, this great act has been accomplished, in a manner which can admit of no doubt, and which can lead to no controversy. Some of the most notorious atheists of Rome have already solicited to be admitted to the offices of the Church; the secret societies have received their deathblow; I look to the alienation of England as virtually over. I am panting to see you return to the home of your fathers, and reconquer it for the Church in the name of the Lord God of Sabaoth. Never was a man in a greater position since Godfrey or Ignatius. The eyes of all Christendom are upon you as the most favored of men, and you stand there like Saint Thomas.”

“Perhaps he was as bewildered as I am,” said Lothair.

“Well, his bewilderment ended in his becoming an apostle, as yours will. I am glad we have had this conversation, and that we agree; I knew we should. But now I wish to speak to you on business, and very grave. The world assumes that, being the favored of Heaven, you are naturally and necessarily a member of the Church. I, your late guardian, know that is not the case, and sometimes I blame myself that it is not so. But I have ever scrupulously refrained from attempting to control your convictions; and the result has justified me. Heaven has directed your life, and I have now to impart to you the most gratifying intelligence that can be communicated by man, and that the Holy Father will tomorrow himself receive you into the bosom of that Church of which he is the divine head. Christendom will then hail you as its champion and regenerator, and thus will be realized the divine dream with which you were inspired in our morning walk in the park at Vauxe.”


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