"Everybody must be interested about Rome," said Lothair. "Rome is the country of the world, and even the doting priest you talk of boasts of two hundred millions of subjects."
"If he were at Avignon again, I should not care for his boasts," said Theodora. "I do not grudge him his spiritual subjects; I am content to leave his superstition to Time. Time is no longer slow; his scythe mows quickly in this age. But when his debasing creeds are palmed off on man by the authority of our glorious capitol, and the slavery of the human mind is schemed and carried on in the forum, then, if there be real Roman blood left—and I thank my Creator there is much—it is time for it to mount and move," and she rose and walked up and down the room.
"You have had news from Rome?" said Lothair.
"I have had news from Rome," she replied, speaking slowly in a deep voice; and there was a pause.
Then Lothair said: "When you have alluded to these matters before, you never spoke of them in a sanguine spirit."
"I have seen the cause triumph," said Theodora; "the sacred cause of truth, of justice, of national honor. I have sat at the feet of the triumvirate of the Roman Republic; men who, for virtue, and genius, and warlike skill and valor, and every quality that exalts man, were never surpassed in the olden time—no, not by the Catos and the Scipios; and I have seen the blood of my own race poured, like a rich vintage, on the victorious Roman soil; my father fell, who, in stature and in mien, was a god; and, since then, my beautiful brothers, with shapes to enshrine in temples; and I have smiled amid the slaughter of my race, for I believed that Rome was free; and yet all this vanished. How, then, when we talked, could I be sanguine?"
"And yet you are sanguine now?" said Lothair, with a scrutinizing glance; and he rose and joined her, leaning slightly on the mantel-piece.
"There was only one event that could secure the success of our efforts," said Theodora, "and that event was so improbable, that I had long rejected it from calculation. It has happened, and Rome calls upon me to act."
"The Papalini are strong," continued Theodora, after a pause; "they have been long preparing for the French evacuation; they have a considerable and disciplined force of janizaries, a powerful artillery, the strong places of the city. The result of a rising, under such circumstances, might be more than doubtful; if unsuccessful, to us it would be disastrous. It is necessary that the Roman States should be invaded, and the papal army must then quit their capital. We have no fear of them in the field. Yes," she added, with energy, "we could sweep them from the face of the earth!"
"But the army of Italy," said Lothair, "will that be inert?"
"There it is," said Theodora. "That has been our stumbling-block. I have always known that, if ever the French quitted Rome, it would be on the understanding that the house of Savoy should inherit the noble office of securing our servitude. He in whom I alone confide would never credit this; but my information, in this respect, was authentic. However, it is no longer necessary to discuss the question. News has come, and in no uncertain shape, that whatever may have been the understanding, under no circumstances will the Italian army enter the Roman state. We must strike, therefore, and Rome will be free. But how am I to strike? We have neither money nor arms. We have only men. I can give them no more, because I have already given them every thing, except my life, which is always theirs. As for my husband, who, I may say, wedded me on the battle-field, so fax as wealth was concerned, he was then a prince among princes, and would pour forth his treasure, and his life, with equal eagerness. But things have changed since Aspromonte. The struggle in his own country has entirely deprived him of revenues as great as any forfeited by their Italian princelings. In fact, it is only by a chance that he is independent. Had it not been for an excellent man, one of your great English merchants, who was his agent here, and managed his affairs, we should have been penniless. His judicious investments of the superfluity of our income, which, at the time, my husband never even noticed, have secured for Colonel Campian the means of that decorous life which he appreciates—but no more. As for myself, these considerations are nothing. I will not say I should be insensible to a refined life with refined companions, if the spirit were content and the heart serene; but I never could fully realize the abstract idea of what they call wealth; I never could look upon it except as a means to an end, and my end has generally been military material. Perhaps the vicissitudes of my life have made me insensible to what are called reverses of fortune, for, when a child, I remember sleeping on the moonlit flags of Paris, with no pillow except my tambourine; and I remember it not without delight. Let us sit down. I feel I am talking in an excited, injudicious, egotistical, rhapsodical, manner. I thought I was calm, and I meant to have been clear. But the fact is, I am ashamed of myself. I am doing a wrong thing, and in a wrong manner. But I have had a sleepless night, and a day of brooding thought. I meant once to have asked you to help me, and now I feel that you are the last person to whom I ought to appeal."
"In that you are in error," said Lothair, rising and taking her hand with an expression of much gravity; "I am the right person for you to appeal to—the only person."
"Nay," said Theodora, and she shook her head.
"For I owe to you a debt that I never can repay," continued Lothair. "Had it not been for you, I should have remained what I was when we first met, a prejudiced, narrow-minded being, with contracted sympathies and false knowledge, wasting my life on obsolete trifles, and utterly insensible to the privilege of living in this wondrous age of change and progress. Why, had it not been for you I should have at this very moment been lavishing my fortune on an ecclesiastical toy, which I think of with a blush. There may be—doubtless there are—opinions in which we may not agree; but in our love of truth and justice there is no difference, dearest lady. No; though you must have felt that I am not—that no one could be—insensible to your beauty and infinite charms, still it is your consummate character that has justly fascinated my thought and heart; and I have long resolved, were I permitted, to devote to you my fortune and my life."
The month of September was considerably advanced when a cab, evidently from its luggage fresh from the railway, entered the court-yard of Hexham House, of which the shuttered windows indicated the absence of its master, the cardinal, then in Italy. But it was evident that the person who had arrived was expected, for before his servant could ring the hall-bell the door opened, and a grave-looking domestic advanced with much deference, and awaited the presence of no less a personage than Monsignore Berwick.
"We have had a rough passage, good Clifford," said the great man, alighting, "but I see you duly received my telegram. You are always ready."
"I hope my lord will find it not uncomfortable," said Clifford. "I have prepared the little suite which you mentioned, and have been careful that there should be no outward sign of any one having arrived."
"And now," said the monsignore, stopping for a moment in the ball, "here is a letter which must be instantly delivered, and by a trusty hand," and he gave it to Mr. Clifford, who, looking at the direction, nodded his head and said, "By no one but myself. I will show my lord to his rooms and depart with this instantly."
"And bring back a reply," added the monsignore.
The well-lit room, the cheerful fire, the judicious refection on a side-table, were all circumstances which usually would have been agreeable to a wearied traveller, but Monsignore Berwick seemed little to regard them. Though a man in general superior to care, and master of thought, his countenance was troubled and pensive even to dejection.
"Even the winds and waves are against us," he exclaimed, too restless to be seated, and walking up and down the room with his arms behind his back. "That such a struggle should fall to my lot! Why was I not a minister in the days of the Gregorys, the Innocents, even the Leos! But this is craven. There should be inspiration in peril, and the greatest where peril is extreme. I am a little upset—with travel and the voyage and those telegrams not being answered. The good Clifford was wisely provident," and he approached the table and took one glass of wine. "Good! One must never despair in such a cause. And if the worse happens, it has happened before—and what then? Suppose Avignon over again, or even Gaeta, or even Paris? So long as we never relinquish our title to the Eternal City we shall be eternal. But then, some say, our enemies before were the sovereigns; now it is the people. Is it so? True we have vanquished kings, and baffled emperors—but the French Republic and the Roman Republic have alike reigned and ruled in the Vatican, and where are they? We have lost provinces, but we have also gained them. We have twelve millions of subjects in the United States of America, and they will increase like the sands of the sea. Still it is a hideous thing to have come back, as it were, to the days of the Constable of Bourbon, and to be contemplating the siege of the Holy See, and massacre and pillage and ineffable horrors! The papacy may survive such calamities, as it undoubtedly will, but I shall scarcely figure in history if, under my influence, such visitations should accrue. If I had only to deal with men, I would not admit of failure; but when your antagonists are human thoughts, represented by invisible powers, there is something that might baffle a Machiavel and appall a Borgia."
While he was meditating in this vein the door opened, and Mr. Clifford, with some hasty action and speaking rapidly, exclaimed: "He said he would be here sooner than myself. His carriage was at the door. I drove back as soon as possible—and indeed I hear something now in the court," and he disappeared.
It was only to usher in, almost immediately, a stately personage in an evening dress, and wearing a decoration of a high class, who saluted the monsignore with great cordiality.
"I am engaged to dine with the Prussian ambassador, who has been obliged to come to town to receive a prince of the blood who is visiting the dockyards here; but I thought you might be later than you expected, and I ordered my carriage to be in waiting, so that we have a good little hour—and I can come on to you again afterward, if that will not do."
"A little hour with us is a long hour with other people," said the monsignore, "because we are friends and can speak without windings. You are a true friend to the Holy See; you have proved it. We are in great trouble and need of aid."
"I hear that things are not altogether as we could wish," said the gentleman in an evening dress; "but I hope, and should think, only annoyances."
"Dangers," said Berwick, "and great."
"Well, we have invasion threatening us without and insurrection within," said Berwick. "We might, though it is doubtful, successfully encounter one of these perils, but their united action must be fatal."
"All this has come suddenly," said the gentleman. "In the summer you had no fear, and our people wrote to us that we might be perfectly tranquil."
"Just so," said Berwick. "If we had met a month ago, I should have told you the same thing. A month ago the revolution seemed lifeless, penniless; without a future, without a resource. They had no money, no credit, no men. At present, quietly but regularly, they are assembling by thousands on our frontiers; thy have to our knowledge received two large consignments of small arms, and apparently have unlimited credit with the trade, both in Birmingham and Li ge; they have even artillery; every thing is paid for in coin or in good bills—and, worst of all, they have a man, the most consummate soldier in Europe. I thought he was at New York, and was in hopes he would never have recrossed the Atlantic—but I know that he passed through Florence a fortnight ago, and I have seen a man who says he spoke to him at Narni."
"The Italian government must stop all this," said the gentleman.
"They do not stop it," said Berwick. "The government of his holiness has made every representation to them: we have placed in their hands indubitable evidence of the illegal proceedings that are taking place and of the internal dangers we experience in consequence of their exterior movements. But they do nothing: it is even believed that the royal troops are joining the insurgents, and Garibaldi is spouting with impunity in every balcony of Florence."
"You may depend upon it that our government is making strong representations to the government of Florence."
"I come from Paris and elsewhere," said Berwick, with animation and perhaps a degree of impatience. "I have seen everybody there, and I have heard every thing. It is not representations that are wanted from your government; it is something of a different kind."
"But if you have seen everybody at Paris and heard every thing, how can I help you?"
"By acting upon the government here. A word from you to the English minister would have great weight at this juncture. Queen Victoria is interested in the maintenance of the papal throne. Her Catholic subjects are counted by millions. The influence of his holiness has been hitherto exercised against the Fenians. France would interfere, if she was sure the step would not be disapproved by England."
"Interfere!" said the gentleman. "Our return to Rome almost before we have paid our laundresses' bills in the Eternal City would be a diplomatic scandal."
"A diplomatic scandal would be preferable to a European revolution."
"Suppose we were to have both?" and the gentleman drew his chair near the fire.
"I am convinced that a want of firmness now," said Berwick, "would lead to inconceivable calamities for all of us."
"Let us understand each other, my very dear friend Berwick," said his companion, and he threw his arm over the back of his chair and looked the Roman full in his face. "You say you have been at Paris and elsewhere, and have seen everybody and heard every thing?"
"Something has happened to us also during the last month, and as unexpectedly as to yourselves."
"The secret societies? Yes, he spoke to me on that very point, and fully. 'Tis strange, but is only, in my opinion, an additional argument in favor of crushing the evil influence."
"Well, that he must decide. But the facts are startling. A month ago the secret societies in France were only a name; they existed only in the memory of the police, and almost as a tradition. At present we know that they are in complete organization, and what is most strange is that the prefects write they have information that the Mary-Anne associations, which are essentially republican and are scattered about the provinces, are all revived, and are astir. Mary-Anne, as you know, was the red name for the republic years ago, and there always was a sort of myth that these societies had been founded by a woman. Of course that is all nonsense, but they keep it up; it affects the public imagination, and my government has undoubted evidence that the word of command has gone round to all these societies that Mary-Anne has; returned and will issue her orders, which must be obeyed."
"The Church is stronger, and especially in the provinces, than the Mary-Anne societies," said Berwick.
"I hope so," said his friend; "but you see, my dear monsignore, the question with us is not so simple as you put It. The secret societies will not tolerate another Roman interference, to say nothing of the diplomatic hubbub, which we might, if necessary, defy; but what if, taking advantage of the general indignation, your new kingdom of Italy may seize the golden opportunity of making a popular reputation, and declare herself the champion of national independence against the interference of the foreigner? My friend, we tread on delicate ground."
"If Rome falls, not an existing dynasty in Europe will survive five years," said Berwick.
"It may be so," said his companion, but with no expression of incredulity. "You know how consistently and anxiously I have always labored to support the authority of the Holy See, and to maintain its territorial position as the guarantee of its independence; but Fate has decided against us. I cannot indulge in the belief that his holiness will ever regain his lost provinces; a capital without a country is an apparent anomaly, which I fear will always embarrass us. We can treat the possession as the capital of Christendom, but, alas! all the world are not as good Christians as ourselves, and Christendom is a country no longer marked out in the map of the world. I wish," continued the gentleman in a tone almost coaxing—"I wish we could devise some plan which, humanly speaking, would secure to his holiness the possession of his holy throne forever. I wish I could induce you to consider more favorably that suggestion, that his holiness should content himself with the ancient city, and, in possession of St. Peter's and the Vatican, leave the rest of, Rome to the vulgar cares and the mundane anxieties of the transient generation. Yes," he added with energy, "if, my dear Berwick, you could see your way to this, or something like this, I think even now and at once, I could venture to undertake that the emperor, my master, would soon put an end to all these disturbances and dangers, and that—"
"Non possumus," said Berwick, sternly stopping him; "sooner than that Attila, the Constable of Bourbon, or the blasphemous orgies of the Red Republic! After all, it is the Church against the secret societies. They are the only two strong things in Europe, and will survive kings, emperors, or parliaments."
At this moment there was a tap at the door, and, bidden to enter, Mr. Clifford presented himself with a sealed paper, for the gentleman in evening dress. "Your secretary, sir, brought this, which he said must be given you before you went to the ambassador."
"'Tis well," said the gentleman, and he rose, and with a countenance of some excitement read the paper, which contained a telegram; and then he said: "This, I think, will help us out of our immediate difficulties, my dear monsignore. Rattazzi has behaved like a man of sense, and has arrested Garibaldi. But you do not seem, my friend, as pleased as I should have anticipated."
"Garibaldi has been arrested before," said Berwick.
"Well, well, I am hopeful; but I must go to my dinner. I will see you again tomorrow."
The continuous gathering of what, in popular language, were styled the Garibaldi Volunteers, on the southern border of the papal territory in the autumn of 1867, was not the only or perhaps the greatest danger which then threatened the Holy See, though the one which most attracted its alarmed attention. The considerable numbers in which this assemblage was suddenly occurring; the fact that the son of the Liberator had already taken its command, and only as the precursor of his formidable sire; the accredited rumor that Ghirelli at the head of a purely Roman legion was daily expected to join the frontier force; that Nicotera was stirring in the old Neapolitan kingdom, while the Liberator himself at Florence and in other parts of Tuscany was even ostentatiously, certainly with impunity, preaching the new crusade and using all his irresistible influence with the populace to excite their sympathies and to stimulate their energy, might well justify the extreme apprehension of the court of Rome. And yet dangers at least equal, and almost as close, were at the same time preparing unnoticed and unknown.
In the mountainous range between Fiascone and Viterbo, contiguous to the sea, is a valley surrounded by chains of steep and barren hills, but which is watered by a torrent scarcely dry, even in summer; so that the valley itself, which is not inconsiderable in its breadth, is never without verdure, while almost a forest of brushwood formed of shrubs, which in England we should consider rare, bounds the natural turf and ascends sometimes to no inconsiderable height the nearest hills.
Into this valley, toward the middle of September, there defiled one afternoon through a narrow pass a band of about fifty men, all armed, and conducting a cavalcade or rather a caravan of mules laden with munitions of war and other stores. When they had gained the centre of the valley and a general halt was accomplished, their commander, accompanied by one who was apparently an officer, surveyed all the points of the locality; and, when their companions had rested and refreshed themselves, they gave the necessary orders for the preparation of a camp. The turf already afforded a sufficient area for their present wants, but it was announced that on the morrow they must commence clearing the brushwood. In the mean time, one of the liveliest scenes of military life soon rapidly developed itself: the canvas houses were pitched, the sentries appointed, the videttes established. The commissariat was limited to bread and olives, and generally the running stream, varied sometimes by coffee, and always consoled by tobacco.
On the third day, amid their cheerful though by no means light labors, a second caravan arrived, evidently expected and heartily welcomed. Then, in another eight-and-forty hours, smaller bodies of men seemed to drop down from the hills, generally without stores, but always armed. Then men came from neighboring islands in open boats, and one morning a considerable detachment crossed the water from Corsica. So that at the end of a week or ten days there was an armed force of several hundred men in this once silent valley, now a scene of constant stir and continual animation, for some one or something was always arriving, and from every quarter; men and arms and stores crept in from every wild pass of the mountains and every little rocky harbor of the coast.
About this time, while the officer in command was reviewing a considerable portion of the troops, the rest laboring in still clearing the brushwood and establishing the many works incidental to a camp, half a dozen horsemen were seen descending the mountain-pass by which the original body had entered the valley. A scout had preceded them, and the troops with enthusiasm awaited the arrival of that leader, a message from whose magic name had summoned them to this secluded rendezvous from many a distant state and city. Unruffled, but with an inspiring fire in his pleased keen eye, that general answered their devoted salute, whom hitherto we have known by his travelling name of Captain Bruges.
It was only toward the end of the preceding month that he had resolved to take the field; but the organization of the secret societies is so complete that he knew he could always almost instantly secure the assembling of a picked force in a particular place. The telegraph circulated its mystic messages to every part of France and Italy and Belgium, and to some old friends not so conveniently at hand, but who he doubted not would arrive in due time for action. He himself had employed the interval in forwarding all necessary supplies, and he had passed through Florence in order that he might confer with the great spirit of Italian movement and plan with him the impending campaign.
After he had passed in review the troops, the general, with the officers of his staff who had accompanied him, visited on foot every part of the camp. Several of the men he recognized by name; to all of them he addressed some inspiring word; a memory of combats in which they had fought together, or happy allusions to adventures if romantic peril; some question which indicated that local knowledge which is magical for those who are away from home; mixed with all this, sharp, clear inquiries as to the business of the hour, which proved the master of detail, severe in discipline, but never deficient in sympathy for his troops.
After sunset, enveloped in their cloaks, the general and his companions, the party increased by the officers who had been in command previous to his arrival, smoked their cigars round the camp-fire.
"Well, Sarano," said the general, "I will look over your muster-roll to-morrow, but I should suppose I may count on a thousand rifles or so. I want three, and we shall get them. The great man would have supplied them me at once, but I will not have boys. He must send those on to Menotti. I told him: 'I am not a man of genius; I do not pretend to conquer kingdoms with boys. Give me old soldiers, men who have served a couple of campaigns, and been seasoned with four-and-twenty months of camp-life, and I will not disgrace you or myself.'"
"We have had no news from the other place for a long time," said Sarano. "How is it?"
"Well enough. They are in the mountains about Nerola, in a position not very unlike this; numerically strong, for Nicotera has joined them, and Ghirelli with the Roman Legion is at hand. They must be quiet till the great man joins them; I am told they are restless. There has been too much noise about the whole business. Had they been as mum as you have been, we should not have had all these representations from France and these threatened difficulties from that quarter. The Papalini would have complained and remonstrated, and Rattazzi could have conscientiously assured the people at Paris that they were dealing with exaggerations and bugbears; the very existence of the frontier force would have become a controversy, and, while the newspapers were proving it was a myth, we should have been in the Vatican."
"And when shall we be there, general?"
"I do not want to move for a month. By that time I shall have two thousand five hundred or three thousand of my old comrades, and the great man will have put his boys in trim. Both bodies must leave their mountains at the same time, join in the open country, and march to Rome."
As the night advanced, several of the party rose and left the camp-fire—some to their tents, some to their duties. Two of the staff remained with the general.
"I am disappointed and uneasy that we have not heard from Paris," said one of them.
"I am disappointed," said the general, "but not uneasy; she never makes a mistake."
"The risk was too great," rejoined the speaker in a depressed tone.
"I do not see that," said the general. "What is the risk? Who could possibly suspect the lady's maid of the Princess of Tivoli! I am told that the princess has become quite a favorite at the Tuileries."
"They say that the police is not so well informed as it used to be; nevertheless, I confess I should be much happier were she sitting round this camp-fire."
"Courage!" said the general. "I do not believe in many things, but I do believe in the divine Theodora. What say you, Captain Muriel? I hope you are not offended by my criticism of young soldiers. You are the youngest in our band, but you have good military stuff in you, and will be soon seasoned."
"I feel I serve under a master of the art," replied Lothair, "and will not take the gloomy view of Colonel Campian about our best friend, though I share all his disappointment. It seems to me that detection is impossible. I am sure that I could not have recognized her when I handed the princess into her carriage."
"The step was absolutely necessary," said the general; "no one could be trusted but herself—no other person has the influence. All our danger is from France. The Italian troops will never cross the frontier to attack us, rest assured of that. I have proof of it. And it is most difficult, almost impossible, for the French to return. There never would have been an idea of such a step, if there had been a little more discretion at Florence, less of those manifestoes and speeches from balconies. But we must not criticise one who is above criticism. Without him we could do nothing, and when he stamps his foot men rise from the earth. I will go the rounds; come with me, Captain Muriel. Colonel, I order you to your tent; you are a veteran—the only one among us, at least on the staff, who was wounded at Aspromonte."
The life of Lothair had been so strange and exciting since he quitted Muriel Towers that he had found little time for that reflection in which he was once so prone to indulge. Perhaps he shrank from it. If he wanted an easy distraction from self—criticism it may be a convenient refuge from the scruples, or even the pangs, of conscience—it was profusely supplied by the startling affairs of which he formed a part, the singular characters with whom he was placed in contact, the risk and responsibility which seemed suddenly to have encompassed him with their ever-stimulating influence, and, lastly, by the novelty of foreign travel, which, even under ordinary circumstances, has a tendency to rouse and stir up even ordinary men.
So long as Theodora was his companion in their counsels, and he was listening to her deep plans and daring suggestions, enforced by that calm enthusiasm which was not the least powerful of her commanding spells, it is not perhaps surprising that he should have yielded without an effort to her bewitching ascendancy. But when they had separated, and she had embarked on that perilous enterprise of personally conferring with the chiefs of those secret societies of France, which had been fancifully baptized by her popular name, and had nurtured her tradition as a religious faith, it might have been supposed that Lothair, left to himself, might have recurred to the earlier sentiments of his youth. But he was not left to himself. He was left with her injunctions, and the spirit of the oracle, though the divinity was no longer visible, pervaded his mind and life.
Lothair was to accompany the general as one of his aides-de-camp, and he was to meet Theodora again on what was contemplated as the field of memorable actions. Theodora had wisely calculated on the influence, beneficial in her view, which the character of a man like the general would exercise over Lothair. This consummate military leader, though he had pursued a daring career, and was a man of strong convictions, was distinguished by an almost unerring judgment, and a mastery of method rarely surpassed. Though he was without imagination or sentiment, there were occasions on which he had shown he was not deficient in a becoming sympathy, and he had a rapid and correct perception of character. He was a thoroughly honest man, and, in the course of a life of great trial and vicissitude, even envenomed foes had never impeached his pure integrity. For the rest, he was unselfish, but severe in discipline, inflexible, and even ruthless in the fulfilment of his purpose. A certain simplicity of speech and conduct, and a disinterestedness which, even in little things, was constantly exhibiting itself, gave to his character even charm, and rendered personal intercourse with him highly agreeable.
In the countless arrangements which had to be made, Lothair was never wearied in recognizing and admiring the prescience and precision of his chief; and when the day had died, and for a moment they had ceased from their labors, or were travelling together, often through the night, Lothair found in the conversation of his companion, artless and unrestrained, a wonderful fund of knowledge both of men and things, and that, too, in very different climes and countries.
The camp in the Apennines was not favorable to useless reverie. Lothair found unceasing and deeply-interesting occupation in his numerous and novel duties; and, if his thoughts for a moment wandered beyond the barren peaks around him, they were attracted and engrossed by one subject—and that was, naturally, Theodora. From her they had heard nothing since her departure, except a mysterious, though not discouraging, telegram which was given to them by Colonel Campian when he had joined them at Florence. It was difficult not to feel anxious about her, though the general would never admit the possibility of her personal danger.
In this state of affairs, a week having elapsed since his arrival at the camp, Lothair, who had been visiting the outposts, was summoned one morning by an orderly to the tent of the general. That personage was on his legs when Lothair entered it, and was dictating to an officer writing at a table.
"You ought to know my military secretary," said the general, as Lothair entered, "and therefore I will introduce you."
Lothair was commencing a suitable reverence of recognition as the secretary raised his head to receive it, when he suddenly stopped, changed color, and for a moment seemed to lose himself, and then murmured, "Is it possible?"
It was indeed Theodora: clothed in male attire, she seemed a stripling.
"Quite possible," she said, "and all is well. But I found it a longer business than I had counted on. You see, there are so many new persons who knew me only by tradition, but with whom it was necessary I should personally confer. And I had more difficulty, just now, in getting through Florence than I had anticipated. The Papalini and the French are both worrying our allies in that city about the gathering on the southern frontier, and there is a sort of examination, true or false, I will not aver, of all who depart. However, I managed to pass with some soldiers' wives who were carrying fruit as far as Narni, and there I met an old comrade of Aspromonte, who is a custom-officer now, but true to the good cause, and he, and his daughter, who is with me, helped me through every thing, and so I am with my dear friends again."
After some slight conversation in this vein, Theodora entered into a detailed narrative of her proceedings, and gave to them her views of the condition of affairs.
"By one thing, above all others," she said, "I am impressed, and that is, the unprecedented efforts which Rome is making to obtain the return of the French. There never was such influence exercised, such distinct offers made, such prospects intimated. You may prepare yourself for any thing; a papal coronation, a family pontiff—I could hardly say a King of Rome, though he has been reminded of that royal fact. Our friends have acted with equal energy and with perfect temper. The heads of the societies have met in council, and resolved that, if France will refuse to interfere, no domestic disturbance shall be attempted during this reign, and they have communicated this resolution to headquarters. He trusts them; he knows they are honest men. They did something like this before the Italian War, when he hesitated about heading the army from the fear of domestic revolution. Anxious to recover the freedom of Italy, they apprized him that, if he personally entered the field, they would undertake to insure tranquillity at home. The engagement was scrupulously fulfilled. When I left Paris all looked well, but affairs require the utmost vigilance and courage. It is a mighty struggle; it is a struggle between the Church and the secret societies; and it is a death-struggle."
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."
The "Madre Natura" is the oldest, the most powerful, and the most occult, of the secret societies of Italy. Its mythic origin reaches the era of paganism, and it is not impossible that it may have been founded by some of the despoiled professors of the ancient faith. As time advanced, the brotherhood assumed many outward forms, according to the varying spirit of the age: sometimes they were freemasons, sometimes they were soldiers, sometimes artists, sometimes men of letters. But whether their external representation were a lodge, a commandery, a studio, or an academy, their inward purpose was ever the same; and that was to cherish the memory, and, if possible, to secure the restoration of the Roman Republic, and to expel from the Aryan settlement of Romulus the creeds and sovereignty of what they styled the Semitic invasion.
The "Madre Natura" have a tradition that one of the most celebrated of the popes was admitted to their fraternity as Cardinal del Medici, and that when he ascended the throne, mainly through their labors, he was called upon to cooperate in the fulfilment of the great idea. An individual who, in his youth, has been the member of a secret society, and subsequently ascends a throne, may find himself in an embarrassing position. This, however, according to the tradition, which there is some documentary ground to accredit, was not the perplexing lot of his holiness Pope Leo X. His tastes and convictions were in entire unison with his early engagements, and it is believed that he took an early and no unwilling opportunity of submitting to the conclave a proposition to consider whether it were not both expedient and practicable to return to the ancient faith, for which their temples had been originally erected.
The chief tenet of the society of "Madre Natura" is denoted by its name. They could conceive nothing more benignant and more beautiful, more provident and more powerful, more essentially divine, than that system of creative order to which they owed their being, and in which it was their privilege to exist. But they differed from other schools of philosophy that have held this faith, in this singular particular: they recognize the inability of the Latin race to pursue the worship of Nature in an abstract spirit, and they desired to revive those exquisite personifications of the abounding qualities of the mighty mother which the Aryan genius had bequeathed to the admiration of man. Parthenope was again to rule at Naples instead of Januarius, and starveling saints and winking madonnas were to restore their usurped altars to the god of the silver bow and the radiant daughter of the foaming wave.
Although the society of "Madre Natura" themselves accepted the allegorical interpretation which the Neo-Platonists had placed upon the pagan creeds during the first ages of Christianity, they could not suppose that the populace could ever comprehend an exposition so refined, not to say so fanciful. They guarded, therefore, against the corruptions and abuses of the religion of Nature by the entire abolition of the priestly order, and in the principle that every man should be his own priest they believed they had found the necessary security.
As it was evident that the arrest of Garibaldi could not be kept secret, the general thought it most prudent to be himself the herald of its occurrence, which he announced to the troops in a manner as little discouraging as he could devise. It was difficult to extenuate the consequences of so great a blow, but they were assured that it was not a catastrophe, and would not in the slightest degree affect the execution of the plans previously resolved on. Two or three days later some increase of confidence was occasioned by the authentic intelligence that Garibaldi had been removed from his stern imprisonment at Alessandria, and conveyed to his island-home, Caprera, though still a prisoner.
About this time, the general said to Lothair: "My secretary has occasion to go on an expedition. I shall send a small detachment of cavalry with her, and you will be at its head. She has requested that her husband should have this office, but that is impossible; I cannot spare my best officer. It is your first command, and, though I hope it will involve no great difficulty, there is no command that does not require courage and discretion. The distance is not very great, and so long as you are in the mountains you will probably be safe; but in leaving this range and gaining the southern Apennines, which is your point of arrival, you will have to cross the open country. I do not hear the Papalini are in force there; I believe they have concentrated themselves at Rome, and about Viterbo. If you meet any scouts and reconnoitring parties, you will be able to give a good account of them, and probably they will be as little anxious to encounter you as you to meet them. But we must be prepared for every thing, and you may be threatened by the enemy in force; in that case you will cross the Italian frontier, in the immediate neighborhood of which you will keep during the passage of the open country, and surrender yourselves and your arms to the authorities. They will not be very severe; but, at whatever cost and whatever may be the odds, Theodora must never be a prisoner to the Papalini. You will depart to-morrow at dawn."
There is nothing so animating, so invigorating alike to the body and soul, so truly delicious, as travelling among mountains in the early hours of day. The freshness of Nature falls upon a responsive frame, and the nobility of the scene discards the petty thoughts that pester ordinary life. So felt Captain Muriel, as with every military precaution he conducted his little troop and his precious charge among the winding passes of the Apennines; at first dim in the matin twilight, then soft with incipient day, then coruscating with golden flashes. Sometimes they descended from the austere heights into the sylvan intricacies of chestnut-forests, amid the rush of waters and the fragrant stir of ancient trees; and, then again ascending to lofty summits, ranges of interminable hills, gray or green, expanded before them, with ever and anon a glimpse of plains, and sometimes the splendor and the odor of the sea.
Theodora rode a mule, which had been presented to the general by some admirer. It was an animal of remarkable beauty and intelligence, perfectly aware, apparently, of the importance of its present trust, and proud of its rich accoutrements, its padded saddle of crimson velvet, and its silver bells. A couple of troopers formed the advanced guard, and the same number at a certain distance furnished the rear. The body of the detachment, fifteen strong, with the sumpter-mules, generally followed Theodora, by whose side, whenever the way permitted, rode their commander. Since he left England Lothair had never been so much with Theodora. What struck him most now, as indeed previously at the camp, was that she never alluded to the past. For her there would seem to be no Muriel Towers, no Belmont, no England. You would have supposed that she had been born in the Apennines and had never quitted them. All her conversation was details, political or military. Not that her manner was changed to Lothair. It was not only as kind as before, but it was sometimes unusually and even unnecessary tender, as if she reproached herself for the too frequent and too evident self-engrossment of her thoughts, and wished to intimate to him that, though her brain were absorbed, her heart was still gentle and true.
Two hours after noon they halted in a green nook, near a beautiful cascade that descended in a mist down a sylvan cleft, and poured its pellucid stream, for their delightful use, into a natural basin of marble. The men picketed their horses, and their corporal, who was a man of the country and their guide, distributed their rations. All vied with each other in administering to the comfort and convenience of Theodora, and Lothair hovered about her as a bee about a flower, but she was silent, which he wished to impute to fatigue. But she said she was not at all fatigued, indeed quite fresh. Before they resumed their journey he could not refrain from observing on the beauty of their resting-place. She assented with a pleasing nod, and then resuming her accustomed abstraction she said: "The more I think, the more I am convinced that the battle is not to be fought in this country, but in France."
After one more ascent, and that comparatively a gentle one, it was evident that they were gradually emerging from the mountainous region. Their course since their halting lay through a spur of the chief chain they had hitherto pursued, and a little after sunset they arrived at a farm-house, which the corporal informed his captain was the intended quarter of Theodora for the night, as the horses could proceed no farther without rest. At dawn they were to resume their way, and soon to cross the open country, where danger, if any, was to be anticipated.
The farmer was frightened when he was summoned from his house by a party of armed men; but having some good ducats given him in advance, and being assured they were all Christians, he took heart and labored to do what they desired. Theodora duly found herself in becoming quarters, and a sentry was mounted at her residence. The troopers, who had been quite content to wrap themselves in their cloaks and pass the night in the air, were pleased to find no despicable accommodation in the out-buildings of the farm, and still more with the proffered vintage of their host. As for Lothair, he enveloped himself in his mantle and threw himself on a bed of sacks, with a truss of Indian corn for his pillow, and, though he began by musing over Theodora, in a few minutes he was immersed in that profound and dreamless sleep which a life of action and mountain-air combined can alone secure.
The open country extending from the Apennines to the very gates of Rome, and which they had now to cross, was in general a desert; a plain clothed with a coarse vegetation, and undulating with an interminable series of low and uncouth mounds, without any of the grace of form which always attends the disposition of Nature. Nature had not created them. They were the offspring of man and time, and of their rival powers of destruction. Ages of civilization were engulfed in this drear expanse. They were the tombs of empires and the sepulchres of contending races. The Campagna proper has at least the grace of aqueducts to break its monotony, and everywhere the cerulean spell of distance; but in this grim solitude antiquity has left only the memory of its violence and crimes, and nothing is beautiful except the sky.
The orders of the general to direct their course as much as possible in the vicinity of the Italian frontier, though it lengthened their journey, somewhat mitigated its dreariness, and an hour after noon, after traversing some flinty fields, they observed in the distance an olive-wood, beneath the pale shade of which, and among whose twisted branches and contorted roots, they had contemplated finding a halting-place. But here the advanced guard observed already an encampment, and one of them rode back to report the discovery.
A needless alarm; for, after a due reconnoissance, they were ascertained to be friends—a band of patriots about to join the general in his encampment among the mountains. They reported that a division of the Italian army was assembled in force upon the frontier, but that several regiments had already signified to their commanders that they would not fight against Garibaldi or his friends. They confirmed also the news that the great leader himself was a prisoner at Caprera; that, although, his son Menotti by his command had withdrawn from Nerola, his force was really increased by the junction of Ghirelli and the Roman legion, twelve hundred strong, and that five hundred riflemen would join the general in the course of the week.
A little before sunset they had completed the passage of the open country, and had entered the opposite branch of the Apennines, which they had long observed in the distance. After wandering among some rocky ground, they entered a defile amid hills covered with ilex, and thence emerging found themselves in a valley of some expanse and considerable cultivation; bright crops, vineyards in which the vine was married to the elm, orchards full of fruit, and groves of olive; in the distance blue hills that were becoming dark in the twilight, and in the centre of the plain, upon a gentle and wooded elevation, a vast file of building, the exact character of which at this hour it was difficult to recognize, for, even as Theodora mentioned to Lothair that they now beheld the object of their journey, the twilight seemed to vanish and the stars glistened in the dark heavens.
Though the building seemed so near, it was yet a considerable time before they reached the wooded hill, and, though its ascent was easy, it was night before they halted in face of a huge gate flanked by high stone walls. A single light in one of the windows of the vast pile which it enclosed was the only evidence of human habitation.
The corporal sounded a bugle, and immediately the light moved and noises were heard—the opening of the hall-doors, and then the sudden flame of torches, and the advent of many feet. The great gate slowly opened, and a steward and several serving-men appeared. The steward addressed Theodora and Lothair, and invited them to dismount and enter what now appeared to be a garden with statues and terraces and fountains and rows of cypress, its infinite dilapidation not being recognizable in the deceptive hour; and he informed the escort that their quarters were prepared for them, to which they were at once attended. Guiding their captain and his charge, they soon approached a double flight of steps, and, ascending, reached the main terrace from which the building immediately rose. It was, in truth, a castle of the middle ages, on which a Roman prince, at the commencement of the last century, had engrafted the character of one of those vast and ornate villas then the mode, but its original character still asserted itself, and, notwithstanding its Tuscan basement and its Ionic pilasters, its rich pediments and delicate volutes, in the distant landscape it still seemed a fortress in the commanding position which became the residence of a feudal chief.
They entered, through a Palladian vestibule, a hall which they felt must be of huge dimensions, though with the aid of a single torch it was impossible to trace its limits, either of extent or of elevation. Then bowing before them, and lighting as it were their immediate steps, the steward guided them down a long and lofty corridor, which led to the entrance of several chambers, all vast, with little furniture, but their wells covered with pictures. At length he opened a door and ushered them into a saloon, which was in itself bright and glowing, but of which the lively air was heightened by its contrast with the preceding scene. It was lofty, and hung with faded satin in gilded panels still bright. An ancient chandelier of Venetian crystal hung illumined from the painted ceiling, and on the silver dogs of the marble hearth a fresh block of cedar had just been thrown and blazed with aromatic light.
A lady came forward and embraced Theodora, and then greeted Lothair with cordiality. "We must dine to-day even later than you do in London," said the Princess of Tivoli, "but we have been expecting you these two hours." Then she drew Theodora aside, and said, "He is here; but you must be tired, my best beloved. As some wise man said: 'Business to-morrow.'"
"No, no," said Theodora; "now, now,—I am never tired. The only thing that exhausts me is suspense."
"It shall be so. At present I will take you away to shake the dust off your armor, and, Serafino, attend to Captain Muriel."
When they assembled again in the saloon there was an addition to their party in the person of a gentleman of distinguished appearance. His age could hardly have much exceeded that of thirty, but time had agitated his truly Roman countenance, one which we now find only in consular and imperial busts, or in the chance visage of a Roman shepherd or a Neapolitan bandit. He was a shade above the middle height, with a frame of well-knit symmetry. His proud head was proudly placed on broad shoulders, and neither time nor indulgence had marred his slender waist. His dark-brown hair was short and hyacinthine, close to his white forehead, and naturally showing his small ears. He wore no whiskers, and his mustache was limited to the centre of his upper lip.
When Theodora entered and offered him her hand he pressed it to his lips with gravity and proud homage, and then their hostess said: "Captain Muriel, let me present you to a prince who will not bear his titles, and whom, therefore, I must call by his name—Romolo Colonna."
The large folding-doors, richly painted and gilt, though dim from neglect and time, and sustained by columns of precious marbles, were suddenly opened and revealed another saloon, in which was a round table brightly lighted, and to which the princess invited her friends.
Their conversation at dinner was lively and sustained; the travels of the last two days formed a natural part and were apposite to commence with, but they were soon engrossed in the great subject of their lives; and Colonna, who had left Rome only four-and-twenty hours, gave them interesting details of the critical condition of that capital. When the repast was concluded the princess rose, and, accompanied by Lothair, reentered the saloon, but Theodora and Colonna lingered behind, and, finally seating themselves at the farthest end of the apartment in which they had dined, became engaged in earnest conversation.
"You have seen a great deal since we first met at Belmont," said the princess to Lothair.
"It seems to me now," said Lothair, "that I knew as much of life then as I did of the stars above us, about whose purposes and fortunes I used to puzzle myself."
"And might have remained in that ignorance. The great majority of men exist but do not live—like Italy in the last century. The power of the passions, the force of the will, the creative energy of the imagination—these make life, and reveal to us a world of which the million are entirely ignorant You have been fortunate in your youth to have become acquainted with a great woman. It develops all a man's powers, and gives him a thousand talents."
"I often think," said Lothair, "that I have neither powers nor talents, but am, drifting without an orbit."
"Into infinite space," said the priestess. "Well, one might do worse than that. But it is not so. In the long-run your nature will prevail, and you will fulfil your organic purpose; but you will accomplish your ends with a completeness which can only be secured by the culture and development you are now experiencing."
"And what is my nature?" said Lothair. "I wish you would tell me."
"Has not the divine Theodora told you?"
"She has told me many things, but not that."
"How, then, could I know," said the princess, "if she has not discovered it?"
"But perhaps she has discovered it," said Lothair.
"Oh! then she would tell you," said the princess, "for she is the soul of truth."
"But she is also the soul of kindness, and she might wish to spare my feelings."
"Well, that is very modest, and I dare say not affected. For there is no man, however gifted, even however conceited, who has any real confidence in himself until he has acted."
"Well, we shall soon act," said Lothair, "and then I. suppose I shall know my nature."
"In time," said the princess, "and with the continued inspiration of friendship."
"But you too are a great friend of Theodora?"
"Although a woman. I see you are laughing at female friendships, and, generally speaking, there is foundation for the general sneer. I will own, for my part, I have every female weakness, and in excess. I am vain, I am curious, I am jealous, and I am envious; but I adore Theodora. I reconcile my feelings toward her and my disposition in this way. It is not friendship—it is worship. And indeed there are moments when I sometimes think she is one of those beautiful divinities that we once worshipped in this land, and who, when they listened to our prayers, at least vouchsafed that our country should not be the terrible wilderness that you crossed this day."
In the mean time Colonna, with folded arms and eyes fixed on the ground, was listening to Theodora.
"Thus you see," she continued, "it comes to this—Rome can only be freed by the Romans. He looks upon the secret societies of his own country as he does upon universal suffrage—a wild beast, and dangerous, but which may be watched and tamed and managed by the police. He listens, but he plays with them. He temporizes. At the bottom of his heart, his Italian blood despises the Gauls. It must be something deeper and more touching than this. Rome must appeal to him, and in the ineffable name."
"It has been uttered before," said Colonna, looking up at his companion, "and—" And he hesitated.
"And in vain you would say," said Theodora. "Not so. There was a martyrdom, but the blood of Felice baptized the new birth of Italian life. But I am not thinking of bloodshed. Had it not been for the double intrigues of the Savoyards it need not then have been shed. We bear him no ill-will—at least not now—and we can make great offers. Make them. The revolution in Gaul is ever a mimicry of Italian thought and life. Their great affair of the last century, which they have so marred and muddied, would never have occurred had it not been for Tuscan reform; 1848 was the echo of our societies; and the Seine will never be disturbed if the Tiber flows unruffled. Let him consent to Roman freedom, and 'Madre Natura' will guarantee him against Lutetian barricades."
"It is only the offer of Mary-Anne in another form," said Colonna.
"Guarantee the dynasty," said Theodora. "There is the point. He can trust us. Emperors and kings break treaties without remorse, but he knows that what is registered by the most ancient power in the world is sacred."
"'Can republicans guarantee dynasties?" said Colonna, shaking his head.
"Why, what is a dynasty, when we are dealing with eternal things? The casualties of life compared with infinite space? Rome is eternal. Centuries of the most degrading and foreign priestcraft—enervating rites brought in by Hellogabalus and the Syrian emperors—have failed to destroy her. Dynasties! Why, even in our dark servitude we have seen Merovingian and Carlovingian kings, and Capets, and Valois, and Bourbons, and now Bonapartes. They have disappeared, and will disappear like Orgetorix and the dynasties of the time of Caesar. What we want is Rome free. Do not you see that everything has been preparing for that event? This monstrous masquerade of United Italy—what is it but an initiatory ceremony, to prove that Italy without Rome is a series of provinces? Establish the Roman republic, and the Roman race will, as before, conquer them in detail. And, when the Italians are thus really united, what will become of the Gauls? Why, the first Bonaparte said that if Italy were really united the Gauls would have no chance. And he was a good judge of such things."
"What would you have me do, then?" said Colonna.
"See him—see him at once. Say every thing that I have said, and say it better. His disposition is with us. Convenience, all political propriety, counsel and would justify his abstinence. A return to Rome would seem weak, fitful, capricious, and would prove that his previous retirement was ill-considered and ill-informed. It would disturb and alarm Europe. But you have, nevertheless, to fight against great odds. It is 'Madre Natura' against St. Peter's. Never was the abomination of the world so active as at present. It is in the very throes of its fell despair. To save itself it would poison in the Eucharist."
"And if I fail?" said Colonna.
"You will not fail. On the whole, his interest lies on our side."
"The sacerdotal influences are very strong there. When the calculation of interest is fine, a word, a glance, sometimes a sigh, a tear, may have a fatal effect."
"All depends upon him," said Theodora. "If he were to disappear from the stage, interference would be impossible."
"But he is on the stage, and apparently will remain."
"A single life should not stand between Rome and freedom."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that Romolo Colonna should go to Paris and free his country."
When Captain Muriel and his detachment returned to the camp, they found that the force had been not inconsiderably increased in their absence, while the tidings of the disposition of the Italian army brought by the recruits and the deserters from the royal standard, cherished the hopes of the troops, and stimulated their desire for action. Theodora had been far more communicative during their journey back than in that of her departure. She was less absorbed, and had resumed that serene yet even sympathizing character which was one of her charms. Without going into detail, she mentioned more than once to Lothair how relieved she felt by Colonna accepting the mission to Paris. He was a person of so much influence, she said, and of such great judgment and resource. She augured the most satisfactory results from his presence on the main scene of action.
Time passed rapidly at the camp. When a life of constant activity is combined with routine, the hours fly. Neither letter nor telegram arrived from Colonna, and neither was expected; and yet. Theodora heard from him, and even favorably. One day, as she was going the rounds with her husband, a young soldier, a new recruit, approached her, and, pressing to his lips a branch of the olive-tree, presented it to her. On another occasion when she returned to her tent, she found a bunch of fruit from the same tree, though not quite ripe, which showed that the cause of peace had not only progressed but had almost matured. All these communications sustained her sanguine disposition, and, full of happy confidence, she labored with unceasing and inspiring energy, so that when the looked-for signal came they might be prepared to obey it; and rapidly gather the rich fruition of their glorious hopes.
While she was in this mood of mind, a scout arrived from Nerola, bringing news that a brigade of the French army had positively embarked at Marseilles, and might be hourly expected at Civita Vecchia. The news was absolute. The Italian consul at Marseilles had telegraphed to his government both when the first regiment was on board and when the last had embarked. Copies of these telegrams had been forwarded instantly by a secret friend to the volunteers on the southern frontier.
When Theodora heard this news she said nothing, but, turning pale, she quitted the group round the general and hastened to her own tent. She told her attendant, the daughter of the custom-house officer at Narni, and a true child of the mountains, that no one must approach her, not even Colonel Campian, and the girl sat without the tent at its entrance, dressed in her many-colored garments, with fiery eyes and square white teeth, and her dark hair braided with gold coins and covered with a long white kerchief of perfect cleanliness; and she had a poniard at her side and a revolver in her hand, and she would have used both weapons sooner than that her mistress should be disobeyed.
Alone in her tent, Theodora fell upon her knees, and, lifting up her hands to heaven and bowing her head to the earth, she said: "O God! whom I have ever worshipped, God of justice and of truth, receive the agony of my soul!"
And on the earth she remained for hours in despair.
Night came, and it brought no solace, and the day returned, but to her it brought no light. Theodora was no longer seen. The soul of the camp seemed extinct. The mien of majesty that ennobled all; the winning smile that rewarded the rifleman at his practice and the sapper at his toil; the inciting word that reanimated the recruit and recalled to the veteran the glories of Sicilian struggles—all vanished—all seemed spiritless and dull, and the armorer clinked his forge as if he were the heartless hireling of a king.
In this state of moral discomfiture there was one person who did not lose his head, and this was the general. Calm, collected, and critical, he surveyed the situation and indicated the possible contingencies. "Our best, if not our only, chance," he said to Colonel Campian, "is this—that the Italian army now gathered in force upon the frontier should march to Rome and arrive there before the French. Whatever then happens, we shall at least get rid of the great imposture, but in all probability the French and Italians will fight. In that case I shall join the Savoyards, and in the confusion we may do some business yet."
"This embarkation," said the colonel, "explains the gathering of the Italians on the frontier. They must have foreseen this event at Florence. They never can submit to another French occupation. It would upset their throne. The question is, who will be at Rome first."
"Just so," said the general; "and as it is an affair upon which all depends, and is entirely beyond my control, I think I shall now take a nap." So saying, he turned into his tent, and, in five minutes, this brave and exact man, but in whom the muscular development far exceeded the nervous, was slumbering without a dream.
Civita Vecchia was so near at hand, and the scouts of the general were so numerous and able, that he soon learned the French had not yet arrived, and another day elapsed and still no news of the French. But, on the afternoon of the following day, the startling but authentic information arrived, that, after the French army having embarked and remained two days in port, the original orders had been countermanded, and the troops had absolutely disembarked.
There was a cheer in the camp when the news was known, and Theodora started from her desolation, surprised that there could be in such a scene a sound of triumph. Then there was another cheer, and though she did not move, but remained listening and leaning on her arm, the light returned to her eyes. The cheer was repeated, and there were steps about her tent. She caught the voice of Lothair speaking to her attendant, and adjuring her to tell her mistress immediately that there was good news, and that the French troops had disembarked. Then he heard her husband calling Theodora.
The camp became a scene of excitement and festivity which, in general, only succeeds some signal triumph. The troops lived always in the air, except in the hours of night, when the atmosphere of the mountains in the late autumn is dangerous. At present they formed groups and parties in the vicinity of the tents; there was their gay canteen and there their humorous kitchen. The man of the Gulf with his rich Venetian banter and the Sicilian with his scaramouch tricks got on very well with the gentle and polished Tuscan, and could amuse without offending the high Roman soul; but there were some quips and cranks and sometimes some antics which were not always relished by the simpler men from the islands, and the offended eye of a Corsican sometimes seemed to threaten "vendetta."
About sunset, Colonel Campian led forth Theodora. She was in female attire, and her long hair, restrained only by a fillet, reached nearly to the ground. Her Olympian brow seemed distended; a phosphoric light glittered in her Hellenic eyes; a deep pink spot burnt upon each of those cheeks usually so immaculately fair.
The general and the chief officers gathered round her with their congratulations, but she would visit all the quarters. She spoke to the men in all the dialects of that land of many languages. The men of the Gulf, in general of gigantic stature, dropped their merry Venetian stories and fell down on their knees and kissed the hem of her garment; the Scaramouch forgot his tricks, and wept as he would to the Madonna; Tuscany and Rome made speeches worthy of the Arno and the Forum; and the Corsicans and the islanders unsheathed their poniards and brandished them in the air, which is their mode of denoting affectionate devotion. As the night advanced, the crescent moon glittering above the Apennine, Theodora, attended by the whole staff, having visited all the troops, stopped at the chief fire of the camp, and in a voice which might have maddened nations sang the hymn of Roman liberty, the whole army ranged in ranks along the valley joining in the solemn and triumphant chorus.
This exaltation of feeling in the camp did not evaporate. All felt that they were on the eve of some great event, and that the hour was at hand. And it was in this state of enthusiasm that couriers arrived with the intelligence that Garibaldi had escaped from Caprera, that he had reached Nerola in safety, and was in command of the assembled forces; and that the general was, without loss of time, to strike his camp, join the main body at a given place, and then march to Rome.
The breaking-up of the camp was as the breaking-up of a long frost and the first scent of spring. There was a brightness in every man's face and a gay elasticity in all their movements. But when the order of the day informed them that they must prepare for instant combat, and that in eight-and-forty hours they would probably be in face of the enemy, the hearts of the young recruits fluttered with strange excitement, and the veterans nodded to each other with grim delight.
It was nearly midnight when the troops quitted the valley, through a defile, in an opposite direction to the pass by which they had entered it. It was a bright night. Colonel Campian had the command of the division in advance, which was five hundred strong. After the defile, the country, though hilly, was comparatively open, and here the advanced guard was to halt until the artillery and cavalry had effected the passage, and this was the most laborious and difficult portion of the march, but all was well considered, and all went right. The artillery and cavalry, by sunrise, had joined the advanced guard, who were bivouacking in the rocky plain, and about noon the main columns of the infantry began to deploy from the heights, and, in a short time, the whole force was in the field. Soon after this some of the skirmishers, who had been sent forward, returned, and reported the enemy in force, and in a strong position, commanding the intended route of the invading force. On this the general resolved to halt for a few hours, and rest and refresh the troops, and to recommence their march after sunset, so that, without effort, they might be in the presence of the enemy by dawn.
Lothair had been separated from Theodora during this, to him, novel and exciting scene. She had accompanied her husband, but, when the whole force advanced in battle array, the general had desired that she should accompany the staff. They advanced through the night, and by dawn they were fairly in the open country. In the distance, and in the middle of the rough and undulating plain, was a round hill with an ancient city, for it was a bishop's see, built all about and over it. It would have looked like a gigantic beehive, had it not been for a long convent on the summit, flanked by some stone-pines, as we see in the pictures of Gaspar and Claude.
Between this city and the invading force, though not in a direct line, was posted the enemy in a strong position; their right wing protected by one of the mounds common in the plain, and their left backed by an olive-wood of considerable extent, and which grew on the last rocky spur of the mountains. They were, therefore, as regards the plain, on commanding ground. The strength of the two forces was not unequal, and the papal troops were not to be despised, consisting, among others, of a detachment of the legion of Antibes and the Zouaves. They had artillery, which was well posted.
The general surveyed the scene, for which he was not unprepared. Disposing his troops in positions in which they were as much protected as possible from the enemy's fire, he opened upon them a fierce and continuous cannonade, while he ordered Colonel Campian and eight hundred men to fall back among the hills, and, following a circuitous path which had been revealed by a shepherd, gain the spur of the mountains, and attack the enemy in their rear through the olive-wood. It was calculated that this movement, if successful, would require about three hours, and the general, for that period of the time, had to occupy the enemy and his own troops with what were, in realty, feint attacks.
When the calculated time had elapsed, the general became anxious, and his glass was never from his eye. He was posted on a convenient ridge, and the wind, which was high this day from the sea, frequently cleared the field from the volumes of smoke; so his opportunities of observation were good. But the three hours passed, and there was no sign of the approach of Campian, and he ordered Sarano, with his division, to advance toward the mound and occupy the attention of the right wing of the enemy; but, very shortly after Lothair had carried this order, and four hours having elapsed, the general observed some confusion in the left wing of the enemy, and, instantly countermanding the order, commanded a general attack in line. The troops charged with enthusiasm, but they were encountered with a resolution as determined. At first they carried the mound, broke the enemy's centre, and were mixed up with their great guns; but the enemy fiercely rallied, and the invaders were repulsed. The papal troops retained their position, and their opponents were in disorder on the plain, and a little dismayed. It was at this moment that Theodora rushed forward, and, waving a sword in one hand, and in the other the standard of the republic, exclaimed, "Brothers, to Rome!"
This sight inflamed their faltering hearts, which, after all, were rather confounded than dismayed. They formed and rallied round her, and charged with renewed energy at the very moment that Campian had brought the force of his division on the enemy's rear. A panic came over the papal troops, thus doubly assailed, and their rout was complete. They retreated in the utmost disorder to Viterbo, which they abandoned that night, and hurried to Rome.
At the last moment, when the victory was no longer doubtful, and all were in full retreat or in full pursuit, a Zouave, in wantonness, firing his weapon before he throw it away, sent a random-shot which struck Theodora, and she fell. Lothair, who had never left her during the battle, was at her side in a moment, and a soldier, who had also marked the fatal shot; and, strange to say, so hot and keen was the pursuit, that, though a moment before they seemed to be in the very thick of the strife, they almost instantaneously found themselves alone, or rather with no companions than the wounded near them. She looked at Lothair, but, at first, could not speak. She seemed stunned, but soon murmured: "Go! go! you are wanted!"
At this moment the general rode up with some of his staff. His countenance was elate, and his eye sparkled with fire. But, catching the figure of Lothair kneeling on the field, he reined in his charger and said, "What is this?" Then looking more closely, he instantly dismounted, and muttering to himself, "This mars the victory," he was at Theodora's side.
A slight smile came over her when she recognized the general, and she faintly pressed his hand, and then said again: "Go, go; you are all wanted."
"None of up are wanted. The day is won; we must think of you."
"Is it won?" she murmured.
"I die content."
"Who talks of death?" said the general. "This is a wound, but I have had some worse. What we must think of now are remedies. I passed an ambulance this moment. Run for, it," he said to his aide-de-camp. "We must stanch the wound at once; but it is only a mile to the city, and then we shall find every thing, for we were expected. I will ride on, and there shall be proper attendance ready before you arrive. You will conduct our friend to the city," he said to Lothair, "and be of good courage, as I am."
The troops were rushing through the gates of the city when the general rode up. There was a struggling and stifling crowd; cheers and shrieks. It was that moment of wild fruition, when the master is neither recognized nor obeyed. It is not easy to take a bone out of a dog's mouth; nevertheless, the presence of the general in time prevailed, something like order was established, and, before the ambulance could arrive, a guard had been appointed to receive it, and the ascent to the monastery, where a quarter was prepared, kept clear.
During the progress to the city Theodora never spoke, but she seemed stunned rather than suffering; and once, when Lothair, who was walking by her side, caught her glance with his sorrowful and anxious face, she put forth her head, and pressed his.
The ascent to the convent was easy, and the advantages of air and comparative tranquillity which the place offered counterbalanced the risk of postponing, for a very brief space, the examination of the wound.
They laid her on their arrival on a large bed, without poles or canopy, in a lofty whitewashed room of considerable dimensions, clean and airy, with high, open windows. There was no furniture in the room except a chair, a table, and a crucifix. Lothair took her in his arms and laid her on the bed; and the common soldier who had hitherto assisted him, a giant in stature, with a beard a foot long, stood by the bedside crying like a child. The chief surgeon almost at the same moment arrived with an aide-de-camp of the general, and her faithful female attendant, and in a few minutes her husband, himself wounded and covered with dust.
The surgeon at once requested that all should withdraw except her devoted maid, and they waited his report without, in that deep sad silence which will not despair, and yet dares not hope.
When the wound had been examined and probed and dressed, Theodora in a faint voice said, "Is it desperate?"
"Not desperate," said the surgeon, "but serious. All depends upon your perfect tranquility—of mind as well as body."
"Well I am here and cannot move; and as for my mind, I am not only serene, but happy."
"Then we shall get through this," said the surgeon, encouragingly.
"I do not like you to stay with me," said Theodora. "There are other sufferers besides myself."
"My orders are not to quit you," said the surgeon, "but I can be of great use within these walls. I shall return when the restorative has had its effect. But remember, if I be wanted, I am always here."
Soon after this Theodora fell into a gentle slumber, and after two hours woke refreshed. The countenance of the surgeon when he again visited her was less troubled; it was hopeful.
The day was now beginning to decline; notwithstanding the scenes of tumult and violence near at hand, all was here silent; and the breeze, which had been strong during the whole day, but which blew from the sea, and was very soft, played gratefully upon the pale countenance of the sufferer. Suddenly she said, "What is that?"
And they answered and said, "We heard nothing."
"I hear the sound of great guns," said Theodora.
And they listened, and in a moment both the surgeon and the maid heard the sound of distant ordnance.
"The liberator is at hand," said the maid.
"I dare say," said the surgeon.
"No," said Theodora, looking distressed. "The sounds do not come from his direction. Go and see, Dolores; ask, and tell me what are these sounds."
The surgeon was sitting by her side, and occasionally touching her pulse, or wiping the slight foam from her brow, when Dolores returned and said, "Lady, the sounds are the great guns of Civita Vecchia."
A deadly change come over the countenance of Theodora, and the surgeon looked alarmed. He would have given her some restorative, but she refused it. "No, kind friend," she said; "it is finished. I have just received a wound more fatal than the shot in the field this morning. The French are at Rome. Tell me, kind friend, how long do you think I may live?"
The surgeon felt her pulse; his look was gloomy. "In such a case as yours," he said, "the patient is the best judge."
"I understand," she said. "Send, then, at once for my husband."
He was at hand, for his wound had been dressed in the convent, and he came to Theodora with his arm in a sling, but with the attempt of a cheerful visage.
In the mean time, Lothair, after having heard the first, and by no means hopeless, bulletin of the surgeon, had been obliged to leave the convent to look after his men, and having seen theme in quarters and made his report to the general, he obtained permission to return to the convent and ascertain the condition of Theodora. Arrived there, he heard that she had had refreshing slumber, and that her husband was now with her, and a ray of hope lighted up the darkness of his soul. He was walking up and down the refectory of the convent with that sickening restlessness which attends impending and yet uncertain sorrow, when Colonel Campian entered the apartment and beckoned to him.
There was an expression in his face which appalled Lothair, and he was about to inquire after Theodora, when his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth, and he could not speak. The Colonel shook his head, and said in a low, hollow voice, "She wishes to see you, and alone. Come."
Theodora was sitting in the bed, propped up by cushions, when Lothair entered, and, as her wound was internal, there was no evidence of her sufferings. The distressful expression of her face, when she heard the great guns of Civita Vecchia, had passed away. It was serious, but it was serene. She bade her maid leave the chamber, and then she said to Lothair, "It is the last time I shall speak to you, and I wish that we should be alone. There is something much on my mind at this moment, and you can relieve it."
"Adored being," murmured Lothair with streaming eyes, "there is no wish of yours that I will not fulfil."
"I know your life, for you have told it me, and you are true. I know your nature; it is gentle and brave, but perhaps too susceptible. I wished it to be susceptible only of the great and good. Mark me—I have a vague but strong conviction that there will be another and a more powerful attempt to gain you to the Church of Rome. If I have ever been to you, as you have sometimes said, an object of kind thoughts—if not a fortunate, at least a faithful friend—promise me now, at this hour of trial, with all the solemnity that becomes the moment, that you will never enter that communion."
Lothair would have spoken, but his voice was choked, and he could only press her hand and bow his head.
"But promise me," said Theodora.
"I promise," said Lothair.
"And now," she said, "embrace me, for I wish that your spirit should be upon me as mine departs."
It was a November day in Rome, and the sky was as gloomy as the heaven of London. The wind moaned through the silent streets, deserted except by soldiers. The shops were shut, not a civilian or a priest could be seen. The Corso was occupied by the Swiss Guard and Zouaves, with artillery ready to sweep it at a moment's notice. Six of the city gates were shut and barricaded with barrels full of earth. Troops and artillery were also posted in several of the principal piazzas, and on some commanding heights, and St. Peter's itself was garrisoned.
And yet these were the arrangements rather of panic than precaution. The utmost dismay pervaded the council-chamber of the Vatican. Since the news had arrived of the disembarkation of the French troops at Marseilles, all hope of interference had expired. It was clear that Berwick had been ultimately foiled, and his daring spirit and teeming device were the last hope, as they were the ablest representation, of Roman audacity and stratagem. The Revolutionary Committee, whose abiding-place or agents never could be traced or discovered, had posted every part of the city, during the night, with their manifesto, announcing that the hour had arrived; an attempt, partially successful, had been made to blow up the barracks of the Zouaves; and the cardinal secretary was in possession of information that an insurrection was immediate, and that the city won fired in four different quarters.
The pope had escaped from the Vatican to the Castle of St. Angelo, where he was secure, and where his courage could be sustained by the presence of the Noble Guard, with their swords always drawn. The six-score of monsignori, who in their different offices form what is styled the court of Rome, had either accompanied his holiness, or prudently secreted themselves in the strongest palaces and convents at their command. Later in the day news arrived of the escape of Garibaldi from Caprera; he was said to be marching on the city, and only five-and-twenty miles distant. There appeared another proclamation from the Revolutionary Committee, mysteriously posted under the very noses of the guards and police, postponing the insurrection till the arrival of the liberator.