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THE morning, which succeeded the night that witnessed the
incidents just detailed, was clear, frosty, and fine. It was one of those winter
mornings when the soil is as hard as iron, but on which the sun shines with gay
light if not with genial heat. On such a morning we walk abroad with a
consciousness that the exercise benefits us: we feel the-blood acquiring a more
rapid circulation in our veins; we soon experience a pleasant glow pervading the
frame; our spirits become exhilarated; and we learn that even Winter has its
Such was the feeling that animated Richard Markham, as, after
alighting from a public vehicle at Richmond, he proceeded rapidly along a
by-road that led through the fields at the back of Count Alteroni's mansion.
His cheeks were tinged with a glow that set off his handsome
features to the greatest advantage: his dark eyes sparkled with an expression of joy and hope; a
smile played upon his lip; and he walked with his head erect as if he felt proud
of his existence - because that existence, in spite of its vicissitudes, was
protected by some auspicious star.
O Love! art thou not a star full of hope and promise, like
that which guided the sages of the East to the cradle of their Redeemer ? - like
the welcome planet which heralds the dauntless mariner over the midnight seas ?
- like the twinkling orb which points the right track to the Arab wanderer d the
Richard Markham pursued his way - his soul full of hope, and
love, and bliss.
At a distance of about a quarter of a mile on his right hand,
the mansion of Count Alteroni soon met his eyes, surrounded by the evergreens
that, in contrast with the withered trees elsewhere, gave to the spot where it
stood the air of an oasis in the midst of a desert.
Markham's heart beat quickly when that well. known dwelling
met his view; and for a moment a shade of melancholy passed over his
countenance, for he recalled to mind the happy hours he had once spent within
But that transitory cloud vanished from his brow, when his
eye caught a glimpse, in another instant, of a sylph-like form that was
threading a leafless grove at a little distance.
Richard redoubled his steps, and was led, by the circuitous
winding of the path that he was pursuing, somewhat nearer to the Count's
In a few minutes he reached the very spot where, in the
preceding spring, he had accidentally encountered Isabella, and where she
assured him of her unchanged and unchangeable love.
He is now on that spot once more :- he pauses - looks around
- and Isabella again approaches.
Richard rushes forward, and clasps the beauteous Italian
maiden in his arms.
"Isabella - dearest Isabella! What good angel prompted you
to grant me this interview?" he exclaimed, when the first effusion of joy was
"Do you think me indiscreet, Richard ?" asked the
Signora, taking his arm, and glancing timidly towards his countenance.
" Indiscreet, my sweet girl! " cried her lover: "Oh! how can you suppose that I would entertain a harsh
feeling with regard to that goodness on your part which doubtless instigated you
to afford me the happiness of this meeting?"
"But when we met here - seven or eight months ago,
Richard," said Isabella, "I told you that never - never would I consent to a stolen interview. And
now - you may imagine "
"I imagine that you love me, Isabella - love me as I love
you," exclaimed Markham; "and what other idea can occupy my thoughts when
that one is present? Oh! you know not the ineffable joy - the unequalled pleasure
which I experienced when your letter reached me yesterday. I recognised your
handwriting immediately; and I seized the letter with avidity, when it was
brought to me in my study. And then, Isabella - will you believe me when I tell
you that I trembled to open it? I laid it upon the table - my hand refused to
break the seal. Pardon me - forgive me, if for a moment I feared "
"That I had forgotten my vows-my plighted affection,"
faltered Isabella, reproachfully.
"Again I say pardon - forgive me, dearest girl; but -
have been so very unfortunate!"
"Think not of the past, Richard," said Isabella,
"The past! Oh! how can I cease to ponder upon the past,
when it has nearly bereaved me of all hope for the future?" exclaimed Markham,
in an impassioned tone.
"Not all hope," murmured Isabella; "since hope still
remains to me!"
"Angel that thou art!" cried Richard, pressing the
maiden's hand fondly. "How weak I am, since it is from thee that moral
courage ever is imparted."
"You were speaking of my letter," said Isabella with a
[-347-] "True! But so many
emotions - joy and hope - sorrowful reminiscences and brighter prospects, bewilder me!
I will, however, try to talk calmly! When your letter came, I feared to open it
for some moments: I dreaded a new calamity! But at length I called all my
firmness to my aid; and a terrible weight was taken from my soul, when my eye
glanced at the first lines of that letter which suddenly became as dear and
welcome as a reprieve to the condemned criminal. Then, when I saw that my
beloved Isabella still thought of me - still loved me "
" Oh, I did not tell you that in my letter," exclaimed
Isabella, with a smile of bewitching archness.
"No - but I divined it - I gathered it from the words in
which you conveyed to me your desire to see me - from the manner in which you said
that at eleven o'clock this morning you should walk in the very place where we
had met accidentally once before - oh! I suddenly became a new being: never has my
heart so light!"
"And yet I said in my letter, Richard, that I wished to
see you upon a matter of business "
"Ah! Isabella, destroy not the charm which makes me
happy! Let no cold thought of worldly things chill the heavenly fervour of our
affection. Were it not for that love which reciprocally exists between us, how
should I have supported the misfortunes that have multiplied upon me?"
"Again I say, Richard, allude not to the past. Alas!
bitter - bitter were the tears that I wept on that fatal night when "
"When I was publicly disgraced at the theatre - in the
midst of a triumph. Yes - Isabella, you were there - there, where my shame was
"Accident had led us to the theatre that evening,"
answered Isabella. "My father had heard that a new tragedy, of which grand
hopes were entertained, was to be produced; and he insisted that I should
accompany him and my mother. I was compelled to assent to his desire - although I
prefer retirement and tranquillity to society and gaiety. You may conceive our
astonishment - you may imagine my surprise and my joy, when you came forward to
acknowledge the congratulations offered for a triumph so brilliantly achieved.
And then - but let us leave that subject - my blood turns cold when I think of it!"
"Oh! go on - speak of it, speak of it!" exclaimed Markham,
enthusiastically; "for although the reminiscence of that fearful scene be
like pouring molten lead upon an open wound, still it is sweet - it is sweet,
Isabella, to receive sympathy from such lips as yours."
"Alas! I have little more to say - except that the sudden
intervention of that terrible man seemed to strike me as with the arrow of
death; and I became insensible. Then, Ricbard, - then," continued Isabella, in a
low and tremulous tone, "my mother suspected my secret - or rather received a
confirmation of the suspicion which she had long entertained!"
"And she shuddered at the mere idea?" exclaimed
"No, Richard: my mother is kind and good - and, you know,
was always well disposed towards you: I have told you that much before! She
said little - and of that no matter! But my father - my father "
" He discovered our secret also!" exclaimed Richard.
" Oh! did he not curse me?"
"He was cool and calm, when - on the following morning -
spoke to me upon the subject. I answered him frankly: I admitted my attachment
"What did he say, Isabella! Tell me every thing -
suppress not a word!"
"Oh, heavens! he made me very miserable," returned
Isabella, tears trickling down her countenance. "But wherefore distress
both yourself and me with a recapitulation of what ensued? Suffice it to say,
that I collected all the arguments in my memory - and they were not a few ; -
presented to him that paper - the confession of Talbot, which proved your
"Dearest girl!" exclaimed Markham, rapturously.
"He did not refuse to read it," added Isabella;
"and at length, when I saw that I had made a profound impression on him,
I turned the conversation upon the momentary reverse of fortune which had
plunged him into a debtors' prison "
"Isabella!" cried Markham, in surprise.
"And then I boldly declared my conviction that the
unknown friend who had released him - the anonymous individual who had thrown open
to him the gate leading to liberty - the nameless person, that had done so
generous a deed, and accomplished it in a manner as delicate as it was noble, -
was none other than Richard Markham!"
The tone of the Italian maiden had become more and more
impassioned as she proceeded; and when she uttered the last words of the
foregoing sentence, she turned upon him on whose arm she leant, a countenance
glowing with animation, and radiant with gratitude and love.
"Oh, Isabella! you told your father that!" cried
Markham. "And yet - you knew not "
"My suspicion amounted almost to a certainty," interrupted
Isabella: "and now I doubt no longer. Oh! Richard - if ever for one moment I
had wavered in my love for you, - if ever an instant of coldness, arising from
worldly reflections, had intervened to make me repent my solemn vows to you, -
that one deed of yours - that noble sacrifice of your property, made to
release my revered parent from a gaol, - that - that atone would have rendered my
heart unalterably thine!"
"Beloved girl - this moment is the happiest of my life!"
exclaimed Markham; and tears of joy filled his eyes, as he pressed the maiden
once more to his heart.
"Yes, Richard," continued Isabella, after a long pause;
and now her splendid countenance was lighted up with an expression of dignity
and generous pride, and the timid, bashful maiden seemed changed into a lady
whose brow was encircled with a diadem; "yes, Richard, if ever I felt that
no deed nor act of mine shall separate us eternally - if ever I rejoiced in the
prospect of possessing wealth, and receiving lustre from my father's princely
"Isabella! " exclaimed Richard, dropping the arm on
which the Italian lady was leaning, and stepping back in the most profound
" Isabella, what mean you?"
"I mean," continued the signora, casting upon him a
glance of deep tenderness and noble pride; "I mean that henceforth,
Richard, I can have no secret from you, - that I must now disclose what has often
before trembled upon my tongue; a secret which my father would not, however, as
yet, have revealed to the English public generally, - the secret of his rank; for
he whom the world knows as the Count Alteroni, is Alberto, Prince of
[-348-] Strange was the effect that this revelation
the young man. He felt, as if, when in a burning heat, a mighty volume of icy
water had suddenly been dashed over him: his head appeared to swim round - his
sight grew dim - he staggered, and would have fallen had not Isabella rushed towards him, exclaiming, "
Richard - dear Richard - do you not
believe how much I love you ?"
Those words produced an instantaneous change within him : those sweet
syllables, uttered in the silvery tones of lovely woman's tenderness - recalled
him to himself.
"Ah! Isabella," he exclaimed, mournfully "how insuperable is the barrier
which divides us now!"
"And - if that barrier to which you allude ever existed, was it less
formidable when you were ignorant of the secret than it is at present?" asked
"It seems so to me," replied Richard. " Are you not placed on an eminence
to which I never can hope to reach? have I not dared to lift my ambitious eyes
towards a Princess - the daughter of one a who will some day wear a sovereign
crown? Oh! now the delusion is gone - I am awakened from a long dream! But,
say - did your highness make this revelation to-day, in order to extinguish my a
adventurous aspirations at once and for ever?"
"Richard, you wrong me - cruelly wrong me!" exclaimed Isabella,
bursting into tears.
"Forgive me - forgive me, sweetest, dearest girl!" cried Markham.
"I was mad - I raved - I knew not what I said "
"Richard, when we met here - once before - you doubted my affection, and
then you asked me to forgive you! How often will you put my feelings to so
cruel a test? how often will you renew those unjust suspicions?"
"O God! what have I done, that I should thus call tears to your eyes, Isabella ? Forgive me,
again - I say - forgive me: on my knees I implore "
"No - no! I think no more of what you said," exclaimed Isabella.
"Calm yourself for my sake!" - and she gazed so tenderly up into his countenance, that he was reassured,
and all his doubts and fears vanished in a moment.
"Yes, Isabella," he said : "I am now calm; and
you - you are an angel!"
"A mere terrestrial one, Richard, I am afraid," returned the Princess,
with a smile. "And now let me speak to you upon the little matter of business to which I alluded in my
note. After I had informed my father that you were the generous unknown who
had been the means of his release from prison, he exclaimed, 'Excellent-hearted
young man! How I have wronged him by my injurious suspicions concerning that
night when the burglary was attempted at our house!' You see that I tell you
his very words."
"Yes - tell me every thing, dear Isabella. And thus, your father no longer
"How can he believe that any one would attempt to rob
him one day, and pay nearly two thousand pounds for him another? "
exclaimed Isabella "Oh, no - he is disabused upon that point. Would that he
were unprejudiced on others!"
"I understand you," said Markham, mournfully. "The
Prince cannot consent to renew his acquaintance with one who has been
subjected to an infamous punishment, and who aspires to the hand of his
"Alas! you have divined but too truly," returned
Isabella, wiping away a tear. "Nevertheless, may we not hope? Already is
one great point gained: my father believes that you may have been unfortunate, and
not guilty. Oh! that is a great obstacle removed! And in my mother, Richard,
you have a warm friend - although her prejudices of rank and family "
"I can well comprehend the sentiments of her Highness,"
answered Markham: "and it is all that which now makes me fear lest "
"Fear not - but hope every thing," said Isabella, who,
however, poor girl! spoke in a more flattering manner than her secret thoughts
would have warranted, had she consulted them; but she saw her lover oppressed
and weighed down by the revelation of that secret which she had considered it
unkind to retain any longer; and she did all she could to console him.
"Yes - I will hope, for both our sakes," said Richard.
"And now let me conclude my little narrative," continued Isabella. " My father resolved to repay you
the money you had so generously advanced, the moment he was enabled; and as the
Grand Duke of Castelcicala has settled upon him an income of ten thousand a
besides an immediate grant of forty thousand pounds, - boons which my father had
only accepted because no political condition was attached to them, and because
they are alleged to be an indemnification for his estates which have been
confiscated, - he only awaited the arrival of his first remittances to acquit
himself of that debt of honour. The day before yesterday he gave this letter,"
added Isabella, taking a small sealed packet from her reticule, "to one of
our servants to convey to the post at Richmond. I demanded it back again
privately of the servant, with the view of placing it myself in your hands, and
- and taking the opportunity to reveal to you a secret which I did not think
it right to keep from you any longer."
"I receive this packet, then, Isabella, with its contents,"
said Markham, pressing her hand as he took it, "because your father is
happily in a position to repay me the trifle which I was enabled to disburse for
his benefit. But ten thousand times more valuable is this sum to me, since its
payment prompted you to grant me this interview."
"I had so much to tell you, Richard," answered the lady,
with a deep blush, "that I could not commit it all to paper. I therefore
adopted this plan- which perhaps is indiscreet "
"Use not that epithet again, dear Isabella," interrupted
Markham. "You assure me that you love me: can you then regret that you have
made me happy by allowing me to see you - to talk to you - to embrace you once again? And yet, in the midst of that
happiness, the sad thought intrudes upon me - 'When shall I see thee again?'"
"Accident may throw us together soon - as it has done are
now," murmured Isabella: "accident - or rather Providence - does so much for us poor mortals."
"But, with your mother's prejudices in favour of rank and
birth, and with your father's high destinies, what hope can exist for so humble
an individual as myself? How can I dare aspire to the hand of a Princess of a
powerful independent state? "
"Did not Miss Eliza Sydney espouse the Grand Duke of
Castelcicala? and she - she also "
"Oh! I remember," exclaimed Markham, seeing that
Isabella hesitated,- "I remember that she also [-349-]
was unfortunate, as I was; and she also endured a weary
imprisonment of two years. Yes - I accept the omen - it is an auspicious one!"
And Richard's handsome countenance was once more animated
with a glow of hope and joy.
Then, in an access of enthusiasm, he exclaimed:
"Oh! if ever this fond aspiration should be realised, -
if ever the humble and obscure Englishman were united to the high-born
and brilliant Italian Princess, how sweet - how sweet would it be for him to owe
rank and fortune to the woman whom he loved so fondly, and whom he would ever
love until the hand of Death should beckon him to the tomb! For myself, I pant
not for the honours and glories of this life; for hadst thou, Isabella, been the
daughter of the lowest peasants. I had loved thee all the same - and had been far,
far more contented, because the obstacles which now oppose our happiness might
then have ceased to exist!"
"Believe me, Richard," answered Isabella, in a tone of witching
tenderness, "believe me, that the happiest day of my life will be that when
I can prove to you the extent of that affection with which you have inspired me;
- and, again I repeat, that if ever I rejoiced in the prospect of that fortune
which, whether my father eventually succeed to the ducal throne or not, he will
be enabled to leave me, - and if ever I felt proud of that high station which my
family enjoys, or indulged in the hope that my parents may one day attain to
sovereign rank, - that joy, that pride, that hope are all experienced on account
of you! For, like you, I care not for the grandeur and ostentation of palaces
;- but it will be a thrice happy day for me, when I can say to thee - 'Richard,
my fortune is all thine, and thou shalt share my rank!' Because, in Castelcicala,
unlike the usages of your native land, he who espouses a Princess becomes a
Prince; and, when you shall be thus exalted, Richard, who will dare to remind
you of the misfortunes of your past life? That is why I rejoice in my present
rank and future prospects, - a joy that is experienced solely on account of you!"
"Noble-hearted girl! what kindness - what
attention - what
devoted love on my part can ever repay thee for these generous feelings - these
endearing proofs of the tenderest attachment!"
"Do you think that I should love you, Richard, as I do,"
returned Isabella, "if I did not know the generosity of your soul - if I did
not appreciate all your virtues? I am well aware that, unfortunately, you are
not rich; and yet you sacrificed - nobly sacrificed your property to release my
parent from a gaol! Oh! how can I ever forget that conduct of yours? You speak
of repaying me for my affection: how much do I not owe to you?"
There was a pause in the conversation, during which the
lovers walked up and down along the edge of the leafless grove, each enjoying
reflections of a pleasurable nature. Isabella leant with charming confidence
upon the arm of that handsome and generous-hearted young man, in whose love she
gloried as if he were the Prince and she were the obscure individual; and he
felt his heart expand with ineffable bliss, as he contemplated the brilliant
prospects which that lovely girl - the proudly-born Princess spread before the
eyes of him - the obscure individual.
More than an hour and a half had already passed, and Isabella
at length remembered that she must' return home.
She intimated to her lover the necessity of separating;
and, with fond embraces and renewed vows, they parted.
Richard watched her receding form until she entered the grove of evergreens
surrounding her father's mansion: he then retraced his steps towards Richmond.
And never was his heart so light as now!
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