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[-52-]

CHAPTER CLVI.

THE DECISION.

RICHARD MARKHAM retired to rest, but not to immediate slumber.
    The proposal of Colonel Morosino was of a most perplexing nature.
    Our hero longed to be enabled to show his devotion to Isabella by exerting himself in what must eventually prove her father's cause; but he was afraid of acting in a manner which might displease the Prince.
    Then he reflected that the Prince had uttered those expressive words, "Were I less than I am, 1 would consent to take up arms in defense of the liberties of Castelcicala."
    The more Richard pondered upon these words, the more was he inclined towards the service proposed to him; and when he remembered that he should be associated with some of the most gallant and disinterested of Italian patriots, he felt a generous ardour thrill and animate his bosom.
    "Oh! if I could but achieve some deed that would render me worthy of Isabella," he thought, "how should I bless the day when I adopted the cause of those brave exiles who now seek my aid! Yes  I will join them, heart and soul; and in me they shall have no lukewarm supporter! The die is cast;  and this resolution must either make or mar me for ever!"
    Richard then gradually fell into a profound slumber: but the subjects of his latest thoughts became the materials of which his dreams were woven.
    Imagination carried him away from his native land, and whirled him on board a vessel which was within sight of the Castelcicalan coasts. Presently a descent upon the land was effected; and then Richard fancied himself to be involved in the thickest of a deadly fight. Next he saw himself entering Montoni at the head of a victorious army; and it seemed to him as if he were the object of attraction [-53-]  as if the salutations of countless multitudes were addressed to him  and as if he returned them! Then the scene changed, by one of those rapid transitions so peculiar to dreams; and he found himself standing at the altar, the lovely Isabella by his side. A tiara of diamonds adorned her brow and on his own was a princely coronet. Then the ceremony was completed; and friends with smiling countenances gathered around to congratulate him and his lovely bride; and the swelling words "Your Highness" and "My Lord" echoed upon his ears. He turned to address his thanks to those who thus felicitated him  and awoke!
    "A dream  a dream!" he exclaimed, as the gay pageantry of the vision yet dwelt vividly in his mind: "but will the most happy episode therein ever be fulfilled?"
    Richard rose with depressed spirits; for a dream of that nature  by raising us to the highest eminence to which our aspirations ever soared, and then dashing us back again to the cold realities of earth  invariably leads to a powerful reaction.
    The day passed without any incident of importance; and by the time the evening arrived, Richard had recovered his mental serenity.
    Punctual to his appointment, Colonel Morosino made his appearance.
    He came in a chaise, accompanied by another individual; but the latter did not alight from the vehicle.
    "Mr. Markham," said the Colonel, when he was alone with our hero, in the library, "have you made up your mind?"
    "I have," answered Richard, in a decided tone.
    "And your decision  "
    "Is to join you, heart and soul  to throw myself with enthusiasm into your cause  to co-operate with you as if I were a Castelcicalan subject," said Richard, his handsome countenance glowing with animation, his line dark eyes flashing fire, and his nostrils dilating with the ardour which filled his soul.
    "I am no prophet, if you ever repent this decision," said Colonel Morosino, pressing Richard's hands warmly. "Will you now permit me to introduce a gentleman who has accompanied me?"
    'With much pleasure," answered Markham.
    The Colonel stepped out, and at the expiration of a few moments returned, accompanied by a tall, thin, military-looking man, whose lofty bearing and eagle eye bespoke him as one who had been accustomed to command.
    "Mr. Markham," said the Colonel, "may you soon become better acquainted with General Grachia."
    The veteran proffered Richard his hand with true military frankness, and observed, "I rejoice to find that your decision is favourable to our views."
    "You will also find that I shall be zealous and unwearied in your service," rejoined Markham.
    "Our proceedings," continued General Grachia, "must be conducted with caution, so that no rumour prejudicial to our measures may reach Castelcicala."
    "I believe it to be understood," said Markham, "that should the Grand Duke change his policy to such an extent that the Castelcicalans may obtain their just rights and privileges by means of his concessions, before our own projects shall be ripe for execution,  that, in this case, we at once abandon them."
    "Assuredly," replied General Grachia. "God knows the purity of my motives, and that I would not plunge my country into civil war without the pressure of a dire necessity. Neither am I adopting extreme measures from vindictive motives because the Grand Duke has banished me not only from office but also from the territory. Had I assented to his despotic decrees I might have retained my high position in the cabinet, and aggrandized my own fortunes at the same time. As a proof of my integrity, Mr. Markham, read this document."
    The General produced from his pocketbook a letter which had been sealed with the ducal signet, and was addressed "To His Excellency General Grachia, Minister Secretary of State for the Department of War."
    This document he handed to Richard, who found that it was an autograph letter from the Grand Duke to the General, written at the time when the military disturbances occurred at Montoni. It remonstrated with General Grachia for refusing to countersign the ordinance decreeing the disbandment of the three regiments, and promising him the rank of Marquis and the Premiership if he would but consent to aid his Serene Highness in carrying out the proposed rigorous measures.
    "To this letter I replied by sending in my resignation," said General Grachia; "and thus I wrecked my own fortunes, and made my wife and children exiles."
    "You acted nobly  like a true patriot," cried Markham, contemplating the veteran with admiration. "If for one instant I entertained a scruple in embracing your cause, it is now annihilated; for you have honoured me with the most convincing proofs of your patriotism."
    "I served the Grand Duke faithfully," said the General; "and I cannot reproach myself for any measure which I ever recommended to his Serene Highness. Although deeply attached to Prince Alberto, I did not oppose the marriage of the Grand Duke; because I believed that, upon principle, sovereigns are entitled to as much freedom in affairs so nearly touching their domestic happiness, as any of their subjects. I saw in the present Grand Duchess an amiable lady; and I knew that she was a virtuous one from the strong recommendations which she received from his Highness Prince Alberto and the Earl of Warrington to myself and my family. I supported, then, that marriage upon principle  upon a conviction which I entertain. I believe that sovereigns have a right to consult their own happiness in marriage; but I never will admit that they have a right to enslave their subjects. I will maintain the privileges of princes, when I consider them encroached upon by the people: With equal readiness will I protect the people against the tyranny of princes."
    Richard listened with admiration to these noble sentiments; and he could not help exclaiming, "How blind sovereigns often seem to the merits and honesty of those who would counsel them wisely!"
    "Such is too frequently the case," observed Colonel Morosino.
    "The plan upon which I propose to act is simply this," resumed General Grachia:  "one of the most humble, but not the least sincere, of those [-54-] refugees who support us, will take a house in London in his own name; and there shall our headquarters be fixed. There shall we hold our meetings; and thence will our correspondence be expedited to those whom we can trust, and on whose support we can rely. In order to avoid all cause of suspicion, I shall take a house for myself and suite at the West End, where I shall, however, lead a comparatively secluded life. Fortunately, the greater portion of my property consisted in money in the public funds of Castelcicala; and for that I obtained securities which may be easily realised in London. My friend Morosino stands in the same position Between us we can muster some twenty thousand pounds; and other exiles, who are favourable to our views, can throw ten thousand more into the common stock."
    "To which I shall also be permitted to contribute my quota," interrupted Richard.
    "Not if we can manage without it," answered General Grachia; "and I have no doubt that pecuniary resources will not be wanting in this good cause."
    The General then proceeded to a more detailed development of his plans; but as we shall have to deal with them fully hereafter, we will take leave of the subject for the present.
    Before we conclude this chapter we must record two or three little incidents that maintain the continuous thread of our narrative.
    A week after the demise of Miss Gregory the funeral took place at a suburban cemetery The bereaved father and afflicted brothers were the chief, mourners; but Richard also followed the remains of the departed girl to the tomb. An elegant but chaste and unassuming monument marks the spot where she reposes in her narrow bed.
    At the expiration of the seven days during which she had been remanded, Katherine was examined a second time before the magistrate, and was fully committed for trial.
    A Coroner's Inquest had in the meantime recorded a verdict of Wilful Murder against her.
    She was accordingly conveyed to Newgate.
    But Richard Markham did not neglect her interests; and Morris Benstead was busy in adopting every possible measure to fathom the deep mystery in which the awful deed was still shrouded.

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