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[-107-]

CHAPTER CLXXV.

MONTONI

    It was nine o'clock at night when the post-chaise entered the capital of Castelcicala
    In spite of his unfortunate position, — a prisoner, defeated in his grand aims, and with all his hopes apparently blasted, — Richard could not help feeling a glow of pleasure when he thus found himself in the sovereign city which was the birth place of his well-beloved Isabella.
    But, oh! in what a state did he now enter its walls!
    Instead of accompanying a victorious army to proclaim Alberto Grand Duke of Castelcicala, — instead of the society of the patriotic Grachia and the heroic Morosino, — instead of hearing the welcome voices of a liberated people echoing around, — the young man was in the custody of a subaltern, and, for aught he knew, on his way to a dungeon!
    Then — Grachia, Morosino, and the other chiefs of the enterprise — where were they?
    Numbered with the dead — or captives in the hands of a savage conqueror!
    Oh! how were Markham's fondest hopes blasted! how were his elysian dreams dissipated by the mocking reality of disaster and defeat!
    Now, too, how much farther than ever was be removed from the sole object of his toils, — the only hope of his existence, — the hand of Isabella!
    Her father, who had all along discountenanced the projects of the Constitutionalists, but who would naturally have pardoned them had they succeeded, could not for a moment be expected to forgive the survivors of that terrible defeat!
    All these gloomy ideas annihilated in a moment the temporary glow of pleasure which our hero had experienced on entering Montoni.
    The chaise traversed the southern part of the metropolis, crossed the Ferretti by a noble bridge, [-108-] and entered the most fashionable and imposing quarter of that portion of the city which stands on the northern side of the river.
    At length it stopped at an hotel.
    "We shall alight here," said Mario Bazzano.
    "But this is not a prison!" exclaimed Richard.
    "I never told you that you were on your way to such a place," returned the aide-de-camp, laughing.
    "Did you not hint at imprisonment, signor?" said our hero, Surprised at the kind forbearance shown towards him — captured, as he had been, with arms in his hand against the reigning Prince.
    "That may, or may not happen," replied Bazzano. "At all events, here we will alight: and, remember, while in my charge, you are on your parole. It is not necessary to let the gossips of this tavern know who you are, or why you are here with me."
    "My honour is pledged, and the vow will be punctually fulfilled," said Markham.
    They then descended from the vehicle, and were conducted to a private apartment in the hotel.
    Bazzano ordered refreshments: then, as soon as he himself had drunk a glass of wine and eaten a mouthful of food, he left the room, simply observing, "I may be absent nearly an hour; but I will thank you not to retire to rest until my return."
    Markham bowed an acquiescence with this request; and, as soon as the door had closed behind the aide-de-camp, he exclaimed, "If Signor Bazzano be a fair specimen of the Castelcicalans generally, they are a glorious race!"
    "Some kind power seems to protect you in this country, Mr. Markham," observed Morcar.
    "I candidly confess that I am at a loss to interpret these occurrences," returned our hero. "At the moment when the cord is round my neck, the mention of my name saves my life, and Converts an enemy into a stanch friend. Even the ferocious Captain-General of Abrantani relaxes all his natural severity in my behalf. Then, instead of being chained, I am scarcely guarded: instead of being placed between two soldiers with loaded muskets, I am allowed to remain upon parole. He who has charge of me, leaves me for an hour, with a simple request not to retire to rest until his return! Yes — some secret power protects me. It is true that a few years ago I once met her who now occupies a seat on the Grand-ducal throne," he continued, rather musing to himself, than addressing his words to Morcar; "but she can scarcely remember-or, even if she do — could not be supposed to interest herself in one so obscure, so humble as I!"
    Then he paced the room — lost in conjecture, and giving way to the immense variety of reflections which his position was calculated to engender.
    In an hour the young aide-de-camp returned.
    "Signor Markham," he said, "you will have the kindness to accompany me whither I shall conduct you. You," he added, addressing himself to Morcar, "must await our return here."
    Richard signified his readiness to follow Bazzano; and they left the hotel together.
    It was now past eleven o'clock; and, though the shops were all closed, the streets of Mouton were resplendent with the lustre which streamed from the windows of the cafés, restaurants, and clubhouses.
    Markham could not help observing to his companion that there appeared to be numerous patrols of military moving about in the capital, and that the sentinels were posted along the streets at very short intervals.
    "The news of this morning's invasion reached Montoni several hours ago," answered the aide-de-camp; "and I do not disguise from you the fact that until this strong military demonstration was made, the city was in an extraordinary ferment. This I heard just now, previous to my return to the hotel."
    "The reigning Grand Duke seems very unpopular," observed Markham.
    Bazzano made no reply: it was evident that he could not contradict the assertion; and, being in his sovereign's service, he could not with propriety corroborate it.
    A quarter of an hour's rapid walking brought our hero and the young officer to an immense square; and the magnificent buildings on two sides thereof sited a brilliant light from their ample casements.
    "This is the ducal palace," said Mario.
    Crossing the square, the officer led the way towards a small door in one of the angles of the immense edifice.
    Mario knocked gently; and the door was immediately opened by a tall servant in a gorgeous livery.
    Markham followed his companion into a small vestibule, brilliantly lighted, and at the Cod of which was a narrow staircase carpetted all over.
    Not a word was spoken: the domestic bowed as the two young men passed him; and Bazzano led the way up the staircase, which, was lighted by lamps held in the hands of marble statues placed in recesses.
    On the landing which the visitors speedily reached, an usher, dressed in black, and wearing a massive gold chain, advanced to receive them; and, opening a door, conducted them into an ante-room, where he requested them to be seated.
    He then opened another door on the opposite side from which they had entered the room, and disappeared for a few minutes.
    On his return, he desired Markham to follow him.
    Our hero obeyed, and was led through several magnificent apartments, all brilliantly lighted, but unoccupied at the moment.
    At length the usher paused in a room smaller, but more elegantly furnished, than any of the proceding ones; and, having requested our hero to take a seat, he retired by the same door by which they had entered that room.
    For a few minutes Richard remained alone with his reflections.
    He was now in the Castelcicalan palace. But wherefore had he been brought thither? Was it to undergo an examination before the Grand Duke, relative to the invasion of the morning? was it to be overwhelmed with reproaches by that sovereign against whom, and without provocation, he had borne arms? Could treachery be meditated? No — that idea was absurd. He was so completely in the power of the Grand Duke, that there had been no need to exercise treachery towards him, if punishment were intended.
    Then our hero thought of the Grand Duchess. Had she learnt that he was engaged in the expedition? had she remembered his name? was it through her he had received that treatment from Mario Bazzano which had so astonished him? could [-109-] it be possible that she would interest herself in him?
    He was in the midst of his reverie, when a door opposite to where he was sitting, suddenly opened; and a lady, elegantly attired, with a tiara of diamonds upon her brow, entered the apartment.
    One glance was sufficient for Richard Markham! He immediately recognised the beautiful woman whom he had seen five years previously, disguised in male attire, at Mrs. Arlington's lodgings, and whose singular history had subsequently reached his ears when he was imprisoned at the same time as herself, though of course not in the same department, in Newgate.
    Yes — he recognised her who was once Eliza Sidney; and he now bent his head to the grand Duchess of Castelcicala.
    Although somewhat pale, and showing a slightly deeper shade of that melancholy expression which her countenance had acquired during her captivity of two years, Eliza was still eminently lovely.
    Her form had expanded into those proportions which indicated the maturity of her charms, but which gave to her beauty a voluptuousness that was only attempered by the chaste glances of her melting hazel eyes, and the halo of purity which dwelt on her lofty and spotless brow.
    And well fitted was that pure and open forehead to be crowned with the glittering tiara which denoted her sovereign rank, and which set off to such exquisite advantage the large bands of her light, luxuriant, shining, chesnut hair!
    Her walk was a dignified and yet harmonious motion; — her gesture expressed no particle of hauteur, but still denoted a consciousness of the respect which she felt to be due to her position as a Princess, and to her character as a woman.
    "Resume your seat, Mr. Markham," she said in a sweet tone, and with a manner full of grace: then, placing herself on a sofa at a short distance, she added, "I have had the pleasure of seeing you before; but little did I then suppose that the next time we met, it would be under such circumstances as these."
    "I comprehend your Serene Highness," answered Markham, firmly, but respectfully. "We meet — your Highness as a sovereign Princess, and I as a prisoner at the disposal of those who have power to command in this State."
    "Such is indeed the fact, Mr. Markham," returned the Grand Duchess, with a half smile. "But I did not send for you hither to reproach you. Doubtless you considered yourself justified in the proceedings which you have adopted, and in joining the cause of those mistaken men who this morning set hostile feet upon these shores; — for I have received from an agent of mine in England assurances of your honourable nature and estimable character; and I did not fail some time since to issue those secret instructions to the various authorities, which saved your life this morning, and ensured you good treatment at the hands of those into whose power you were doomed to fall. Moreover, I learn that you behaved most gallantly in the conflict between your party and the ducal troops; and I can respect bravery, Mr. Markham, even in an enemy."
    "Your Serene Highness will give me credit for the sincerity with which I express my gratitude for the kindness that I have received at your hands, said Markham; "especially under circumstances, which — whatever opinion I may entertain of them — could not have served me as a very favourable passport to the notice of your Highness."
    "Mr. Markham," returned the Grand Duchess, "you are an Englishman — and that is one reason to induce me to exercise some leniency in your case; for however profoundly my interests may be identified with this country, it is impossible that I can forget my own. Secondly, I am better acquainted with your history than you imagine. Do you remember an anonymous letter which your late father received — some years ago, — yes — it was in 1831, I believe, — warning him of a burglarious attempt which was contemplated in respect to his abode?"
    "I remember well the letter to which your Highness alludes," answered Markham, surprised at this mention of an incident which had occurred only a short time previously to the separation of himself and his brother on the hill-top.
    "That letter was written by myself," said the Grand Duchess, with a smile.
    "Written by your Highness!" ejaculated Markham, more and more amazed at what he heard.
    "Yes, Mr. Markham," continued Eliza "it was I who sent that warning. Circumstances enabled me to overhear the discourse of two miscreants in whose den I accidentally took refuge during a storm, and whence I narrowly escaped with my life. But enough of that: I merely mentioned the circumstance to show you that your name has long been familiar to me. Then, about four years after that event, I met you at the abode of a lady from whom I have since received signal kindnesses, and who is now the Countess of Warrington."
    "I remember that evening well, your Highness, observed Richard.
    "Afterwards," resumed the Grand Duchess, sinking her voice, "you and I were the inmates of a tenement whose severity you deserved perhaps much less than I — though heaven knows the artifice that was used to involve me in that desperate venture!"
    "Your Serene Highness has heard, then that I too was innocent of the crime laid to my charge!" said Markham.
    "I imagined so when I first learnt the particulars of your case at the time of its occurrence," answered the Grand Duchess; "and my agent in England has lately confirmed me in that belief. Then again," she added, with an arch smile, "I am not ignorant of the motives which induced you to embark, like a gallant cavalier, in the enterprise whose results have led to this interview."
    "Your Serene Highness will not wrong, by injurious suspicions, an exiled family!" said Markham, well knowing to what Eliza alluded.
    "No!" exclaimed the Grand Duchess, solemnly "I am aware that Prince Alberto did not countenance the expedition; and I can scarcely believe that his charming daughter," she continued, archly smiling again, "could have been very ready to permit you to embark on so mad an enterprise. You see, Mr. Markham, that I am acquainted with more than you would have supposed me to know. And now perhaps, you will be surprised, when I assure you that I entertain the most profound respect and esteem for Prince Alberto and his family — although I have never seen them. But, oh!" exclaimed Eliza, wiping away a tear, "how great was my grief when I learnt, this afternoon, that my friend General Grachia had fallen in the conflict of the morning!" [-110-]
    "General Grachia invariably spoke to me in the most pleasing terms of your Serene Highness," observed Richard.
    "Do not think, Mr. Markham," said the Grand Duchess, after a pause, during which she seemed a prey to deep thoughts — "do not think that I have been a party to all the instances of severity and sentences of exile which have lately characterised the political history of Castelcicala. No, Mr. Markham — I would not have you think unworthily of your fellow-countrywoman. But, enough of that! You can well imagine that I am not all-powerful here: — otherwise," she added, with a sigh, "it would be different! Time is, however, pressing; and I have not yet spoken to you on the matter which ought to form the principal topic of our conversation; — I mean your own position. You have heard enough from my lips to show you that you are not unknown to me, and that there are consequently reasons which have induced me to interest myself in your behalf. But, as I ere now observed, my power is not unlimited; and although my secret wishes are commands in the eyes of Count Santa. Croce and his officers, still my influence is not sufficient to protect you from the vengeance of the Grand Duke, did he know that one of the invaders was at large and unpunished in his dominions. It is true that I can soften his rigour — as I shall do in respect to those unhappy prisoners — "
    "God be thanked that their condition excites the compassion of your Serene Highness!" exclaimed Markham fervently. "A weight is removed from my mind by this assurance!"
    "Rest satisfied on that head," said Eliza. "I can promise you that imprisonment is the worst punishment which shall overtake any of them."
    When Eliza had first entered the room, Richard had bowed his head low to the Grand Duchess, but now he sank on his bended knee in presence of the humane and tender-hearted woman.
    Eliza felt the full force of this expression of feeling: — it rewarded her for her goodness!
    She extended her hand towards him; and he respectfully touched it with his lips.
    Then he rose, and resumed his seat.
    Oh! at that moment, how sweet-how sweet to the amiable and noble-minded woman, — noble in nature, as well as in name, — was the possession of power; — and how amply recompensed was she for its humane use, by that spontaneous tribute of respect which she had just received from her fellow countryman!
    "Mr. Markham," she said, after a pause, "you must escape from Castelcicala: but that is not so easy a matter as you may haply imagine The Castelcicalan steam-frigates will rigorously guard the coast by sea, and the custom-house officers by land; and not a ship will leave one of our ports without being searched. Orders to that effect have already been issued by the Minister of Marine; and I dare not interfere to prevent their full operation Are you bold enough to strike far into the country, is traverse its length, and obtain refuge in the Neapolitan kingdom!"
    "And wherefore not in the Roman States, my lady?" asked Richard. "Their frontier is but a day's distance from Montoni."
    "Because the Grand Duke has concluded a league, offensive and defensive, with the Pope; and you would assuredly be detected in the dominions of his Holiness, and sent ignominiously back to Montoni — in which case, Mr. Markham, I could not save you."
    "And what chance of safety do I possess by following the plan suggested by your Serene Highness?"
    "Every chance," was the decided reply. "In the first place, Signor Mario Bazzano will procure for you a passport: his uncle is Under-Secretary for the Interior. This passport, made out for you in a fictitious name, will be dated from Montoni, and the various authorities will never suspect that one of the invaders could possibly have obtained such a document from the capital itself. Secondly, you can purchase a portfolio with drawing materials and pass yourself off for an English artist, sent to Castelcicala to design some of the most striking features of Italian scenery. By these means there wall be an ostensible reason for avoiding the great cities and towns; and no suspicion will be excited by your keeping as much as possible to the open country. Does my plan please you?"
    "How can I ever sufficiently express my gratitude to your Serene Highness for all this kind consideration — this unlooked-for generosity?" cried Markham.
    "By abstaining from plans of invasion or insurrection in future," answered Eliza.
    "Ah! how can I pledge myself to such a condition!" exclaimed Richard. "Should circumstances induce or compel Prince Alberto to strike a blow — "
    "I fully comprehend you," interrupted the Grand Duchess. "In that case, I impose no conditions whatsoever upon you. Go, Mr. Markham — adopt the plan which I have suggested — and you will soon be beyond the reach of danger. And excuse me," she added, after a moment's pause, "if I act as your banker, as well as your adviser. Use this purse; and, on your arrival in England, you can liquidate the debt by affording succour to any needy Castelcicalan whom chance may throw in your way."
    "Before I receive this new proof of your goodness — before I take my leave, — your Serene Highness must permit me, on my bended knee," — and our hero sank to that posture as he spoke, — "to declare that, while I shall henceforth consider myself indebted to your Highness in an obligation which I can never repay, — while I shall ever hold myself ready to serve your Highness by day and night, and to dare every earthly danger in so doing — in order to evince my gratitude for all that your Highness has this day done for me, — still I would rather be delivered up to the hands of justice, — I would rather die on the scaffold to-morrow, or take my stand in front of a platoon, — than renounce — Englishman — foreigner though I be-the cause of Castelcicalan liberty!"
    "Rise, headstrong — foolish young man," exclaimed the Grand Duchess, smiling. "I seek to impose no conditions upon you. "Go; and when once you are beyond the Castelcicalan territory, use your own free will — let no shackle of any kind curb the ardour of your soul. At the same time, beware! On another occasion, I may seek to protect you in vain!"
    "Never — never again, your Highness, will I wantonly aid in provoking civil strife in Castelcicala!" ejaculated Richard. "Two motives shall along henceforth be powerful enough to induce me to unsheath the hostile weapon in this clime." [-111-]
    "And which are they!" asked Eliza, still half smiling as she spoke.
    "In obedience to the command of Prince Alberto — and then only if his cause be just; or in order to relieve Castelcicala from some foreign invader."
    "And may God grant that neither of those alternatives shall ever occur!" said the Grand Duchess. "But our interview has already lasted a long time; and delay is dangerous to you."
    Eliza once more extended her hand towards our hero, who pressed it respectfully, but with fervour, to his lips.
    He then withdrew.
    In the adjoining apartment he found the usher waiting for him.
    They retraced their steps to the ante-room, where Signor Mario Bazzano was seated, expecting their return.
    In a few minutes our hero and the young aide-de-camp were on their way back to the hotel.
    During the walk, Bazzano said, "I presume you have assented to the plan which her Highness has devised for your safe retreat into the Neapolitan territory?"
    Markham replied in the affirmative.
    "In that case I will procure passports for yourself and attendant, to-morrow morning," observed the young officer. "But, for the present, we all three stand in need of rest."    

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