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[-135-]

CHAPTER CLXXIX.

THE JOURNEY.

    RICHARD MARKHAM struck into the fields, and pursued his way in a southerly direction.
    He avoided even the small hamlets, and kept as much as possible in the open country.
    Being unaware of the precise nature of the danger which menaced his life,  although of course connecting it with the part which he had recently played in the invasion,  he feared lest printed descriptions of his person, with rewards for his apprehension, might be circulated; and this source of terror induced him to choose the most secluded paths.
    It was long after sunset when he stopped at a small country public-house, where he determined to rest for the night.
    To his great joy the coffee-room was unoccupied by other travellers; and the landlord appeared a simple, honest kind of half-farmer, half-publican [-136-] who never troubled himself about any one's business save his own.
    A good supper and a bottle of very excellent wine tended to raise our hero's spirits: and when the meal was concluded, he fell into a train of meditation on the events of the preceding evening.
    A thousand times did he ask himself who could be the occupant of that chaise which was journeying in such haste? for that there was some person inside the vehicle, who had urgent reasons for the utmost circumspection, the fact of the drawn blinds would not permit him to doubt. Moreover, the young aide-de-camp was evidently riding outside for the purpose of answering any questions that might be put, paying the bills, directing the postillions, and in all respects acting with a view to save the person or persons inside from the necessity of giving their own orders.
    The words  "Terrible events have occurred at Montoni"  were also fraught with a most menacing and mysterious importance. What could they mean? whom had these events endangered? Was it possible that the kindness of the Grand Duchess towards himself had been detected? And if so, what results could such a discovery have produced?
    While he was thus lost in the most painful conjectures, a horseman suddenly galloped up to the door of the inn; and in a few moments the traveller himself entered the coffee-room.
    He was a slightly-built, middle-aged man, with a good-humoured expression of countenance. He was attired in a kind of undress cavalry uniform,. consisting of a foraging-cap with a broad gold band, a laced jacket, trousers with a red stripe down each leg, and a very small black leathern knapsack at his back.
    "Now, landlord," he exclaimed, as he entered the room, followed by the individual whom ho thus addressed, "some supper at once-not a moment's unnecessary delay  and see that a fresh horse is ready in twenty minutes. That is all the rest I can allow myself here."
    The landlord bustled about to serve up the best his house could afford in such haste; and in the meantime the new-corner addressed himself to our hero.
    "Rather chilly this evening, sir," he said.
    "And yet you can scarcely feel the cold, considering the pace at which you appear to ride," returned Richard with a smile.
    "Egad! I do not ride so for pleasure, I can assure you," observed the man. "But I presume that you are travelling in this country for your amusement," he added: "for I perceive by your accent that you are not a Castelcicalan, and I can judge your avocation by that portfolio lying near you."
    "You have guessed correctly," answered Richard. "Have you travelled far to-day?"
    "A considerable distance. I am, as perhaps you may know by my dress, a government courier: and I am the bearer of dispatches from Montoni to the Captain-General of Montecuculi."
    "Any thing new in the capital?" asked Richard, scarcely able to conceal the anxiety with which he waited for a reply.
    "Great news," was the answer. "The Grand Duchess has fled."
    "Fled!" ejaculated Markham.
    "Yes  left the capital  gone no one knows where, and no-one knows why." continued the courier. "Montoni is in a dreadful ferment. Martial law was proclaimed there the day before yesterday; and a tremendous crowd collected in the Palace-square in the evening. The military were called out, but refused to fire upon the people. Numerous conflicting reports are in circulation: some say that the Grand Duke has sent to demand the aid of an Austrian force. The people attacked the mansion of the Prime Minister; and the firmness of the Political Prefect alone prevented serious mischief. In fact, sir," added the courier, sinking his voice to a whisper, "we are on the eve of great events; and for my part-although I am in the government employment-I don't think it a treason to say that I would as soon serve Alberto as Angelo."
    At that moment the landlord entered with a tray containing the courier's supper; and the conversation ceased. Nor had our hero an opportunity of reviving it; for the courier was too busily engaged with his knife and fork to utter a word during his meal; and the moment it was terminated, he wished Markham good night and took his departure.
    Still our hero had gleaned enough to afford him some clue to the mystery of the post-chaise. The Grand Duchess had fled: the reason of her flight was not publicly known. Was it not probable that she was an occupant of the post-chaise which journeyed so swiftly? did not this idea receive confirmation from the fact that Mario Bazzano accompanied the vehicle?
    Then again occurred the question, had the Grand Duchess involved herself in difficulty by her generosity towards him? The bare supposition of such an occurrence was the source of the most poignant anguish in the breast of Richard Markham.
    He retired to rest; but his sleep was uneasy; and he awoke at an early hour, little refreshed. He was however compelled to pursue his melancholy journey, which he resumed with a heavy heart and with a mind oppressed by a thousand vague apprehensions.
    There was one circumstance which especially afflicted him. He had not dared to write a letter to Isabella; and he knew that the tidings of the failure of the invasion would shortly reach her. Then what must be her feelings! She would believe that he had either fallen in the conflict, or was a prisoner in some Castelcicalan fortress; and he entertained so profound a conviction of her love for him,  a love as sincere as that which he experienced for her,  that he dreaded the effects which would be produced upon her by the most painful uncertainty or the worst apprehensions concerning his fate.
    Still, how could he write to her with any hope that the letter would reach her? In the existing condition of Castelcicala, he felt persuaded that all correspondence addressed to Prince Alberto or any member of his family, would be intercepted. This conviction had hitherto prevented him from addressing a word to that charming girl whose image was ever present to his mind.
    But as he journeyed wearily along, it suddenly struck him that he might write to Whittingham, and enclose a note for Isabella. Besides, he was also anxious to acquaint that faithful servant, as well as Mr. Monroe and Ellen, with the hopes that he entertained of being shortly enabled to return to his native land. He accordingly resolved to put the project into execution.
    For that purpose he was compelled to pass the [-137-] 

next night at a town where there was a post-office. He wrote his letters in the most guarded manner, and omitted the signature. When they were safely consigned to the letter-box, he felt as if a considerable load had been taken off his mind.
    At this town he gleaned a great deal of information concerning the agitated condition of the country. Martial law had been proclaimed in every province; and the worst fears existed as to the Grand Duke's ulterior views. The idea of Austrian intervention appeared to be general; and deep, though not loud, were the curses which were levelled against the policy of that sovereign who could venture to call in a foreign soldiery to rivet the shackles of slavery which he had imposed upon his subjects.
    One circumstance peculiarly struck our hero: the Grand Duke seemed to possess no supporters  no apologists. The hatred excited by his tyranny was universal. Castelcicala only required a champion to stand forward  a leader to proclaim the cause of liberty  and Richard felt convinced that the whole nation would rise as one man against the despot.
    That the Grand Duchess had fled precipitately from Montoni, was a fact now well known; but the motives and details of her departure were still veiled in the most profound mystery.
    There was another circumstance which forced itself on Markham's observation: this was that the deepest sympathy existed in behalf of the prisoners who had been taken in the conflict near Ossore, and who, it seemed, had all been despatched to the fortress of Estella. Richard's prowess in rallying the troops also appeared to be well known; and on more occasions than one, during his wanderings in Castelcicala, did he find himself the object of the most flattering discourse, while those who eulogised him little suspected that the hero of their panegyric was so near.
    But it is not our intention to follow him through those wanderings. Suffice it to say that he found his journey more wearisome than he had anticipated; and that he was frequently compelled to avail himself of a carrier's van along the by-roads, or to hire a horse, in order to diminish the fatigue. of his wayfaring.
    It was on the twelfth evening after he left Friuli, [-138-] where he had parted with Morcar, that he crossed the river Usiglio at a ferry about four miles to the east of Pinalla.
    He was now only forty miles from the Neapolitan frontier; and in twenty-four hours more he fondly hoped to be beyond the reach of danger.
    He had partaken of but little refreshment during that day, for the nearer he approached the point where peril would cease and safety begin, the more anxious did he become.
    Having crossed the ferry, he inquired of the boatman the way to the nearest inn. A dreary by-lane was pointed out to him, with an intimation that it would lead to a small public-house, at the distance of about a mile.
    Richard pursed his way, and had proceeded about three hundred yards down the lane, which was shaded on either side by large chesnut-trees, when several individuals rushed upon him so suddenly that he had no time to offer any effectual resistance.
    He, however, struggled desperately, as two of the banditti (for such his assailants were) attempted to bind his arms with cords.
    But his endeavour to free himself from their grasp were vain and fruitless, and only provoked a rougher treatment at their hands; for one of the banditti drew a pistol from his belt, and with the butt-end of the weapon aimed a desperate blow at our hero's head.
    Richard fell, bleeding and insensible, upon the ground.

     * * * * *

    When he opened his eyes again, he found himself lying in a comfortable bed.
    Putting aside the damask-silk curtains, he glanced anxiously around the room, which was sumptuously furnished.
    He fell back on his pillow, and strove to collect his scattered ideas. His head pained him: he raised his hand to his forehead, and found that it was bandaged.
    Then the attack of the banditti in the dark lane flashed across his mind; and he mechanically thrust his hand into his bosom.
    Alas! Armstrong's letter was gone!

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