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[-147-]

CHAPTER CLXXXIII.

KIND FRIENDS.

    WE left Richard Markham at the moment when, awaking in a strange bed, he perceived that Thomas Armstrong's letter was gone!
    It would be impossible to describe his grief at this discovery.
    The mysterious document, which he had treasured with so much care, and concerning which such particular instructions had been left by his departed friend,  a document which seemed so intimately to [-148-] regard his future welfare,  had been wrested from him!
    For a few moments he remained a prey to the deepest dejection; and tears stole into his eyes.
    But he was not allowed to remain long in that unpleasant reverie.
    The door opened slowly; and a light step approached his couch.
    He drew aside the curtain, and beheld a middle-aged lady, elegantly dressed, and with a countenance on which the Almighty had written the word "Benevolence" in characters so legible, that a savage might have read and learnt to revere them.
    Advancing close up to the bed, the lady said, in a soft tone, and in the Italian language:  "Be not alarmed, Signor Markham; you are with those who will treat you as your dauntless valour and noble mind deserve."
    "Where am I, madam?" asked our hero, reassured by the lady's words and manner.
    "In the house of my brother, Signor Viviani, the most eminent banker in Pinalla," answered the lady.
    "And how did you discover my name, Signora?" inquired Richard.
    "By means of a letter which was secured in a morocco-case about your person, and is now safe in my brother's possession," returned Signora Viviani.
    "A thousand thanks, lady, for that assurance  a thousand sincere and grateful thanks!" exclaimed Markham, new life as it were animating his soul.
    "Hush! "cried the banker's sister, placing her finger upon her lip: "you must not give way to excitement of feelings. You have been ill  very ill."
    "How long, Signora, has this illness lasted?"
    "Ten days," was the reply. "You have been delirious."
    "Ten days!" ejaculated Richard. "Alas! poor Morcar  what will he think? where can he be?"
    "Morcar is safe and knows that you are here, Signor," said the lady. "But do not excite yourself. Providence has allowed you to suffer, for its own wise and inscrutable purposes; but it never deserts the good and great."
    "Ah! lady, how can I ever thank you sufficiently for the goodness of yourself and your brother towards one who is a perfect stranger to you?" said Markham, pressing the lady's hand respectfully to his lips.
    "You are not altogether so much a stranger to us as you imagine," observed the banker's sister, with a mysterious but good-natured smile. "But I will not tantalize, nor excite you by keeping you in suspense. Your deceased countryman Thomas Armstrong was my brother's intimate friend."
    "Is this possible?" cried Markham, overjoyed at such welcome intelligence. "Then Providence has not indeed deserted me!"
    "I will now hasten and fetch my brother to see you," said the lady. "He is burning with impatience for the moment when he can converse with you."
    Signora Viviani left the room, and shortly returned, accompanied by a gentleman of about sixty, and whose countenance was as expressive of excellent qualities as her own.
    "Here is our patient, brother," said the lady, with a smite: "a patient, however, only in one sense, for he has been very impatient in his queries; and now we must satisfy his curiosity in all respects."
    "I am delighted to find that you are able to devote a thought to such matters, my dear young friend," exclaimed the banker, pressing both Markham's hands cordially in his own; "for as a friend do I indeed regard you," added the excellent man.
    "How can I possibly have deserved such kind a sympathy at your hands?" asked Richard, over-powered by so much goodness.
    "Your deceased and much lamented friend Thomas Armstrong was as a brother to me, during his residence at different times in Castelcicala," answered the banker; "and he constantly corresponded with me when he was in his native country. In the letters which he wrote during the last two years of his life, he mentioned you in terms which, did I know nothing else meritorious on your part, would have induced me to welcome you as a friend  as a son. But your noble conduct in the late attempt to release Castelcicala from the sway of a tyrant, and place that excellent Prince Alberto on the ducal throne, has confirmed my good opinion of you  if any such confirmation were necessary. I learnt from Armstrong that you were generous. intelligent, and virtuous: recent events have shown a that you are brave and liberal-minded."
    "How rejoiced I am that my conduct in that unhappy affair merits your approval," said Richard. "I have often trembled, since the fatal day when so many brave spirits came to these coasts to meet death or imprisonment, lest the more sensible portion of the Castelcicalan community should look upon the expedition as one concocted only by selfish or insane adventurers."
    "Selfish or insane!" ejaculated Viviani. "Was Grachia selfish or insane? was Morosino a mere adventurer? Oh! no  Castelcicala weeps over the bloody graves of her patriots; and thousands of tongues are familiar with the name of Richard Markham."
    The countenance of our hero became animated with a glow of generous enthusiasm as these words met his ears.
    "How handsome he is!" exclaimed the banker's sister. "An old woman like me may say so without impropriety," she added smiling; "and even the Princess Isabella would not be offended, did she overhear me."
    "The Princess!" ejaculated Richard, surprised at this allusion to that beautiful lady.
    "You must not be angry with your faithful Morcar," said the banker's sister, smiling, "if he betrayed your secret. But it was with a good motive. When he found that you were with those who were anxious to be considered in the light of your friends, he communicated to us your secret respecting the Princess, in order that we might write to her and relieve her mind of all anxiety by assuring her that you were safe and well. So I took upon myself the duty of addressing a letter to her Highness the Princess Isabella, and I thought that a little falsehood relative to your real condition would be pardonable. I assured her that you were in security and in good health, save a sprain of the right hand which had compelled you to employ a secretary; and in order that the letter might be sure to reach her, my brother enclosed it in one to his agent in a London, with special directions that it might be delivered as speedily as possible. Morcar also wrote a note to his father and his wife, and addressed it to the care of some person in a part of the English [-149-] capital called Saint Giles's. In a word, you need be under no anxiety relative to your friends in England."
    "Excellent lady!" cried Markham; "you accumulate kindnesses so rapidly upon me, that I know not how to testify my gratitude. And, Morcar, too  how thoughtful of him! Oh! I have indeed found good friends."
    "You are doubtless anxious to learn how you came into this house," said the banker. "I will tell you  for you will not allow your mind to compose itself until you know every thing. I had been to pass the day with a friend whose country seat is at a few miles' distance from Pinalla; and I was returning home in an open chaise, attended by my groom, when, in the middle of a lane which I had taken as a short cut, I was accosted by a man who seemed frantic with grief, and implored me to render assistance to his master. He spoke in English; and fortunately I understand that language tolerably well. In a word, the person who accosted me, was your dependant Morcar. He has since explained to me how you had separated at Friuli, in order to gain the Neapolitan frontier by different routes; and it seems that he was journeying along that lane, when he stumbled over a body in the path. The light of the moon speedily enabled him to recognise his master. At that moment my chaise fortunately came up to the spot. Not knowing who you were, but actuated by that feeling which would prompt me to assist any human being under such circumstances, I immediately proposed to convey you to my own house. Your dependant was overjoyed at the offer; and I desired him to accompany you. He would not tell me your real name, but when I questioned him on that point, gave a fictitious one. The poor fellow did not then know how I might be disposed towards the Constitutionalists who had survived the slaughter near Ossore. You may therefore conceive my astonishment when on my arrival at my house, I discovered a letter in a ease fastened to a riband beneath your garments, as I helped to undress you. These words, 'To my dear friend, Richard Markham,' in a handwriting well known to me, immediately excited a suspicion in my mind; and when I had procured the attendance of my physician and ascertained that there was a hope of your eventual recovery  although your wound was a serious one  I questioned Morcar more closely than before. But he would not confess that you were Richard Markham. I then showed him the letter which I had found about your person. Still he obstinately denied the fact. At length, in order to convince him that I was really sincere in my good feeling towards you, I showed him several letters from the deceased Mr. Armstrong to me, and in which you were favourably mentioned. Then he became all confidence; and I can assure you that he is a most faithful and devoted creature towards you."
    While the banker was yet speaking, he drew from his pocket the morocco case containing Armstrong's letter, and laid it upon the bed.
    Richard warmly pressed his hand with grateful fervour.
    He then in a few words narrated the particulars of the attack made upon him by the banditti in the narrow lane, and concluded by saying, "I consider the fact of the ruffians overlooking that document when they rifled me. as another proof of heaven's especial goodness towards me; for I value this relic of my departed friend as dearly as my life."
    "And you are still ignorant of its contents?" said the banker, with a smile.
    Richard was about to explain the nature of the mysterious instructions which Armstrong had written on the envelope, when Viviani stopped him. saying, "I know all. Some months before his death Armstrong wrote to me his intentions concerning you; and therefore, I presume that 'when you are destitute of all resources  when adversity or a too generous heart shall have deprived you of all means of subsistence  and when your own exertions fail to supply your wants, you will open the enclosed letter. But should no circumstances of any kind deprive you of the little property which you now possess  and should you not be plunged into a state of need from which your own talents and exertions cannot relieve you,    then will you open that letter on the morning of the 10th of July, 1843, on which day you are to meet your brother.'"
    So astonished was Markham, while the banker recapitulated the very words of Armstrong's mysterious instructions, that he could not utter a syllable until the excellent man had finished speaking; and then he cried, in a tone of the most unfeigned surprise. "My dear sir, you know all, then!"
    Signora Viviani laughed so heartily at Markham's astonishment, that her good-natured countenance became quite purple.
    "Indeed, I do know all," exclaimed the banker, laughing also; "and that is not surprising, either, seeing that every farthing Armstrong has left you is in my hands. But I must not say any more on that head: indeed, I am afraid I have violated my departed friend's instructions to me by saying so much already. However, my dear Richard  for so you must allow me to call you, as I am a sort of guardian or trustee towards you  you will not want to open that letter until the 10th of July, 1843; for if you require money, you have only to draw a cheque upon me, and I will honour it  aye, even for ten or fifteen thousand pounds."
    "Is it possible that I am awake? am I not dreaming? is this fairy-land, or Castelcicala?" said Richard. "I am overwhelmed with happy tidings and kindnesses."
    Again did the good banker and his merry sister  who, though bachelor and spinster, possessed hearts overflowing with the milk of human kindness, and who felt towards Richard almost as a father and mother would feel towards their own child,  again did they laugh heartily; until the lady remembered that their patient might be too much excited.
    "And now I dare say you are anxious about your faithful Morcar," said the banker. "In truth, he is a mystery whom 1 cannot fathom. All I know of him is that he is most devotedly attached to you. He comes to the house every evening, and sits by your bed-side a couple of hours, or perhaps more; and then he takes his departure again. In vain have I pressed him to remain here  to live here so long as you are my guest: no  he declares that he has business on his hands; and he keeps that business a profound secret. He is always absent save during those two or three hours which he spends near you."
    "And when he is here," added the banker's sister, laughing, "he will not allow a soul save himself to do any thing for you. No  -he must smooth your [-150-] pillow  he must raise your head, and give you your cooling drink  he must hold your hands when the delirium is on you (but, thank heaven! that has passed now);  in a word, no one is permitted to be your nurse save himself."
    "The good, faithful creature!" cried Markham, tears standing on his long, dark, and slightly curled lashes. "Heaven grant that he be not involving himself in any difficulty."
    "He seems prudent and steady," said the banker; and those are grand qualities. Moreover, these men of Egyptian origin have strange fancies and whims. In any case, he will be more communicative to you than he is to us."
    "You have now gratified my curiosity in many  many ways," said Richard; "but there is one more point  "
    "You are interminable with your questions," exclaimed Signora Viviani, laughing. "Now, remember  this is the last we will answer on the present occasion, or we shall really fatigue you."
    "Oh! no," returned our hero. "When the mind labours under no suspense, how soon the physical energies revive."
    "Speak, then," said the banker.
    "What is the present condition of Castelcicala? has it been ameliorated, or rendered more deplorable?"
    The banker's countenance fell.
    "My dear Richard," he replied, "strange and striking events have occurred during the last few days,  events which it pains me to recount, as it will grieve you to hear them. The Grand Duchess fled from the capital  no one knows wherefore. It is certain that she reached Montecuculi in safety; and her farther progress is a complete mystery. All traces of her cease there. But that is not all. An army of thirty thousand Austrians, Richard  an army of foreigners has been called into the State by Angelo III. Ten days ago it crossed the Roman frontiers, and encamped beneath the walls of Montoni."
    "Merciful heaven!" ejaculated Richard~ "an army of occupation in the country!"
    "Alas! that I should tell the truth when I say so," continued the banker, in a melancholy tone. "The Grand Duke intends to enforce his despotism by means of foreign bayonets.. Four thousand Austrians moved on as far as Abrantani, where they are placed under the command of Captain-General Santa Croce, that province being considered the most unsettled, and the one exhibiting the greatest inclination to raise the standard of liberty. But Montoni, Richard,  Montoni, our capital, has set a glorious example. The same day that the Austrians appeared beneath its walls, its inhabitants rose against the Grand Duke and his infamous Ministers. The Municipal Council, with the Mayor at its head, declared its sittings permanent, and proclaimed it, self a Committee of Government. The garrison, consisting of ten thousand brave men, pronounced In favour of the Committee. The Grand Duke and his Ministers fled to the Austrian camp, and took refuge with Marshal Herbertstein, the generalissimo of the foreign army of occupation. And now, Richard  now the Grand Duke and his Austrian allies are besieging the capital of Castelcicala!"
    "Alas! these are terrible tidings," said Richard, astounded at all he had just heard, and at the rapidity with which so many important events had occurred.
    "Terrible tidings they must be to one who, like you, has fought for Castelcicalan liberty," continued, the banker. "Oh! that I should have lived to see my country thus oppressed  thus subject to a foreign yoke! But I have not yet told you all. The Lord High Admiral of Castelcicala has declared in favour of the Grand Duke, and has instituted a blockade, with all his fleet, at the mouth of the Ferreti, so that no provisions may be conveyed into the besieged capital. The garrison of Montoni is, however, behaving nobly; and as yet the Austrians have made no impression upon the city. But a famine must ensue in Montoni;  and then, all hope will be lost!"
    "And the other great cities of Castelcicala?" asked Richard: "do they make no demonstration in this terrible crisis?"
    "Alas  no! Martial law every where prevails and had we not a humane and merciful Captain-General at the head of the province of Pinalla, our condition here would be desperate indeed. You are doubtless aware that all the Constitutionalists who were taken prisoners at the battle of Ossore, are now prisoners in Estella  "
    Signor Viviani was interrupted by the entrance of a servant, who came to announce that Morcar requested admittance to the sick-room.
    The kind-hearted banker and his no less excellent sister withdrew, in order to allow the gipsy an opportunity of free and unrestrained intercourse with his master.    

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