< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >


[-150-]

CHAPTER CLXXXIV.

ESTELLA.

    NOTHING could exceed the joy which the faithful Morcar experienced on finding his master restored to consciousness, and evidently in a fair way towards convalescence.
    The reader may imagine with what enthusiasm the gipsy dwelt upon the kindness of Signor Viviani and his sister; and when the grateful fellow had exhausted all his powers of speech in depicting the excellent qualities of these good people, he begged Markham to acquaint him with his adventures since they separated at Friuli.
    Richard related those particulars which are already known to the reader; and he did not forget to reproach Morcar for having refused to accept his share of the purse at the tavern in the suburbs of the above-mentioned town.
    "I knew that I should not require the gold, sir," answered Morcar; "for an individual of my race finds friends and brethren all over the world. Nor was I an exception to that rule. At a short distance from Friuli I fell in with an encampment of Cingani  for so the gipsies are called in Italy; and I was immediately welcomed in a way becoming to my position as the heir to the sovereign of the Zingarees of Great Britain."
    "But how did you render yourself intelligible to your Italian brethren?" asked Richard, with a good natured smile at the solemn manner in which his follower had uttered the concluding portion of his observations.
    "We have a language peculiar to ourselves, sir," replied Morcar; "and although it is not very rich in words, it nevertheless contains sufficient to enable [-151-] us to converse freely with each other. I travelled with the Cingani belonging to the encampment; and when we arrived in the neighbourhood of Pinalla, I took leave of them with the intention of hastening over the frontier to Naples. God ordained that I should strike into the same path which you were pursuing; and I could not have been many yards behind you, when you were attacked by the banditti in the manner you have just explained to me. You may conceive my grief when I found you lying senseless in that gloomy lane, and when the moonlight, falling on your countenance, showed me who you were. Had it not been for the accidental arrival of Signor Viviani on the spot, and at that particular moment, I cannot say what would have become of us. You know the rest."
    "Not entirely, my dear Morcar," said Richard. "I do not wish to penetrate into your secrets; but I am anxious to learn wherefore you refused the hospitality of Signor Viviani's mansion?"
    "When I found that you were amongst friends, sir," answered Morcar, "and that there was no longer any necessity for me to proceed to Naples, I returned to my brethren, the Cingani. I have dwelt with them ever since; but have occasionally called to inquire after you."
    "Nay, my faithful friend," exclaimed Richard, taking the gipsy's hand, "do not depreciate your own goodness of heart. I have learnt how regularly you came to pass the evening by my side, and how kindly you ministered to me. Heaven grant that the day may arrive when I shall be enabled to reward you adequately."
    "You must not talk any more at present, sir," said the gipsy. "If you will only remain quiet for a few days, you will be quite well; and then  "
    "And then, what?" asked Richard, seeing that time gipsy checked himself.
    "And then we can deliberate on the best course to adopt," replied Morcar.
    Our hero saw that his dependant had some plan n his head; but he did not choose to press him on the subject.
    * * * * *
    A fortnight had elapsed since Richard Markham awoke to consciousness in the house of the generous Castelcicalan banker.
    This interval had produced a marvellous change in his physical condition.
    A powerful constitution, aided by excellent medical advice, and the unremitting attention of his kind friends, enabled him to triumph over the severity of the treatment which he had experienced at the hands of the banditti.
    He was now completely restored to health  with the exception of a partial weakness and pallor which naturally followed a long confinement to his couch.
    But by means of gentle exercise in the garden belonging to the banker's house, he was rapidly recovering his strength, and the hues of youth again began to bloom upon his cheeks.
    It was on the 26th of December, 1840, that he had a long conversation with the banker and Morcar. A certain project was the topic of this debate,  a project for which Morcar had arranged all the preliminaries during Richard's illness, and which our hero now burned to carry into execution. Signor Viviani raised but one objection; and that was only for the purpose of delaying, not renouncing, the scheme in view. He feared lest Markham's health might not be sufficiently restored to enable him to embark so soon in the enterprise. But this doubt was completely over-ruled by his young friend, whose enthusiastic soul could not brook delay in a matter that was so near and dear to his heart.
    The deliberations of the three individuals who formed this solemn council lasted for four hours, and concluded at sunset. Richard then wrote several letters, which he sealed and placed in the hands of Signor Vivianl, saying, "You will forward these only in case of my death."
    The banker wrung our hero's hand cordially, exclaiming, "No, my generous  my gallant-hearted young friend; something within me seems to say that there will be no need to dispatch those letters to your friends in England; for proud success shall be yours!"
    Signora Viviani entered the room at this moment, and in a tone of deep anxiety, inquired the result of the deliberation.
    "The expedition is to take place.' replied the banker, solemnly.
    "Ah! Signor Markham," exclaimed the lady; "have you well weighed the contingencies? Do not imagine that I would attempt to dissuade you from so generous,  so noble an undertaking!  oh! no,   I should be the last to do so. And yet  "
    "My dear madam," interrupted Richard, with a smile, "I appreciate all your kind anxiety in my behalf; but I must fulfil my duty towards those unfortunate creatures who embarked in an enterprise of which I was one of the chiefs."
    "It would be improper in me to urge a single argument against so noble a purpose," said the banker's sister. "May God prosper you, Richard."
    The old lady wiped the tears from her eyes as she spoke.
    It was now quite dusk; and our hero signified his intention of taking his departure. He confided the morocco case containing Armstrong's letter, to his excellent friend, the banker, and at the same time expressed his deep gratitude for all the kindness he had experienced at the hands of that gentleman and his sister.
    "Do not talk thus, my noble boy," ejaculated the old man; "it makes me melancholy  as if I were never to see you more; whereas, I feel convinced that there are many, many happy days in store for us all! Here, Richard  take this pocket-book: it contains bank-notes to some amount. But if you require more, hesitate not to draw upon me for any sum that you need. And now, farewell  amid may all good angels watch over you!"
    Signora Viviani, on her side, felt as acutely in parting with our hero as if she were separating from a near relative  so much had his amiable qualities, generous disposition, and noble character endeared him alike to the banker and his kind-hearted sister.
    And now the door of that hospitable mansion closed behind Richard Markham, who was accompanied by his faithful Morcar.
    They pursued their way, the gipsy acting as the guide, through the streets of Pinalla, and passing out of the town by the north-eastern gate, followed the course of the river Usiglio for upwards of two miles and a half.
    The night was clear with the pure lustre of the [-152-] chaste moon; and the air was mild, though fresh enough to be invigorating.
    At length they reached the confines of a forest, into which Morcar plunged, closely followed by his master.
    They now continued their way amidst an almost total darkness, so thick was the foliage of the evergreens through the mazes of which they pursued their course.
    Presently lights glimmered among the trees; and in a few minutes more, Morcar conducted our hero into a wide open area, where a spacious gipsy-encampment was established.
    Markham caught his companion by the arm, and held him back for a few moments while he contemplated that scene so strange  so wild  and yet so picturesque.
    A space, probably an acre in extent, had been cleared in the midst of the forest; and the tall trees all around constituted a natural barrier, defining the limits of the arena formed for the encampment.
    A hundred tents, of the rude gipsy fashion, swarmed with life. Dark countenances bent over the cheerful fires, above which mighty caldrons were simmering; and the lurid light was reflected from dark eyes. The tall athletic forms of men and the graceful figures of women, were thrown out into strong relief by the lambent flames; and the sounds of many voices fell in confused murmurs upon the ears.
    "There are four hundred brave men, who will welcome you as their leader, sir!" exclaimed Morcar, stretching forth his arm towards the encampment.
    "Oh! my dear friend," cried Markham, all the enthusiasm of his soul aroused by the hopes which those words conveyed; "by what magic were you enabled to collect this band in so short a time!"
    "My influence as the son of Zingary was sufficient to induce them to make our cause their own, sir," replied Morcar; "and the extensive organization of the fraternity was already well calculated to gather them thus together. I have moreover informed you that they are all well armed; for their funds have been devoted to the purchase of the weapons and ammunition necessary for the undertaking."
    "Which outlay it will be my care immediately to reimburse," said Richard. "But you speak of me as the chief of this band, Morcar? No-that honour is reserved for you, whose energies and influence alone could have brought those four hundred men together."
    "That may not be, sir," returned Morcar, seriously. "These men have assembled with the hope that you will be their chief: It is your name which is enthusiastically spoken of in Castelcicala; and it is your presence which will animate this gipsy-band with courage. Come  let me introduce you to the chiefs of the tribe."
    "Is the King amongst them?" asked Richard.
    "No, sir: the King of the Cingani, or Italian gipsies, is at present in Tuscany; but the chiefs, to whom I will now conduct you, are his relations."
    Morcar led our hero through the mazes of the encampment to a tent more conveniently contrived and spacious than the rest; and as they passed among, the groups of Cingani surveyed Richard with curiosity and respect.
    They evidently divined who he was.
    In the tent to which Morcar conducted his master, three elderly men were seated upon mats, smoking their pipes, and discoursing gravely upon political affairs.
    They welcomed Richard with respectful warmth, and instantly assigned to him the place of honour at the upper end of the tent.
    A council was then held; but as the results will explain the decision to which the members came, it is not necessary to detail the deliberations on this occasion.
    We must, however, observe that Markham accepted the responsible and difficult post of commandant of the entire force; and he immediately handed over to the gipsies an amount in bank-notes equivalent to a thousand pounds, for the purpose of reimbursing the outlay already effected by the Cingani chiefs, and of supplying an advance of pay to all the members of the band.
    At about eleven o'clock the fires were all extinguished throughout the encampment; and, sentinels having been posted at short intervals round the open space, those who were not on duty laid down to rest.
    At day-break-the scene was once more all bustle and life: the morning meal was hastily dispensed of; and Richard then issued the necessary orders for breaking up the encampment.
    It was arranged that the men who bore arms should proceed by forced marches towards Estella; while the women and children might follow at their own pace.
    The farewells between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, fathers and children, Sons and mothers, took place in silence, but in profound sincerity; and the corps, consisting of four hundred men, all well armed with muskets and cutlasses, and some few with axes also, was soon in motion amidst the dense mazes of the forest.
    Markham, with a sword by his side and a pair of pistols in the breast of his coat, advanced in front of the column, attended by the three chiefs and Morcar.
    * * * * *
    It was at day-break on the 29th of December, that the sentinels posted on the southern bastion of thin citadel of Estella, observed a small but compact body of men suddenly emerge from the forest which stretches along the Usiglio, from the neighbourhood of Pinalla almost up to the very walls of Estella.
    An alarm was given throughout the citadel; for the beams of the rising sun glistened on the weapons of the small force that was approaching; and although no uniform attire characterised the corps it was easy to perceive that it advanced with a hostile intention.
    But ere the garrison could be got under arms, Richard's followers had already cut an opening in the palisades which protected the glacis, and were advancing up the inclined plane towards the rampart. On they went, their youthful leader at their head: the glacis was passed  the covered way was gained  and then the sentinels on the bastion discharged their muskets at the besiegers.
    Two of the Cingani fell dead, and one was very slightly wounded.
    "Follow me!" cried our hero; and rushing along the covered way, he reached the wooden bridge which communicated with the interior of the citadel.
    [-153-] 

And now commenced an interval of fearful peril, but for which Markham was not unprepared.
    The soldiers of the garrison had by this time flocked to the rampart of the bastion, and commenced a terrific fire upon the besiegers. The latter, however, replied to it with rapidity and effect, while half a dozen of the foremost cut down with their axes a huge beam from the wooden bridge, and, under the superintendence of Markham, used it as a battering-ram at the postern-gate.
    The Cingani, however, lost eight or nine of their men while this task was in progress; and their position, exposed as they were to a murderous fire, would soon have become untenable, had not the postern-gate shortly yielded to the engine employed against it.
    Then, with his drawn sword in his hand, Markham precipitated himself into the citadel, closely followed, and well supported by the brave and faithful Cingani.
    The tunnel beneath the rampart, into which the postern opened, was disputed for some minutes, with desperate valour on both sides; but our hero was so ably backed by Morcar, the three chiefs, and the foremost of his corps, that he eventually drove the soldiers before him.
    "Constitutional freedom and Prince Alberto!" shouted Richard, as he rushed onward, and entered the court of the citadel.
    The cry was taken up by the Cingani; and although the conflict continued in the court for nearly half an hour longer, it was evident that the note of liberty had touched a chord in the hearts of the Castelcicalan soldiers, for they resisted but feebly, and, though superior in numbers to the besiegers, rapidly gave way.
    On the farther side of the court stood a large but low and straggling building, the windows of which were defended with iron bars.
    "Friends," exclaimed Markham, pointing with his blood-stained sword towards that structure, "there is the prison of the patriots!"
    These words operated like an electric shock upon our hero's followers; and they rushed onward, driving the soldiers like chaff before them.
    The gate of the prison was reached, and speedily [-154-] forced: Richard entered the gloomy stronghold, and the work of liberation commenced.
    Five hundred Castelcicalan patriots were restored to freedom in a short half-hour; and when they recognised in their deliverer him who had been one of the chiefs of the first expedition, and whose valour was so signalised in the battle near Ossore, their enthusiasm knew no bounds.
    The name of "MARKHAM" was shouted to the sky: the patriots flocked around him, with heartfelt thanks and the most fervent outpourings of their gratitude; and they hailed him as a deliverer and a chief.
    There was not, however, much time for congratulation or explanation. Though the garrison of the citadel was weak, that of the town itself was strong; for the Captain-General had concentrated the greater part of his force in the heart of Estella in order to overawe the inhabitants. This fact had been previously gleaned by the spies whom Morcar had sent out while Richard was yet an inmate of the banker's house; and hence the attack upon the most exposed part of the citadel in preference to an attempt upon the town.
    Richard was now master of the citadel. A portion of the garrison had fled into Estella; but by far the larger part, about three hundred in number, declared its readiness to join the cause of liberty. This offer was joyfully accepted. The armoury was then visited, and arms were distributed to the patriots who had been delivered from their dungeons.
    Thus Richard Markham found himself at the head of an effective force of nearly twelve hundred men  a triumphant position, which had fortunately cost no more than about twenty lives on the side of the Cingani.
    It was now mid-day; and while his forces were obtaining refreshment, and putting the citadel in a proper state of defence, in case of an attack on the part of the Captain-General of Estella, Richard called a council of the three Cingani chiefs, Morcar, the leading patriots whom he had released, and the officers of the garrison-troops that had declared in favour of "Constitutional liberty and Prince Alberto."
    At this council it was resolved that Richard should issue a proclamation to the inhabitants of Estella, declaring the real objects for which the standard of civil liberty had been raised  namely, to release the imprisoned patriots, to expel the Austrians from the land, and to place Prince Alberto upon the ducal throne.
    This resolution was carried into effect; and the document was forwarded to the Mayor of Estella. The corporation was immediately assembled; and while the Captain-General prepared to attack the citadel, the municipal body remained in close deliberation.
    Three hours elapsed; when a rumour prevailed throughout the town that the troops had refused to leave their barracks at the command of the Captain-General. This proof of sympathy with the successful Constitutionalists decided the opinions of the members of the corporation; and the Mayor, attended by several of the municipal authorities, waited upon Richard Markham and presented him with the keys of the city.
    No sooner were these tidings bruited throughout Estella, than the Captain-General, the Political Prefect, and one regiment which remained faithful to the Grand Duke's cause, left the. town with extra. ordinary precipitation: the remainder of the garrison sent a deputation to Markham's head quarters in the citadel to announce their readiness to join his cause; and at seven o'clock in the evening of that eventful day the roar of the artillery on the walls of Estella saluted the tri-coloured flag of liberty which was hoisted on the Town-Hall.
    By this grand and decisive blow, Richard possessed himself of one of the principal towns of Castelcicala, and found himself backed by a force of three thousand men.
    His first care, when order and tranquillity were restored that evening, was to forward a courier with a letter to Signor Viviani at Pinalla. That letter not only detailed the events of the day, but contained a request that the banker would lose no time in writing an account of the proceedings direct to Prince Alberto (under the name of Count Alteroni) in England. Richard also enclosed a letter to be forwarded to Mr. Monroe, and one from Morcar to Eva.
    The corporation had assembled in the Town Hall, immediately after the tri-coloured flag was hoisted, and remained in deliberation until past ten o'clock. The Mayor then published a proclamation in which there were three clauses. The first declared the sittings of the municipal body permanent, under the title of "Committee of Administration for the Province of Estella." The second nominated Richard Markham General-in-chief of the army of that province. The third called upon all good and faithful Castelcicalan patriots to take up arms in the cause of Constitutional liberty and Prince Alberto, and against the Austrian army of occupation.
    A copy of this proclamation was forwarded to Richard Markham, who highly approved of the first and last clauses, and accepted the rank conferred upon him by the second.
    Early on the following morning uniforms, taken from the store-rooms in the arsenal, were distributed amongst the Cingani and the patriots who had been liberated; and Richard then made his entry into Estella, In compliance with the request of the corporation.
    Wearing the uniform of a General-officer, and mounted upon a handsome charger, our hero never appeared to greater advantage.
    The garrison of the town lined the streets, and presented arms to the youthful commander whose extraordinary skill and prowess had so materially contributed to the victory of the preceding day, and who was hailed as a champion raised up by Providence to deliver Castelcicala from the tyranny under which it groaned.
    He was attended by two officers whom he had appointed his aides-de-camp, and by the faithful Morcar, whom nothing could induce to accept any definite rank, but who, in the uniform of a private, was proud to follow his valiant master.
    The windows were crowded with faces, anxious to obtain a glimpse of the youthful hero; and while bright eyes shone upon his way, fair hands waned handkerchiefs or threw nosegays of exotics and artificial flowers from the casements.
    The bells rang merrily; the artillery saluted the entrance of the General into the town; the crowds in the streets welcomed him with enthusiastic shouts; and the civic authorities, in their official robes, received him as he alighted at the Town Hall.
    [-155-] There he was complimented on his gallant deeds, and invited to partake of a sumptuous banquet in the evening.
    But Richard's answer was firm though respectful.
    "Gentlemen," he said, "pardon me if I decline your great kindness. There remains so much to be done, to restore happiness to Castelcicala, that I should deem myself unworthy of your confidence, did I waste valuable time in festivity. A detachment of the Austrian army occupies and overawes the province of Abrantani: in two hours, with your permission, I propose to set out in that direction with all the forces that you will spare me. Should Providence prosper my arms in this new expedition, my course is simple. I shall proceed to Montoni, and either deliver the capital from the besieging force, or perish beneath its walls."
    This short but pithy speech was received with enthusiastic cheers by the municipal body.
    "Go, sir," said the Mayor, when silence was obtained once more, "and fulfil your grand mission. Take with you the force that you deem necessary for your purposes; and it shall be our duty to supply you with a treasury-chest that will not be indifferently furnished. Go, sir: God has sent you to us in the time of our bitter need; and you are destined to deliver Castelcicala from its tyrant."
    Markham bowed, and withdrew.
    His return to the citadel was a signal for the renewal of that enthusiasm which had greeted his entrance into the town.
    But he was not proud! No  he had no room in his heart for pride: hope  delicious, burning, joyous hope,  the hope of accomplishing his mighty aims  and earning the hand of Isabella as his reward,  this was the only sentiment which filled his soul!
    On his arrival at the citadel once more, he issued immediate orders to prepare for a march. He proposed to leave a garrison of one thousand men in Estella, and take two thousand with him, for he calculated that this number would be considerably increased, by volunteers, on his way to Abrantani.
    The evident rapidity with which he intended his movements to be characterised, created a most favourable impression not only amongst the inhabitants of Estella, but also with the troops under his command; and though they all deemed him eminently worthy of the post to which he had been raised, yet few foresaw the future greatness of that hero who was destined to take his place amongst the most brilliant warriors of the age.
    It was at two o'clock in the afternoon that the Constitutional army, consisting of two thousand men, defiled through the western gate of the citadel, towards the bridge over the Usiglio. A squadron of four hundred cavalry led the way: next came the corps of Cingani; then the horse-artillery, with twelve field-pieces; next the liberated patriots; and the rear-guard consisted of the regular infantry of the garrison.
    As soon as the river was crossed, Richard formed his little army into three columns, and then commenced a rapid march towards Villabella, which he knew to be well affected in favour of the Constitutional cause.
    But while he was leading a gallant band over the fertile plains of Castelcicala, incidents deserving notice occurred in his native land far away.    

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >