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


[-172-]

CHAPTER CLXXXIX.

THE BATTLE OF MONTONI.

    The morning of the memorable 23d of January dawned, and the bells were ringing in every tower, when three cannon gave the signal for the fight, and the battle of Montoni began.
    The light troops of the Constitutionalists opened a smart fire upon the Austrians, and dislodged a strong corps from a position which it occupied on the bank of a small stream. In consequence of this first success, Richard was enabled to stretch out his right wing without restraint; and, remembering the operation effected by the Cingani at Abrantani, he instantly despatched that faithful corps, with a battalion of rifles, to make the circuit of the village, and endeavour to turn the Austrians' left flank.
    The left wing of the Constitutionalists soon came to close quarters with the right wing of the enemy; and a desperate struggle ensued to decide the occupancy of the sand-banks, which were quite hard and a desirable position for artillery-pieces. Colonel Cossario, who commanded in that point, succeeded, after a desperate conflict, in repulsing the Austrians; and twenty field-pieces were dragged on the sand-banks. Those speedily vomited forth the messengers of destruction; and the dread ordnance scattered death with appalling rapidity.
    The Grand Duke, seeing that his cause was hopeless if that dreadful cannonade was not stopped, ordered four battalions of grenadiers to attack the position. Markham, who was riding about the field, — now issuing orders — now taking a part in the conflict, — observed the manoeuvre, and instantly placed himself at the head of two regiments of cuirassiers with a view to render it abortive.
    Then commenced one of the most deadly spectacles ever performed on the theatre of the world. The Grand Duke sent a strong detachment of Austrian Life-Guards to support the grenadiers; and the two squadrons of cavalry came into fearful collision. The Constitutionalists were giving way, when Markham precipitated himself into the thickest of the fight, cleared every thing before him, and seized the Austrian colours. Morcar was immediately by his side: the sword of a Life-Guard already gleamed above our hero's head — another moment, and he would have been no more. But the faithful gipsy warded off the blow, and with another stroke of his heavy brand nearly severed the sword-arm of the Life-Guard. Richard thanked him with a rapid but profoundly expressive glance, and, retaining his hold on the Austrian banner, struck the ensign-bearer to the ground.
    This splendid achievement re-animated the Constitutional cuirassiers; and the Austrian Life-Guards were shattered beyond redemption.
    Almost at the same time, the Cingani and rifles affected their movement on the left wing of the enemy, and threw it into confusion. This disorder was however retrieved for about the space of two hours; when the Marquis of Estella, with his cuirassiers, was enabled to take a part in the conflict in that direction. This attack bore down the Austrians. They formed themselves into a square; but vain were their attempts to oppose the impetuosity with which the cuirassiers charged them. By three o'clock in the afternoon, the left wing of the enemy was overwhelmed so completely that all the endeavours of Marshal Herbertstein to rally his troops were fruitless.
    Then, resolved to perish rather than surrender, the Austrian commander met an honourable death in the ranks of battle.
    In the centre the conflict raged with a fury which seemed to leave room for doubt relative to the fortune of the day, notwithstanding the important successes already obtained by the Constitutionalists.
    The Grand Duke had flown with a choice body of cavalry to support the compact masses that were now fighting for the victory: he himself rode along the ranks — encouraging them — urging them on — promising rewards.
    For nearly four hours more did the battle last in this point; but at length our hero came up with his cuirassiers, all flushed with conquest elsewhere; and his presence gave a decided turn to the struggle.
    Rushing precipitately on — bearing down all before them — thundering along with an irresistible impetuosity, the cuirassiers scattered confusion and dismay in the ranks of their enemies. And ever foremost in that last struggle, as in the first, the waving heron's plume which marked his rank, and the death-dealing brand which he wielded with such fatal effect, denoted the presence of Richard Markham.
    He saw that the day was his own; — the Austrians were flying in all directions; — confusion, disorder, and dismay prevailed throughout their broken corps and shattered bands; — Marshal Herbertstein was numbered with the slain; — the Grand Duke fled; — and at eight o'clock in the evening Montoni was delivered.
    Darkness had now fallen on the scene of carnage; but still the Constitutionalists pursued the Austrian fugitives; and numbers were taken ere they could reach the river. A comparatively small portion of the vanquished succeeded in throwing themselves into the boats that were moored on the southern bank, or in gaining the adjacent bridges; and those only escaped.
    Montoni saluted its deliverance with salvoes of artillery and the ringing of bells; and the joyous sounds fell upon the ears of the Grand Duke, as, heart-broken and distracted, he pursued his way, attended only by a few faithful followers, towards the frontiers of that State from which his rashness and despotism had driven him for ever.
    Meantime, Richard Markham issued the necessary orders for the safeguard of the prisoners and the care of the wounded; and, having attended to those duties, he repaired to the village before mentioned where he established his temporary head-quarters at the chβteau of a nobleman devoted to the Constitutional cause.
    Then, in the solitude of the chamber to which he had retired, and with a soul full of tenderness and hope, as in the morning in the grove of Legino, — he addressed a letter to the Princess — the only joy [-173-] of his heart, the charming and well-beloved Isabella: — 

    "Head Quarters, near Montoni. Jan. 25.
    "Eleven at night.

    "Long ere this will reach thee, dearest one, thou wilt have heard, by means of telegraphic dispatch through France, of the great victory which has made me master of Castelcicala. If there be any merit due unto myself. in consummating this great aim, and conducting this glorious cause to its final triumph, it was thine image, beloved Isabella, which nerved my arm and which gave me intelligence to make the combinations that have led to so decided an end. In the thickest of the fight — in the midst of danger, — when balls whistled by me like hail, and the messengers of death were circulating in every direction, — thine eyes seemed to be guiding stars of hope, and promise, and love. And now the first moment that I can snatch from the time which so many circumstances compel me to devote to your native land is given to thee!
    "To morrow I shall write at great length to your honoured father, whom in the morning it will be my pleasing duty to proclaim ALBERTO I. GRAND DUKE OF CASTELCICALA.
    "Although men now call me Marquis of Estella, to thee dearest, I am simply
    "RICHARD."
    
    Our hero despatched this letter in one to Signor Viviani at Pinella, by especial courier. He next wrote hasty accounts of the great victory which he had gained, to the chief authorities of the various cities and towns which had first declared in his favour, as before mentioned; and these also were instantly sent off by messengers.
    Then soon did rumour tell the glorious tale how Montoni was delivered; and how the mighty flood of Austrian power, which had dashed its billows against the walls of the ducal capital, was rolled back over the confines of Castelcicala into the Roman States never to return.
    We shall not dwell upon the particulars of that night which succeeded the battle. Our readers can imagine the duties that devolve upon a commander after so brilliant and yet so sanguinary a day. Suffice it to observe, that Richard visited the houses in the village to which the wounded had been conveyed; while Colonel Cossario took possession of the Austrian camp.
    That night Montoni was brilliantly illuminated and the most exuberant joy prevailed throughout the capital.
    The Committee of Government assembled in close deliberation, immediately after the receipt of the welcome tidings of the victory; and, although they consulted in secret, still the inhabitants could well divine the subject of their debate — the best means of testifying their own and the nation's gratitude towards that champion who had thus diffused joy into so many hearts.
    Early in the morning, the entire Committee, dressed in their robes, and attended by the chief officers of the garrison, repaired on horseback to the village where Richard had established his head quarters.
    Our hero came forth to meet them, at the door of the mansion where he was lodged, and received those high functionaries with his plumed hat in hand.
    "My lord," exclaimed Signor Galtano, the President of the Committee, "it is for us to bare our heads to you. You have saved us from an odious tyranny — from oppression — from siege — from famine! God alone can adequately reward you: Castelcicala cannot. We have, however, further favours to solicit at your lordship's hand. Until that Prince, who is now our rightful sovereign, can come amongst us, and occupy that throne which your hands have prepared for him, you must be our chief - our Regent. My lord, a hundred councillors, forming the Provisional Committee of Government, debated this point last evening; and not a single voice was raised in objection to that request which I, as their organ, have now proffered to your lordship."
    "No," answered Richard: "that cannot be. The world would say that I am ambitious — that I am swayed by interested motives of aggrandizement. Continue, gentlemen, to exercise supreme sway, until the arrival of your sovereign."
    "My lord," returned the President, "Castelcicala demands this favour at your hands."
    "Then, if Castelcicala command, I accept the trust with which you honour me," exclaimed Markham; "but so soon as I shall have succeeded in restoring peace and order, you will permit me, gentlemen, to repair to England, to present the ducal diadem to your rightful liege. And one word more," continued Markham; "your troops have conducted themselves, throughout this short but brilliant campaign, in a manner which exceeds all praise. To you I commend them — you must reward them."
    "Your lordship is now the Regent of Castelcicala," answered the President; "and your decrees become our laws. Order — and we obey."
    "I shall not abuse the power which you place in my hands," rejoined Markham.
    The President then communicated to the Regent the pleasing fact that the Lord High Admiral had that morning hoisted the tri-coloured hag and sent an officer to signify his adhesion to the victorious cause. In answer to a question from Signor Gaλtano, Richard signified his intention of entering Montoni at three o'clock in the afternoon.
    The principal authorities then returned to the capital.
    Long before the appointed hour, the sovereign city wore an aspect of rejoicing and happiness. Triumphal arches were erected in the streets through which the conqueror would have to pass: the troops of the garrison were mustered in the great square of the palace; and a guard of honour was despatched to the southern gate. The windows were filled with smiling faces: banners waved from the tops of the houses. The ships in the harbour and roadstead were decked in their gayest colours; and boats were constantly arriving from the fleet with provisions of all kinds for the use of the inhabitants.
    The great bell in the tower of Saint Theodosia at length proclaims the hour of three.
    And, now — hark! the artillery roars — Montoni salutes her Regent: the guard of honour presents arms; the martial music plays a national air; and the conqueror enters the capital. The men-of-war in the roadstead thunder forth echoes to the cannon on the ramparts; and the yards are manned in token of respect for the representative of the sovereign power.
    What were Richard's feelings now? But little more than two months had elapsed since he had first entered that city, a prisoner — vanquished — with shattered hopes — and uncertain as to the fate that might be in store for him. How changed were his circumstances! As a conqueror - a noble — and a ruler did he now make his appearance in a capital where his name was upon every tongue, and where [-174-] his great deeds excited the enthusiasm, the admiration, and the respect of every heart.
    Then his ideas were reflected still farther back; and he thought of the time when he was a prisoner, though innocent, in an English gaol. Far more rapidly than we can record his meditations, did memory whirl him through all past adversities - reproduce before his mental eyes his recent wanderings in Castelcicala — and hurry him on to this glorious consummation, when he finds himself entering the capital as the highest peer in the State.
    On his right hand was Colonel Cossario; and close behind him — amidst his brilliant staff — was Morcar, — the faithful gipsy whose devotedness to his master had not a little contributed to this grand result.
    On went the procession amidst the enthusiastic applause of the myriads collected to welcome the conquerors, — on through streets crowded to the roof-tops with happy faces, — on to the ducal palace, in whose great square ten thousand troops were assembled to receive the Regent.
    Richard alighted from his horse at the gate of the princely abode, on the threshold of which the municipal authorities were gathered to receive him.
    Oh! at that moment how deeply — how sincerely did he regret the loss of General Grachia, Colonel Morosino, and the other patriots who had fallen in the fatal conflict of Ossore!
    Nor less did memory recall the prophetic words of that departed girl who had loved him so devotedly, but so unhappily; — those words which Mary-Anne, with sybilline inspiration, had uttered upon her death-bed: — "Brilliant destinies await you, Richard, All your enduring patience, your resignation under the oppression of foul wrong, will meet with a glorious reward. Yes — for I know all: — that angel Isabella has kept no secret from me. She is a Princess, Richard; and by your union with her, you yourself will become one of the greatest Princes in Europe! Her father, too, shall succeed to his just rights; and then, Richard, then — how small will be the distance between yourself and the Castelcicalan throne!"    

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