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[-220-] 

CHAPTER CCII.

THE PRINCESS ISABELLA.

We must now succinctly record a few incidents which occurred at the mansion of Prince Alberto in the vicinity of Richmond, from the period when Richard bade adieu to Isabella ere his departure for Castelcicala in the month of October, 1840, until the end of January, 1841  that is, up to the date at which we have brought our narrative in the preceding chapter.
    The Princess Isabella declared, at her farewell meeting with Richard, that wild hopes and exalted visions filled her imagination when she contemplated the enterprise on which her lover was about to embark. So well did she read the true character of our hero, and so elevated was her opinion of his high qualifications, that she felt persuaded he only required an opportunity to open for himself a grand and brilliant career.
    Her boundless affection for Richard Markham aided her not only in fostering these convictions, but also in shadowing forth and defining the elements of a glorious success and rapid rise on the part of one to whom her first and undivided love was given.
    [-221-] But when she tore herself away from his last embrace,  when she breathed the mournful word "Farewell," and then separated from the generous, the high-minded, and handsome young man who possessed her heart,  oh! how acute was the anguish that filled her soul!
    For some minutes  when he was no longer in sight  all her golden dreams and glorious visions fled from her imagination;  she strove to recall them, as a drowning person in the dark hour of night struggles to gain the surface of the waters once more to catch another glimpse of the bright stars above;  but hope seemed to have yielded to blank despair.
    The Princess, however, possessed a firm mind; and when the primal burst of anguish was over, she wrestled with her gloomy imaginings, until she gradually triumphed over their mournful influence.
    Having purposely prolonged her walk homewards, in order to compose herself, Isabella did not re-enter the mansion until she had collected her scattered thoughts and had wiped away the traces of her tears.
    Her father had all along discountenanced the expedition to Castelcicala, so far as he was concerned; although he could not do otherwise than wish it success. Indeed, as he himself had intimated to General Grachia, he would no doubt have joined in it, had he been differently situated. It was therefore with feelings of admiration that the Prince had from the first heard of Markham's enthusiasm in the Constitutional cause: and at that period he frequently found himself dwelling attentively upon the good points in Richard's character which had once made our hero so welcome a guest at the mansion.
    As for Isabella's mother, this Princess was more than ever favourable towards Markham; for she saw in his present conduct nothing save a profound devotion to the cause of her illustrious husband, and a laudable ambition to render himself worthy of her daughter's love  that love which was no secret to the parents of the amiable girl!
    When Isabella returned to the drawing-room after her interview with Richard, her still melancholy demeanour attracted the notice of her affectionate parents.
    "Where have you been, Isabel?" inquired the Prince, eyeing her attentively.
    "My dear father," was the instantaneous reply, "I went for my usual walk in the adjacent fields, and I met Mr. Markham."
    "Ah!" exclaimed the Prince, a little impatiently.
    "I do not pretend that it was accidentally on his part," continued Isabella, in a tone expressive of the pride of truth; "because he is the last person in the world to sanction duplicity of any kind. It was, however, accidental in reference to myself  for I knew not of his intention to seek an interview with in. this day."
    "But you have met?" said the Prince, in a softening voice, and with a manner which denoted how justly proud he was of the upright mind of his daughter.
    "We have met, dear father," answered Isabel, wiping away a tear; "and  we have separated  perhaps," she added in a faltering tone, "never to meet again. Oh! be not angry with him  nor with me, my dearest parents.  especially not with him!"
    "No-we are not angry, my child," said the Princess of Castelcicala, hastily. "Indeed, for my part, I wish that Mr. Markham had come to wish us all farewell. But perhaps he will write  "
    "I did not refuse his request on that subject," murmured Isabella, casting down her eyes and blushing: "Oh! no  I could not! And now, my dear parents, you know all. If I have done wrong, I am deeply grieved;  but my conscience tells me that I have not outraged the devotion and love that I owe to you."
    The Prince made no reply: but the expression of his countenance was not severe; and the Princess of Castelcicala embraced her daughter affectionately.
    From that time the mansion contained three anxious hearts; for the exiled family was deeply interested in the results of the expedition to Castelcicala.
    Who, then, can depict the disappointment with which the tidings of the fatal affair of Ossore were received, at the end of November, in that dwelling?
    The Prince and Princess perceived in the failure of the enterprise a deep blow to their own cause in the Duchy, inasmuch as it was calculated to afford the supporters of the Grand Duke an excuse for heaping opprobrium on the name of Alberto, whom they would point out as the instigator of the invasion;  and Isabella was overwhelmed with grief by the mystery which at that period enveloped the fate of Richard.
    Several days of heart-breaking suspense elapsed: the colour forsook the maiden's cheek; and her countenance became expressive of a deep melancholy.
    Nor was this terrible uncertainty concerning Richard's fate the only cause of affliction which she was now doomed to experience. Her father was so profoundly affected by the failure of the expedition, and the evils which he believed would result to his own interests in many respects, that he became ill, and was soon unable to leave his bed.
    Then how assiduous was the poor girl to her parent, while her own heart was often well-nigh breaking! The Prince grew irritable and impatient, and even reproached his daughter for fretting on account of one who, as he declared, "had helped to hurry the Constitutional cause,  a cause that might have triumphed in time,  to a most ruinous catastrophe!" But Isabella bore all this without a murmur; and as her father grew more harsh, her attentions towards him were redoubled. In her mother's kindness and sympathy the afflicted maiden found a consolation; but she could with difficulty bear up against the agony of suspense and alarm which she experienced on account of her lover.
    At length,  about a week after the receipt of the fatal tidings connected with the battle of Ossore,  Whittingham called at the mansion, and placed in Isabella's hand a letter from Richard.
    "He lives! he lives!" were the maiden's first words of reviving hope; "heaven be thanked  he lives!"
    But Isabella's joy was speedily overclouded once more; for she saw, by the guarded manner in which he wrote and by the omission of his signature, that her lover was in danger.
    Nevertheless  "where there is life, there is hope," as the proverb says; and, somewhat consoled by this conviction, she was less miserable than before!
    [-222-] And now came another tedious interval of suspense, the wretchedness of which was enhanced by the increasing indisposition of the Prince.
    At length  at the expiration of about three weeks  the Princess Isabella received a letter from Signora Viviani, the nature of which, as already known to our readers, was not extremely well calculated to re-assure the affectionate girl relative to her lover. It was true that she was informed of Richard's safe arrival at Pinalla, where he was in the society of kind friends; but vague and torturing fears were aroused by the fact that he himself had been unable to write to her.
    Again was there a weary interval of silence; but this was suddenly broken in a manner calculated to re-awaken all the bright hopes which Isabella had once entertained relative to the future greatness of Richard Markham. On the 16th of January, the news of the glorious exploit at Estella reached the mansion of the exiled family in England; and inspired the young Princess with the most enthusiastic feelings of admiration towards him whom she loved so fondly, and of whom she had always thought so well.
    "Oh! why am I bound to this bed of sickness!" exclaimed the Prince, when Signor Viviani's letter narrating that event was read to him. "Why am I not permitted to hasten to my native country, and take part with that gallant youth! No consideration of policy or delicacy should now restrain me; for the Austrian is in the land, and every true Castelcicalan should draw the sword and fling away the scabbard!"
    "Compose yourself, dearest father," said Isabella, enraptured at the manner in which he had spoken of her lover: "excitement will only delay your recovery;  and something tells me that Castelcicala will soon demand your presence!"
    But the Prince could not tranquillize his mind: the thraldom of a sick bed had become more intolerable to him than ever; and, although he now ceased to reproach his daughter, his irritability of temper painfully increased.
    Three days afterwards letters were received at the mansion announcing Richard's entry into Villabella. Then the colour came back again to the cheeks of the charming Italian maiden; and her eyes shone with all their wonted brilliancy. Forgotten were her recent sorrows  gone was her agonising suspense  banished was the memory of her cruel doubts;  her lover was already a hero-and hope was once more enthroned in her heart.
    The Prince now began to perceive the absolute necessity of avoiding the excitement of useless repinings at that illness which still chained him to his bed. Richard's letters told him how the inhabitants of Villabella had shouted the thrilllng words "Long live Alberto! "  and the Prince was inspired with hopes the extent of which he did not seek to conceal.
    Four days elapsed; and when the postman was again descried by the watchful Isabella advancing through the shrubbery towards the mansion, how quickly beat the hearts of the illustrious exiles!
    Yes-there were letters from Castelcicala:  never were sealed documents more quickly torn open! And, oh! what joyous news did they contain-the victory of Piacere!
    Isabella's feelings found vent in tears:  she was so happy  that she wept!
    "These are indeed glorious tidings!" said the Prince, raising himself upon his pillow; then, after a moment's pause, he exclaimed warmly, "Richard Markham is a hero!"
    Ah! how touchingly grateful was the glance which Isabella cast upon her father through her tears, to thank him for that generous sentiment relative to one in whom she felt so deep an interest!
    Another short interval now occurred; and then fresh letters came, bringing farther tidings of success. The battle of Abrantani was a worthy sequence to that of Piacere!
    "Oh! my beloved Isabella," now exclaimed the Prince, pressing her to his heart, "can you forgive me for the reproaches I have so unjustly  so wantonly uttered relative to Richard Markham?"
    "Think not of the past, dearest father," answered the maiden: "the present is so full of joy, and hope, and glory, that we should not feel wearied of contemplating it."
    "And, whatever may be the result of this contest," observed the Princess of Castelcicala to her husband, "you will always acknowledge that Richard is a hero!"
    "He is a young man whom the greatest sovereign in the world might be proud to claim as a son!" ejaculated the Prince, enthusiastically.
    Isabella pressed her mother's hand tenderly for having obtained this most welcome avowal.
    The health of Prince Alberto now rapidly improved; and in a few days he was enabled to leave the couch to which he had been confined for many weary weeks.
    And Isabella  Oh! all the charming carnation tinge had come back to her cheeks; and her eyes were brilliant with the purest rays of happiness and hope. Her fondest dreams  her brightest visions were all but realised: her lover was accomplishing those grand destinies of which her mental vision had caught glimpses ere his departure from England; and the world was already busy with his name. And now, too, was that name ever upon the tongue of her father, who pronounced it with admiration and respect.
    A few days after the arrival of the intelligence of the decisive victory of Abrantani, the newspapers acquainted the illustrious Italian family with the fact that the Committee of Government at Montoni had bestowed the title of Marquis of Estella upon the youthful Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of Castelcicala.
    Oh! with what joyous feelings  with what ineffable emotions of enthusiasm, did the charming Isabella read aloud to her parents that account of her lover's elevation,  an elevation which, as he himself had felt convinced, must remove one grand obstacle that had hitherto existed in the way of their happiness.
    And how did her young heart beat and her bosom heave, when her father exclaimed, in an emphatic tone, "Yes  Richard is now a Marquis, and may take his rank amongst the proudest peers in the universe;  but there is a higher grade which he yet may reach  and it will be a happy day for us all when I shall say to him, 'Receive my daughter as the reward of your achievements, and become a Prince!"
    Isabella threw herself at her father's feet, and pressed to her lips the hand which she also moistened with her tears. She endeavoured to murmur [-223-] words of gratitude for that most welcome assurance; but her heart was too full  she could only weep!
    It was a most touching scene; and, perhaps, never had that exiled family experienced more perfect happiness than on this occasion.
    But the sentiment was soon destined to give way to new fears and fresh anxieties. It was well-known that Montoni was besieged by an immense Austrian force; and the English newspapers, in commenting upon the position of the Constitutionalists, declared that though the moral effects of so decisive a victory as that of Abrantani must be very great, there was nevertheless much room to doubt whether the Marquis of Estella would be able to assemble an army sufficiently strong to march to the relief of the capital.
    Prince Alberto trembled as he read these observations; because he not only comprehended their justice, but was also well aware that the fate of Castelcicala could be alone decided by a pitched battle between the Austrians and the Constitutionalists.
    He endeavoured to conceal his misgivings from his wife and daughter: but they saw what was passing in his mind;  and thus all was still anxiety and hope  uncertainty and fervent aspiration, at the mansion of the Prince.
    Thus did a few days pass; and Alberto suffered a slight relapse, in consequence of the nervous state of doubt in which he was plunged.
    All his hopes  all his interests  all his prospects were at stake. If the Constitutionalists were successful, a crown awaited him: if the Austrians triumphed, the Grand Duke Angelo had pledged himself to adopt a scion of the imperial family of Vienna as the heir to the throne. Thus Prince Alberto hovered between a glorious elevation or a fatal fall.
    The Princess, his wife, entertained sanguine hopes that a campaign so successfully begun, would terminate in triumph; and Isabella called every argument to her aid to convince her father and mother that all must end well! Nevertheless, poor girl! she also had her intervals of doubt and alarm; and many were the tears which she shed in secret as she prayed for the safety of her lover.
    And now how eagerly was the arrival of the postman looked for every day; how anxiously was the presence of the newspaper awaited!
    At length, on the morning of the 29th of January, all doubt. were cleared up  all uncertainties terminated.
    The illustrious family was seated at the breakfast table  a mere ceremonious mockery, for they were unable to eat a morsel.
    Presently a servant entered, and presented the morning paper to the Prince.
    Alberto opened it with a trembling hand: his wife and daughter watched him attentively.
    Suddenly he started  his eyes were lighted up with their wonted fires  a flush appeared on his pale cheek  and he exclaimed in a fervent tone, "O God! I thank thee!"
    H. could say no more: his emotions nearly overpowered him, weakened as he was by a long illness.
    Isabella caught the paper as it was falling from his hands. One glance was sufficient: it told her all! For there  conspicuously displayed at the head of a column  was the following glorious announcement:-
    
    "CASTELCICALA.
    "TOTAL DEFEAT OF THE AUSTRIANS  DELIVERANCE OF MONTONI.
    
    "The French Government have received the following Telegraphic Despatch from Toulon:-
    "'The Castelcicalan steamer Torione has just arrived. The Austrians were completely routed on the 23rd. Montoni is delivered. The Grand Duke has fled. THE MARQUIS OF ESTELLA entered the capital at three o'clock on the 24th. He has been appointed Regent until the arrival of ALBERTO I. The Torione left while the cannon. were saluting the presence of the MARQUIS.'"
    
    "Let me be the first to congratulate your Serene Highness on this glorious result!" exclaimed Isabella, falling at the feet of her father, and pressing his hand to her lips.
    "No  not on your knees, dearest Isabel!" cried Alberto, now Grand Duke of Castelcicala: "but come to my arms, sweet girl  and you also, beloved companion of my banishment," he added, turning towards his wife, who was nearly overcome by these sudden tidings of joy  "come to my arms  for we are no longer exiles  we shall once more behold our native land!"
    How sweet  how sweet were the caresses which those three illustrious personages now exchanged:  how unalloyed was that happiness which they now experienced!
    And when they were enabled to compose their feelings so far as to discourse upon the triumphant result of the Constitutional cause, the name of Richard Markham was not forgotten!    

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