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[-277-] 

CHAPTER CCXXI.

THE RETURN TO ENGLAND.

    It was on a beautiful morning, in the first week of March, that a large war-steamer passed Gravesend, and pursued its rapid way towards Woolwich.
    She was a splendid vessel, rigged as a frigate, and carrying twelve carronades. Her hull was entirely black, save in respect to the gilding of her figure-head and of her stern-windows; but her interior was fitted up in a style of costly magnificence. Large mirrors, chaste carving, rich carpets, and soft ottomans gave to the chief cabin the air of a princely drawing-room.
    On the deck every thing denoted the nicest order and discipline. The sailors performed their duties with that alacrity and skill which ever characterise men-of-war's men who are commanded by experienced officers; and two marines, with shouldered firelocks, paced the quarter-deck with measured steps.
    The white sails were all neatly furled; for the gallant vessel was now progressing by the aid of that grand power which has achieved such marvellous changes on the face of the earth. The tall chimney sent forth a volume of black smoke; and the bosom of the mighty river was agitated into high and foam-crested billows by the play of the vast paddle-wheels.
    From the summit of the main-meat floated the royal standard of Castelcicala.
    And on the deck, in the uniform of a general officer, and with a star upon his breast, stood the Marquis of Estella, conversing with his aides-de-camp.
    [-278-] At a short distance was Morcar  in plain, private clothes.
    Richard was now returning to his native shore-occupying in the world a far more exalted position than, in his wildest imaginings, he could ever have hoped to attain. He had left England as an obscure individual  a subordinate in a chivalrous expedition  under the authority of others:  he came back with a star upon his breast-having achieved for himself a renown which placed him amongst the greatest warriors of the age! Unmarked by title, unknown to fame, was he when he had bade adieu to the white cliffs of Albion a few months previously:  as the Regent of a country liberated by himself  as a Marquis who had acquired nobility by his own great deeds, did he now welcome his native clime once more.
    Tears of joy stood in his eyes  emotions of ineffable bliss arose in his bosom, as he thought of what he had been, and what he now was.
    But vanity was not the feeling thus gratified: at the same time, to assert that our hero was not proud of the glorious elevation which he had reached by his own merits, would be to deny him the possession of that laudable ambition which is an honour to those who entertain it. There is, however, a vast distinction between vanity and a proper pride: the former is a weakness  the latter the element of moral strength.
    Yes: Richard was proud  but not unduly so  of the honours which were now associated with his name;  proud, because he had dashed aside every barrier that had once seemed insuperable between the Princess and himself.
    And, oh! he was happy, too  supremely happy; for he knew that when he landed at Woolwich he should behold her whom we have before declared to be the only joy of his heart  the charming and well-beloved Isabella!
    The gallant steamer pursued its way: Erith is passed;  and soon Woolwich is in sight.
    And now the cannon roars from the English arsenal: the volumes of white smoke sweep over the bosom of the Thames;  the artillery salutes the royal standard of Castelcicala.
    The troops are drawn up in front of the barracks to do honour to their heroic fellow-countryman, who retains his almost sovereign rank until the moment when he shall resign it into the hands of that Prince on whose brow he has come to piece a diadem.
    It is low water; and the Castelcicalan steamer drops her anchor at some little distance from the wharf. Then, under a salute from the cannon of the gallant vessel, the Marquis of Estella descends into a barge which has been sent from the arsenal to waft him ashore.
    But while he is still at a distance from the wharf his quick eye discerns well-known forms standing near the spot where he is to land. There are the Grand-Duke Alberto and the Grand-Duchess, attended by the commandant of Woolwich and his staff; and leaning on her father's arm, is also the Princess Isabella.
    The Grand-Duke is in plain clothes: he has come as it were incognito, and as a friend, to receive him to whom he is indebted for that throne which awaits him; and he is moreover anxious that all the honours proffered on this occasion shall be acknowledged by him who still bears the rank of Regent of Castelcicala.
    The barge touches the steps: Richard leaps ashore. He hurries up the stairs-he stands upon the wharf; and, while the guard of honour of British soldiers presents arms, he is affectionately embraced by the Grand-Duke.
    "Welcome  welcome, noble youth!" exclaimed Alberto, straining him to his breast, as if he were a dearly beloved son.
    "I thank heaven, that you, most gracious sovereign, are pleased with my humble exertions in favour of Castelcicalan freedom," replied Markham, whose heart was so full that he could with difficulty give utterance to those words.
    "Humble exertions do you call them!" cried the Grand-Duke. "At all events they have deserved the highest reward which it is in my power to offer."
    And, as he thus spoke, Alberto placed the hand of our hero in that of the beauteous Isabella, while the Grand-Duchess said in a voice tremulous with joyful emotion, "Yes, dear Richard  you are now our son!"
    Markham thanked the parents of his beloved with a rapid but expressive glance of the deepest gratitude; and he and Isabella exchanged looks of ineffable tenderness, as they pressed each other's hand in deep silence-for their hearts were too full to allow their lips to utter a syllable.
    But those looks  how eloquent were they! They spoke of hopes long entertained  often dim and overclouded  but never completely abandoned  and now realized at last!
    To appreciate duly the sweets of life, we should have frequently tasted its bitters; for it is by the influence of contrast, that the extent of either can be fully understood. Those who have been prosperous in their loves,  who have met with no objections at the hands of parents, and who have not been compelled to wrestle against adverse circumstances,  are incapable of understanding the amount of that bliss which was now experienced by Richard and Isabella. It was indeed a reward  an adequate recompense for all the fears they had entertained, the sighs they had heaved, and the tears they had shed on account of each other!
    And we ourselves, reader, pen these lines with heartfelt pleasure; for there are times  and the present occasion is one  when we have almost fancied that our hero and heroine were real, living characters, whom we had seen often and known well;  and we are vain enough to hope that this feeling has not been confined to our own breast. Yes  we can picture to ourselves, with all its enthusiasm, that delightful scene when the handsome young man,  handsomer than ever in the uniform which denoted his high rank,  exchanged those glances of ineffable tenderness and devoted love with the charming Italian maiden,  more charming than ever with the light of bliss that shone in her eyes, made her sweet bosom heave, and brought to her cheeks a carnation glow beneath the faint tint of bistre which denoted her southern origin without marring the transparency of her pure complexion.
    And now, the first delights of this meeting over Richard presented his aide-de-camp to the illustrious family; then, beckoning Morcar towards him, he took the gipsy by the hand, saying, "It is to this faithful friend that Castelcicala is indebted for the first step in that glorious career which was finally crowned with triumph beneath the walls of Montoni."
    [-279-] "And I, as the sovereign of Castelcicala," returned the Grand-Duke, shaking Morcar warmly by the hand, "shall find means to testify my gratitude."
    "Your Serene Highness will pardon me," said Morcar, in a firm but deferential manner, "if I decline any reward for the humble share I enjoyed in those successes of which his lordship ere now spoke. No:  the poor Zingaree has only done his duty towards a master whom he loved  and loves," continued Morcar, looking at Richard and dashing away a tear at the same time; "and it only remains for him to return to his family  and to his roving life. The sole favour I have to ask at the hands of those whom I have now the honour to address, is that when they hear  as they often may  the name of Gipsy vilified and abused, they will declare their belief that there are a few favourable exceptions."
    "But is It possible that I can do nothing to serve you!" exclaimed the Duke, struck by the extreme modesty and propriety of the Zingaree's words and manner. "Consider how I may ameliorate your condition."
    "I require nothing, your Highness," answered Morcar, in the same respectful but firm tone as before,  "nothing save the favour which I have demanded at your hands. No recompense could outweigh with me the advantage which I have received from the contemplation of a character as good as he is great  as noble by nature as he now is by name," continued the gipsy, once more looking affectionately towards Markham;  " and, from the moral influence of his society and example, I shall return to my people a new man-a better man!"
    Having thus spoken, Morcar wrung the hand of our hero with a fraternal warmth, and was about to hurry away,  leaving all his bearers deeply affected at the words which he had uttered,  when Isabella stepped forward, caught him gently by the arm, and said in her sweet musical voice, now so tremulously clear,  "But you have a wife, Morcar; and you must tell her that the Princess Isabella is her friend! Nor will you refuse to present her with this small token of that regard which I proffer her."
    Thus speaking, the Princess unfastened a gold chain from her neck, and forced it upon Morcar.
    "Yes, lady," said the gipsy, "Eva shall accept that gift from you; and she shall pray morning and might for your happiness. Nay, more," he added, sinking his voice almost to a whisper, "she shall hold up to her son the example of him who is destined, lady, to make you the happiest woman upon earth."
    With these words, Morcar hurried away  hastened down the steps, leapt into a wherry, and directed the rowers to push the boat instantly from the wharf.
    When it was some yards distant, Morcar turned his head towards the group upon the quay, and waved his hand in token of adieu;  and every member of that group returned his salutation with gestures that expressed the kindest feelings towards him.
    The party now proceeded to the residence of the commandant, where a splendid dejeuner was served up. Richard sate next to his Isabella, and was supremely happy.
    "Oh! how rejoiced shall I feel," he whispered to her, "when we can escape from all the ceremony which accompanies rank and power, and indulge uninterruptedly in that discourse which is so dear to hearts that love like ours! For I have so much to tell you, beloved one; and now that all the perils of war and strife are past, I can look with calmness upon that series of events of which I was only enabled to send you such slight and rapid accounts. But, believe me, Isabella  I would much rather have come back to my native shores unattended by all that ostentation and formal observance which have accompanied my return: nevertheless, the high office with which I was invested, and the respect due to your father by the one who came to announce with befitting ceremony that a throne awaited him, demanded the presence of that state and required that public demonstration. You must not, however, imagine, dearest one, that a sudden elevation has made me vain."
    "I have too high an opinion of your character, Richard," answered Isabella, "to entertain such an idea for a single moment. I know that you are not unduly proud; but I, Richard, am proud  proud of you!"
    "And yet, dear girl," whispered our hero, all I have done has been but through the prompting of your image; and so did I write to you in the evening after that dreadful battle which decided the fate of Castelcicala."
    "Ah! Richard, you know not the deep suspense which we experienced, and the moments of indescribable alarm which I felt, during the intervals between the letters announcing your several successes," said the Princess. "But all fear has now vanished  and happiness has taken its place. When we glance at the past, it will only be to rejoice at those events which have prepared so much joy for the future. Do you not remember how often I bade you hope, when you were desponding! Oh! heaven has indeed rewarded you, by placing you in so proud a position, for all the misfortunes which you have endured."
    "Rank and honours were nothing in my estimation," answered Richard, "had they not removed the obstacles which separated me from you!"
    A domestic now entered and stated that the carriages were in readiness; and the illustrious party having taken leave of the commandant and officers of the garrison, proceeded to the mansion at Richmond.
    Alberto and Richard Markham were then closeted for some time together. Our hero presented his Highness with the official despatches from the Ministers announcing his proclamation as Grand Duke, and inviting him to return to Castelcicala to take possession of the throne.
    "Your Serene Highness will not deem me presumptuous," said Richard, when these documents had been perused, "in accepting the executive sway immediately after the battle of Montoni. My object was to ensure the tranquillity of the country, and to lay the foundation of that liberal system of government which I knew to be congenial to the sentiments of your Highness. I appointed a Ministry formed of men who had shown their devotion to the Constitutional cause, and who were worthy of the confidence thus reposed in them. With respect to the late sovereign, Angelo III., I learnt a few hours ere my departure, that he had taken refuge in Austria; but in reference to the Grand-Duchess Eliza I have obtained no tidings."
    [-280-] "I cordially approve of every step you have taken, my dear Richard," replied the Grand-Duke: "your conduct has been beyond all praise. I expressed that opinion in the letter which I wrote to you, and wherein I informed you that I should wait in England until you came in person to announce to me the desire of the Castelcicalans that I should become their sovereign. I have, as I told you in my communication, only just recovered from a severe illness; but my duty to my country requires that I should return thither as soon as possible. In four days I shall embark on board the ship that brought you to England."
    "So soon, my lord?" cried Markham, somewhat uneasily.
    "I should leave England to-morrow, had I not one solemn but joyful task to accomplish," answered the Duke with a smile. "Fear not, dear Richard, that I shall delay your happiness any longer; for if you yourself do not consider the haste indelicate, I purpose to bestow Isabella upon you the day after to-morrow."
    "Oh! my lord  what happiness!  and what deep gratitude do I owe you! "exclaimed Richard, falling upon his knees, and pressing the sovereign's hand to his lips.
    "Rise, Richard  rise," said the Grand-Duke: "you owe me no gratitude  for you forget how deeply I am your debtor! You have delivered my native land from an odious tyranny  although it be of my own relative of whom I am compelled to speak thus severely; and you have given me a throne. In return I bestow upon you the dearest of all my earthly treasures  my daughter!"
    "And the study of my life shall be her happiness," replied our hero. "But I have one great and signal favour to implore of your Highness; and I tremble to ask it-lest you should receive my prayer coldly."
    "What is there that you should hesitate to ask or that I could refuse to grant?" exclaimed the Grand-Duke. "Speak, Richard:  the favour  if favour it be-is already accorded."
    "Your Highness must be informed," continued Richard, thus encouraged, "that I have various duties to accomplish, which demand my presence for some time in England. I have an old friend and his daughter dependant upon me: I must settle them in a comfortable manner, to ensure their happiness. There is also a young female named Katherine Wilmot,  whose history I will relate to your Highness at a more convenient period,  but to whom I have been in some measure left guardian. By letter's which I received a few days before my departure, I learnt that she is residing at my house, with my old friend and his daughter. It will be my duty to arrange plans for the welfare of Katherine. This I should wish to do in concert with Isabella. Lastly, my lord, I have the hope of meeting my brother  should he be still alive," added Richard, with a sigh. "Your Highness is aware of our singular appointment for the 10th of July, 1843."
    The Grand-Duke reflected profoundly for some minutes; and Richard awaited his answer with intense anxiety.
    "You shall have your will, noble-hearted young man!" at length cried Alberto: "I was wrong to hesitate even for a moment; but you will pardon me when you remember that in granting your request, I consent to a long  long separation from my daughter."
    "But when the time for the appointment with my brother shall have passed," said Richard "Isabella and myself will hasten to Montoni; and then, God grant that you may be parted from your daughter no more in this life."
    "Would it be impossible for you to effect a species of compromise with me in this way?" returned Alberto, with a smile. "Provide for those who are dependant on you; and when that duty is accomplished, pass at Montoni the interval until the period of the appointment with your brother shall demand your return to London."
    "I would submit to your Highness this fact," answered Richard,  "that I live in constant hope of the reappearance of my brother ere the stated time; and should he seek me in the interval  should he be poor or unhappy  should he require my aid  or consolation  if I were far away  "
    "I understand you," interrupted the Grand-Duke. "Be it as you say. Provided Isabella will consent," he added, smiling, "you shall remain in England until the autumn of 1843."
    "Much as the Princess will grieve to separate from her parents  "
    "You think she will be content to stay in this country with you," again interrupted the Duke, laughing. "I see that you have already planned every thing in your own way; and both the Grand. Duchess and myself are too much pleased with you  too willing to testify our regard for you  and too anxious to make reparation for the past," added his Serene Highness significantly, "to oppose your projects in the slightest degree. It shall be all as you desire."
    "Your Highnesses will then render me completely happy," exclaimed Richard, again pressing the Duke's hand to his lips.
    Alberto then rang the bell, and commanded the domestic who answered the summons to request the presence of the Grand-Duchess and the Princess.
    Those illustrious ladies soon made their appearance  Isabella's heart fluttering with a kind of joyful suspense, for she full well divined at least one topic that had been discussed during the private interview of her father and her lover.
    The two latter rose as the ladies entered the room, the Grand-Duke took his daughter's hand, and said, "Isabella, our duty towards our native land requires that your mother and myself should return thither with the least possible delay. But before we depart, we must ensure the happiness of you, beloved child, and of him who is in every way worthy of your affections. Thus an imperious necessity demands that the ceremony of your union should be speedily accomplished. I have fixed the day after tomorrow for your bridal:  but you, dearest Isabel, will remain in England with your noble husband. He himself will explain to you  even if he have not already done so  the motives of this arrangement. May God bless you, my beloved children! And, oh!" continued the Grand-Duke, drawing himself up to his full height, while a glow of honourable pride animated his countenance, "if there be one cause rather than another which makes me rejoice in my sovereign rank, it is that I am enabled to place this excellent young man in a position so exalted-on an eminence so lofty  that none acquainted with his former history shall ever think of associating his name with the misfortunes that [-281-] are past. And that he may give even a title to his bride and accompany her to the altar with that proper independence which should belong to the character of the husband, it is my will to create him PRINCE OF MONTONI; and here is the decree which I have already prepared to that effect, and to which I have affixed my royal seal."
    With these words the Grand-Duke took from the table a paper which he presented to our hero, who received it on his bended knee.
    He then rose: Alberto placed the hand of Isabella in his; and the young lovers flew into each other's arms.
    The parents exchanged glances of unfeigned affection as they witnessed the happiness of their charming daughter and of him whom she loved so faithfully and so well.
    Dinner was shortly announced; and around the able were smiling faces gathered that evening.
    At nine o'clock Richard took his departure alone in the Grand-Duke's carriage; for he had transferred hi own aides-de-camp to the service of their sovereign.
    But when he bade farewell to Isabella on this occasion, it was with the certainty of seeing each other again in a short time; and they inwardly thanked heaven that their meeting was no longer clandestine, and that their attachment was at length sanctioned by the parents of the charming maiden.    

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