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


[-309-] 

CHAPTER CCXXIX.

THE WIDOW.

    WE must now return to that beautiful little villa in the environs of Upper Clapton, to which we introduced our readers in the early portion of this history, and where we first found Eliza Sydney disguised in the garb of a man.
    Nothing was altered in the appearance of that [-310-] charming suburban retreat, either externally or internally, — unless it were that there were no dogs in the kennels nor horses in the stables, and that the elegant boudoir no longer displayed articles of male attire.
    But the trees around were green with the verdure of Spring; the fields, stretching behind far as the eye could reach, were smiling and cultivated; and umbrageous was the circular grove that bounded the garden.
    In the parlour on the ground-floor still hung the miniatures of Eliza and her dead brother — that brother whom she had personated with such fatal consequences to herself!
    And now on the sofa in that parlour sate Eliza Sydney herself, — dressed in deep mourning.
    She was pale — but beautiful as ever!
    The snow-white widow's cap concealed her bright chesnut hair, save where the shining masses were parted, glossy and smooth, over her lofty and polished forehead.
    The high black dress and plain collar covered the snowy whiteness of her neck, but still displayed the admirable contours of her bust.
    Her countenance bore a somewhat melancholy but resigned expression; and the amiability of her soul shone in her large, soft, melting hazel eyes.
    It was noon — about a week after the date of the incidents related in the preceding chapter.
    Scarcely had the time-piece upon the mantel proclaimed the mid-day hour, when a carriage drove up to the front door of the villa.
    A few moments elapsed; and three visitors were ushered into the parlour where Eliza awaited them.
    These were the Prince and Princess of Montoni and Katherine Markham.
    Eliza extended her hand with ingenuous courtesy towards Richard, saying, "Prince, no selfish feelings can prevent me from congratulating you on that proud position which your prowess and your virtues have achieved for yourself." Then, offering her hand to Isabella, she added, "Nor need I wait for a formal introduction to one whom I now see for the first time, but of whom I have heard so much that I am well prepared to become her friend if her Highness will permit me."
    There was something so sweet and touching something so frank and sincere in the manner of the exiled Grand-Duchess of Castelcicala, that Isabella's heart was instantaneously warmed towards her. Moreover, the young Princess felt all the noble generosity of that conduct on the part of one who had lost a throne by the events which had led to the happiness of herself and her husband, and which had achieved the exaltation of her parents.
    Thus were those two beauteous creatures attracted to each other the instant they met; and Isabella, instead of receiving the outstretched hand that was offered as the pledge of friendship, threw herself unto Eliza's arms.
    It was a touching picture, — the embrace of that charming bride and that scarcely less charming widow!
    In due course Markham presented his sister to the exiled Grand-Duchess, who received her in the most affable and cordial manner.
    When the first excitement of this meeting was over, and they were all seated, Eliza broke a temporary silence which ensued.
    The last time we met, Prince," she said, addressing herself to our hero, "no human foresight could have divined the great events that were so shortly to ensue — the brilliant destinies that were in waiting for yourself."
    "And if there be one regret which I have experienced," observed Richard, "arising from those events, it is that they deprived an amiable lady of that throne which her virtues embellished. But the cause of Castelcicalan freedom outweighed all other considerations; and the duty imposed upon me by those adherents who made me their Chief, was stern, solemn, and imperative."
    You need not reproach yourself," exclaimed Eliza: "you need not entertain a moment's regret on my account! All that occurred was inevitable — and it was for the best. Castelcicala panted for freedom — and she had a right to claim it. This I may assert without injustice — without insult to the memory of my husband. And had no such reclamation been made by the people of Castelcicala — had no revolution occurred — had Angelo been more prudent, and less severe — Alberto would still at this moment be the sovereign of that country. For my husband had long been afflicted with a disease of the heart that was incurable, and that must inevitably have terminated in a sudden death. As I informed you in my letter of yesterday, he had scarcely reached the city of Vienna, where he was received as became his rank, and lodged in one of the imperial palaces, when he was taken ill, and in a few hours breathed his last. His misfortunes could not have accelerated an event which his physicians had previously seen to be near at hand — although this prescience was all along religiously concealed from me. You have therefore, Prince, naught wherewith to reproach yourself on that head."
    "Your kind assurances are conveyed in a spirit worthy of your generous heart," said Richard — and Isabella, who was greatly affected by the noble behaviour of Eliza, enthusiastically echoed her husband's sentiments.
    "It was but a week ago," continued Eliza, "that I received the tidings of the late Grand-Duke's death. He had misunderstood me — he had suspected me — and we had parted in anger: nay — I had fled to save myself from his fury!"
    "May I hope — and yet I dare not — that the generous behaviour of your Serene Highness towards me," observed Richard, "proved not the cause of that lamentable misunderstanding?"
    "Oh! I should be grieved — deeply grieved, were such indeed the case!" exclaimed Isabella; "for Richard has made me acquainted with all the details of your Serene Highness's noble conduct towards him after he was taken prisoner at Ossore."
    "I will explain all," said Eliza. "But, in the first place," she added, with a sweet smile, "let me entreat a favour of you all. You style me by that title which became mine when I was honoured with — the hand of the late Grand-Duke Angelo, and which still is mine, did I choose to adopt it; — for the new Government has passed no decree to deprive me of it."
    "Nor ever will!" exclaimed Richard, warmly.
    "And yet I now value it not," continued the royal widow. "Thanks for that assurance, Prince; — but it is unnecessary. I was ever happier as Eliza Sydney, than as the Marchioness of Ziani, or as the Grand-Duchess of Castelcicala. As Eliza Sydney I left England: as Eliza Sydney I returned [-311-] to England; — and by that name do I wish to be known. Nay — I implore you not to interrupt me: if you would please me — if you would do aught to contribute to my happiness — if you value my poor friendship, — that friendship, which, poor as it is, I so cordially offer to you all, — let me henceforth be Eliza Sydney, as I once was. When I came back three months ago to my native land, I re-entered this house — which is my own — with feelings of a far more peaceful happiness than those which I experienced when I first set foot as its mistress in the palace of Montoni. Here do I hope to pass the remainder of my days; and if you will sometimes come to cheer my solitude, I shall require no other source of felicity — no other society."
    "We will visit you often, dearest Eliza — for so you will permit me to call you," said Isabella; "and you must come to our divelling [-sic-] frequently — very frequently! It shall be the care of my husband, his dear sister Katherine, and myself, and also of the friends who dwell with us, to contribute to your happiness to the utmost of our power!"
    Eliza pressed Isabella's hand, and smiled sweetly upon her and Katherine through the tears that stood upon her lashes.
    "But I promised you an explanation of those events which led to my precipitate departure from Castelcicala," continued Eliza, after a short pause. "You must know that the loss which the ducal troops experienced at Ossore — chiefly through your prowess, Prince — overwhelmed my late husband with a fury which rendered him terrible to all around. He threatened the most deadly vengeance against the Constitutional prisoners, and was only persuaded by my entreaties and prayers to relinquish the extreme measures which be at first conceived against them. It was, I think, on the fourth day after you, Prince, left Montoni, disguised as an artist, and with a passport made out in a fictitious name, that the usher who had admitted you into the palace, and who, it appeared had listened at the door of the room where our interview took place, betrayed the whole circumstances to the Grand-Duke. The Grand-Duke came immediately to my apartment, overwhelmed me with reproaches, and levelled the most unjust accusations against me. But I will not insult you nor your amiable bride by repeating all that the Duke said on that occasion. Never were suspicions more cruel: never was woman's conduct so thoroughly misunderstood — so unjustly interpreted! His Serene Highness commanded me to keep my own chamber — to consider myself a prisoner! An hour afterwards, Signor Bazzano contrived to obtain access to me, unperceived by the spies set to watch me. His uncle was, as I think I informed you when we met at Montoni, Prince, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department; and from that relative Bazzano had learnt the fearful tidings which he came to impart to me. It appeared that the Grand-Duke intended to appoint a Commission of Judges and Councillors of State to try me — me, his wife! All his former affection for me had suddenly changed, beneath the weight of his injurious suspicions, into the most unbounded hatred. I knew that he would form the commission of men rather inclined to do the royal bidding than to investigate the entire matter with justice and impartiality. He was a prince who knew no other law than his own sovereign will! Alas! that was his failing; and it triumphed over all the better feelings of a mind naturally generous! Signor Bazzano also informed me that spies had been sent out all over the country to track you, Prince; and that your death, should you be captured, was determined upon. Fortunately, however, you escaped the pursuit of your foes!"
    "And yet what danger must you have incurred!" exclaimed Isabella, gazing with tearful affection at her husband.
    "Providence shielded you, dearest brother," murmured Katherine.
    "Yes — Providence shielded him for its own wise and good purposes," added Eliza Sydney. "To continue the thread of my narrative, I must observe that the information brought me by the faithful Bazzano filled me with alarm. I already saw myself disgraced by an unjust verdict: — my life was even in danger. I was not compelled to implore Signor Bazzano to assist me to escape: he proposed the step as the only means of safety alike to myself and to him — for he was already endangered by the revelations of the usher, although the influence of his uncle had served to shield him from the immediate vengeance of the Grand-Duke. A post-chaise was procured by Bazzano that same afternoon; and I managed to escape from the palace, accompanied by Louisa — a faithful Englishwoman who has been in my service for some years. At Friuli Signor Bazzano met you, Prince, and gave you a timely warning, the nature of which you can now understand. For it was known that you had quitted Montoni, attended by a servant of dark complexion; and the spies sent after you were therefore led to inquire for two persons answering a certain description, and journeying together. Thence the recommendation to separate company, which Bazzano so wisely gave you; and perhaps to that circumstance of thus parting from your servant you each owed your safety. In reference to my own flight it only remains for me to say that we proceeded to Montecuculi, having left behind us at Friuli an impression that we were going in quite another direction. Arrived in safety at Montecuculi, we sent back the chaise to Montoni, and secured places in a public vehicle for the nearest town in the Roman States. Our perils were soon over: — we travelled day and night until we reached Leghorn, in Tuscany, where we embarked on board a vessel bound for England. Shortly after my arrival here, the news of the Castelcicalan insurrection reached this country: and then I heard, Prince, that you were at the head of the Constitutionalists."
    "But I did not. violate my promise to you," observed Richard. "I pledged myself, on the occasion of our interview at Montoni, never to draw the hostile weapon in Castelcicala, save at the command of Alberto and in a just cause, or to relieve the Grand-Duchy from a foreign invader."
    "Yes, Prince," returned Eliza; "you kept your word — for the Austrians were in the land when you became the champion of the Constitutionalists. I have now but a few words more to say in reference to myself. When the news of the battle of Montoni reached England, accompanied with the Statement that the Grand-Duke Angelo had fled into the Roman States, I felt persuaded that he would repair to Vienna, the Austrian Emperor being his near relative. I accordingly wrote to my husband, addressing my letters to him in that city. I explained all that had occurred between yourself, [-312-] Prince, and me at our interview immediately after the defeat of the Constitutionalists at Ossore I told him how deeply he had wronged me with the most injurious suspicions; and I implored him to allow me to join him, and comfort him in his exile — in his misfortunes! The answer I received was satisfactory — was in itself all I could wish; — but it was accompanied by the tidings of his death! On the bed from which he never rose again, he recognised my innocence — he acknowledged his injustice — he besought me to forgive him!"
    "Heaven be thanked that, through your goodness towards me, you were not doomed to undergo the additional torment of his dying enmity!" ejaculated the Prince, fervently.
    "Rest tranquil on that head," returned Eliza. "I have now told you all that concerns myself. I may, however, observe that I should have sought an interview with you sooner, only I was unwilling to disturb the first few days of your happiness with your charming bride."
    "Would that you had written to me the moment I arrived in England!" cried Richard. "The parents of Isabella would have been rejoiced to obtain your friendship! But you have not yet told us what has become of the faithful Mario Bazzano. I owe him a debt of deep gratitude; and if he be in this country still — "
    "He is in England," interrupted Eliza; "and as I felt persuaded that you would comply with the request contained in my letter of yesterday, and come hither to-day, I wrote to Signor Bazzano to request his presence in the afternoon. We may, therefore, expect him shortly. He has grown very melancholy of late — I know not why: some secret care appears to oppress him! On our arrival in England, he hired apartments at the West-End; but shortly afterwards he encountered an English officer with whom he had formed an acquaintance some years ago in Montoni. It appears that this officer was travelling at that time in Italy and during his temporary stay in the Castelcicalan capital, he and Signor Bazzano grew intimate When they met at the West-End two or three months ago this officer pressed Signor Bazzano to stay with him at some town near London, where his regiment is stationed. Signor Bazzano accepted the invitation; and for some weeks I saw nothing of him Since his return to London he has not appeared to be the same being. It is true that I see him but seldom: still that change has not escaped my notice. He is fond of solitude and long lonely walks, in which he employs the greater portion of his time — save those hours which he devotes to the study of English by the aid of a master; and I can assure you that his progress in acquiring our language has been truly remarkable."
    "Perhaps his melancholy is produced by absence from his native land," said Richard. "There can be no possible reason for him to remain in exile against his inclination; and should he wish to return to Italy, I will provide him with strong recommendations to the Grand-Duke."
    "No — he does not desire to leave England," answered Eliza; "for I myself have questioned him upon that subject. I am rather inclined to believe that some motive of a more tender nature — some hopeless attachment, perhaps — has produced in him the alteration which I have seen and deplored But he will be here shortly; and — "
    Eliza was interrupted by a loud knock at the front door.
    Katherine sighed: for the words of the royal widow had aroused within her gentle breast painful remembrances of her own romantic and apparently hopeless attachment!
    The door opened; and Signor Bazzano was introduced.
    Richard immediately hastened forward to greet him.
    But — how strange! — a cry of wild delight burst from the lips of the handsome Castelcicalan, as his eyes encountered one particular countenance in that room; — and at the same moment Katherine clung convulsively to Isabella's arm, as if to save herself from falling from the sofa.
    For Mario Bazzano was the hero of the young maiden's romantic adventures at Hounslow!
    Katherine, with the ingenuous confidence of a sister, had revealed to her brother, and also to Isabella, the particulars of those strange meetings with the "handsome unknown," and had not attempted to disguise the impression made upon her heart by that individual, — an impression against which she had vainly endeavoured to struggle.
    Thus, when those tokens of recognition were manifested alike by Mario Bazzano amid Katherine Markham, both Richard and Isabella instantly divined the cause.
    "Pardon me, your Highness," exclaimed the Castelcicalan officer, endeavouring to throw off the trammels of embarrassment, and speaking in excellent English; "but — that young lady — I think I have seen her — before — I — "
    "Perhaps," interrupted the Prince, laughing.
    "At all events I will introduce her to you now — for she is my sister."
    "Your sister, my lord!" cried Mario, in a tone which expressed some degree of vexation at this announcement — as if he dared not aspire to so near a relative of a personage of our hero's rank.
    "Throw aside all ceremony with me, Bazzano," said Richard, shaking him warmly by the hand. "I am your debtor — deeply your debtor. You saved my life after the defeat of Ossore: your conduct was too generous — too noble ever to be lightly valued. But, say — was it near Hounslow that you have met my sister!"
    And as he spoke, he glanced slily towards the blushing Katherine, who was half hiding her countenance behind Isabella.
    "It was — it was!" exclaimed Mario. "And will your Highness be offended if I confess that your charming sister made a profound impression upon my mind? Although believing her to be only the daughter of the tenants of that farm-house near which I encountered her in her walks, I felt myself irresistibly attracted towards her! And, — but your Highness will laugh at my romantic dreams, — I determined to acquire the English language for her sake — that I might speak to her — that I might render myself intelligible to her!"
    "We will give you an opportunity of convincing her of your proficiency in our native tongue, Mario," said the Prince, again smiling — but with kindness, and in a manner well calculated to reassure the young Italian officer, whom he led towards Katherine.
    And, oh! how the bashful maiden's heart beat, and how crimson became her sweet countenance, as [-313-] 

she felt her hand pressed in that of him who had now for some months occupied so large a portion of her thoughts!
    "You guessed rightly as to the cause of Signor Bazzano's melancholy and altered appearance," whispered Isabella to Eliza, as they walked towards the window from which Richard was now gazing upon the prospect spread before the villa.
    Then Mario and Katherine began to converse, — timidly and with frequent intervals of silence at first: but by degrees those intervals became shorter and shorter; — and at length the young officer found himself describing how he had felt deeply grieved at being unable to utter a word to her in her own tongue when they had met in the fields near the farm, — how he had torn himself away from the spot and returned to London to study English, — how he had gone back to Hounslow a few days afterwards, and vainly wandered about in those fields with the hope of seeing her, — how he conceived at length that she must purposely remain within the house to avoid him, the idea that she had left the neighbourhood never entering his mind, — how he had returned again to London and pursued his English studies under the romantic impression that they would some day serve him in respect to the attachment he had formed for her — and how he paid frequent visits to the vicinity of the farm, and was at length almost compelled to abandon the hope of ever seeing her again.
    All this he suddenly found himself telling her; and she as suddenly found herself listening to him with attention, — neither quite recollecting how the subject had first been touched upon.
    Their pleasant tκte-ΰ-tκte was at length interrupted by Eliza Sydney, who tapped them each on the shoulder, with the laughing assurance that the servant had already announced luncheon three times; and then Kate's countenance was again suffused with blushes, as she took the proffered arm of her lover is repair to the apartment where an elegant collation was served up.
    The afternoon passed speedily away; and all were so happy that they were in no haste to break up such a pleasant party. Eliza accordingly insisted that her guests should remain to dinner — an invitation which was accepted.
    Indeed, it was eleven that night ere the Prince's [-314-] carriage and Mario's horse were ordered round to the door.
    And when the young officer separated from Katherine, it was not without an assurance from her brother that he would always be a welcome guest at Markham Place.
    Great was the surprise, but not less the joy, of Ellen Monroe, when Katherine, on her return home, and ere the two young ladies sought their couch, made her friend acquainted with the elucidation of the mystery of "the handsome stranger."

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