chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
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was about a week after the exposure which had taken place in Stratton Street,
that the following events occurred at the splendid mansion of the Marquis of
Although the time-piece upon the mantel of this
nobleman's bed-room had only just proclaimed time hour of three in the
afternoon, yet the curtains were drawn close over the windows, and the chamber
was rendered as dark as possible.
In that apartment, too, there was a profound
silence — broken only by the low but irregular breathing of some one
who slept in the bed.
By the side of time couch sate two elderly men, dressed
in black, and who maintained a strict taciturnity — doubtless for
fear of awakening the sleeper.
On a small table between them were various bottles
The bed stood upon a sort of dais, or raised portion of
the floor, this platform being attained by two steps. High over the couch was a
canopy of velvet and gold, surmounted by the coronet of a Marquis, and from
whence the rich satin curtains, of dark purple, flowed over that voluptuous bed.
The room itself was furnished in the most luxurious
manner. The rose-wood tables were inlaid with mother of pearl: the chairs were
of antique form, with high backs carved in the most exquisite manner; — the
mirrors were large, the pictures numerous, and all set in magnificent
frames; — and the toilette-table was of the most elegant and costly
And yet he, for whom all this gorgeousness and splendour
had been devised, — he, whose wealth had converted the entire
mansion into a palace that would have even delighted the proudest Sultan that
ever sate on an oriental throne, — this man, for whom earth had such
delights — the world so many enjoyments, — this
man — the Marquis of Holmesford — was about to succumb
to the power of the Angel of Death.
Oh! what a mockery was it to behold, — when
the window-curtains were drawn back, upon the Marquis awaking from his uneasy
slumber, — what a [-398-] mockery was
it to behold that truly imperial magnificence surrounding the couch whereon lay
a thin, weak, haggard, and attenuated old man, in whose eyes was already seen
that stony glare which marks the last look of dissolving nature!
The nobleman awoke, and turned round towards his
physicians, who watched at the bedside.
One of them rose and drew back the window-curtains as
noiselessly as possible; and then the pure light of a lovely day streamed into
The other medical attendant quietly took the nobleman's
hand, anxiously felt his pulse, and inquired in a low whisper "how his
lordship felt now?"
"Just the same — or may be a little
worse," answered the Marquis, in a hollow but feeble tone. "And yet it
is impossible that I should be in any real danger! Oh! no — I was
only taken ill last night; and men surely do not-do not — die,"
he added, pronouncing the fatal word with a most painful effort, "upon so
slight and slender a warning."
"Your lordship is far from well — very
far from well," said the physician, emphatically; "and I consider it
is my duty to at once assure you of that fact."
"But you — you do not think,
doctor," stammered the Marquis, "that I am in any — any
real- — real danger?"
And as he spoke, his glassy eyes were for a few moments
lighted up with the evanescent fire of intense excitement-the agitation of a
suspense ineffably painful.
"My lord," answered the physician, in a solemn
tone, "if you have any affairs of a worldly nature to settle — "
"No — no: it can't be! You are
deceiving me!" almost shrieked the old nobleman, starting up wildly to a
sitting posture: "do you mean to offend — to insult me when I
am a little indisposed? For I am positively convinced that this is only a
trifling indisposition — a mere passing illness."
"My dear Marquis," said the second physician,
advancing towards the bed, "my colleague performs but his duty — painful
though it be — when he assures you — "
"Oh! yes — I understand you,"
again interrupted the nobleman, catching at a straw: "you do right to
prepare me for the worst! But mine is not an extreme case — is it?
Oh! no-I am certain it cannot be! You are both clever men — well
versed in all the mysteries of your profession — and you can soon
restore me to health. There! I will give you each a cheque for five thousand
pounds the day that you tell me that I may get up again!"
And once more did he contemplate them with eager-anxious
glances, expressive at once alike of uncertain, feverish hope and tremendous
"Speak — speak!" he cried:
"answer me! Five thousand pounds for each of you, the day that I leave this
"Were your lordship to offer us all your
fortune," answered the elder physician — he who had first
spoken, — "we could not do more for you than we are now doing.
And if you excite yourself thus — "
"Excite myself, indeed!" ejaculated the
Marquis, attempting a laugh — which, however, rather resembled a
death-rattle that seemed to shake his crazy old frame even to the very vital
foundations: "is it not enough to make me excited, when you are so foolish
as to joke with me about my being in danger-although you know that I must
recover soon? Don't you know that, doctor? — tell me; dear
doctor — shall I not be well in a few days-or at all events a few
weeks? Come — reassure me: say that you only spoke in jest! Danger,
indeed! Why, doctor, I possess a constitution of iron!"
And, thus rapidly speaking, the Marquis fell back upon
his pillow, in a state of extreme exhaustion.
The younger physician forced him to swallow some
medicine; and for a few minutes he lay panting and moaning as if the very chords
of his existence were snapping rapidly one after the other.
At length he turned again towards his medical
"Well, I do believe that I am rather worse than I
just now fancied myself to be," he said, in a very faint and feeble tone:
"but still I am sure of getting better soon. That medicine has already done
me good. Three or four bottles of it — and I shall be quite well.
Ah! my dear friends, you are profoundly skilled in all the secrets of the human
frame; and with two such physicians as you, it would be impossible to — to-die
"Pray, my lord, do not excite yourself,"
observed the elder medical attendant. "Repose and rest often prove more
efficacious than drugs and potions."
"Well — well — I will be
quiet-I will tranquillise myself," said the Marquis. "But you must not
frighten me any more-you must not talk to me about settling my worldly
affairs-just as if I were indeed about to die," he added, with a ghastly
attempt to smile away that expression of profound terror which he felt to
be imprinted on his countenance. "No-no; it is too ridiculous to put such
ideas into one's head! Why, answer me-how old do you imagine me to be,
"My lord, you afflict me greatly by this style of
discourse," said the elder physician, who was thus appealed to. "Most
solemnly do I adjure your lordship to compose your mind to that state in which
every Christian should be prepared for the worst."
"Doctor — doctor, you cannot be
serious!" again half shrieked the affrighted nobleman. "What! am I
indeed so very ill? No-no: consider the strength of my constitution — remember
how able I am to procure by my wealth every means that may conduce to my
recovery — also think of what you yourself can, I think, do for
me — "
"My lord," said the physician, solemnly, we
will exert all human efforts to save you; but the result lies not with us — it
rests entirely with God!"
The Marquis uttered a hollow groan, and, closing his
eyes, appeared to be suddenly wrapt in profound meditation.
The scene which we have just described, was a most
painful one — even to those two physicians whose experience in such
matters was so extensive. There was something peculiarly horrible in that old
man of shattered health and exhausted vigour, boasting of the strength of a
constitution ruined by a long career of debauchery, — boasting, too,
even against his own internal convictions!
But, like all men who fear to die, the Marquis would not
admit in words what his soul had acknowledged to itself. He seemed to feel as if
there were a possibility of staving off the approach [-399-]
of death, merely by reiterating a disbelief that the destroyer was advancing at
all. Thus, though his mind was filled with the most appalling apprehensions, he
nevertheless clung — he knew not how nor wherefore-to a hope that
his physicians might be deceived — that they had exaggerated
his danger — that their skill was potent enough to wrestle with the
dissolution of nature — in a word, that it was quite possible for
him to recover.
And, if he feared to die, it was not precisely because
he dreaded the idea of being suddenly plunged into eternity; for he had been a
sceptic all his life, and was by no means convinced that there was any future
state at all. But his mind shrank from the thought of death as from a revolting
spectacle; and moreover the world had so many charms — such
boundless attractions for him — that he could not endure the
prospect of being called away from those delicious scenes for ever!
He remained for nearly a quarter of an hour buried in
the most profound and abstruse meditation.
"My worthy friends," he at length said,
opening his glassy eyes once more, and turning towards his physicians, "I
am now prepared to hear without excitement any thing you may deem it advisable
or proper to communicate. In one word, is my state really one of great and
"Your lordship now speaks as becomes a man of
strong mind," answered the elder physician; "and in this altered mood
you will receive with due tranquillity the sad announcement which I am bound to
"And that announcement?" said the Marquis,
"Is that your lordship's recovery is in the hands
of heaven," replied the physician, solemnly: "for no human agency can
enable you to quit that bed in health again."
"And this is your serious conviction?"' said
the Marquis, grasping the bed-clothes tightly with both his hands, as if to
restrain an explosion of him agonising feelings.
"My duty towards your lordship compels me to answer
in the affirmative," returned the physician.
A pause of some minutes ensued: the Marquis could not
trust himself to speak. Silence was for a time the only safeguard against a
relapse into those wildly-expressed doubts, adjurations, and frantic wanderings
which had ere now denoted and thrown a light upon the real condition of his
"It is then decided — and I must
prepare for death!" he at length said, in a low and measured tone.
"With a candour equal to that which you have already shown, doctor, tell me
how long I may hope yet to live?"
"Do not, I pray you, press me, my lord, on that
head — "
"Nay: now you are yourself adopting the very means
to excite me," interrupted the Marquis, angrily. "I am nerved to hear
the worst: but I wish that the worst may be communicated to me. Speak,
doctor — speak fearlessly — and say how long do you
really think I may expect yet to live?"
The two physicians consulted each other with a rapid
interchange of glances; and both thereby intimating an affirmative, the elder
one said, "Your lordship might probably survive four-and. twenty
"Four-and-twenty hours!" repeated the Marquis,
the bed actually shaking with the cold shudder that passed through his frame at
this appalling announcement; "four-and-twenty hours!" he said a second
time: "that is a very short reprieve, indeed! Has your skill no means,
doctor, of prolonging my existence for a few days — for a few hours,
even, longer than the amount which you have named?"
"There is no hope of accomplishing such a result,
my lord," was the reply.
"No hope!" murmured the Marquis: then after
another short pause, he said in a tone which it cost him a dreadful effort to
render firm, "Have the kindness to direct that my solicitor may be sent for
This desire was immediately complied with; and as the
lawyer lived in the neighbourhood, scarcely half an hour elapsed ere he was
ushered into the presence of the Marquis.
The physicians were desired to remain in the room; and
the solicitor, seating himself by the nobleman's directions at the table near
the bed, prepared his writing materials.
The Marquis of Holmesford then gave instructions
relative to the disposal of his property; and the lawyer drew up the will in due
Having detailed various bequests and legacies, and
disposed of the great bulk of his fortune, the Marquis, who spoke in a firm and
distinct tone of voice, addressed the lawyer in the following manner: —
"And now, sir, have the kindness to insert the
words which I am about to dictate to you:-'Also I will and bequeath to
Katherine Bazzono [-sic-], half-sister of his
Highness Richard Prince of Montoni, the sum of fifty thousand pounds, as a proof
of the sincere contrition and deep regret which I experience on account of
certain proceedings on my part, whereby the mother of the said Katherine Bazzano
endured grievous wrongs and great afflictions, although perfectly innocent of
any evil thought or deed in respect to her husband, the deceased father of the
above-mentioned Richard Prince of Montoni.' — Have you written
to my dictation?"
"I have followed your lordship as accurately as the
introduction of a few necessary legal technicalities into that last clause would
permit," was the solicitor's reply.
"Then naught now remains for me but to sign the
will," said the Marquis; and he sate up in the bed, apparently with but
He affixed his name with a firm hand to the document,
and requested the physicians to witness it.
The ceremony was then completed; and the solicitor took
So soon as he had left the room, the Marquis addressed
himself to the physicians in these terms:-
"My good friends, the ordeal which I most dreaded
has been accomplished; and I feel as if a considerable weight were taken off my
mind. What I now require is that you give me some powerful medicament or a
strong cordial, that will endow me with sufficient energy to rise from this bed
and proceed — alone and unattended — to another room in
the house, — a room which I must visit — or I
should not die in peace! And as a reward for this last service, I desire you to
divide equally between you the amount which you will find in yonder
writing-desk. That sum consists of a few thousands, and will, I hope, amply
repay the kindness which I now expect at your hands."
"While I thank your lordship for this instance of
your bounty towards me and my colleague," said the elder physician, "I
am convinced that I express his feelings an well as my own, in stating that we [-400-]
cannot possibly allow you to quit your couch. The excitement might prove almost
"I have no time to waste in hearing or answering
objections," said the Marquis, his glazing eyes lighting up with the fever
of impatience, and a hectic flush appearing on his sallow, sunken, withered
cheeks. "Do what I request — or leave me this moment: give me
such a cordial as you may think suitable to the purpose-or my valet will supply
me with a bumper of champagne."
"My dear Marquis — "
"My lord — my lord — "
"In one word, do as I desire — or leave
me," exclaimed the nobleman, cutting short the ejaculations of the two
physicians by an imperious wave of his skeleton-like hand: "there shall be
no other master save myself in this house, until the breath be out of my
The physicians essayed farther remonstrances-but in
vain. The Marquis grew fearfully irritated with their opposition, and then fell
back so exhausted upon his pillow, that the medical attendants were compelled to
administer as a restorative the cordial which he had demanded as an artificial
stimulant a few minutes previously.
The effect of the cordial was really surprising that old
man, whom its influence had just snatched — but snatched only for a
time — from the outstretched arms of death, sate up in his bed
smiled and seemed to bid defiance to the destroying angel.
"You must humour me now, my friends," he said,
in a jocose manner, which contrasted awfully with the inevitable peril of his
condition: "go to the writing-desk in yonder corner, and let me be assured
you have possessed yourselves of that token of my good feeling which I bequeathe
The physicians, rather to please their obstinate patient
than to gratify any avaricious longing on their part, did as they were desired:
but, scarcely had they opened the desk, where they observed a bundle of
Bank-notes, when a low chuckle met their ears.
They turned and beheld the Marquis, clad in a long
dressing-gown and with slippers on his feet, hurrying out of the room by a small
door near the foot of his bed.
To hasten after him was their first and most natural
impulse; but the key was turned on the other side ere they even reached the
Without losing a moment, they hastened from the room by
a door at the opposite extremity; but in the adjoining passage they were met by
the nobleman's principal valet.
"Gentlemen," said the domestic, "his
lordship desires me to inform you that he has no farther need of your
"But, my good fellow," exclaimed the younger
physician, "your master is dying — he cannot live another day;
and this excitement-this rash proceeding — "
"Is sheer madness!" added the senior medical
attendant. "Whither has your master gone?"
The valet whispered a few words to the physicians: they
understood him full well, and exchanged locks of mingled disgust and horror.
"The unnatural excitement of this proceeding,"
at length observed the elder physician, — will kill the Marquis
within an hour!"
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