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[-410-]

CHAPTER CCLV.

GIBBET AT MARKHAM PLACE.

    IT was at about eight o'clock in the evening when Gibbet alighted from a cab at the entrance of Markham Place.
    He knocked timidly at the door; but the servant who answered the summons received him with respect  for not the veriest mendicant that crawled upon the face of the earth ever met with an insulting glance nor a harsh word from any inmate of that dwelling.
    To Gibbet's question whether "His Highness was at home" the domestic replied by a courteous invitation to enter; and being shown into a parlour  the very same where more than two years previously he and his father had one evening supped with our hero-he was shortly joined by the-Prince.
    The hump-back, well as he had been enabled to judge of the excellent qualities of Richard, was nevertheless surprised at the kind and affable manner in which that exalted personage hastened forward to welcome him; and tears of gratitude rolled down the poor creature's face as he felt his hands clasped in those of one whom he so profoundly respected and so enthusiastically admired.
    Markham made him sit down, and rang the bell for wine and refreshments: then, noticing that the hump-back was in deep mourning, he hastened to question him as to the cause  which he nevertheless could well divine.
    "Alas! my lord," answered Gibbet, "my poor father is no more! And latterly  ever since he knew your Highness  he was so affectionate, so kind towards me, that I feel his loss very painfully indeed!"
    "Compose yourself, my good friend," said Richard; "and be solaced with the thought that your father has gone to a better world."
    "It was but last week, my lord," continued Gibbet, drying his tears, "that he was apparently in the full enjoyment of health. Your Highness is aware  by means of the letters which you were so condescending as to permit me occasionally to address to you  that the business in which my father embarked in the country prospered well, and that, under an assumed name, we were leading a happy and a comfortable life. But my father was superstitious; and I think he frightened himself to death."
    "Explain yourself, my friend," said Markham: "you interest me considerably."
    "I should inform your Highness," proceeded John Smithers, "of an incident which occurred about two years ago. You recollect the letter that your Highness wrote to acquaint us that you had unravelled the mystery which had so long involved the birth of  of  "
    "Katherine  call her Katherine," said Richard, kindly. "You shall see her presently  and she would be offended with you were you to call her by any other name than that by which you knew her for so many years."
    "Oh! my lord  now you afford me real joy!" ejaculated Gibbet, wiping his eyes once more, "But as I was about to say, It was in the middle of the very night before the letter reached us, that my father came to my room in a dreadful fright. He held a rushlight in his hand  and he was as pale [-411-] as death. Horror was depicted on his countenance. I implored him to tell me what had disturbed him; and when he had somewhat recovered his presence of mind, he said in a solemn and sepulchral tone  oh! I never shall forget it!  'John, I have just received a second warning. I was in the middle of a deep sleep, when something awoke me with a start; and by the dim light of the candle, I beheld the countenance of Harriet Wilmot gazing with a sweet and beneficent expression upon me through the opening of the curtains. It lingered for a few moments, and then faded away!'  Vainly did I reason with my father upon the subject: vainly did I represent to him that he was the sport of a vision  a fanciful dream. He shook his head solemnly, bade me mention the topic no more, and then returned to his room. For a few days afterwards he was pensive and thoughtful; but in a short' time the impression thus strangely made upon him wore away, and he became cheerful and contented as usual.
    "Ah! now I begin to comprehend the meaning of your observation, that your poor father frightened himself to death!" exclaimed Richard. "But give me all the details and full particulars."
    "I will, my lord. Two years passed since that time, and the subject was never mentioned by either of us. Katherine, as your lordship knows, used to write to us frequently; and my father was always rejoiced to hear from her and of her great prosperity. We had a feast, my lord, on the day when she was united to that good Italian gentleman whom you wrote to tell us she was to marry; and I never saw my father in better spirits. Well, my lord, thus time slipped away; and all went on smoothly until last Monday week, when we retired to rest somewhat later than usual, having had a few friends to pass the evening. It was about two o'clock in the morning, and I was in a profound sleep, when some one burst into my room. I started up: my poor father fell fainting upon the bed. Assistance, was immediately summoned a surgeon was sent for  and the proper remedies were applied. But all in vain! He remained in a kind of torpor, two days; and early in the morning of the third he seemed to recover a little. He opened his eyes and recognised me. A languid smile animated his features: he drew me towards him, and embraced me affectionately. Then, before he released me from his arms, he whispered in a faint tone, 'John, I am dying  I know I am! The last warning has been given  I have seen her face a third time! But how beautiful she looked  so mild, so angelic!"
    With these words his eyes closed  a sudden change came over him  and in a few minutes he was no more.
    "And now, my poor friend," said Markham, wiping away a tear, while Gibbet's eyes were streaming, "you are without a companion  without a parent; and the many acts of kindness you showed to my sister when she was dependant on your father's bounty, have created for you deep sympathies in the hearts of those who will now endeavour to solace you in your present affliction."
    "Oh! my lord, you are goodness itself!" ejaculated Gibbet: "but to morrow I shall return into the country to realize the property which I now possess through my father's death  and then  and then, my lord  "
    "You will come back to London  to this house," said Markham, categorically and emphatically.
    "No, my lord  I shall repair to Liverpool, and thence depart for America," answered Gibbet, conquering his emotions and speaking more firmly than he had yet done. "Oh! do not seek to turn me from my purpose, my lord  for my happiness depends upon that step," he continued.
    Richard surveyed the hump-back with unfeigned astonishment;  and this sentiment was strangely increased, when the poor creature, suddenly yielding to the impulse of his emotions, fell at our hero's feet, and catching hold of both his hands, exclaimed, "Oh! my lord, pardon me for what I have done! From our childhood I have loved Katherine-loved her devotedly,  first as a brother should love a sister-and then, my lord, oh! pardon me, but I knew not that she was by birth so high above me; I could not foresee that she would be some day acknowledged as the sister of a great Prince! And thus, my lord, if I have offended you by daring at one time to love Katherine more tenderly than I ought  you will forgive me-you will forgive me! And believe me, my lord, when I solemnly declare that never did I understand my own feelings in respect to her; never did I comprehend why her image was so unceasingly present to my imagination, until that letter came in which you announced to my father her approaching marriage. Then, my lord  then  but oh! forgive me, pardon me for This boundless insolence, this impious presumption!" she [-sic-] imploringly appealed.
    Gibbet had spoken with such strange rapidity, and such wild, startling, almost frenzied energy, and the revelation his words conveyed had so astonished our hero, that the sudden seriousness which his countenance assumed was mistaken by the poor hump-back for severity.
    But this error was speedily dissipated, when Markham, recovering from his bewilderment, raised him from the floor, conducted him to a seat, and leaning over him, said in the kindest possible manner, "My dear friend, you have no forgiveness to ask, I no pardon to accord. In my estimation, distinctions of birth are as nothing; and if you have loved my sister, it was a generous, an honest, a worthy attachment which you nourished. But, alas! my poor friend, that attachment is most unfortunate!" he said, soothingly.
    "I know it, my lord, I know it!" cried Gibbet, in tears streaming from his eyes: "and had I not been compelled to avow my secret, as an explanation of the motive which will induce me to seek another clime where I may commune with my own heart in the solitude of some forest on the verge of civilization, that secret would never have been revealed! And now, my lord," he added, hastily wiping his eyes, and assuming a calm demeanour, "seek not to deter me from my purpose, and let us close our lips upon this too painful subject!"
    "Be it as you will, my good friend," said the Prince. "But for this night, at all events, you will make my house and all it contains your home."
    Gibbet gave a reluctant consent; and when his feelings were entirely calmed, Richard introduced him into the drawing-room, where Isabella, Katherine, and her husband, Ellen and Mr. Munroe were seated.
    And here the reader may exclaim, "What! present the hump-back orphan of the late hang-man to that elegant, refined, and accomplished Princess whose father sits upon a throne!"
    Yes, reader: and it was precisely because this [-412-] poor creature was deformed  an orphan  with what many might term a stigma on his parentage  and so lonely and desolate in the world, that Richard Markham took him by the hand, and introduced him into the bosom of his domesticity. But the Prince also knew that the unfortunate hump-back possessed a heart that might have done honour to a monarch; and our hero looked not to personal appearance-nor to birth  nor to fortune-nor to name,  but to the qualities of the mind!
    And Isabella, who had heard all the previous history of those with whom Katherine had passed so many years of her life, welcomed that poor deformed creature even as her husband had welcomed him,  welcomed him, too, the more kindly because he was so deformed!
    But we shall not dwell upon this scene:  we shall leave our readers to picture to themselves the delight of Katherine at beholding him whom she had long believed to be her cousin, and who was ever ready to catch the stripes that were destined for her,  her sorrow when she heard of the death of the hump-back's father,  and the happiness experienced by Gibbet himself at passing an evening in the society of the inmates of Markham Place.
    Accident enabled him to obtain a few moments' conversation aside with Ellen; and to her he broke in as few words but in as delicate a manner as possible, the sad news which he had to communicate relative to Greenwood.
    The young lady suppressed her grief as well as she could; but she shortly afterwards pleaded indisposition and retired early to her room  there to ponder and weep, without fear of interruption, over the fallen fortunes of her husband!
    On the following morning, Gibbet-true to his resolve, which our hero no longer attempted to shake  took his departure from Markham Place, laden with the presents which had been forced upon him, and followed by the kindest wishes of those good friends whom he left behind.

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