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[-221-] 

CHAPTER LXXII.

THE BLACK CHAMBER AGAIN.

    IT was now the beginning of April, and the bleak winds had yielded to the genial breath of an early spring.
    At ten o'clock, on. morning, an elderly gentleman, with a high forehead, open countenance, thin white hair falling over his coat collar, and dressed in a complete suit of black, ascended the steps of the northern door, leading to the Inland Letter Department of the General Post Office, Saint Martin's-le-Grand.
    He paused for a moment, looked at his watch, and then entered the building. Having ascended a narrow staircase, he stopped at a door in that extremity of the building which is the nearer to Aldersgate Street. Taking a key from his pocket, he unlocked the door, glanced cautiously behind him, and then entered the Black Chamber.
    Having carefully secured the door by means of a bolt and chain, he threw himself into the arm-chair which stood near the large round oaken table.
    The Examiner - for the reader has doubtless already recognised him to be the same individual whom we introduced in the twenty-ninth chapter of our narrative - glanced complacently around him; and a smile of triumph curled his thin pale lips. At the same time his small, grey, sparkling eyes were lighted up with an expression of diabolical cunning: his whole countenance was animated with a glow of pride and conscious power and no one would have supposed that this was the same old man who meekly and quietly ascended the steps of the Post-Office a few minutes ago.
    Bad deeds, if not the results of bad passions and feelings, soon engender them. This was the case with the Examiner. He was the agent of the Government in the perpetration of deeds which disgraced his white hair and his venerable years ;- he held his appointment, not from the Postmaster-General, but direct from the Lords of the Treasury themselves ;-     he filled a situation of extreme responsibility and trust ;- he knew his influence - he was well aware that he controlled an engine of fearful power - and he gloated over the secrets that had been revealed to him in the course of his avocation, and which he treasured up in his bosom.
    He had risen from nothing; and yet his influence with the Government was immense. His friends, who believed him to be nothing more than a senior clerk in the Post-Office, were surprised at the great interest which he evidently possessed, and which was demonstrated by the handsome manner in which all his relatives were provided for. But the old man kept his secret. The four clerks who served in his department under him, were all tried and trustworthy young men; and their fidelity was moreover secured by good salaries. Thus every precaution was adopted to render the proceedings of the Black Chamber as secret as possible ;- and, at the time of which we are writing, the uses to which that room was appropriated were even unknown to the greater number of the persons employed in the General Post-Office.
    The Examiner was omnipotent in his inquisitorial tribunal. There alone the authorities of the Post-Office had no power. None could enter that apartment without his leave :- he was responsible for his proceedings only to those from whom he held his appointment. At the same time, he was compelled to open any letters upon a warrant issued and directed to him by the Secretaries of State for the Home and Foreign Departments, and for the Colonies, as well as in obedience to the Treasury. Thus did he superintend an immense system of espionnage, which was extended to every class of society, and had its ramifications through every department of the state.
    It must be observed that, although the great powers of Europe usually communicated with their representatives at the English court by means of couriers, still the agency of post-offices was frequently used to convey duplicates of the instructions borne by these express-messengers; and many of the minor courts depended altogether upon the post-office for the transport of their despatches to their envoys and ambassadors. All diplomatic correspondence, thus transmitted, was invariably opened, and notes of entire copies were taken from the despatches, in the Black Chamber. Hence it will be perceived that the English Cabinet became possessed of the nature of the greater part of all the instructions conveyed by foreign powers to their representatives at the court of Saint James's.
    But the Government carried its proceedings with regard to the violation of correspondence, much farther than this. It caused to be opened all letters passing between important political personages - the friends as well as the enemies of the Cabinet; and thus detected party combinations against its existence ascertained private opinions upon particular measures and became possessed of an immense mass of information highly serviceable to diplomatic intrigue end general policy.
    Truly, this was a mighty engine in the hands of those who swayed the destinies of the British Empire ;- but the secret springs of that fearfully complicated machine were all set in motion and controlled by that white-headed and aged man who now sat in the Blank Chamber!
    Need we wonder if he felt proud of his strange position can we be astonished if he gloated, like the boa-constrictor over the victim that it retains it its deadly folds, over the mighty secrets stored in his memory?
    [-222-] That man knew enough to overturn a Ministry with one word.
    That man could have set an entire empire in a blaze with one syllable of mystic revelation.
    That man was acquainted with sufficient to paralyze the policy of many mighty states.
    That man treasured in his mind facts a mere hint at which would have overwhelmed entire families - aye, even the noblest and highest in the land - with eternal disgrace.
    That man could have ruined bankers - hurled down vast commercial firms - levelled mercantile establishments - destroyed grand institutions.
    That man wielded a power which, were it set in motion, would have convulsed society throughout the length and breadth of the land.
    Need we wonder if the government gave him all he asked? can we be astonished if all those in whom he felt an interest were well provided for?
    When he went into society, he met the possessors of vast estates, whom be could prostrate and beggar with one word - a word that would proclaim the illegitimacy of their birth. He encountered fair dames and titled ladies, walking with head erect and unblushing brow, but whom he could level with the syllable that should announce their frailty and their shame. He conversed with peers and gentlemen who were lauded as the essence of honour and of virtue, but whose fame would have withered like a parched scroll, had his breath, pregnant with fearful revelations, only fanned its surface. There were few, either men or women, of rank and name, of whom be knew not something which they would wish to remain unknown.
    Need we wonder if bad passions and feelings had been engendered in his mind? Can we be astonished if he had learnt to look upon human nature as a fruit resembling the apples of the Dead Sea, fair to gaze upon, but ashes at the heart?
    Presently a knock at the door was heard. The Examiner opened it, and one of his clerks entered the room. He bowed respectfully to his superior, and proceeded to take his seat at the table. In like manner, at short intervals, the other three subordinates arrived; but the one who came last, brought with him a sealed parcel containing a vast number of letters, which he had received from the President of one of the sorting departments of the establishment. These letters were now heaped upon the table before the Examiner; and the business of this mysterious conclave commenced.
    The entire process of opening the letters has been described in detail in the twenty-ninth chapter. We shall therefore now content ourselves, with a record of those letters which were examined upon the present occasion.
    The first was from Castelcicala to the representative of that Grand Duchy at the English court, and was marked "Private." It ran as follows:-

"City of Montoni, Castelcicala.

    "The undersigned Is desired by his lordship the Marquis of Gerrano, his Serene Highness's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to inform your Excellency that your despatches marked L1, M 2, and N3, were received in due course. His Lordship regrets to find that Prince Alberto positively refuses to renounce his claims to the ducal crown of Castelcicala at the death of the reigning Grand Duke, whom God preserve for many years! His lordship is surprised that Prince Alberto should reject the compromise offered; inasmuch as, by complying with the terms thereof, he would receive a pension of twenty thousand pounds sterling per annum; whereas, by obstinately refusing the proposals made by the government of Castelcicala, he will obtain nothing. Moreover, it must be apparent to Prince Alberto that his claims will be set aside by the government  of Castetcicala; and that a foreign prince will receive an invitation to accept the ducal crown at the death of his present Serene Highness the reigning Grand Duke. It would be well to make fresh representations to Prince Alberto; and assure him that he would act wisely to accept offers made in perfect rood will, and that he may probably regret his obstinacy when too late. If the Prince cherishes the idea of enforcing his claims by arms, at the death of the reigning Grand Duke, your Excellency would do well to undeceive him; inasmuch, as his Majesty the King of Naples and his Holiness the Pope, holding in abhorrence the liberal notions entertained by the Prince, will support the government of Castelcicala in its determination to place a foreign prince upon the ducal throne at the death of his Serene Highness now reigning.
    "The undersigned is moreover instructed by his lordship the Marquis of Gerrano, to request your Excellency to pay prompt and full attention to the following instructions:-   An English lady, of the name of Eliza Sydney, arrived a month ago at Montoni. She is apparently about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age, very beautiful, and unmarried. She travelled in a handsome carriage, attended by one female servant and an elderly valet. Although arrived at that mature age, she has preserved all the brashness of her youthful charms - a circumstance which renders her presence here the more dangerous, for certain reasons which the undersigned will detail to your Excellency on a future occasion. This charming English woman brought letters of introduction to certain noble families at Montoni, and immediately obtained admittance into the very first society of this capital. She has taken up her residence at the villa possessed by the Earl of Warrington. in the suburbs of Montoni, and is, it is believed; nearly related to that English nobleman. The service now required of your Excellency is to ascertain all particulars that can he gleaned concerning her. This is of the utmost - the very utmost importance. As a guide to your proceedings, it may be as well to mention that Miss Sydney this morning sent a letter to the post-office addressed to a Mrs. Arlington, residing in Dover Street, London.
    "The undersigned avails himself of this note to renew to your Excellency assurances of his most perfect consideration.
"March 15, 1839. BARON RUPERTO,
"Under Secretary of State for Foreign affairs, &c.

    " Eliza Sydney!" exclaimed the Examiner. "That is the same young lady whose plot with one Stephens, to defraud the Earl of Warrington, was discovered through the medium of the Black Chamber, and revealed to the solicitor of the Bank of England."
    "The very same, no doubt, sir," observed the first clerk.
    "Then the letter which Eliza Sydney has sent from Montoni to Mrs. Arlington in London, must be amongst this packet of correspondence," continued the Examiner, glancing at the pile of letters before him, "since it left Castelcicala by the same mail as the document of Lord Ruperto."
    The Examiner turned over the letters; and, at length, extracted a particular one from the heap, observing, " Here it is." He then passed it to the clerks, by whom it was opened. The contents were as follows

"Montoni, l5th March, 1839

    "Exactly a  month ago, my dearest Diana, I wrote to you a hasty note to state my safe arrival in this city, after a very pleasant journey through the delicious climes of France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy. It was at about three o'clock In the afternoon of the l3th of February that the carriage reached the brow of a hill from whence the eye commanded a magnificent view of a vast plain, rich with fertility, bounded at the further extremity by the horizon, and on the right hand stretching down to the sea, the blue of which seemed a pure reflection of the cloudless heavens above. At the mouth of a superb river, which, after meandering through that delicious plain, amidst groves and pleasant meadows, flowed into the calm and tranquil sea, the tall towers and white buildings of Montoni met my eyes. It is impossible to conceive any thing more charming or picturesque than the sight of this peerless city of Italy. The river's verdant banks are dotted with magnificent villas and mansions, with which are connected beautiful gardens teeming with the choicest fruits and flowers, even at this season of the year! For here, my [-223-]  dear Diana, it is perfect summer! I ordered the carriage to stop for at least a quarter of a hour upon the hill, that I might enjoy the magnificent view of the vast plain and the beautiful city Far above the edifices around, rose the two towers of the ancient cathedral of St. Theodosia - their dark and gloomy masses forming a striking contrast with the extensive white buildings of the ducal palace in the immediate foreground. The port of the city was crowded with shipping, the flags of all nations waving from the forests of masts that indicated the existence of an extensive commerce. While I was yet gazing upon the scene, the roar of distant artillery reached my cars. The Grand Duke (as I afterwards learnt) was just coming back from a water excursion in his beautiful yacht, a small steamer rigged as a frigate; and the batteries of the port, and the ships of war in the offing thundered forth a salute in honour  of the royal return. Two line-of-battle ships, one French and the other English, and three frigates of the Castelcicalan navy, had all their yards manned, and displayed their gayest colours. Altogether the scene was one of the most enchanting and exhilarating that I have ever yet beheld.
    "In three quarters of an hour my carriage entered Montoni by the suburb at Saint Joanna. If I had admired the city from a distant point, how was I enraptured when I could survey it close at hand. It more nearly resembles the Chaussé d'Antin (a fashionable quarter of Paris, which city I had an opportunity of seeing during the four days that I remained there on my way hither) than any other place which I have ever yet beheld. The streets of Montoni are wide, and the buildings elegant. There are numerous fountains, and all the principal mansions, even in the very heart of the town, have gardens attached to them. At length I reached the fashionable quarter, and, having passed the magnificent dwellings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Interior, I passed through the immense arena, on one side of which stands the ducal palace. At that moment a regiment of Horse Guards was returning to its barracks close to the royal residence. The superb black chargers, the glittering helmets and cuirasses of the men, the waving plumes, the clang of armour, and the braying of trumpets, formed a tout ensemble so inspiring, that I almost wished I was a man to be able to serve in such a corps.
    "The carriage proceeded, crossed the river over a suspension bridge, and, having passed the official dwellings of the Ministers of War, Commerce, Marine, and Finance, entered the southern suburbs of the metropolis of Castelcicala. I could not have conceived that any city could have possibly equalled London or Pans in the magnificence of its shops and the amount of wealth displayed in their windows ;- but certainly, Montoni is a miniature counterpart of the finest portions of either the English or French capital.
    "At length I reached the villa so generously placed at my disposal by the Earl of Warrington, whom I can never sufficiently thank for all his kindness towards me. The servants, already advertised of my intended visit by letters which his lordship had written from England at the time of my departure, were prepared to receive me. I was Immediately comfortable - immediately at home. Oh! how deliciously did I sleep that night;- but before I closed my eyes, how fervently did I pray for the welfare and happiness of the Earl of Warrington and of Diana Arlington!
    "And the Earl told you that it was a little villa, Diana! It is a superb mansion. The rooms are magnificently furnished; the gardens are spacious and full of all that is delicious in the shape of fruit or enchanting in the guise of flowers. I wandered for hours in those inviting grounds the morning after my arrival. But would you have me depict my new abode? Listen:-
    "Imagine a river half as broad as the Thames at Richmond, and far, far more lovely in its scenery. At a distance of about fifty yards from the stream, on a gentle acclivity rising from its very edge, stands a large square mansion, built of white free-stone. The villa is two storeys high and the windows on the lower floor open like folding doors down to the ground. The hall and magnificent staircase are of the finest marble. And will you humour me in attending to all my minor details? - I have fitted up my own boudoir in precisely the same style as that in which I passed many happy hours at Clapton! A grove of myrtles almost surrounds the villa, and is musical with the warblings of a thousand birds. A gravel walk, margined with flowers, leads down to the river's bank. Behind the mansion extend the gardens, the acclivity still rising gently, until the summit of the verdant amphitheatre is on a level with the first floor windows. There is a marble basin in the middle of the grounds, filled with crystal water, in which gold and silver fish disport joyously beneath the shade of the overhanging fruit trees on one side, or, on the other, play with their glistening fins, in the brilliant flood of sunlight. Oh! in truth it is a charming spot, and seems as if its barriers could for ever exclude the footsteps of sorrow!
    "When I had rested myself for two or three days, and completely recovered from the fatigues of travelling, I delivered my letters of Introduction to the families to whom they were addressed. And here I have another instance of the Earl of Warrington's noble conduct to record. The letters all represented me as the near relation of the Earl of Warrington! I was received with open arms by all to whom I was thus introduced; and each kind Italian family seemed only anxious to make me happy! Oh! what virtue there must have been in those letters, which Count Alteroni had written, no doubt according to the dictation of the Earl. But, ah! Diana, relative to those letters there is a secret, which I do not choose to trust to paper, but which the Earl has perhaps already explained to you. Oh! I do not wonder now that I was not to seek to penetrate their contents, in England (neither did I myself ever open them at all); nor is it a matter of marvel that those recommendations should prove such strong passports to the favour of those to whom they were addressed!
    "One of those letters was directed to General Grachia, the colonel of that very regiment of Horse Guards which I so much admired on my first entrance into Montoni. He and his amiable family, consisting of a wife and three lovely daughters, overwhelmed me with kindness. But now I am going to state something that will surprise you. A few days after I first became known to this delightful family, there was a grand review in the palace-square. General Grachia commanded the troops, which mustered to the number of about seven thousand. The ladies insisted that I should accompany them in their open carriage to see the manoeuvres. The review was to be a very brilliant one, as the Grand Duke himself intended to inspect the troops. I accordingly assented; and, to the review we went. Never have I beheld a more magnificent sight. The road around the square was lined with carriages filled with all the rank and beauty of Montoni. The troops presented a splendid appearance - being the choice regiments of the Castelcicalan army, which, I have understood, is seventeen thousand strong. At length the Grand Duke Angelo III., attended by a brilliant staff, arrived upon the arena. He is a fine-looking man for his age, which must be at least sixty. He was dressed in a Field Marshal's uniform, and wore, amongst other orders, the insignia of the English Garter, of which he is a knight. He rode a little in advance of the great officers of state, who attended upon him; and when the troops presented arms, and the band struck up the national air, he took his heron plumed hat completely off, thus remaining bare-headed until the royal salute was ended. He then passed along the lines; but the troops received him in silence, for, to tell you the truth, his Serene Highness is far from popular, in consequence of certain political reasons with which I shall not trouble you at present.
    "When the review was over, the Duke, attended by his staff, rode round the square, and graciously replied to the salutations which awaited him on all sides, When be drew near the carriage in which General Grachla's family and myself were seated, he rode up to it and entered into conversation with the General's lady. Presently he glanced toward me, and immediately bent down and whispered to Signora Grachia. The result was my formal introduction to the Grand Duke of Castelcicala. He inquired very kindly after the Earl of Warrington, whom he remembered perfectly. I blushed deeply as I answered his questions, for I was ashamed of the imperfect manner in which I speak the Italian language - for all that I know, as well as the little French with which I am acquainted, I taught myself during my residence at the villa at Clapton. The Grand Duke, however, seemed to comprehend me perfectly. Having conversed with us at least a quarter at an hour, he again whispered something to General Grachia's lady; and then rode on.
    "It appeared that there was to be a grand ball and reception at the ducal palace on the following evening; and this second whisper expressed a positive wish - amounting, you know, on the part of royalty, to a command - that I should accompany General Grachia's family. I could not avoid obedience to this invitation. I therefore expressed my readiness to comply with it. And now, my dearest Diana, pardon a woman's vanity; - but it struck me that I never looked so well as on that evening, when I was dressed for the ducal ball!
    "I need scarcely say that the entertainment itself was magnificent. Such a blaze of beauty I never saw before. Oh! what charming creatures are the Italian women; and Montoni is justly famed for its female loveliness! The Grand Duke is a widower, and has no children. The honour of the evening were entrusted to the lady of the Minister of the Interior, who is also the President of the Council. The Duke opened the bail with that lady. You may laugh [-224-] at the idea of a prince of sixty dancing: but in Italy everybody dances. I was invited by the major of General Grachia's regiment for the first quadrille, and by Baron Ruperto, under secretary of state for Foreign Affairs, for the second. The third and fourth I declined dancing, being somewhat overcome with the heat of the apartments. But a the fifth quadrille I danced: this time I could not refuse.  No - it was not an invitation that I received - it was a command! I danced with the Grand Duke of Castelcicala!
    "I found, on this occasion, that his highness speaks English well. He emigrated, it appears, to England, when the French armies occupied Italy, and resided In London for some years. We accordingly conversed in English. He expressed a hope that I should make a long stay in Montoni, and observed that he should be very angry with General Grachia's lady if she did not always bring me to court with her on the evenings of reception. I was at a loss how to express myself in return for so much condescension; and I am afraid, my dear Diana, that I was very awkward.
    "On the following morning, one of the Duke's attendants arrived at the villa with a present of the choicest fruits and flowers for me. He informed me that they were sent by order of his highness, and the messenger was expressly commanded to make inquiries concerning my health. I thanked him most sincerely for this act of kindness on the part of his illustrious master; and when he had taken his departure, I sate in a delicious summer-house the entire morning, wondering to what circumstance I could have been indebted for such a token of royal favour.
    "A few days elapsed; and the same messenger returned, bringing me a quantity of the most select Italian works, all beautifully bound, and with the ducal arms printed on the fly-leaf. Beneath this blazonry, were the words- FROM ANGELO III. TO MISS ELIZA SYDNEY' And now I asked myself, 'What can all this mean?'
     "Two days more passed, when I received an intimation from Signora Grachia that there was to be a select conversazione in the evening at the palace, and that I was specially invited. I accompanied General Grachia's family; and the moment we entered the room, the Grand Duke accosted us. After conversing with us for a few moments, he offered me his arm, saying that he would conduct me to inspect his sculpture-gallery. This splendid museum communicated with the apartment wherein the company (which was by no means numerous on the occasion) was assembled. His Highness led me into the gallery, and explained all its curiosities. The works of art, by some of the most eminent masters, are very valuable. His Highness evidently prolonged the inspection as much as possible, and his language was occasionally interspersed with a compliment calculated to flatter me - nay, Diana, to make me very vain! When we returned to the drawing-rooms, the Duke led me to a sofa, seated himself by me, and conversed with me for a considerable time. He asked me many questions relative to my family - whether my father and mother were still living, whether I had any brothers or sisters, and in what degree of relationship I stood towards the Earl of Warrington? He then asked me how it was that I had not as yet launched my fortunes in the bark of matrimony? I blushed deeply at this question, and replied that I had never as yet encountered any one with whom I had chosen to link my destinies. He then spoke of the peculiar position of princes, observing with a deep sigh, that they could not always follow the bent of their inclinations, nor obey the natural dictates of their affections. During the remainder of the evening I was the object of universal attention - I could not then conceive wherefore - on the part of the noble and beauteous guests assembled. Every one manifested the most respectful courtesy towards me; and General Grachia's family were more kind to me than ever. Ah! a vague suspicion darted across my mind :- could it be possible? Oh! no - no! that were the height of the most insane presumption!
    "Day after day passed; and frequent were the tokens of the Grand Duke's favour which I received - but all of the a most delicate description, - flowers, fruits, and books. I was also compelled to accompany the Grachias to all the ducal soirées and receptions; and on each occasion, the Duke paid me marked attention. Oh! my dear friend, my heart beats when I remember that only last evening his Serene Highness pressed my hand, and said to me in a low but impressive tone. 'Would that I were not a prince, or that you were a princess!'
   
"I can say no more at present, dearest Diana; but you shall speedily hear again from your sincerely attached and ever deeply grateful

"ELIZA SYDNEY.

    "No wonder," said the Examiner, drily, "that Baron Ruperto has desired the Envoy of Castelcicala at the English court to make inquiries relative to Miss Eliza Sydney. Let the contents of both letters be duly noted, and forwarded to her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."

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