The Mummy (Loudon)/Volume 2/Chapter 11

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CHAPTER XI.

 

The Spanish nobility were daily collecting round the Irish King. To one of the most distinguished of these, the Duke of Medina Celina, Roderick was particularly anxious to introduce Edric. For this purpose, therefore, as soon as the army of Roderick returned to his head quarters at Cadiz, where the duke had remained, the friends went together to pay him a visit.

Edric was exceedingly interested by this call. The duke's family consisted only of himself and his grandaughter, the Princess Zoe, but the appearance of both was excessively striking. The duke was a blind old man with white flowing hair and a long silvery beard, clad with almost patriarchal simplicity; whilst Zoe, who sate closely by his side, and seemed devoted to his comfort, was beauty itself. Exquisitely lovely, however, as her features were, they excited rather pain than pleasure in the mind of the beholder, from their excessive paleness. Her dress was simple: a robe of black silk fitted tight to her slender shape, and her jet black hair was simply braided on her forehead, and confined in a net behind.

When she saw the strangers, a slight blush stained the usual alabaster fairness of her complexion, and a trifling agitation was visible in her manner. It was but for an instant, however, that this glowing tint suffused her pallid cheeks, or that her fine features betrayed agitation. Her usual calm dignity of expression was immediately re-assumed, and her countenance regained its marble whiteness. There was, indeed, something very singular in the whole countenance of this young beauty, for, notwithstanding the exquisite loveliness of her features, her charms were rather those of a statue than of a human being. Her fine features were strictly Grecian and perfectly regular, but they were always fixed in one unvarying expression; whilst her large black eyes fringed with long silken eyelashes, and her glossy raven hair, contrasted strangely with the spotless fairness of her complexion; the whole gave her the air of some unearthly visitant from the tomb.

Zoe had been unfortunate from her birth. Her mother having accompanied the old duke upon an embassy to Constantinople, had happened to please the fancy of the reigning Emperor so forcibly, that, contrary to the advice of his counsellors, he had married her. Dis-proportioned marriages, however, are seldom happy ones: and that of the parents of Zoe formed no exception to the general rule. The Emperor soon repented his rashness, and, becoming tired of his wife, treated her with coldness and neglect; whilst she, far removed from all her former friends, and finding herself despised by the man for whose sake she had sacrificed every thing, lingered a few years and then died unheeded and forlorn, leaving only the hapless Zoe to lament her fate.

The Emperor married again; and Zoe had dragged on a miserable existence, till in an insurrection of the Greeks, her father had been murdered, and she herself compelled to fly from Constantinople. She had repaired first to Africa; but finding her grandfather was in Spain, she had followed him thither, and still remained with him, under the protection of Roderick.

It was, indeed, the aristocracy of Spain for which the Irish hero was now principally fighting; for they had suffered most severely from the licentious conduct of the soldiers, and were most earnest in imploring his assistance. When the seat of the Spanish monarchy had been removed to Africa, most of the nobles had followed in its train, whilst those that remained had become objects of hate and suspicion to the republican governments that ensued. Still, however, the amor patria glowed strongly in their breasts, and chained them to their country; they submitted patiently to innumerable grievances, till, a few months before they applied to Roderick, finding the insolence of the soldiers become insupportable, they determined to throw off the yoke, and re-establish a monarchy in Spain.

For this purpose, they had invited Don Pedro, a younger branch of their former Royal family to come over from Africa to accept their throne. He complied, and had brought in his train many of the old nobility; and amongst the rest the venerable Duke of Medina Celina, whose most passionate wish it was, that he might die and be entombed in Spain. Don Pedro had been unsuccessful, and had fled; but many of those who had accompanied him remained, and with the resident Spanish nobility now formed the splendid Court of Roderick at Cadiz.

The duke received Edric kindly, and treated Roderick with that enthusiastic devotion, which is, beyond all other praise, flattering to the mind of man. Zoe never spoke, nor did her features betray that she took the slightest interest in the scene before her. It has been before observed, that education was carried to such a pitch in England, that all, even the common people, were universal linguists. Instruction indeed, in that respect, was imparted in many brief and ingenious modes; and knowledge being thus rendered so cheap and easy, as to be à la portée de tout le monde, it of course was going partially out of fashion with the higher classes; but as Sir Ambrose piqued himself on his devotion to all the old customs, he would not swerve from them in the education of his sons; and in consequence, Edric was almost as learned in this respect as a servant or a labourer.

This had often been a source of chagrin to him at home, as it prevented his feeling upon equal terms with those in the same situation of life as himself, and had contributed greatly to give him those shy and reserved manners we have noticed. On the present occasion, however, Edric found his learning advantageous, as it enabled him to enjoy thoroughly the animated and entertaining conversation of the old duke. After a lively and spirited discussion of the manners of the age generally, and the state of Spain in particular, the friends retired, having first obtained a promise from the duke and Zoe to be present at a grand tournament Roderick intended giving on the following day.

"Well, Edric!" said Roderick, "what think you of the Princess Zoe?" "That she would be a Venus de Medicis, if she had a little more soul."

"Oh come! Edric," said Roderick, laughing; "that is really too bad. I'11 allow that Zoe wants animation; but she has at least as much as a statue. Besides I thought you were fond of still life, or you would not feel so anxious about your Mummy."

"Oh, for God's sake!" said Edric, "do not joke me upon that subject; it is too solemn, too awful!"

"At least, your doubts are now satisfied," said the King.

"Not at all," returned Edric; "for I cannot help imagining it was only permitted to appear resuscitated to punish my presumptuous daring; and its mysterious disappearance, added to the strange and fearful adventures that have since attended us, only confirm my opinion."

"It must have been a horrible feeling when you first saw it stir," observed Roderick.

"Words cannot express the agony of that moment," replied Edric, "when I saw my strange unearthly wishes gratified, and felt the impiety I had been guilty of in having formed them; and I would have given worlds to restore the Mummy to the deep sleep I had disturbed. It was, however, then too late."

"Can you form any idea of what has become of it?"

"None. If the Egyptian's story be correct, it contrived to re-inflate the balloon, and that carried it away, though it is quite impossible to say how far it might go, as the Mummy could not possibly understand the management of the machine, though he might accidentally fill it."

"Would it relieve you to think the Mummy safe in England?"

"Oh no! I shudder at the thought."

"Well, well, then it is useless to make yourself unhappy about the subject. Depend upon it, all is for the best. I am sure, for my part, I am very much obliged to the resuscitated gentleman; as, if it had not been for his freak of flying away with your balloon, you would not have been here at the present moment, and I might never have even known that such a person was in existence. However, now you are here, you must not leave me; and when we have finished our campaign, we will return to Ireland together, and pass the remainder of our lives in peace and tranquillity."

Edric smiled, for the very idea of peace and Roderick seemed incongruous.

The tournament was held on a fine plain on the mainland, a few miles from Cadiz, and nothing could exceed the brilliancy of the show.

"The sun shone o'er fair women and brave men," for even in winter, the bright beams of an Andalusian sun give a glowing animation to the scene. The busy murmurs of the crowd, the prancing of the horses, and the gay laugh of the light-hearted Irishmen, as they paid their highflown compliments to the Spanish beauties, were, however, soon interrupted by the firing of cannon, and a pause ensued, which was at length broken by loud shouts of "Roderick! Roderick, for ever! Long live the Conqueror of Spain!" And immediately, the pressure and bustle of the people, and the sound of warlike music which gradually swelled upon the ear, announced the arrival of that illustrious Sovereign upon the field.

Roderick was, as usual, riding upon Champion his noble barb, and surrounded by the officers of his staff; but he was not talking to them with his accustomed familiarity; his countenance even wore an air of sadness and reflection, very unusual to it. However, as he rode along, his fine horse tossing his head and spurning the ground as he advanced, he looked completely the powerful Sovereign that he really was.

His dress was exceedingly becoming. Roderick knew mankind too well not to appear to adopt, in some measure, even the prejudices of those he associated with; and knowing the partiality of the Spaniards for dress and appearance, his own was magnificent. A tight vest and pantaloons of black satin displayed the elegance of his figure to the best advantage, whilst a short cloak of the same material, hung from his shoulders in graceful negligence, and his head was covered with a large Spanish hat of black velvet, having a magnificent plume of ostrich feathers, secured by a diamond aigrette in front. A superb collar of diamonds also adorned his breast, and a deep frill of vandyk lace was fastened round his neck.

Splendid, however, as was the attire of Roderick, it was far exceeded by his personal advantages; and no one could look upon that fair, open brow, those bright blue eyes, that manly, though youthful form, that glossy chesnut hair and curling mustachios, or, what was more than all, upon the fascinating smile of the mouth they decorated, without feeling deeply interested for their possessor.

The fascinating manners of Roderick have been already mentioned; but, upon the present occasion, his usual gaite de caur was tempered by an air of dignity and command which became him equally well, and which powerfully told, that though he might sometimes condescend to seem amused with trifles, he could, when he pleased, be indeed a king.

The affairs of Spain were nov beginning to assume a favourable appearance, and, consequently, the people were better disposed to be amused; whilst, as a truce had been granted for some weeks, during a negotiation for peace which was carrying on, the combined Spanish and Irish soldiers shut up in the Isle of Leon, and thrown entirely upon their own resources for amusement, like most persons in similar situations, grasped eagerly at every trifle that seemed to promise variety and amusement.

Roderick was perfectly aware of this; and it was partly to afford employment for his officers, and partly to gratify his own taste for the pursuits of chivalry, that he had proposed the present tournament. The lists were marked out, and a flourish of trumpets summoned the combatants to the field. Two of the Irish officers were the first who engaged, and whilst every eye was occupied in watching their movements with the most intense anxiety, Roderick took an opportunity of whispering to Edric that he had just received news from England.

"Well!" cried Edric, his eyes sparkling with impatience.

"Elvira is elected; but I am afraid there is a strong party in the state against her."

"And my father?"

"He is well, and Edmund is prime minister!"

"What says Rosabella?"

"She is silent; and, therefore, I fear—"

"You are right. In such a case, Rosabella's silence can only portend a storm." "The duke has left the country, and now resides entirely in town."

"What a change," said Edric, "a few short months has produced! all is altered. I was excessively shocked when you informed me of the death of Claudia; but this news, though it surprises, does not displease me; and, thank God! my father is well."

The defeat of one of the combatants, and the shouts and triumph attending the success of the other, now interrupted the conference; and the rush of all parties towards the King separated him from Edric, who walked quietly away from the crowd to meditate upon the news he had received. The train of thought thus conjured up was so pleasing, that he was soon completely lost in it. His father, his brother, and all the scenes of his childhood, those early recollections so dear to every heart, seemed to rise before him, and he had forgotten Spain and all that it contained, when he was roused from his reverie by a piercing scream; and, looking round, he saw the Princess Zoe, near whose palanquin he had accidentally placed himself, attempting to break from her carriage in a state of the most violent agitation.

Astonished beyond the power of expression at her emotion, Edric hastily assisted her to unfasten the door of her palanquin, and offered her his arm: Zoe took it without speaking, and with trembling steps hurried across the plain. In a few minutes, however, the cause of the princess's agitation was explained; for, as they approached the spot she evidently wished to reach, Edric saw the body of Roderick extended upon the ground, apparently without life or motion. Uttering an exclamation of horror, he attempted to rush towards him, but the princess held his arm firmly, and prevented him. Quite astonished, he looked up in her face; she was still dreadfully agitated, but she did not speak, and only pressed her finger against her lips.

In a few minutes, Roderick opened his eyes, and the princess again pressing Edric's arm, said in a hurried, though low tone, "Let us go!" Edric obeyed; and they walked hastily back to the palanquin in perfect silence. When Edric had assisted the princess into her carriage however, and was about to retire, she pressed his hand, and said again in her peculiarly low soft voice, "Do not speak of this!" "I will not," said Edric; and bowing respectfully as he pressed her hand to his lips, he walked away excessively surprised at the scene he had witnessed. Upon reaching the King, he found he had been thrown from his horse, and so slightly hurt as not to think it necessary to interrupt the amusements of the day; which concluded after a brilliant display of Irish and Spanish valour, without any other incident worthy of notice.

A few days after this adventure, as Edric was sitting, lost in thought, in his own apartment, musing, as was his custom whenever he was alone, upon the strange adventure of the Mummy, and endeavouring in vain to imagine what might be its probable fate, he was startled by the door of his room flying suddenly open, and Roderick's rushing in pale and in violent agitation.

"Oh, Edric!" cried he, "I am ruined! my fame is lost for ever! whilst I have been loitering away my time here, the enemy has obtained the assistance of the French: they have taken Madrid, and almost all the towns between that and the frontier! An immense army is marching upon Seville, and they intended to have blocked me up here, amusing me with their pretended treaties, till they had caught me in their snare."

"And how has their plot been discovered?"

"The Princess Zoe — yes! I know what you would say — she loves me, and though I love her not, nay, though I am devoted to another, if I reconquer Spain, myself and crown shall be thrown at her feet; — but, if I fail, I will never live to be the herald of my disgrace."

"It is unworthy of Roderick to despair: it will be by treachery, if you are vanquished."

"Hold!" cried Roderick, driven almost to frenzy at the thought. "For mercy's sake, talk not so calmly of my being vanquished. I will conquer — I will redeem my name, or perish in the attempt; and if they do vanquish me, it shall be my corpse alone that they shall conquer, for the immortal spirit shall escape their fury."

"Alas! alas!" said Edric; "your words have again conjured up the fiend that so long has haunted me: — does the immortal spirit escape?" "Edric," returned the King, "this is not a moment for metaphysical subtleties; we must act, and that immediately and decisively. We must advance upon Seville, and, if possible, get possession of that city before the army of the enemy shall reach it: this blow will strike the Spaniards with awe, and before they have recovered themselves, I shall have made myself master of half Spain. I know the character of the people I have to combat; I must carry every thing by a coup de main, or I shall fail."

It was impossible to deny the justice of this observation, and Edric warmly seconded the preparations of Roderick to march immediately upon Seville. These preparations were soon made; for Roderick was so completely idolized by his soldiers, that they regarded his will as law, and were ready to march at an hour's notice, though they knew not where they were going. Dr. Entwerfen was excessively agitated when he found he was going now really to engage in war; not that the base emotion of fear took possession of his soul, but a slight trepidation, such as that which scandal says even heroes feel at their first battle, crept over his nerves, and gave him an odd kind of sensation, which, he said, was only anxiety to engage.

No one knew where they were going; it was only rumoured, indeed, that hostilities were about to recommence, and, as the doctor said, it was very disagreeable to be unacquainted with the theatre of their future glory. Roderick was amused, notwithstanding even the agitation of the moment, with the efforts of the doctor to discover the secret, and told him, as though in confidence, that they were going to attack Lisbon. Delighted with this news, which he firmly believed, the doctor strutted about with indescribable dignity, walking upon the tips of his toes, pressing his lips together, and swelling out his cheeks like a cherub in a country churchyard, whilst he seemed absolutely bursting with the importance of the secret he carried. All was now ready; but before Roderick quitted Cadiz, he took leave of the Princess Zoe.

"It would be unjust to your merit, and my gratitude," said he, "to insult you with words; but if I survive, the devotion of my whole life—"

"Stay!" interrupted Zoe, "nor overrate so strangely the value of the service I have been so fortunate as to render you. Besides, even if your estimate were just, know that the services of Zoe are not to be purchased. No, prince, judge me not so meanly. Had I not determined that we should never meet again, the intelligence you so highly value would never have reached your ears. My greatest enemy is dead; and to-morrow I return to my native land, where the rebels have no longer the power to injure me. Demetrius, the ancient minister of my father, arrived yesterday, with the permission for my return, and I do not hesitate an instant — yet, before I go —"

"Speak," cried Roderick hastily; "command my life! my throne! my fortune!"

Zoe smiled. "The favour I have to request is trifling. I have a favourite page, who dreads to return to Greece, and I would willingly place him under your care."

"He shall be my brother!" exclaimed Roderick enthusiastically; "my friend! my companion in arms! He shall live with me, fight with me, and —"

Again a faint smile played on Zoe's marble features, like the ghost of departed joys; it was but for an instant, however, and it added fresh darkness to the succeeding gloom. "I wish no privileges for my page," said she gravely, "beyond those usually bestowed upon his class. Treat him kindly, but promise me you will not over-indulge him, or I will not leave him with you."

"You have only to command," said Roderick, "and you may rely upon obedience."

"Adieu! then," exclaimed the princess, extending her hand, whilst a slight blush stained her alabaster complexion. "God bless you! — we may meet again."

Roderick kissed her hand as he would have done that of an empress. "Heaven grant we may!" exclaimed he, "for, rest assured, no earthly pleasure could afford me half the joy."

"None?" asked Zoe incredulously.

"None!" repeated he firmly; "unless, perhaps," added he with a smile, "the re-conquering of Spain."

"Then you will accept my page?"

"As a gift from Heaven!"

"He shall join you ere you cross the bridge: once more, adieu!" "Adieu!" cried Roderick, and Zoe vanished. In half an hour the troops were under arms, and had quitted Cadiz; but Roderick, in the bustle and confusion attendant upon the removal of so large a body of men so suddenly, had quite forgotten the Greek page. As he was crossing the bridge, however, his noble barb started, and Roderick, looking for the cause, saw a slight, graceful boy, who, kneeling, presented him with a letter; it was from Zoe.

"I forgot to tell you," wrote she, "that my page is dumb. As his loss of speech, however, was accidental, he is, notwithstanding, perfectly intelligent, and will obey your slightest gesture."

Ordering some of his attendants to provide a horse, Roderick desired the page to mount it, and ride by his side: the boy crossed his arms upon his breast, and bowed his head in token of obedience, and then lightly vaulted into the saddle.