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found himself gliding back to the old habits. Lounging in the big bay-window of his club with some brother-officers, he would feel an almost uncontrollable desire to walk into the card-room and see the players. "This is very slow!" he would say, with a yawn, when his eye was tired with watching the motley stream of life passing and repassing in the London streets.
"Uncommon slow!" would be the drawled answer of his friend. "I am bored to death with all these fellows, passing up and down, and with spotting and bowing to all those painted old women in their carriages! Tell you what, Grantley, let's go and have a hand at 6carte. Oh, I forgot—married man, and don't play. What a bore!"
Nothing easier than for Grantley to have refused, and borne the graceless young fellow's chaff: but in vain. The old auri sacra fames was coming back, and he longed for the painted pack, just as the old huntsman, when his sporting-days are over, feels a feverish desire to rush after the streaming hunt.
"Well, only one game, to kill time; but mind, I am not going to play high—not made of coin like you young fellows."
And one game of e'carte would lead on to another, till Grantley was put on his mettle, and allowed the hair-brained young men to double and treble the stakes, and would rise a winner of considerable sums, and be in a fair way to become again a thorough-paced gambler. And how the hypocrite would dissemble to his wife 1
"Yes, I have been at the club, Ella, and met some fellows from my old regiment, and of course we had lots to talk about; and the time wore on almost without my perceiving it."
Aye, and almost without his perceiving it Ella was beginning to distrust her husband. Slightly to parody the proverb, "Distrust was entering at the door while Love was flying out through the window;" or, "Trust me all in all, or not at all," was the wife's motto. Halfconfidence was already doing its best to separate the hearts that once beat only for each other's mutual happiness. Wilfully blind as she had been to the dear one's faults, determined as she was to see no flaw in the idol which she had set up to cherish and worship, and firmly as she adhered to her marriage-vow, pure and unstained as when she knelt by Grantley's side in the cathedral at Turlminster, still she could not be oblivious to the fact that her husband stayed out much longer of nights than he should—that on his return he was much too excited and flushed to augur the spending of a quiet evening in harmless talkthat she was often compelled to go without his protecting arm to the myriad resorts of fashion, where there was no lack of temptation, and incitement to that harmless flirtation which we used to decry so in Spain, but now deem rather more fashionable than otherwise in England— that system by which a married lady is allowed to have half-a-dozen young men dangling
about her, quoting pages from Alfred de Musset or Owen Meredith, handing her to her carriage, adorning her box at the opera, hanging over the rails in the park to chat with her, and stroke her horse's mane, and forfeits not aught of her name or good fame, but is allowed the title of exemplary and virtuous wife. Perchance there is no harm in it; but still, to all outward appearance, it looks far from proper; and people will talk. Give them a bare inch of truth, and they will soon manufacture an ell of slanderous lies. This gauntlet Ella had to run, almost alone and undefended; and when the carrion flies, attracted by her marvellous beauty, came buzzing about her, daring to lower their voice in speaking to her, she had nothing to defend her but the innate purity of her heart: from this the idle set of danglers soon fled abashed, as did the rabble rout in "Coraus" from the fair, shining presence of the lady. Nevertheless, the world of society was beginning to shake its head ominously, and to declare that it really was too bad of Grantley to leave his young, inexperienced wife so much alone!
"Not that she is anything but proper, my dear," would Mrs. Backbite whisper: "but then, how many cases have we seen when such things have terminated fatally? You remember poor Mrs. Vavasour? There was a wretched business! Vavasour used to neglect her most shamefully, and always made her go out by herself, while he was at the House till three or four in the morning. What was the consequence? They had barely been married a year when Mrs. Vavasour was talked about. Young Charley Forester, of the War-office, was never from her side; and the end of it all was that she went off with him, and left Vavasour to curse his folly. I didn't pity the man a bit: he might have attended more to his wife and less to the House."
There is some truth in this. If the wife be left too much alone, what wonder that the voice of the tempter should make her swerve from her duty?
At the time of which I am writing, all the gambling circles of London were ringing with the name of a certain Italian nobleman (Count della Croce), whose success at the gamblingtable and in the ring was a matter of everydaytalk. It was impossible to play a good hand, or make a brilliant cannon at billiards, without someone saying, "Ah, you should see Della Croce play. They say he is never beaten! It's certain that he has landed heaps of money since he has been in England; and his horse, "Tootletum," won the Leger the other day, putting about seven thousand into his pocket. Daresay, though, he is a refugee, or something of that kind, and lives on his wits. They are all Counts in Italy, you know!"
"I suppose he plays fairly i" said Grantley, who formed one of the knot of men at the "Army and Navy" who were discussing the foreigner.
"Oh, of course he does," went on the speaker. "By-the-bye, he is coming to dinner here to-night with Grafton, so you will have an opportunity of watching his play, ami trying your luck with him yourself. Better take care, though, and keep the stakes low, or you may find yourself sold!"
"Well, I think I will stay and dine," said Grantley, carelessly, "and sec how the fellow plays: 1 may pick up a wrinkle."
And after this determination he sent a note to Ella not to wait dinner for him, as he had met some old friends, and they wouldn't hear of his deserting them at once. When she got the note I am afraid she Baid something very naughty about these horrid clubs; but, as she had to go out that evening, she thought no more about it. It was only another brick in the wall of separation.
The dinner was as good as the cook of the "Army and Navy" could make it—and he was no mean performer in his way—the wines were such as make the tongue of man eloquent and brighten his eyes with fire; and Grantley, as he sat sipping his coffee with his friend, felt a thrill of savage pleasure in the forthcoming game: he wanted some excitement to keep off remorse, and its attendant furies. The renowned Count had been dining too in the same room; so he had plenty of time to examine the stranger well. Thoroughly Italian in feature, Delia Croco was certainly a handsome man, with dark, lazy-looking eyes sleeping under their long lashes, and an olive, clear complexion, and that nervous twitching about the corners of the mouth which proclaims the inveterate gambler. He might have been any age: his was one of those deceptive faces which might be twenty or fifty—so smooth and unwrinkled. He might have been any profession, from a nobleman to an exiled refugee; for, by dint of long and careful practice, he had managed to bring the muscles of his face into perfect subjection; and no sign of trouble or joy ever excited that perfectly calm face and impassive demeanour. Careful observance, though, would have detected a quick, shifting movement of the eye, restlessly looking behind him, which clever detectives will tell you is the sure mark of a thief! It seemed as if the man was ever dreading to hear the footsteps of the ministers of justice at his heels. Abstemious to a fault was the Italian, never allowing himself more than one glass of wine at his dinner, and steadily refusing all the temptations of his more convivial friends.
"Wants to keep his eye in and his brain cool," said the men at his table. "There will be somebody's pocket lightened before the night is over I"
Delia Croce simply smiled, and went on with his cigar. He did not trouble himself to contradict the soft imputation.
"We have got a man here I would back against you, Count, if I can only persuade him to play."
"I shall he delighted, I am sure," answered the Count. "I like playing with a good man."
The introduction was soon performed, and
each player had gauged the other's character at a glance. Delia Croce, with a bow that would have done honour to a Colonna, said, "Very proud to make the acquaintance of a player of whom I have heard such great things as Captain Grantley 1"
The whist-room at the club was soon full, as the news spread that Delia Croce and Grantley were going to play; and the game proceeded for low stakes at Grantley's wish. It was a fine sight to see these two men, like two wary fencers, watching each other's weak point: but they were too well matched to allow of much advantage on either side. After they had played for some little time, and Delia Croce was winning slightly, Grantley proposed that the stakes should be doubled.
"As Monsieur pleases," bowed his opponent, urbanely; and the battle went on.
Grantley was losing fast: he was five hundred to the bad, and the bystanders saw that a change was working in his face.
"Now he is getting riled!" thought they; "and the game will soon be up with him I"
They were wrong. Sternly as Grantley's mouth contracted, and black as grew his brow, it was not the loss he felt, but the assurance that the Italian was playing unfairly. He bided his time, however, and for a short period nothing was heard but the monotonous shuffling of the cards and the ticking of the clock, as the two men watched each other's movements like lynxes. Suddenly Grantley's face brightened: he had never taken his eyes off the Italian's hand for a moment, and, quick as the expert gambler was, it escaped not his opponent's eye that he had changed his cards, and glanced at the uppermost.
"Stop!" thundered Grantley, rising with the speed of thought; and, to the intense wonderment of the bystanders, he rushed upon Delia Croce, and held his hand firm as a vice, while he whispered into his ear, "Don't move, or I'll strangle you!" Then turning to the assembled company, he said, in a clear voice, "Gentlemen, I regret to say that this fellow has played unfairly, and cheated all of us! Let there be no disturbance: perhaps one of you will be kind enough to lock the door for a moment, while I expose this man's trick. Now, Signor, be kind enough to open your hand."
He wrenched the Italian's hand open, and there, sure enough, were the proofs of his guilt, needing no explanation of any kind. By an excessively clever sleight-of-hand he had changed the cards, and hence his continual success.
To do him credit, Delia Croce's calmness did not desert him at that trying moment. He summoned enough courage to glance back defiantly at the crowd of excited men, most of whom he had won money from, and to say, quietly, "Some foolish error. Our friend the Captain is a trifle too hasty. I will explain it all."
Calm as his face was, his breast raged with all the passions of hell. Ob, how gladly would he have killed every man in that room, could he only get free, and prevent the exposure! But he saw no trace of pity or helief in the scornful eyes which were bent upon him from all quarters. Every man in that room was convinced of his treachery, and glad to have the opportunity of revenging themselves for their losses.
Up came Grafton, with his face pale as death, his voice trembling: "Grantley, for heaven's sake be sure of this, I hope you don't think that I—"
He could go no further: tears of downright shame were in his eyes.
"Of course it is no fault of yours, Grafton, we all know. I need not say, gentlemen, that you will acquit Mr. Grafton of all knowledge of this thing >"
"Of course—certainly!" resounded through the room.
"Now, Count della Croce, I don't wish to make a scene, but I have a great mind to give you a downright thrashing! This much let rnc tell you — if I ever catch you with a card in your hand in this or any other club in London, nothing shall hinder me from kicking you out! At present, what I advise you is this, and 1 am sure the gentlemen present will agree with me in what I say—return me all that you have cheated me out of this evening, and do these gentlemen all the reparation in your power, and make yourself scarce in London; for, as sure as I catch you playing again, that moment will I post you up as cheat and thief!"
The Italian sulkily pushed all the glittering heap by his side over to Grantley, and then, like a wild animal enclosed by the hunters on every side, prepared to leave the room, while every man in the place shrank from him with gestures of contempt and anger; for, wild as they were, honour was to them dear as their life: but, before he went, he muttered something about "satisfaction" through his teeth.
Grantley heard it, and laughed scornfully. "Do you mean to say that you expect me to give you the satisfaction due to a gentleman? I would not sully my hands with so much as laying a finger upon you, sir, much less stand before you to be shot down like a dog! I daresay you would like that well enough, and consider yourself very well avenged. I have seen men, and you have too, I daresay, for less than you have done, stripped of every rag of clothing, and half-killed! But we are gentlemen here—not betting-men. Now go, or it may be too late for you yet!"
The perspiration stood out like beads on the Italian's white forehead, and he fetched his breath in short gasping sobs, so great was the conflict of passion within; for Luigi della Croce was bynomeansacoward physically, and, had it chanced that he and Grantley were alone in that room, would have fought to the last drop of his blood ; but, to be publicly disgraced before the men who had often sat at his table, and to whose families he had the entre, was too much.
"E»rl Percy sees my fall!" might have been the bitter cry of his heart—" and then to be refused satisfaction, to be treated like some rascally thimble-rigger 1"
He had not intended cheating; indeed, it must be said for his credit, that his play was generally fair when he had foemen to contend with unworthy of his prowess: but now, when the game was turning against him, when he saw that in the end Grantley's superb skill and finished play must win the victory, he had listened in an evil moment to the Tempter, and forfeited the good old name of the family which had been a watchword at Venice for many a century—a family which had rivalled the Viscontis of Milan. Henceforth it would be useless his trying to play honestly. The fame of these things spread like wildfire, and, ere the week was over, men would be talking generally how Della Croce cheated at e'earte, and was kicked out of the club! As these thoughts surged through the disgraced man's brain, he kept his eye still fixed on Grantley, as if striving to imprint his features on his memory; and, as he looked, he swore to be revenged. He hath ta'en a deadly oath that, wherever he met this Grantley, on sea or land, by day or night, then and there he would kill him! The searching scrutiny completed, Della Croce turned short on his heel, and left the room—not without a courtly bow to Grantley.
■''Addio, Captain Grantley; you may hear of me again!"
Every man there drew a long breath when he was gone, and turned.with an air of relief to Grantley, who was now as cool and unconcerned as though nothing but one of the most everyday occurrences had happened.
"So there is an end of your wonderful prodigy!" he said, coolly. "I am rather sorry for the fellow, too. He did play uncommonly well, and that's a fact. I don't know when I have tackled a better man, and couldn't make out at first what his game was."
"Well, I wouldn't stand in your shoes for a trifle,mind you, Grantley," said Grafton. "Since I have known the man he has shot three poor fellows in fair fight—so they said: but I have an idea that Delia Croce has a pretty little trick of firing before the handkerchief drops. He will hardly dare to show his face in London for a time. I expect he will bolt to Baden, or one of those places where the Prince of Darkness himself would be tolerated if he had lots of coin!"
"Oh, I don't fear the fellow!" said Grantley. "I do not think he is coward enough to commit a murder: he would much rather do it in the duelling way, if I would only allow him. And now I think I shall go home, aftcrall this—a wiser man, perhaps, if not a better man. Good-night, you fellows; good night, Grafton: I am sorry that the man was an acquaintance of yours; but of course you knew nothing about it."
"All I hope is that no wrong will come of this," said Grafton. "I kngw Delia Croce will not stick at anything. He is the sort of fellow I should much prefer being friend to than foe. He might be deputing some of his cousins, the organ-grinders, to shoot me some fine night!"
Grantley preserved a religious silence about all this to his wife, hoping that she might not hear it. But a thingwith which the town rang was not likely to escape the ears of a lady who went out so much; and it was not long before she heard all about the occurrence, and her husband's share in it, and a flood of light was thrown upon the wife's happy ignorance. Yet she would not taunt him with it: she would suffer in silence, at all events, and not let him know that she was aware of his deceit. Alas! the pillow whereon rested the fair young head was wet with bitter tears often now; and often, after returning from some feverish excitement, she would tear off her silk and jewellery with a weary gesture, and sigh, "Ah, me! I wonder if there are many wives of a year as miserable as I am!'
It is easy enough to doubt the love of one who never entrusts a secret to our keeping, never makes a confidante of the nearest one on earth; and Ella Grantley began to ask herself whether the man who, in the first place, refused to let her share his secrets, and then deceived her grossly, could love her at all! It might have been happier far for her had she accepted Charley, after all! He would have had no secrets from her: but to think thus was treason to her marriage-vow. No: she had sworn to honour and obey—that she must do, let what happen.
God pity the poor wife who, after the first blush of the honeymoon dies out, finds that the man to whom she has entrusted her life's happiness is unworthy of the sacred charge! What is she to do? With a man it is different. The blow, of course, is equally as great, when he finds that the wife of his bosom is different from the wife of his fancy, when the fairy chateaux en Espagne which he has been building, as abodes of love and happiness, crumble to dust, and there remain but the naked conviction that there is no sympathy, no community of tastes, no oneness of spirit between himself and the woman he has taken to be his helpmeet. But he has other incentives to steel his heart— ambition; there is a great name to make, though the wife be not fit to share it. Art, with all her fair creations, the magic touch of the pencil, may transfer his glowing fancies to the canvas; the pen may adorn the written page; there are new countries for him to discover, new inventions for him to render patent and useful to mankind. All these things may soothe him in his great sorrow: but for the wife, poor heart, there are none of these things. In silence she must bear the great burden of her woe, and hide the secret of her great mistake from the eyes of the prying vulgar; for, mark you, " 'tis caviare to the general" to remove the veil which shrouds married life, and make its hidden things matters of every-day talk. Heaven help the woman who has made this great, irretrievable mistake 1 Heaven keep her from
temptation, and grant her strength to struggle through the dark, starless path of life, innocent and undefined!
"HE COMES TOO LATE WHO COMES TO BE DENIED."
It was universally allowed that the "Wife's Trials" was a decided success. People talked of nothing else at clubs and dinner-tables and meetings of every kind; but the wonderful actress, whose performance was so life-like, and whose beauty was so magnificent—cartesde-visite of the wonderful Madame Brabazon were seen in every window, in every imaginable position: "The wife in her happiness," "The wife in her misery." taken from the last scene, where she knelt before her repentant husband. Music - sellers advertised "The Brabazon Waltz," and the "Song of the Deserted Wife," and the "Wife's Trials Quadrille," and all the imaginable forms of musical performance, which the genius of Godfrey or Coote could turn the new play to; and so great was the furore that even dressmakers turned the thing to advantage, and brought out the " Brabazon Coiffure"; whilst the host of pennybook writers issued shoals of tales founded on the plot, to delight the people in general; and I would warrant you that if you descended into the kitchen of the town-house about that time you would see cook and housemaid deeply intent on the story of "The Wife's Sorrow," illustrated, and No. 2 issued with No. 1—the only two numbers, by the way, which would ever appear.
Lawrence Hilton had enough to do at this time to keep the green-room sacred, as was his determination. Had Nathalie wanted a husband at that time she would but have to hold out her hand, and choose from the motley crowd of men who were desperately, madly in love with her. From the clerk in the City, who attended with the most assiduous regularity and expended all his fortune in the hiring of opera-glasses wherewith to get a nearer view of his divinity, but who still had to sing
"Thou art so near and yet so far,"
to the mighty swell in the West-end Club, who made desperate efforts to get into the green-room, whose large, resplendent form might be seen looming in his box every night, whose joyous bouquet fell with unfailing aim at the beautiful actress's feet, sometimes enclosing a little scented billet, in which he entreated her to smile upon him—all were in love with her. It is a remarkable fact that little Tommy Potts, who sent that picture of his "Fisherman off Deal" to the Academy, and got great Kv8os for it—little Tommy Potts, the great gun of the "Free and .Easy Club," and the oracle of the smoke room, was observed about this time to become almost spruce in his general appearance, that he had his hair cropped and his mighty beard trimmed, and that he spoke often, in a low mysterious voice, of his intention of trying his luck with the Brabazon, which saying was received with a roar by his artist brethren.
"You needn't laugh, you fellows 1 though I am no beauty I wouldn't change with you: no, not even with you, Finerty, though you do think Adonis was a fool to you. And perhaps the Brabazon means cutting the boards, and going in for a quiet home, "be it ever so humble," you know; and I could offer her a decent little box if I only sell my big picture "Antony and Cleopatra."
Whether little Potts prosecuted his suit history does not mention; certain it is, though, that he sent to the favourite actress, entreating her to sit for him, and that she returned answer that she felt obliged, but hated all this publicity. Tommy would show this letter sometimes, when particularly maudlin, to his confreres, and say, mysteriously, "This is from her, my boys! but death alone shall divulge my secret."
And the object of all this adoration pursued the even tenor of her way unmoved, amid the din of admiration which heralded every night's performance. There is no occupation so exciting that, in course of time, it would not become common and uninteresting to the performer: and so it is with the stage, and so it was with Nathalie. All very well, when the first excitement of new scenes and new people was fresh upon her; but by enacting the same role night after night she became exceeding weary of it, and sighed for fresh occupation; and she so worked upon Hilton's impulsive temperament that she persuaded him to withdraw the "Wife's Trials" for a time at least, and to substitute "Macbeth" instead, she taking the part of Lady Macbeth; and so it was not long before the town was informed that after an unprecedented run of 300 nights, the popular drama of "The Wife's Trials" would be withdrawn and " Macbeth" be substituted, the part of Lady Macbeth by the renowned Madame Brabazon. It is not my intention to follow Nathalie through every new character in which she astonished the theatre-going world; suffice it to say that in Lady Macbeth she lost none of her former popularity. There was a sternness of purpose in which she represented the guilty Thane's spouse; and as she strode across the stage with one beautiful white arm bared, people began to deplore the loss of Sidilons less, and, like the Doctor, in "Gil Bias" ceased to lament the lessened size of peaches since their youth.
To the worthy production of Shakspeare's terrible tragedy, Hilton too, in his managerial capacity, did wonderful justice. Never was a finer scene put on any stage than the one in which the witches brew their hell-broth, and Locke's incantation music was chanted by a large troup of sister-witches, clothed in dark garments and bearing in their hands long staves; and, in the second scene, where the lady enters,
and holds that terrible soliloquy, they could not help shuddering as she spoke the words—
"Hark!—I laid their daggers ready, He could not miss them.—Had he not resembled My father as he slept, 1 had donc't."
And in that night scene, when the consciencestricken woman walks in her sleep, murmuring, us she " washed her hands,"
"Out, damned spot! Out, t say! Yet who would have thought the old mau to have had so much blood in him?
And then that distracted cry, as she looks at her hands,
"Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia w ill not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh I"
In that scene the actors who played the Doctor of Physic and the waiting gentlewoman trembled with more than assumed fright as they listened to the night-walker's words, and were right glad when the scene was over. It needed not Lawrence Hilton's care and protection to assure Nathalie now. She felt quite at home on the boards, and trod them with as perfect ease as though she had been "to the manner born." Ever and anon, in the course of her acting, she would direct her glances to that box where she had seen Grantley and his young wife, on her first appearance; but in vain. She never saw that face which haunted her to distraction there again. Grantley steadily refused to go to the "Thespian," and Ella could only wonder at the strange freak which had taken her husband's fancy. There was one humble heart though, which paid its silent devotion to the new actress, and that was the son of the persons with whom Nathalie lodged, and I question if in any of the fulsome compliments which were paid her by the world of London, there lurked half as much real passionate devotion as dwelt in the young lover's breast. No very romantic lover, though; he was only an underpaid clerk in an attorney's office, but his liking was ever with the stage, and when one famous star fell from the firmament, and gave place to a brighter one still, young William Tibbett changed his allegiance too, and swore fealty to the new queen. Regular as the night came did that humble young man wait at the door of the "Thespian" to escort Nathalie home, too gratified if she would condescend to exchange a common word of civility with him, and rendered happy as a king when his enslaver thanked him for his kindness. Recollect, he was only a boy of eighteen, and did not earn as many shillings a week, and, to boot, was head over ears in love. The only consolation accorded him was that he could purchase as many cartes of his beloved one as he could afford, and add them to the gallery he had already formed. He never thought for an instant that the proud, fierce, handsome lodger would condescend to notice him, but that she would marry