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Chap. XXVI.


Has not the reader often shuddered at the receipt of a telegraphic message? They always seem ill-boding, these notes enclosed in their yellow envelope. "Something sudden has occurred, and there is not time to write," is the first thought, as the receipt is being signed, and then "omne ignotum pro horrifico." With men of business, the case of course is different. Jones, on 'Change, opens his telegram with the calmest air; for he expects to find nothing of greater importance in it than that consols have fallen, or that Smith is coming to dine, or something of that kind. I must confess that I can never behold one of those smart, sharp little officials approach my door without secret misgiving, and am heartily well pleased when he passes my roof-tree and leaves his fateful message further on.

Ella Grantley had been making up her mind for the worst these few last days; not that she bad any great inkling of the Derby project, but she could not in reason close her eyes to the fact that Grantley had been what he would call "dropping his money pretty freely" of late times, and that if things kept on long in this way ultimate ruin must be the result. She was getting almost resigned to trouble now (one gets accustomed to this kind of thing in time), and the wife who the first time her husband got drunk since marriage nearly broke her heart with shame and grief, as the years roll on and habit begets indifference, picks her husband out of the gutter or puts him to bed with the utmost coolness, and never troubles her mind with any further thought, except the hope that the graceless one has not spent all the week's wages at the "Blue Elephant." So true it is that

"As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown, And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down."

And she had no one but herself to thank for it, that was the embittering thought.

"She would have biml" is the cold comfort applied to wounds of this sort. True enough the husband is a perfect brute to his

wife, ill-treats her, insults her by his known and open preference for other women, wounds her feelings by the associates he tries to make her own. But then " she would have him—she has herself to thank for it!" Yes, but then she would have him when love was young, and the happy spring-tide of life blooming, for a pair of careless foolish lovers, when the deceit and black nature of the man lay slumbering for a while, lulled into repose by the magic enchantment of love. It suited the man to conceal all the darker traits of his character, and appear all smiles and amiability. So it is. "He is a perfect brute to her; but she would have him!" is the moral appended to many a fable of married misery. "Despite the warnings of her friends, the tears of her family, the reasonings of prudence itself, she would have him." And having made the great, irretrievable mistake—having clouded over a whole lifetime by the error of a few hours—she must needs be content and shape herself to her lot, and live it out till merciful Providence take the bane of her existence from her, and she be free to choose once more.

Ella has at last summoned courage to open the telegram, and the contents verify all her forebodings. The ruin of a life summed up in a few short words:

"Deab Ella,—Peep o' Day lost the Derby. Am done for. Must leave England."

It had come at last, then, what she had been expecting through all the weary months—ruin and disgrace, flight from all that was near and dear in England, and a lawless, suspicious existence at some foreign watering-place—kindly refuge for those, such as had beaten the Constable in the proverbial race! A life to be spent amongst the black-leg roue' friends of her husband—the wife of a gambler, probably obliged to exert all her attractions to lure young men with money to their house; so that they might become an easy prey to Grantley and the hawks. It was a horrible future to look to; yet she could hope for no other, unless merciful Death released her.

"Tell Mr. Dalton he may come up," she said, faintly, to the footman, who still waited: and she quite astonished herself by the coolness with which she said it, and the careless disregard she felt at the visit of a man who might fairly be railed her victim.

Charley entered the drawing-room, and found her still holding the telegram in her hand, but looking very very faint, and, great Goodness I the change that had taken place in her face since he last saw her, in all the proud beauty of youth and happiness I It was as if Time had devoted all his energies to stamping deep indelible footprints of his onward march on the furrowed brow, and as though grief and care had done their best towards dimming the lustre of her eye and paling the damask of her cheek. He scarcely recognized in the stricken woman before him the beautiful creature he had seen last in that interview at Oaklands Hall. It was not the time for indulging his surprise, though; for society imperatively demanded, as much alone as though a thousand pairs of eyes were bent in scrutiny on them, that this interview must be quite in accordance with propriety.

"How d'ye do, Mr. Dalton? Have you been abroad? How well you are looking!" Merely that, and the answer— "Very well indeed, thanks, Mrs. Grantley 1 [How very odd that sounded!] Yaas, I have been abroad—spent last winter in Rome. You weren't abroad I believe, and the spring in Calabria, very jolly time of it. Haw—Town very hot, and—a—very empty!"

The shocking hypocrite actually put on a careless drawl, as though effectually to conceal the emotion he was labouring under; but I do not think he succeeded very admirably. It Is impossible to deceive a woman in anything of this. They have made the tones of the voice and the expression of the face so long their study, that they can see through a sham with decent accuracy. But this was the meeting thought of for such a long time, half longed for, half dreaded by Charley. Nothing more romantic than a common-place "How d'ye do?" If it had been in France, I think the esse would have been different; Jules would have approached the perfidious, but still adored Stephanie (that is, of course, if the gudeman were not at home) with the anguish of despair in his countenance; and would probably have dropped on his knees or hidden his face, Agamemnon-like, in his hands, or hissed out "Ah, Stephanie, e'est vraiment toi!" and then launched out into a most pathetic description of his misery in exile, his longing for this meeting; and, very probably, before the lapse of many hours, ce cher mart, when he returned, would be introduced, "Jules, mon cousin," much to the good man's wrath and chagrin. And after that, Jules would be kind enough to accompany Madame to the Bois de Boulogne, and so on— •ee " Don Giovanni."

We cannot afford these little stage-emotions in " perfidious Albion." Stagnant is our blood, and laughably rigid our notions of morality. Thaokeray says that when two Englishmen meet, the one of whom bai saved the other's life a short time before, all the itlotaUon il t

"How do, old fellow?" "Quite well, thanks!" and they pass on. Whereas Alphonse and Frederic, meeting after a month's estrangement, rush into one another's arms, with: "Ah I ce bon coeur!" "Mon cher Alphonse!" and weep plentifully over each other's shoulders. That is the way of them, Luigi and Karl and Henri: they do not mean half as much, with all their embraces and tears, as Tom, Jack, and Harry do with their plain rough "How do, old fellow i"

Ella looked at the young fellow before her. How well he was looking—and that beard made him quite handsome! Was he happy? and had he forgotten all about the old time; and, above all, had any inkling reached his ears of the disgraceful career Harry was running? He had only landed yesterday, and consequently could not be expected to know much about it.—Conflicting thoughts like these surged through Ella's mind as she sat regretfully surveying the healthy happy man before her.

"And how have you been, Mrs. Grantley? And how is the Captain r Gone to the Derby, I suppose, with all the swells. I should like to have been home time enough to have seen it. You went, of course? Splendid race between Peep o' Day and Athleta."

"I didn't go," said Ella, wearily, "and I don't understand anything about horse-racing, except that there is not much good in it."

Now was Charley's opportunity. Should he say a few bitter things—they would come in very apropos—of the turf, and he might make a very good stroke indeed. The temptation was not allowed to remain.

"What a villain I must be to think of such a thing," was his inward comment on this plan; then aloud: "And how are they getting on at the dear old hall (wrong, master Charlie, that epithet)—the squire, and your mamma and Katie, and the curate—quite well, I suppose? Happy time of it I used to have there."

Ella favoured him with a sharp glance, Juit to warn him that he was treading somewhere near forbidden ground, and had better "m«Ji« tracks" back, as the American have it j bat the infatuated young man went on:

"I don't think I ever have been half «o happy since, as I was when at Oaklanda; 1 used to look forward to coming up from I0*" like an emancipated schoolboy for a half-holiday. Don't you think those were jolly times?" w

"I mustn't think, you know, Mr. Dalton, said Ella, with almost tears in her eyes.—She was one of those women who possess the rare art of keeping tears in their eyes without shedding them, and these women are very sirens in their way. No man can stand a glance froui those eyes to which the gathered tear-pewTM only afford a more witching brightness.— really have scarcely any time for thinking, wma-days. My husband is all in all to me, an" this London life don't leave one too much time for indulging in dreamt of childhood, pleaf*nt though it might have bean." . ,„

All this time ehe bud been bearing up brW

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