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[-32-]

CHAPTER XIII.

THE HELL.

    AFTER having taken a few turns in Regent-street, the baronet observed "that it was devilish slow work:" Mr. Talbot suggested the propriety of "a spree;" and Mr. Chichester declared "that as his friend Markham was anxious to see life, the best thing they could all do was to drop in for an hour at No., Quadrant."
    "What place is that?" demanded Markham.
    "Oh; only an establishment for cards and dice, and other innocent diversions," carelessly answered Chichester.
    The Quadrant of an evening is crowded with loungers of both sexes. Beneath those arcades walk the daughters of crime, by ones and twos - dressed in the flaunting garb that tells so forcibly the tale of broken hearts, and blighted promise, and crushed affections, - to. lose an hour amidst the haunts of pleasure and of vice, and to court the crime by which alone they live. The young men that saunter arm-in-arm up and down, and the hoary old sinners, whose licentious glares seem to plunge down into the depths of the boddices of those frail but beauteous girls, little think of the amount of mental suffering which is contained beneath those gay satins and rustling silks. They mark the heaving of the voluptuous bosom, but dream not of the worm that gnaws eternally within:- they behold smiles upon the red lips, and are far from suspecting that the hearts of those who laugh so joyfully are all but broken!
    Thus is it that in the evening the Quadrant has a characteristic set of loungers of its own:- or, at least, it is frequented after dusk by a population whose characters are easily to be defined.
    A bright lamp burnt in the fan-light over the door of No. . Mr. Chichester gave a loud and commanding knock; and a policeman standing by, who doubtless had several golden reasons for not noticing anything connected with that establishment, instantly ran across the road after a small boy whom he suspected to be a thief, because the poor wretch wore an uncommonly shabby hat. The summons given by Mr. Chichester was not immediately answered. Five minutes elapsed ere any attention was paid to it; and then the door was only opened to the small extent allowed by a chain inside. A somewhat repulsive looking countenance was at the same time protruded from behind the door.
    "Well?" said the man to whom the countenance belonged.
    "All right," returned Chichester.
    The chain was withdrawn, and the door was opened to its full extent. The party was thereupon admitted, with some manifestations of impatience on the part of the porter, who no doubt thought that the door was kept open too long, into a passage at the end of which was a staircase covered with a handsome carpet.
    Chichester led the way, and his companions followed, up to a suite of rooms on the first floor These were well furnished, and brilliantly lighted and red moreen curtains, with heavy and rich fringes, were carefully drawn over the windows. Splendid mirrors stood above the mantels, which were also adorned with French timepieces in or molu, and candelabra of the same material. On one side of the front room stood a bouffet covered with wines and liquors of various descriptions.
    In the middle of that same front apartment was the rouge et noir table. On each side sate a Croupier, with a long rake in his hand, and a green shade over his eyes. Before one of them was placed a tin case: this was the Bank ;- and on each side of that cynosure of all attention, stood little piles of markers, or counters.
    Two or three men - well but flashily dressed, and exhibiting a monstrous profusion of Birmingham jewellery about their persons - sate at the table. These were the Bonnets - individuals in reality in the pay of the proprietor of the establishment, and whose duties consist in enticing strangers and visitors to play, or in maintaining an appearance of playing deeply when such strangers and visitors first enter the room.
    The countenances of the croupiers were cold, passionless, and totally devoid of any animation. They called the game, raked up the winnings, or paid the losings, without changing a muscle of their features. For all that regarded animation or excitement, they might have been easily passed off as automatons.
    [-33-]

 

    Not so was it with the Bonnets. These gentlemen were compelled to affect exuberant joy when they won, and profound grief or rage when they lost. From time to time they paid a visit to the sideboard, and helped themselves to wine or spirits, or regaled themselves with cigars. These refreshments were supplied gratuitously to all corners by the proprietor: this apparent liberality was upon the principle of throwing out a sprat to catch a whale.
    When none save the Croupiers and Bonnets are present, they throw aside their assumed characters, and laugh, and joke, and chatter, and smoke, and drink; but the moment steps are heard upon the staircase, they all relapse with mechanical exactitude into their business aspect. The Croupiers put on their imperturbable countenances as easily as if they were masks; and the Bonnets appear to be as intent upon the game, as if its results were to them perspective life or death.
    The Croupiers are usually trustworthy persons well known to the proprietor, or else shareholders themselves in the establishment. The Bonnets are young men of education and manners, who have probably lost the ample fortunes wherewith they commenced life, in the very whirlpool to which for a weekly stipend, they are employed to entice others.
    In one of the inner rooms there was a roulette-table; but this was seldom used. A young lad held the almost sinecure office of attending upon it.
    The front room was tolerably crowded on the evening when Chichester, Markham, the baronet, and Talbot, honoured the establishment with a visit.
    The moment they entered the apartment, Richard instinctively drew back, and, catching hold of Chichester's arm, whispered to him in a hurried and anxious manner, "Tell me, is this a Gambling-House? is it what I have heard called a Hell?"
    "It is a Gambling-House, if you will, my dear fellow," was the reply; "but a most respectable one. Besides - you must see life, you know!"
    With these words he took Markham's arm, and conducted him up to the rouge et noir table.
    A young officer, whose age could not have ex-[-34-]ceeded twenty, was seated at the further end of the green-baise covered board. A huge pile of notes and gold lay before him; but at rapid intervals one of the Croupiers raked away the stakes which he deposited; and thus his heap of money was gradually growing smaller.
    "Well, this is extraordinary!" ejaculated the young officer: "I never saw the luck set so completely in against me. However - I can afford to lose a little, for I broke your bank for you last night, my boys?"
    "What does that mean?" demanded Richard in a whisper.
    "He won all the money which the proprietor deposited in that tin case, he means," replied Chichester.
    "And how much do you suppose that might be?"
    "About fifteen hundred to two thousand pounds."
    "Here - waiter!" exclaimed the young officer, who had just lost another stake,- "a glass of claret."
    The waiter handed him a glass of the wine so demanded. The young officer did not notice him for a moment, but waited to see the result of the next chance.
    He lost again.
    He turned round to seize the glass of wine; but when his eyes caught sight of it, his countenance became almost livid with rage.
    "Fool! idiot!" he ejaculated, starting from his seat; "bring me a  tumbler - a large tumbler full of claret; my mouth is as parched as hl, and my stomach is like a lime-kiln."
    The waiter hastened to comply with the wishes o f the young gambler. The tumbler of claret was supplied; and the game continued.
    Still the officer lost.
    "A cigar!" he shouted, in a fearful state of excitement- " bring me a cigar!"
    The waiter handed him a box of choice Havannahs, that he might make his selection.
    "Why the devil don't you bring a light at the same time, you dd infernal rascal?" cried the gamester; and while the domestic hastened to supply this demand also, he poured a volley of most horrible oaths at the bewildered wretch' s head.
    Again the play proceeded.
    And again the young officer lost.
    His pile of gold was gone: the Croupier who kept the bank changed one of his remaining notes.
    "That makes three thousand that I have lost already, by Gd!' ejaculated the young officer.
    "Including the amount you won last night, I believe," said one of the Bonnets.
    "Well, sir, and suppose it is - what the deuce is that to you?" demanded the officer fiercely. "Have I not been here night after night for those six weeks? and have I not lost thousands - thousands? When did I ever get a vein of good luck until last night? But never mind - I'll play on - I'll play till the end: I will either win all back, or lose everything together. And then - in the latter case "
    He stopped: he had just lost again. His countenance grew ghastly pale, and he bit his lips convulsively.
    "Claret - more claret!" he exclaimed, throwing away the Havannah, "that cigar only makes me the more thirsty."
    And again the play proceeded.
    "I am really afraid to contemplate that young man's countenance," whispered Markham to Chichester.
    "Who so?"
    "I have an idea that if he should prove unsuccessful he will commit suicide. I have a great mind just to mention my fears to those men in the green shades, who seem to be winning all his money."
    "Pray be quiet. They will only laugh at you."
    "But the life of a fellow-creature?"
    "What do they care?"
    "Do you mean to say they are such wretches "
    "I mean that they do not care one fig what may happen so long as they get the money."
    Markham was struck speechless with horror as he heard this cold-blooded announcement. Chichester had however stated nothing but the truth.
    The proceedings were now fearfully interesting. The young officer was worked up to a most horrible state of excitement: his losses continued to be unvaried by a single gleam of good fortune. Still he persisted in his ruinous career: note after note was changed. At length his last was melted into gold. He now became absolutely desperate: his countenance was appalling ;- the frenzy of gambling and the inflammatory effects of the liquors he had been drinking, rendered his really handsome features positively hideous.
    Markham had never beheld such a scene before, and felt afraid. His companions surveyed it with rem arkable coolness.
    The play proceeded; and in a few moments the officer's last stake was swept away.
    Then the croupiers paused, as it were, by common consent; and all eyes were directed towards the object of universal interest.
    "Well - I said I would play until I won all or lost all," he said; "and I have done so. Waiter, give me another tumbler of claret: it will compo se me."
    He laughed bitterly as he uttered these words.
    The claret was brought: he drained the tumbler, and threw it upon the table where it broke into a dozen pieces.
    "Clear this away, Thomas," said one of the Croupiers, completely unmoved.
    "Yes, sir;" and the fragments of the tumbler disappeared forthwith.
    The Bonnets, perceiving the presence of other strangers, were now compelled to withdraw their attention from the ruined gambler, and commence playing.
    And so the play again proceeded.
    "Where is my hat, waiter?" demanded the young officer, after a pause, during which he had gazed vacantly upon the game.
    " In the passage, sir - I believe."
    "No - I remember, it is in the inner-room. But do not trouble yourself - I will fetch it myself."
    "Very good, sir;" and the waiter did not move. 
    The young officer sauntered, in a seeming leisurely manner, into the innermost room of the suite.
    "What a shocking scene!" whispered Markham to Chichester. "I am glad I came hither this once: it will be a lesson for me which I can never forget."
    At this instant the report of a pistol echoed sharply through the rooms.
    There was a simultaneous rush to the inner apartment : :- Markham's presentiments were fulfilled - the young officer had committed suicide.
    His brains were literally blown out, and he lay upon the carpet weltering in his blood.
    A cry of horror burst from the strangers present; and then, with one accord, they hastened to the door. The baronet, Chichester, and Talbot, were amongst [-35-] the foremost who made this movement, and were thereby enabled to effect their escape.
    Markham stood rivetted to the spot, unaware that, his companions had left him, and contemplating with  feelings of supreme horror the appalling spectacle before him.
    Suddenly the cry of "The police" fell upon his ears; and heavy steps were heard hurrying up the staircase.
    "The Bank !" ejaculated one of the Croupiers.
    "All right !" cried the other; and in a moment the lights were extinguished, as by magic, throughout the entire suite of rooms.
    Obeying a natural impulse, Markham hastened to wards the door; but his progress was stopped by a powerful hand, and in an instant the bull's-eye of a lantern glared upon his countenance.
    He was in the grasp of a police officer.

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