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[-358-] 

CHAPTER CCXLIII.

THE FIGHT.  THE RUINED GAMESTER.

THE day on which the fight was to take place between the Birmingham Bruiser and the Haggerstone Pet, now drew near.
    Great was the excitement of the sporting world on the occasion; and all those, who were not in the secret of the "cross," felt confident that the Bruiser must win.
    Indeed the odds had risen in his favour from five to four, to eleven to five. There were numerous betters, and the takers were willing.
    The following paragraph appeared in Bell's Life, on the Sunday preceding the contest:  
    
    "THE APPROACHING FIGHT.  The mill between the Birmingham Bruiser and the Haggerstone Pet is to come off on Thursday next, at Wigginton Bottom, near Snodsnook Park, in Essex. We are assured by persons who have seen the Bruiser in training at Bailey Heath, and the Pet at Cheshunt, that the men are in first-rate condition, and full of confidence. The Bruiser has vowed that if he is beaten in this fight, he will retire altogether from the Ring; but his friends do not for a moment apprehend that the result will be such as to occasion such a step. The admirers of the truly British sport have begun to flock to the neighbourhood of the scene of action; and every bed at Wigginton is already let. In fact we know of two guineas having been offered and refused for a mere 'shake-down' in the tap of the Green Lion, at that beautiful little village. The odds in favour of the Bruiser have risen within these few days to eleven to five. The Bruiser's backers are not known: they are most likely some swell nobs, who prefer keeping out of sight. Some thousands of pounds will change hands next Thursday."
    
    On the appointed day Lord Dunstable drove his friends Egerton, Chichester, Harborough, and Cholmondeley, down to Wigginton in his four-in-hand  an equipage that he had only very recently set up, and which had been purchased and was still maintained by the coin extracted from the pocket of the credulous son of the deceased outfitter.
    The scene of the contest was thronged with as miscellaneous a collection of persons as could possibly be gathered together. There were specimens of all classes, from the peer down to the beggar. The fashionable exquisite was jostled by the greasy butcher;  the sporting tradesman was crushed between two sweeps;  the flat was knocked down by one blackleg and picked up by another;  the country-squire was elbowed by the horse-chaunter  the newspaper reporter was practically overwhelmed by the influence of the "press;"  and, in short, there was such a squeezing that many who had paid a guinea to be conveyed thither, would have gladly given ten to be removed away again.
    Presently a tremendous shout of applause welcomed the arrival of Lord Snodsnook's carriage, from which leapt the Haggerstone Pet, who was immediately surrounded by his friends; shortly afterwards a "slap-up turn-out," "tooled" by a sporting publican of the West End, to whom it belonged, brought the Birmingham Bruiser upon the scene of action, amidst renewed vociferations and another rush of supporters.
    The preliminaries being all settled, the combatants stripped, entered the ring, attended by their seconds, and then shook hands. The newspapers subsequently declared that no two pugilists ever "peeled" better, nor seemed more confident.
    It is not our purpose, however, to dwell upon the disgusting exhibition:  those brutal displays are loathsome to us, and, to our mind, are a disgrace to the English character.
    Suffice it to say, that the Birmingham Bruiser was quite able to beat the Haggerstone Pet, if he had so chosen: but he had made his appearance there on purpose to lose. For upwards of twenty rounds, however, he secured to himself the advantage; and the general impression amongst the uninitiated was that he must win. Those who were in the secret accordingly bet heavily upon the Haggerstone Pet; and we need hardly say that, as Egerton backed the Bruiser, he found several of his dear friends perfectly willing to accept the odds at his hands.
    By the twenty-fifth round, the Bruiser began to grow "groggy," and to hit at random. Of course this was mere pretence on his part: but it gave the Pet renewed courage; and in proportion as the latter acquired confidence, the former seemed to lose ground rapidly.
    Many of the backers of the Bruiser now exhibited elongating countenances; and, when that champion was thrown heavily at the thirty-first round, his former supporters manifested a desperate inclination to "hedge." Egerton, however, remained confident in favour of the Bruiser; but then he knew nothing about prize-fighting  it was the first combat of the kind he had ever seen in his life  and, even if he had been inclined to hedge his bets, he would have found no persons willing at this stage of the proceeding to afford him the chance.
    The Bruiser played his game so well, that even the most experienced in the pugilistic science were unable to detect the fraud that was being practised upon them; and thousands were deceived into a belief that he was really doing his best to win.
    At the fortieth round he fell, apparently through sheer weakness; and it was highly ludicrous to behold the discomfited looks of those who had bet most heavily upon him.
    He stood up for three rounds more; but time was called in vain for the forty-fourth  and the Haggerstone Pet was declared to be the conqueror.
    The Bruiser seemed to be in a horrible plight: for some time he remained motionless upon the ground, obstinately resisting all the efforts that were made to recover him, until one of his friends thrust a huge pinch of snuff up his nose-and then he was compelled to sneeze.
    He was now borne to the Green Lion at Wigginton, and put to bed. A surgeon in Sir Rupert Harborough's pay volunteered his services to attend upon him; and, although the Bruiser had nothing more serious the matter with him than a few bruises and a couple of black eyes, the medical gentlemen assured the multitudes who flocked to the Inn, that "the poor fellow could not possibly be worse." A great deal of medicine was also purchased at the village apothecary's shop; but it was all quietly thrown away by the surgeon, and the Bruiser was regaled, in the privacy of his chamber, with a good cut of a sirloin of beef and a bottle of Port-wine.
    Lord Dunstable, Mr. Chichester, Colonel Cholmondeley, and Sir Rupert Harborough divided equally amongst themselves the money won by this "cross;"  they racked a thousand pounds each, Egerton alone having lost fifteen hundred upon the fight.
    [-359-] The five friends returned to town in his lordship's four-in-hand, and dined that evening at Limmer's, where Egerton speedily drowned the recollection of his heavy losses in bumpers of champagne and claret.
    The party afterwards repaired to Crockford's; but just as they were ascending the steps, they beheld one of the waiters in altercation with a person of emaciated form, haggard countenance, and shabby attire, but who had evidently seen better  far better days; for his language was correct, and even beneath his rags there was an air of gentility which no tatters could conceal  no penury altogether subdue.
    "Come, Major, none of this nonsense-it won't do here," said the waiter, in an insolent tone. "Be off with you  there's gentlemen coming in."
    "I care not who hears me!" cried the person thus addressed: "Mr. Crockford is within  I know he is; and I must see him."
    "No-he's not here-and he never comes now," returned the waiter. "If you don't make yourself scarce, I'll call a policeman. Pray walk in, my lord  walk in, gentlemen."
    These last words were addressed to Lord Dunstable and his party; but, instead of entering the Club, they remained on the steps to hear the issue of the dispute.
    "Call a policeman  Oh! do," ejaculated the Major. "I wish you would  for I should at least have a roof over my head to-night; whereas I now stand the chance of wandering about the streets. But you dare not give me in charge-no, you dare not! You know that I should expose all the infamy of this den before the magistrate to-morrow morning. However  in one word, will you deliver my message to Mr. Crockford?"
    "I tell you that he is not here," repeated the waiter, insolently.
    "Did you give him my note!" asked the Major, in an imploring tone.
    "Yes  and he said there was no answer," replied the menial, placing his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waistcoat.
    "My God! no answer for me!" cried the miserable man, in a voice of bitter despair. "No answer for me  and I lost so much in his house! Surely  surely he could spare a guinea from the thousands which he has received of me! I only asked him for a guinea  and he does not condescend to answer me!"
    "Well, I tell you what it is," said the waiter, perceiving that not only Lord Dunstable's party lingered upon the steps, but that there was also another listener  a gentleman in a military cloak  standing at a short distance:  "if you will go away now, I'll give you half-a-crown out of my own pocket, and I undertake that Mr. Crockford shall send you up a sovereign to-morrow."
    "God knows with what reluctance I accept that miserable trifle from you!" exclaimed the unhappy man, tears rolling down his cheeks, as he extended his hand for the pittance offered.
    At the same instant Egerton, who was much moved by all he had just overheard, drew forth his purse with the intention of presenting five sovereigns to the poor Major: but the waiter, perceiving his intention, hastened to drop the half-crown into the miserable wretch's palm with a view to get rid of him at once;  for the domestic wisely argued to himself that every guinea which Egerton might give away would be so much lost to his master's bank up-stairs.
    The half-crown piece had just touched the Major's hand, when the individual in the cloak sprang forward  seized it  threw it indignantly in the servant's face  and, dragging the Major away from the door, exclaimed, "No  never shall it be said that a soldier and an officer received alms from an insolent lacquey! Mine be the duty of relieving your wants" [sic]
    And, leading the Major a few paces up the street, the stranger bade him enter a carriage that was waiting, and into which he immediately followed him.
    The servant closed the door, received some whispered instructions from his master, and got up behind the vehicle, which immediately roiled away at a rapid pace.
    But to return to Lord Dunstable and his party.
    The moment that the individual In the cloak sprang forward in the manner described, and the light of the hall lamps streamed full upon his countenance, both Harborough and Chichester uttered ejaculations of surprise, and hastened precipitately into the Club, followed by Dunstable, Egerton, and Cholmondeley.
    "What's the matter!" demanded Dunstable, when the baronet and Chichester were overtaken on the stairs: "and who's that person?"
    "The Prince of Montoni," replied Harborough, whose countenance was very pale.
    "Yes," said Chichester, hastily; "we know him well  and, as he is very particular in his notions, we did not wish him to see us coming here. But, enough of that  let us adjourn to the Hazard Room."
    The conversation between the Major and the waiter, displaying as it did a fearful instance of the results of gaming, had made a deep impression upon Albert Egerton; and for some time he was thoughtful and serious.
    But Dunstable attacked him so adroitly with the artillery of flattery  the waiter offered him claret so frequently  the excitement of the play appeared so agreeable  and the fear of losing ground in the good opinion of his aristocratic acquaintances was so strong in his mind, that he seized the dice-box, staked his money, lost as usual, and was conducted home in a state of intoxication at about halt-past three in the morning.

***

    In the meantime the unfortunate Major Anderson  for such was his name-had received substantial proofs of that goodness of heart which prompted the Prince of Montoni to espouse his cause against the brutal insolence of Crockford's waiter.
    Immediately after the carriage rolled away from the corner of St. James's Street, Richard drew forth his pocket-book, and placed a bank-note, accompanied by his card, in the Major's hand.
    "By means of this temporary relief, sir," he said, "you can place yourself in a somewhat more comfortable position than that in which I deeply regret to find you; and, when you feel inclined to see me again, be good enough to write me a note to that effect, so that I may call upon you. For, if it would not be impertinently prying into your affairs, I should wish to learn the sad narrative of those re-[-360-]verses which have so reduced a gentleman of your rank and station."
    "Oh! sir  whoever you are," exclaimed the Major  for it was too dark to permit him to read his benefactor's card,  "how can I ever sufficiently thank you for this noble  this generous conduct? But think not that your bounty will have been bestowed in vain  think not that I would risk one sixpence of this sum  whatever be its amount-at the gaming-table! Oh! my God  who would ever play again, that had been in such misery as I? No, sir  no: I would rather throw myself headlong from one of the bridges into the silent waters of the Thames, than enter the gamblers' den!"
    "Then let me tell you frankly," said Markham, much moved by the touching sincerity of the ruined officer's tone and manner,  "let me tell you frankly that my object, in wishing to see you again, was to satisfy myself that you had in reality abjured the detestable vice which has beggared you, and that you are deserving of all I am prepared to do for your benefit."
    "To-morrow afternoon, sir," answered the Major, "I will take the liberty of writing to you; for by that time I shall once more be the possessor of some humble lodging. And now, with your permission, I will alight here."
    Richard pulled the check-string; and the carriage stopped in Oxford Street.
    The Major alighted  pressed our hero's hand fervently  and hurried away.
    When the carriage had disappeared, and the poor man's feelings were somewhat composed, he stopped beneath a lamp to learn the name of his benefactor.
    "The Prince of Montoni!" he exclaimed joyfully: "oh! then I am saved  I am saved; he will never let me want again! All London rings with the fame of his goodness: his whole time seems to be passed in benefiting his fellow-creatures! Wherever poverty is known to exist, thither does he send in secret his unostentatious charity! But such good deeds cannot remain concealed; and I  I for one will proclaim to all who have spurned me in my bitter need, that a stranger has saved me  and that stranger a great Prince whose shoes they are not worthy to touch!"
    Such were the words which the grateful man uttered aloud in the open Street; but when he glanced at the bank-note, and found himself suddenly possessed of fifty pounds, he burst into a flood of tears  tears of the most heart-felt joy!
    And Richard returned home with the satisfaction of having done another charitable action:  we say another, because charitable deeds with him were far more common than even promises on the part of many richer men.
    But Markham delighted in doing good. Often of an evening, would he repair into London, and, leaving his carriage at the corner of some street, wander about the immediate neighbourhood to succour the poor houseless wretches whom he might meet, and to discover new cases in which his bounty might be usefully bestowed. Without hesitation  without disgust, did he penetrate into the wretched abodes of want-go down even into the cellars, or a climb up into the attics, where poverty was to be a relieved and joy to be shed into the despairing heart.
    And when he returned home, after such expeditions as these, to his beloved wife and darling child,  for he was now a father  the happy father of a lovely boy, whom he had named Alberto,  he found his reward in the approving smiles of the Princess, even if he had not previously reaped an adequate recompense in the mere fact of doing so much good.
    Indeed, there was not a happier house in the world than Markham Place;  for not only was the felicity of Richard complete  save in respect to his anxiety concerning his long-lost brother Eugene,  but that of his sister was also ensured. United to Mario Bazzano, Katherine and her husband resided at the mansion  beneath the same roof where Mr Monroe and Ellen also continued to enjoy a home!
    But let us continue the thread of our narrative.
    True to his promise, Major Anderson wrote on the following day to acquaint our hero with his place of abode, and to renew the expression of his most fervent gratitude for the generous conduct he had experienced at the hands of the Prince of Montoni.
    In the evening Richard proceeded to the humble but comfortable lodging which the Major now occupied in the neighbourhood of the Tottenham Court Road; and from the lips of the individual whom his bounty had restored to comparative happiness, did our hero learn the following terrible narrative of a Gambler's Life.

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