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[-274-]  

CHAPTER XCI.

THE TRAGEDY.

AT length the evening, upon which the tragedy was to be represented for the first time, arrived.
    Markham in the mean time had been little of the manager, and had not attended a single rehearsal, his presence for that purpose not having been required. Moreover, true to his original intentions, he had not acquainted a soul with his secret relative to the drama. The manager still knew him only as Edward Preston; and the advertisements in the newspapers had announced the "forth-coming tragedy" as one that had "emanated from the pen of a young author of considerable promise, but who had determined to maintain a strict incognito until the public verdict should have been pronounced upon his piece."
    A short time before the doors opened, Richard proceeded to the theatre, and called upon the manager, who received him in his own private apartment.
    "Well, Mr. Preston," said the theatrical monarch, "this evening will decide the fate of the tragedy. A few hours, and we shall know more. "
    "I hope you still think well of it," returned Markham.
    " My candid opinion is that the success will be triumphant," said the manager. " I have spared no expense to get up the piece well; and I am very sanguine. Besides, 1 have another element of success."
    "What is that?" inquired Richard.
    "My principal ballet-dancer, who is a beautiful creature and a general favourite - Miss Selina Fitzherbert —"
    "I have heard of her fame," said Markham, " but have never seen her. Strange as it may appear, 1 never visit theatres - I have not done so for years."
    "You will visit them often enough if your productions succeed," observed the manager with a smile. " But, as I was saying, Miss Fitzherbert has lately manifested a passionate desire to shine in tragedy; and she will make her debut in that sphere tonight, in your piece. She will play the Baron's Daughter."
    "Which character does not appear until the commencement of the third act," said Markham.
    "Precisely," observed the manager. " But time is now drawing on. Where will you remain during the performance?"
    "I shall proceed into the body of the house," returned Markham, "and take my seat in one of the central boxes - I mean those precisely fronting the stage. I shall be able to judge of the effect better in that part of the house than elsewhere."
    "As you please," said the manager. "But mind and let me see you after the performance."
    Richard promised compliance with this request and then proceeded into the house, where he took a seat in the centre of the amphitheatre.
    The doors had been opened a few minutes previously, and the house was filling fast. By half-past six it was crowded from pit to roof. The boxes were filled with elegantly-dressed ladies and fashionable gentlemen: there was not room to thrust another spectator into any one point at the moment when the curtain drew up.
    The overture commenced. How long it appeared to Markham, passionately fond of music though he was!
    At length it ceased; and the First Act commenced.
    For some time a profound silence pervaded the audience :- not a voice, not a murmur, not a sigh, gave the slightest demonstration of either approbation or dislike.
    But, at length, at the conclusion of a most impressive soliloquy, which was delivered by the hero of the piece, one universal burst of applause broke forth; and the theatre rang with the sounds of human tongues and the clapping of hands. When the First Act ended, the opinion of the audience was decisive in favour of the piece; and the manager felt persuaded that "it was a hit."
    This was one of the happiest moments of Markham's existence - that existence which had latterly presented so few green spots to please the mental eye of the wanderer in the world's desert. His veins seemed to run with liquid fire! - a delirium of joy seized upon him - he was inebriated with excess of bliss.
    Around him the spectators were expressing their opinions of the first act, little suspecting that the author of the piece was so near. All those sentiments were unequivocally in favour of the tragedy.
    The Second Act began - progressed - terminated.
    No pen can describe the enthusiasm with which [-275-] the audience received the development of the drama, nor the interest which it seemed to excite.
    Inspired by the applause that greeted them, the performers exerted all their efforts; and the excellence of the tragedy, united with the talent of the actors and the beauty of the scenery, achieved a triumph not often witnessed within the walls of that or any other theatre.
    The Third Act commenced. Selina Fitzherbert appeared upon the stage; and her presence was welcomed with rapturous applause.
    She came forward, and acknowledged the kindness of the audience with a graceful curtsey. 
    Markham surveyed her with interest, in consequence of the manner in which her name had been mentioned to him by the manager ;- but that interest grew more profound, and was gradually associated with feelings of extreme surprise, suspense, and uncertainty, for he fancied that if ever he saw Ellen Monroe in his life, there was she - or else her living counterpart - before him - an actress playing apart in his own drama!
    He was stupefied ;- he strained his eyes - he leant forward - he borrowed the opera-glass of a gentleman seated next to him ;- and the more he gazed, the more he felt convinced that he beheld Ellen Monroe in the person of Selina Fitzherbert.
    At length the actress spoke: wonder upon wonder - it was Ellen's voice - her intonation - her accent - her style of speaking.
    Markham was amazed - confounded.
    He inquired of his neighbour whether Selina Fitzherbert was the young lady's real name, or an assumed one.
    The gentleman to whom he spoke did not know. 
    "How long has she been upon the stage?"
    "Between two and three months; and, strange to say, it is rumoured that she only took two months to render herself so proficient a dancer as she is. But she now appears to be equally fine in tragedy. Listen!"
    Markham could ask no more questions; for his neighbour became all attention towards the piece.
    Richard reviewed in a moment, in his mind, all the principal appearances and characteristics of Ellen's life during the last few months,- the lateness of her hours - the constancy of her employment - and a variety of circumstances, which only now struck him, but which tended to ratify his suspicion that she was indeed Selina Fitzherbert.
    His attention was withdrawn from his own piece; and be determined to convince himself at once upon this head.
    Taking advantage of the termination of the first scene in the third act, he left the box, and proceeded behind the scenes of the theatre. But while he was on his way thither, it struck him that if his suspicions were correct, and if he appeared too suddenly in the presence of Ellen, he would perhaps so disconcert her as to render her unfit to proceed with the part entrusted to her. He accordingly concealed himself in a dark corner, behind some scene-boards, and whence he could see plainly, but where he himself could not be very readily discovered.
    He did not wait long ere his doubts were cleared up in a few minutes after he had taken his post in the obscure nook, Ellen passed close by him. She was conversing with another actress.
    "Have you seen the author? " said the latter.
    "No - not yet," replied Ellen. "But the manager has promised us that pleasure when the curtain falls."
    "He has made a brilliant hit."
    "Yes," said Ellen. "He need not have been so bashful if he had known his own powers, or foreseen this success. The greatest mystery has been preserved about him: he never once came to rehearsal and the prompter who copied out my part for me from the original manuscript, tells me that he is convinced the author is quite a novice in dramatic composition, by the way in which the piece was written - I mean, there were not in the manuscript any of those hints and suggestions which an experienced writer would have introduced."
    "I really quite long to see him," said Ellen's companion: "he must be quite  —"
    The two ladies passed on; and Richard heard no more.
    His doubts were, however, cleared up :- Ellen Monroe was a figurante and an actress!
    He was not so annoyed at this discovery as Ellen had imagined he would have been when she took such precautions to conceal the fact from the knowledge of him and her father. Richard could not help admiring the independent spirit which had induced her to seek the means of earning her own livelihood, and which he now fully comprehended :- at the same time, he was sorry that she had withheld the truth, and that she had embraced the stage in preference to any other avocation. Alas! he little suspected what scenes that poor girl had passed through :- he knew nothing of her connexion with the statuary, the artist, the sculptor, the photographer, Greenwood, and the mesmerist!
    Having satisfied himself that Selina Fitzherbert and Ellen Monroe were one and the same person, and still amazed and bewildered by the discovery, Markham returned to the body of the theatre; but, instead of proceeding to his former seat, he repaired to the "author's box," which he found unoccupied, and which, being close to the stage, commanded a full view of the scene.
    The tragedy proceeded with unabated success: the performance of Ellen was alone sufficient to give it an extraordinary éclat. Her beautiful countenance - the noble and dignified manner in which she carried her classic head - her elegant form - the natural grace and suavity of her manners - her musical voice - and the correct appreciation she evinced of the character in which she appeared, - these were the elements of an irresistible appeal to the public heart. The tragedy would have been eminently successful by reason of its own intrinsic merits, and without Ellen :- but with her, that success was brilliant - triumphant - unparalleled in the annals of the modern stage!
    The entire audience was enraptured with the charming woman who shone in two ways so essentially distinct,  -who had first captivated the sense as a dancer, and who now came forth a great tragic actress. Her lovely person and her talents united, formed a passport to favour which not a dissentient voice could question ;- and when the curtain fell at the close of the fifth act, the approbation of the spectators was expressed with clapping of hands, waving of handkerchiefs, and shouts of applause - all prolonged to an unusual length of time, and frequently renewed with additional enthusiasm.
    The moment the curtain fell Markham hastened behind the scenes, and encountered Ellen in one of the slips. 
    Hastily grasping her by the hand, he said in a low but hurried tone "Do not be alarmed - I know all - I am here to thank you - not to blame you."
    "Thank me, Richard!" exclaimed the young actress, partially recovering from the almost over-[-276-]whelming state of alarm into which the sudden apparition of Markham had thrown her: "why should you thank me?"
    "Thank you, Ellen - Oh! how can I do otherwise than thank you?" said Markham. "You have carried my tragedy through the ordeal  —"
    "Your tragedy, Richard!" cried Miss Monroe, more and more bewildered.
    "Yes, my tragedy, Ellen - it is mine! But, ah! there is a call for you  —"
    A moment's silence had succeeded the flattering expression of public opinion which arose at the termination of the performance; and then arose a loud cry for Selina Fitzherbert.
    This was followed by a call for the author, and then a thousand voices ejaculated - Selina Fitzherbert and the Author! Let them come together!
    The manager now hastened up to the place where Ellen and Richard were standing, and where the above hurried words had been exchanged between them.
    " You must go forward, Miss Fitzherbert - and you too, Mr. Preston —"
    Ellen glanced with an arch smile towards Richard, am much as to say, "You also have taken an assumed name."
    Markham begged and implored the manager not to force him upon the stage ;- but the call for " Selina Fitzberbert and the Author" was peremptory; and the "gods" were growing clamorous.
    Popular will is never more arbitrary than in a theatre.
    Markham accordingly took Ellen's hand :- the curtain rose, and he led her forward.
    The appearance of that handsome couple - a fine dark-eyed and genteel young man leading by the hand a lovely woman, - a successful author, and a favourite actress, - this was the signal for a fresh burst of applause.
    Richard was dazzled with the glare of light, and for some time could see nothing distinctly.
    Myriad. of human countenances, heaped together, danced before him; and yet the aspect and features of none were accurately delineated to his eyes. He could not have selected from amongst those countenances, even that of his long-lost brother, or that of his dearly beloved Isabella, had they been both or either of them prominent in that multitude of faces.
    And Isabella wee there, with her parents - impelled by the curiosity which had taken so many thither that evening.
    Her surprise, and that of her father and mother, may therefore well be conceived, when, in the author of one of the most successful and beautiful dramatic compositions of modern times, they recognised Richard Markham!
    The applause continued for three or four minutes - uninterrupted and enthusiastic - as if some mighty conqueror, who had just released his country from the thraldom of a foreign foe, was the object of adulation.
    At length this expression of approbation ceased; and the spectators awaited in suspense, and with curiosity depicted upon their countenances, the acknowledgment of the honours showered upon the author.
    At that moment the manager stepped forward, and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honour to inform you. that Mr. Edward Preston is the author of the successful tragedy upon which you have been pleased to bestow your approval. I consider it to be my duty to mention a name which the author's own modesty -  modesty which you will agree with me in pronouncing to be unnecessary under such circumstances - would not probably have allowed him to reveal to you."
    The manager bowed and retired.
    Fresh applause welcomed the announcement of the tragic author's name; and a thousand voices exclaimed, "Bravo, Edward Preston!"
    By this time Markham had recovered his presence of mind and self-possession: and his joy was extreme when he suddenly recognised Isabella in a box close by the stage.
    Oh! that was a glorious moment for him : she was there - she beheld his triumph - and doubtless she participated in his own happy feelings.
    "Bravo, Edward Preston!" was re-echoed through the house.
    And then a dead silence prevailed.
    All were anxious to hear Richard speak.
    But just at the moment when he was about to acknowledge the honour conferred upon him and his fair companion by the audience, a strange voice broke upon the stillness of the scene.
    "It is false! his name is not Preston  —"
    "Silence!" cried numerous voices.
    "His name is  —"
    "Turn out that brawler! turn him out!"
    "His name is  —"
    "Hold your tongue!"
    "Silence!"
    "Turn him out! turn him out!"
    "His name is Richard Markham  — the Forger!"
    A burst of indignation, mingled with strong expressions of incredulity, rose against the individual. who, from an obscure nook in the gallery, had interrupted the harmony of the evening.
    "It is true - I say! he is Richard Markham who was condemned to two years' imprisonment for forgery!" thundered forth the hoarse and unpleasant voice.
    A piercing scream - the scream of a female tone - echoed through the house: all eyes were turned towards the box whence it issued; and a young lady with flaxen hair and pale complexion, was seen to sink senseless in the arms of the elderly gentleman who accompanied her.
    And in another part of the house a young lady also sank, pale, trembling, and overcome with feelings of acute anguish, upon her father's bosom.
    So deeply did that dread accusing voice affect the sensitive and astonished Mary-Anne and the faithful Isabella!
    All was now confusion. The audience rose from their seats in all directions; and the theatre suddenly appeared to be converted into a modern Babel.
    Overwhelmed with shame, and so bewildered by this cruel blow, that he knew not how to act, Markham stood for some moments like a criminal before his judges. Ellen, forgetting where she was, clung to him for support.
    At length, the unhappy young man seized Ellen abruptly by the hand, and led her from the public gaze.
    The curtain fell as they passed behind the scenes.
    The audience then grew more clamorous - none scarcely knew why. Some demanded that the man who had caused the interruption should be arrested by the police; but those in the gallery shouted out that he had suddenly disappeared. Others declared that the accusation ought to be investigated ;- people in the pit maintained that, even if the story were true, it had nothing to do with the success of the accused as a dramatic author ;- and gentlemen [-277-] in the boxes expressed their determination never to support a man, in a public institution and in a public capacity, who had been condemned to infamous penalties for an enormous crime.
    Thus all was noise, confusion, and uproar, - argument, accusation, and recrimination, - the buzzing of hundreds of tongues, - the clamour of thousands of voices.
    Some called "Shame!" upon the manager for introducing a discharged convict to the notice of Englishmen's wives and daughters, -  although the persons who thus clamoured did not utter a reproach against the immoral females who made no secret of their profligacy, and who appeared nightly upon the stage as its brightest ornaments - nor did they condescend to recall to mind the vicinity of that infamous saloon which vomited forth numbers of impure characters to occupy seats by the sides of those wives and daughters, whose purity was now supposed to be tainted because a man who had undergone an infamous punishment, but who could there set no bad example, had contributed to their entertainment!
    And then commenced a riot in the theatre. The respectable portion of the audience escaped from the scene with the utmost precipitation :- but the occupants of the upper region, and some of the tenants of the pit, remained to exhibit their inclination for what they were pleased to term "a lark." The benches were torn up, and hurled upon the stage hats and orange-peel flew about in all directions ;- and serious damage would have been done to the theatre, had not a body of police succeeded in restoring order.
    In the mean time Markham and Ellen had been conducted to the Green Room, where a glass of wine was administered to each to restore their self-possession.
    The manager was alone with them; and when Richard had time to collect his scattered ideas, he seemed to awake as from a horrible dream. But the ominous countenance of the manager met his glance; - and he knew that it was all a fearful reality.
    Then did Markham bury his face in his hands, and weep bitterly - bitterly.
    "Alas! young man," said the manager, "it was an evil day for both you and me, when you sought and I accorded my patronage. This business will no doubt injure me seriously. You are a young man of extraordinary  talent ;- but it will not avail you in this sphere again. You have enjoyed one signal triumph - you have experienced a most heart-rending overthrow. Never did defeat follow upon conquest so rapidly. The power of your genius will not vanquish the opinion of the public. I do not blame you: you were not compelled to communicate your former history to me ;- and it was I who forced you to go forward."
    Markham was consoled by the language of the manager, who spoke in a kind and sympathising tone of voice.
    Thus the only man who would suffer in a pecuniary point of view - or, at least, he who would suffer most - by the fatal occurrence of that evening, - was also the only one who attempted to solace the unhappy Markham.
    As for poor Ellen - she was overwhelmed with grief.
    "You gave me fifty guineas for that fatal - fatal drama," said Richard, after a long pause. "The money shall be returned to you to morrow."
    "No, my young friend,  - that must not be done!" exclaimed the manager, taking Richard's hand. "Your noble conduct in this respect raises you fifty per cent. in my opinion."
    "Yes - he is noble, he is generous!" cried Ellen. "He has been a benefactor to myself and my father: it is at his house that we live; and never until this evening were we aware of each other's avocations. in respect to the stage."
    "How singular a coincidence!" exclaimed the manager. "But I hope that I shall not lose the services of the principal attraction of my company?"
    "Yes," said Ellen firmly: " I shall never more appear in public in that capacity of which I was lately so enamoured, but for which I have suddenly entertained an abhorrence."
    "A few days' repose and rest will induce you to change your mind, I hope?" said the manager, who was really alarmed at the prospect of losing a figurante of such talent and an actress of such great promise.
    "We shall see - I will reflect," returned Ellen, unwilling to add to the annoyances of the kindhearted manager.
    "You must not desert me," said this gentleman, - "especially at a time when I shall require all the attractions possible to restore the reputation of my house."
    Markham now rose to take his departure.
    "I should not advise you to leave the house together," said the manager. "There may be a few malcontents in the street ;- and, at all events, it will be as well that the ladies and gentlemen of my company should not know of your intimate acquaintance with each other. Such a proceeding might only compromise Miss Fitzherbert."
    Markham cordially acceded to this suggestion; and it was agreed that he should depart by the private door, and that Ellen should return home in the usual manner by herself.
    But before they separated, the two young people agreed with each other that the strictest silence should be preserved at the Place, not only with respect to the events of that evening, but also in regard to the nature of the avocations in which they had both lately been engaged.
    Markham succeeded in escaping unobserved from the theatre ;- and, humiliated, cast down, heartbroken, - bending beneath an insupportable burden of ignominy and shame,- with the fainting form of Isabella before his eyes, and the piercing shriek of Mary-Anne, whom he had also recognised, in his ears, - he pursued his precipitate retreat homewards.
    But what a dread revelation had been made to him that evening! His mortal enemy - his inveterate foe had escaped from the death which, it was hitherto supposed, the miscreant had met in the den of infamy near Bird-Cage. Walk some months previously: - his ominous voice still thundered its Markham's ears ;- and our unhappy hero once more saw all his prospects ruined by the unmitigated hatred of the Resurrection Man.

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