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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    CHAPTER 24

    Of the Great Bespeak for Miss Snevellicci, and the first Appearance
    of Nicholas upon any Stage

    Nicholas was up betimes in the morning; but he had scarcely begun to
    dress, notwithstanding, when he heard footsteps ascending the
    stairs, and was presently saluted by the voices of Mr Folair the
    pantomimist, and Mr Lenville, the tragedian.

    'House, house, house!' cried Mr Folair.

    'What, ho! within there" said Mr Lenville, in a deep voice.

    'Confound these fellows!' thought Nicholas; 'they have come to
    breakfast, I suppose. I'll open the door directly, if you'll wait
    an instant.'

    The gentlemen entreated him not to hurry himself; and, to beguile
    the interval, had a fencing bout with their walking-sticks on the
    very small landing-place: to the unspeakable discomposure of all the
    other lodgers downstairs.

    'Here, come in,' said Nicholas, when he had completed his toilet.
    'In the name of all that's horrible, don't make that noise outside.'

    'An uncommon snug little box this,' said Mr Lenville, stepping into
    the front room, and taking his hat off, before he could get in at
    all. 'Pernicious snug.'

    'For a man at all particular in such matters, it might be a trifle
    too snug,' said Nicholas; 'for, although it is, undoubtedly, a great
    convenience to be able to reach anything you want from the ceiling
    or the floor, or either side of the room, without having to move
    from your chair, still these advantages can only be had in an
    apartment of the most limited size.'

    'It isn't a bit too confined for a single man,' returned Mr
    Lenville. 'That reminds me,--my wife, Mr Johnson,--I hope she'll
    have some good part in this piece of yours?'

    'I glanced at the French copy last night,' said Nicholas. 'It looks
    very good, I think.'

    'What do you mean to do for me, old fellow?' asked Mr Lenville,
    poking the struggling fire with his walking-stick, and afterwards
    wiping it on the skirt of his coat. 'Anything in the gruff and
    grumble way?'

    'You turn your wife and child out of doors,' said Nicholas; 'and, in
    a fit of rage and jealousy, stab your eldest son in the library.'

    'Do I though!' exclaimed Mr Lenville. 'That's very good business.'

    'After which,' said Nicholas, 'you are troubled with remorse till
    the last act, and then you make up your mind to destroy yourself.
    But, just as you are raising the pistol to your head, a clock
    strikes--ten.'

    'I see,' cried Mr Lenville. 'Very good.'

    'You pause,' said Nicholas; 'you recollect to have heard a clock
    strike ten in your infancy. The pistol falls from your hand--you
    are overcome--you burst into tears, and become a virtuous and
    exemplary character for ever afterwards.'

    'Capital!' said Mr Lenville: 'that's a sure card, a sure card. Get
    the curtain down with a touch of nature like that, and it'll be a
    triumphant success.'

    'Is there anything good for me?' inquired Mr Folair, anxiously.

    'Let me see,' said Nicholas. 'You play the faithful and attached
    servant; you are turned out of doors with the wife and child.'

    'Always coupled with that infernal phenomenon,' sighed Mr Folair;
    'and we go into poor lodgings, where I won't take any wages, and
    talk sentiment, I suppose?'

    'Why--yes,' replied Nicholas: 'that is the course of the piece.'

    'I must have a dance of some kind, you know,' said Mr Folair.
    'You'll have to introduce one for the phenomenon, so you'd better
    make a PAS DE DEUX, and save time.'

    'There's nothing easier than that,' said Mr Lenville, observing the
    disturbed looks of the young dramatist.

    'Upon my word I don't see how it's to be done,' rejoined Nicholas.

    'Why, isn't it obvious?' reasoned Mr Lenville. 'Gadzooks, who can
    help seeing the way to do it?--you astonish me! You get the
    distressed lady, and the little child, and the attached servant,
    into the poor lodgings, don't you?--Well, look here. The distressed
    lady sinks into a chair, and buries her face in her pocket-
    handkerchief. "What makes you weep, mama?" says the child. "Don't
    weep, mama, or you'll make me weep too!"--"And me!" says the
    favourite servant, rubbing his eyes with his arm. "What can we do
    to raise your spirits, dear mama?" says the little child. "Ay,
    what CAN we do?" says the faithful servant. "Oh, Pierre!" says the
    distressed lady; "would that I could shake off these painful
    thoughts."--"Try, ma'am, try," says the faithful servant; "rouse
    yourself, ma'am; be amused."--"I will," says the lady, "I will learn
    to suffer with fortitude. Do you remember that dance, my honest
    friend, which, in happier days, you practised with this sweet angel?
    It never failed to calm my spirits then. Oh! let me see it once
    again before I die!"--There it is--cue for the band, BEFORE I DIE,--
    and off they go. That's the regular thing; isn't it, Tommy?'

    'That's it,' replied Mr Folair. 'The distressed lady, overpowered
    by old recollections, faints at the end of the dance, and you close
    in with a picture.'

    Profiting by these and other lessons, which were the result of the
    personal experience of the two actors, Nicholas willingly gave them
    the best breakfast he could, and, when he at length got rid of them,
    applied himself to his task: by no means displeased to find that it
    was so much easier than he had at first supposed. He worked very
    hard all day, and did not leave his room until the evening, when he
    went down to the theatre, whither Smike had repaired before him to
    go on with another gentleman as a general rebellion.

    Here all the people were so much changed, that he scarcely knew
    them. False hair, false colour, false calves, false muscles--they
    had become different beings. Mr Lenville was a blooming warrior of
    most exquisite proportions; Mr Crummles, his large face shaded by a
    profusion of black hair, a Highland outlaw of most majestic bearing;
    one of the old gentlemen a jailer, and the other a venerable
    patriarch; the comic countryman, a fighting-man of great valour,
    relieved by a touch of humour; each of the Master Crummleses a
    prince in his own right; and the low-spirited lover, a desponding
    captive. There was a gorgeous banquet ready spread for the third
    act, consisting of two pasteboard vases, one plate of biscuits, a
    black bottle, and a vinegar cruet; and, in short, everything was on
    a scale of the utmost splendour and preparation.

    Nicholas was standing with his back to the curtain, now
    contemplating the first scene, which was a Gothic archway, about two
    feet shorter than Mr Crummles, through which that gentleman was to
    make his first entrance, and now listening to a couple of people who
    were cracking nuts in the gallery, wondering whether they made the
    whole audience, when the manager himself walked familiarly up and
    accosted him.

    'Been in front tonight?' said Mr Crummles.

    'No,' replied Nicholas, 'not yet. I am going to see the play.'

    'We've had a pretty good Let,' said Mr Crummles. 'Four front places
    in the centre, and the whole of the stage-box.'

    'Oh, indeed!' said Nicholas; 'a family, I suppose?'

    'Yes,' replied Mr Crummles, 'yes. It's an affecting thing. There
    are six children, and they never come unless the phenomenon plays.'

    It would have been difficult for any party, family, or otherwise, to
    have visited the theatre on a night when the phenomenon did NOT
    play, inasmuch as she always sustained one, and not uncommonly two
    or three, characters, every night; but Nicholas, sympathising with
    the feelings of a father, refrained from hinting at this trifling
    circumstance, and Mr Crummles continued to talk, uninterrupted by
    him.

    'Six,' said that gentleman; 'pa and ma eight, aunt nine, governess
    ten, grandfather and grandmother twelve. Then, there's the footman,
    who stands outside, with a bag of oranges and a jug of toast-and-
    water, and sees the play for nothing through the little pane of
    glass in the box-door--it's cheap at a guinea; they gain by taking a
    box.'

    'I wonder you allow so many,' observed Nicholas.

    'There's no help for it,' replied Mr Crummles; 'it's always expected
    in the country. If there are six children, six people come to hold
    them in their laps. A family-box carries double always. Ring in
    the orchestra, Grudden!'

    That useful lady did as she was requested, and shortly afterwards
    the tuning of three fiddles was heard. Which process having been
    protracted as long as it was supposed that the patience of the
    audience could possibly bear it, was put a stop to by another jerk
    of the bell, which, being the signal to begin in earnest, set the
    orchestra playing a variety of popular airs, with involuntary
    variations.

    If Nicholas had been astonished at the alteration for the better
    which the gentlemen displayed, the transformation of the ladies was
    still more extraordinary. When, from a snug corner of the manager's
    box, he beheld Miss Snevellicci in all the glories of white muslin
    with a golden hem, and Mrs Crummles in all the dignity of the
    outlaw's wife, and Miss Bravassa in all the sweetness of Miss
    Snevellicci's confidential friend, and Miss Belvawney in the white
    silks of a page doing duty everywhere and swearing to live and die
    in the service of everybody, he could scarcely contain his
    admiration, which testified itself in great applause, and the
    closest possible attention to the business of the scene. The plot
    was most interesting. It belonged to no particular age, people, or
    country, and was perhaps the more delightful on that account, as
    nobody's previous information could afford the remotest glimmering
    of what would ever come of it. An outlaw had been very successful
    in doing something somewhere, and came home, in triumph, to the
    sound of shouts and fiddles, to greet his wife--a lady of masculine
    mind, who talked a good deal about her father's bones, which it
    seemed were unburied, though whether from a peculiar taste on the
    part of the old gentleman himself, or the reprehensible neglect of
    his relations, did not appear. This outlaw's wife was, somehow or
    other, mixed up with a patriarch, living in a castle a long way off,
    and this patriarch was the father of several of the characters, but
    he didn't exactly know which, and was uncertain whether he had
    brought up the right ones in his castle, or the wrong ones; he
    rather inclined to the latter opinion, and, being uneasy, relieved
    his mind with a banquet, during which solemnity somebody in a cloak
    said 'Beware!' which somebody was known by nobody (except the
    audience) to be the outlaw himself, who had come there, for reasons
    unexplained, but possibly with an eye to the spoons. There was an
    agreeable little surprise in the way of certain love passages
    between the desponding captive and Miss Snevellicci, and the comic
    fighting-man and Miss Bravassa; besides which, Mr Lenville had
    several very tragic scenes in the dark, while on throat-cutting
    expeditions, which were all baffled by the skill and bravery of the
    comic fighting-man (who overheard whatever was said all through the
    piece) and the intrepidity of Miss Snevellicci, who adopted tights,
    and therein repaired to the prison of her captive lover, with a
    small basket of refreshments and a dark lantern. At last, it came
    out that the patriarch was the man who had treated the bones of the
    outlaw's father-in-law with so much disrespect, for which cause and
    reason the outlaw's wife repaired to his castle to kill him, and so
    got into a dark room, where, after a good deal of groping in the
    dark, everybody got hold of everybody else, and took them for
    somebody besides, which occasioned a vast quantity of confusion,
    with some pistolling, loss of life, and torchlight; after which, the
    patriarch came forward, and observing, with a knowing look, that he
    knew all about his children now, and would tell them when they got
    inside, said that there could not be a more appropriate occasion for
    marrying the young people than that; and therefore he joined their
    hands, with the full consent of the indefatigable page, who (being
    the only other person surviving) pointed with his cap into the
    clouds, and his right hand to the ground; thereby invoking a
    blessing and giving the cue for the curtain to come down, which it
    did, amidst general applause.

    'What did you think of that?' asked Mr Crummles, when Nicholas went
    round to the stage again. Mr Crummles was very red and hot, for
    your outlaws are desperate fellows to shout.

    'I think it was very capital indeed,' replied Nicholas; 'Miss
    Snevellicci in particular was uncommonly good.'

    'She's a genius,' said Mr Crummles; 'quite a genius, that girl. By-
    the-bye, I've been thinking of bringing out that piece of yours on
    her bespeak night.'

    'When?' asked Nicholas.

    'The night of her bespeak. Her benefit night, when her friends and
    patrons bespeak the play,' said Mr Crummles.

    'Oh! I understand,' replied Nicholas.

    'You see,' said Mr. Crummles, 'it's sure to go, on such an
    occasion, and even if it should not work up quite as well as we
    expect, why it will be her risk, you know, and not ours.'

    'Yours, you mean,' said Nicholas.

    'I said mine, didn't I?' returned Mr Crummles. 'Next Monday week.
    What do you say? You'll have done it, and are sure to be up in the
    lover's part, long before that time.'

    'I don't know about "long before,"' replied Nicholas; 'but BY that
    time I think I can undertake to be ready.'

    'Very good,' pursued Mr Crummles, 'then we'll call that settled.
    Now, I want to ask you something else. There's a little--what shall
    I call it?--a little canvassing takes place on these occasions.'

    'Among the patrons, I suppose?' said Nicholas.

    'Among the patrons; and the fact is, that Snevellicci has had so
    many bespeaks in this place, that she wants an attraction. She had
    a bespeak when her mother-in-law died, and a bespeak when her uncle
    died; and Mrs Crummles and myself have had bespeaks on the
    anniversary of the phenomenon's birthday, and our wedding-day, and
    occasions of that description, so that, in fact, there's some
    difficulty in getting a good one. Now, won't you help this poor
    girl, Mr Johnson?' said Crummles, sitting himself down on a drum,
    and taking a great pinch of snuff, as he looked him steadily in the
    face.

    'How do you mean?' rejoined Nicholas.

    'Don't you think you could spare half an hour tomorrow morning, to
    call with her at the houses of one or two of the principal people?'
    murmured the manager in a persuasive tone.

    'Oh dear me,' said Nicholas, with an air of very strong objection,
    'I shouldn't like to do that.'

    'The infant will accompany her,' said Mr Crummles. 'The moment it
    was suggested to me, I gave permission for the infant to go. There
    will not be the smallest impropriety--Miss Snevellicci, sir, is the
    very soul of honour. It would be of material service--the gentleman
    from London--author of the new piece--actor in the new piece--first
    appearance on any boards--it would lead to a great bespeak, Mr
    Johnson.'

    'I am very sorry to throw a damp upon the prospects of anybody, and
    more especially a lady,' replied Nicholas; 'but really I must
    decidedly object to making one of the canvassing party.'

    'What does Mr Johnson say, Vincent?' inquired a voice close to his
    ear; and, looking round, he found Mrs Crummles and Miss Snevellicci
    herself standing behind him.

    'He has some objection, my dear,' replied Mr Crummles, looking at
    Nicholas.

    'Objection!' exclaimed Mrs Crummles. 'Can it be possible?'

    'Oh, I hope not!' cried Miss Snevellicci. 'You surely are not so
    cruel--oh, dear me!--Well, I--to think of that now, after all one's
    looking forward to it!'

    'Mr Johnson will not persist, my dear,' said Mrs Crummles. 'Think
    better of him than to suppose it. Gallantry, humanity, all the best
    feelings of his nature, must be enlisted in this interesting cause.'

    'Which moves even a manager,' said Mr Crummles, smiling.

    'And a manager's wife,' added Mrs Crummles, in her accustomed
    tragedy tones. 'Come, come, you will relent, I know you will.'

    'It is not in my nature,' said Nicholas, moved by these appeals, 'to
    resist any entreaty, unless it is to do something positively wrong;
    and, beyond a feeling of pride, I know nothing which should prevent
    my doing this. I know nobody here, and nobody knows me. So be it
    then. I yield.'

    Miss Snevellicci was at once overwhelmed with blushes and
    expressions of gratitude, of which latter commodity neither Mr nor
    Mrs Crummles was by any means sparing. It was arranged that
    Nicholas should call upon her, at her lodgings, at eleven next
    morning, and soon after they parted: he to return home to his
    authorship: Miss Snevellicci to dress for the after-piece: and the
    disinterested manager and his wife to discuss the probable gains of
    the forthcoming bespeak, of which they were to have two-thirds of
    the profits by solemn treaty of agreement.

    At the stipulated hour next morning, Nicholas repaired to the
    lodgings of Miss Snevellicci, which were in a place called Lombard
    Street, at the house of a tailor. A strong smell of ironing
    pervaded the little passage; and the tailor's daughter, who opened
    the door, appeared in that flutter of spirits which is so often
    attendant upon the periodical getting up of a family's linen.

    'Miss Snevellicci lives here, I believe?' said Nicholas, when the
    door was opened.

    The tailor's daughter replied in the affirmative.

    'Will you have the goodness to let her know that Mr Johnson is
    here?' said Nicholas.

    'Oh, if you please, you're to come upstairs,' replied the tailor's
    daughter, with a smile.

    Nicholas followed the young lady, and was shown into a small
    apartment on the first floor, communicating with a back-room; in
    which, as he judged from a certain half-subdued clinking sound, as
    of cups and saucers, Miss Snevellicci was then taking her breakfast
    in bed.

    'You're to wait, if you please,' said the tailor's daughter, after a
    short period of absence, during which the clinking in the back-room
    had ceased, and been succeeded by whispering--'She won't be long.'

    As she spoke, she pulled up the window-blind, and having by this
    means (as she thought) diverted Mr Johnson's attention from the room
    to the street, caught up some articles which were airing on the
    fender, and had very much the appearance of stockings, and darted
    off.

    As there were not many objects of interest outside the window,
    Nicholas looked about the room with more curiosity than he might
    otherwise have bestowed upon it. On the sofa lay an old guitar,
    several thumbed pieces of music, and a scattered litter of curl-
    papers; together with a confused heap of play-bills, and a pair of
    soiled white satin shoes with large blue rosettes. Hanging over the
    back of a chair was a half-finished muslin apron with little pockets
    ornamented with red ribbons, such as waiting-women wear on the
    stage, and (by consequence) are never seen with anywhere else. In
    one corner stood the diminutive pair of top-boots in which Miss
    Snevellicci was accustomed to enact the little jockey, and, folded
    on a chair hard by, was a small parcel, which bore a very suspicious
    resemblance to the companion smalls.

    But the most interesting object of all was, perhaps, the open
    scrapbook, displayed in the midst of some theatrical duodecimos that
    were strewn upon the table; and pasted into which scrapbook were
    various critical notices of Miss Snevellicci's acting, extracted
    from different provincial journals, together with one poetic address
    in her honour, commencing--

    Sing, God of Love, and tell me in what dearth
    Thrice-gifted SNEVELLICCI came on earth,
    To thrill us with her smile, her tear, her eye,
    Sing, God of Love, and tell me quickly why.

    Besides this effusion, there were innumerable complimentary
    allusions, also extracted from newspapers, such as--'We observe from
    an advertisement in another part of our paper of today, that the
    charming and highly-talented Miss Snevellicci takes her benefit on
    Wednesday, for which occasion she has put forth a bill of fare that
    might kindle exhilaration in the breast of a misanthrope. In the
    confidence that our fellow-townsmen have not lost that high
    appreciation of public utility and private worth, for which they
    have long been so pre-eminently distinguished, we predict that this
    charming actress will be greeted with a bumper.' 'To
    Correspondents.--J.S. is misinformed when he supposes that the
    highly-gifted and beautiful Miss Snevellicci, nightly captivating
    all hearts at our pretty and commodious little theatre, is NOT the
    same lady to whom the young gentleman of immense fortune, residing
    within a hundred miles of the good city of York, lately made
    honourable proposals. We have reason to know that Miss Snevellicci
    IS the lady who was implicated in that mysterious and romantic
    affair, and whose conduct on that occasion did no less honour to her
    head and heart, than do her histrionic triumphs to her brilliant
    genius.' A copious assortment of such paragraphs as these, with long
    bills of benefits all ending with 'Come Early', in large capitals,
    formed the principal contents of Miss Snevellicci's scrapbook.

    Nicholas had read a great many of these scraps, and was absorbed in
    a circumstantial and melancholy account of the train of events which
    had led to Miss Snevellicci's spraining her ankle by slipping on a
    piece of orange-peel flung by a monster in human form, (so the paper
    said,) upon the stage at Winchester,--when that young lady herself,
    attired in the coal-scuttle bonnet and walking-dress complete,
    tripped into the room, with a thousand apologies for having detained
    him so long after the appointed time.

    'But really,' said Miss Snevellicci, 'my darling Led, who lives with
    me here, was taken so very ill in the night that I thought she would
    have expired in my arms.'

    'Such a fate is almost to be envied,' returned Nicholas, 'but I am
    very sorry to hear it nevertheless.'

    'What a creature you are to flatter!' said Miss Snevellicci,
    buttoning her glove in much confusion.

    'If it be flattery to admire your charms and accomplishments,'
    rejoined Nicholas, laying his hand upon the scrapbook, 'you have
    better specimens of it here.'

    'Oh you cruel creature, to read such things as those! I'm almost
    ashamed to look you in the face afterwards, positively I am,' said
    Miss Snevellicci, seizing the book and putting it away in a closet.
    'How careless of Led! How could she be so naughty!'

    'I thought you had kindly left it here, on purpose for me to read,'
    said Nicholas. And really it did seem possible.

    'I wouldn't have had you see it for the world!' rejoined Miss
    Snevellicci. 'I never was so vexed--never! But she is such a
    careless thing, there's no trusting her.'

    The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of the
    phenomenon, who had discreetly remained in the bedroom up to this
    moment, and now presented herself, with much grace and lightness,
    bearing in her hand a very little green parasol with a broad fringe
    border, and no handle. After a few words of course, they sallied
    into the street.

    The phenomenon was rather a troublesome companion, for first the
    right sandal came down, and then the left, and these mischances
    being repaired, one leg of the little white trousers was discovered
    to be longer than the other; besides these accidents, the green
    parasol was dropped down an iron grating, and only fished up again
    with great difficulty and by dint of much exertion. However, it was
    impossible to scold her, as she was the manager's daughter, so
    Nicholas took it all in perfect good humour, and walked on, with
    Miss Snevellicci, arm-in-arm on one side, and the offending infant
    on the other.

    The first house to which they bent their steps, was situated in a
    terrace of respectable appearance. Miss Snevellicci's modest
    double-knock was answered by a foot-boy, who, in reply to her
    inquiry whether Mrs Curdle was at home, opened his eyes very wide,
    grinned very much, and said he didn't know, but he'd inquire. With
    this he showed them into a parlour where he kept them waiting, until
    the two women-servants had repaired thither, under false pretences,
    to see the play-actors; and having compared notes with them in the
    passage, and joined in a vast quantity of whispering and giggling,
    he at length went upstairs with Miss Snevellicci's name.

    Now, Mrs Curdle was supposed, by those who were best informed on
    such points, to possess quite the London taste in matters relating
    to literature and the drama; and as to Mr Curdle, he had written a
    pamphlet of sixty-four pages, post octavo, on the character of the
    Nurse's deceased husband in Romeo and Juliet, with an inquiry
    whether he really had been a 'merry man' in his lifetime, or whether
    it was merely his widow's affectionate partiality that induced her
    so to report him. He had likewise proved, that by altering the
    received mode of punctuation, any one of Shakespeare's plays could
    be made quite different, and the sense completely changed; it is
    needless to say, therefore, that he was a great critic, and a very
    profound and most original thinker.

    'Well, Miss Snevellicci,' said Mrs Curdle, entering the parlour,
    'and how do YOU do?'

    Miss Snevellicci made a graceful obeisance, and hoped Mrs Curdle was
    well, as also Mr Curdle, who at the same time appeared. Mrs Curdle
    was dressed in a morning wrapper, with a little cap stuck upon the
    top of her head. Mr Curdle wore a loose robe on his back, and his
    right forefinger on his forehead after the portraits of Sterne, to
    whom somebody or other had once said he bore a striking resemblance.

    'I venture to call, for the purpose of asking whether you would put
    your name to my bespeak, ma'am,' said Miss Snevellicci, producing
    documents.

    'Oh! I really don't know what to say,' replied Mrs Curdle. 'It's
    not as if the theatre was in its high and palmy days--you needn't
    stand, Miss Snevellicci--the drama is gone, perfectly gone.'

    'As an exquisite embodiment of the poet's visions, and a realisation
    of human intellectuality, gilding with refulgent light our dreamy
    moments, and laying open a new and magic world before the mental
    eye, the drama is gone, perfectly gone,' said Mr Curdle.

    'What man is there, now living, who can present before us all those
    changing and prismatic colours with which the character of Hamlet is
    invested?' exclaimed Mrs Curdle.

    'What man indeed--upon the stage,' said Mr Curdle, with a small
    reservation in favour of himself. 'Hamlet! Pooh! ridiculous!
    Hamlet is gone, perfectly gone.'

    Quite overcome by these dismal reflections, Mr and Mrs Curdle
    sighed, and sat for some short time without speaking. At length,
    the lady, turning to Miss Snevellicci, inquired what play she
    proposed to have.

    'Quite a new one,' said Miss Snevellicci, 'of which this gentleman
    is the author, and in which he plays; being his first appearance on
    any stage. Mr Johnson is the gentleman's name.'

    'I hope you have preserved the unities, sir?' said Mr Curdle.

    'The original piece is a French one,' said Nicholas. 'There is
    abundance of incident, sprightly dialogue, strongly-marked
    characters--'

    '--All unavailing without a strict observance of the unities, sir,'
    returned Mr Curdle. 'The unities of the drama, before everything.'

    'Might I ask you,' said Nicholas, hesitating between the respect he
    ought to assume, and his love of the whimsical, 'might I ask you
    what the unities are?'

    Mr Curdle coughed and considered. 'The unities, sir,' he said, 'are
    a completeness--a kind of universal dovetailedness with regard to
    place and time--a sort of a general oneness, if I may be allowed to
    use so strong an expression. I take those to be the dramatic
    unities, so far as I have been enabled to bestow attention upon
    them, and I have read much upon the subject, and thought much. I
    find, running through the performances of this child,' said Mr
    Curdle, turning to the phenomenon, 'a unity of feeling, a breadth, a
    light and shade, a warmth of colouring, a tone, a harmony, a glow,
    an artistical development of original conceptions, which I look for,
    in vain, among older performers--I don't know whether I make myself
    understood?'

    'Perfectly,' replied Nicholas.

    'Just so,' said Mr Curdle, pulling up his neckcloth. 'That is my
    definition of the unities of the drama.'

    Mrs Curdle had sat listening to this lucid explanation with great
    complacency. It being finished, she inquired what Mr Curdle
    thought, about putting down their names.

    'I don't know, my dear; upon my word I don't know,' said Mr Curdle.
    'If we do, it must be distinctly understood that we do not pledge
    ourselves to the quality of the performances. Let it go forth to
    the world, that we do not give THEM the sanction of our names, but
    that we confer the distinction merely upon Miss Snevellicci. That
    being clearly stated, I take it to be, as it were, a duty, that we
    should extend our patronage to a degraded stage, even for the sake
    of the associations with which it is entwined. Have you got two-
    and-sixpence for half-a-crown, Miss Snevellicci?' said Mr Curdle,
    turning over four of those pieces of money.

    Miss Snevellicci felt in all the corners of the pink reticule, but
    there was nothing in any of them. Nicholas murmured a jest about
    his being an author, and thought it best not to go through the form
    of feeling in his own pockets at all.

    'Let me see,' said Mr Curdle; 'twice four's eight--four shillings
    a-piece to the boxes, Miss Snevellicci, is exceedingly dear in the
    present state of the drama--three half-crowns is seven-and-six; we
    shall not differ about sixpence, I suppose? Sixpence will not part
    us, Miss Snevellicci?'

    Poor Miss Snevellicci took the three half-crowns, with many smiles
    and bends, and Mrs Curdle, adding several supplementary directions
    relative to keeping the places for them, and dusting the seat, and
    sending two clean bills as soon as they came out, rang the bell, as
    a signal for breaking up the conference.

    'Odd people those,' said Nicholas, when they got clear of the house.

    'I assure you,' said Miss Snevellicci, taking his arm, 'that I think
    myself very lucky they did not owe all the money instead of being
    sixpence short. Now, if you were to succeed, they would give people
    to understand that they had always patronised you; and if you were
    to fail, they would have been quite certain of that from the very
    beginning.'

    At the next house they visited, they were in great glory; for,
    there, resided the six children who were so enraptured with the
    public actions of the phenomenon, and who, being called down from
    the nursery to be treated with a private view of that young lady,
    proceeded to poke their fingers into her eyes, and tread upon her
    toes, and show her many other little attentions peculiar to their
    time of life.

    'I shall certainly persuade Mr Borum to take a private box,' said
    the lady of the house, after a most gracious reception. 'I shall
    only take two of the children, and will make up the rest of the
    party, of gentlemen--your admirers, Miss Snevellicci. Augustus, you
    naughty boy, leave the little girl alone.'

    This was addressed to a young gentleman who was pinching the
    phenomenon behind, apparently with a view of ascertaining whether
    she was real.

    'I am sure you must be very tired,' said the mama, turning to Miss
    Snevellicci. 'I cannot think of allowing you to go, without first
    taking a glass of wine. Fie, Charlotte, I am ashamed of you! Miss
    Lane, my dear, pray see to the children.'

    Miss Lane was the governess, and this entreaty was rendered
    necessary by the abrupt behaviour of the youngest Miss Borum, who,
    having filched the phenomenon's little green parasol, was now
    carrying it bodily off, while the distracted infant looked
    helplessly on.

    'I am sure, where you ever learnt to act as you do,' said good-
    natured Mrs Borum, turning again to Miss Snevellicci, 'I cannot
    understand (Emma, don't stare so); laughing in one piece, and crying
    in the next, and so natural in all--oh, dear!'

    'I am very happy to hear you express so favourable an opinion,' said
    Miss Snevellicci. 'It's quite delightful to think you like it.'

    'Like it!' cried Mrs Borum. 'Who can help liking it? I would go to
    the play, twice a week if I could: I dote upon it--only you're too
    affecting sometimes. You do put me in such a state--into such fits
    of crying! Goodness gracious me, Miss Lane, how can you let them
    torment that poor child so!'

    The phenomenon was really in a fair way of being torn limb from
    limb; for two strong little boys, one holding on by each of her
    hands, were dragging her in different directions as a trial of
    strength. However, Miss Lane (who had herself been too much
    occupied in contemplating the grown-up actors, to pay the necessary
    attention to these proceedings) rescued the unhappy infant at this
    juncture, who, being recruited with a glass of wine, was shortly
    afterwards taken away by her friends, after sustaining no more
    serious damage than a flattening of the pink gauze bonnet, and a
    rather extensive creasing of the white frock and trousers.

    It was a trying morning; for there were a great many calls to make,
    and everybody wanted a different thing. Some wanted tragedies, and
    others comedies; some objected to dancing; some wanted scarcely
    anything else. Some thought the comic singer decidedly low, and
    others hoped he would have more to do than he usually had. Some
    people wouldn't promise to go, because other people wouldn't promise
    to go; and other people wouldn't go at all, because other people
    went. At length, and by little and little, omitting something in
    this place, and adding something in that, Miss Snevellicci pledged
    herself to a bill of fare which was comprehensive enough, if it had
    no other merit (it included among other trifles, four pieces, divers
    songs, a few combats, and several dances); and they returned home,
    pretty well exhausted with the business of the day.

    Nicholas worked away at the piece, which was speedily put into
    rehearsal, and then worked away at his own part, which he studied
    with great perseverance and acted--as the whole company said--to
    perfection. And at length the great day arrived. The crier was
    sent round, in the morning, to proclaim the entertainments with the
    sound of bell in all the thoroughfares; and extra bills of three
    feet long by nine inches wide, were dispersed in all directions,
    flung down all the areas, thrust under all the knockers, and
    developed in all the shops. They were placarded on all the walls
    too, though not with complete success, for an illiterate person
    having undertaken this office during the indisposition of the
    regular bill-sticker, a part were posted sideways, and the remainder
    upside down.

    At half-past five, there was a rush of four people to the gallery-
    door; at a quarter before six, there were at least a dozen; at six
    o'clock the kicks were terrific; and when the elder Master Crummles
    opened the door, he was obliged to run behind it for his life.
    Fifteen shillings were taken by Mrs Grudden in the first ten
    minutes.

    Behind the scenes, the same unwonted excitement prevailed. Miss
    Snevellicci was in such a perspiration that the paint would scarcely
    stay on her face. Mrs Crummles was so nervous that she could hardly
    remember her part. Miss Bravassa's ringlets came out of curl with
    the heat and anxiety; even Mr Crummles himself kept peeping through
    the hole in the curtain, and running back, every now and then, to
    announce that another man had come into the pit.

    At last, the orchestra left off, and the curtain rose upon the new
    piece. The first scene, in which there was nobody particular,
    passed off calmly enough, but when Miss Snevellicci went on in the
    second, accompanied by the phenomenon as child, what a roar of
    applause broke out! The people in the Borum box rose as one man,
    waving their hats and handkerchiefs, and uttering shouts of 'Bravo!'
    Mrs Borum and the governess cast wreaths upon the stage, of which,
    some fluttered into the lamps, and one crowned the temples of a fat
    gentleman in the pit, who, looking eagerly towards the scene,
    remained unconscious of the honour; the tailor and his family kicked
    at the panels of the upper boxes till they threatened to come out
    altogether; the very ginger-beer boy remained transfixed in the
    centre of the house; a young officer, supposed to entertain a
    passion for Miss Snevellicci, stuck his glass in his eye as though
    to hide a tear. Again and again Miss Snevellicci curtseyed lower
    and lower, and again and again the applause came down, louder and
    louder. At length, when the phenomenon picked up one of the smoking
    wreaths and put it on, sideways, over Miss Snevellicci's eye, it
    reached its climax, and the play proceeded.

    But when Nicholas came on for his crack scene with Mrs Crummles,
    what a clapping of hands there was! When Mrs Crummles (who was his
    unworthy mother), sneered, and called him 'presumptuous boy,' and he
    defied her, what a tumult of applause came on! When he quarrelled
    with the other gentleman about the young lady, and producing a case
    of pistols, said, that if he WAS a gentleman, he would fight him in
    that drawing-room, until the furniture was sprinkled with the blood
    of one, if not of two--how boxes, pit, and gallery, joined in one
    most vigorous cheer! When he called his mother names, because she
    wouldn't give up the young lady's property, and she relenting,
    caused him to relent likewise, and fall down on one knee and ask her
    blessing, how the ladies in the audience sobbed! When he was hid
    behind the curtain in the dark, and the wicked relation poked a
    sharp sword in every direction, save where his legs were plainly
    visible, what a thrill of anxious fear ran through the house! His
    air, his figure, his walk, his look, everything he said or did, was
    the subject of commendation. There was a round of applause every
    time he spoke. And when, at last, in the pump-and-tub scene, Mrs
    Grudden lighted the blue fire, and all the unemployed members of the
    company came in, and tumbled down in various directions--not because
    that had anything to do with the plot, but in order to finish off
    with a tableau--the audience (who had by this time increased
    considerably) gave vent to such a shout of enthusiasm as had not
    been heard in those walls for many and many a day.

    In short, the success both of new piece and new actor was complete,
    and when Miss Snevellicci was called for at the end of the play,
    Nicholas led her on, and divided the applause.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 24
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