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    Chapter 48

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    Chapter 48
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    CHAPTER 48

    Being for the Benefit of Mr Vincent Crummles, and positively his
    last Appearance on this Stage

    It was with a very sad and heavy heart, oppressed by many painful
    ideas, that Nicholas retraced his steps eastward and betook himself
    to the counting-house of Cheeryble Brothers. Whatever the idle
    hopes he had suffered himself to entertain, whatever the pleasant
    visions which had sprung up in his mind and grouped themselves round
    the fair image of Madeline Bray, they were now dispelled, and not a
    vestige of their gaiety and brightness remained.

    It would be a poor compliment to Nicholas's better nature, and one
    which he was very far from deserving, to insinuate that the
    solution, and such a solution, of the mystery which had seemed to
    surround Madeline Bray, when he was ignorant even of her name, had
    damped his ardour or cooled the fervour of his admiration. If he
    had regarded her before, with such a passion as young men attracted
    by mere beauty and elegance may entertain, he was now conscious of
    much deeper and stronger feelings. But, reverence for the truth and
    purity of her heart, respect for the helplessness and loneliness of
    her situation, sympathy with the trials of one so young and fair and
    admiration of her great and noble spirit, all seemed to raise her
    far above his reach, and, while they imparted new depth and dignity
    to his love, to whisper that it was hopeless.

    'I will keep my word, as I have pledged it to her,' said Nicholas,
    manfully. 'This is no common trust that I have to discharge, and I
    will perform the double duty that is imposed upon me most
    scrupulously and strictly. My secret feelings deserve no
    consideration in such a case as this, and they shall have none.'

    Still, there were the secret feelings in existence just the same,
    and in secret Nicholas rather encouraged them than otherwise;
    reasoning (if he reasoned at all) that there they could do no harm
    to anybody but himself, and that if he kept them to himself from a
    sense of duty, he had an additional right to entertain himself with
    them as a reward for his heroism.

    All these thoughts, coupled with what he had seen that morning and
    the anticipation of his next visit, rendered him a very dull and
    abstracted companion; so much so, indeed, that Tim Linkinwater
    suspected he must have made the mistake of a figure somewhere, which
    was preying upon his mind, and seriously conjured him, if such were
    the case, to make a clean breast and scratch it out, rather than
    have his whole life embittered by the tortures of remorse.

    But in reply to these considerate representations, and many others
    both from Tim and Mr Frank, Nicholas could only be brought to state
    that he was never merrier in his life; and so went on all day, and
    so went towards home at night, still turning over and over again the
    same subjects, thinking over and over again the same things, and
    arriving over and over again at the same conclusions.

    In this pensive, wayward, and uncertain state, people are apt to
    lounge and loiter without knowing why, to read placards on the walls
    with great attention and without the smallest idea of one word of
    their contents, and to stare most earnestly through shop-windows at
    things which they don't see. It was thus that Nicholas found
    himself poring with the utmost interest over a large play-bill
    hanging outside a Minor Theatre which he had to pass on his way
    home, and reading a list of the actors and actresses who had
    promised to do honour to some approaching benefit, with as much
    gravity as if it had been a catalogue of the names of those ladies
    and gentlemen who stood highest upon the Book of Fate, and he had
    been looking anxiously for his own. He glanced at the top of the
    bill, with a smile at his own dulness, as he prepared to resume his
    walk, and there saw announced, in large letters with a large space
    between each of them, 'Positively the last appearance of Mr Vincent
    Crummles of Provincial Celebrity!!!'

    'Nonsense!' said Nicholas, turning back again. 'It can't be.'

    But there it was. In one line by itself was an announcement of the
    first night of a new melodrama; in another line by itself was an
    announcement of the last six nights of an old one; a third line was
    devoted to the re-engagement of the unrivalled African Knife-
    swallower, who had kindly suffered himself to be prevailed upon to
    forego his country engagements for one week longer; a fourth line
    announced that Mr Snittle Timberry, having recovered from his late
    severe indisposition, would have the honour of appearing that
    evening; a fifth line said that there were 'Cheers, Tears, and
    Laughter!' every night; a sixth, that that was positively the last
    appearance of Mr Vincent Crummles of Provincial Celebrity.

    'Surely it must be the same man,' thought Nicholas. 'There can't be
    two Vincent Crummleses.'

    The better to settle this question he referred to the bill again,
    and finding that there was a Baron in the first piece, and that
    Roberto (his son) was enacted by one Master Crummles, and Spaletro
    (his nephew) by one Master Percy Crummles--THEIR last appearances--
    and that, incidental to the piece, was a characteristic dance by the
    characters, and a castanet pas seul by the Infant Phenomenon--HER
    last appearance--he no longer entertained any doubt; and presenting
    himself at the stage-door, and sending in a scrap of paper with 'Mr
    Johnson' written thereon in pencil, was presently conducted by a
    Robber, with a very large belt and buckle round his waist, and very
    large leather gauntlets on his hands, into the presence of his
    former manager.

    Mr Crummles was unfeignedly glad to see him, and starting up from
    before a small dressing-glass, with one very bushy eyebrow stuck on
    crooked over his left eye, and the fellow eyebrow and the calf of
    one of his legs in his hand, embraced him cordially; at the same
    time observing, that it would do Mrs Crummles's heart good to bid
    him goodbye before they went.

    'You were always a favourite of hers, Johnson,' said Crummles,
    'always were from the first. I was quite easy in my mind about you
    from that first day you dined with us. One that Mrs Crummles took a
    fancy to, was sure to turn out right. Ah! Johnson, what a woman
    that is!'

    'I am sincerely obliged to her for her kindness in this and all
    other respects,' said Nicholas. 'But where are you going,' that you
    talk about bidding goodbye?'

    'Haven't you seen it in the papers?' said Crummles, with some
    dignity.

    'No,' replied Nicholas.

    'I wonder at that,' said the manager. 'It was among the varieties.
    I had the paragraph here somewhere--but I don't know--oh, yes, here
    it is.'

    So saying, Mr Crummles, after pretending that he thought he must
    have lost it, produced a square inch of newspaper from the pocket of
    the pantaloons he wore in private life (which, together with the
    plain clothes of several other gentlemen, lay scattered about on a
    kind of dresser in the room), and gave it to Nicholas to read:

    'The talented Vincent Crummles, long favourably known to fame as a
    country manager and actor of no ordinary pretensions, is about to
    cross the Atlantic on a histrionic expedition. Crummles is to be
    accompanied, we hear, by his lady and gifted family. We know no man
    superior to Crummles in his particular line of character, or one
    who, whether as a public or private individual, could carry with him
    the best wishes of a larger circle of friends. Crummles is certain
    to succeed.'

    'Here's another bit,' said Mr Crummles, handing over a still smaller
    scrap. 'This is from the notices to correspondents, this one.'

    Nicholas read it aloud. '"Philo-Dramaticus. Crummles, the country
    manager and actor, cannot be more than forty-three, or forty-four
    years of age. Crummles is NOT a Prussian, having been born at
    Chelsea." Humph!' said Nicholas, 'that's an odd paragraph.'

    'Very,' returned Crummles, scratching the side of his nose, and
    looking at Nicholas with an assumption of great unconcern. 'I can't
    think who puts these things in. I didn't.'

    Still keeping his eye on Nicholas, Mr Crummles shook his head twice
    or thrice with profound gravity, and remarking, that he could not
    for the life of him imagine how the newspapers found out the things
    they did, folded up the extracts and put them in his pocket again.

    'I am astonished to hear this news,' said Nicholas. 'Going to
    America! You had no such thing in contemplation when I was with
    you.'

    'No,' replied Crummles, 'I hadn't then. The fact is that Mrs
    Crummles--most extraordinary woman, Johnson.' Here he broke off and
    whispered something in his ear.

    'Oh!' said Nicholas, smiling. 'The prospect of an addition to your
    family?'

    'The seventh addition, Johnson,' returned Mr Crummles, solemnly. 'I
    thought such a child as the Phenomenon must have been a closer; but
    it seems we are to have another. She is a very remarkable woman.'

    'I congratulate you,' said Nicholas, 'and I hope this may prove a
    phenomenon too.'

    'Why, it's pretty sure to be something uncommon, I suppose,'
    rejoined Mr Crummles. 'The talent of the other three is principally
    in combat and serious pantomime. I should like this one to have a
    turn for juvenile tragedy; I understand they want something of that
    sort in America very much. However, we must take it as it comes.
    Perhaps it may have a genius for the tight-rope. It may have any
    sort of genius, in short, if it takes after its mother, Johnson, for
    she is an universal genius; but, whatever its genius is, that genius
    shall be developed.'

    Expressing himself after these terms, Mr Crummles put on his other
    eyebrow, and the calves of his legs, and then put on his legs, which
    were of a yellowish flesh-colour, and rather soiled about the knees,
    from frequent going down upon those joints, in curses, prayers, last
    struggles, and other strong passages.

    While the ex-manager completed his toilet, he informed Nicholas that
    as he should have a fair start in America from the proceeds of a
    tolerably good engagement which he had been fortunate enough to
    obtain, and as he and Mrs Crummles could scarcely hope to act for
    ever (not being immortal, except in the breath of Fame and in a
    figurative sense) he had made up his mind to settle there
    permanently, in the hope of acquiring some land of his own which
    would support them in their old age, and which they could afterwards
    bequeath to their children. Nicholas, having highly commended the
    resolution, Mr Crummles went on to impart such further intelligence
    relative to their mutual friends as he thought might prove
    interesting; informing Nicholas, among other things, that Miss
    Snevellicci was happily married to an affluent young wax-chandler
    who had supplied the theatre with candles, and that Mr Lillyvick
    didn't dare to say his soul was his own, such was the tyrannical
    sway of Mrs Lillyvick, who reigned paramount and supreme.

    Nicholas responded to this confidence on the part of Mr Crummles, by
    confiding to him his own name, situation, and prospects, and
    informing him, in as few general words as he could, of the
    circumstances which had led to their first acquaintance. After
    congratulating him with great heartiness on the improved state of
    his fortunes, Mr Crummles gave him to understand that next morning
    he and his were to start for Liverpool, where the vessel lay which
    was to carry them from the shores of England, and that if Nicholas
    wished to take a last adieu of Mrs Crummles, he must repair with him
    that night to a farewell supper, given in honour of the family at a
    neighbouring tavern; at which Mr Snittle Timberry would preside,
    while the honours of the vice-chair would be sustained by the
    African Swallower.

    The room being by this time very warm and somewhat crowded, in
    consequence of the influx of four gentlemen, who had just killed
    each other in the piece under representation, Nicholas accepted the
    invitation, and promised to return at the conclusion of the
    performances; preferring the cool air and twilight out of doors to
    the mingled perfume of gas, orange-peel, and gunpowder, which
    pervaded the hot and glaring theatre.

    He availed himself of this interval to buy a silver snuff-box--the
    best his funds would afford--as a token of remembrance for Mr
    Crummles, and having purchased besides a pair of ear-rings for Mrs
    Crummles, a necklace for the Phenomenon, and a flaming shirt-pin for
    each of the young gentlemen, he refreshed himself with a walk, and
    returning a little after the appointed time, found the lights out,
    the theatre empty, the curtain raised for the night, and Mr Crummles
    walking up and down the stage expecting his arrival.

    'Timberry won't be long,' said Mr Crummles. 'He played the audience
    out tonight. He does a faithful black in the last piece, and it
    takes him a little longer to wash himself.'

    'A very unpleasant line of character, I should think?' said
    Nicholas.

    'No, I don't know,' replied Mr Crummles; 'it comes off easily
    enough, and there's only the face and neck. We had a first-tragedy
    man in our company once, who, when he played Othello, used to black
    himself all over. But that's feeling a part and going into it as if
    you meant it; it isn't usual; more's the pity.'

    Mr Snittle Timberry now appeared, arm-in-arm with the African
    Swallower, and, being introduced to Nicholas, raised his hat half a
    foot, and said he was proud to know him. The Swallower said the
    same, and looked and spoke remarkably like an Irishman.

    'I see by the bills that you have been ill, sir,' said Nicholas to
    Mr Timberry. 'I hope you are none the worse for your exertions
    tonight?'

    Mr Timberry, in reply, shook his head with a gloomy air, tapped his
    chest several times with great significancy, and drawing his cloak
    more closely about him, said, 'But no matter, no matter. Come!'

    It is observable that when people upon the stage are in any strait
    involving the very last extremity of weakness and exhaustion, they
    invariably perform feats of strength requiring great ingenuity and
    muscular power. Thus, a wounded prince or bandit chief, who is
    bleeding to death and too faint to move, except to the softest music
    (and then only upon his hands and knees), shall be seen to approach
    a cottage door for aid in such a series of writhings and twistings,
    and with such curlings up of the legs, and such rollings over and
    over, and such gettings up and tumblings down again, as could never
    be achieved save by a very strong man skilled in posture-making.
    And so natural did this sort of performance come to Mr Snittle
    Timberry, that on their way out of the theatre and towards the
    tavern where the supper was to be holden, he testified the severity
    of his recent indisposition and its wasting effects upon the nervous
    system, by a series of gymnastic performances which were the
    admiration of all witnesses.

    'Why this is indeed a joy I had not looked for!' said Mrs Crummles,
    when Nicholas was presented.

    'Nor I,' replied Nicholas. 'It is by a mere chance that I have this
    opportunity of seeing you, although I would have made a great
    exertion to have availed myself of it.'

    'Here is one whom you know,' said Mrs Crummles, thrusting forward
    the Phenomenon in a blue gauze frock, extensively flounced, and
    trousers of the same; 'and here another--and another,' presenting
    the Master Crummleses. 'And how is your friend, the faithful
    Digby?'

    'Digby!' said Nicholas, forgetting at the instant that this had been
    Smike's theatrical name. 'Oh yes. He's quite--what am I saying?--
    he is very far from well.'

    'How!' exclaimed Mrs Crummles, with a tragic recoil.

    'I fear,' said Nicholas, shaking his head, and making an attempt to
    smile, 'that your better-half would be more struck with him now than
    ever.'

    'What mean you?' rejoined Mrs Crummles, in her most popular manner.
    'Whence comes this altered tone?'

    'I mean that a dastardly enemy of mine has struck at me through him,
    and that while he thinks to torture me, he inflicts on him such
    agonies of terror and suspense as--You will excuse me, I am sure,'
    said Nicholas, checking himself. 'I should never speak of this, and
    never do, except to those who know the facts, but for a moment I
    forgot myself.'

    With this hasty apology Nicholas stooped down to salute the
    Phenomenon, and changed the subject; inwardly cursing his
    precipitation, and very much wondering what Mrs Crummles must think
    of so sudden an explosion.

    That lady seemed to think very little about it, for the supper being
    by this time on table, she gave her hand to Nicholas and repaired
    with a stately step to the left hand of Mr Snittle Timberry.
    Nicholas had the honour to support her, and Mr Crummles was placed
    upon the chairman's right; the Phenomenon and the Master Crummleses
    sustained the vice.

    The company amounted in number to some twenty-five or thirty, being
    composed of such members of the theatrical profession, then engaged
    or disengaged in London, as were numbered among the most intimate
    friends of Mr and Mrs Crummles. The ladies and gentlemen were
    pretty equally balanced; the expenses of the entertainment being
    defrayed by the latter, each of whom had the privilege of inviting
    one of the former as his guest.

    It was upon the whole a very distinguished party, for independently
    of the lesser theatrical lights who clustered on this occasion round
    Mr Snittle Timberry, there was a literary gentleman present who had
    dramatised in his time two hundred and forty-seven novels as fast as
    they had come out--some of them faster than they had come out--and
    who WAS a literary gentleman in consequence.

    This gentleman sat on the left hand of Nicholas, to whom he was
    introduced by his friend the African Swallower, from the bottom of
    the table, with a high eulogium upon his fame and reputation.

    'I am happy to know a gentleman of such great distinction,' said
    Nicholas, politely.

    'Sir,' replied the wit, 'you're very welcome, I'm sure. The honour
    is reciprocal, sir, as I usually say when I dramatise a book. Did
    you ever hear a definition of fame, sir?'

    'I have heard several,' replied Nicholas, with a smile. 'What is
    yours?'

    'When I dramatise a book, sir,' said the literary gentleman, 'THAT'S
    fame. For its author.'

    'Oh, indeed!' rejoined Nicholas.

    'That's fame, sir,' said the literary gentleman.

    'So Richard Turpin, Tom King, and Jerry Abershaw have handed down to
    fame the names of those on whom they committed their most impudent
    robberies?' said Nicholas.

    'I don't know anything about that, sir,' answered the literary
    gentleman.

    'Shakespeare dramatised stories which had previously appeared in
    print, it is true,' observed Nicholas.

    'Meaning Bill, sir?' said the literary gentleman. 'So he did. Bill
    was an adapter, certainly, so he was--and very well he adapted too--
    considering.'

    'I was about to say,' rejoined Nicholas, 'that Shakespeare derived
    some of his plots from old tales and legends in general circulation;
    but it seems to me, that some of the gentlemen of your craft, at the
    present day, have shot very far beyond him--'

    'You're quite right, sir,' interrupted the literary gentleman,
    leaning back in his chair and exercising his toothpick. 'Human
    intellect, sir, has progressed since his time, is progressing, will
    progress.'

    'Shot beyond him, I mean,' resumed Nicholas, 'in quite another
    respect, for, whereas he brought within the magic circle of his
    genius, traditions peculiarly adapted for his purpose, and turned
    familiar things into constellations which should enlighten the world
    for ages, you drag within the magic circle of your dulness, subjects
    not at all adapted to the purposes of the stage, and debase as he
    exalted. For instance, you take the uncompleted books of living
    authors, fresh from their hands, wet from the press, cut, hack, and
    carve them to the powers and capacities of your actors, and the
    capability of your theatres, finish unfinished works, hastily and
    crudely vamp up ideas not yet worked out by their original
    projector, but which have doubtless cost him many thoughtful days
    and sleepless nights; by a comparison of incidents and dialogue,
    down to the very last word he may have written a fortnight before,
    do your utmost to anticipate his plot--all this without his
    permission, and against his will; and then, to crown the whole
    proceeding, publish in some mean pamphlet, an unmeaning farrago of
    garbled extracts from his work, to which your name as author, with
    the honourable distinction annexed, of having perpetrated a hundred
    other outrages of the same description. Now, show me the
    distinction between such pilfering as this, and picking a man's
    pocket in the street: unless, indeed, it be, that the legislature
    has a regard for pocket-handkerchiefs, and leaves men's brains,
    except when they are knocked out by violence, to take care of
    themselves.'

    'Men must live, sir,' said the literary gentleman, shrugging his
    shoulders.

    'That would be an equally fair plea in both cases,' replied
    Nicholas; 'but if you put it upon that ground, I have nothing more
    to say, than, that if I were a writer of books, and you a thirsty
    dramatist, I would rather pay your tavern score for six months,
    large as it might be, than have a niche in the Temple of Fame with
    you for the humblest corner of my pedestal, through six hundred
    generations.'

    The conversation threatened to take a somewhat angry tone when it
    had arrived thus far, but Mrs Crummles opportunely interposed to
    prevent its leading to any violent outbreak, by making some
    inquiries of the literary gentleman relative to the plots of the six
    new pieces which he had written by contract to introduce the African
    Knife-swallower in his various unrivalled performances. This
    speedily engaged him in an animated conversation with that lady, in
    the interest of which, all recollection of his recent discussion
    with Nicholas very quickly evaporated.

    The board being now clear of the more substantial articles of food,
    and punch, wine, and spirits being placed upon it and handed about,
    the guests, who had been previously conversing in little groups of
    three or four, gradually fell off into a dead silence, while the
    majority of those present glanced from time to time at Mr Snittle
    Timberry, and the bolder spirits did not even hesitate to strike the
    table with their knuckles, and plainly intimate their expectations,
    by uttering such encouragements as 'Now, Tim,' 'Wake up, Mr
    Chairman,' 'All charged, sir, and waiting for a toast,' and so
    forth.

    To these remonstrances Mr Timberry deigned no other rejoinder than
    striking his chest and gasping for breath, and giving many other
    indications of being still the victim of indisposition--for a man
    must not make himself too cheap either on the stage or off--while Mr
    Crummles, who knew full well that he would be the subject of the
    forthcoming toast, sat gracefully in his chair with his arm thrown
    carelessly over the back, and now and then lifted his glass to his
    mouth and drank a little punch, with the same air with which he was
    accustomed to take long draughts of nothing, out of the pasteboard
    goblets in banquet scenes.

    At length Mr Snittle Timberry rose in the most approved attitude,
    with one hand in the breast of his waistcoat and the other on the
    nearest snuff-box, and having been received with great enthusiasm,
    proposed, with abundance of quotations, his friend Mr Vincent
    Crummles: ending a pretty long speech by extending his right hand on
    one side and his left on the other, and severally calling upon Mr
    and Mrs Crummles to grasp the same. This done, Mr Vincent Crummles
    returned thanks, and that done, the African Swallower proposed Mrs
    Vincent Crummles, in affecting terms. Then were heard loud moans
    and sobs from Mrs Crummles and the ladies, despite of which that
    heroic woman insisted upon returning thanks herself, which she did,
    in a manner and in a speech which has never been surpassed and
    seldom equalled. It then became the duty of Mr Snittle Timberry to
    give the young Crummleses, which he did; after which Mr Vincent
    Crummles, as their father, addressed the company in a supplementary
    speech, enlarging on their virtues, amiabilities, and excellences,
    and wishing that they were the sons and daughter of every lady and
    gentleman present. These solemnities having been succeeded by a
    decent interval, enlivened by musical and other entertainments, Mr
    Crummles proposed that ornament of the profession, the African
    Swallower, his very dear friend, if he would allow him to call him
    so; which liberty (there being no particular reason why he should
    not allow it) the African Swallower graciously permitted. The
    literary gentleman was then about to be drunk, but it being
    discovered that he had been drunk for some time in another
    acceptation of the term, and was then asleep on the stairs, the
    intention was abandoned, and the honour transferred to the ladies.
    Finally, after a very long sitting, Mr Snittle Timberry vacated the
    chair, and the company with many adieux and embraces dispersed.

    Nicholas waited to the last to give his little presents. When he
    had said goodbye all round and came to Mr Crummles, he could not but
    mark the difference between their present separation and their
    parting at Portsmouth. Not a jot of his theatrical manner remained;
    he put out his hand with an air which, if he could have summoned it
    at will, would have made him the best actor of his day in homely
    parts, and when Nicholas shook it with the warmth he honestly felt,
    appeared thoroughly melted.

    'We were a very happy little company, Johnson,' said poor Crummles.
    'You and I never had a word. I shall be very glad tomorrow morning
    to think that I saw you again, but now I almost wish you hadn't
    come.'

    Nicholas was about to return a cheerful reply, when he was greatly
    disconcerted by the sudden apparition of Mrs Grudden, who it seemed
    had declined to attend the supper in order that she might rise
    earlier in the morning, and who now burst out of an adjoining
    bedroom, habited in very extraordinary white robes; and throwing her
    arms about his neck, hugged him with great affection.

    'What! Are you going too?' said Nicholas, submitting with as good a
    grace as if she had been the finest young creature in the world.

    'Going?' returned Mrs Grudden. 'Lord ha' mercy, what do you think
    they'd do without me?'

    Nicholas submitted to another hug with even a better grace than
    before, if that were possible, and waving his hat as cheerfully as
    he could, took farewell of the Vincent Crummleses.
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