Chapter 48 Being for the Benefit of Mr Vincent Crummles, and positively hi_ast Appearance on this Stage
It was with a very sad and heavy heart, oppressed by many painful ideas, tha_icholas retraced his steps eastward and betook himself to the counting-hous_f Cheeryble Brothers. Whatever the idle hopes he had suffered himself t_ntertain, whatever the pleasant visions which had sprung up in his mind an_rouped themselves round the fair image of Madeline Bray, they were no_ispelled, and not a vestige of their gaiety and brightness remained.
It would be a poor compliment to Nicholas's better nature, and one which h_as very far from deserving, to insinuate that the solution, and such _olution, of the mystery which had seemed to surround Madeline Bray, when h_as ignorant even of her name, had damped his ardour or cooled the fervour o_is admiration. If he had regarded her before, with such a passion as youn_en attracted by mere beauty and elegance may entertain, he was now consciou_f much deeper and stronger feelings. But, reverence for the truth and purit_f 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 grea_nd noble spirit, all seemed to raise her far above his reach, and, while the_mparted 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 th_ouble duty that is imposed upon me most scrupulously and strictly. My secre_eelings deserve no consideration in such a case as this, and they shall hav_one.'
Still, there were the secret feelings in existence just the same, and i_ecret Nicholas rather encouraged them than otherwise; reasoning (if h_easoned at all) that there they could do no harm to anybody but himself, an_hat if he kept them to himself from a sense of duty, he had an additiona_ight to entertain himself with them as a reward for his heroism.
All these thoughts, coupled with what he had seen that morning and th_nticipation of his next visit, rendered him a very dull and abstracte_ompanion; so much so, indeed, that Tim Linkinwater suspected he must hav_ade the mistake of a figure somewhere, which was preying upon his mind, an_eriously conjured him, if such were the case, to make a clean breast an_cratch it out, rather than have his whole life embittered by the tortures o_emorse.
But in reply to these considerate representations, and many others both fro_im and Mr Frank, Nicholas could only be brought to state that he was neve_errier in his life; and so went on all day, and so went towards home a_ight, still turning over and over again the same subjects, thinking over an_ver again the same things, and arriving over and over again at the sam_onclusions.
In this pensive, wayward, and uncertain state, people are apt to lounge an_oiter without knowing why, to read placards on the walls with great attentio_nd without the smallest idea of one word of their contents, and to stare mos_arnestly through shop-windows at things which they don't see. It was thu_hat 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, an_eading a list of the actors and actresses who had promised to do honour t_ome approaching benefit, with as much gravity as if it had been a catalogu_f the names of those ladies and gentlemen who stood highest upon the Book o_ate, and he had been looking anxiously for his own. He glanced at the top o_he 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 o_hem, 'Positively the last appearance of Mr Vincent Crummles of Provincia_elebrity!!!'
'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 nigh_f a new melodrama; in another line by itself was an announcement of the las_ix nights of an old one; a third line was devoted to the re-engagement of th_nrivalled African Knife- swallower, who had kindly suffered himself to b_revailed upon to forego his country engagements for one week longer; a fourt_ine announced that Mr Snittle Timberry, having recovered from his late sever_ndisposition, would have the honour of appearing that evening; a fifth lin_aid that there were 'Cheers, Tears, and Laughter!' every night; a sixth, tha_hat was positively the last appearance of Mr Vincent Crummles of Provincia_elebrity.
'Surely it must be the same man,' thought Nicholas. 'There can't be tw_incent Crummleses.'
The better to settle this question he referred to the bill again, and findin_hat there was a Baron in the first piece, and that Roberto (his son) wa_nacted by one Master Crummles, and Spaletro (his nephew) by one Master Perc_rummles—THEIR last appearances— and that, incidental to the piece, was _haracteristic dance by the characters, and a castanet pas seul by the Infan_henomenon—HER last appearance—he no longer entertained any doubt; an_resenting himself at the stage-door, and sending in a scrap of paper with 'M_ohnson' written thereon in pencil, was presently conducted by a Robber, wit_ very large belt and buckle round his waist, and very large leather gauntlet_n his hands, into the presence of his former manager.
Mr Crummles was unfeignedly glad to see him, and starting up from before _mall dressing-glass, with one very bushy eyebrow stuck on crooked over hi_eft 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 Mr_rummles's heart good to bid him goodbye before they went.
'You were always a favourite of hers, Johnson,' said Crummles, 'always wer_rom the first. I was quite easy in my mind about you from that first day yo_ined with us. One that Mrs Crummles took a fancy to, was sure to turn ou_ight. Ah! Johnson, what a woman that is!'
'I am sincerely obliged to her for her kindness in this and all othe_espects,' said Nicholas. 'But where are you going,' that you talk abou_idding 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 th_aragraph 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 wor_n private life (which, together with the plain clothes of several othe_entlemen, lay scattered about on a kind of dresser in the room), and gave i_o Nicholas to read:
'The talented Vincent Crummles, long favourably known to fame as a countr_anager and actor of no ordinary pretensions, is about to cross the Atlanti_n a histrionic expedition. Crummles is to be accompanied, we hear, by hi_ady and gifted family. We know no man superior to Crummles in his particula_ine 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. Crummle_s 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 an_ctor, cannot be more than forty-three, or forty-four years of age. Crummle_s 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 a_icholas with an assumption of great unconcern. 'I can't think who puts thes_hings in. I didn't.'
Still keeping his eye on Nicholas, Mr Crummles shook his head twice or thric_ith profound gravity, and remarking, that he could not for the life of hi_magine how the newspapers found out the things they did, folded up th_xtracts and put them in his pocket again.
'I am astonished to hear this news,' said Nicholas. 'Going to America! You ha_o such thing in contemplation when I was with you.'
'No,' replied Crummles, 'I hadn't then. The fact is that Mrs Crummles—mos_xtraordinary woman, Johnson.' Here he broke off and whispered something i_is ear.
'Oh!' said Nicholas, smiling. 'The prospect of an addition to your family?'
'The seventh addition, Johnson,' returned Mr Crummles, solemnly. 'I though_uch a child as the Phenomenon must have been a closer; but it seems we are t_ave another. She is a very remarkable woman.'
'I congratulate you,' said Nicholas, 'and I hope this may prove a phenomeno_oo.'
'Why, it's pretty sure to be something uncommon, I suppose,' rejoined M_rummles. 'The talent of the other three is principally in combat and seriou_antomime. I should like this one to have a turn for juvenile tragedy; _nderstand they want something of that sort in America very much. However, w_ust take it as it comes. Perhaps it may have a genius for the tight-rope. I_ay 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 shal_e 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 _ellowish flesh-colour, and rather soiled about the knees, from frequent goin_own upon those joints, in curses, prayers, last struggles, and other stron_assages.
While the ex-manager completed his toilet, he informed Nicholas that as h_hould have a fair start in America from the proceeds of a tolerably goo_ngagement which he had been fortunate enough to obtain, and as he and Mr_rummles could scarcely hope to act for ever (not being immortal, except i_he breath of Fame and in a figurative sense) he had made up his mind t_ettle there permanently, in the hope of acquiring some land of his own whic_ould support them in their old age, and which they could afterwards bequeat_o their children. Nicholas, having highly commended the resolution, M_rummles went on to impart such further intelligence relative to their mutua_riends as he thought might prove interesting; informing Nicholas, among othe_hings, that Miss Snevellicci was happily married to an affluent young wax- chandler who had supplied the theatre with candles, and that Mr Lillyvic_idn't dare to say his soul was his own, such was the tyrannical sway of Mr_illyvick, who reigned paramount and supreme.
Nicholas responded to this confidence on the part of Mr Crummles, by confidin_o him his own name, situation, and prospects, and informing him, in as fe_eneral words as he could, of the circumstances which had led to their firs_cquaintance. After congratulating him with great heartiness on the improve_tate of his fortunes, Mr Crummles gave him to understand that next morning h_nd his were to start for Liverpool, where the vessel lay which was to carr_hem from the shores of England, and that if Nicholas wished to take a las_dieu of Mrs Crummles, he must repair with him that night to a farewel_upper, given in honour of the family at a neighbouring tavern; at which M_nittle Timberry would preside, while the honours of the vice-chair would b_ustained by the African Swallower.
The room being by this time very warm and somewhat crowded, in consequence o_he influx of four gentlemen, who had just killed each other in the piec_nder representation, Nicholas accepted the invitation, and promised to retur_t the conclusion of the performances; preferring the cool air and twiligh_ut of doors to the mingled perfume of gas, orange-peel, and gunpowder, whic_ervaded the hot and glaring theatre.
He availed himself of this interval to buy a silver snuff-box—the best hi_unds would afford—as a token of remembrance for Mr Crummles, and havin_urchased besides a pair of ear-rings for Mrs Crummles, a necklace for th_henomenon, and a flaming shirt-pin for each of the young gentlemen, h_efreshed himself with a walk, and returning a little after the appointe_ime, found the lights out, the theatre empty, the curtain raised for th_ight, and Mr Crummles walking up and down the stage expecting his arrival.
'Timberry won't be long,' said Mr Crummles. 'He played the audience ou_onight. He does a faithful black in the last piece, and it takes him a littl_onger 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, an_here's only the face and neck. We had a first-tragedy man in our compan_nce, who, when he played Othello, used to black himself all over. But that'_eeling a part and going into it as if you meant it; it isn't usual; more'_he 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 wa_roud to know him. The Swallower said the same, and looked and spok_emarkably like an Irishman.
'I see by the bills that you have been ill, sir,' said Nicholas to M_imberry. 'I hope you are none the worse for your exertions tonight?'
Mr Timberry, in reply, shook his head with a gloomy air, tapped his ches_everal times with great significancy, and drawing his cloak more closel_bout him, said, 'But no matter, no matter. Come!'
It is observable that when people upon the stage are in any strait involvin_he very last extremity of weakness and exhaustion, they invariably perfor_eats of strength requiring great ingenuity and muscular power. Thus, _ounded prince or bandit chief, who is bleeding to death and too faint t_ove, 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 writhing_nd twistings, and with such curlings up of the legs, and such rollings ove_nd over, and such gettings up and tumblings down again, as could never b_chieved save by a very strong man skilled in posture-making. And so natura_id this sort of performance come to Mr Snittle Timberry, that on their wa_ut 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 effect_pon the nervous system, by a series of gymnastic performances which were th_dmiration of all witnesses.
'Why this is indeed a joy I had not looked for!' said Mrs Crummles, whe_icholas was presented.
'Nor I,' replied Nicholas. 'It is by a mere chance that I have thi_pportunity of seeing you, although I would have made a great exertion to hav_vailed myself of it.'
'Here is one whom you know,' said Mrs Crummles, thrusting forward th_henomenon in a blue gauze frock, extensively flounced, and trousers of th_ame; 'and here another—and another,' presenting the Master Crummleses. 'An_ow is your friend, the faithful Digby?'
'Digby!' said Nicholas, forgetting at the instant that this had been Smike'_heatrical name. 'Oh yes. He's quite—what am I saying?— he is very far fro_ell.'
'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. 'Whenc_omes this altered tone?'
'I mean that a dastardly enemy of mine has struck at me through him, and tha_hile he thinks to torture me, he inflicts on him such agonies of terror an_uspense 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 th_acts, but for a moment I forgot myself.'
With this hasty apology Nicholas stooped down to salute the Phenomenon, an_hanged the subject; inwardly cursing his precipitation, and very muc_ondering what Mrs Crummles must think of so sudden an explosion.
That lady seemed to think very little about it, for the supper being by thi_ime on table, she gave her hand to Nicholas and repaired with a stately ste_o the left hand of Mr Snittle Timberry. Nicholas had the honour to suppor_er, and Mr Crummles was placed upon the chairman's right; the Phenomenon an_he Master Crummleses sustained the vice.
The company amounted in number to some twenty-five or thirty, being compose_f such members of the theatrical profession, then engaged or disengaged i_ondon, as were numbered among the most intimate friends of Mr and Mr_rummles. The ladies and gentlemen were pretty equally balanced; the expense_f the entertainment being defrayed by the latter, each of whom had th_rivilege of inviting one of the former as his guest.
It was upon the whole a very distinguished party, for independently of th_esser theatrical lights who clustered on this occasion round Mr Snittl_imberry, there was a literary gentleman present who had dramatised in hi_ime two hundred and forty-seven novels as fast as they had come out—some o_hem faster than they had come out—and who WAS a literary gentleman i_onsequence.
This gentleman sat on the left hand of Nicholas, to whom he was introduced b_is friend the African Swallower, from the bottom of the table, with a hig_ulogium 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 i_eciprocal, sir, as I usually say when I dramatise a book. Did you ever hear _efinition 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. Fo_ts 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 th_ames of those on whom they committed their most impudent robberies?' sai_icholas.
'I don't know anything about that, sir,' answered the literary gentleman.
'Shakespeare dramatised stories which had previously appeared in print, it i_rue,' observed Nicholas.
'Meaning Bill, sir?' said the literary gentleman. 'So he did. Bill was a_dapter, certainly, so he was—and very well he adapted too— considering.'
'I was about to say,' rejoined Nicholas, 'that Shakespeare derived some of hi_lots 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 ver_ar beyond him—'
'You're quite right, sir,' interrupted the literary gentleman, leaning back i_is chair and exercising his toothpick. 'Human intellect, sir, has progresse_ince 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, tradition_eculiarly adapted for his purpose, and turned familiar things int_onstellations which should enlighten the world for ages, you drag within th_agic circle of your dulness, subjects not at all adapted to the purposes o_he stage, and debase as he exalted. For instance, you take the uncomplete_ooks 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 th_apability of your theatres, finish unfinished works, hastily and crudely vam_p ideas not yet worked out by their original projector, but which hav_oubtless cost him many thoughtful days and sleepless nights; by a compariso_f incidents and dialogue, down to the very last word he may have written _ortnight before, do your utmost to anticipate his plot—all this without hi_ermission, and against his will; and then, to crown the whole proceeding, publish in some mean pamphlet, an unmeaning farrago of garbled extracts fro_is work, to which your name as author, with the honourable distinctio_nnexed, of having perpetrated a hundred other outrages of the sam_escription. Now, show me the distinction between such pilfering as this, an_icking a man's pocket in the street: unless, indeed, it be, that th_egislature 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 i_ou put it upon that ground, I have nothing more to say, than, that if I wer_ writer of books, and you a thirsty dramatist, I would rather pay your taver_core for six months, large as it might be, than have a niche in the Temple o_ame with you for the humblest corner of my pedestal, through six hundre_enerations.'
The conversation threatened to take a somewhat angry tone when it had arrive_hus far, but Mrs Crummles opportunely interposed to prevent its leading t_ny violent outbreak, by making some inquiries of the literary gentlema_elative to the plots of the six new pieces which he had written by contrac_o introduce the African Knife-swallower in his various unrivalle_erformances. This speedily engaged him in an animated conversation with tha_ady, in the interest of which, all recollection of his recent discussion wit_icholas 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 ha_een previously conversing in little groups of three or four, gradually fel_ff into a dead silence, while the majority of those present glanced from tim_o time at Mr Snittle Timberry, and the bolder spirits did not even hesitat_o strike the table with their knuckles, and plainly intimate thei_xpectations, by uttering such encouragements as 'Now, Tim,' 'Wake up, M_hairman,' 'All charged, sir, and waiting for a toast,' and so forth.
To these remonstrances Mr Timberry deigned no other rejoinder than strikin_is chest and gasping for breath, and giving many other indications of bein_till the victim of indisposition—for a man must not make himself too chea_ither on the stage or off—while Mr Crummles, who knew full well that he woul_e the subject of the forthcoming toast, sat gracefully in his chair with hi_rm thrown carelessly over the back, and now and then lifted his glass to hi_outh and drank a little punch, with the same air with which he was accustome_o take long draughts of nothing, out of the pasteboard goblets in banque_cenes.
At length Mr Snittle Timberry rose in the most approved attitude, with on_and in the breast of his waistcoat and the other on the nearest snuff-box, and having been received with great enthusiasm, proposed, with abundance o_uotations, his friend Mr Vincent Crummles: ending a pretty long speech b_xtending his right hand on one side and his left on the other, and severall_alling upon Mr and Mrs Crummles to grasp the same. This done, Mr Vincen_rummles returned thanks, and that done, the African Swallower proposed Mr_incent Crummles, in affecting terms. Then were heard loud moans and sobs fro_rs Crummles and the ladies, despite of which that heroic woman insisted upo_eturning thanks herself, which she did, in a manner and in a speech which ha_ever been surpassed and seldom equalled. It then became the duty of M_nittle Timberry to give the young Crummleses, which he did; after which M_incent Crummles, as their father, addressed the company in a supplementar_peech, enlarging on their virtues, amiabilities, and excellences, and wishin_hat they were the sons and daughter of every lady and gentleman present.
These solemnities having been succeeded by a decent interval, enlivened b_usical and other entertainments, Mr Crummles proposed that ornament of th_rofession, the African Swallower, his very dear friend, if he would allow hi_o call him so; which liberty (there being no particular reason why he shoul_ot allow it) the African Swallower graciously permitted. The literar_entleman was then about to be drunk, but it being discovered that he had bee_runk for some time in another acceptation of the term, and was then asleep o_he stairs, the intention was abandoned, and the honour transferred to th_adies. Finally, after a very long sitting, Mr Snittle Timberry vacated th_hair, and the company with many adieux and embraces dispersed.
Nicholas waited to the last to give his little presents. When he had sai_oodbye all round and came to Mr Crummles, he could not but mark th_ifference between their present separation and their parting at Portsmouth.
Not a jot of his theatrical manner remained; he put out his hand with an ai_hich, if he could have summoned it at will, would have made him the bes_ctor of his day in homely parts, and when Nicholas shook it with the warmt_e honestly felt, appeared thoroughly melted.
'We were a very happy little company, Johnson,' said poor Crummles. 'You and _ever had a word. I shall be very glad tomorrow morning to think that I sa_ou again, but now I almost wish you hadn't come.'
Nicholas was about to return a cheerful reply, when he was greatl_isconcerted by the sudden apparition of Mrs Grudden, who it seemed ha_eclined to attend the supper in order that she might rise earlier in th_orning, and who now burst out of an adjoining bedroom, habited in ver_xtraordinary white robes; and throwing her arms about his neck, hugged hi_ith great affection.
'What! Are you going too?' said Nicholas, submitting with as good a grace a_f she had been the finest young creature in the world.
'Going?' returned Mrs Grudden. 'Lord ha' mercy, what do you think they'd d_ithout me?'
Nicholas submitted to another hug with even a better grace than before, i_hat were possible, and waving his hat as cheerfully as he could, too_arewell of the Vincent Crummleses.