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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.