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   Chapter 10 No.10

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 24970

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


'Is this the stage entrance?'

'Yes, ma'am; you see, during the performance the real stage-door is used as a pit entrance, and we pass under the stage.'

This explanation was given after a swaggering attitude had been assumed, and a knowing wink, the countersign for 'Now I'm going to do something for your amusement,' had been bestowed on his pals. The speaker, a rough man with a beard and a fez cap, became the prominent figure of a group loitering before a square hole with an earthward descent, cut in the wall of the Hanley Theatre.

Kate was too occupied with her own thoughts to notice that she was being laughed at, and she said instantly, 'I want to see Mr. Lennox; will you tell him I'm here?'

'Mr. Lennox is on the stage; unless yer on in the piece I don't see 'ow it's to be done.'

At this rebuff Kate looked round the grinning faces, but at that moment a rough-looking fellow of the same class as the speaker ascended from the cellar-like opening, and after nudging his 'pal,' touched his cap, and said with the politeness of one who had been tipped, 'This way, marm. Mr. Lennox is on the stage, but if you'll wait a minute I'll tell 'im yer 'ere. Take care, marm, or yer'll slip; very arkerd place to get down, with all 'em baskets in the way. This company do travel with a deal of luggage. That's Mr. Lennox's-the one as yer 'and is on.'

'Oh, indeed!' Kate said, stopping on her way to read Mr. Lennox's name on the basket.

'We piles 'em 'gainst that 'ere door so as to 'ave 'em 'andy for sending down to the station ter-morrow morning. But if you will remain here a moment, marm, I'll run up on the stage and see if I can see 'im.'

The mention made by the scene-shifter of the approaching removal of Dick's basket frightened her, and she remembered that she had scarcely spoken to him since last night. He had been obliged to go out in the morning before breakfast; and though he had tried hard to meet her during the course of the day, fate seemed to be against them.

She was in a large, low-roofed storeroom with an earthen floor. The wooden ceiling was supported by an endless number of upright posts that gave the place the appearance of a ship. At the farther end there were two stone staircases leading to opposite sides of the stage. In front of her were a drum and barrel, and the semi-darkness at the back was speckled over with the sparkling of the gilt tinsel stuff used in pantomimes; a pair of lattice-windows, a bundle of rapiers, a cradle and a breastplate, formed a group in the centre; a broken trombone lay at her feet. The odour of size that the scenery exhaled reminded her of Ralph's room; and she wondered if the swords were real, what different uses the tinsel paper might be put to; until she would awake from her dream, asking herself bitterly why he did not come down to see her. In the pause that followed the question, she was startled by a prolonged shout from the chorus. The orchestra seemed to be going mad; the drum was thumped, the cymbals were clashed, and back and forward rushed the noisy feet, first one way, then the other; a soprano voice was heard for a moment clear and distinct, and was drowned immediately after in a general scream. What could it mean? Had the place taken fire? Kate asked herself wildly.

'The finale of the act 'as begun, marm; Mr. Lennox will be hoff the stage directly.'

'Has nothing happened? Is the-?'

The scene-shifter's look of astonishment showed Kate that she was mistaken, but before they had time to exchange many words, the trampling and singing overhead suddenly ceased, and the muffled sound of clapping and applause was heard in the distance.

'There's the act.' said Bill; 'he'll be down now immediately; he'll take no call for the perliceman,' and a moment after a man attired in knee-breeches, with a huge cravat wound several times round his throat, came running down the stone staircase. 'Oh, 'ere he is,' said Bill. 'I'll leave yer now, marm.'

'And so you found your way, dear?' said Dick, putting out his arm to draw

Kate towards him.

But he looked so very strange with the great patches of coarse red on his cheeks, and the deep black lines drawn about his eyes, that she could not conceal her repulsion, and guessing the cause of her embarrassment, he said, laughing:

'Ah! I see you don't know me! A good makeup, isn't it? I took a lot of trouble with it.'

Kate made no answer; but the sound of his voice soothed her, and she leaned upon his arm.

'Give me a kiss, dear, before we go up,' he said coaxingly.

Kate looked at him curiously, and then, laughing at her own foolishness, said, 'Wait until you have the soldier's dress on.'

At the top of the staircase the piled-up side-scenes made so many ways and angles that Kate had to keep close to Dick for fear of getting lost. However, at last they arrived in the wings, where gaslights were burning blankly on the whitewashed walls. A crowd of loud-voiced, perspiring girls in short fancy petticoats and with bare necks and arms, pushed their way towards the mysterious and ladder-like staircases and scrambled up them. Ange Pitou had taken off his cocked hat and was sharing a pint of beer with Clairette. It being her turn to drink, she said:

'Noe, hold my skirts in, there's a dear; this beer plays the devil with white satin.'

'It isn't on your skirts it will go if you spill it,' Ange replied, 'but into your bosom. Stop a second, and I'll give the bottom of the pot a wipe, then you'll be all right.'

In the meanwhile Pomponet and La Rivodière were engaged in a violent quarrel.

'Just you understand,' shouted Mortimer: 'if you want to do any clowning you'd better fill your wig with sawdust. It had better be stuffed with something.'

This sally was received with smacks of approbation from a circle of supers, who were waiting in the hopes of hearing some spirited dialogue.

'Clowning! And what can you do? I suppose your line is the legitimate. Go and play Don John again, and you'll read us the notices in the morning.'

'Notices … talking of notices, you never had one, except one to quit from your landlady, poor woman!' replied Mortimer in his most nasal intonation of voice.

Enchanted at this witticism, the supers laughed, and poor Dubois would have been utterly done for if Dick had not interposed.

'What do you think, dear?' he said, drawing her aside; 'shall I go and make my change now? I don't come on till the end of the act, and we'll be able to talk without interruption till then.'

She had expected him to explain the rights and wrongs of that terrible quarrel that so providentially had passed off without bloodshed, and he seemed to have forgotten all about it.

'But those two gentlemen-the actors-what will happen? Are they going to go away?'

'Lord, no! of course it is riling to have a fellow mugging behind you with his wig when you're speaking, but one must go in for a bit of extra clowning on Saturday night.'

All this was Greek to her, and before she could ask Dick to explain he had darted down a passage. When he was with her it was well enough, but the moment his protection was withdrawn all her old fears returned to her. She did not know where to stand. The scene-shifters had come to carry away the scenes that were piled up in her corner, and one of the huge slips had nearly fallen on her. A troop of girls in single coloured gowns and poke bonnets had stopped to stare at her. She remembered their appearance from Thursday, but she had not seen their vulgar, everyday eyes, nor heard until now their coarse, everyday laughs and jokes. Amid this group Lange, fat and lumpy, perorated.

'The most beastly place I ever was in, my dear. I always dread the week here. Just look round the house. I don't believe there's a man in front who has a quid in his pocket. Now at Liverpool there are lots of nice men. You should have seen the things I had sent me when I was there with Harrington's company-and the bouquets! There were flowers left for me every day.'

What all this meant Kate did not know, and she did not care to guess. For a moment the strange world she found herself in had distracted her thoughts, but it could do so no longer; no, not if it were ten times as strange. What did she care for these actresses? What was it to her what they said or what they thought of her? She had come to look after her lover; that was her business, and that only. He was going away to-morrow, and they had arranged nothing! She did not know whether he was going to remain, or if he expected her to follow him. She hated the people around her; she hated them for their laughter, for their fine clothes; she hated them above all because they were all calling for him. It was Mr. Lennox here and Dick there. What did they want with him? Could they do nothing without him? It seemed to her that they were all mocking her, and she hated them for it.

The stage was now full of women. The men stood in the wings or ran to the ends of distant passages and called, 'Dick, Dick, Dick!'

The orchestra had ceased playing, and the noise in front of the curtain was growing every moment angrier and louder.

At last Dick appeared, looking splendid in red tights and Hessian boots. He caught hold of two or three girls, changed their places, peeped to see if Montgomery was all right, and gave the signal to ring up.

But once the curtain was raised, he was surrounded by half a dozen persons all wanting to speak to him. Ridding himself of them he contrived to get to Kate's side, but they had not exchanged half a dozen words before the proprietor asked if he could 'have a moment.' Then Hender turned up, and begged of Kate to come and see the dressing-rooms, but fearing to miss him, she declared she preferred to stay where she was. Nevertheless, it was difficult not to listen to her friend's explanations as to what was passing on the stage, and in one of these unguarded moments Dick disappeared. It was heart-breaking, but she could do nothing but wait until he came back. Like an iron, the idea that she was about to lose her lover forced itself deeper into her heart. The fate of her life was hanging in the balance, and the few words that were to decide it were being delayed time after time, by things of no importance. Dick had now returned, and was talking with the gas-man, who wanted to know if the extra 'hand' he had engaged was to be paid by the company or the management. Every now and again an actress or an actor would rush through the wings and stare at her; sometimes it was the whole chorus, headed by Miss Beaumont, whose rude remarks reached her ears frequently.

She tried to retreat, but the rude eyes and words followed her. Occasionally the voice of the prompter was heard: 'Now then, ladies, silence if you please; I can't hear what's being said on the stage.' No one listened to him, and, like animals in a fair, they continued to crush and to crowd in the passage between the wings and the whitewashed wall. A tall, fat girl stood close by; her hand was on her sword, which she slapped slowly against her thighs. The odour of hair, cheap scent, necks, bosoms and arms was overpowering, and to Kate's sense of modesty there was something revolting in this loud display of body. A bugle call was soon sounded in the orchestra, and this was the signal for much noise and bustle. The conspirators rushed off the stage, threw aside their cloaks, and immediately after the soft curling strains of the waltz were heard; then the bugle was sounded again, and the girls began to tramp.

'Cue for soldiers' entrance,' shouted the prompter.

'Now then, ladies, are you ready?' cried Dick, as he put himself at the head of the army.

'Yes,' was murmured all along the line, and seeing her hero marching away at the head of so many women, any one of whom he could have had for the asking, it crossed her mind that it was unnatural for him to stoop to her, a poor little dressmaker of Hanley, who did not know anything except, perhaps, how to stitch the seams of a skirt. But after what had befallen her last night, it did not seem possible that her fate was to be left behind, stitching beside Hender and the two little girls, Annie and Lizzie; stitching bodice after bodice, skirt after skirt, till the end of her days, remembering always something that had come into her life suddenly and had gone out of it suddenly. 'It cannot be,' she cried out to herself-'it cannot be

!' And she remembered that he had said that her ear was true, and her voice as pure as Leslie's. 'A little throaty,' he had said, 'but that can be improved.' What he meant by throaty she did not know, but no matter; and to convince herself that he had spoken truly she sang the refrain of the waltz till the gas-man pulled a rope and brought the curtain down. She was about to rush on the stage to speak to Dick, but the gas-man stopped her.

'You must wait a moment, there's a call,' he said. Up went the curtain; the house burst into loud applause. Down went the curtain; up it went again. This time only the principals came on, and while they were bowing and smiling to the audience a great herd of females poured through the wings, and Kate found herself again among courtesans, conspirators, seducers, and wandering minstrels.

'Who is she?' they asked as they went by. And Kate heard somebody answer, 'A spoon of Dick's,' and unable to endure the coarse jeering faces, which the strange costumes seemed to accentuate, she took advantage of a sudden break in the ranks and ran through the wings towards the back of the stage.

'What's the matter, dear?' he said, drawing her to him.

'Oh, Dick, you shouldn't neglect me as you do! I've been waiting here among those horrid girls nearly an hour for you, and you're talking to everybody but me.'

'It wasn't my fault, dear; I was on in the last act. They couldn't have finished it without me.'

'I don't know, I don't know; but you're going away to-morrow, and I shall never see you again. It's very hard on me that this last night-night- that--'

'Now, don't cry like that, dear. I tell you what. It's impossible to talk here; everybody's after me. I'll take off these things and we'll go for a walk through the town-will that do? I know we've a lot of things to speak about.'

The serious way in which he spoke this last phrase brought courage to Kate, and she strove to calm herself, but she was sobbing so heavily that she could not answer.

'Well, you'll wait here, dear; no one will disturb you, and I shan't be above two minutes.'

Kate nodded her head in reply, and five minutes after they were walking up the street together.

'How did you get out, dear? Did they see you?'

'No; Ralph is bad with his asthma, and mother is sitting upstairs with him. I said I had some sewing to do…. Oh, Dick, I cannot bear to think that you're going away, and that I shall never see you again.'

'Yes, you will, dear,' he answered cheerfully. 'Now I wonder if your husband would consent to your going on the stage?'

'Who would do the dressmaking for him?' she asked. 'He talks about the business, but we would be starving if we relied upon what we sell.' And stopping from time to time as their talk grew more earnest, they strolled through the crowded streets, Kate hanging on Dick's arm, her face inspiring the jeers of the factory girls.

'I wouldn't kiss her if I were you,' said the most impudent.

'Wouldn't you really?' cried two youths, stealing up from behind and seizing two of the girls by the waist, and kissing them despite blows and laughter.

The combats that followed forced Kate and Dick into the roadway. 'We cannot talk here,' Dick said; 'isn't there a quiet street near by?'

'There's Market Street; don't you remember, Dick, where you met me the day you took me to the potteries?'

'Yes,' he said, 'I do remember that day. What a crash! and all because you wouldn't let me kiss you; just like those boys and girls. You were more determined than those girls were, for methinks, as we say in Shakespeare, they wished to be kissed; but you didn't then.'

'That was the day,' she answered, 'that I took round Mrs. Barnes's dress after having stayed up all night to finish it. Here's Market Street,' and they walked towards the square of sky enframed in the end of the street, talking of the luck that had brought them together just at the moment when they thought that chance had divided them for ever.

'It was a crash!' Dick repeated, and they walked about the grass-grown mounds of cinders.

'But, Dick, you won't desert me,' she said. 'Tell me that you'll take me away from Hanley. I couldn't bear it when you were gone-I would sooner die.'

'Of course I'll take you away, my dear,' said Dick, with a distinct vision of the Divorce Court in his mind; 'but you know that will mean giving up everything and travelling about the country with me; I don't know that you'll like it.'

'You mean that you don't love me enough to take me away.'

'I'll take you away, dear, if you'll come. I never liked a woman as I do you. The train call is for ten o'clock. We must contrive something. How are you to meet me at the station?'

It was Kate's turn then to hesitate. She had never been out of the Potteries in her life; she had been born, reared and married here. And now she was going away without hope of ever being able to return, she was going into an unknown region to roam she did not know whither-adrift, and as helpless as a tame bird freed and delivered to the enmities of an unknown land. Half the truth dawned upon her in that moment, and lifting her eyes, she said:

'Dick! You're asking a great deal of me. What shall I do? Never, never, never to see Hanley again!'

'I didn't know that you cared so much about Hanley. And you accused me just now of not loving you enough to take you away. I think it's you who don't love me.'

'Dick, you know that I love you better than anything in the world! But to give up everything, never to see what you have seen all your life.'

'I don't think you'll regret it, dear; we'll be very happy. We're going from here to Derby, and from there to Blackpool, a very jolly place by the sea.' And he talked to her about boating and picnicking, becoming all the while more convinced of her pretty face, and his memory of her pretty voice was active in him when he took her in his arms and said: 'You mustn't think any more about it, dear; I couldn't leave this place without you. You'll like Blackpool if you're fond of boating.'

'I don't know,' she said; 'I've never seen the sea.'

'Well, you can see it now,' he answered. 'Look out there; the valley between us and the hills filled with mist is more like the ocean than anything I've ever seen.'

'The ocean,' Kate repeated. 'Have you been to America?'

'Yes,' he answered, 'I have lived there for several years. I may take the company out there-probably next year, if all goes well.'

'And will you take me with you?'

'Yes,' he said, 'but you must come away to-morrow morning. Why do you hesitate?'

'I'm not hesitating,' she answered, 'but those hills beyond the valley have always seemed to me very wonderful; ever since I was a little child I've asked myself what lies beyond those hills.'

For answer Dick kissed her, and they relapsed into contemplation.

The tall stems of the factory chimneys, the bottle-shaped pottery ovens, the intricate shafts of the collieries were hidden in the mist, and the furnace fires flashing through the mist enhanced the likeness of the Hanley Valley to a sea of stars; like stars these furnaces flamed, now here, now there, over the lower slopes of the hills, till at last one blazed into existence high amid the hills, so high that it must have been on the very lowest verge. It seemed to Kate like a hearth of pleasure and comfort awaiting her in some distant country, and all her fancies were centred in this distant light, till another light breaking suddenly higher up in the hills attracted her, and she deemed that it would be in or about this light that she would find happiness. She must ascend from one light to the next, but the light on which her eyes were fixed was not a furnace light, but a star. Would she never find happiness, then, in this world? she asked. Was Dick going to desert her? And without telling him that she had mistaken an earthly for a heavenly light, she threw her arms about him.

'Of course, Dick, I'll go with you; I will follow you wherever you may choose to go and do the work that you bid me to do. You've spoken well of my voice. Oh yes, Dick, I'll go with you. Why shouldn't I? You're everything to me! I never knew what happiness was till I saw you; I've never had any amusement, I've never had any love; it was nothing but drudgery from morning to night. Better be dead than continue such an existence. Tell me, Dick, you'll take me away.'

Dick listened calmly and quietly to these passionate beseechings, and taking her in his arms, he kissed her fervidly, though somewhat with the air of one who deems further explanation unnecessary. But when he withdrew his face Kate continued, at first plaintively, but afterwards with more passion:

'It's very wicked-I know it is-but I can't help myself. I was brought up religiously, nobody more so, but I never could think of God and forget this world like my mother and Mrs. Ede. I always used to like to read tales about lovers, and I used to feel miserable when they didn't marry in the end and live happily. But then those people were good and pure, and were commanded to love each other, whereas I'm sinful, and shall be punished for my sin. I don't know how that will be; perhaps you'll cease to love me, and will leave me. When you cease to love me I hope I shall die. But you'll never do that, Dick; tell me that you will not. You'll remember that I gave up a great deal for you; that I left my home for you; that I left everything.'

Her feebleness attracted him as much as her pretty face, and he knew she loved him; and they were going away together; so much had been decided, and as far as he could see, there the matter ended. Besides, it was getting very late; the third act must be nearly over now, and he had a lot of business to get through. But it was difficult to suggest that they should go home, for Kate had burst into tears, unable to control herself any longer. He must console her.

'You mustn't cry, dear,' he said softly; 'we shall be far away from here to-morrow, and you'll find out then how well I love you.'

'But do you really love me? If I were only sure that it was so!'

'If I didn't love you, why should I ask you to go away with me? If I didn't love you, could I kiss you as I do?'

'Of course we've been very wicked,' she continued as if she had not heard him, 'and you can't respect me very much; but then you made love to me so, and the music made me forget everything. It wasn't all my fault, I think, and you were so different from all the other men I've seen-so much more like what I imagined a man should be, so much more like the heroes in the novels. You know in the books there's always a tenor who comes and sings under the window in the moonlight, and sends the lady he loves roses. You never sent me any roses, but then there are no roses in Hanley. But you were so kind and nice, and spoke so differently, and when I looked at your blue eyes I couldn't help feeling I loved you. I really think I knew-at least, I couldn't talk to you quite in the same way as I did to other men. You remember when I was showing you over the rooms, how you stopped to talk to me about the pious cards Mrs. Ede had hung on the wall-well, since then I felt that you liked me. And it was so different since you came to live in the house. I didn't see much of you, you were always so busy, but I used to lie awake at night to hear you come in.'

'Look here, dear, I know you're very fond of me-so am I of you-but I must get back to the theatre. You've no idea of the business I've to get through to-night, and as we're going away together we'll have to look out for some place to put up.'

This necessity for immediate action at once startled and frightened her, and bursting again into a passionate fit of sobbing, she exclaimed:

'Oh, Dick, this is a terrible thing you're asking me to do! Oh, what will become of me? But do you love me? Tell me again that you love me, and will not leave me.'

Dick drew her closer to him for answer. 'We must not stay here any longer,' he said.

'But I cannot go home, Dick-to that house.'

'You'll sleep with me, dear, at the inn.'

'Sleep with you?' she repeated and allowed herself to be led.

The furnace fires had increased by tens; each dazzling line was now crossed and interwoven with other lines; and through the tears that blinded her eyes Kate saw an immense sea of fire, and beyond nothing but unfathomable grey.

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