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   Chapter 15 No.15

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 15942

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

'Rehearsal to-morrow at twelve for all those in the front scene of the Cloches,' cried the stage-door keeper to half-a-dozen girls as they pushed past him.

'Well I never! and I was going out to see the castle and the ramparts of the town,' said one girl.

'I wonder what it's for,' said another; 'it went all right, I thought-didn't you? Did you hear any reason, Mr. Brown?'

'I 'ear there are to be new lines put in,' replied the stage-door keeper, surlily, 'but I don't know. Don't bother me.'

At the mention of the new lines the faces of the girls brightened, but instantly they strove to hide the hope and anxiety the announcement had caused them, and in the silence that followed each tried to think how she could get a word with Mr. Lennox. At length one more enterprising than the rest said:

'I must run back. I've forgotten my handkerchief.'

'You needn't mind your handkerchief, you won't see Mr. Lennox to-night,' exclaimed Dolly, who always trampled on other people's illusions as readily as she did on her own. 'The lines aren't for you nor me, nor any of us,' she continued. 'You little silly, can't you guess who they're for? For his girl, of course!'

Murmurs of assent followed this statement, and, her hands on her hips,

Dolly triumphantly faced her auditors.

'It's damned hard, but you can't expect the man to take her out of her linen-drapery for nothing.'

The old stage-door keeper, whose attention had been concentrated on what he was eating out of a jam-pot, now suddenly woke up to the fact that the passage was blocked, and that a group of musicians with boxes in their hands were waiting to get through.

'Now, ladies, I must ask you to move on; there're a lot of people behind you.'

'Yes, get on, girls; we're all up a tree this time, and the moral of it is that we haven't yet learnt how to fall in love with the manager. The paper-collar woman has beaten us at our own game.'

A roar of laughter followed this remark, which was heard by everybody, and pushing the girls before her, Dolly cleared the way.

These girls, whose ambitions in life were first to obtain a line-that is to say, permission to shout, in their red tights, when the low comedian appears on the stage, 'Oh, what a jolly good fellow the Duke is!'-secondly, to be asked out to dinner by somebody they imagine looks like a gentleman, revolted against hearing this paper-collar woman, as they now called her, speak the long-dreamed-of, long-described phrases; and at night they did everything they dared to 'queer' her scene. They crowded round her, mugged, and tried to divert the attention of the house from her.

She had to say, 'Mr. Baillie, you've a fine head.' Baillie (patting his crown): 'Yes, a fine head!' Kate: 'A fat head.' Baillie (indignantly): 'A fat head!' Kate (hurriedly): 'I mean a broad head.' Baillie: 'Yes, a broad head.' Kate: 'A thick head.' Baillie (indignantly): 'A thick head!' Kate: 'No, no; a solid head.' And so on ad lib. for ten minutes.

The scene went splendidly. The pit screamed, and the gallery was in convulsions, and in the street next day nothing was heard but ironical references to fat and thick heads. The girls had not succeeded in spoiling the scene, for, encouraged by the applause, Kate had chaffed and mocked at the Baillie so winningly that she at once won the sympathy of the house. But the following night a tall, sour-faced girl, who wore pads, and with whom Kate had had some words concerning her coarse language, hit upon an ingenious device for 'queering the scene!' Her trick was to burst into a roar of laughter just before she had time to say, 'A fat head.' The others soon tumbled to the trick, and in a night or two they worked so well together that Kate grew nervous and she could not speak her lines. This made her feel very miserable; and her stage experience being limited, she ascribed her non-success to her own fault, until one night Dick rushed on to the stage as soon as the curtain was down, and putting up his arms with a large gesture, he called the company back.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' he said, 'I've noticed that the front scene in this act has not been going as well as it used to. I don't want anyone to tell me why this is so; the reason is sufficiently obvious, at least to me. I shall expect, therefore, the ladies whom this matter concerns to attend a rehearsal to-morrow at twelve, and if after that I notice what I did tonight, I shall at once dismiss the delinquents from the company. I hope I make myself understood.'

After this explanation, any further interference with Kate's scene was, of course, out of the question, and the verdict of each new town more and more firmly established its success. But if Dick's presence controlled the girls whilst they were on the stage, his authority did not reach to the dressing-rooms. Kate's particular enemy was Dolly Goddard. Not a night passed that this girl did not refer to the divorce cases she had read of in the papers, or pretended to have heard of. Her natural sharp wit enabled her to do this with considerable acidity. 'Never heard such a thing in my life, girls,' she would begin. 'They talk of us, but what we do is child's play compared with the doings of the respectable people. A baker's wife in this blessed town has just run away with the editor of a newspaper, leaving her six little children behind her, one of them being a baby no more than a month old.'

'What will the husband do?'

'Get a divorce.' (Chorus-'He'll get a divorce, of course, of course, of course!')

To this delicate irony no answer was possible, and Kate could only bite her lips, and pretend not to understand. But it was difficult not to turn pale and tremble sometimes, so agonizing were the anecdotes that the active brain of Dolly conjured up concerning the atrocities that pursuing husbands had perpetrated with knife and pistol on the betrayers of their happiness. And when these scarecrows failed, there were always the stories to fall back upon. A word sufficed to set the whole gang recounting experiences, and comparing notes. A sneer often curled the corners of Kate's lips, but to protest she knew would be only to expose herself to a rude answer, and to appeal to Dick couldn't fail to excite still further enmity against her. Besides, what could he do? How could he define what were and what were not proper conversations for the dressing-rooms? But she might ask him to put her to dress with the principals, and this she decided to do one evening when the words used in No. 6 had been more than usually warm.

Dick made no objection, and with Leslie and Beaumont Kate got on better.

'I'm so glad you've come,' said Leslie, as she bent to allow the dresser to place a wreath of orange-blossom on her head. 'I wonder you didn't think of asking Mr. Lennox to put you with us before.'

'I didn't like to. I was afraid of being in your way,' Kate answered. 'I hope Beaumont won't mind my being here.'

'What matter if she does? Beaumont isn't half a bad sort once you begin to understand her. Just let her talk to you about her diamonds and her men, and it will be all right.'

'But why haven't you been to see me lately? I want you to come out shopping with me one day next week. We shall be at York. I hear there are some good shops there.'

'Yes, there are, and I should have been to see you before, but Frank has just got some new scores from London, and he wanted me to try them over with him. There's one that's just been produced in Paris-the loveliest music you ever heard in all your life. Come up to my place to-morrow and I'll play it over to you. But talking of music, I hear that you're getting on nicely.'

'I think I'm improving; Montgomery comes to practise with me every morning.'

'He's all very well for the piano, but he can't teach you to produce your voice. What does he know? That brat of a boy! I'll tell you what I'll do,' cried Leslie, suddenly confront

ing Kate: 'we're going to York next week. Well, I'll introduce you to a first-rate man. He'd do more with you in six lessons than Montgomery in fifty. And the week after we shall be at Leeds. I can introduce you to another there.'

'The curtain is just going up, Miss Leslie,' cried the call boy.

'All right,' cried the prima donna, throwing the hare's-foot to the dresser, 'I must be off now. We'll talk of this to-morrow.'

Immediately after the stately figure of Beaumont entered. Putting her black bag down with a thump on the table she exclaimed:

'Good heavens! not dressed yet! My God! you'll be late.'

'Late for what?' asked Kate in astonishment.

'Didn't Mr. Lennox tell you that you had to sing my song, the market-woman's song, in the first act?'

'No, I heard nothing of it.'

'Then for goodness' sake make haste. Here, stick your face out. I'll do your make-up while the dresser laces you. But you'll be able to manage the song, won't you? It's quite impossible for me to get dressed in time. I can't understand Mr. Lennox not having told you.'

'Oh yes, I shall be able to get through it-at least I hope so,' Kate answered, trembling with the sudden excitement of the news. 'I think I know all the words except the encore verse.'

'Oh, you won't need that,' said Beaumont, betrayed by a twinge of professional jealousy. 'Now turn the other cheek. By Jove! we've no time to lose; they're just finishing the wedding chorus. If you're late it won't be my fault. I sent down word to the theatre to ask if you'd sing my song in the first act, as I had some friends coming down from London to see me. You know the Marquis of Shoreham-has been a friend of mine for years. That'll do for the left eye.'

'If you put out your leg a little further I'll pull your stocking, and then you'll be all right,' said the dresser, and just staying a moment to pull up her garters in a sort of nervous trance, she rushed on to the stage, followed into the wings by Beaumont, who had come to hear how the song would go.

She was a complete success, and got a double encore from an enthusiastic pit. But in Madame Favart she had nothing to do, and wearied waiting in the chorus for another chance which never came, for after her success with the fish-wife's song in Madame Angot, Beaumont took good care not to give her another chance. What was to be done? Dick said he couldn't sack the principals.

'Kate could play Serpolette as it was never played before,' exclaimed

Montgomery, 'and I see no reason why she shouldn't understudy Leslie.'

'But What's-her-name is understudying it.'

'Why shouldn't there be two understudies?'

Dick could advance no reason, and once begun, the studies proceeded gaily. Apparently deeply interested, Dick lay back in the armchair smoking perpetual cigarettes. Montgomery hammered with nervous vigour at the piano, and Kate stood by his side, her soul burning in the ardours of her task. She would have preferred the part of Germaine; it would have better suited her gentle mind than the frisky Serpolette; but it seemed vain to hope for illness or any accident that would prevent Beaumont from playing. True, Leslie was often imprudent, and praying for a bronchial visitation they watched at night to see how she was wrapped up.

As soon as Kate knew the music, a rehearsal was called for her to go through the business, and it was then that the long-smouldering indignation broke out against her. In the first place the girl who till now had been entrusted with the understudy, and had likewise lived in the hopes of coughs and colds, burst into floods of passionate tears and storms of violent words. She attacked Kate vigorously, and the scene was doubly unpleasant, as it took place in the presence of everybody. Bitter references were made to dying and deserted husbands, and all the acridness of the chorus-girl was squeezed into allusions anent the Divorce Court. This was as disagreeable for Dick as for Kate. The rehearsal had to be dismissed, and the lady in question was sent back to London. Sympathy at first ran very strongly on the side of the weak, and the ladies of the theatre were united in their efforts to make it as disagreeable as possible for Kate. But she bore up courageously, and after a time her continual refusal to rehearse the part again won a reaction in her favour; and when Miss Leslie's cold began to grow worse, and it became clear that someone must understudy Serpolette, the part fell without opposition to her share.

And now every minute of the day was given to learning or thinking out in her inner consciousness some portion of her part. In the middle of her breakfast she would hurriedly lay down her cup with a clink in the saucer and say, 'Look here, Dick; tell me how I'm to do that run in-my first entrance, you know.'

'What are your words, dear?'

'"Who speaks ill of Serpolette?"'

The breakfast-table would then be pushed out of the way and the entrance rehearsed. Dick seemed never to weary, and the run was practised over and over again. Coming home from the theatre at night, it was always a question of this effect and that effect; of whether Leslie might not have scored a point if she had accentuated the lifting of her skirt in the famous song.

That was, as Dick declared, the 'number of grip'; and often, at two o'clock in the morning, just as she was getting into bed, Kate, in her chemise, would begin to sing:

'"Look at me here! look at me there!

Criticize me everywhere!

From head to feet I am most sweet,

And most perfect and complete."'

There was a scene in the first act in which Serpolette had to run screaming with laughter away from her cross old uncle, Gaspard, and dodge him, hiding behind the Baillie, and to do this effectively required a certain chic, a gaiety, which Kate did not seem able to summon up; and this was the weak place in her rendering of the part. 'You're all right for a minute, and then you sober down into a Germaine,' Dick would say, at the end of a long and critical conversation. The business she learned to 'parrot.' Dick taught her the gestures and the intonations of voice to be used, and when she had mastered these Dick said he would back her to go through the part quite as well as Leslie.

Leslie! The word was now constantly in their minds. Would her cold get worse or better? was the question discussed most frequently between Dick, Kate, and Montgomery. Sometimes it was better, sometimes worse; but at the moment of their greatest despondency the welcome news came that she had slipped downstairs and sprained her foot badly.

'Oh, the poor thing!' said Kate; 'I'm so sorry. Had I known that was--'

'Was going to happen you wouldn't have learnt the part,' exclaimed

Montgomery, with his loud, vacant laugh.

She beat her foot impatiently on the ground, and after a long silence she said, 'I shall go and see her.'

'You'd much better run through your music with Montgomery, and don't forget to see the dresser about your dress. And, for God's sake, do try and put a bit of gaiety into the part. Serpolette is a bit of a romp, you know.'

'Try to put a bit of gaiety into the part,' rang in Kate's ears unceasingly. It haunted her as she took in the waist of Leslie's dress, while she leaned over Montgomery's shoulder at the piano or listened to his conversation. He was enthusiastic, and she thought it very pretty of him to say, 'I'm glad to have had a share in your first success. No one ever forgets that-that's sure to be remembered.'

It was the nearest thing to a profession of love he had ever made, but she was preoccupied with other thoughts, and had to send him away for a last time to study the dialogue before the glass.

'Try to put a little gaiety into the part. Serpolette is a romp, you know.'

'Yes, a romp; but what is a romp?' Kate asked herself; and she strove to realize in detail that which she had accepted till now in outline.

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