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   Chapter 19 No.19

A Mummer's Wife By George Moore Characters: 21935

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


'Well, what are you going to give her? Do you see anything you like here?'

'Do you think that paper-cutter would do?'

'You can't give anything more suitable, ma'am. Then there are these card-cases; nobody could fail to like them.'

'What are you going to give, Annie?'

'Oh, I'm going to give her the pair of earrings we saw yesterday; but if I were you I wouldn't spend more than half a sovereign: it's quite enough.'

'I should think so indeed-a third of a week's screw,' whispered Dolly, 'but she ain't a bad one, and Dick will like it, and may give me a line or so in Olivette. How do you think she'll do in the part?'

'We'll talk about that another time. Are you going to buy the paper-cutter?'

Casting her eyes in despair around the walls of the fancy-goods shop to see if she could find anything she liked better, Dolly decided in favour of the paper-cutter and paid the money after a feeble attempt at bargaining.

In the street they saw Mortimer, who had now allowed his hair to grow in long, snake-like curls completely over his shoulders.

'For goodness' sake come away,' cried Beaumont, 'I do hate speaking to him in the street, everybody stares so.'

The girls turned to fly, but the heavy lead was upon them, and in his most nasal tones said:

'Well, my dear young ladies, engaged in the charming occupation of buying nuptial gifts?'

'How very sharp you are, Mr. Mortimer,' answered Dolly in her pertest manner; 'and what are you going to give? We should so much like to know.'

After a moment's hesitation he said, throwing up his chin after the manner of a model sitting for a head of Christ:

'My dear young lady, you must not exhibit your curiosity in that way; it's not modest.'

'But do tell us, Mr. Mortimer; you're a person of such good taste.'

The comic tragedian considered for a moment what he could say most ill-natured and so get himself out of his difficulty.

'I tell you, young lady, I'm not decided, but I think that a copy of Wesley's hymns bound up with the book of the Grand Duchess might not be inappropriate.'

'But how do you think she'll play the Countess?' asked Beaumont.

'Oh, we mustn't speak of that now she's going to be married,' and, thinking he could not better this last remark, Mortimer bade the ladies good-bye and went off with curls and coat-tails alike swinging in the breeze. Farther up the street Beaumont and Dolly were joined by Leslie, Bret, and Dubois, and the same topics were again discussed. 'What are you going to give?' 'Have you bought your present?' 'Have you seen mine?' 'Do you know who's going to be at the wedding breakfast? They can't ask more than a dozen or so.' 'Have you heard that the chorus have clubbed together to buy Dick a chain?' 'It's very good of them, but they'll feel hurt at not being asked to the breakfast.' 'What will the Lennoxes do?' These and a hundred other questions of a similar sort had been asked in the dressing-rooms, in the wings, in the streets at every available moment since Morton and Cox's opéra bouffe company had arrived in Liverpool. Everybody professed to consider the event the happiest and most fortunate that could have happened, but Mortimer's words, 'There's many a slip between the ring and the finger,' recurred to them whenever the conversation came to a pause, and they hoped the marriage might yet be averted, even when they stood one bright summer morning assembled on the stage, awaiting the arrival of the bride and bridegroom. The name of the church had been kept a secret, and all that was known was that Leslie-who had joined another company in Liverpool-Bret, Montgomery, and Beaumont had gone to attend as witnesses, and that they would be back at the theatre at twelve to run through the third act of Olivette before producing it that night.

Many false alarms were given, but when at last the bridal party walked from the wings on to the stage, Dick's appearance provoked a little good-natured laughter, so respectable did he look in a spick-and-span new frock-coat and his tall hat. Kate never looked prettier; Mortimer said her own husband wouldn't know her.

She wore a dark green silk pleated down the front, from underneath which a patent-leather boot peeped as she walked; a short jacket showed the drawing of her shoulders, the delicacy of her waist, and the graceful fall of the hips. She carried in her hand a bouquet of yellow and pink roses, a present from Montgomery.

'Now, ladies and gentlemen, I won't detain you long, but do let us run through the third act, so as to have it right for the night. Montgomery, will you oblige me by playing over that sailor-chorus?'

Dick took the girls in sections and placed them in the positions he desired them to hold.

'Now, then; enter the Countess. Who's in love with the Countess?'

'Well, if you don't know, I don't know who does,' said Mortimer. 'I hear you've been swearing all the morning "till death do us part."'

A good deal of laughter greeted this pleasantry and Dick himself could not refrain from joining in. At last he said:

'Now, Kate, dear, do leave off laughing and run through your song.'

'I-I-ca-n't-can-'t; you-you-are-t-t-too funny.'

'We shall never get through this act,' said Dick, who had just caught Miss Leslie walking off with Bret into the green-room. Now, Miss Leslie, can't you wait until this rehearsal is over?'

'They'll be late for church to-day; they may as well wait.'

Another roar of laughter followed this remark, and Kate said:

'You'd better give it up, Dick, dear; it will be all right at night. I assure you I shall be perfect in my music and words.'

'I must go through the act. The principals are responsible for themselves, but I must look to the chorus. Where's that damned property-master?'

On the subject of rehearsals Dick was always firm, and seeing that it could not be shirked, the chorus pulled themselves together, and the act was run through somehow. Then a few more invitations were whispered in the corners on the sly, and the party in couples and groups repaired to the Lennoxes' lodgings. Mortimer, Beaumont, Dick, and Kate walked together, talking of the night's show. Dubois crushed his bishop's hat over his eyes, straddled his ostler-like legs, and discussed Wagner's position in music with Montgomery and Dolly Goddard. A baronet's grandson, a chorus singer, told how his ancestor had won the Goodwood Cup half a century ago, to three ladies in the same position in the theatre as himself. Bret and Leslie followed very slowly, apparently more than ever enchanted with each other.

For the wedding breakfast, the obliging landlady had given up her own rooms on the ground-floor. The table extended from the fireplace to the cabinet, the panels of which Mortimer was respectfully requested not to break when he was invited to take the foot of the table and help the cold salmon. The bride and bridegroom took the head, and the soup was placed before them; for this was not, as Dick explained, a breakfast served by Gunter, but a dinner suitable to people who had been engaged for some time back. At this joke no one knew if they should laugh or not, and Mortimer slyly attracted the attention of the company to Bret and Leslie, who were examining the cake.

Then all spoke at once of the presents. They were of all sorts, and had come from different parts of the country. Mr. Cox had given a large diamond ring. Leslie had presented Kate with a handsome inkstand. Bret had bought her a small gold bracelet. Dubois, whose fancies were light, offered a fan; Beaumont, a pair of earrings; Hayes, a cigarette case; Dolly Goddard, a paper-knife; Montgomery, a brooch which must have cost him at least a month's salary. Mortimer exclaimed that his wife had been behaving rather badly lately, and that in consequence he had been unable to obtain from her-what he had not been able to obtain Dick did not stop to listen to. At that moment the gold chain, the present from the chorus, caught his eye. The kindness of the girls seemed to affect him deeply, and, interrupting Kate, who was thanking her friends for all their tokens of good-will, he said:

'I must really thank the ladies of the chorus for the very handsome present they made me. How sorry I am that they are not all here to receive my thanks I cannot say; but those who are here will, I hope, explain to their comrades how we were pressed for space.'

'One would think you were refusing a free admission,' snarled Mortimer.

'What a bore that fellow is!' whispered Dick to Mr. Cox, the proprietor of the company, who had come down from London to arrange some business with his manager.

'I'm sure, Mr. Lennox, we were only too glad to be able to give you something to show you how much we appreciate your kindness,' said a tall girl, speaking in the name of the chorus.

'We must have some fizz after the show to-night on the stage. What do you think. Cox?' said Dick. 'And then I shall be able to express my thanks to everyone.'

'And we must have a dance,' cried Leslie. 'My foot is all right now.'

Chairs had to be fetched in from the bedroom and even from the kitchen to seat the fifteen people who had been invited. The ladies did not like sitting together and the supply of gentlemen was not sufficient-drawbacks that were forgotten when the first few spoonfuls of soup had been eaten and the sherry tasted. The women examined Mr. Cox with looks of deep inquiry, but his face told them nothing; it was grave and commercial, and he spoke little to anyone except Kate and her husband. The baronet's son sat in the middle of the table with the three chorus-girls, whom he continued to pester with calculations as to how much he would be worth, but for his ancestor's ambition to win the Derby with Scotch Coast. Leslie and Bret were on the other side of the wedding cake, and they leant towards each other with a thousand little amorous movements. Beaumont spoke of the evening's performance, putting questions to Montgomery with a view to attracting Mr. Cox's attention.

'Do you think, Mr. Montgomery, that to take an encore for my song will interfere with the piece?'

'I never heard of a lady putting the piece before herself,' said Montgomery, with a loud laugh, for he, too, was anxious to attract Mr. Cox's attention, and availing himself of Miss Beaumont's question as a 'lead up,' he said, 'I hope that when my opera is produced I shall find artists who will look as carefully after my interests.'

'But when will you have your opera ready?' Kate asked.

'My opera?' he said, as soon as she averted the brown eyes that burnt into his soul. 'It's all finished. It's ready to put on the stage when Dick likes.'

The ruse proved successful, for Mr. Cox, bending forward, said in an interested voice:

'May I ask what is the subject of your opera, Mr. Montgomery?'

This was charming, and the musician at once proceeded to enter into a complica

ted explanation, in which frequent allusion was made to a king, a band of conspirators, a neighbouring prince, a beautiful daughter unfortunately in love with a shepherd, and a treacherous minister. Beaumont listened wearily, and, seeing that no mention she could make of her singing would avail her, she commenced to fidget abstractedly with one of her big diamond earrings. In the meanwhile Montgomery's difficulties were increasing. To follow successfully the somewhat intricate story of king, conspirators, and amorous shepherd a sustained effort of attention was necessary, and this Dick, Kate, and Mr. Cox found it difficult to grant; for in the middle of a somewhat involved bit-in which it was not quite clear whether the king or the minister had entered disguised-the landlady would beg to be excused-if they would just make a little way, so that she might remove the soup.

This lady, in her Sunday cap, assisted by the maid-of-all-work, from whose canvas-grained hands soap and water had not been able to extract the dirt, strove to lift large dishes of food over the heads of the company. There was a sirloin of beef that had to be placed before Mortimer. Then came two pairs of chickens, the carving of which Dick had taken upon himself. A piece of bacon with cabbage, and a pigeon-pie, adorned the sides of the table. The cutlets were handed round; and for some time conversation gave way to the more necessary occupation of eating. Even Bret and Leslie left off billing and cooing; the grandson of the baronet, forgetful of his family's misfortunes on the turf, dug vigorously into the pigeon-pie and liberally distributed it. The clattering of knives and forks swelled into a sustained sound, which was only broken by observations such as 'Thanks, Mr. Lennox, anything that's handy-a leg, if you please.' 'May I ask you, Montgomery, for a slice of bacon? No cabbage, thank you.' 'Mr. Mortimer, a little more and some gravy; that'll do nicely.'

It was not until the first helping had been put away, and eyes began to wander in search of what would be best to go on with, that conversation was resumed. To Mortimer, who had had a good deal of trouble with the beef, Dick said, 'I hope you are satisfied with your part, Mortimer, and that we shall have some good roars. The piece ought to go with a scream.'

'I think I shall knock 'em this time, old boy,' said the comic man, drawling his words slowly through his nose. 'It pretty well killed me when I read it over to myself, so I don't know what it will be when I spit it out at them.'

This was deemed unnecessarily coarse, and for a moment it was feared that Mortimer was as drunk as Mr. Hayes, whose eyes were now beginning to blink pathetically. He awoke up, however, with a start and a smile when the first champagne cork went off, and holding out his glass, said, 'Shall be very glad to drink your health, a wedding only comes once in a lifetime.'

Mortimer tried to turn the embarrassing pause that followed this remark to his profit. The beef having kept him silent during the early part of the dinner, he resolved now to prove what a humorist he was, and by raising his voice he strove to attract the attention of the company to himself. This, however, was not easily done. Dubois had begun to pinch the backside of the canvas-handed maid, who was lifting a plate of custards over his head; but these frivolities did not prevent him from discussing Carlyle's place in English literature with the baronet's son on his left, and arguing from time to time with Montgomery on his right against certain effects employed by Wagner in his orchestration. Kate laid down her spoon and stared vaguely into space and again laid her hand on Dick's.

The past seemed now to be completely blotted out. What more could she desire? She would go on acting, and Dick would continue to love her. By some special interposition of Providence all the hazards of existence over which she might have fallen had been swept aside. What broader road could a woman hope to walk in than the one that lay before her in all its clear and bland serenity? God had been good to her! and He was going to be good to her. What a tie the child would be, what an influence, what a source of future happiness! They would work for their child; a boy or girl, which? Would it not give them courage to work? Would it not give them strength to live? It would be something to hope for. Oh, how good God had been to her; and how wicked she had been to Him! Her heart filled with a fervour of faith she had never felt before; and facing the gracious future which a child and husband promised her, she offered up thanksgivings for her happiness, which she accepted as eternal, so inherent did it seem in herself.

'Oh, just look at him!' said Kate, waking up with a start from her reveries. 'How can he make such a beast of himself?'

'Don't take any notice of him, dear; that's the best way.'

But Mortimer, who had been vainly struggling for the last five minutes to draw Beaumont from the memory of a lord, Dubois from his Wagnerian argument, and Bret and Leslie from their flirtation, now seized on poor Hayes's drunkenness as a net wherein he could capture everybody. Raising his voice so as to ensure silence, he said, addressing himself to Mr. Cox at the other end of the table, 'How very affecting he is now, how severely natural; the innocence of a young girl in her teens is not, to my mind, nearly so touching as that of a boozer in his cups. Have you ever heard how he fancied the waiter was calling him in the morning when the policeman was hauling him off to the station?'

Mr. Cox had not heard; and the whole story of how they bumped in the hotel door at Derby had to be gone through. Having thus got the company by the ear, Mortimer showed for a long time no signs of letting them go. He went straight through his whole repertoire. He told of a man who wanted to post a letter, but not being able to find the letterbox, he applied to a policeman. The bobby showed him something red in the distance, and explained that that was the post. 'Keep the red in your eye, my boy,' said the drunkard; and this he did until he found himself in a public-house trying to force his letter down a soldier's collar. He had mistaken the red coat for the pillar. This was followed by a story of a man who apologized to the trees in St. James's Park, and explained to them that he had come from a little bachelor's party, until he at last sat down saying, 'This is no good; I mus-mush wait till the bloody pro-prochession has passed.' A heavy digestive indifference to everything was written on each countenance; and in the slanting rays of the setting sun the curling smoke vapours assumed the bluest tints. Odours of spirits trailed along the tablecloth. Disconnected fragments of conversation, heard against the uninterrupted murmur of Mortimer's story-telling, struck the ear. The baronet's son was now explaining to his three ladies that no woman could expect to get on in life unless she were very immoral or very rich; Dubois argued across the table with Leslie and Bret concerning the production of the voice: Beaumont cast luminous and provoking glances at Mr. Cox, and tried to engage him in conversation regarding the inartistic methods of most stage-managers in arranging the processions.

'Dick, dear, the cake hasn't yet been cut.'

'No more it hasn't,' Dick answered, and when the white-sugared emblem of love and fidelity was distributed, the wedding party awoke to a burst of enthusiasm. Everyone suggested something, and much whisky and water was spilt on the tablecloth.

But matters, although they were advanced a stage, did not seem to be much expedited. The bride's health had to be drunk, and Dick had to return thanks. He did not say very much, but his remarks concerning Olivette suggested a good deal of comment. Mortimer took a different view of the question, and Dubois explained at length how the piece had been done in France. Leslie insisted that Bret should say something; and once on his legs, to the surprise of everybody, the silent tenor became surprisingly garrulous.

It was Kate, however, who first guessed the reason of Montgomery's despondency, and in pity for him, she made a sign to the ladies, and the room was left to the flat chests and tweed coats. Montgomery prayed that this after-dinner interval would not prove a long one, for he dreaded the smutty stories. The baronet's son sprang off with a clear lead, watched by Mortimer and Dubois. In the way of anecdotes these two would have been rivals had it not been for the latter's fancy for more serious discussions. Still, in the invention and collection of the most atrocious, they both employed the energy and patience of the entomologist. A chance word, out of which a racy story might be extracted, was pursued like a rare moth or a butterfly. Dubois's were more subtle, but Mortimer's, being more to the point, were more generally effective.

They waited eagerly for the baronet's son to conclude, and he had hardly pronounced the last phrase when Mortimer, coming with a rush, took the lead with 'That reminds me of-' Dubois looked discomfited, and settled himself down to waiting for another chance. This, however, did not come just at once; Mortimer told six stories, each nastier than the last. Everybody was in roars except Montgomery and Dubois; whilst one thought of his opera, the other searched his memory for something that would out-Mortimer Mortimer. This was difficult, but when his turn came he surprised the company. Mr. Cox leaned over the table with a glass of whisky and water in his hand declaring that he had never spent so pleasant a day in his life: and thus encouraged Dubois was just beginning to launch out into the intricacies of a fresh tale when Montgomery, beside himself with despair, said to Dick:

'It was arranged that I should play the music of my new opera over to Mr.

Cox. If you don't put a stop to this it will go on for ever.'

'Yes, my boy, it's getting a bit long, isn't it: just let Dubois finish and we'll go upstairs.'

The story proved a weary one; but like a long railway journey it at last drew to an end, and they went upstairs. There they found the ladies yawning and looking at the presents. Kate ran to Dick to ask him to arrange about the music, but Beaumont had been a little before her and had taken Mr. Cox out on the balcony. Bret was not in the room; Leslie did not know the music, and in the face of so many difficulties, Dick's attention soon began to wander, and Kate was left to console the disappointed musician. Once or twice she attempted to renew the subject, but was told that they were all going down to the theatre in half an hour, and that it had better be put off to another time.

Montgomery made no answer, but he could not cast off the bitter and malignant thought that haunted him, 'I'm as unfortunate in art as in love.'

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