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A Peep Behind the Scenes By Mrs. O. F. Walton Characters: 15676

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Rosalie was not long alone after Mother Manikin left her. There was a rap at the door, and on opening it she found Toby.

'Miss Rosie,' he said, 'how is she now?'

'I think she is sleeping quietly, Toby,' said Rosalie.

'I would have come before, but I was afraid of disturbing her,' said Toby.

'I've been thinking of her all night; I didn't get many winks of sleep,

Miss Rosie!'

'Oh, Toby, was it you that fetched little Mother Manikin?'

'Yes, Miss Rosie; I used to belong to their show before I came to master; and once I had a fever, and Mother Manikin nursed me all the time I had it, so I knew she would know what to do.'

'She is a kind little thing!' said Rosalie.

'Yes, missie; she has only got a little body, but there's a great kind heart inside it. But, Miss Rosie, I wanted to tell you something; I'm going to fetch a doctor to see missis.'

'Oh, Toby! but what will my father say?'

'It's he that has sent me, Miss Rosie; you see, I think he's ashamed. You should have seen the men last night, when they were shutting up the theatre after you had gone away. They went up to master, and gave him a bit of their minds about letting missis come on the stage when she was so ill. They told him it was a sin and a shame the way he treated her, taking less care of her than if she were one of his old horses (not that he's over and above good to them neither). Well, master didn't like it, Miss Rosie, and he was very angry at the time; but this morning, as soon as it was light, he told me to get up at seven o'clock and fetch a doctor to see missis at once. So I thought I'd better tell you, Miss Rosie, that you might put things straight before he comes.'

As soon as Toby had gone, Rosalie put the caravan in order, and awaited anxiously the doctor's arrival. Her father brought him in, and stayed in the caravan whilst he felt the poor woman's pulse, and asked Rosalie several questions about her cough, which from time to time was so distressing. Then they went out together, and little Rosalie was left in suspense. She had not dared to ask the doctor what he thought of her mother when her father was present, and her little heart was full of anxious fear.

Augustus came in soon after the doctor had left; and Rosalie crept up to him, and asked what he had said of her mother.

'He says she is very ill,' said her father shortly, and in a voice which told Rosalie that she must ask no more questions. And then he sat down beside the bed for about half an hour, and looked more softened than Rosalie had ever seen him before. She was sure the doctor must have told him that her mother was very bad indeed.

Rosalie's father did not speak; there was no sound in the caravan but the ticking of the little clock which was fastened to a nail in the corner, and the occasional falling of the cinders in the ashpan. Augustus' reflections were not pleasant as he sat by his wife's dying bed. For the doctor had told him she would never be better, and it was only a question of time how long she would live. And when Augustus heard that, all his cruel treatment came back to his mind-the hard words he had spoken to her, the unkind things he had said of her, and, above all, the hard-hearted way in which he had made her come on the stage the night before, when she was almost too ill to stand. All these things crowded in upon his memory, and a short fit of remorse seized him. It was this which led him, contrary to his custom, to come into the caravan and sit by her side. But his meditations became so unpleasant at length, that he could bear them no longer; he could not sit there and face the accusations of his conscience; so he jumped up hastily, and went out without saying a word to his child, slammed the little caravan door after him, and sauntered down the marketplace. Here he met some of his friends, who rallied him on his melancholy appearance, and offered to treat him to a glass in the nearest public-house. And there Augustus Joyce banished all thoughts of his wife, and stifled the loud, accusing voice of his conscience. When he returned to the theatre for dinner, he appeared as hard and selfish as ever, and never even asked how his wife was before he sat down to eat. Perhaps he dreaded to hear the answer to that question.

And that evening Rosalie was obliged to take her part in the play; her father insisted on it; it was impossible for him to spare her, he said, and to fill up both her place and her mother's also. Rosalie begged him most earnestly to excuse her, but all in vain; so with an aching heart she went to the Royal Show of Dwarfs and asked for Mother Manikin.

The good little woman was indignant when Rosalie told her she was not allowed to stay with her mother, and promised immediately to come and sit beside the poor woman in her absence. The other dwarfs rather grumbled at this arrangement; but Mother Manikin shook her little fist at them, and called them hard-hearted creatures, and declared that old age must have its liberties. She had been entertaining the company all the afternoon, and must have a little rest this evening.

'Oh, Mother Manikin!' said Rosalie; 'and you had no sleep last night.'

'Oh, my dear, I'm all right,' said the good little woman. 'I had a nap or two this morning. Don't trouble about me; and Miss Mab and Master Puck ought to be ashamed of themselves for wanting me when there's that poor dear thing so ill out there. Bless me, my dears!' said the old woman, turning to the dwarfs, 'what should you want with an ugly little thing like me? It's you lovely young creatures that the company come to see. So I wish you good-night, my dears. Take care of yourselves, and don't get into any mischief when I'm away! Where's Susannah?'

'Here, ma'am,' said the woman who had come for Mother Manikin that morning.

'Carry me to Joyce's van,' said the little old woman, jumping on a chair and holding out her arms.

Susannah wrapped her in her cloak, and took her quickly in the direction of the theatre, Rosalie walking by her side.

Then the little woman helped the child to dress-pulling out the folds of her white dress for her, and combing her long hair in a most motherly fashion. When the child was ready, she stood looking sorrowfully at her mother's pale face. But as she was looking, her mother's eyes opened, and gazed lovingly and tenderly at her, and then, to the child's joy, her mother spoke.

'Rosalie darling,' she whispered, 'I feel better to-night. Kiss your mother, Rosie.'

The child bent down and kissed her mother's face, and her long dark hair lay across her mother's pillow.

'Who is it taking care of me, Rosalie?'

'It's a little lady Toby knows, mammie dear; she's so kind, and she says she will sit with you all the time I'm out. I didn't want to leave you-oh, I wanted so much to stay! but I could not be spared, father says.'

'Never mind, darling,' said her mother. 'I feel a little better to-night. I should like a cup of tea.'

Mother Manikin had a cup of tea ready almost directly. She was the quickest little body Rosalie had ever seen; yet she was so quiet that her quick movements did not in the least disturb the sick woman.

'How kind you are!' said Rosalie's mother, as the dwarf climbed on a chair to give her the tea.

'There's nothing like tea,' said the tiny old woman, nodding her wise little head; 'give me a cup of tea, and I don't care what I go without! You're better to-night, ma'am.'

'Yes,' said Rosalie's mother; 'I can talk a little now. I heard a great deal you said before, though I could not speak to you. I heard you talking about Rosalie's picture.'

'To think of that!' said the little old woman cheerily. 'To think of that, Rosalie! Why, she heard us talking; bless me, child! she's not so bad after all.'

'I think that did

me good,' said the poor woman; 'I heard Rosalie pray.'

'Yes,' said Mother Manikin; 'she put me in her prayer, bless her! I haven't forgotten that!'

Then Rosalie's mother seemed very tired, and her careful nurse would not let her talk any more, but made her lie quite quietly without moving. When Rosalie left her to go on the stage, she was sleeping peacefully, with kind Mother Manikin sitting by her side. And when the child returned late at night, there she was sitting still. And she insisted on Rosalie's undressing and creeping into bed beside her mother, that she might have a proper night's rest. For poor little Rosalie was completely exhausted with the stifling air, the fatigue, and the anxiety to which she had been subjected.

The next day her mother seemed to have revived a little, and was able to take a little food, and to talk to her in whispers from time to time.

'Rosalie,' she said, that afternoon, 'there is a verse come back to me which our old nurse taught me; I haven't thought of it for years, but that night when I was so ill I woke saying it.'

'What is it, mammie dear?' said Rosalie.

'"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." That was it, dear.'

'Mother Manikin told me you said something about sheep, mammie.'

'Yes, that was it,' said the poor woman; 'it's such a beautiful verse! "All we like sheep have gone astray;" that's just like me, darling-I've gone astray, oh, so far astray! "And have turned every one to his own way;" that's me again,-my own way, that's just what it was;-I chose it myself; I would have my own way. It's just like me, Rosalie.'

'And what's the end of the verse, mammie dear?'

'"The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." That means Jesus; the

Lord put all our sins on Him when He died on the cross.'

'Did God put your sins on Jesus, mammie dear?'

'Yes, child; I think it must mean mine, because it says, "the iniquity of us all." I think "all" must take me in, Rosalie; at least I hope so. I have been asking Him to let it take me in, because, you know, if the sin is laid on Him, Rosie darling, I sha'n't have to bear it too.'

The poor woman was quite exhausted when she had said this; and Rosalie brought her some beef-tea which Mother Manikin had made for her, and which was simmering on the stove. The good little woman came once more to stay with Rosalie's mother whilst the play was going on.

The theatre closed rather earlier that night, for a large fair was to be held at a town some way off, at which Augustus Joyce was very anxious to be present; and as he did not think there was much more to be done in Lesborough, he determined to start at once. So, the moment that the last person had left the theatre, Augustus and his men hastily put off the clothes in which they had been acting, slipped on their working coats, and began to pull down the scenery.

All night long they were hammering, and knocking down, and packing up, and when morning dawned they were ready to start.

They were not the only ones who had been packing up all night. There were several other fairs drawing near, at which the show-people had taken ground; so they worked away as those who had no time to lose.

'Miss Rosie,' said Toby's voice, at about five o'clock that morning, 'they are all going off except us. Master says we can wait a bit longer, to give missis a little more rest. He and the other men are going off at once, to get the theatre set up and everything ready, and master says it will be time enough if we are there by the first night of the fair. He can't do without you then, he says.'

'I am very glad mammie hasn't to be moved just yet,' said Rosalie; 'the shaking would hurt her so much, I'm sure.'

Augustus came into the caravan for a few minutes before he set off. He told Rosalie that they might stay two days longer; but on Saturday morning they must be off early, so as to get into the town on Sunday night.

'I wouldn't have you away from the play in this town, Rosalie, not for the world. It's a large seaside place, and I hope to make a pretty penny there, if every one does their duty.'

'Augustus,' said his wife, in a trembling voice, 'can you stay five minutes with me before you go?'

'Well,' said Augustus, taking out his watch, 'perhaps I might spare five minutes; but you must be quick. I ought to be off by now.'

'Rosalie darling,' said her mother, 'leave me and your father alone.'

Little Rosalie went down the steps of the caravan, shutting the door gently behind her, and stood watching her father's men, who were yoking the horses in the waggons and tying ropes round the different loads, to prevent anything falling off.

As soon as she was gone, her mother laid her hand on her husband's arm, and said-

'Augustus, there are two things I want to ask you before I die.'

'What are they?' said the man shortly, crossing his legs and leaning back on his chair.

'The first is, Augustus, that you will find a home for Rosalie when I'm dead. Don't take her about from fair to fair; she will have no mother to take care of her, and I can't bear to think of her being left here all alone.'

'All alone?' said Augustus angrily; 'she will have me, she will be all right if I'm here; and I'm not going to let the child go, just when she's beginning to be useful. Besides, where would you have her go?'

Rosalie's mother did not tell the secret hope which was in her heart.

'I thought,' she said, 'you might find some motherly body in the country somewhere, who would take care of her for very little money, and would send her to school regularly, and see she was brought up properly.'

'Oh, nonsense!' said Augustus; 'she will be all right with me; and I'm not going to lose a pretty child like that from the stage! Why, half the people come to see the lovely little actress, as they call her; I know better than to spoil her for acting by putting her down in some slow country place. Well, the five minutes are up,' said Augustus, looking at his watch; 'I must be off.'

'There was something else I wanted to ask you, Augustus.'

'Well, what is it? Be quick!'

'I wanted to tell you that the last fortnight I have been feeling that when one comes to die, there is nothing in this world worth having, except to know that your soul is safe. I've led a wicked life, Augustus; I've often been disagreeable and bad to you; but all my desire now is that the Good Shepherd should seek me and find me, before it is too late.'

'Is that all?' said her husband, putting on his coat.

'No, Augustus; I wanted to ask you something. Are you ready to die?'

'There's time enough to think of that,' said her husband, with a laugh.

Yet there was an uneasy expression in his face as he said it, which showed that the answer to the question was not a satisfactory one.

'Oh, Augustus! you don't know how long there may be,' said his poor wife sorrowfully.

'Well,' said he, 'if life's so short, we must get all the play we can out of it.'

'But what of the other life, Augustus-the long life that's coming?'

'Oh, that may take care of itself!' said her husband scornfully, as he lighted his pipe at the stove; and, wishing his wife a pleasant journey, he went down the steps of the caravan and closed the door.

The poor wife turned over on her pillow and wept. She had made a very great effort in speaking to her husband, and it had been of no avail. She was so spent and exhausted that, had it not been for Mother Manikin's beef-tea, which Rosalie gave her as soon as she came in, she must have fainted from very weariness.

A few minutes afterwards the waggons rumbled past, the theatre party set off on their journey, and Rosalie and her mother were left alone.

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