Page images
PDF
EPUB

determined to defeat it. He had not ventured to destroy the old will, but had placed the new one above it in the strong box, and retained the keys in his own possession. Hannah, knowing that he could not live many days, had brought Mr. Bruff over to Halton to help her. He was to keep watch till my father died. The signal of his death was conveyed from Hannah's bedroom window. The brass bird-cage hanging in the window by day, and a light burning there at night, were signals that my father was still alive. The moment when I had seen the light disappear had been the moment of my father's death, which Hannah then concealed from me till their arrangements were completed. Thus Bruff was let in at the back door, possessed himself of the keys, opened the strong box, purloined the new will, and handed it over to Hannah to burn. Some misgiving or failing of heart had led Hannah, instead of destroying it, to keep it carefully.

It was strange that a man so bold and determined in his schemes should have been physically a coward; but so it was, and that was the cause of his undoing.

Mrs. Bruff's unexpected visit to her husband's establishment revealed some cause of jealousy, which, added to the ill-feeling engendered by her husband's pusillanimity, caused the explosion which brought out the truth.

Mr. Bruff served three years in prison, and when released emigrated to America with the cause of the conjugal difficulty. Hannah subsists on a small annuity which I granted her in consideration of her past services. She has one little boy, who takes a good deal after his father.

Poor Sarah, who had suffered much for her zeal in my behalf, was compensated by a gift of a couple of hundred pounds from some unknown benefactor. But she has never quite forgiven me for putting it out of her power to 'fettle' Mrs. Hannah.

My five bony cousins were a good deal exercised in mind at the loss of their yearly five guineas. They threatened five several lawsuits; but as they went to Polkhorn to give instructions, he managed to talk them into acquiescence. But they have none of them spoken to me since.

As for myself, when I found that I was no longer bound to reside at Halton, I lost much of my dislike to live there. I am building a nice house on a hill-side, part of my property, and am looking out for a being of the cther sex who is not of a roving disposition.

THE NEMESIS OF PANTOMIME

BY GEORGE AUGUSTUS SALA

CHRISTMAS, as to the observance of which as a religious festival all Christians are pretty well in accord, favours socially every year the bringing to the front of a vast quantity of the element called Humbug; and there is perhaps no month out of the twelve in which shams are so rife and affectation is so rampant as in December. This truth suggests so large a theme for discourse that, dividing my subject into a proper number of sections and sub-sections, each with its due proportion of exordia, arguments, and perorations, ballasting the whole with a liberal amount of elucidatory notes, and conceding to myself some margin in the way of digressions de omnibus rebus, I might make up a very pretty folio, say of about seven hundred and fifty pages, devoted to an exposition of the chief humbugs (they are about a thousand and one in number) of Christmastide. But I refrain: first, because I have not time to write the exposition; secondly, because I do not think that there lives a bookseller in London mad enough to publish such a book for me; thirdly, because, granting that the thing were published, I am afraid that nobody would read it. And, since the paper duty has been taken off, not even the pastrycook and the butterman (those whilom patrons of unsuccessful authors) care about purchasing unreadable literature. Of making of books there is still no end, and there is more trash printed at the present time than ever there was; but the day for bulky folios has gone by, and people prefer to have their nonsense served up à la main—in a portable form and at a cheap price.

Thus, concerning a thousand Christmas impostures-how I long, though, to beat' the Christmas cards and the trees, and the Christmas hampers of potato-sherry, rye-whisky, and fusil-oil brandy!

-I will be discreetly silent; and there remains only one annual humbug on which I claim the right, in moderation, to descant. I mean the Christmas Pantomime. The proposition I have set myself to maintain is of a dual nature. It seems to me, after attentive study of the topic, that the modern entertainment known as a Pantomime is altogether false to its name, traditions, and original scope and purport, and is therefore a sham; and next I have arrived at the conclusion that we systematically humbug ourselves or strive to humbug others into the belief, every Christmas, that pantomimes are very fine things, and that we are amazingly fond of them. When I say we,' I mean, of course, grown-up people. That children adore the pantomimes I have not the slightest doubt. The noise,

the glitter, the horseplay, the coloured fires, infinitely delight them; still they may and do derive equal pleasure from the recreations of sucking lollipops, or of breaking their toys, or of over-eating themselves or of teasing their brothers and sisters, or of pulling the cat by the tail, or of tearing their books, or of rolling in the dirt and spoiling their new frocks. Childhood is easily pleased; and I question whether a good mud-pie on the Ramsgate sands, with a spade to pat it with, does not, to the juvenile mind, surpass in attractiveness the bravest pantomime that was ever produced, 'regardless of expense,' by an enterprising manager.'

6

"

The grown-up impostors who say that they like pantomimes may be divided into two classes-the excusable and the inexcusable. The first are only fostering an amiable delusion, and pretend to be wonderfully stricken by the beauty of the scenery, the splendour of the dresses, and the ingenuity of the transformations, and to be mightily tickled by the dreary tomfoolery of Mr. Clown and his colleagues, simply because they hold that it is a right and proper thing to be gratified with anything which gives gratification to the little ones. Thus it is generally pater- or mater-familias, or an uncle who is striving to be benevolent (the majority of mankind are naturally malevolent, but many of us do our best in trying to mean and to act well, and in rare cases we succeed), who professes to be so hugely delighted with Harlequin and Mrs. Bond; or the Ducks that wouldn't Come and be Killed.' After all, these professions are no such very difficult matter. They are easier than the hypocrisy needed to enable us to sit for a couple of hours opposite to the man or the woman whom we hate, and to refrain during that period from hurling a decanter at our enemy's head. Paterfamilias is glad to have his children home from school, in the first place; and Boxing-night is as yet too early a period for him to be beginning to think that scholastic holidays are unconscionably lengthy, and to wish his noisy, mischievous, gluttonous olive-branches at Jericho. To take the children to the play is at least one way of keeping them in good temper and tolerable quietude for the evening; and if they do make a noise at the theatre, their handclapping and shrill outcries of gratulation at the harlequinade are preferable to the Babel-like disturbance they would raise at home, culminating in their yells at being sent to bed before they were sleepy. Moreover, papa can chat with the friends he meets at the playhouse, or indulge in a quiet nap in his stall or at the back of his box; and altogether, if there has been no uproar with the boxkeeper, and no quarrel with the cabman, or no pole run through the panel of papa's brougham on the way home, the good easy man is not ill-pleased with his family visit to the theatre on Boxing-night; remembering too, with an additional thrill of satisfaction, that the infliction is one that need be gone through only once a year. As for mamma, she would go anywhere and en

THIRD SERIES, VOL. V. F.S. VOL. XXV.

Z

dure anything to be near her children, and to be persuaded that they were happy. She takes them at Christmas time, with equal alacrity and joy, to the pantomime, to the Polytechnic, to the German Fair, and to church. The life of a mother is one long, placid, happy martyrdom; and materfamilias, if one of her boys be cast for the smallest of parts in a Terentian comedy, will sit out the dire agony of the Westminster play, smiling.

These are the excusable. It is pardonable to suffer personal inconvenience and weariness for the sake of affording felicity to those you love. Besides, the pain grown-up people may undergo from the discomforts of a lagging and tawdry performance may be tempered by some amount of compensating influences. The married ladies may look at other married ladies, and audibly or mentally criticise the clothes and trinkets which their friends and rivals wear. The married gentlemen may console themselves with the thought that this kind of thing cannot go on for ever, and that there must be supper when the pantomime is over, or at least that they can be dropped at the club on their way home, with a view to a quiet cigar and a glass of grog before retiring to rest. At all events, both parents have done their duty; and that is something to be proud of in a state of society where we have so many duties to perform, and where so many of us neglect to perform those duties altogether.

But I now come to the inexcusables; and with them I confess I have no patience. They are humbugs, without a shadow of apology for their imposture. Do you mean, candidly and seriously, Miss Angelina Highheels, to tell me that you care one jot about a Christmas pantomime? It gives you the opportunity to dress very finely, perhaps; but you know as well as I do that there is no place in which fine clothes are so thrown away as at the theatre. Your mamma is a more experienced critic of the toilette than you are, and can tell (tolerably) real jewels from false and new dresses from turned ones. But even her observations (which I noted above) must be imperfect and superficial, and grounded much more on inference than on actual knowledge. But your main delight (being young and pretty and vain) is to be viewed de pié en cap-to be envied by all the other young ladies, and admired by all the young men. How can you be envied, how can you be admired, when at least three-fourths of the tasteful splendour of your costume is hidden from view? An opera-cloak may cover a multitude of sumptuary sins, but it may veil likewise a whole milliner's shop full of splendour. What can be seen of your gorgeous attire when you sit halfshrouded behind the curtain of a private box, or are cooped up in the dress circle, and not in a front row, perhaps? In the stalls your chignon and your shoulders may excite the admiration of my Lord Kafoozlum, who has just come, after drinking a great deal too much Wachter's Dry, from dining at his club, and that is all.

"

'Doosed fine gal,' his lordship may whisper huskily to the Hon. Rufus Rowland, his companion; and what a lot of false hair she has on! Upon my word, Miss Highheels, you would have by fifty times a better chance in the way of personal display were you standing up in a quadrille at the Licensed Victuallers' Ball. Wouldn't you like to be at a ball infinitely better than to be here, playing Patience, at the Theatre Royal, Hatton Garden? I know you would. Would you not prefer even a cheerful evening at the 'Monday Pops,' or a concert at the Albert Hall, or a conversazione at the South Kensington Museum? Why, you adore Herr Hans von Bülow; you doat on that sweet, sweet Arthur Sullivan (and you are justified in doating on him, since there lives no brighter musical genius and no more erudite and careful musician); you think Sims Reeves a duck and Santley a dear. Not that you dislike the drama; but Mr. Sothern's agreeable fooleries at the Haymarket, where you sadly miss the delightful Madge Robertson; but the Prés Saint Gervais at the Criterion, with Madame Rita and Miss Catherine Lewis; but Sweethearts at the Prince of Wales's, with the ever-fascinating Marie Wilton and the conscientious Coghlan; but Hamlet at the Lyceum, with the passionate Isabel Bateman and the psychological Irving-these are your chief Thespian delights. How are you to be expected to be amused with the dull, trivial, vulgar entertainment you are witnessing? What is Tippetywitchet' to 'you; and what interest can you take in Hot Codlins'? Are your sympathies in any way touched when the gallery join in roaring chorus to some trumpery song to the tune of Down among the coals,' or Mother says I mustn't,' or 'Old Brown's daughter's a proper sort of gal'? What do you know about old Brown's daughter? Does it divert you to hear the denizens of that same gallery catcalling and whistling, screeching for the fiddlers to strike up, bandying ribald chaff among themselves, bellowing for the manager or the scene-painter because a certain scene is prodigiously bespattered with tinsel and Dutch metal, and inordinately illumined by the property-man's fire-shovel, or flinging orange-peel and scraps of biscuit at the heads of the gentlefolks in the stalls? Come, Angelina; don't tell me that you like this sort of thing. Saturnalia are all very well to read about, but not to mingle with. His Majesty King Mob may be full of droll humours in George Cruikshank's etchings or John Leech's sketches; but too closely approached, he does not bear looking at. As for the performance, how can it interest, how can it amuse you? The grosser passions of men may be occasionally stirred by the scandalously-indecent costume and the impudent gestures of the painted women on the stage; but you, my Angelina, are pure and innocent-and, moreover, you are a Woman -and what are the legs of Miss Loosefish to you?

"

"

"

What is a Pantomime? or, rather, what should it be ?-for I do

« PreviousContinue »