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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSandra Belloni - Book 3 - Chapter 25. A Farce Within A Farce
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Sandra Belloni - Book 3 - Chapter 25. A Farce Within A Farce Post by :pcmatt Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :798

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Sandra Belloni - Book 3 - Chapter 25. A Farce Within A Farce


Braintop's knock at the door had been unheeded for some minutes. At last Emilia let him in. The brandy and biscuits were placed on a table, and Emilia resumed her watch by Mr. Pole. She saw that his lips moved, after a space, and putting her ear down, understood that he desired not to see any one who might come for an interview with him: nor were the clerks to be admitted. The latter direction was given in precise terms. Emilia repeated the orders outside. On her return, the merchant's eyes were open.

"My forehead feels damp," he said; "and I'm not hot at all. Just take hold of my hands. They're like wet crumpets. I wonder what makes me so stiff. A man mustn't sit at business too long at a time. Sure to make people think he's ill. What was that about a doctor? I seem to remember. I won't see one."

Emilia had filled a glass with brandy. She brought it nearer to his hand, while he was speaking. At the touch of the glass, his fingers went round it slowly, and he raised it to his mouth. The liquor revived him. He breathed "ah!" several times, and grimaced, blinking, as if seeking to arouse a proper brightness in his eyes. Then, he held out his empty glass to her, and she filled it, and he sipped deliberately, saying: "I'm warm inside. I keep on perspiring so cold. Can't make it out. Look at my finger-ends, my dear. They're whitish, aren't they?"

Emilia took the hand he presented, and chafed it, and put it against her bosom, half under one arm. The action appeared to give some warmth to his heart, for he petted her, in return.

A third time he held out the glass, and remarked that this stuff was better than medicine.

"You women!" he sneered, as at a reminiscence of their faith in drugs.

"My legs are weak, though!" He had risen and tested the fact. "Very shaky. I wonder what makes 'em--I don't take much exercise." Pondering on this problem, he pursued: "It's the stomach. I'm as empty as an egg-shell. Odd, I've got no appetite. But, my spirits are up. I begin to feel myself again. I'll eat by-and-by, my dear. And, I say; I'll tell you what:--I'll take you to the theatre to-night. I want to laugh. A man's all right when he's laughing. I wish it was Christmas. Don't you like to see the old pantaloon tumbled over, my boy?--my girl, I mean. I did, when I was a boy. My father took me. I went in the pit. I can smell oranges, when I think of it. I remember, we supped on German sausage; or ham--one or the other. Those were happy old days!"

He shook his head at them across the misty gulf.

"Perhaps there's a good farce going on now. If so, we'll go. Girls ought to learn to laugh as well as boys. I'll ring for Braintop."

He rang the bell, and bade Emilia be careful to remind him that he wanted Braintop's address; for Braintop was useful.

It appeared that there were farces at several of the theatres. Braintop rattled them out, their plot and fun and the merits of the actors, with delightful volubility, as one whose happy subject had been finally discovered. He was forthwith commissioned to start immediately and take a stage-box at one of the places of entertainment, where two great rivals of the Doctor genus promised to laugh dull care out of the spirit of man triumphantly, and at the description of whose drolleries any one with faith might be half cured. The youth gave his address on paper to Emilia.

"Make haste, sir," said Mr. Pole. "And, stop. You shall go, yourself; go to the pit, and have a supper, and I'll pay for it. When you've ordered the box--do you know the Bedford Hotel? Go there, and see Mrs. Chickley, and tell her I am coming to dine and sleep, and shall bring one of my daughters. Dinner, sittingroom, and two bed-rooms, mind. And tell Mrs. Chickley we've got no carpet-bag, and must come upon her wardrobe. All clear to you? Dinner at half-past five going to theatre."

Braintop bowed comprehendingly.

"Now, that fellow goes off chirping," said Mr. Pole to Emilia. "It's just the thing I used to wish to happen to me, when I was his age--my master to call me in and say 'There! go and be jolly.' I dare say the rascal'll order a champagne supper. Poor young chap! let his heart be merry. Ha! ha! heigho!--Too much business is bad for man and boy. I feel better already, if it weren't for my legs. My feet are so cold. Don't you think I'm pretty talkative, my dear?"

"I am glad to hear you talk," said Emilia, striving to look less perplexed than she felt.

He asked her slyly why she had come to London; and she begged that she might speak of it by-and-by; whereat Mr. Pole declared that he intended to laugh them all out of that nonsense. "And what did you say about being in love with him? A doctor in good practice--but you needn't commence by killing me if you do go and marry the fellow. Eh? what is it?"

Emilia was too much entangled herself to attempt to extricate him; and apparently his wish to be enlightened passed away, for he was the next instant searching among his papers for the letter from Riga. Not finding it, he put on his hat.

"Must give up business to-day. Can't do business with a petticoat in the room. I wish the Lord Mayor'd stop them all at Temple Bar. Now we'll go out, and I'll show you a bit of the City."

He offered her his arm, and she noticed that in walking through the office, he was erect, and the few words he spoke were delivered in the peremptory elastic tone of a vigorous man.

"My girls," he said to her in an undertone, "never come here. Well! we don't expect ladies, you know. Different spheres in this world. They mean to be tip-top in society; and quite right too. My dear, I think we'll ride. Do you mind being seen in a cab?"

He asked her hesitatingly: and when Emilia said, "Oh, no! let us ride," he seemed relieved. "I can't see the harm in a cab. Different tastes, in this world. My girls--but, thank the Lord! they've got carriages."

For an hour the merchant and Emilia drove about the City. He showed her all the great buildings, and dilated on the fabulous piles of wealth they represented, taking evident pleasure in her exclamations of astonishment.

"Yes, yes; they may despise us City fellows. I say, 'Come and see,' that's all! Now, look up that court. Do you see three dusty windows on the second floor? That man there could buy up any ten princes in Europe--excepting one or two Austrians or Russians. He wears a coat just like mine."

"Does he?" said Emilia, involuntarily examining the one by her side.

"We don't show our gold-linings, in the City, my dear."

"But, you are rich, too."

"Oh! I--as far as that goes. Don't talk about me. I'm--I'm still cold in the feet. Now, look at that corner house. Three months ago that man was one of our most respected City merchants. Now he's a bankrupt, and can't show his head. It was all rotten. A medlar! He tampered with documents; betrayed trusts. What do you think of him?"

"What was it he did?" asked Emilia.

Mr. Pole explained, and excused him; then he explained, and abused him.

"He hadn't a family, my dear. Where did the money go? He's called a rascal now, poor devil! Business brings awful temptations. You think, this'll save me! You catch hold of it and it snaps. That'll save me; but you're too heavy, and the roots give way, and down you go lower and lower. Lower and lower! The gates of hell must be very low down if one of our bankrupts don't reach 'em." He spoke this in a deep underbreath. "Let's get out of the City. There's no air. Look at that cloud. It's about over Brookfield, I should say."

"Dear Brookfield!" echoed Emilia, feeling her heart fly forth to sing like a skylark under the cloud.

"And they're not satisfied with it," murmured Mr. Pole, with a voice of unwonted bitterness.

At the hotel, he was received very cordially by Mrs. Chickley, and Simon, the old waiter.

"You look as young as ever, ma'am," Mr. Pole complimented her cheerfully, while he stamped his feet on the floor, and put forward Emilia as one of his girls; but immediately took the landlady aside, to tell her that she was "merely a charge--a ward--something of that sort;" admitting, gladly enough, that she was a very nice young lady. "She's a genius, ma'am, in music:--going to do wonders. She's not one of them." And Mr. Pole informed Mrs. Chickley that when they came to town, they usually slept in one or other of the great squares. He, for his part, preferred old quarters: comfort versus grandeur.

Simon had soon dressed the dinner-table. By the time dinner was ready, Mr. Pole had sunk into such a condition of drowsiness, that it was hard to make him see why he should be aroused, and when he sat down, fronting Emilia, his eyes were glazed, and he complained that she was scarcely visible.

"Some of your old yellow seal, Simon. That's what I want. I haven't got better at home."

The contents of this old yellow seal formed the chief part of the merchant's meal. Emilia was induced to drink two full glasses.

"Doesn't that make your feet warm, my dear?" said Mr. Pole.

"It makes me want to talk," Emilia confessed.

"Ah! we shall have some fun to-night. 'To-the-rutte-ta-to!' If you could only sing, 'Begone dull care!' I like glees: good, honest, English, manly singing for me! Nothing like glees and madrigals, to my mind. With chops and baked potatoes, and a glass of good stout, they beat all other music."

Emilia sang softly to him.

When she had finished, Mr. Pole applauded her mildly.

"Your music, my dear?"

"My music: Mr. Runningbrook's words. But only look. He will not change a word, and some of the words are so curious, they make me lift my chin and pout. It's all in my throat. I feel as if I had to do it on tiptoe. Mr. Runningbrook wrote the song in ten minutes."

"He can afford to--comes of a family," said Mr. Pole, and struck up a bit of "Celia's Arbour," which wandered into "The Soldier Tired," as he came bendingly, both sets of fingers filliping, toward Emilia, with one of those ancient glee--suspensions, "Taia--haia--haia--haia," etc., which were meant for jolly fellows who could bear anything.

"Eh?" went Mr. Pole, to elicit approbation in return.

Emilia smoothed the wrinkles of her face, and smiled.

"There's nothing like Port," said Mr. Pole. "Get little Runningbrook to write a song: 'There's nothing like Port.' You put the music. I'll sing it."

"You will," cried Emilia.

"Yes, upon my honour! now my feet are warmer, I by Jingo! what's that?" and again he wore that strange calculating look, as if he were being internally sounded, and guessed at his probable depth. "What a twitch! Something wrong with my stomach. But a fellow must be all right when his spirits are up. We'll be off as quick as we can. Taia--haihaia--hum. If the farce is bad, it's my last night of theatre-going."

The delight at being in a theatre kept Emilia dumb when she gazed on the glittering lights. After an inspection of the house, Mr. Pole kindly remarked: "You must marry and get out of this. This'd never do. All very well in the boxes: but on the stage--oh, no! I shouldn't like you to be there. If my girls don't approve of the doctor, they shall look out somebody for you. I shouldn't like you to be painted, and rigged out; and have to squall in this sort of place. Stage won't do for you. No, no!"

Emilia replied that she had given up the stage; and looked mournfully at the drop-scene, as at a lost kingdom, scarcely repressing her tears.

The orchestra tuned and played a light overture. She followed up the windings of the drop-scene valley, meeting her lover somewhere beneath the castle-ruin, where the river narrowed and the trees intertwined. On from dream to dream the music carried her, and dull fell the first words of the farce. Mr. Pole said, "Now, then!" and began to chuckle. As the farce proceeded, he grew more serious, repeating to Emilia, quite anxiously: "I wonder whether that boy Braintop's enjoying it." Emilia glanced among the sea of heads, and finally eliminated the head of Braintop, who was respectfully devoting his gaze to the box she occupied. When Mr. Pole had been assisted to discover him likewise, his attention alternated between Braintop and the stage, and he expressed annoyance from time to time at the extreme composure of Braintop's countenance. "Why don't the fellow laugh? Does he think he's listening to a sermon?" Poor Braintop, on his part, sat in mortal fear lest his admiration of Emilia was perceived. Divided? between this alarming suspicion, and a doubt that the hair on his forehead was not properly regulated, he became uneasy and fitful in his deportment. His imagination plagued him with a sense of guilt, which his master's watchfulness of him increased. He took an opportunity to furtively to eye himself in a pocket-mirror, and was subsequently haunted by an additional dread that Emilia might have discovered the instrument; and set him down as a vain foolish dog. When he saw her laugh he was sure of it. Instead of responding to Mr. Pole's encouragement, he assumed a taciturn aspect worthy of a youthful anchorite, and continued to be the spectator of a scene to which his soul was dead.

"I believe that fellow's thinking of nothing but his supper," said Mr. Pole.

"I dare say he dined early in the day," returned Emilia, remembering how hungry she used to be in the evenings of the potatoe-days.

"Yes, but he might laugh, all the same." And Mr. Pole gave Emilia the sound advice: "Mind you never marry a fellow who can't laugh."

Braintop saw Emilia smile. Then, in an instant, her face changed its expression to one of wonder and alarm, and her hands clasped together tightly. What on earth was the matter with her? His agitated fancy, centred in himself, now decided that some manifestation of most shocking absurdity had settled on his forehead, or his hair, for he was certain of his neck-tie. Braintop had recourse to his pocket-mirror once more. It afforded him a rapid interchange of glances with a face which he at all events could distinguish from the mass, though we need not.

The youth was in the act of conveying the instrument to its retreat, when conscience sent his eyes toward Emilia, who, to his horror, beckoned to him, and touched Mr. Pole, entreating him to do the same. Mr. Pole gesticulated imperiously, whereat Braintop rose, and requested his neighbour to keep his seat for ten minutes, as he was going into that particular box; and "If I don't come back in ten minutes, I shall stop there," said Braintop, a little grandly, through the confusion of his ideas, as he guessed at the possible reasons for the summons.

Emilia had seen her father in the orchestra. There he sat, under the leader, sullenly fiddling the prelude to the second play, like a man ashamed, and one of the beaten in this world. Flight had been her first thought. She had cause to dread him. The more she lived and the dawning knowledge of what it is to be a woman in the world grew with her, the more she shrank from his guidance, and from reliance on him. Not that she conceived him designedly base; but he outraged her now conscious delicacy, and what she had to endure as a girl seemed unbearable to her now. Besides, she felt a secret shuddering at nameless things, which made her sick of the thought of returning to him and his Jew friends. But, alas! he looked so miserable--a child of harmony among the sons of discord! He kept his head down, fiddling like a machine. The old potatoe-days became pathetically edged with dead light to Emilia. She could not be cruel. "When I am safe," she laid stress on the word in her mind, to awaken blessed images, "I will see him often, and make him happy; but I will let him know that all is well with me now, and that I love him always."

So she said to Mr. Pole, "I know one of those in the orchestra. May I write a word to him on a piece of paper before we go? I wish to."

Mr. Pole reflected, and seeing her earnest in her desire to do this, replied: "Well, yes; if you must--the girls are not here."

Emilia borrowed his pencil-case, and wrote:--

"Sandra is well, and always loves her caro papa, and is improving, and will see him soon. Her heart is full of love for him and for her mama; and if they leave their lodgings they are to leave word where they go. Sandra never forgets Italy, and reads the papers. She has a copy of the score of an unknown opera by our Andronizetti, and studies it, and anatomy, English, French, and pure Italian, and can ride a horse. She has made rich friends, who love her. It will not be long, and you will see her."

The hasty scrawl concluded with numerous little caressing exclamations in Italian diminutives. This done, Emilia thought: "But he will look up and see me!" She resolved not to send it till they were about to quit the theatre. Consequently, Braintop, on his arrival, was told to sit down. "You don't look cheerful in the pit," said Mr. Pole. "You're above it?--eh? You're all alike in that. None of you do what your dads did. Up-up-up? You may get too high, eh?--Gallery?" and Mr. Pole winked knowingly and laughed.

Braintop, thus elevated, tried his best to talk to Emilia, who sat half fascinated with the fear of seeing her father lift his eyes and recognize her suddenly. She sat boldly in the front, as before; not being a young woman to hide her head where there was danger, and having perhaps a certain amount of the fatalism which is often youth's philosophy in the affairs of life. "If this is to be, can I avert it?"

Mr. Pole began to nod at the actors, heavily. He said to Emilia, "If there is any fun going on, give me a nudge." Emilia kept her eyes on her father in the orchestra, full of pity for his deplorable wig, in which she read his later domestic history, and sad tales of the family dinners.

"Do you see one of those"--she pointed him out to Braintop; "he is next to the leader, with his back to us. Are you sure? I want you to give him this note before he goes; when we go. Will you do it? I shall always be thankful to you."

Considering what Braintop was ready to do that he might be remembered for a day and no more, the request was so very moderate as to be painful to him.

"You will leave him when you have given it into his hand. You are not to answer any questions," said Emilia.

With a reassuring glance at the musician's wig, Braintop bent his head.

"Do see," she pursued, "how differently he bows from the other men, though it is only dance music. Oh, how his ears are torn by that violoncello! He wants to shriek:--he bears it!"

She threw a piteous glance across the agitated instruments, and Braintop was led to inquire: "Is he anything particular?"

"He can bring out notes that are more like honey--if you can fancy a thread of honey drawn through your heart as if it would never end! He is Italian."

Braintop modestly surveyed her hair and brows and cheeks, and taking the print of her eyes on his brain to dream over, smelt at a relationship with the wry black wig, which cast a halo about it.

The musicians laid down their instruments, and trooped out, one by one. Emilia perceived a man brush against her father's elbow. Her father flicked at his offended elbow with the opposite hand, and sat crumpled up till all had passed him: then went out alone. That little action of disgust showed her that he had not lost spirit, albeit condemned to serve amongst an inferior race, promoters of discord.

Just as the third play was opening, some commotion was seen in the pit, rising from near Braintop's vacated seat; and presently a thing that shone flashing to the lights, came on from hand to hand, each hand signalling subsequently toward Mr. Pole's box. It approached. Braintop's eyes were in waiting on Emilia, who looked sadly at the empty orchestra. A gentleman in the stalls, a head beneath her, bowed, and holding up a singular article, gravely said that he had been requested to pass it. She touched Mr. Pole's shoulder. "Eh? anything funny?" said he, and glanced around. He was in time to see Braintop lean hurriedly over the box, and snatch his pocket-mirror from the gentleman's hand. "Ha! ha!" he laughed, as if a comic gleam had illumined him. A portion of the pit and stalls laughed too. Emilia smiled merrily. "What was it?" said she; and perceiving many faces beneath her red among handkerchiefs, she was eager to see the thing that the unhappy Braintop had speedily secreted.

"Come, sir, let's see it!" quoth Mr. Pole, itching for a fresh laugh; and in spite of Braintop's protest, and in defiance of his burning blush, he compelled the wretched youth to draw it forth, and be manifestly convicted of vanity.

A shout of laughter burst from Mr. Pole. "No wonder these young sparks cut us all out. Lord, what cunning dogs they are! They ain't satisfied with seeing themselves in their boots, but they--ha! ha! By George! We've got the best fun in our box. I say, Braintop! you ought to have two, my boy. Then you'd see how you looked behind. Ha-ha-hah! Never enjoyed an evening so much in my life! A looking-glass for their pockets! ha! ha!--hooh!"

Luckily the farce demanded laughter, or those parts of the pit which had not known Braintop would have been indignant. Mr. Pole became more and more possessed by the fun, as the contrast of Braintop's abject humiliation with this glaring testimony to his conceit tickled him. He laughed till he complained of hunger. Emilia, though she thought it natural that Braintop should carry a pocket-mirror if he pleased, laughed from sympathy; until Braintop, reduced to the verge of forbearance, stood up and remarked that, to perform the mission entrusted to him, he must depart immediately. Mr. Pole was loth to let him go, but finally commending him to a good supper, he sighed, and declared himself a new man.

"Oh! what a jolly laugh! The very thing I wanted! It's worth hundreds to me. I was queer before: no doubt about that!"

Again the ebbing convulsion of laughter seized him. "I feel as clear as day," he said; and immediately asked Emilia whether she thought he would have strength to get down to the cab. She took his hand, trying to assist him from the seat. He rose, and staggered an instant. "A sort of reddish cloud," he murmured, feeling over his forehead. "Ha! I know what it is. I want a chop. A chop and a song. But, I couldn't take you, and I like you by me. Good little woman!" He patted Emilia's shoulder, preparatory to leaning on it with considerable weight, and so descended to the cab, chuckling ever and anon at the reminiscence of Braintop.

There was a disturbance in the street. A man with a foreign accent was shouting by the door of a neighbouring public-house, that he would not yield his hold of the collar of a struggling gentleman, till the villain had surrendered his child, whom he scandalously concealed from her parents. A scuffle ensued, and the foreign voice was heard again:

"Wat! wat you have de shame, you have de pluck, ah! to tell me you know not where she is, and you bring me a letter? Ho!--you have de cheeks to tell me!"

This highly effective pluralizing of their peculiar slang, brought a roar of applause from the crowd of Britons.

"Only a street row," said Mr. Pole, to calm Emilia.

"Will he be hurt?" she cried.

"I see a couple of policemen handy," said Mr. Pole, and Emilia cowered down and clung to his hand as they drove from the place.

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