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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 1 - Chapter 6
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What Will He Do With It - Book 1 - Chapter 6 Post by :richa Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1283

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What Will He Do With It - Book 1 - Chapter 6


Wherein the historian tracks the public characters that fret their hour on the stage, into the bosom of private life.--The reader is invited to arrive at a conclusion which may often, in periods of perplexity, restore ease to his mind; namely, that if man will reflect on all the hopes he has nourished, all the fears he has admitted, all the projects he has formed, the wisest thing he can do, nine times out of ten, with hope, fear, and project, is to let them end with the chapter--in smoke.

It was past nine o'clock in the evening of the following day. The exhibition at Mr. Rugge's theatre had closed for the season in that village, for it was the conclusion of the fair. The final performance had been begun and ended somewhat earlier than on former nights. The theatre was to be cleared from the ground by daybreak, and the whole company to proceed onward betimes in the morning. Another fair awaited them in an adjoining county, and they had a long journey before them.

Gentleman Waife and his Juliet Araminta had gone to their lodgings over the Cobbler's stall. Their rooms were homely enough, but had an air not only of the comfortable, but the picturesque. The little sitting-room was very old-fashioned,--panelled in wood that had once been painted blue, with a quaint chimney-piece that reached to the ceiling. That part of the house spoke of the time of Charles I., it might have been tenanted by a religious Roundhead; and, framed-in over the low door, there was a grim, faded portrait of a pinched-faced saturnine man, with long lank hair, starched band, and a length of upper lip that betokened relentless obstinacy of character, and might have curled in sullen glee at the monarch's scaffold, or preached an interminable sermon to the stout Protector. On a table, under the deep-sunk window, were neatly arrayed a few sober-looking old books; you would find amongst them Colley's "Astrology," Owen Feltham's "Resolves," Glanville "On Witches," the "Pilgrim's Progress," an early edition of "Paradise Lost," and an old Bible; also two flower-pots of clay brightly reddened, and containing stocks; also two small worsted rugs, on one of which rested a carved cocoa-nut, on the other an egg-shaped ball of crystal,--that last the pride and joy of the cobbler's visionary soul. A door left wide open communicated with an inner room (very low was its ceiling), in which the Bandit slept, if the severity of his persecutors permitted him to sleep. In the corner of the sitting-room, near that door, was a small horsehair sofa, which, by the aid of sheets and a needlework coverlid, did duty for a bed, and was consigned to the Bandit's child. Here the tenderness of the Cobbler's heart was visible, for over the coverlid were strewed sprigs of lavender and leaves of vervain; the last, be it said, to induce happy dreams, and scare away witchcraft and evil spirits. On another table, near the fireplace, the child was busied in setting out the tea-things for her grandfather. She had left in the property-room of the theatre her robe of spangles and tinsel, and appeared now in a simple frock. She had no longer the look of Titania, but that of a lively, active, affectionate human child; nothing theatrical about her now, yet still, in her graceful movements, so nimble but so noiseless, in her slight fair hands, in her transparent colouring, there was Nature's own lady,--that SOMETHING which strikes us all as well-born and high-bred: not that it necessarily is so; the semblances of aristocracy, in female childhood more especially, are often delusive. The _souvenance flower, wrought into the collars of princes, springs up wild on field and fell.

Gentleman Waife, wrapped negligently in a gray dressing-gown and seated in an old leathern easy-chair, was evidently out of sorts. He did not seem to heed the little preparations for his comfort, but, resting his cheek on his right hand, his left drooped on his crossed knees,--an attitude rarely seen in a man when his heart is light and his spirits high. His lips moved: he was talking to himself. Though he had laid aside his theatrical bandage over both eyes, he wore a black patch over one, or rather where one had been; the eye exposed was of singular beauty, dark and brilliant. For the rest, the man had a striking countenance, rugged, and rather ugly than otherwise, but by no means unprepossessing; full of lines and wrinkles and strong muscle, with large lips of wondrous pliancy, and an aspect of wistful sagacity, that, no doubt, on occasion could become exquisitely comic,--dry comedy,--the comedy that makes others roar when the comedian himself is as grave as a judge.

You might see in his countenance, when quite in its natural repose, that Sorrow had passed by there; yet the instant the countenance broke into play, you would think that Sorrow must have been sent about her business as soon as the respect due to that visitor, so accustomed to have her own way, would permit. Though the man was old, you could not call him aged. One-eyed and crippled, still, marking the muscular arm, the expansive chest, you would have scarcely called him broken or infirm. And hence there was a certain indescribable pathos in his whole appearance, as if Fate had branded, on face and form, characters in which might be read her agencies on career and mind,--plucked an eye from intelligence, shortened one limb for life's progress, yet left whim sparkling out in the eye she had spared, and a light heart's wild spring in the limb she had maimed not.

"Come, Grandy, come," said the little girl, coaxingly; "your tea will get quite cold; your toast is ready, and here is such a nice egg; Mr. Merle says you may be sure it is new laid. Come, don't let that hateful man fret you: smile on your own Sophy; come."

"If," said Mr. Waife, in a hollow undertone, if I were alone in the world--"

"Oh, Grandy!"

"'I know a spot on which a bed-post grows,
And do remember where a roper lives.'

Delightful prospect, not to be indulged; for if I were in peace at one end of the rope, what would chance to my Sophy, left forlorn at the other?"

"Don't talk so, or I shall think you are sorry to have taken care of me."

"Care of thee, oh, child! and what care? It is thou who takest care of me. Put thy hands from thy mouth; sit down, darling, there, opposite, and let us talk. Now, Sophy, thou hast often said that thou wouldst be glad to be out of this mode of life, even for one humbler and harder: think well, is it so?"

"Oh, yes, indeed, grandfather."

"No more tinsel dresses and flowery wreaths; no more applause; no more of the dear divine stage excitement; the heroine and fairy vanished; only a little commonplace child in dingy gingham, with a purblind cripple for thy sole charge and playmate; Juliet Araminta evaporated evermore into little Sophy!"

"It would be so nice!" answered little Sophy, laughing merrily.

"What would make it nice?" asked the Comedian, turning on her his solitary piercing eye, with curious interest in his gaze.

Sophy left her seat, and placed herself on a stool at her grandfather's knee; on that knee she clasped her tiny hands, and shaking aside her curls, looked into his face with confident fondness. Evidently these two were much more than grandfather and grandchild: they were friends, they were equals, they were in the habit of consulting and prattling with each other. She got at his meaning, however covert his humour; and he to the core of her heart, through its careless babble. Between you and me, Reader, I suspect that, in spite of the Comedian's sagacious wrinkles, the one was as much a child as the other.

"Well," said Sophy, "I will tell you, Grandy, what would make it nice: no one would vex and affront you,--we should be all by ourselves; and then, instead of those nasty lamps and those dreadful painted creatures, we could go out and play in the fields and gather daisies; and I could run after butterflies, and when I am tired I should come here, where I am now, any time of the day, and you would tell me stories and pretty verses, and teach me to write a little better than I do now, and make such a wise little woman of me; and if I wore gingham--but it need not be dingy, Grandy--it would be all mine, and you would be all mine too, and we'd keep a bird, and you'd teach it to sing; and oh, would it not be nice!"

"But still, Sophy, we should have to live, and we could not live upon daisies and butterflies. And I can't work now; for the matter of that, I never could work: more shame for me, but so it is. Merle says the fault is in the stars,--with all my heart. But the stars will not go to the jail or the workhouse instead of me. And though they want nothing to eat, we do."

"But, Grandy, you have said every day since the first walk you took after coming here, that if you had three pounds, we could get away and live by ourselves and make a fortune!"

"A fortune!--that's a strong word: let it stand. A fortune! But still, Sophy, though we should be free of this thrice-execrable Rugge, the scheme I have in my head lies remote from daisies and butterflies. We should have to dwell in towns and exhibit!"

"On a stage, Grandy?" said Sophy, resigned, but sorrowful.

"No, not exactly: a room would do."

"And I should not wear those horrid, horrid dresses, nor mix with those horrid, horrid painted people."


"And we should be quite alone, you and I?"

"Hum! there would be a third."

"Oh, Grandy, Grandy!" cried Sophy, in a scream of shrill alarm. "I know, I know; you are thinking of joining us with the Pig-faced Lady!"

MR. WAIFE (not a muscle relaxed).--"A well-spoken and pleasing gentlewoman. But no such luck: three pounds would not buy her."

SOPHIE.--"I am glad of that: I don't care so much for the Mermaid; she's dead and stuffed. But, oh!" (another scream) "perhaps 't is the Spotted Boy?"

MR. WAIFE.--"Calm your sanguine imagination; you aspire too high! But this I will tell you, that our companion, whatsoever or whosoever that companion may be, will be one you will like."

"I don't believe it," said Sophy, shaking her head. "I only like you. But who is it?"

"Alas!" said Mr. Waife, "it is no use pampering ourselves with vain hopes: the three pounds are not forthcoming. You heard what that brute Rugge said, that the gentleman who wanted to take your portrait had called on him this morning, and offered 10s. for a sitting,--that is, 5s. for you, 5s. for Rugge; and Rugge thought the terms reasonable."

"But I said I would not sit."

"And when you did say it, you heard Rugge's language to me--to you. And now you must think of packing up, and be off at dawn with the rest. And," added the comedian, colouring high, "I must again parade, to boors and clowns, this mangled form; again set myself out as a spectacle of bodily infirmity,--man's last degradation. And this I have come to--I!"

"No, no, Grandy, it will not last long! we will get the three pounds. We have always hoped on!--hope still! And, besides, I am sure those gentlemen will come here tonight. Mr. Merle said they would, at ten o'clock. It is near ten now, and your tea cold as a stone."

She hung on his neck caressingly, kissing his furrowed brow, and leaving a tear there, and thus coaxed him till he set-to quietly at his meal; and Sophy shared it--though she had no appetite in sorrowing for him--but to keep him company; that done, she lighted his pipe with the best canaster,--his sole luxury and expense; but she always contrived that he should afford it.

Mr. Waife drew a long whiff, and took a more serene view of affairs. He who doth not smoke hath either known no great griefs, or refuseth himself the softest consolation, next to that which comes from Heaven. "What, softer than woman?" whispers the young reader. Young reader, woman teases as well as consoles. Woman makes half the sorrows which she boasts the privilege to soothe. Woman consoles us, it is true, while we are young and handsome! when we are old and ugly, woman snubs and scolds us. On the whole, then, woman in this scale, the weed in that, Jupiter, hang out thy balance, and weigh them both; and if thou give the preference to woman, all I can say is, the next time Juno ruffles thee,--O Jupiter, try the weed.

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