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WING returned to the George, Mr. Foker and his guest sate down to a handsome repast in the coffee-room; where Mr. Rummer brought in the first dish, and bowed as gravely as if he was waiting upon the Lord-Lieutenant of the county. Pen could not but respect Foker's connoisseurship as he pronounced the champagne to be condemned gooseberry, and winked at the port with one eye. The latter he declared to be of the right sort; and told the waiters, there was no way of humbugging him. All these attendants he knew by their Christian names, and showed a great interest in their families; and as the London coaches drove up, which in those early days used to set off from the George, Mr. Foker flung the coffee-room window open, and called the guards and coachmen by their Christian names, too, asking about their respective families, and imitating with great liveliness and accuracy the tooting of the horns as Jem the ostler whipped the horses' cloths off, and the carriages drove gaily away.
"A bottle of sherry, a bottle of sham, a bottle of port and a shass caffy, it ain't so bad, hay, Pen?" Foker said, and pronounced, after all these delicacies and a quantity of nuts and fruit had been despatched, that it was time to "toddle." Pen sprang up with very bright eyes, and a flushed face; and they moved off towards the theatre, where they paid their money to the wheezy old lady slumbering in the money-taker's box. "Mrs. Dropsicum, Bingley's mother-in-law, great in Lady Macbeth," Foker said to his companion. Foker knew her, too.
They had almost their choice of places in the boxes of the theatre, which was no better filled than country theatres usually are in spite of the "universal burst of attraction and galvanic thrills of delight" advertised by Bingley in the play-bills. A score or so of people dotted the pit-benches, a few more kept a kicking and whistling in the galleries, and a dozen others, who came in with free admissions, were in the boxes where our young gentlemen sate. Lieutenants Eodgers and Podgers, and young Cornet Tidmus, of the Dragoons, occupied a private box. The performers acted to them, and these gentlemen seemed to hold conversations with the players when not engaged in the dialogue, and applauded them by name loudly.
Bingley the manager, who assumed all the chief tragic and comic parts except when he modestly retreated to make way for the London stars, who came down occasionally to Chatteris, was great in the character of the Stranger. He was attired in the tight pantaloons and Hessian boots which the stage legend has given to that injured man, with a large cloak and beaver and a hearse-feather in it drooping over his raddled old face, and only partially concealing his great buckled brown wig. He had the stage-jewellery on too, of which he selected the largest and most shiny rings for himself, and allowed his little finger to quiver out of his cloak with a sham diamond ring covering the first joint of the finger and twiddling in the faces of the pit. Bingley made it a favour to the young men of his company to go on in light comedy parts with that ring. They flattered him by asking its history. The stage has its traditional jewels, as the Crown and all great families have. This had belonged to George Frederick Cooke, who had had it from Mr. Quin, who may have bought it for a shilling. Bingley fancied the world was fascinated with its glitter.
He was reading out of the stage-book—that wonderful stage-book—which is not bound like any other book in the world, but is rouged and tawdry like the hero or heroine who holds it; and who holds it as people never do hold books: and points with his finger to a passage, and wags his head ominously at the audience, and then lifts up eyes and finger to the ceiling, professing to derive some intense consolation from the work between which and heaven there is a strong affinity.
As soon as the Stranger saw the young men, he acted at them; eyeing them solemnly over his gilt volume as he lay on the stage-bank showing his hand, his ring, and his Hessians. He calculated the effect that every one of these ornaments would produce upon his victims: he was determined to fascinate them, for he knew they had paid their money; and he saw their families coming in from the country and filling the cane chairs in his boxes.
As he lay on the bank reading, his servant, Francis, made remarks upon his master.
"Again reading," said Francis, "thus it is, from morn to night. To him nature has no beauty—life no charm. For three years I have never seen him smile" (the gloom of Bingley's face was fearful to witness during these comments of the faithful domestic). "Nothing diverts him. Oh, if he would but attach himself to any living thing, were it an animal—for something man must love."
[Enter Tobias (Goll) from the hut] He cries, "Oh, how refreshing, after seven long weeks, to feel these warm sunbeams once again. Thanks, bounteous heaven, for the joy I taste!" He presses his cap between his hands, looks up and prays. The Stranger eyes him attentively.
Francis to the Stranger. "This old man's share of earthly happiness can be but little. Yet mark how grateful he is for his portion of it."
Bingley. "Because though old, he is but a child in the leading-string of hope." (He looks steadily at Foker, who, however, continues to suck the top of his stick in an unconcerned manner.)
Francis. "Hope is the nurse of life."
Bingley. "And her cradle—is the grave."
The Stranger uttered this with the moan of a bassoon in agony, and fixed his glance on Pendennis so steadily, that the poor lad was quite put out of countenance. He thought the whole house must be looking at him; and cast his eyes down. As soon as ever he raised them Bingley's were at him again. All through the scene the manager played at him. How relieved the lad was when the scene ended, and Foker, tapping with his cane, cried out "Bravo, Bingley!"
"Give him a hand, Pendennis; you know every chap likes a hand," Mr. Foker said; and the good-natured young gentleman, and Pendennis laughing, and the dragoons in the opposite box, began clapping hands to the best of their power.
A chamber in Wintersen Castle closed over Tobias's hut and the Stranger and his boots; and servants appeared bustling about with chairs and tables—"That's Hicks and Miss Thackthwaite," whispered Foker. "Pretty girl, ain't she, Pendennis? But stop—hurray—bravo! here's the Fotheringay."
The pit thrilled and thumped its umbrellas; a volley of applause was fired from the gallery: the Dragoon officers and Foker clapped their hands furiously: you would have thought the house was full, so loud were their plaudits. The red face and ragged whiskers of Mr. Costigan were seen peering from the side-scene. Pen's eyes opened wide and bright, as Mrs. Haller entered with a downcast look, then rallying at the sound of the applause, swept the house with a grateful glance, and, folding her hands across her breast, sank down in a magnificent curtsey. More applause, more umbrellas; Pen this time, flaming with wine and enthusiasm, clapped hands and sang "Bravo" louder than all. Mrs. Haller saw him, and everybody else, and old Mr. Bows, the little first fiddler of the orchestra (which was this night increased by a detachment of the band of the Dragoons, by the kind permission of Colonel Swallowtail), looked up from the desk where he was perched, with his crutch beside him, and smiled at the enthusiasm of the lad.
Those who have only seen Miss Fotheringay in later days, since her marriage and introduction into London life, have little idea how beautiful a creature she was at the time when our friend Pen first set eyes on her. She was of the tallest of women, and at her then age of six-and-twenty—for six-and-twenty she was, though she vows she was only nineteen—in the prime and fulness of her beauty. Her forehead was vast, and her black hair waved over it with a natural ripple, and was confined in shining and voluminous braids at the back of a neck such as you see on the shoulders of the Louvre Venus —that delight of gods and men. Her eyes, when she lifted them up to gaze on you, and ere she dropped their purple deep-fringed lids, shone with tenderness and mystery unfathomable. Love and Genius seemed to look out from them and then retire coyly, as if ashamed to have been seen at the lattice. Who could have had such a commanding brow but a woman of high intellect? She never laughed (indeed her teeth were not good), but a smile of endless tenderness and sweetness played round her beautiful lips, and in the dimples of her cheeks and her lovely chin. Her nose defied description in those days. Her ears were like two little pearl shells, which the earrings she wore (though the handsomest properties in the theatre) only insulted. She was dressed in long flowing robes of black, which she managed and swept to and fro with wonderful grace, and out of the folds of which you only saw her sandals occasionally; they were of rather a large size; but Pen thought them as ravishing as the slippers of Cinderella. But it was her hand and arm that this magnificent creature most excelled in, and somehow you could never see her but through them. They surrounded her. When she folded them over her bosom in resignation; when she dropped them in mute agony, or raised them in superb command; when in sportive gaiety her hands fluttered and waved before her, like—what shall we say?—like the snowy doves before the chariot of Venus—it was with these arms and hands that she beckoned, repelled, entreated, embraced her admirers