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Song to my Godchild. By C. E. Nugent, 192.
the Author of Swissiana," 18.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN BEHIND THE SCENES?
Have you ever been behind the scenes at the Opera ? If not, come with me; everybody used to go, but they are stricter about these matters now.
You are surprised at the dirt and confusion? It is a rare mess. Scenes one over another-how do they ever get at the right one? Why don't they have them fresh painted, or washed, or something? Slack ropes, rough settles, polished gentlemen, and metropolitan policemen; young foot-guards and old women; beauty, and the beast close behind-everybody in everybody else's way, and yet things go on wonderfully.
In the midst of this confusion there is no discord; everybody is anxious for the success of the result, each performs the part assigned to him, and the rest do not try to help, but to keep out of the way. One or two calm-looking gentlemen, with moustaches, walk about and issue their directions in a quiet tone. A mysterious English youth, with a foreign appearance about the hat, glides quietly through the throng, with pieces of paper and a pencil, suspiciously eyeing the corps de ballet ; and so all goes right.
“Am I to go on in the storm ?” “By a leaf, sir.”
“Leave the door open, old fellow; I won't go too forward, on my honour as a lady.”
" Ciel !” says the pretty little -- -, whose over dress had not been successfully removed, at the moment of her going on; “ do you wish to make me ridiculous ? Bon soir, monsieur ; charmée de vous voir."
“Lower away! confound you, lower away!” and down come two trembling boys, having been very nearly spilt on reaching
September, 1849.- VOL. LVI.- NO. CCXXI.
the ground. Their affectionate parents received, unpacked, and took them home.
Come round to this corner; Elise has just come off. Poor girl, how tired she looks! She is sitting there, in the centre of that little circle, with her back against the wall-yes, it is a startling attitude, but they are obliged to do it, you know, to prevent cramp. You heard the house almost maddened by her just now: she does not look as well as when seen from the front.
That little girl, talking to a dirty-looking man, with a pointed beard, is Clara Tonnere. Mamma is close behind her. Mamma is an honourable woman; her word, once passed, is sacred. She watches over her daughter like a minister of grace. The man with the pointed beard is Lord C-- ; he is very rich, and very wide awake. He is rather old, but what can a child like that know or care about difference of age ?
These other young ladies make up the mass of the corps de ballet. Some, as you see, are biding their time in talk and laughter; others, of a graver turn, and who have more real business to do, keep their joints warm by exercise; others, again, are now performing the real business of their life, by listening to the whispered admirers of their “friends." They are not pretty, but then they are ballet girls; if they only get two shillings a night, they are still ballet girls. An intrigue with a ballet girl! To think that she will be seen to smile on you from the stage; to be able to say, “That is the girl you saw with me the other day !” “Will you bring her out?” “Hush !” " Ah, you old sinner |” “It is not fair to ask such questions."
However, let us go now. Come with me, and have some supper, and I'll tell you a story about a ballet girl and a friend of ours, which I think will interest you, and may not possibly be told without advantage.
You recollect Hertford at Trinity-it is of him I am going to tell you. The poor fellow has been dead six months, and his doings, if not his name, are no longer of interest to those who thought they loved him well.
You did not know him intimately; I did. We were at the same school, went up to the University in the same year, and took our degrees together.
You recollect that he was a man of peculiarly taking appearance and address. His father died when he was very young, and left him an unincumbered estate of £3000 a year; when he came of age, therefore, he naturally had another fortune in the funds.
It is no new thing to say that adversity is the nurse of friendship, and pleasure its most bitter antidote: it operates invariably. With us it happened in this wise.
Hertford was passing rich on some £5000 a year, and highly connected : I had an allowance of £500 a year from my father, on whom my future prospects were absolutely dependent, and whose stern existence rendered credit hopeless. My connexions were not high.
I could not keep pace with him. A good season is like a good run; you can't afford to wait for your friends. Our roads through society were different, and we saw but little of each other after our establishment in London. At the end of the season he disappeared: no one seemed exactly to know what had become of him, and I never saw him again until a few months before the accident which caused his death.
I met him one day hunting in the midland counties. He was living in an old farm house, on some outlying piece of property, for his own estate was quite in another part of the world. Discomfort reigned over him: the only earthly thing he seemed to care about was his horses, of which he had a large and very fine stud. He told me he very seldom saw anybody. I staid with him two or three days, and there he told me the cause of his retirement, and the story I am going to tell you.
We are now, let me see, in August, 1849. Well, it was in February 1845, that we made our first appearance in town. I will give you the story as nearly as I can in his own words.
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I need not tell you, he said, that I was always inclined to be what is called a fast man. But in early days, there was much of the milk of human-kindness in my breast; it gave me pleasure to do a good-natured action when the opportunity presented itself. Pleasure was my object, and my mind was not prepared to seek it in any but the ordinary way. In the thoughtlessness of the pursuit I did much wrong, but not wilfully at the expense of others. I had stopped short of deliberate vice. But a little time in town soon drowned my remaining scruples in the oblivion of dissipation: I found acquaintances ready made; society opened its arms to me; and considering that I did not bet, play, or keep a cottage and a brougham in St. John's Wood, I was a wealthy man, and somewhat sought after accordingly.
I always had a turn for theatricals, and the opera used to be a favourite lounge with me. With regard to women I had been rather careless : there was not one in a thousand I thought worth half an hour's trouble, and although the good ladies behind the scenes afforded me infinite amusement, they were perhaps the very last on whom I should have bestowed my attention. Still, as I said, they amused me, and I commonly passed a great portion of my time at the opera, behind the scenes; and perhaps it was my very carelessness in this respect, joined to the reputation of wealth, and the acquaintance of only the most distinguished of the habitués of the place, that made me an object of considerable attraction, and in a certain sort, a marked man among them.
A very short time after the commencement of this season of 1845, I observed among these damsels, one whose curiously retiring habits seemed at strange variance with those around her, and altogether unsuited to the sphere in which she moved. I do not think she was beautiful, but her face beamed with modesty (smile if you will) and intellect—but you recollect her -it was Lucy Manson.
I pointed her out to a learned friend, and asked who she was.
“It wou't do." “ Well, but who is she ?” “One of the corps." “Well, I know that, man; but I mean, what is her name?” “Lucy Manson." “I never noticed her before."
“No, I dare say not; it is not her game to be noticed. This is her first season here. She is an odd girl : she does not dance badly, but she'll never be much more than she is now. There is great precision, but her style is not slashing enough for the boards—wants confidence, you see.”
“Ah, yes; I understand," said I, moving away towards the spot on which she had been standing. She was gone: but I moved on and caught a glimpse of her dress. She was sitting by an elderly woman, of very respectable appearance, whom she strongly resembled. It was her mother. They were con. versing, and ceased as I approached; she raised her eyes and fixed them on me with an absent, uninterested look. I passed her, and shortly after left the house.
It was strange how that girl's eyes haunted me. I wondered who she could be; why she differed so much from all around her; how she got there at all. Then I thought, Bah! she is but a ballet girl: I will go to-morrow and speak to her : a little behind-the-scenes talk will soon place her in her proper light. There is something odd about the girl, too: she is not half so fine a woman as half a dozen others there, and yet-I must draw her out.
The next opera night found me behind the scenes again. The ballet had just begun: she was conversing with two of those whose acquaintance I enjoyed, and I could consequently join them without any apparent intrusion on her.