groped their way through a dark passage, and, descending a step or two, threaded a little maze of canvas screens and paint pots, and emerged upon the stage of the Portsmouth Theatre.
`Here we are,' said Mr Crummles.
It was not very light, but Nicholas found himself close to the first entrance on the prompt side, among bare walls, dusty scenes, mildewed clouds, heavily daubed draperies, and dirty floors. He looked about him; ceiling, pit, boxes, gallery, orchestra, fittings, and decorations of every kind, -- all looked coarse, cold, gloomy, and wretched.
`Is this a theatre?' whispered Smike, in amazement; `I thought it was a blaze of light and finery.'
`Why, so it is,' replied Nicholas, hardly less surprised; `but not by day, Smike -- not by day.'
The manager's voice recalled him from a more careful inspection of the building, to the opposite side of the proscenium, where, at a small mahogany table with rickety legs and of an oblong shape, sat a stout, portly female, apparently between forty and fifty, in a tarnished silk cloak, with her bonnet dangling by the strings in her hand, and her hair (of which she had a great quantity) braided in a large festoon over each temple.
`Mr Johnson,' said the manager (for Nicholas had given the name which Newman Noggs had bestowed upon him in his conversation with Mrs Kenwigs), `let me introduce Mrs Vincent Crummles."
`I am glad to see you, sir,' said Mrs Vincent Crummles, in a sepulchral voice. `I am very glad to see you, and still more happy to hail you as a promising member of our corps.'
The lady shook Nicholas by the hand as she addressed him in these terms; he saw it was a large one, but had not expected quite such an iron grip as that with which she honoured him.
`And this,' said the lady, crossing to Smike, as tragic actresses cross when they obey a stage direction, `and this is the other. You too, are welcome, sir.'
`He'll do, I think, my dear?' said the manager, taking a pinch of snuff.
`He is admirable,' replied the lady. `An acquisition indeed.'
As Mrs Vincent Crummles recrossed back to the table, there bounded on to the stage from some mysterious inlet, a little girl in a dirty white frock with tucks up to the knees, short trousers, sandaled shoes, white spencer, pink gauze bonnet, green veil and curl papers; who turned a pirouette, cut twice in the air, turned another pirouette, then, looking off at the opposite wing, shrieked, bounded forward to within six inches of the footlights, and fell into a beautiful attitude of terror, as a shabby gentleman in an old pair of buff slippers came in at one powerful slide, and chattering his teeth, fiercely brandished a walking-stick.
`They are going through the Indian Savage and the Maiden,' said Mrs Crummles.
`Oh!' said the manager, `the little ballet interlude. Very good, go on. A little this way, if you please, Mr Johnson. That'll do. Now!'
The manager clapped his hands as a signal to proceed, and the savage, becoming ferocious, made a slide towards the maiden; but the maiden avoided him in six twirls, and came down, at the end of the last one, upon the very points of her toes. This seemed to make some impression upon the savage; for, after a little more ferocity and chasing of the maiden into corners, he began to relent, and stroked his face several times with his right thumb and four fingers, thereby intimating that he was struck with admiration of the maiden's beauty. Acting upon the impulse of this passion, he (the savage) began to hit himself severe thumps in the chest, and to exhibit other indications of being desperately in love, which being rather a prosy proceeding, was very likely the cause of the maiden's falling asleep; whether it was or
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