`Did it disagree with her?' asked Nicholas.

`Not so much with her, as with her audiences,' replied Mr Crummles. `Nobody could stand it. It was too tremendous. You don't quite know what Mrs Crummles is yet.'

Nicholas ventured to insinuate that he thought he did.

`No, no, you don't,' said Mr Crummles; `you don't, indeed. I don't, and that's a fact. I don't think her country will, till she is dead. Some new proof of talent bursts from that astonishing woman every year of her life. Look at her -- mother of six children -- three of 'em alive, and all upon the stage!'

`Extraordinary!' cried Nicholas.

`Ah! extraordinary indeed,' rejoined Mr Crummles, taking a complacent pinch of snuff, and shaking his head gravely. `I pledge you my professional word I didn't even know she could dance, till her last benefit, and then she played Juliet, and Helen Macgregor, and did the skipping-rope hornpipe between the pieces. The very first time I saw that admirable woman, Johnson,' said Mr Crummles, drawing a little nearer, and speaking in the tone of confidential friendship, `she stood upon her head on the butt-end of a spear, surrounded with blazing fireworks.'

`You astonish me!' said Nicholas.

`She astonished me!' returned Mr Crummles, with a very serious countenance. `Such grace, coupled with such dignity! I adored her from that moment!'

The arrival of the gifted subject of these remarks put an abrupt termination to Mr Crummles's eulogium. Almost immediately afterwards, Master Percy Crummles entered with a letter, which had arrived by the General Post, and was directed to his gracious mother; at sight of the superscription whereof, Mrs Crummles exclaimed, `From Henrietta Petowker, I do declare!' and instantly became absorbed in the contents.

`Is it --?' inquired Mr Crummles, hesitating.

`Oh, yes, it's all right,' replied Mrs Crummles, anticipating the question. `What an excellent thing for her, to be sure!'

`It's the best thing altogether, that I ever heard of, I think,' said Mr Crummles; and then Mr Crummles, Mrs Crummles, and Master Percy Crummles, all fell to laughing violently. Nicholas left them to enjoy their mirth together, and walked to his lodgings; wondering very much what mystery connected with Miss Petowker could provoke such merriment, and pondering still more on the extreme surprise with which that lady would regard his sudden enlistment in a profession of which she was such a distinguished and brilliant ornament.

But, in this latter respect he was mistaken; for -- whether Mr Vincent Crummles had paved the way, or Miss Petowker had some special reason for treating him with even more than her usual amiability -- their meeting at the theatre next day was more like that of two dear friends who had been inseparable from infancy, than a recognition passing between a lady and gentleman who had only met some half-dozen times, and then by mere chance. Nay, Miss Petowker even whispered that she had wholly dropped the Kenwigses in her conversations with the manager's family, and had represented herself as having encountered Mr Johnson in the very first and most fashionable circles; and on Nicholas receiving this intelligence with unfeigned surprise, she added, with a sweet glance, that she had a claim on his good nature now, and might tax it before long.

Nicholas had the honour of playing in a slight piece with Miss Petowker that night, and could not but observe that the warmth of her reception was mainly attributable to a most persevering umbrella in the upper boxes; he saw, too, that the enchanting actress cast many sweet looks towards the quarter whence

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