`Heigho!' sighed Nicholas, as he threw himself back in the prompter's chair, after telegraphing the needful directions to Smike, who had been playing a meagre tailor in the interlude, with one skirt to his coat, and a little pocket-handkerchief with a large hole in it, and a woollen nightcap, and a red nose, and other distinctive marks peculiar to tailors on the stage. `Heigho! I wish all this were over.'
`Over, Mr Johnson!' repeated a female voice behind him, in a kind of plaintive surprise.
`It was an ungallant speech, certainly,' said Nicholas, looking up to see who the speaker was, and recognising Miss Snevellicci. `I would not have made it if I had known you had been within hearing.'
`What a dear that Mr Digby is!' said Miss Snevellicci, as the tailor went off on the opposite side, at the end of the piece, with great applause. (Smike's theatrical name was Digby.)
`I'll tell him presently, for his gratification, that you said so,' returned Nicholas.
`Oh you naughty thing!' rejoined Miss Snevellicci. `I don't know though, that I should much mind his knowing my opinion of him; with some other people, indeed, it might be --' Here Miss Snevellicci stopped, as though waiting to be questioned, but no questioning came, for Nicholas was thinking about more serious matters.
`How kind it is of you,' resumed Miss Snevellicci, after a short silence, `to sit waiting here for him night after night, night after night, no matter how tired you are; and taking so much pains with him, and doing it all with as much delight and readiness as if you were coining gold by it!'
`He well deserves all the kindness I can show him, and a great deal more,' said Nicholas. `He is the most grateful, single-hearted, affectionate creature that ever breathed.'
`So odd, too,' remarked Miss Snevellicci, `isn't he?'
`God help him, and those who have made him so; he is indeed,' rejoined Nicholas, shaking his head.
`He is such a devilish close chap,' said Mr Folair, who had come up a little before, and now joined in the conversation. `Nobody can ever get anything out of him.'
`What should they get out of him?' asked Nicholas, turning round with some abruptness.
`Zooks! what a fire-eater you are, Johnson!' returned Mr Folair, pulling up the heel of his dancing shoe. `I'm only talking of the natural curiosity of the people here, to know what he has been about all his life.'
`Poor fellow! it is pretty plain, I should think, that he has not the intellect to have been about anything of much importance to them or anybody else,' said Nicholas.
`Ay,' rejoined the actor, contemplating the effect of his face in a lamp reflector, `but that involves the whole question, you know.'
`What question?' asked Nicholas.
`Why, the who he is and what he is, and how you two, who are so different, came to be such close companions,' replied Mr Folair, delighted with the opportunity of saying something disagreeable. `That's in everybody's mouth.'
`The "everybody" of the theatre, I suppose?' said Nicholas, contemptuously.
`In it and out of it too,' replied the actor. `Why, you know, Lenville says --'
`I thought I had silenced him effectually,' interrupted Nicholas, reddening.
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