A Lesson in Pets Page 01
A Lesson in Pets
By Bram Stoker
Once before, I spent some time with the Company in a saloon which was not altogether ideal.
‘Oh, do tell us about it,’ said the Leading Lady. ‘We have hours at least to spend here, and it will help to pass the time.’
‘Hear! hear!’ came from the rest of the Company, who at least always seemed to like to hear the Manager speak. The Manager rose and bowed with his hand on his heart as though before the curtain, sat down again, and began:
‘It was a good many years ago - about ten, I should think - when I had out the No 1 Company of "Revelations of Society". Some of you will remember the piece. It had a long run both in town and country.’
‘I know it well,’ said the Heavy Father. ‘When I was a Leading Juvenile I played Geoffroi D’Almontiere, the French villain, in the Smalls in old George Bucknill’s Company, with Evangeline Destrude as Lady Margaret Skeffington. A ripping good piece it was, too. I often wonder that someone doesn’t revive it. It’s worth a dozen of these namby-pamby - rot-gut-problem -’
‘Hush! hush!’ came the universal interruption, and the growing indignation of the speaker calmed down. The Manager went on:
‘That time we had an eruption of dogs.’
‘How that time?’
‘Oh, do explain!’ from the Company. The Manager resumed:
‘Of dogs, and other things. But I had better begin at the beginning. On the previous tour I had out "The Lesson of the Cross", and as we were out to rake in all the goody-goodies, I thought it best to have an ostensibly moral tone about the whole outfit. So I picked them out on purpose for family reasons. There were with us none but married folk, and no matter how old and ugly the women were, I knew they’d pass muster with the outside crowd that we were catering for. But I did not quite expect what would happen. Every one of them brought children. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they had brought the bigger ones that could have gone on to swell the crowds. I’d have paid their fares for them, too. But they only took babies and little kiddies that needed someone to look after them all the time. The number of young nursemaids and slips of girls from the workhouse and institutions that we had with us you wouldn’t credit. When I got down to the station and saw the train that the Inspector pointed out as my special, I could not believe my eyes. There was hardly a window that hadn’t a baby being held out of it, and the platform was full of old women and children all crowing, laughing, and crying and snapping their fingers and wiping their eyes and waving pocket-handkerchiefs. Somehow the crowd outside had tumbled to it, and it being Sunday afternoon, they kept pouring in and guying the whole outfit. I could do nothing then but get into my own compartment and pull down the blind, and pray that we might get away on time.
‘When we got to Manchester, where we opened, there was the usual Sunday crowd to see the actors. When we came sliding round the curve of the Exchange I looked out, and saw with pleasure the public anxiety to catch the first glimpse of the celebrated "Lesson of the Cross" Company, as they had it well displayed on our bills. But I saw run along all the faces in the line, just as you see a breeze sweep over a cornfield, a look of wonder; and then a white flash as the teeth of every man, woman, and child became open with a grin. I looked back, and there again was that infernal row of babies being dandled in front of the windows. The crowd began to cheer; I waited till they closed round the babies, and then I bolted for my hotel.
‘It was the same thing over and over again all through that tour. Every place at which we arrived or from which we went away had the same crowd; and we went and came in howls of laughter. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it did us any good; but somehow it only disappointed a lot of people who came to the play to see the crowd of babies, and wanted their money back when they found they weren’t on. I spoke to some of the Company quietly as to whether they couldn’t manage to send some of the young ‘uns home; but they all told me that domestic arrangements were complete, and that they couldn’t change them. The only fun I had was with one young couple who I knew were only just married. They had with them a little girl about three years old, whom they had dressed up as a boy. When I remonstrated with them they frankly told me that as all the others had children with them they thought it would look too conspicuous without, and so they had hired the child from a poor relation, and were responsible for it for the tour. This made me laugh, and I could say no more.
‘Then there was another drawback from all the children; there wasn’t an infant epidemic within a hundred miles of us that some of them didn’t get - measles, whooping-cough, chicken-pock, mumps, ringworm - the whole lot of them, till the train not only looked like a creche, but smelt like a baby-farm and a hospital in one.