THERE is a pause of a few minutes after the infant Charles Godfrey has finally closed his Gibus against the small shirt-front, and bowed himself off. The crowded, smoking, talking hall resents the pause. Two performances a night are given at Barling's, and the two-penny gallery knows that as this (the first) must close at 9.15, every moment is golden. The twopenny gallery whistles the Hoxton signal; it throws nutshells; it satirises the red and blue curtain; it reproaches the management bitterly.
"Pull up the blind, mister. Let's see wot you're a-doin' of."
"Do wike up there. You're snorin' something friful."
"Ply the gime, ply the gime." (This as though it were a slow match of football.)
The attendant, in brass-buttoned frock-coat, demands silence. When he obtains it, a shrill treble in the front row speaks an encouraging word.
"Don't you 'urry, mister. To-morrer night will do."
On the o.p. side a small board projects itself, and the hall groans as it reads:—
"Thenks." The voice belongs to Shrill Treble, and speaks bitterly. "Thenks. I've 'ad some."
The curtain goes up, and a back cloth is let down. Back cloth presents a rather noble mansion, with gravel paths encircling a flower plot of amazing richness of colour, and a waterfall and a rustic bridge, and a youthful pair, arm-in-arm, looking into each other's eyes with much tenderness. The gallery says to the painted couple, "Nort-y! norty!" and settles down into something like quietude. A bell rings. The conductor of the band (of four) simultaneously bobs to his colleagues, draws bow across his violin, and stamps one foot. A confused prelude. It is played again, and at its fourth bar there hurries on the stage, with a flattering suggestion of having been running a long way, in order not to keep us waiting——
It is Miss Extra-Turn. Miss Extra-Turn, thin young lady in pale blue, somewhat flat as to figure, and with bare arms just a little angular and red at the elbows, but with a smile that atones for all. The hall revives at the sight of the smile. Miss Extra-Turn inclines her head genially, and coughs in a lady-like manner under cover of a blue-gloved hand. Then she sings:—
"You may talk of England's greatness in the brave old days of yore,
When Lord Nelsin fought, and Wellinton also;
And no doubt their 'earts were true, boys—staunch an' true onto the core
When they sallied forth to meet the foreign foe.
(Now with much decision, as one who is forced, against her inclination, to speak her mind.)
"But I think that our brave soldiers and our silors nowadays
Are just as good as ever in a fight;
For our gallant tars will show 'em that Britannia rules the waves,
And our soldier boys will all defend the right."
Miss Extra-Turn commendably spares no effort to make her argument clear. She has set out obviously to administer a stinging reproof to the pessimistic school, and she means to do it effectually. When she says "soldier," she stands upright, and puts her hands down straight at the sides of her pale blue skirt. When she says "’earts," she slaps herself quite hard above the pale blue bodice. When she says "sallied," she starts so threateningly towards the conductor, that he dodges back, under the impression that his life is in peril. And when she says "defend the right," she clasps her hands, and looks upwards reverently, and, the notes being high, makes a wry face. In a general way, Miss Extra-Turn speaks the words accompanying high notes, and thus evades exertion. The words, "Defend the right," are, however, shrieked with a fine recklessness.
"'Old 'im! 'old 'im! 'old ’im!"
It is Shrill Treble's interjection. He makes the suggestion as though Miss Extra-Turn's voice were a runaway horse.
"Don't let me ketch you again," begs the attendant. 'Cos if I do——"
"I'll look awfter that," answers Shrill Treble.
Three verses. At the end of each a chorus so easy to secure, that at the last Miss Extra-Turn is relieved from the necessity of either singing it or speaking it. The hall chants it loudly what time Miss Extra-Turn slaps herself, and hugs herself, and sallies forth to meet the foreign foe. As the end nears she bunches up her pale blue skirts, and backs to the exit
"Boys that are so ready, faithful, true, and steady;
For England is good old England still."
Much enthusiasm; The gallery stamps: the front row kicks at the boarding. She returns immediately, and with beaming countenance, sends kisses to the enthusiastic gallery. Shrill Treble leans over and speaks in tones of languorous love—
"Oh, you cough-drop!"
"I shall ev to out you," says the attendant sadly, "I know I shall afore you've done."
The interval seems long without Miss Extra-Turn, but it is in effect but two minutes. Then the ring. Swift symphony. Comes Miss Extra-Turn; this time in yellow with a bunch of imitation roses at her breast.
"Si-lence there, if you please."
The hall is hushed.
"I don't like them flahrs," remarks Shrill Treble.
"And I don't like you," says the attendant definitely, "and if you don't——"
"Sil-ence there," repeats Shrill Treble.
It was a song of the order dramatic:—
"See the pore boy at his crossing,
Working hard to get his bread,
Everybody looks down on him,
Both his parents dear are dead
(Footlights down. A green, ghostly light is flashed on Miss Extra-Turn. She raises her hands in attitude of horror, and speaks impressively.)
Suddenly a horse comes bolting,
Carriage with the Lady Kate,
See the pore boy flies——"
(Pause with much dodging of head, as she peers into the auditorium; then triumphantly)
"——he 'olds 'im,
Saves my lady——"
(Green light off. Miss Extra-Turn smiles with great relief.)
"——from her fate."
If this song has a fault (and even minor poets of the music hall are not perfect), it is that it possesses no chorus. This is why, despite the fact that each verse contains a separate agony and different coloured limelight; despite, too, the fact that Miss Extra-Turn gets quite hoarse with excitement, there is less applause. When she goes off there is no recall, and consequently no envoy of kisses to the gallery.
"What ev I done?" demands Shrill Treble. He draws one arm across his eyes with much show of feeling, "She no longer loves me. She no longer loves me."
Shrill Treble's entourage is amused, but the attendant somehow does not seem to perceive the humour of the remark.
"For two pins," says the attendant threateningly, "for just about two pins I'd chuck you."
"He's got the needle," explains Shrill Treble to his friends (but he explains it warily, in a quieter tone), "and nah he wants pins."
Prelude. Miss Extra-Turn once mere.
Short skirts this time, indicative of increased gaiety of manner and a less profound attention to the problems of life. She wears a big straw hat, and bites one end of a belaced handkerchief to show how artless she is. It is a merry air:
"I am the shyest girl on earth,
I couldn't say boo to a goose,
I've been quite like it from my birth,
It seems that dancing is not Miss Extra-Turn's forte. She sways gently to and fro, but it is only a movement, and there is no excuse for Shrill Treble's prompt request of "Over, over." Nothing, it is clear, is further from her thoughts than a somersault.
"Shy, shy, dreadfully shy,
I can't help it reely,
Oh my, don't wink your eye,
I'm such a little seely."
The gallery likes the chorus very much. It shouts it with amazing enthusiasm; at the third line of the refrain it winks as one man. When Miss Extra-Turn bows herself finally off there is much uproar. Above it all the voice of Shrill Treble insistently as one armed with authority—
The attendant comes heavily down the gangway. He taps Shrill Treble on the shoulder.
"You're a bit too funny," says the attendant critically. "Shunt!"
And takes his shoulder. Shrill Treble, resigning himself to the inevitable with excellent tact, affects to take from his pocket a non-existent watch of surpassing value.
"Grite 'eavens!" He is much astonished at the hour. "I must be off. Noin o'clock, and I promised to meet her at the stige-door at free minutes to. So long, you swells."