The Romance of Lively Creek The Mystery
Busy all next day, I found in the evening that the tragedienne had been indisposed, and had kept her room. Harry Beaufort, who informed me, said that she had intended to throw up the engagement, and quit the town, but that he had persuaded her to remain. "I do not want her to do anything that may appear strange," he said. Then, sitting in the little room off the bar, underneath the picture of the Brighton Mail, he told me the truth. He intended to marry Mademoiselle Pauline. "But," said I, "do you know anything about her? I will tell you frankly that I don't like her. She is a mystery. Why should she travel about alone in this way? Do you know anything of her past life?"
"So much the worse. One can always obtain the fullest account of an actress's life, because she is a notable person, and the public takes an interest in the minutest particulars concerning notable people. If, as she says, she is the daughter of an actor, fifty people of the stage can tell you all about her family. Have you made enquiries?"
"She came from California," said he. "How should they know her? Come, let us go into the theatre."
I went in, and saw, to my astonishment, the cynical Sporboy seated in the front row, applauding vehemently, and sliming 'Miami' with his eye as a boar slimes a rabbit it intends to devour.
"Capital!" he was exclaiming, "Capital! What a waist! What an ankle! What a charming devikin it is! Black blood there, boys! Supple as an eel. Ho, ho! Good! Our Pauline shall receive the homage of her Sporboy in the splendid neatness of a whisky hot!"
The stage, being of necessity but three feet from the front seats, these exclamations were distinctly heard by the actress, who seemed to shiver at them, as a high-bred horse shivers at the sight of some horrible animal. But she never turned her flashing black eyes to where the empurpled vagabond wheezed and gloated. She seemed, I thought, rather to avoid that fishy eye, and to feel relieved when Sporboy went out for that "splendid neatness," and did not return. I complimented her--in my official capacity--upon the success of her performance, but she seemed tired and anxious to get to the hotel. I offered to escort her, and when on the steps was met by Sporboy.
He lifted his hat with a flourish which made the rings on his fat hands flash in the gaslight. "Introduce me!--Nay--then, I will introduce myself. John Sporboy, madam, late of Manilla, 'Frisco, Popocatapetl, and Ranker's Gully. John Sporboy, who has himself fretted his little hour upon the stage, and has owned no less than ten theatres in various parts of the civilized world. John Sporboy craves an introduction to Mademoiselle Pauline Christoval."
She paused a moment, and then--probably seeing that opposition might expose her to insult--said to me: "Pray introduce your friend, if he is so desirous."
"Spoken like a Plantagenet," cried Sporboy. "Mademoiselle, I kiss your hands. If you will permit me, I'll sing the songs of other years, of joyful bliss or war, and if my songs should make you weep, I'll touch the gay guitar!"
"Pray come upstairs," said she, coldly; "all the people are staring at us."
The Great Sporboy was never greater than on that well-remembered evening. He talked incessantly, and when he was not devoting himself to the "elegant simplicity of whisky hot," he was singing Canadian boat songs to his own piano accompaniment, or relating anecdotes of his triumphs in Wall Street, his adventures on the Pacific Slope, or his lucky hits in every kind of speculation.
"I have been through fire and water. I know most things. I have been up some very tall trees in my time, and looked around upon some very queer prospects. You can't deceive me, and my advice is, don't try, for, if you do, I'm bound to look ugly, and when I knock a man down, ma'am, it takes four more to carry him away, and then there's five gone! Tra-la-la! Pu-r-r-r!" And he ran up and down the keys with his fat fingers.
"I think Mademoiselle Pauline looks tired," said I.
"Oh, no," she returned, uneasily. "Not at all. Captain Sporboy is so amusing, so vivacious--so young, may I say?"
"You may, Mademoiselle," said Sporboy, "say what you like."
To lovely women, Sporboy was ever as gentle as the gazelle.
"Pray"--suddenly wheeling round upon the music-stool and, liquorishly, facing her--"have you heard lately from your sainted MOTHER, ma'am?"
They say that a creature shot through the heart often leaps into the air before it falls dead. Mademoiselle Pauline must have received at that instant some such fatal wound, for she leapt to her feet, standing for an instant gazing wildly at us, and then sank back into her seat, speechless and pale.
"What do you mean? I do not understand you," she gasped out at length; and then, as though her quick intellect had assured her that deceit was useless--"I have not seen my mother since she left me, seven years ago, at St. Louis."
"As she left me once before!" said Sporboy, with savage triumph in his bloodshot eyes. "I thought I knew you, Miss Mannelita. 'Should old acquaintance be forgot?' eh? I hope not."
I rose to go, faltering some lame excuse, but Sporboy stopped me. "Nay, my young and juvenile friend (as I used to say in Chadband), be not hasty. This lady and I are old friends. 'We met, 'twas in a crowd;' and I thought she would shun me. Ho, ho! Let us drink to this merry meeting! For 'when may we three meet again?' I will order Moet and Chandon."
"I think, Sporboy, that you have drunk enough." (She was sitting motionless, waiting, as it seemed, for the issue of events.) "Let us go home."
"Home. It's home I fain would be--home, home, home, in my ain countree! Eh! Miss Pauline, 'I'd be a butterfly born in a bower.' EH?"
"If you have anything to say to me, sir," (the dusky pale of her cheeks illuminated by two spots of crimson) "you had better say it."
"I, my enslaver? No, not I, not I, not I! Was it Vestris used to sing?" (Humming it) "'I'll be no submissive, w i-fe, no, not I, no, not I!' Would you like to be a submissive wife, ma'am? God help the man who gets you! Adieu, adieu! 'Hamlet, r-r-remember me!'"
"Good heavens, Sporboy," said I, when I got him outside, "what on earth did you go on in that way for? What do you know of her?"
"Ho, ho!" chuckled Sporboy, with thickening utterance. "What do I know of her? Tra-la-la! Tillyvalley! No good, you may depend."
"Tell me what you do know then. Young Beaufort wishes to marry her."
"I know," said Sporboy, with another chuckle; "he told me. He's gone to Melbourne by the night coach to make arrangements."
"When will he be back?"
"The day after to-morrow. Tra-la-la! Oh haste to the wedding, and let us be gay, for young Pauline is dressed in her bridal array. She's wooed and she's won, by a Beaufort's proud son, and Pauline, Pauline, Pauline's a lady."
"But, Sporboy, if you know anything absolutely discreditable about her, you ought to tell me."
"Not to-night, dear boy. To-morrow! 'To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, creeps on this pretty pace from day to day, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools away to dusky death.' Where's the brief candle? So to bed, to bed!"
All night I tossed uneasily. The strange mystery of this handsome and defiant woman affected me. Who, and what was she? What did the profligate old adventurer know of her? Was she innocent and maligned, or a guilty creature to be unmasked and abandoned to her own fortune? The hot morning steamed into my window, and woke me from some strange dream, in which such conjectures as these had taken visible shape to torment me. I approach the lattice-work, and distinguished the tones of Sporboy and Mademoiselle Pauline.
"Why do you wish to persecute me?" she said. "I am not interfering with your schemes. This boy is not a friend of yours. I have not seen you for years."
"No, my charming child, you have not. You thought me dead, eh?"
"I had hoped so often," said she, slowly.
"But we don't die young in our family, my dear," he laughed. "'We live and love together through many a changing year'--ay, and hate together! Ho, ho!"
"What do you want to do then?"
"To make you suffer for your mother--for your infernal wretch of a half-bred, Spanish-blooded, treacherous devil of a mother--my young lamb."
"By waiting until your lover comes back with his licence in his pocket, and then telling him as much of your history as I know, and as much more as I can invent."
She fell upon her knees.
"O, no, no! You will not do this. I will go away to-night, to-day, this hour. I never injured you. If you knew the life I have led. I am weary, weary. This boy loves me. He is honest, and, and----"
"And rich, my Manuelita?"
"I cannot marry a poor man. You should know that. I have suffered poverty too long."
"But have you not your Profession? Are you not an eminent tragedienne? Do not the diggers throw the nuggets? I am ashamed of you, my Manuelita," and he began to whistle as though intensely amused.
She rose to her feet. "My profession! I hate it! Hate it! Hate it! I never wished to belong to it. I was forced into it. Forced by my mother, and by you----"
"And by others, my pigeon!"
"When I was thirteen you sold me. When I was fifteen I was a woman. I am thirty now, and do you think that fifteen years of sordid cares and desperate strifes have led me to love my art--as you call it? An art! It is an art. But you, and men like you, have made a trade of it--a trade in which bare bosoms and blonde hair fetch the highest prices."
"Gently, sweet Manuelita! Tra-la-la-la! Tum-tum! Tra-la-la-la!" and he stopped his whistle to hum, beating time with his hand on the verandah-rail.
"All my life. I have been told to get money--money--money--money. Good looks are worth--money. Health is worth--money. I am taught to sing, to play, to dance, to talk, that I may bring--money. Well, you have had your profit out of me. Now, I am going to sell myself for my own benefit!"
He stopped whistling and caught her by the wrist.
"I tell you what you are going to do. You are going to do just as I tell you, until this time to-morrow morning. You are going to stop acting, for I won't let you out of my sight. (Don't start; I will pay the salaries of your people.) You are going to remain with me all day. We will visit the claims, the shops, the museum, the places of interest, and this time to-morrow your lover will arrive, and I shall have the honour of relating to him the particulars of your lively career in the United States, Mexico, California, and the Great Pacific Slope."
"I will not obey you. Let me go."
"Does my Manuelita wish that I relate her history to the world then? That I print it in the local paper; that I tell my friend Craven, the police-magistrate and warden that----" and he approached and whispered something in her ear which I could not catch.
There was silence for a moment, and then the sound of suppressed sobs. Sporboy had conquered, for he walked away humming, and in a few minutes I saw him pass out of the door below me, and--with no trace of the debauch of last night upon him--call out to the waiter, "Mademoiselle has asked me to breakfast, Chips. When the heart of a man is oppressed with cares, the mists are dispelled when a woman appears! Rum and milk, Chips."