The Little Theater
It was the next evening. The fair was once more in its glory, and crowded with an admiring throng. The great shows were again illuminated, and three rows of brilliant stars shone forth from the little theater belonging to Rosalie’s father. He had been out all day, strolling about the town, and had only returned in time to make preparation for the evening’s entertainment.
“Norah,” said her husband, as he put his head in at the door of the caravan, “surely you mean to come and take your part tonight?”
“I can’t, Augustus, and you would know it, if you stayed long enough with me. I’ve been coughing nearly the whole day.”
“Well, I wish you would get better soon; it’s very awkward to have to fill your part up every time. Conrad has to take it, and every one can see he’s not used to it, he’s so clumsy and slow.”
“I’ll come as soon as ever I can,” said the poor wife, with a sigh.
“It’s to be hoped you will,” said her husband. “Women are always fancying they are ill. They lie still thinking about it, and nursing themselves up, long after a man would have been at his work again. It’s half laziness, that’s what it is!” said Augustus fiercely.
“If you felt as ill as I do, Augustus,” said his wife, “I’m sure you wouldn’t do any work.”
“Hold your tongue!” said her husband. “I know better than that. Well, mind you have Rosalie ready in time; we shall begin early tonight.”
Little Rosalie had crept to her mother’s side, and was crying quietly at her father’s rough words.
“Stop crying this minute, child!” said Augustus harshly. “Wipe your eyes, you great baby! Do you think you’ll be fit to come on the stage if they’re red and swollen with crying? Do you hear me? Stop at once, or it will be the worse for you!” he shouted, as he shut the caravan door.
“Rosalie, darling,” said her mother, “you mustn’t cry. Your father will be so angry, and it’s time you got ready. What a noise there is in the fair already!” said the poor woman, holding her aching head.
Rosalie wiped her eyes and washed her face, and then brought out from one of the boxes the dress in which she was to act at the play. It was a white muslin dress, looped up with pink roses, and there was a wreath of paper roses to wear in her hair. She dressed herself before a tiny looking-glass, and then went to her mother to have the wreath of roses fastened on her head.
The poor woman raised herself in bed, and arranged her little girl’s long tresses.
What a contrast Rosalie looked to the rest of the caravan! The shabby furniture, the thin, wasted mother, the dirty, torn little frock she had just laid aside, were quite out of keeping with the pretty, little white-robed figure which stood by the bed.
At length her father’s voice called her, and after giving her mother a last kiss, and placing some water near her on the box, in case a violent fit of coughing should come on, Rosalie ran quickly down the caravan steps, and rushed into the brilliantly-lighted theater. A crowd of people stared at her as she flitted past and disappeared up the theater steps.
The audience had not yet been admitted, so Rosalie crept into the room behind the stage, in which her father’s company was assembled. They all looked tired and cross, for this was the last night of the fair, and they had had little sleep while it lasted.
At length Augustus announced that it was time to begin, and they all went out upon a platform, which was erected half way up the outside of the theater, just underneath the three rows of illuminated stars. Here they danced, and sang, and shook tambourines, in order to beguile the people to enter. Then they disappeared within, and a crowd of eager spectators immediately rushed up the steps, paid their admission money, and took their seats in the theater.
After this the play commenced, Augustus acting as manager, and keeping his company up to their various parts. It was a foolish play, and in some of the parts there was a strong mixture of very objectionable language. Yet it was highly appreciated by the audience, and met with vociferous applause.
There were many young girls there, some of them servants in respectable families, where they enjoyed every comfort. Yet they looked up at little Rosalie with eyes of admiration and envy. They thought her life was much happier than theirs, and that her lot was greatly to be desired. They looked at the white dress and the pink roses, and contrasted them with their own warm but homely garments. They watched the pretty girl going through her part gracefully and easily, and they contrasted her work with theirs. How interesting, how delightful, they thought, to be doing this, instead of scrubbing floors, or washing clothes, or nursing children!
But they knew nothing of the life behind the scenes; of the sick mother, the wretched home, the poor and insufficient food, the dirty, ragged frock. They knew nothing of the bitter tears which had just been wiped away, nor of the weary aching of the little feet which were dancing so lightly over the stage.
And those little feet became more and more weary as the night went on. As soon as the play was over, the people rushed out into the fair to seek for fresh amusement; but the actors had no rest. Once more they appeared on the platform to attract a fresh audience, and then the same play was repeated, the same songs were sung, the same words were said—fresh to the people who were listening, but, oh, how stale and monotonous to the actors themselves!
And so it went on all night. As soon as one exhibition was over, another began, and the theater was filled and refilled, long after the clock of the neighbouring church had struck the hour of twelve.
At last it was over. The last audience had left, the brilliant stars disappeared, and Rosalie was at liberty to creep back to her mother. So weary and exhausted was she, that she could hardly drag herself up the caravan steps. She opened the door very gently, that she might not disturb her mother, and then she tried to undress herself. But she was aching in every limb, and sitting down on the box beside her mother’s bed, she fell asleep, her little, weary head resting on her mother’s pillow.
Poor little woman! She ought to have been laid in a quiet little nest hours ago, instead of being exposed to the close, hot, stifling air of the theater through all the long hours of a weary night.
In about an hour’s time her mother woke, and found her little girl sleeping in her uncomfortable position, her white dress unfastened, and the pink roses from her hair fallen on the ground. Weak as she was, the poor mother dragged herself out of bed to help her tired child to undress.
“Rosalie, dear,” she said tenderly, “wake up!”
But for some time Rosalie did not stir, and, when her mother touched her, she sat up, and said, as if in her sleep, “ ‘Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost.’ ”
“She is dreaming of her picture, poor child,” said the mother to herself.
Then Rosalie woke, and shivered as she felt the cold night air on her bare neck and arms. Very gently the poor, weak mother helped her to take off her white dress and her small ragged petticoats; and then the child crept into bed and into her mother’s arms.
“Poor, little tired lamb!” said the mother, as the weary child nestled up to her.
“Am I the lamb?” said Rosalie, in a sleepy voice.
The mother did not answer, but kissed her child passionately, and then lay awake by her side, weeping and coughing by turns till the morning dawned.