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A Peep Behind the Scenes | Amy C. Walton

Vanity Fair

“Miss Rosie dear, can I speak to you?” said Toby’s voice, the day before the funeral.

“Yes; come in, Toby,” said the child mournfully.

“I should like to see you, Miss Rosie,” said Toby mysteriously. “You won’t be offended, will you? I brought you this.”

Then followed a great fumbling in Toby’s pockets, and from the depths of one of them was produced a large red handkerchief, from which, when he had undone the various knots, he took out most carefully a little parcel, which he laid on Rosalie’s knee.

“It’s only a bit of black, Miss Rosie dear,” he said. “I thought you could put it on tomorrow. You mustn’t mind my seeing after it; there was no one to do it but me.”

And before Rosalie could thank him, he was gone.

When she opened the parcel, she found in it a piece of broad black ribbon, and a little black silk handkerchief—the best poor Toby could obtain. Rosalie’s tears fell afresh as she fastened the ribbon on her hat, to be ready for the sorrowful service on the morrow.

The fair was nearly over, yet some of the shows lingered and there were still crowds of children round the whirligigs and shooting-galleries when the mournful procession went by. The children at first drew back in astonishment; it was an unexpected sight, a coffin on the fairgrounds. But astonishment soon gave way to curiosity, and they crowded round the little band of mourners, and followed them nearly to the cemetery.

Augustus went through the service with an unmoved face. Conscience had been making its final appeal the last few days, and had made one last and mighty effort to arouse Augustus Joyce to repentance. But he had stifled conscience, suppressed it, trampled on it, extinguished it. God’s Holy Spirit had been resisted and quenched already, and the conscience of the impenitent sinner was “seared as with a hot iron!”

All the company of the theater followed Augustus Joyce’s wife to the grave, and more than one of them felt unusually moved as they looked at little sorrowful Rosalie walking by her father’s side. She was quite calm and quiet, and never shed a tear until the service was over, and she was walking through the quiet cemetery a little behind the rest of the party. Then her eyes fell upon Toby, who was walking near her with an air of real heartfelt sorrow on his honest face. He had tied a piece of crape round his hat and a black handkerchief round his neck, out of respect for his late mistress and for his mistress’s little daughter.

Something in the curious way in which the crape was fastened on, something in the thought of the kindly heart which had planned this token of sympathy, touched Rosalie, and brought tears to her eyes for the first time on that sorrowful day.

For sometimes, when a great sorrow is so strong as to shut up with a firm hand those tears which would bring relief to the aching heart, a little thing, a very little thing—perhaps only a flower which our lost one loved, or something she touched for the last time or spoke of on the last day; or, it may be, as with Rosalie, only a spark of kindly sympathy where we have scarcely looked for it, and an expression of feeling which was almost unexpected—such a little thing as this will open in a moment the flood-gates of sorrow, and give us that relief for which we have been longing and yearning in vain.

So Rosalie found it; the moment her eyes rested on Toby’s face and on Toby’s bit of crape, she burst into a flood of tears, and was able to weep out the intenseness of her sorrow. And after that came a calm in her heart; for somehow she felt as if the angels’ song was not yet over, as if they were still singing for joy over her mother’s soul, and as if the Lord, the Good Shepherd, were still saying, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”* (Luke 15:6)

Then they left the seaport town, and set off for a distant fair. And little Rosalie was very solitary in her caravan; everywhere and in everything she felt a sense of loss. Her father came occasionally to see her; but his visits were anything but agreeable, and she always felt relieved when he went away again to the other caravan. Thus the hours by day seemed long and monotonous, with no one inside the caravan to speak to, no one to care for or to nurse. She often climbed beside Toby and watched him driving, and spoke to him of the things which they passed by the way. But the hours by night were the longest of all, when the caravan was drawn up on a lonely moor, or in a thickly-wooded valley. Rosalie was left alone through those long desolate hours, and there was no sound to be heard but the hooting of the owls and the soughing of the wind among the trees. Then indeed little Rosalie felt desolate; and she would kneel upon one of the boxes, and look out towards the other caravans, to be sure that they were near enough to hear her call to them if anything happened. Then she would kneel down and repeat her evening prayer again and again, and entreat the Good Shepherd to carry her in His arms, now that she was so lonely and had no mother.

But they soon arrived at the fair for which they were bound, the acting went on as usual, and Rosalie had once more to take her place on the stage.

Very dreary and dismal and tawdry everything seemed to her. Her little white dress, the dress in which she had lain by her mother’s side, was soiled and tumbled, and the wreath of roses looked crushed and faded, as Rosalie took it from the box. There was no mother to fasten it on her hair, no mother to cheer and comfort her as she went slowly up the theater steps. Her father was looking for her, and told her they were all waiting, and then the play commenced.

Rosalie’s eyes wandered up and down the theater, and she wondered how it was that when she was a very little girl she had thought it so beautiful. It was just the same now as it had been then. The gilding was just as bright, the lamps were just as sparkling, the scenery had been repainted, and was even more showy and striking. Yet it all looked different to Rosalie. It seemed to her very poor and disappointing and paltry, as she looked at it from her place on the stage.

And then she thought of her mother, and of the different place in which she was spending that very evening. Rosalie had been reading about it that afternoon before she dressed herself for the play. She thought of the streets of gold on which her mother was walking—pure gold, not like the tinsel and gilt of the theater. She thought of the white robe, clean and fair, in which her mother was dressed, so unlike her little tumbled, soiled frock. She thought of the new song her mother was singing, so different from the coarse, low songs that were being sung in the theater. She thought of the music to which her mother was listening, the voice of harpers harping with their harps, and she thought how different it was from the noisy band close to her, and from the clanging music which her father’s company was making. She thought, too, of the words which her mother was saying to the Good Shepherd, perhaps even then: “Thou art worthy… for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed [me] to God by thy blood.”* (Revelation 5:9) How different were these words from the silly, foolish, profane words she herself was repeating!

Oh, did her mother think of her? How little Rosalie wondered if she did! And, oh, how often she longed to be with her mother in the Golden City, instead of in the hot, wearying theater!

And so the weeks went on; fair after fair was visited; her father’s new play was repeated again and again, till it seemed very old to Rosalie; the theater was set up and taken down, and all went on much as usual.

There was no change in the child’s life, except that she had found a new occupation and pleasure. And this was teaching Toby to read.

“Miss Rosie,” he had said one day, “I wish I could read the Testament!”

“Can’t you read, Toby?”

“Not a word, missie; I only wish I could. I’ve not been what I ought to be, Miss Rosie; and I do want to do different. Will you teach me?”

And so it came to pass that Rosalie began to teach poor Toby to read. And after that she might often be seen perched on the seat beside Toby, with her Testament in her hand, pointing out one word after another to him as they drove slowly along. And when Toby was tired of reading, Rosalie would read to him some story out of the Bible. But the one they both loved best, and the one they read more often than any other, was the parable of the Lost Sheep. Rosalie was never tired of reading that, nor Toby of hearing it.

There was one thing for which Rosalie was very anxious, and that was to meet little Mother Manikin again. At every fair they visited she looked with eager eyes for the “Royal Show of Dwarfs”; but they seemed to have taken a different circuit from that of the theater party, for fair after fair went by without Rosalie’s wish being gratified. But at length one afternoon, the last afternoon of the fair, Toby came running to the caravan with an eager face.

“Miss Rosie,” he said, “I’ve just found the Royal Show of Dwarfs. They’re here, Miss Rosie; and as soon as I caught sight of the picture over the door, thinks I to myself, ‘Miss Rosie will be glad.’ So I went up to the door and spoke to the conductor (they’ve got a new one, Miss Rosie), and he said they were going tonight, so I ran off at once to tell you—I knew you would like to see little Mother Manikin again.”

“Oh, dear!” said the child, “I am glad.”

“You’ll have to go at once, Miss Rosie; they’re to start tonight the moment the performance is over; they’re due at another fair tomorrow.”

“How was it that you didn’t see the show before, Toby?”

“I don’t know how it was, Miss Rosie, unless because it’s at the very far end of the fair, and I haven’t happened to be down that way before. Now, Miss Rosie dear, if you like I’ll take you.”

“But I daren’t leave the caravan, Toby, and Father has the key; it wouldn’t be safe, would it, with all these people about?”

“No,” said Toby, as he looked down on the surging mass of people, “I don’t suppose it would; you’d have all your things stolen, Miss Rosie.”

“What shall I do?” said the child.

“Well, if you wouldn’t mind going by yourself, Miss Rosie, I’ll keep guard here.”

Rosalie looked rather fearfully at the dense crowd beneath her; she had never wandered about the fair, but had kept quietly in the caravan, as her mother had wished her to do so; she knew very little of what was going on in other parts of the ground.

“Where is it, Toby?” she asked.

“Right away at the other end of the field, Miss Rosie. Do you hear that clanging noise?”

“Yes,” said Rosalie, “very well; it sounds as if all the tin trays in the town were being thrown one upon another!”

“That’s the Giant’s Cave, Miss Rosie, where that noise is, and the Dwarf Show is close by. Keep that noise in your ears, and you will be sure to find it.”

So Rosalie left Toby in the caravan, and went down into the pushing crowd. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and the fair was full of people. They were going in different directions, and it was hard work for Rosalie to get through them. It was only by very slow degrees that she could make her way through the fair.

It was a curious scene. A long row of bright gilded shows was on one side of her, and at the door of each stood a man addressing the crowd, and setting forth the special merits and attractions of his show. First, there were the Waxworks, with a row of specimen figures outside, and their champion proclaiming—

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the most select show in the fair! Here is amusement and instruction combined! Here is nothing to offend the moral and artistic taste! You may see here Abraham offering up Aaron, and Henry IV in prison; Cain and Abel in the Garden of Eden, and William the Conqueror driving out the ancient Britons!”

Then, as Rosalie pressed on through the crowd, she was jostled in front of the show of the Giant Boy and Girl. Here there was a great concourse of people, gazing at the huge picture of an enormously fat Highlander, which was hung over the door. There was a curious band in front of this show, consisting of a man beating a drum with his right hand and turning a barrel organ with his left, and another man blowing vociferously through a trumpet. In spite of all this noise, a third man was standing on a raised platform, addressing the crowds beneath.

“I say, I say! now exhibiting, the great Scotch brother and sister, the greatest man and woman ever exhibited! All for a dime; all for a dime! children half-price! You’re just in time, you’re in capital time; I’m so glad to see you in such good time. Come now, take your seats, take your seats!”

Rosalie struggled on, but another enormous crowd stopped her way. This time it was in front of the show of marionettes, or dancing dolls. On the platform outside the show was a man, shaking a doll dressed as an iron-clad soldier.

“These are not living actors, ladies and gentlemen,” cried the man outside. “Yet if you come inside you will see wonderfully artistic feats! None of the figures are alive, which makes the performance so much more interesting and pleasing. Now’s your chance, ladies and gentlemen! Now’s your chance! There’s plenty of room. It isn’t often I can tell you so; it is the rarest occurrence, but now there is nice room! Now’s your chance!”

Past all these shows Rosalie pushed, longing to get on yet unable to hurry.

Then she came to a corner of the fair where a Cheap Jack was crying his wares.

“Here’s a watch,” said the man, holding it up, “cost five dollars! I couldn’t let you have it for a penny less! I’ll give anyone ten dollars that will get me a watch like this for five dollars in any shop in the town. Come now, anyone say five dollars?” giving a great slap on his knee. “Five dollars; five dollars! Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll take off four dollars—I’ll say a dollar! Come, a dollar! One dollar! just a dollar! Well, I’ll be generous, I’ll say fifty cents; I’ll take off a half-dollar. Come now, fifty cents!” This was said with another tremendous slap on his knee. Then, without stopping a moment, he went from fifty to forty-five, then forty, thirty-five, thirty. “Well, I don’t mind telling my dearest relation and friend, that I’ll let you have it for a quarter. Come now, twenty-five, twenty, fifteen, a dime, a nickel. Come now, five cents! Only a nickel!”

On this a boy held out his hand, and became for a nickel the possessor of the watch, which the man had declared only two minutes before he would not part with for five dollars!

Rosalie pressed on and turned the corner. Here there was another row of shows: the Fat Boy, whose huge clothes were being paraded outside as an earnest of what was to be seen within; the Lady Without Arms, whose wonderful feats of knitting, sewing, writing, and tea-making were being rehearsed to the crowd; the Entertaining theater, outside which was a stuffed performing cat playing on a drum, and two tiny children, of about three years old, dressed up in the most extraordinary costumes, dancing with tambourines in their hands; the Picture Gallery, in which you could see Adam and Eve, Queen Elizabeth, and other distinguished persons: all these were on Rosalie’s right hand, and on her left was a long succession of stalls, on which were sold gingerbread, brandysnap, nuts, biscuits, coconuts, boiled peas, hot potatoes, and sweets of all kinds. Here was a man selling cheap walking-sticks, and there another offering the boys a moustache and a pair of spectacles for a penny each, and assuring them that if they would only lay down the small sum of two cents, they might become the greatest swells in the town.

How glad Rosalie was to get past them all, and to hear the clanging sound from the Giant’s Cave growing nearer and nearer. And at last, to her joy, she arrived before the “Royal Show of Dwarfs.” “Now,” she thought, “I shall see Mother Manikin.”

The performance was just about to begin, and the conductor was standing at the door inviting people to enter.

“Now, miss,” he said, turning to Rosalie, “now’s your time; only a penny, and none of them more than three feet high! Showing now! Showing now!”

Rosalie paid the money, and pressed eagerly into the show. The little people had just appeared, and were bowing and paying compliments to the company. But Mother Manikin was not there. Rosalie’s eyes wandered up and down the show, and peered behind the curtain at the end, but Mother Manikin was nowhere to be seen. Rosalie could not watch the performance, so anxious was she to know if her dear little friend were within. At last the entertainment was over, and the giant and dwarfs shook hands with the company before ushering them out.

Rosalie was the last to leave, and when the tall thin giant came up to her, she looked up timidly into his face and said, “Please, sir, may I see Mother Manikin?”

“Who are you, my child?” said the giant majestically.

“I’m Rosalie, sir—little Rosalie Joyce. Don’t you remember that Mother Manikin sat up with my mother when she was ill?”

The child’s lips quivered as she mentioned her mother.

“Oh, dear me! yes, I remember it; of course I do,” said the giant.

“Of course, of course,” echoed the three little dwarfs.

“Then please will you take me to Mother Manikin?”

“With the greatest of pleasure, if she were here,” said the giant, with a bow. “But the unfortunate part of the business is that she is not here!”

“No, she’s not here,” said the dwarfs.

“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” said the child, with a little cry of disappointment.

“Very sorry, indeed, my dear,” said the giant. “I’m afraid I sha’n’t do as well?”

“No,” said Rosalie mournfully. “It was Mother Manikin I wanted; she knew all about my mother.”

“Very sorry indeed, my dear,” repeated the giant “Very sorry, very sorry!” re-echoed the dwarfs.

“Where is Mother Manikin?” asked the child.

Why, the fact is, my dear, she has retired from the concern. Made her fortune, you see. At least, having saved a nice sum of money, she determined to leave the show. Somehow, she grew tired of entertaining company, and told us ‘old age must have its liberties.’ ”

“Then where is she?” asked Rosalie.

“She has taken two little rooms in a town in the south of the county; very comfortable, my dear. You must call and see her some day.”

“Oh, dear!” said little Rosalie; “I’m so very, very sorry she is not here!”

“Poor child!” said the giant kindly.

“Poor child! poor child!” said the dwarfs as kindly.

Rosalie turned to go, but the giant waved her back.

“A glass of wine, Susannah!” he said.

“Yes, a glass of wine,” said Master Puck and Miss Mab.

“Oh, no,” said the child; “no, thank you, not for me!”

“A cup of tea, Susannah!” called the giant.

“Oh, no,” said Rosalie; “I must go. Toby is keeping guard for me; I mustn’t stay a minute.”

“Won’t you?” said the giant reproachfully; “then goodbye, my dear. I wish I could escort you home, but we mustn’t make ourselves too cheap, you know. Goodbye, goodbye!”

“Goodbye, my dear, goodbye!” said Master Puck and Miss Mab.

So Rosalie sorrowfully turned homewards, and struggled out through the surging mass of people. The conductor at the door pointed out to her a shorter way to the theater caravan. She was glad to get out of the clanging sound of the Giant’s Cave, from the platform of which a man was assuring the crowd that if only they would come to this show, they would be sure to come again that very evening, and would bring all their dearest friends with them.

Then the child went through a long covered bazaar, in which was a multitude of toys, wax dolls, wooden dolls, china dolls, composition dolls, rag dolls, and dolls of all descriptions; together with wooden horses, donkeys, elephants, and every kind of toy in which children delight. After this she came out upon a more open space, where a Happy Family was being displayed to an admiring throng.

It consisted of a large cage fastened to a cart, which was drawn by a comfortable-looking donkey. Inside the cage were various animals, living on the most friendly terms with each other—a little dog, in a smart coat, playing with several small white rats, a monkey hugging a little white kitten, a white cat, which had been dyed a brilliant yellow, superintending the sports of a number of mice and dormice; and a duck, a hen, and a guinea pig, which were conversing together in one corner of the cage. Over this motley assembly was a board which announced that this Happy Family was supported entirely by voluntary contributions; a woman was going about among the crowd shaking a tin plate at them, and crying out against their stinginess if they refused to contribute.

Rosalie passed the Happy Family with difficulty, and made her way down another street in the fair. On one side of her were shooting-galleries making a deafening noise, and on the other were all manner of contrivances for making money. First came machines for the trial of strength, consisting of a flat pasteboard figure of the Shah, or some other distinguished person, holding on his chest a dial-plate, the hand of which indicated the amount of strength possessed by any one who hit a certain part of the machine with all his might.

“Come now! have you seen the Shah?” cried the owner of one of these machines. “Come now, try your strength! I believe you’re the strongest fellow that has passed by today! Come now, let’s see what you can do!”

The required penny was paid, and there followed a tremendous blow, a tinkling of bells on the pasteboard figure, and an announcement from the owner of the show of the number of pounds which the man had moved.

Then there were the weighing-machines, armchairs covered with red velvet, in which you were invited to sit and be weighed; there was the sponge-dealer, a Turk in a turban, who confided to the crowd, in broken English, not only the price of his sponges, but also many touching and interesting details of his personal history. There was also the usual gathering of professional beggars, some without arms and legs, others deaf, or dumb, or blind, or all three; cripples and imbeciles and idiots, who go from fair to fair and town to town, and get so much money that they make a dollar a day, and live in luxury all the year round.

The child went quickly past them all, and came upon the region of whirligigs, four or five of which were at work, and were whirling in different directions, and made her feel so dizzy that she hardly knew where she was going.

Oh, how glad she was to see her own caravan again!—to get safely out of the restless, noisy multitude, out of the sound of the shouting of the show-people and the swearing of the drunken men and women, and out of the pushing and jostling of the crowd. She thought to herself, as she went up the caravan steps, that if she had her own way she would never go near a fair again; and oh, how she wondered that the people who had their own way came to it in such numbers!

Toby was looking anxiously for her from the caravan window.

“Miss Rosie dear,” he said, “I thought you were never coming; I got quite frightened about you; you’re such a little mite of a thing to go fighting your own way in that great big crowd.”

“Oh, Toby,” said Rosalie, “I haven’t seen Mother Manikin!” and she told him what she had heard from the giant about Mother Manikin.

“I am sorry,” said Toby. “Then you have had all your walk for nothing?”

“Yes,” said the child; “and I never mean to go through the fair again if I can possibly help it—never again!”