Court Royal/Chapter XXVIII

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Court Royal by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter XXVIII. A Playbill

Mr. Lazarus left the house in the afternoon, and Joanna was alone. She at once set to work to make the kitchen tidy. She scoured the grease and rust from the pans, she washed the table, she sandpapered the fire-irons, she carried all the broken crockery to the ash-heap and smashed it up there, then replaced the pieces with sound articles from the stores above. She knew where there was a glazier’s diamond, with it she cut a pane, she made her own putty, and reglazed the broken window.

Then she went upstairs to an attic room, with a pail of water, soap, and a scrubbing-brush, and washed the floor. She took up, piece by piece, a small iron bed, and put it together in the room; she fitted it with mattress, blankets, sheets, and coverlet. She dragged up a washhand-stand, and hung a looking-glass against the wall. She carried up a chair and a towel-horse, and then looked round with triumph. She had made for herself a very decent bedroom. One article of furniture was wanting—a chest of drawers. This she did not convey to her room, partly because she had nothing of her own to put in the drawers, and partly because it was too heavy for her to move unassisted. In the window she set her precious pot of lilies of the valley.

Then, tired with her journey and exertion, she seated herself on the bed, rested her head in both hands, and her elbows on her knees, and gave way to tears.

The contrast between the cleanliness and comfort of the Lodge and the dirt and disorder of the Golden Balls was too great not to make itself felt. She had gone on in one weary round of drudgery before because she knew of nothing different; now she had seen a better mode of life, and the old was insupportable; a return to it, unaltered, impossible. This she let Lazarus understand. She would work for him as hard as before, but she would insist on being treated properly.

But her own condition was not that which disturbed Joanna; that which troubled her was the knowledge that she had been made use of by her master to work mischief against a family she had learned to respect. Of the Duke, indeed, she knew little, except what she had heard, but that had impressed her more than she acknowledged to herself. His greatness, the deference with which all regarded him—the way in which he was looked to as the source of all benefits, as the one who was the mainstay of the social order, as the one to whom, in cases of dispute, the ultimate appeal lay—this had formed an atmosphere of public opinion which she had inhaled, and which had nourished in her respect. She had seen little of Lord Ronald, but she had heard him spoken of as a man of strict integrity and perfect guilelessness. She had seen and spoken with the Marquess. Her box was unpacked. On the chimney-piece stood the canary yellow Dresden cup and saucer he had given her. Once he had come to his sister’s room whilst she was having a dancing lesson, had recognised and spoken kindly to her. She could not feel towards him other than friendly regard.

‘As for running away with Rachel,’ she mused, ‘I dare swear Rachel wanted to be run away with. If I had been the wife of Lazarus, I’d have done the same, have run with him to Palermo or Hong Kong—anywhere to be rid of Lazarus and the Barbican. To be married and to be pawned are two totally different cases,’ argued the girl. ‘To be married one gives consent, and if the situation don’t suit, you leave it; but pawned is another matter—mother did that, and I can’t run away. She must come with the ticket and release me. One would be wickedness, the other would not.’

Lady Grace she knew and loved as she loved no one else. She was miserable at the thought that she had been acting towards her with ingratitude, that Lady Grace might be able with justice one day to reproach her for having ill-repaid the kindness shown her. What would Lady Grace think of her now! of the way in which she had left her situation? Would she be told that she was detected at the account-books? Joanna’s bosom heaved, her face was crimson, her cheeks stained with tears. She could not, she would not, leave the dear, good lady troubled with thoughts that she was ungrateful.

Joanna stood up, washed her face, and went downstairs. She entered the shop, and looked about for a little wooden box. When she had found one to her mind, she lined it with cotton-wool, and placed in it her necklace of Roman pearls. Then she wrote a letter in what she knew was servant-maid English, which she folded and fastened up in the box with the pearls. This was the letter:

‘For dear Lady Grace,—This is a present from her devoted, loving, faithful servant, Joanna. Joanna knows very well that it is not worthy of her acceptance (it cost only 2l. 18s. 6d. second-hand), but nevertheless she hopes Lady Grace Eveleigh will condescend to accept it, as Joanna has nothing in the world else except what she stands up in, and the pink silk dress which is spoiled. Joanna takes this opportunity of informing your ladyship that I didn’t run away from my place, nor misbehave myself any way, but was summoned home on urgent business. Joanna will never, never, never forget and cease to love dear, sweet Lady Grace, and she begs to inform her ladyship that I value my pot of lily of the valley above every treasure the world contains.’

The girl’s mind was relieved when she had written and fastened up this letter in the box. Then she directed the case, and as she had a few coppers still in her pocket, she was able to post and register it. Whilst she ran to the post-office, she left the shop locked. On her return she found a billsticker at the door, trying to get in.

‘All right,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to pawn nothing. Will y’ take a bill and place it in the winder, please?’

He handed Joanna a bill, and went his way.

Lazarus was accommodating in the matter of bills of this description. Notices of Missionary Meetings, Harvest Festivals, a Circus, Services of Song, Ethiopian Serenaders, Prayer-meetings, dramatic performances, all went into his window promiscuously. He argued that folks might be attracted to read the bills and then see and fancy an article lying adjacent exposed for sale, a watch, a china figure, a church-service, a pair of opera-glasses, Baxter’s ‘Saints’ Rest,’ a Methodist hymnal, some old lace, a bicycle, or the portrait of an ancestor. Accordingly Joanna accepted the bill, and, before placing it in the window, spread it on the counter, and read it.

The bill was a theatrical notice. It announced that the distinguished Polish actress, Mlle. Palma Kaminski, of the Court Theatre, Warsaw, who had created such enthusiasm in London by her abilities, was about to favour Plymouth with her presence, assisted by a corps of artists, all of eminence only inferior to her own.

The first performance would be a revival of Shakespeare’s tragedy of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ to be performed the ensuing week.

Joanna had never been to a play, but she was a greedy devourer of playbills. To her imagination, nothing—hardly a ball—could surpass the delight of a dramatic performance. She had read plays that had come into the shop—old comedies, tragedies, modern farces, and had formed an idea of what a theatre was, but Lazarus had never allowed her the pleasure of seeing a performance, even from the gallery.

Whilst she was studying the bill, suddenly Lazarus burst into the shop with livid face. He saw what she was reading, seized it, and crumpled it in his hands.

‘Why do you do that?’ asked Joanna.

‘I have seen her,’ gasped the Jew. ‘She is here—in Plymouth.’

‘Seen whom—Lady Grace?’

‘I have seen her—Rachel. She has dared to come here!’

‘What has she come here for? Does she want to return to you? If so, she’s a fool.’

‘This is she,’ he said, opening out the bill he had crushed, and with trembling finger he pointed to the name. ‘She calls herself Palma Kaminski, but she is Rachel Lazarus. A Pole! She is nothing of the sort; she was born on Ratcliff Highway, and bred in Princes Street, Leicester Square.’

‘Are you going to reclaim her, or kill yourself, like Romeo, because she is lost to you?’

‘I do not know what I shall do. I am in a maze,’ gasped the Jew. ‘I’d serve her bad if I knew how. I’d beat her brains out if it weren’t against the law. Where is the liberty of the subject, I’d like to know, as is so boasted of in this precious British empire? Ah! Joanna, I wish I could get her here and put her to sleep in the press-bed, and shut it up when she was sound. The coroner and jury would be sure to find “accidental death,” and one could have a raffle of half-a-crown a share for the press-bed afterwards, and make a lot of money. I’ve known five pounds got out of a rope a man hanged himself with. The English lower orders are passionately attached to crime; they like to read about it, and talk about it, and think about it, and relish it in every way. If you come to consider, Joanna, what a dreary world this would be without crime to season it! It would be like a dinner of cold beef without pickles. There’d be no yellow novels on the railway bookstalls, no sensational dramas on the boards; nothing but politics in the papers. I believe there wouldn’t be any pawnshops. I’d like to know where we should be, we Jews, Joanna, in such a world as that. There would be no place for us at all. We must be thankful for things as we find them. The world without wickedness in it, and one with it, would be, to my taste, the difference between still hock and sparkling Moselle.’

‘I reckon,’ said Joanna, ‘that in such a place as Kingsbridge, where all is goodness and kindness, and thought of one another, you’d be out of place like a rook on a frosty morning when the worms are in their holes.’

‘They’ve hoodwinked you, like all those who come near them,’ said Lazarus. ‘But I can’t talk of them. I must think of Rachel. Give me the paper.’ He drew the bill from Joanna, who had smoothed it out on the counter, ‘Kaminski! What a name! to change the beautiful Lazarus for an outlandish name like that, and she was Moses before I married her. To my mind, Joanna, our British aristocracy is like a scene on a stage, very beautiful to look at, but there is a lot hid away behind very shabby and very bad, of which most folk see and know nothing. You’ve looked on the grand Kingsbridge House like a young playgoer; all is beautiful, and innocence, and splendour. I know the other side. There is the great burden of debt, fresh loans, that scandal of the Marquess and Rachel, The world knows nothing of all this, but there it is.’

‘I should like so much to go to a theatre,’ said Joanna with a sigh.

Lazarus considered a moment, then his face lightened; he passed his fingers through his hair, ruffling it on end, giving him a wild look. ‘You shall, Joanna; I promise you.’

‘The gallery is only sixpence.’

‘You shan’t go in the gallery.’

‘What? Stand outside, where a place costs nothing?’

‘No, Joanna, you shall have the most expensive place in the whole theatre, that will cost two or three pounds.’

The girl stared at him. Then he smoothed down his hair, and elaborately and noisily blew his nose. He was excited.

‘Yes, you shall. I will go also.’

‘When? At doomsday?’

‘No, we will go together, and sit in the stage-box, and see Romeo and Juliet.’ Joanna clapped her hands.

‘You shall see Rachel—Kaminski indeed! If she didn’t like Moses, why not condense it to Moss; if she didn’t like Lazarus, why not pull it out into St. Lazare? I’ve known some of our names turned about till you can’t recognise them. Levi and Levison, for instance, who’d know them again as Lewis and Lawson? Even Cohen I’ve known altered into Colquhoon, and but for his nose you’d have thought the man a Scotchman.’

‘You will really let me go?’

‘I will take you myself. We shall be right above her, face her, and see if we do not spoil her play. Joanna, I’ll heap on you all the jewelry in the shop, and you shall blaze in her eyes with diamonds and rubies and sapphires, and you shall have the most splendid dress of silk or satin money can buy; an old second-hand affair won’t do. The best—if I have to send to Worth at Paris for it.’

Joanna looked at him in amazement. Had he lost his senses?

‘Then she’ll see you and me behind, and, sure as she is a daughter of Israel, it will cut her to the heart to think she has forfeited all that heap of jewelry.’

‘But what will she think of me?’

‘I do not know, nor care; she’ll never suppose you are my maid of all work, a pawned piece of goods.’

‘I don’t believe a proper lady would pile on jewelry that way,’ mused Joanna. ‘I heard Lady Grace and Miss Lucy say something about real ladies being known by their quiet dressing. I can’t imagine Lady Grace dressed like that, even at a play.’

‘But you are not Lady Grace,’ argued the Jew. ‘That makes all the difference. She is at the top, and can afford to dress quietly. You are at the bottom, and must dress extravagantly, or you remain what you are—nothing.’

The girl considered; then she said, ‘Miss Rigsby will be there, I am sure she will. She will be all of a blaze. It will be killing fun just to outblaze her. I’ll put on everything I can, and I wish I’d two necks like an Austrian eagle to be able to put on more still.’