Page:The Yellow Book - 01.djvu/157

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141
By Henry Harland

than I took mine. Oh, I enjoyed it hugely; the hours I spent at it were enraptured hours; but it was grim, grim earnest. After a while I began to long for a less subjective public, a more various audience. I would summon the servants, range them in chairs at one end of the room, conceal myself behind the theatre, and spout the play with fervid solemnity. And they would giggle, and make flippant commentaries, and at my most impassioned climaxes burst into guffaws. My mice, as has been said, were overfed and lazy, and I used to have to poke them through their parts with sticks from the wings; but this was a detail which a superior imagination should have accepted as one of the conventions of the art. It made the servants laugh, however; and when I would step to the front in person, and, with tears in my eyes, beseech them to be sober, they would but laugh the louder. "Bless you, sir, they're only mice—ce ne sont que des souris," the cook called out on one such occasion. She meant it as an apology and a consolation, but it was the unkindest cut of all. Only mice, indeed! To me they had been a young gentleman and lady lost in the Desert of Sahara, near to die for the want of water, and about to be attacked, captured, and sold into slavery, by a band of Bedouin Arabs. Ah, well, the artist must steel himself to meet with indifference or derision from the public, to be ignored, misunderstood, or jeered at; and to rely for his real, his legitimate, reward on the pleasure he finds in his work.

And now there befell a great change in my life. Our home in Paris was broken up, and we moved to St. Petersburg. It was impossible to take my mice with us; their cage would have hopelessly complicated our impedimenta. So we gave them to the children of our concierge, Mercedes, however, I was resolved I would not part with, and I carried her all the way to the Russian capital by hand. In my heart I was looking to her to found

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