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SHE sits on a table and smokes a cigarette. A cigarette on the stage is always the badge of infamy.
In real life the cigarette is usually the hall-mark of the particularly mild and harmless individual. It is the dissipation of the Y.M.C.A.; the innocent joy of the pure-hearted boy long ere the demoralizing influence of our vaunted civilization has dragged him down into the depths of the short clay.
But behind the cigarette on the stage lurks ever black-hearted villainy and abandoned womanhood.
The adventuress is generally of foreign extraction. They do not make bad women in England--the article is entirely of continental manufacture and has to be imported. She speaks English with a charming little French accent, and she makes up for this by speaking French with a good sound English one.
She seems a smart business woman, and she would probably get on very well if it were not for her friends and relations. Friends and relations are a trying class of people in real life, as we all know, but the friends and relations of the stage adventuress are a particularly irritating lot. They never leave her; never does she get a day or an hour off from them. Wherever she goes, there the whole tribe goes with her.
They all go with her in a body when she calls on her young man, and it is as much as she can do to persuade them to go into the next room, even for five minutes, and give her a fair chance. When she is married they come and live with her.
They know her dreadful secret and it keeps them in comfort for years. Knowing somebody's secret seems, on the stage, to be one of the most profitable and least exhausting professions going.
She is fond of married life, is the adventuress, and she goes in for it pretty extensively. She has husbands all over the globe, most of them in prison, but they escape and turn up in the last act and spoil all the poor girl's plans. That is so like husbands--no consideration, no thought for their poor wives.
They are not a prepossessing lot, either, those early husbands of hers. What she could have seen in them to induce her to marry them is indeed a mystery.
The adventuress dresses magnificently. Where she gets the money from we never could understand, for she and her companions are always more or less complaining of being "stone broke." Dressmakers must be a trusting people where she comes from.
The adventuress is like the provincial cat as regards the number of lives she is possessed of. You never know when she is really dead. Most people like to die once and have done with it, but the adventuress, after once or twice trying it, seems to get quite to like it, and goes on giving way to it, and then it grows upon her until she can't help herself and it becomes a sort of craving with her.
This habit of hers is, however, a very trying one for her friends and husbands--it makes things so uncertain. Something ought to be done to break her of it. Her husbands, on hearing that she is dead, go into raptures and rush off and marry other people, and then just as they are starting off on their new honeymoon up she crops again, as fresh as paint. It is really most annoying.
For ourselves, were we the husband of a stage adventuress we should never, after what we have seen of the species, feel quite justified in believing her to be dead unless we killed and buried her ourselves; and even then we should be more easy in our minds if we could arrange to sit on her grave for a week or so afterward. These women are so artful!
But it is not only the adventuress who will persist in coming to life again every time she is slaughtered. They are all so unreliable in this respect. It must be most disheartening to the murderers.
And then, again, it is something extraordinary, when you come think of it, what a tremendous amount of killing some of them can stand and still come up smiling in the next act, not a penny the worse for it. They get stabbed, and shot, and thrown over precipices thousands of feet high, and, bless you, it does them good--it is like a tonic to them.
As for the young man that is coming home to see his girl, you simply can't kill him. Achilles was a summer rose compared with him. Nature and mankind have not sufficient materials in hand as yet to kill that man. Science has but the strength of a puling babe against his invulnerability. You can waste your time on earthquakes and shipwrecks, volcanic eruptions, floods, explosions, railway accidents, and such like sort of things, if you are foolish enough to do so; but it is no good your imagining that anything of the kind can hurt him, because it can't.
There will be thousands of people killed, thousands in each instance, but one human being will always escape, and that one human being will the stage young man who is coming home to see his girl.
He is forever being reported dead, but it always turns out to be another fellow who was like him or who had on his (the young man's) hat. He is bound to be out of it, whoever else may be in.
"If I had been at my post that day," he explains to his sobbing mother, "I should have been blown up, but the Providence that watches over good men had ordained that I should be laying blind drunk in Blogg's saloon at the time the explosion took place, and so the engineer, who had been doing my work when it was his turn to be off, was killed along with the whole crew."
"Ah, thank Heaven, thank Heaven for that!" ejaculated the pious old lady, and the comic man is so overcome with devout joy that he has to relieve his overstrained heart by drawing his young woman on one side and grossly insulting her.
All attempts to kill this young man ought really to be given up now. The job has been tried over and over again by villains and bad people of all kinds, but no one has ever succeeded. There has been an amount of energy and ingenuity expended in seeking to lay up that one man which, properly utilized, might have finished off ten million ordinary mortals. It is sad to think of so much wasted effort.
He, the young man coming home to see his girl, need never take an insurance ticket or even buy a Tit Bits. It would be needless expenditure in his case.
On the other hand, and to make matters equal, as it were, there are some stage people so delicate that it is next door to impossible to keep them alive.
The inconvenient husband is a most pathetic example of this. Medical science is powerless to save that man when the last act comes round; indeed, we doubt whether medical science, in its present state of development, could even tell what is the matter with him or why he dies at all. He looks healthy and robust enough and nobody touches him, yet down he drops, without a word of warning, stone-dead, in the middle of the floor--he always dies in the middle of the floor. Some folks like to die in bed, but stage people don't. They like to die on the floor. We all have our different tastes.
The adventuress herself is another person who dies with remarkable ease. We suppose in her case it is being so used to it that makes her quick and clever at it. There is no lingering illness and doctor's bills and upsetting of the whole household arrangements about her method. One walk round the stage and the thing is done.
All bad characters die quickly on the stage. Good characters take a long time over it, and have a sofa in the drawing-room to do it on, and have sobbing relatives and good old doctors fooling around them, and can smile and forgive everybody. Bad stage characters have to do the whole job, dying speech and all, in about ten seconds, and do it with all their clothes on into the bargain, which must make it most uncomfortable.
It is repentance that kills off the bad people in plays. They always repent, and the moment they repent they die. Repentance on the stage seems to be one of the most dangerous things a man can be taken with. Our advice to wicked people would undoubtedly be, "Never repent. If you value your life, don't repent. It always means sudden death!"
To return to our adventuress. She is by no means a bad woman. There is much good in her. This is more than proved by the fact that she learns to love the hero before she dies; for no one but a really good woman capable of extraordinary patience an gentleness could ever, we are convinced, grow to feel any other sentiment for that irritating ass than a desire to throw bricks at him.
The stage adventuress would be a much better woman, too, if it were not for the heroine. The adventuress makes the most complete arrangements for being noble and self-sacrificing--that is, for going away and never coming back, and is just about to carry them out, when the heroine, who has a perfect genius for being in the wrong place at the right time, comes in and spoils it all. No stage adventuress can be good while the heroine is about. The sight of the heroine rouses every bad feeling in her breast.
We can all sympathize with her in this respect. The heroine often affects ourselves in precisely the same way.
There is a good deal to be said in favor of the adventuress. True, she possesses rather too much sarcasm and repartee to make things quite agreeable round the domestic hearth, and when she has got all her clothes on there is not much room left in the place for anybody else; but taken on the whole she is decidedly attractive. She has grit and go in her. She is alive. She can do something to help herself besides calling for "George."
She has not got a stage child--if she ever had one, she has left it on somebody else's doorstep, which, presuming there was no water handy to down it in, seems to be about the most sensible thing she could have done with it. She is not oppressively good.
She never wants to be "unhanded" or "let to pass."
She is not always being shocked or insulted by people telling her that they love her; she does not seem to mind it if they do. She is not always fainting, and crying, and sobbing, and wailing, and moaning, like the good people in the play are.
Oh, they do have an unhappy time of it--the good people in plays! Then she is the only person in the piece who can sit on the comic man.
We sometimes think it would be a fortunate thing--for him--if they allowed her to marry and settle down quietly with the hero. She might make a man of him in time.