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THEY are so clean. We have seen peasantry off the stage, and it has presented an untidy--occasionally a disreputable and unwashed--appearance; but the stage peasant seems to spend all his wages on soap and hair-oil.
They are always round the corner--or rather round the two corners--and they come on in a couple of streams and meet in the center; and when they are in their proper position they smile.
There is nothing like the stage peasants' smile in this world--nothing so perfectly inane, so calmly imbecile.
They are so happy. They don't look it, but we know they are because they say so. If you don't believe them, they dance three steps to the right and three steps to the left back again. They can't help it. It is because they are so happy.
When they are more than usually rollicking they stand in a semicircle, with their hands on each other's shoulders, and sway from side to side, trying to make themselves sick. But this is only when they are simply bursting with joy.
Stage peasants never have any work to do. Sometimes we see them going to work, sometimes coming home from work, but nobody has ever seen them actually at work. They could not afford to work--it would spoil their clothes.
They are very sympathetic, are stage peasants. They never seem to have any affairs of their own to think about, but they make up for this by taking a three-hundred-horse-power interest in things in which they have no earthly concern.
What particularly rouses them is the heroine's love affairs. They could listen to them all day.
They yearn to hear what she said to him and to be told what he replied to her, and they repeat it to each other.
In our own love-sick days we often used to go and relate to various people all the touching conversations that took place between our lady love and ourselves; but our friends never seemed to get excited over it. On the contrary, a casual observer might even have been led to the idea that they were bored by our recital. And they had trains to catch and men to meet before we had got a quarter through the job.
Ah, how often in those days have we yearned for the sympathy of a stage peasantry, who would have crowded round us, eager not to miss one word of the thrilling narrative, who would have rejoiced with us with an encouraging laugh, and have condoled with us with a grieved "Oh," and who would have gone off, when we had had enough of them, singing about it.
By the way, this is a very beautiful trait in the character of the stage peasantry, their prompt and unquestioning compliance with the slightest wish of any of the principals.
"Leave me, friends," says the heroine, beginning to make preparations for weeping, and before she can turn round they are clean gone--one lot to the right, evidently making for the back entrance of the public-house, and the other half to the left, where they visibly hide themselves behind the pump and wait till somebody else wants them.
The stage peasantry do not talk much, their strong point being to listen. When they cannot get any more information about the state of the heroine's heart, they like to be told long and complicated stories about wrongs done years ago to people that they never heard of. They seem to be able to grasp and understand these stories with ease. This makes the audience envious of them.
When the stage peasantry do talk, however, they soon make up for lost time. They start off all together with a suddenness that nearly knocks you over.
They all talk. Nobody listens. Watch any two of them. They are both talking as hard as they can go. They have been listening quite enough to other people: you can't expect them to listen to each other. But the conversation under such conditions must be very trying.
And then they flirt so sweetly! so idyllicly!
It has been our privilege to see real peasantry flirt, and it has always struck us as a singularly solid and substantial affair--makes one think, somehow, of a steam-roller flirting with a cow--but on the stage it is so sylph-like. She has short skirts, and her stockings are so much tidier and better fitting than these things are in real peasant life, and she is arch and coy. She turns away from him and laughs--such a silvery laugh.
And he is ruddy and curly haired and has on such a beautiful waistcoat! how can she help but love him? And he is so tender and devoted and holds her by the waist; and she slips round and comes up the other side. Oh, it is so bewitching!
The stage peasantry like to do their love-making as much in public as possible. Some people fancy a place all to themselves for this sort of thing where nobody else is about. We ourselves do. But the stage peasant is more sociably inclined. Give him the village green, just outside the public-house, or the square on market-day to do his spooning in.
They are very faithful, are stage peasants. No jilting, no fickleness, no breach of promise. If the gentleman in pink walks out with the lady in blue in the first act, pink and blue will be married in the end. He sticks to her all through and she sticks to him.
Girls in yellow may come and go, girls in green may laugh and dance--the gentleman in pink heeds them not. Blue is his color, and he never leaves it. He stands beside it, he sits beside it. He drinks with her, he smiles with her, he laughs with her, he dances with her, he comes on with her, he goes off with her.
When the time comes for talking he talks to her and only her, and she talks to him and only him. Thus there is no jealousy, no quarreling. But we should prefer an occasional change ourselves.
There are no married people in stage villages and no children (consequently, of course--happy village! oh, to discover it and spend a month there!). There are just the same number of men as there are women in all stage villages, and they are all about the same age and each young man loves some young woman. But they never marry.
They talk a lot about it, but they never do it. The artful beggars! They see too much what it's like among the principals.
The stage peasant is fond of drinking, and when he drinks he likes to let you know he is drinking. None of your quiet half-pint inside the bar for him. He likes to come out in the street and sing about it and do tricks with it, such as turning it topsy-turvy over his head.
Notwithstanding all this he is moderate, mind you. You can't say he takes too much. One small jug of ale among forty is his usual allowance.
He has a keen sense of humor and is easily amused. There is something almost pathetic about the way he goes into convulsions of laughter over such very small jokes. How a man like that would enjoy a real joke! One day he will perhaps hear a real joke. Who knows? It will, however, probably kill him. One grows to love the stage peasant after awhile. He is so good, so child-like, so unworldly. He realizes one's ideal of Christianity.