By Marie BANCROFT.
YEARS ago, in a small country theatre, where my father was engaged, I was considered by the manager a very clever child, and in children’s parts had become a pet with the audience. Attractions must have been at a very low ebb when the manager conceived the idea of my playing “Juliet.” I am thankful that such things do not occur now. Happy children! and happier public!
I was a pale, thin, delicate-looking child, and very tall for my age, being only thirteen, although announced in the bills as twelve.Every one thought at that time that I should, if I lived, be a remarkably fine woman, but since playing “Juliet” on that memorable first occasion I have not grown an inch,and sometimes think that my tragic efforts gave as great a shock to my system as to my audience.
Often on my way to and from our rehearsals, when I had time to loiter, I stopped at a window in the little High Street, and longingly looked at a necklace of pearl beads,in three rows, marked five shillings — a fortune to me then. I saved until I had half-a- crown, and then tried to induce the shop man to let me have it for that price; but I failed.My father promised to buy me the treasure if I would be very good, and study “Juliet.” How readily I said “Yes,” for the labour of learning the words and being taught by my mother how to speak them, seemed light indeed compared with the joy of possessing those little pearl beads.
The night arrived for the “great dramatic event” (vide advertisements). My mother could scarcely dress me, her hands trembled so. I could not help wondering why she should be so anxious. I was not. I was of that happy age that knows no responsibility. I had on a pretty white dress, trimmed with narrow silver lace, my hair hanging in large waves over my shoulders, and best adornment of all was my beautiful pearl necklace. Oh! how every one would envy me those beads.
All went well until the fourth act, when, in throwing my head back to drink the poison, my long train, which I wore for the first time in my life, and which had been a great anxiety to me all through the play,got entangled in my feet, and in the effort to save myself from falling, my necklace gave way, and the beads were scattered about in all directions. I looked scared for a moment; but when I fully realized that it was broken,I fell to crying so bitterly that I thought my heart would break too. I sank on to the couch sobbing piteously. The audience thought this a good piece of acting, and gave me great applause.
Nothing in the shape of fond persuasions, promises, threats, or arguments would induce me to go on for the last act — nothing but the restored necklace, one row of which was broken, and the beads scattered all over the stage. At length, my poor mother, who was almost wild with despair, promised me a new one if I would only finish the part.
So, in the greatest grief, and with stifled sobs, I went through the last act. When I
fell on Romeo’s body there was great applause, but in the middle of Friar Laurence’s last speech I saw some of my beads lying close to his feet. His treading upon them seemed imminent, so I got up and rescued them, and then lay down again. Of course, the rest of Friar Laurence’s speech was not heard, and the curtain fell amidst loud laughter. I had a good scolding from father, mother, and manager, who hoped that when I again played Juliet I should think more of the part than of the ornaments.
As we were leaving the theatre, my eyes swollen from crying over the injured necklace, a gentleman who had witnessed the performance and the scene stepped up to us, and said, “I hope you will pardon me for speaking to you; my name is Captain__ .
Let me tell you how much I have been impressed by your little daughter’s acting as Juliet; it really was, for so young an actress, very remarkable. Take care of her, sir, there is a bright career before her. Good night. Good night, little one! “He shook my hand, and asked me if I would give him the remnant of my broken necklace, which I had so carefully rescued from destruction when supposed to be dead. I trembled at the thought of parting with it; but my mother whispered to me, “I am going to buy you another.” So I gave it. On our way home we talked of nothing else — my father dwelling on the criticism, and I on the final disappearance of my necklace.
For many and many a night I quite looked for my “prophet,” but he had gone as mysteriously as he had come. Often on our way home I have said, “We have never
seen that kind gentleman since, father, and, though I only saw him once, I seem to miss him somehow; will his words ever come true, I wonder?”
About two years after that, we joined the company of the Bristol Theatre, where I played almost every class of part that ever was written; one night I appeared as Ophelia, owing to the illness of the leading lady. I felt that I had made a success, and was leaving the theatre with my mother, who instructed me in every part I played, talking to her, and feeling very happy, when who should step up to us, but my “prophet.” We both recognized him at once. I was delighted,my mother gratified, and so far as circumstances would permit, she showed that his criticism and kind compliments were most acceptable two years ago, but, having some considerable knowledge of the world, she feared that his admiration of me as a child, might grow into something more serious, and she therefore did not receive him with that warmth she otherwise might have done. He said, “Well, little one, you see I was right,you are going up the ladder, step by step; mark my words, the next one will be London.”
My heart jumped at the sight of this man; there was a kind of mystery about him, he seemed to be mixed up with my life somehow, and whatever part of importance I
played, I always thought of him and of his kind words. He showed me the string of pearls, and said, “You see how I have treasured these. I don’t intend to part with them. I shall never give them back to you unless you ask me for them.” How different were my feelings for those pearls now; it seemed like taking away my heart when he first asked me for them, and how, unknown to myself, he had taken away my heart.
Every night during his short stay he sat in a corner of the dress circle, and at the end of the play would show me the pearl beads; he would wait sometimes outside the stage door, just to press my hand and say, “Good-night, little one;” he had not time to say more, for my mother used to sit at the window of our lodgings, which were opposite, to see me come home.
I was now in love for the very first time in my life. How everything else in the whole world suddenly dwindled into nothing.Father, mother, sisters, theatres, acting— all seemed to be shut out by a curtain, and only one being was in view. There was nothing in this man to attract a girl of my age: he was not young, not what is called good-looking,and was poor; but what was all this to me?I argued with myself that all the nicest people were poor, and I didn’t care; but I had never had an opportunity of telling him all this, for my mother had declined to encourage his visits, and so he kept away, and never tried to see me, except for one moment to say “Good night.”
One night I received a note from him, only a few lines, saying, “Good-bye, little one. I wonder if we shall ever meet again. I shall never part with your pearls. I love you, little one, I wish you loved me, but it is better for you that you should not.” This was the first opportunity he had ever given me of telling him how much I loved him, and I was resolved to take it.
I gave the note to my mother, and implored her to let me see him. She refused. saying I was a silly girl. I fancy she said a fool, but I was too agitated to remember. “How can you think seriously of such a mysterious person?” Mysterious! she would not give him a chance of being anything else. “Surely,” she continued, “you cannot wish to destroy all your professional prospects. Let me hear no more of this nonsense. Thank goodness he is gone, and you will forget him in a few days.”
“Forget him! and in a few days! Oh, mother!” I knew his address in Ireland, and after vainly trying to follow my mother’s counsel, I wrote to him saying that I loved him more than anything else in the world, and that if he really cared for me as much, I would run away, and go to him; that if I did not marry him I would marry no one else; that I could not study, that I could do nothing but think of him. He replied that it seemed hard to take me from a profession in which I was destined to shine — that he should forever reproach himself if I regretted, when too late, the step I had taken — that his love and empty pockets would be but a miserable return for the sacrifice I should make. He begged me to reflect. I did, and the more I reflected the more determined I became, and I told him so. He answered that he would not fight with his feelings any longer; that he was sure, when once we were married, my mother would soon forgive us.
And so it came about that I was to start on a certain day. All was settled. I was to receive the final letter with instructions, and the money for my journey. I thought the day would never come. Time seemed to creep and not to fly. But as the day drew nearer and nearer, my heart, which had been so light and joyful, began to beat with a heavier thud. There was a kind of fear — a wish to run away from myself, for I felt afraid of myself — my head and my heart began to argue.
-. On the night before I was to leave my home, I returned from my work at the theatre. I found my mother waiting supper for me as usual. I could not eat, I was nervous and thoughtful. My mother asked me if I was ill, or had I been annoyed at the theatre? I shook my head. I could not trust myself to speak. When she kissed me and said, “Good-night, God bless you!” I whispered to myself, “Will He bless me tomorrow?” The words fell from her lips like a reproach, for although she said them to me every night, they never seemed to mean so much before — they never set me thinking as they did that night.
When I was alone in my little bed-room, I fell on my knees and prayed to God to help me and to guide me, for my heart was full of doubt. I felt how I was deceiving my dear mother, to whom I owed everything — who had taught me, who had worked for me, and who was now dependent upon me. If I went away, what would become of her and my young sisters, for my father’s health was getting worse and worse. Oh! how I wept and prayed that night! I implored God to help me in my trouble and to give me some warning in my dreams. I cried myself to sleep but awoke several times. I heard the church-bell toll four, six, and eight. Still no warning dream.
I tried to think that perhaps my going would be for the best, or I should have surely dreamt something, and I felt a little happier as I lay thinking. Half-past eight was the post time, and I had told the servant to bring any letters there might be for me to my room.
The half-hour struck. I heard the postman’s knock. My heart seemed to stop beating. I heard the girl on the stairs. I could scarcely breathe. A knock at the door. This was the final letter. I jumped out of bed, and as I crossed the room to open the door, a voice, as if in great haste, said quickly, “Don’t go.”
God alone knows what my feelings were at that moment. Never — never, to my dying
day, shall I forget it. A thrill, first of awe and terror, then of thankfulness, came over me. I fell on my knees, and said, “I won’t go.” The servant impatiently pushed the letter under the door. I opened it. There were the final instructions — how he would meet me on the journey, and the money for my expenses. I threw on ray dressing-gown, sat down, and wrote these words — “Don’t expect me, I cannot go. I have changed my mind.” I enclosed the money, and sent the letter to the post. I gave a sigh of relief, lay down on the bed, and cried bitterly.
One morning, during breakfast, a few weeks later, my mother (who up to this time knew nothing of my little story) handed me the newspaper, and with a smile of satisfaction pointed to the marriage column. He had married! I threw my arms around my mother’s neck, had a good cry, and told her everything.
The words of my “prophet” were fulfilled, and some two or three years later I was acting in a London theatre. Whenever I made a success, I thought of his kind words when I first saw him, and I remembered how I had grown to love him at last.
One day I was walking slowly up Regent Street, when I stopped, without knowing
why, at the Carrara marble works. Serious thoughts came over me as I contemplated
the headstones and monuments,, and as I turned from them with a sigh, a voice by my
side said, in a low tone, “Well, my faithless little one.” I turned, and saw my “prophet.” My first instinct was to run away, but my legs would not move.
“You see,” he said, “what came of your suddenly changing your mind, I revenged myself and got married. How cruel you were!” He told me that he had married a rich widow, that he proposed, was accepted, and was married within a month from my refusal. After thinking to myself that widows lost no time in settling their affairs, I told him the story of my warning, and he seemed much impressed by it. He answered, “It was, I am sure, a timely warning, for we should have been very poor, and consequently very miserable. It would have been a dreary life for you, and much too big a sacrifice, with all your bright prospects. I am now a widower, with one little child.
My wife died a year after our marriage. I am rich now, and can return to my old young love. I wonder if my little Juliet loves me still as much as she said she did? “Yes, I did, but I would not say so. I was afraid to hope again, so I said, “You had better not see me any more; you will soon forget me.” He replied, “Never, until I am under one of those,” pointing to the headstones in the window. A cold chill ran through me as he said those words.
He was under orders to sail for India the following week, so no time was to be lost. He called on my mother, and asked her consent to our corresponding and to our marrying on his return to England, which would be in a year, providing she consented. My mother hesitated, but after tears and entreaties from me, and with the hope that he would marry a black woman, or that I should forget him, or that something would happen to keep him in India, she reluctantly consented. The fates seemed to will it this time, and so I was very happy again.
The day came to say good-bye. He showed me the pearl necklace, saying, “You see how I have guarded it. I will never part with it; it seems to have linked our two lives together.” I looked at the broken beads, and all the old times came back to me. There was my necklace just as I had left it, with two rows complete, and the third partly gone; and there was the knot which I had made to prevent the other beads from falling off.
I somehow wished there had been no broken link. I had begun to feel rather superstitious now about our courtship. I was to have a letter from him by every mail. Every mail brought me one, full of love and kind words. No one ever seemed to speak such words as he did, they were so good and honest. I always felt that I could trust him, and that is why I loved him.
Six months passed — seven, eight, and nine — and every mail brought me my letter. I How anxiously I looked for bis handwriting — I counted the days and hours. At last, the day came, but no letter; the next mail, arrived, and the next, but still no letter. What could it mean? My mother, smiling, said, “Ah, my child, the old, old story; and I am not sorry.” After a few day?’ reflection, I began to think that she was right, and that I had been a fool; but I was very unhappy. He had seemed to be my guiding star ever since I was a little girl, and all my first and purest love was his. Oh, it was dreadful to bear!
One day, very shortly after his third letter was due, I was again in Regent Street, and thought of the day I had met him there, I was very sad and miserable, but still could not help clinging to the hope of seeing him again, and that all would be explained. He had been so frank and honest, I could not help trusting to his honour. Perhaps he was coming home to surprise me. As I approached the Carrara marble works, I thought how strange it would be if I met him there again. I hurried to the place, with a kind of superstitious feeling — having met him there so strangely before, I should, perhaps, as strangely meet him there again. I stopped at the old spot, waited, looked about — no, not there! Ah! I remembered, I was looking in at the window when he came; I will do so again. I looked in at the window, and there I saw a large white headstone, with these words:
Sacred to the Memory of
WHO DIED SUDDENLY, AT KURRACHEE,
How I got home, I know not. I found my mother in tears, reading a letter which
she had received from his dearest friend, who had found my letters among his papers. He had died soon after writing to me for the last time, and my little pearl necklace was buried with him.