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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Ludovic Halévy (1834–1908)

Storms Behind the Curtain

From “Tom and Bob”

THE TWO little grooms of the comic-opera star and of the duchess met frequently in the lobbies of various theaters. But oftenest they met in the dressmaker’s waiting-room, where they had ample time to gossip, for their respective mistresses made long visits in the inner sanctuary. And there it was that Tom and Bob, on an April afternoon of the year 1890, had a particularly interesting and animated conversation.

“Well,” said Tom, “it seems your mistress scored a great success in her new piece last week.”

“You bet she did! I was at the first performance. Had a seat in the gallery. There was any quantity of applause. She was called out four times.” Thus answered Bob.

“Four times!”

“Yes, four times. But let me tell you about the rehearsals; they are so funny, and I always go to them with the missis. You should see them. For this new piece, for instance, they had them all last month. You should have seen the goings on. I watched it all from a little corner. They were just going to arrange the third act, and the manager kept on saying to the actors, ‘You must do so and so; you must walk in this direction or in that; you must look sad; you must look gay.’

“Missis was rehearsing too. On the stage with her were the manager and the two authors of the play, a little old man and a little young man. Suddenly the little old man says to missis, ‘Pass over to the left!’ says he. ‘Why?’ says she. ‘Because I think it’s better!’ says he. ‘Can’t agree with you,’ says she. And that was the way it all began. You see, it was missis’s idea to remain on the right-hand side. She got angry. Now, she isn’t half bad, but when she is angry—Lord! Well, people do get hot easily enough, and so the little old man jumped into a fit and cried, ‘That’s enough! I want you to go to the left, and to the left you’ll go. I am the author, and I’m master here, and you’re just too free!’ Missis turned pale as milk. ‘What did you say?’ she asked. ‘That you’re too free, and that this foolishness has to stop!’ ‘And I—I have had enough of you and your nasty piece. Get some one else to play it. I won’t! Here’s my part.’ And she chucked the roll of paper straight at the little old man’s nose.

“And while the little old man was screaming with anger, missis said, ‘You insult me, and I won’t be insulted!’ And she gathered up her furs, turned right about, and off she went. As for me, you ought to have seen me run, trying to get to the carriage ahead of her. I caught her up at the stage-door. There she was, trotting along—but not alone. Behind her trotted the manager, the stage-director, and the other author, the little young man, who had taken no part in the quarrel, but seemed for all that to take her side in it. And they all talked at her, and tried to keep her from going. But she went on, without answering. We passed by the lodge of the porteress, and she shouted, ‘What’s the matter? Is there a fire?’ And so at last, quite out of breath, the five of us—missis, the manager, the stage-director, the young author, and myself—arrived in the street walk before the carriage-door. Missis jumped in, and called to me, ‘To the park, Bob; shut the door, and get on the box.’ She was quite pale, she was, and she bit her teeth together. But I couldn’t close the door. The manager held it, and wouldn’t let it go. He said to me, ‘No, my young friend, don’t close the door.’ He tried to flatter me, you see, by calling me his young friend. He leaned against the door, and said to missis, ‘My dear, be reasonable. You can’t leave us in the lurch like that. What will become of me without you? Be good; come down, and let us go on with our rehearsal.’ And the two others repeated after him, ‘Come down, my dear; come down!’

“By that time at least a dozen or so people had collected round us. At last the manager begged so hard that missis ended by saying, ‘Very well, I’ll go back, but only on condition that he begs my pardon.’ ‘Very well, my dear; only come, and I promise that he will apologize.’ ‘Oh, no; he must come and apologize here!’ ‘Here, out in the street?’ ‘Yes, right here!’ ‘But that’s impossible!’ ‘Very well, then, good-by.’ I tried to jump to my seat on the box, but the manager held me by the arm and wouldn’t let me move; and finally, seeing how missis wouldn’t give way on any account, he said, ‘Very well, we’ll get him.’ And as they were going away she called out, ‘I’ll give you five minutes!’ She has a little clock inside her carriage. ‘Five minutes, you understand. It’s five minutes past ten now; if you don’t return at ten minutes after, I’m off!’ ‘We’ll be in good time!’ they told her.

“So they went, and missis she snuggled into her carriage-seat like a little dog in its basket. I waited, standing by the door. Missis was raging. I heard her little foot go tap, tap, tap. She kept her eyes on the little clock. The hands hurried on, and the five minutes were nearly over when the little old man, pale, and uglier than ever, came marching along between the stage-director and the manager. And when I saw him coming, I was proud to think that my mistress could make authors march like that—decorated authors, too, because, you see, the little old man had a ribbon in his buttonhole.

“He came up to the carriage, and begged her pardon—that he did. The sweat ran down his cheeks, and the others prompted him from each side. Well, when everything seemed all right, and missis she was just going to get out of the carriage, she stopped again, and said, ‘But, of course, you understand that I will not pass over to the left, but remain on the right of the stage.’ The little old man was going to object, but the manager squeezed his arm, and he said, ‘Of course, you’ll stay on the right as much as you please.’ And it was a good thing he was not obstinate, for without missis the play wouldn’t have been up to much.

“The other day I heard Paul, the hair-dresser, having a bit of a chat with the missis, and he said how every one spoke of her success. ‘True,’ she answered; ‘but you know well enough that without me the play would have been nowhere.’ And Paul answered, ‘That’s just what everybody says. No one mentions the play, but they only talk about you.’”