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“What is the sorriest thing that enters Hell?
No Place, Nowhere. A street widening to a square, forms flanking pieces to a building on whose architrave is inscribed in immense letters, “ The World; a Theatre of Varieties, Lessee and Manager, SATAN.” The front of the theatre consists almost entirely of one colossal door, now closed, but which being opened allows the whole interior to be seen from the flight of steps leading up to it. To the right of the theatre, the house of SELF-INTEREsT, with a shiny door-plate and knocker; to the left a rag-and-bottle shop, half closed, belonging to Wmow FEAR : a few adjacent houses (forming a flanking semicircle to the theatre) with large door-plates inscribed : TRUTHFULNEss, JUsTICE, TEMPERANCE, EQUANIMITY, etc., whose owners are seen yawning at the windows, and then crossing the square after looking on wearily and disappearing by a side door into the theatre.
What these SLEEPY VIRTUEs are languidly watching is a group of HUMAN PAssIoNs with hand-barrows, busily unloading their instruments and desks and carrying them up the steps to an unseen stage-door in the rear of the theatre. Each of these PAssIONs, attired in appropriate allegoric garments, bears his or her name on a silver badge hung round the neck by a chain : GREED, LOYALTY, DIsCIPLINE, COMRADEsHIP, JEALOUsY, Eoo'nsm, BULLYING, ENNUI, and others; some very handsome and with a family resemblance to the SLEEPY When all the instruments and desks have been carried into the theatre, a little body of these PAssIoNs return and join in carrying up the steps a carved handrailing or balustrade intended to separate the orchestra from the stalls, and bearing in ornamental letters the words, “ Patriotism; reserved for members of the Orchestra.”
All this is being done under the impatient superintendence of BALLET MAsTER DEATH, who fusses around and occasionally consults his watch. BALLET MAsTER DEATH is seen at first only from the back, a long, lank figure in loose black evening clothes (long tailcoat) with a long, pianist’s head of hair round a bald shiny patch. There is something extraordinarily angular and unaccountably uncanny in his figure and movements. But it is only when he turns full round that we become aware that he is a skeleton, and that the grey head of hair surmounts a grinning skull. Then we wonder thatwe did not notice that his hands and feet, both bare and protruding from over-short sleeves and trousers, are skeleton also.
A few NEUTRAL NATIONS, wearing armlets inscribed “Neutrality,” look shyly at these proceedings, pretending to be examining the fa;ades of the surrounding houses and the contents of their own pockets; afraid of getting mixed up in the performance, but enormously attracted by it. After this dumb show has gone on a little while, BALLET MAsTER DEATH showing more and more impatience, a slight earthquake rocks the theatre and adjacent buildings, causing the various personages to stop short in whatever they are doing; and, as its rumble subsides, the earth yawns at the foot of the theatre steps, and SATAN arises majestically, helping the MUsE OF HIsTORY out of the depths, and followed by the classic and unsubstantial chorus of AcEs-To-CoME. ‘The earth closes after them. The place, which, with the earthquake, had become suddenly dark, is lit by the sinister luminousness emanating from SATAN’s archangelic person, until the whole is suffused with a strange and ominous light as if of a fog, in which near objects are oddly visible and others shade away into nothingness. The EvIL PAssIONs fall on their knees, the PAssIoNs who are, or are deemed, respectable, retire hurriedly. BALLET MAsTER DEATH, for the first time turning fully round and revealing his skeleton nature, bows very low, one hand on his white waistcoat.
SATAN (grasping him by the hand). At last we meet again, dear Ballet Master Death! I need not introduce you to our old friend, Clio, Muse of History by profession, but, may I say it ? by preference and true vocation, dramatic critic. She is a great lover of our joint shows, and has graciously undertaken a full account of this, I trust, our finest one.
THE MUsE (curtsying ceremoniously). I have had the pleasure of meeting you two or three times before; but one can’t expect so busy an artist as Ballet Master Death to bear in mind all his many admirers.
DEATH (gruffly). No, that indeed he can’t, Ma’am. There is far too much to do in the world, and a fearful lot of arrears. (T o SATAN) Come, my Lord. Time presses, and we shall never get our Orchestra together; all these Human Passions have grown so lackadaisical of late!
SATAN. All right, all right. Give me the list of the performers or rather , , _ I am sure the Muse will kindly help us in our roll-call. But are all the Dancing Nations in readiness ?
DEATH. Oh, for ever so long; they are already behind the curtain, practising their steps and settling their head-pieces comfortably on their shoulders, which is never easy. They are all right. And so is the audience-—theNeutral Nations have taken their seats. It’s the Orchestra troubles me (looking rudely over the shoulder of the MUsE, who is holding the