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The Infant Phenomenon
by [?]

Mr. Vincent Crummles was manager of a theatrical company, and also the head of a most remarkable family indeed, each member of which was gifted with an extraordinary combination of talent and attractiveness, and most remarkable of all the family was the Infant Phenomenon.

After Nicholas Nickleby, teacher at Dotheboys Hall, quitted that wretched institution in disgrace, because he had resented injuries inflicted upon the scholars in general, and upon the poor half-starved, ill-used drudge, Smike, in particular, Smike stole away from the place where he had been so cruelly used, to follow his defender, and the two journeyed on together towards Portsmouth, resting for the night at a roadside inn some miles from their destination. At the inn they met Mr. Crummles who, upon discovering them to be destitute of money, and desirous of obtaining employment as soon as possible, offered them both engagements in his company, which offer, after a brief deliberation, Nicholas decided to accept, until something more to his liking should be available.

Accordingly they journeyed to Portsmouth, together with Mr. Crummles and the master Crummleses, and accompanied the manager through the town on his way to the theatre.

They passed a great many bills pasted against the wall, and displayed in windows, wherein the names of Mr. Vincent Crummles, Mrs. Vincent Crummles, Master Crummles, Master Peter Crummles, and Miss Crummles, were printed in large letters, and everything else in very small letters; and turning at length into an entry in which was a strong smell of orange-peel and lamp-oil, with an under-current of saw-dust, groping their way through a dark passage, and descending a step or two, emerged upon the stage of the Portsmouth theatre.

It was not very light, and as Nicholas looked about him, ceiling, pit, boxes, gallery, orchestra, fittings, and decorations of every kind,–all looked coarse, cold, gloomy and wretched.

“Is this a theatre?” whispered Smike, in amazement; “I thought it was a blaze of light and finery.”

“Why, so it is,” replied Nicholas, hardly less surprised; “But not by day, Smike,–not by day.”

At this moment the manager’s voice was heard, introducing the new-comers, under the stage names of Johnson and Digby, to Mrs. Crummles, a portly lady in a tarnished silk cloak, with her bonnet dangling by the strings, and with a quantity of hair braided in a large festoon over each temple; who greeted them with great cordiality.

While they were chatting with her, there suddenly bounded on to the stage from some mysterious inlet, a little girl in a dirty white frock, with tucks up to the knees, short trousers, sandalled shoes, white spencer, pink gauze bonnet, green veil and curl papers, who turned a pirouette, then looking off in the opposite wing, shrieked, bounded forward to within six inches of the footlights, and fell into a beautiful attitude of terror, as a shabby gentleman in an old pair of buff slippers came in at one powerful slide, and chattering his teeth fiercely, brandished a walking-stick.

“They are going through, ‘The Indian Savage and the Maiden,'” said Mrs. Crummles.

“Oh!” said the manager, “the little ballet interlude. Very good. Go on. A little this way, if you please, Mr. Johnson. That’ll do. Now!”

The manager clapped his hands as a signal to proceed, and the Savage, becoming ferocious, made a slide towards the Maiden; but the Maiden avoided him in six twirls, and came down, at the end of the last one, upon the very points of her toes. This seemed to make some impression upon the Savage, for after a little more ferocity and chasing of the Maiden into corners, he began to relent, and stroked his face several times with his right thumb and forefingers, thereby intimating that he was struck with admiration of the Maiden’s beauty. Acting upon the impulse of this passion, he began to hit himself severe thumps in the chest, and to exhibit other indications of being desperately in love, which, being rather a prosy proceeding, was very likely the cause of the Maiden’s falling asleep; whether it was or no, asleep she did fall, sound as a church, on a sloping bank, and the Savage, perceiving it, leant his left ear on his left hand, and nodded sideways, to intimate to all whom it might concern that she was asleep, and no shamming. Being left to himself, the Savage had a dance all alone. Just as he left off, the Maiden woke up, rubbed her eyes, got off the bank, and had a dance all alone too–such a dance that the Savage looked on in ecstacy all the while, and when it was done, plucked from a neighboring tree some botanical curiosity, resembling a small pickled cabbage, and offered it to the Maiden, who at first wouldn’t have it, but on the Savage shedding tears, relented. Then the Savage jumped for joy; then the Maiden jumped for rapture at the sweet smell of the pickled cabbage; then the Savage and the Maiden danced violently together, and finally the Savage dropped down on one knee, and the Maiden stood on one leg upon his other knee; thus concluding the ballet, and leaving the spectators in a state of pleasing uncertainty whether she would ultimately marry the Savage, or return to her friends.