‘The first show what I ever went out with was Mr Sloper’s Company for the Society Gal, what was called “The Syrens.” You see, when the play was first done, society ‘ad long wysts and thin ‘ips and no bust t…o speak of, and the lydies what plyed in it original was chose according. My! but they was a skinny lot – reg’lar bags o’ bones; if ye’d a biled down the lot for stock you’d no need to ‘ave skimmed it. W’y, the tights they wore! – Speakin’ of legs as yards of pump-water ain’t in it; theirs looked as you might ‘ave rolled ’em up on a spool. And as to their chestys – why, you might ‘ave put ’em through the mangle and none ever the wuss – except the mangle from jerkiness, where it might ‘ave well expected to take it a bit india-rubbery. But the ply ‘ad so long a run that the fashion got changed, and the swells began to like ’em thick. So the gals got changed, too; some of ’em makin’ up with ‘eavy fleshings an’ them shove-up corsets, what’d take a pinch out of your – your stummick an’ swell out your throat with it, till they come into line with the fashion. Lor’, the things I’ve seen the girls do to make theirselves look bulkier than what nature made ’em! Any’ow, when they ‘ad run the fust companies twice round the Greats, Mr Sloper thought as ‘ow ‘e’d go one better on the fashion. “Ketch the risin’ tide” was ever ‘is mortar! So the company engyged for “The New Edition Society Gal” was corkers! They used to say in the wardrobe as ‘ow there was a twenty-stun standard, and no one would be engyged that couldn’t pass the butcher. Of course, the wardrobe of the theayter or the travelling shows was no use for “The Slim Syrens” – for that’s what they came to be kown as. We ‘ad to ‘ave a lot of tights made a purpose, and when they come ‘ome the young man ‘as brought ’em laughed that much that he cried, and he wanted to stay an’ see ’em put on, till I ‘unted ‘im out. I never see such tights in all my time. They was wove that bias everywhere as I felt my ‘eart sink when I thought of ‘ow we was to take up ladders in ’em; for fat girls does a deal more in that wy than slim ones – let alone the ‘arder pullin’ to drag ’em on. But the tights wasn’t the wust. You remember, Mrs Solomon, as ‘ow there’s a scene when Society goes in for to restore Wat-ho, and the ‘ole bilin’ dresses theirselves as shepherds. Mr Sloper didn’t want to spend no more money than he could ‘elp; so down he goes to Morris Angel’s, tykin’ me and Mrs Beilby, that was wardrobe mistress to the Slim Syrens, with ‘im. Well, ole Morris Angel trots out all the satin britches as ‘e ‘ad in stock. Of course, the most of ’em was no use to our little lot, but we managed to pick out a few that was likely for lydies what runs large. These did for some of the crowd, and, of course, the principals got theirs made to order. They wasn’t so much fuller than Angel’s lot, arter all; for our lydies, though bulky, liked good fits, and sure enough at the dress rehearsal most of them looked as if they had been melted and poured in. Mr Sloper and the styge manager and some of the syndicate gentlemen what came to see the rehearsal had no end of fun, and the things they said, and the jokes they made, and the way that the girls run after ’em and ‘ammered of ’em playful, as girls does, ‘d made you laugh to have seen it. And talk of blushin’! Well, there! The most particular of the lot, and him what didn’t like the laughin’ and the jokin’, was Mr Santander, that was going to take out the Company as manager – him what they called “Smack” Santander in the green room. There was one girl what was his ladyfriend as he had put into the lead, though the other girls said as ‘ow she ‘ad no rights to be shoved on that way. But, there! Gals is mostly like that when another gal gets took up and ‘elped on. Why, the things what I’ve ‘eard and seen just because a girl was put into the front row! When she was bein’ dressed, which it was in the wardrobe, because Mr Santander was that particular that Miss Amontillado should be dressed careful, well do I remember the remark as Mrs Beilby made: “Well, Miss,” says she, “there’s no denyin’ of that you are very fine and large!” Which was gospel truth, and no concealin’ of it either in the wardrobe or on the styge, an’ most of all in the orchestra, where the gentlemen never left for their whiskey-and-soda, or their beer or cards or what not, or a smoke, till she ‘ad gone to ‘er dressin’-room, which most of ’em got new glasses – them what didn’t use opery-glasses. Well, when dress rehearsal was over, Mr Sloper ‘e tried to be very serious, and, says he, “Lydies, you must try and be careful; remember that you carry weight!” – which that hended ‘is speech for ‘im, for he choked with laughter till the syndicate gentleman come and slapped ‘im on the back, and then laughed, too, fit to bust.
‘When we was startin’ the season Mr Santander sent for me and spoke to me about Miss Amontillado, and told me that it was as much as my plyce was worth if anything went wrong with ‘er. I told ‘im as ‘ow I’d do my best, and I took Miss Amontillado aside, and, ses I, “Miss, it’s temptin’ providence it is,” says I, “for a fine, strapping young lydy as you in britches like them,” I says. “You do kick about that free,” I says; “and satin is only satin at the best, and though the stryn is usual on it in the right direction up and down, there’s the stryn on yours all round. What if I was you I wouldn’t take no chances,” I says. Well, she laughed, and says she, “Well, you dear old geeser” – for she was a young lydy as was alwys kind and affable to her inferiors – “and what would you do if you was me?” “Well, miss,” I says, “if I was as gifted as you is, I’d have them made on webbin’ what’d ‘old, and wouldn’t show if the wust come to the wust.” She only laughed, and gave me sixpence, and, says she, “You’re a good ole sort, Sniffles” – for that’s what some of the young ones called me – “and I’ll tell Smack how well you look after me. Then perhaps he’ll raise your screw.”
‘Both Mr Santander and Miss Amontillado was anxious about the first night, and there was bets in the dressin’-room as to how she’d come off in ‘er ‘igh-kickin’ act. You’ll remember, Mrs Solomon, ‘ow the ply goes, as ‘ow to the surprise of all, the young Society gal as didn’t do nothin’ more nor a skirt-dance, sudden ups and tykes the kyke from all the perfeshionals. When Miss Amontillado was dressed for the act in her shepherd dress, I says to her, “Now miss,” I says, “do be keerful”; and Mr Santander ‘e says, “‘Ear! ‘ear!” ‘e says. “Oh, I’m all right,” she says. “Look ‘ere, Smack,” and she ups and does a split as made my ‘eart jump, it was that sudden, and up on her ‘eels agin afore you could say Jack Robinson!
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“The Slim Syrens” at bramstoker.org