John Ingerfield and Other Stories
My first appearance at a Music Hall was in the year one thousand eight hundred and s--.
Well, I would rather not mention the exact date. I was fourteen at the time. It was during
the Christmas holidays, and my aunt had given me five shillings to go and see Phelps--I
think it was Phelps--in Coriolanus--I think it was Coriolanus. Anyhow, it was to see a
high-class and improving entertainment, I know.
I suggested that I should induce young Skegson, who lived in our road, to go with me.
Skegson is a barrister now, and could not tell you the difference between a knave of clubs
and a club of knaves. A few years hence he will, if he works hard, be innocent enough for
a judge. But at the period of which I speak he was a red-haired boy of worldly tastes,
notwithstanding which I loved him as a brother. My dear mother wished to see him
before consenting to the arrangement, so as to be able to form her own opinion as to
whether he was a fit and proper companion for me; and, accordingly, he was invited to
tea. He came, and made a most favourable impression upon both my mother and my aunt.
He had a way of talking about the advantages of application to study in early life, and the
duties of youth towards those placed in authority over it, that won for him much esteem
in grown-up circles. The spirit of the Bar had descended upon Skegson at a very early
period of his career.
My aunt, indeed, was so much pleased with him that she gave him two shillings towards
his own expenses ("sprung half a dollar" was how he explained the transaction when we
were outside), and commended me to his especial care.
Skegson was very silent during the journey. An idea was evidently maturing in his mind.
At the Angel he stopped and said: "Look here, I'll tell you what we'll do. Don't let's go
and see that rot. Let's go to a Music Hall."
I gasped for breath. I had heard of Music Halls. A stout lady had denounced them across
our dinner table on one occasion--fixing the while a steely eye upon her husband, who sat
opposite and seemed uncomfortable--as low, horrid places, where people smoked and
drank, and wore short skirts, and had added an opinion that they ought to be put down by
the police--whether the skirts or the halls she did not explain. I also recollected that our
charwoman, whose son had lately left London for a protracted stay in Devonshire, had, in
conversation with my mother, dated his downfall from the day when he first visited one
of these places; and likewise that Mrs. Philcox's nursemaid, upon her confessing that she
had spent an evening at one with her young man, had been called a shameless hussy, and
summarily dismissed as being no longer a fit associate for the baby.
But the spirit of lawlessness was strong within me in those days, so that I hearkened to
the voice of Skegson, the tempter, and he lured my feet from the paths that led to virtue
and Sadler's Wells, and we wandered into the broad and crowded ways that branch off
from the Angel towards Merry Islington.