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When William Came

The First-Night
Huge posters outside the Caravansery Theatre of Varieties announced the first
performance of the uniquely interesting Suggestion Dances, interpreted by the Hon.
Gorla Mustelford. An impressionist portrait of a rather severe-looking young woman
gave the public some idea of what the danseuse might be like in appearance, and the
further information was added that her performance was the greatest dramatic event of
the season. Yet another piece of information was conveyed to the public a few minutes
after the doors had opened, in the shape of large notices bearing the brief announcement,
“house full.” For the first-night function most of the seats had been reserved for
specially-invited guests or else bespoken by those who considered it due to their own
importance to be visible on such an occasion.
Even at the commencement of the ordinary programme of the evening (Gorla was not due
to appear till late in the list) the theatre was crowded with a throng of chattering,
expectant human beings; it seemed as though every one had come early to see every one
else arrive. As a matter of fact it was the rumour-heralded arrival of one personage in
particular that had drawn people early to their seats and given a double edge to the
expectancy of the moment.
At first sight and first hearing the bulk of the audience seemed to comprise
representatives of the chief European races in well-distributed proportions, but if one
gave it closer consideration it could be seen that the distribution was geographically
rather than ethnographically diversified. Men and women there were from Paris,
Munich, Rome, Moscow and Vienna, from Sweden and Holland and divers other cities
and countries, but in the majority of cases the Jordan Valley had supplied their
forefathers with a common cradle-ground. The lack of a fire burning on a national altar
seemed to have drawn them by universal impulse to the congenial flare of the footlights,
whether as artists, producers, impresarios, critics, agents, go-betweens, or merely as
highly intelligent and fearsomely well-informed spectators. They were prominent in the
chief seats, they were represented, more sparsely but still in fair numbers, in the cheaper
places, and everywhere they were voluble, emphatic, sanguine or sceptical, prodigal of
word and gesture, with eyes that seemed to miss nothing and acknowledge nothing, and a
general restless dread of not being seen and noticed. Of the theatre-going London public
there was also a fair muster, more particularly centred in the less expensive parts of the
house, while in boxes, stalls and circles a sprinkling of military uniforms gave an
unfamiliar tone to the scene in the eyes of those who had not previously witnessed a first-
night performance under the new conditions.
Yeovil, while standing aloof from his wife’s participation in this social event, had made
private arrangements for being a personal spectator of the scene; as one of the ticket-
buying public he had secured a seat in the back row of a low-priced gallery, whence he
might watch, observant and unobserved, the much talked-of début of Gorla Mustelford,
and the writing of a new chapter in the history of the fait accompli. Around him he
noticed an incessant undercurrent of jangling laughter, an unending give-and-take of
 
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