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Chapter 9

THE DANCING ACADEMY

Of all the dancing academies that ever were established, there
never was one more popular in its immediate vicinity than Signor
Billsmethi's, of the 'King's Theatre.' It was not in Spring-
gardens, or Newman-street, or Berners-street, or Gower-street, or
Charlotte-street, or Percy-street, or any other of the numerous
streets which have been devoted time out of mind to professional
people, dispensaries, and boarding-houses; it was not in the West-
end at all--it rather approximated to the eastern portion of
London, being situated in the populous and improving neighbourhood
of Gray's-inn-lane. It was not a dear dancing academy--four-and-
sixpence a quarter is decidedly cheap upon the whole. It was VERY
select, the number of pupils being strictly limited to seventy-
five, and a quarter's payment in advance being rigidly exacted.
There was public tuition and private tuition--an assembly-room and
a parlour. Signor Billsmethi's family were always thrown in with
the parlour, and included in parlour price; that is to say, a
private pupil had Signor Billsmethi's parlour to dance IN, and
Signor Billsmethi's family to dance WITH; and when he had been
sufficiently broken in in the parlour, he began to run in couples
in the assembly-room.

Such was the dancing academy of Signor Billsmethi, when Mr.
Augustus Cooper, of Fetter-lane, first saw an unstamped
advertisement walking leisurely down Holborn-hill, announcing to
the world that Signor Billsmethi, of the King's Theatre, intended
opening for the season with a Grand Ball.

Now, Mr. Augustus Cooper was in the oil and colour line--just of
age, with a little money, a little business, and a little mother,
who, having managed her husband and HIS business in his lifetime,
took to managing her son and HIS business after his decease; and
so, somehow or other, he had been cooped up in the little back
parlour behind the shop on week-days, and in a little deal box
without a lid (called by courtesy a pew) at Bethel Chapel, on
Sundays, and had seen no more of the world than if he had been an
infant all his days; whereas Young White, at the gas-fitter's over
the way, three years younger than him, had been flaring away like
winkin'--going to the theatre--supping at harmonic meetings--eating
oysters by the barrel--drinking stout by the gallon--even out all
night, and coming home as cool in the morning as if nothing had
happened. So Mr. Augustus Cooper made up his mind that he would
not stand it any longer, and had that very morning expressed to his
mother a firm determination to be 'blowed,' in the event of his not
being instantly provided with a street-door key. And he was
walking down Holborn-hill, thinking about all these things, and
wondering how he could manage to get introduced into genteel
society for the first time, when his eyes rested on Signor
Billsmethi's announcement, which it immediately struck him was just
the very thing he wanted; for he should not only be able to select
a genteel circle of acquaintance at once, out of the five-and-
seventy pupils at four-and-sixpence a quarter, but should qualify
himself at the same time to go through a hornpipe in private
society, with perfect ease to himself and great delight to his
friends. So, he stopped the unstamped advertisement--an animated
sandwich, composed of a boy between two boards--and having procured
a very small card with the Signor's address indented thereon,
walked straight at once to the Signor's house--and very fast he
walked too, for fear the list should be filled up, and the five-
and-seventy completed, before he got there. The Signor was at
home, and, what was still more gratifying, he was an Englishman!
Such a nice man--and so polite! The list was not full, but it was
a most extraordinary circumstance that there was only just one
vacancy, and even that one would have been filled up, that very
morning, only Signor Billsmethi was dissatisfied with the
reference, and, being very much afraid that the lady wasn't select,
wouldn't take her.

'And very much delighted I am, Mr. Cooper,' said Signor Billsmethi,
'that I did NOT take her. I assure you, Mr. Cooper--I don't say it
to flatter you, for I know you're above it--that I consider myself
extremely fortunate in having a gentleman of your manners and
appearance, sir.'

'I am very glad of it too, sir,' said Augustus Cooper.

'And I hope we shall be better acquainted, sir,' said Signor
Billsmethi.

'And I'm sure I hope we shall too, sir,' responded Augustus Cooper.
Just then, the door opened, and in came a young lady, with her hair
curled in a crop all over her head, and her shoes tied in sandals
all over her ankles.

'Don't run away, my dear,' said Signor Billsmethi; for the young
lady didn't know Mr. Cooper was there when she ran in, and was
going to run out again in her modesty, all in confusion-like.
'Don't run away, my dear,' said Signor Billsmethi, 'this is Mr.
Cooper--Mr. Cooper, of Fetter-lane. Mr. Cooper, my daughter, sir--
Miss Billsmethi, sir, who I hope will have the pleasure of dancing
many a quadrille, minuet, gavotte, country-dance, fandango, double-
hornpipe, and farinagholkajingo with you, sir. She dances them
all, sir; and so shall you, sir, before you're a quarter older,
sir.'

And Signor Bellsmethi slapped Mr. Augustus Cooper on the back, as
if he had known him a dozen years,--so friendly;--and Mr. Cooper
bowed to the young lady, and the young lady curtseyed to him, and
Signor Billsmethi said they were as handsome a pair as ever he'd
wish to see; upon which the young lady exclaimed, 'Lor, pa!' and
blushed as red as Mr. Cooper himself--you might have thought they
were both standing under a red lamp at a chemist's shop; and before
Mr. Cooper went away it was settled that he should join the family
circle that very night--taking them just as they were--no ceremony
nor nonsense of that kind--and learn his positions in order that he
might lose no time, and be able to come out at the forthcoming
ball.

Well; Mr. Augustus Cooper went away to one of the cheap shoemakers'
shops in Holborn, where gentlemen's dress-pumps are seven-and-
sixpence, and men's strong walking just nothing at all, and bought
a pair of the regular seven-and-sixpenny, long-quartered, town-
mades, in which he astonished himself quite as much as his mother,
and sallied forth to Signor Billsmethi's. There were four other
private pupils in the parlour: two ladies and two gentlemen. Such
nice people! Not a bit of pride about them. One of the ladies in
particular, who was in training for a Columbine, was remarkably
affable; and she and Miss Billsmethi took such an interest in Mr.
Augustus Cooper, and joked, and smiled, and looked so bewitching,
that he got quite at home, and learnt his steps in no time. After
the practising was over, Signor Billsmethi, and Miss Billsmethi,
and Master Billsmethi, and a young lady, and the two ladies, and
the two gentlemen, danced a quadrille--none of your slipping and
sliding about, but regular warm work, flying into corners, and
diving among chairs, and shooting out at the door,--something like
dancing! Signor Billsmethi in particular, notwithstanding his
having a little fiddle to play all the time, was out on the landing
every figure, and Master Billsmethi, when everybody else was
breathless, danced a hornpipe, with a cane in his hand, and a
cheese-plate on his head, to the unqualified admiration of the
whole company. Then, Signor Billsmethi insisted, as they were so
happy, that they should all stay to supper, and proposed sending
Master Billsmethi for the beer and spirits, whereupon the two
gentlemen swore, 'strike 'em wulgar if they'd stand that;' and were
just going to quarrel who should pay for it, when Mr. Augustus
Cooper said he would, if they'd have the kindness to allow him--and
they HAD the kindness to allow him; and Master Billsmethi brought
the beer in a can, and the rum in a quart pot. They had a regular
night of it; and Miss Billsmethi squeezed Mr. Augustus Cooper's
hand under the table; and Mr. Augustus Cooper returned the squeeze,
and returned home too, at something to six o'clock in the morning,
when he was put to bed by main force by the apprentice, after
repeatedly expressing an uncontrollable desire to pitch his revered
parent out of the second-floor window, and to throttle the
apprentice with his own neck-handkerchief.

Weeks had worn on, and the seven-and-sixpenny town-mades had nearly
worn out, when the night arrived for the grand dress-ball at which
the whole of the five-and-seventy pupils were to meet together, for
the first time that season, and to take out some portion of their
respective four-and-sixpences in lamp-oil and fiddlers. Mr.
Augustus Cooper had ordered a new coat for the occasion--a two-
pound-tenner from Turnstile. It was his first appearance in
public; and, after a grand Sicilian shawl-dance by fourteen young
ladies in character, he was to open the quadrille department with
Miss Billsmethi herself, with whom he had become quite intimate
since his first introduction. It WAS a night! Everything was
admirably arranged. The sandwich-boy took the hats and bonnets at
the street-door; there was a turn-up bedstead in the back parlour,
on which Miss Billsmethi made tea and coffee for such of the
gentlemen as chose to pay for it, and such of the ladies as the
gentlemen treated; red port-wine negus and lemonade were handed
round at eighteen-pence a head; and in pursuance of a previous
engagement with the public-house at the corner of the street, an
extra potboy was laid on for the occasion. In short, nothing could
exceed the arrangements, except the company. Such ladies! Such
pink silk stockings! Such artificial flowers! Such a number of
cabs! No sooner had one cab set down a couple of ladies, than
another cab drove up and set down another couple of ladies, and
they all knew: not only one another, but the majority of the
gentlemen into the bargain, which made it all as pleasant and
lively as could be. Signor Billsmethi, in black tights, with a
large blue bow in his buttonhole, introduced the ladies to such of
the gentlemen as were strangers: and the ladies talked away--and
laughed they did--it was delightful to see them.

As to the shawl-dance, it was the most exciting thing that ever was
beheld; there was such a whisking, and rustling, and fanning, and
getting ladies into a tangle with artificial flowers, and then
disentangling them again! And as to Mr. Augustus Cooper's share in
the quadrille, he got through it admirably. He was missing from
his partner, now and then, certainly, and discovered on such
occasions to be either dancing with laudable perseverance in
another set, or sliding about in perspective, without any definite
object; but, generally speaking, they managed to shove him through
the figure, until he turned up in the right place. Be this as it
may, when he had finished, a great many ladies and gentlemen came
up and complimented him very much, and said they had never seen a
beginner do anything like it before; and Mr. Augustus Cooper was
perfectly satisfied with himself, and everybody else into the
bargain; and 'stood' considerable quantities of spirits-and-water,
negus, and compounds, for the use and behoof of two or three dozen
very particular friends, selected from the select circle of five-
and-seventy pupils.

Now, whether it was the strength of the compounds, or the beauty of
the ladies, or what not, it did so happen that Mr. Augustus Cooper
encouraged, rather than repelled, the very flattering attentions of
a young lady in brown gauze over white calico who had appeared
particularly struck with him from the first; and when the
encouragements had been prolonged for some time, Miss Billsmethi
betrayed her spite and jealousy thereat by calling the young lady
in brown gauze a 'creeter,' which induced the young lady in brown
gauze to retort, in certain sentences containing a taunt founded on
the payment of four-and-sixpence a quarter, which reference Mr.
Augustus Cooper, being then and there in a state of considerable
bewilderment, expressed his entire concurrence in. Miss
Billsmethi, thus renounced, forthwith began screaming in the
loudest key of her voice, at the rate of fourteen screams a minute;
and being unsuccessful, in an onslaught on the eyes and face, first
of the lady in gauze and then of Mr. Augustus Cooper, called
distractedly on the other three-and-seventy pupils to furnish her
with oxalic acid for her own private drinking; and, the call not
being honoured, made another rush at Mr. Cooper, and then had her
stay-lace cut, and was carried off to bed. Mr. Augustus Cooper,
not being remarkable for quickness of apprehension, was at a loss
to understand what all this meant, until Signor Billsmethi
explained it in a most satisfactory manner, by stating to the
pupils, that Mr. Augustus Cooper had made and confirmed divers
promises of marriage to his daughter on divers occasions, and had
now basely deserted her; on which, the indignation of the pupils
became universal; and as several chivalrous gentlemen inquired
rather pressingly of Mr. Augustus Cooper, whether he required
anything for his own use, or, in other words, whether he 'wanted
anything for himself,' he deemed it prudent to make a precipitate
retreat. And the upshot of the matter was, that a lawyer's letter
came next day, and an action was commenced next week; and that Mr.
Augustus Cooper, after walking twice to the Serpentine for the
purpose of drowning himself, and coming twice back without doing
it, made a confidante of his mother, who compromised the matter
with twenty pounds from the till: which made twenty pounds four
shillings and sixpence paid to Signor Billsmethi, exclusive of
treats and pumps. And Mr. Augustus Cooper went back and lived with
his mother, and there he lives to this day; and as he has lost his
ambition for society, and never goes into the world, he will never
see this account of himself, and will never be any the wiser.

Charles Dickens