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A Swedish Provincial Theatre by G. H.

It is not so magnificent as the Scala and San Carlo, and still, after seeing both those famous theatres, I must confess I preferred that of Carlstad to either. It is small and different in form from the generality: it reminded me, in fact, of a hall in a certain New England town where I used to go to the panorama as a child. There was a gallery like that in which the men and boys sat who tramped the loudest and kissed their hands, to the confusion of their neighbors, when the lights were turned down to enhance the effect of the burning of Moscow; only, at my panorama the gallery was unfashionable on account of the noisy male element, whereas at Carlstad it was the dress-circle. We—a party of Americans, the only foreigners in the house that night—occupied orchestra-stalls, as I presume the two or three front benches in the parquet may be called. There was a white cape in our vicinity, as well as one in the balcony; so our seats were probably as fashionable as those in the first and only circle; but behind us, stretching out to the doors and in under the gallery, was a dense mass unrelieved by opera-cloaks of any description; and that was the region of the unpretending—-of those who came simply to enjoy, to see and not to be seen.

As we spent a good part of a day at Carlstad, I should, perhaps, relate something more of the place than merely how we went to the theatre there; but that delightful evening effaced all other impressions, and after the interval that has since elapsed Fleur de Thé and our commissioner are the only things that have retained somewhat of their original savor.

The railway from Stockholm to Christiania ceased at Carlstad on Lake Wener, which gave us a day's drive to Arvika to strike the track again; and while we stood consulting where we were to get carriages, and whether we should go directly on, there came up a flourishing specimen of the genus valet de place, who took possession of us and laid out a plan that he had apparently prepared over night for our especial benefit. It is a way those persons have, and one that gives them a tremendous advantage over travelers weakened by a long journey, that they act as if they were there by appointment to meet you, or as if you had telegraphed precisely what you wished to do, and they were merely carrying out your intentions. "You want to go to the Black Eagle Hotel: I take you there. You would like to dine: you can have dinner at the hotel, or I shall show you a nice restaurant." We had not expected to find a member of the great European brotherhood just there in a little town in the heart of Sweden, and, taken unawares, fell an easy prey. However, they do not invariably succeed in that way: sometimes, if their officiousness is excessive, their English very exasperating and the traveler a little fractious as well as tired, they get the tables turned on them. A lady just arrived at Genoa, when halfway to the hotel with one of these persuasive personages snatched her bag out of his hand and walked into the rival albergo because he said with an aggravating accent, "I sall get you a ticket for de steam-er." "No you sha'n't, either: I have got it myself," she said; and so they parted company, to his infinite amazement. My friend—it was a friend of mine—turned back, on second thoughts, to offer the man something for having carried her belongings, but he put on offended dignity and declared that he didn't want her money. She was rather sorry afterward that he didn't do violence to his feelings and take it; and so, no doubt, was he.

Our Carlstad commissioner beguiled the length of the way to the inn, at which we were a little inclined to grumble, by pointing out everything of note in our walk through the town. We had been reading up in the train, and knew that Carlstad was the capital of a district, had five thousand inhabitants, and was nearly destroyed by fire in 1865; but he, a son of the place, and seeing in his mind's eye its rising glory when the railroad should be completed, did not let us off with that. We had to look and admire just where he told us. "Wide streets," he would say in his finely-chopped English. "Houses all very high—new since the fire. See here! there's the telegraph-office."

At which, to answer in the style he understood best, we must have responded, "Oh, I say! Well. Very good! All right!"

"You shall go to the theatre if you want to," he remarked at last, in that sweet, protecting way peculiar to his class from the habitual confounding of can, shall and will, and that put us into good humor directly. To go to the theatre would be just the thing.

"Oh yes, everybody goes," he said. It was a Danish company—very good actors—very pretty piece; but we rather expected to care more for the everybody than either the piece or the actors; and so it proved.

We went early, and established ourselves in the orchestra-stalls, as already stated, while our guardian accepted an unpretending seat for himself, where he remained in readiness to tow us home after the performance. And then the spectators began to come in, and positively some of the very people who used to be at the panorama. I know there was a lady in front of me, in Mechanic Hall, who wore her hair in just such a little knot—pug is, I think, the classic name for that coiffure—and her dress cut as low in the throat and adorned with precisely such a self-embroidered collar as the lady rejoiced in who occupied the seat before me at the theatre. That she was one of the fashionables of Carlstad could be seen in the lofty pose of that pug, and in the curious structure of ribbon and lace that sat astride of it and hung down at each side. Her husband, a small, rather dried-up gentleman, had the look of a town oracle who was oppressed at home, and her daughter was one of the prettiest girls in the house. The overgrown boy, the son and heir, was not pretty: he sat beside his sister and kept nudging her. I could not exactly understand what he said in Swedish, but I know it must have been of this nature: "There's Jim Davis over there. Look, sister, look!"

Sister only glanced at him with a reproving air of "Don't push me so," and then gazed steadfastly in the other direction; but she was not left long in peace. Tom's elbow began again in a minute: "He's looking right at you, all the time. You'd better turn round and bow to him." And the color would creep up in her cheeks, do all she could to prevent it, so that she had to lean across mamma and say something to her father, just so as not to bow to Mr. Davis, which would have been such a simple thing to do, after all.

Everybody who came in nodded and spoke to everybody else, and then shook hands across the seats; and we felt quite out of our element under the inquiring but superior glances that fell to our lot. It was all very well for us to make our little observations and smile at each other on the sly: we had the consciousness all the while of not belonging to the first society in Carlstad, and of being viewed as intruders in that select circle.

We had been studying one family party after another as the seats filled around us, for the audience collected by families, when, with a little rustle and stir attending her progress, and a whispering behind her as she advanced, the Bride appeared, for she had arrived from Stockholm by our train. It was the first time any one had seen her since she started on the wedding-tour, and the bows and smiles she dealt out on every side were not to be numbered. Our pretty girl got one—they were school-friends—and the horrid boy another, which he barely answered with a solemn nod of his head, being as shy of her, apparently, in her blue silk and white cape, as his sister was of Mr. Davis. It was really a very pretty dress of the Bride's, and one that made our traveling costumes look uncommonly shabby: it was taken up behind in the approved style, and only needed a bustle to have been truly effective. Doubtless she had seen plenty of those articles in Stockholm, only her husband said, "I hope, dear, you will never put on one of those horrid things;" and she told him certainly not if he did not like them; but I think she found afterward she needed one for that blue dress, and sent for it at the first opportunity. The young husband was not got up for show, knowing very well that no one would mind him, but he looked beamingly happy; and if he was not in a dress-coat with a flower in his buttonhole, like the habitués of the Comédie Française or the Italiens, he understood how they use an opera-glass there. The glass was a new acquisition that he had brought home with him, and after practicing with it at the Royal Theatre in the capital, he was fully prepared to stand up between the acts, with his arm behind him in a negligently graceful attitude, and study the balcony. His acquaintances there must have found it rather embarrassing, for it was not a usual thing in Carlstad to look at one's friends through an opera-glass: he was the only person who did it, and they probably all talked about it when they went home.

We were so occupied with our surroundings that we hardly thought of the piece, though it was given with considerable spirit, if I remember rightly. The sailors were fine, jolly tars, and the Chinese ladies and gentlemen toddled about in flowered dressing-gowns and talked with their thumbs, as it would appear the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire usually do; but the house did not allow itself to be betrayed into unseemly enthusiasm. There was an involuntary laugh now and then, and once somebody said bravo, but as a general thing a discreet reticence prevailed, and the actors might have gone through the piece on their heads in an extravagant desire to elicit signs of approval: they would only have received a cool little round of applause when the curtain fell.

We, at all events, had no hesitation in telling the commissioner that we had enjoyed ourselves immensely; and so, it appeared, had he. He was even bold enough to call it a very fine company, and as we walked back to the hotel at half-past nine in broad daylight, he told us what they were going to play the next evening, possibly in the hope that we should stay for it and he should get another seat. That was out of the question, however, sorry as we were to disappoint him. He had to tuck us into the carriage the following day, and let us drive away and leave him bereft of his charges. "You shall have a good ride," were his parting words, kind and fatherly as he was to the last; and so we had. But we found no one again to care for us so tenderly as our old friend, nor did any one take us to the theatre throughout the remainder of the journey.