Chapter 9. The Dancing Academy

by Charles Dickens

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 andhis 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.’

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