A Pirate of Parts
By RICHARD NEVILLE
"One man in his time plays many parts." —SHAKESPEARE
NEW YORK The Neale Publishing Company 1913
Copyright, 1913, by The Neale Publishing Company All rights reserved
"All the worlds' a stage And all the men and women merely players"
To my sister, Mrs. Mary Hughes, who for years has been associated with several of the most notable presentations on the American stage and with many of the most prominent and talented of American players, both male and female.
"BILL OF THE PLAY"
I.—Is all our company here?—Shakespeare
II.—What stories I'll tell when my sojerin' is o'er.—Lever
III.—Come all ye warmheart'd countrymen I pray you will draw near.—Old Ballad
IV.—Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of ground.—Shakespeare
V.—I would rather live in Bohemia than in any other land.—John Boyle O'Reilly
VI.—What strange things we see and what queer things we do.—Modern Song
VII.—He employs his fancy in his narrative and keep his Recollections for his wit.—Richard Brindsley Sheridan
VIII.—Every one shall offer according to what he hath.—Deut.
IX.—One man in his time plays many parts.—Shakespeare
X.—Originality is nothing more than judicious imitation.—Voltaire
XI.—All places that the eye of heaven visits are happy havens.—Shakespeare
XII.—There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.—Shakespeare
XIII.—Life is mostly froth and bubble.—The Hill
XIV.—Nature hath fram'd strange fellows in her time.—Shakespeare
XV.—Come what come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day.—Shakespeare
XVI.—A new way to pay old debts.
XVII.—The actors are at hand.—Shakespeare
XVIII.—Twinkle, twinkle little star.—Nursery Rhymes
XIX.—Experience is a great teacher—the events of life its chapters.—Sainte Beuve
XX.—I am not an imposter that proclaim myself against the level of my aim.—Shakespeare
XXI.—I'll view the town, peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings.—Shakespeare
XXII.—Is this world and all the life upon it a farce or vaudeville.—Geo. Elliott
XXIII.—All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players.—Shakespeare
XXIV.—There's nothing to be got nowadays, unless thou can'st fish for it.—Shakespeare
XXV.—Joy danced with Mirth, a gay fantastic crowd.—Collins
XXVI.—Say not "Good Night," but in some brighter clime bid me "Good Morning."—Barbauld
A Pirate of Parts
"Is all our company here?" —MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
Yes, he was a strolling player pure and simple. He was an actor by profession, and jack of all trades through necessity. He could play any part from Macbeth to the hind leg of an elephant, equally well or bad, as the case might be. What he did not know about a theatre was not worth knowing; what he could not do about a playhouse was not worth doing—provided you took his word for it. From this it might be inferred he was a useful man, but he was not. He had a queer way of doing things he ought not to do, and of leaving undone things he should have done. Good nature, however, was his chief quality. He bubbled over with it. Under the most trying circumstances he never lost his temper. He laughed his way through life, apparently without care. Yet he was a man of family, and those who were dependent upon him were not neglected, for his little ones were uppermost in his heart. Acting was his legitimate calling, but he would attempt anything to turn an honest penny. In turn he had been sailor, engineer, pilot, painter, manager, lecturer, bartender, soldier, author, clown, pantaloon, and a brass band. To preach a sermon would disconcert him as little as to undertake to navigate a balloon. He could get away with a pint of Jersey lightning, and under its stimulating influence address a blue ribbon temperance meeting on the pernicious effects of rum. Where he was born no one could tell. He claimed laughingly that it was so long since he was first produced he had lost track of the date. A friend of his maintained that he was bred in the blue grass region, he was such an admirable judge of whisky. On that score he might as well have been born in the County Galway as in the state of Kentucky. He had a voluminous shock of red hair; his name was Handy, and no one ever thought of addressing him otherwise, even on the slightest acquaintance. When he had an engagement he was poorer than when he was out of a job. He was a daisy of the chronic impecunious variety.
The summer of —'7 was a hard season with actors, and as Handy was one of the guild he suffered like the rest of his calling. He was not so fortunate as to have country relatives with whom he might visit and spend a brief vacation down on the old farm, so he had to bestir himself to hit upon some scheme or other to bridge over the so-called dog days. He pondered over the matter, and finally determined to organize a company to work the towns along the Long Island Sound coast. Most men would have shrunk from an undertaking of this character without the necessary capital to embark in the venture. Handy, however, was not an individual of that type. He was a man of great natural and economical resources, when put to the test. Moreover, he had a friend who was the owner of a good-sized canvas tent; was on familiar terms with another who was the proud possessor of a fairly good-sized sailing craft; his credit at the printer's was good for twenty or twenty-five dollars, and in addition he had eleven dollars in hard cash in his inside pocket. What more could an enterprising man, with energy to burn, desire?
On the Rialto Handy picked up seven good men and true, who, like himself, had many a time and oft fretted their brief hour upon the stage—and possibly will again,—who were willing to embark their fame and fortune in the venture. They knew Handy was a sailor bold, and so long as they had an angel in the shape of a vessel to perform the transportation part of the scheme without being compelled to count railroad ties, in case of ill luck, sailing was good enough for them. Besides, time was no object, for they had plenty of it to spare.
They were all actors like Handy himself. The stories they could unfold of barn-storming in country towns in years gone by would fill a volume as bulky as a census report. Moreover, they could turn their talents to any line of business and double, treble, quintuple parts as easily as talk. They were players of the old stock school.
One of the company played a cornet badly enough to compel the inhabitants of any civilized town to take to the woods until he had made his departure; another was a flutist of uncertain qualifications, while a third could rasp a little on the violin; and as for Handy himself, he could tackle any other instrument that might be necessary to make up a band; but playing the drum,—the bass drum,—or the cymbals, was his specialty.
A company was accordingly organized, the day of departure fixed, the printing got out—and the printer "hung up." The vessel was anchored off Staten Island, and was provisioned with one keg of beer, a good-sized box of hardtack, a jar of Vesey Street pickles, a Washington Street ham, five large loaves and all the fishes in the bay. The company, after some preliminary preparations, boarded the Gem of the Ocean, for such was the pretentious name of the unpretentious craft that was to carry Caesar and his fortunes. Perhaps Handy's own description of the first night's adventure might prove more interesting than if given by another.
"What stories I'll tell when my sojerin is o'er." —LEVER.
"Well, sir, you see," said Handy some weeks after in relating the adventure to a friend, "we had previously determined to start from Staten Island, when one of the company got it into his head that we might show on the island for 'one night only,' and make a little something into the bargain. Besides, he reasoned, all first-class companies nowadays adopt that plan of breaking in their people. Some cynical individuals describe this first night operation as 'trying it on the dog,' but as that is a vulgar way of putting it we'll let it pass. We turned the matter over in our minds, and almost unanimously agreed that it was too near the city to make the attempt, but the strong arguments of Smith prevailed—he was the one who first advocated it—and we therefore resolved to set up our tent and present 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' with an unparalleled cast from the California Theatre.
"You must remember we desired to have the company hail from a point as far distant as possible from New York, and we could hardly have gone further or we would have slid right plumb off the continent. But we told no lie about the company being unparalleled. No, sir. You couldn't match it for money. It was what might be legitimately considered a 'star cast company.'
"One of the company was a dwarf. That was lucky, or we would have been stuck for a Little Eva. So the dwarf was cast for Eva; and he doubled up and served as an ice floe, with a painted soap box on his back to represent a floating cake of ice in the flight scene. He played the ice floe much better than he did Eva. But that's neither here nor there now, as he got through with both. What's more, he's alive to-day to tell the tale. Between ourselves, he was the oddest looking Eva—and the toughest one, too, for that matter—you ever clapped eyes upon.
"In the dying scene, where Eva is supposed to start for heaven, we struck up the tune of 'Dem Golden Slippers' in what we considered appropriate time. Well! whatever it was—whether it was the music, the singing, or little Eva's departure for the heavenly regions—it nearly broke up the show. The audience simply wouldn't stand for it. Just at that impressive moment when the Golden Gates were supposed to be ajar, and dear little Eva's spirit was about to pass the gate-keeper, a couple of rural hoodlums in the starboard side of the tent began to whistle the suggestive psalm, 'There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town To-night.' When I heard it I felt convinced it wouldn't be safe to give that programme for more than one night in any town.
"We hurried through the performance for two special reasons: first, because the audience evidently did not appear to appreciate or take kindly to the company from the California Theatre, and secondly on account of the rising wind which was beginning to blow up pretty fresh, and the tent was not sufficiently able-bodied to stand too much of a pressure from outside as well as from within. Consequently we rang down the curtain rather prematurely on the last act. It is nothing more than candid to allow that the audience was not as quiet at the close as in the earlier scenes of the drama. We had no kick coming, however, as the gross receipts footed up seventeen dollars and fifty cents.
"We struck tent without much delay and managed to get our traps together. We were about to carry them down to the Gem of the Ocean when Smith, the property man, approached me with the information that there was a man looking for me who intimated that he was going to levy on our props. 'What's up?' I asked.
"'Don't know,' answered Smith, 'but I think you had better see him yourself.'
"I did, and it proved to be the sheriff, or some fellow of that persuasion. He came to make it warm for us because, forsooth, we showed without a license. And this, mind you, in what we regard as a free country. Ye gods! Well, be that as it may, you can readily see we were in a bad box, and how to get out of it was the perplexing problem that confronted me.
"I claimed ignorance of the law, but it was no go. I then attempted a bluff game, but it wouldn't work for a cent. I tried him on all the points of the compass of strategem, but he was a Staten Islander, and I failed satisfactorily to inoculate him with my histrionic eloquence. The members of the company, however, were not wasting time and were getting the things down to the dock, only a short distance off.
"Finally, as if inspired, I suggested to the official that we drop over the way, to Clausen's, and talk the matter over. I was thirsty, and I had an instinctive idea that my political friend also was. He hesitated a moment, and then started across with me. We walked slowly and talked freely. At length we got down to hard pan. I was ready to settle up and pay the license fee, but he wasn't ready to receive it. The fee, I think, was five dollars, but he wanted something in addition for his trouble. He didn't say as much, but I knew that was what he was hinting at. These politicians are so modest. I know them from past experience.
"When we reached Clausen's we retired to a quiet corner in the back room and continued our conversation. I set up the beer, called for the cigars, and then motioned for another round. The sheriff was quite agreeable. Suddenly it flashed through my mind that I did not have one cent in my clothes. Sy Jones, whom we had appointed treasurer, had taken possession of the gross receipts. I was nonplussed for the time being. What to do I couldn't tell for the moment, but I didn't communicate that fact to my official friend. We had some more refreshments, and then I excused myself for a minute and went out into the yard back of the house. As fate would have it, the fence was not high. Without much hesitation I took chances, sprang over it, and started for the water-side as quickly as my legs would travel.
"I knew exactly where the Gem of the Ocean lay. The boys had worked like beavers in the interim. They had everything stowed away snugly. It did not take me long to get aboard with the rest of the boys.
"'Get to work and cast off as quickly as you can,' I whispered, rather than yelled. It was an anxious moment, I tell you, for just at that moment the front door of Clausen's power house was flung wide open and loud and angry voices were borne on the night wind to where we lay. 'Push her bow off, for the Lord's sake!' I yelled, while I was busily engaged in running up the jib.
"It wasn't then a question of sheriff alone. Clausen, the German saloon-keeper, and his gang were coming down on us like a pack of wolves on a sheepfold. Clausen, naturally enough, was considerably put out, simply because I was forced through the contradictory nature of conflicting circumstances to arbitrarily stand him up for the refreshments and smokes, and he appeared desirous of getting square. Fortunately for us, the high wind that had threatened to blow over our tent was off-shore, and by the time the Staten Islanders reached the end of the dock we had a good breeze full on the sails and were laying our course for the hospitable shore of Long Island."
"Come all ye warm-hearted countrymen, I pray you will draw near." —Old Song.
"About daybreak we passed through Hell Gate, with a kiting breeze, and were pointing for Whitestone, where we proposed to show the following night. We reached there some time in the forenoon. Fancy our dismay when we learned that North's Circus was billed there the same evening. North had chartered a steamer and was bent on precisely the same lay as we were, with this difference, that he was more thoroughly equipped for the undertaking. As soon as we made this unpleasant discovery our spirits fell to zero and our hearts slipped into our boots. Some of the people were so discouraged that they were in favor of giving up the 'snap' there and then, but the more optimistic ones determined to stick it out, and stick we did.
"Along in the afternoon we saw the North steamer come along with flags flying and a band playing. If we hadn't been on professional business ourselves we possibly might have enjoyed the exhibition. We should have left Whitestone right away, but the wind had died out and there wasn't a capful of air stirring. Some of the members of the company expressed a desire to go ashore, but I objected. I had made up my mind to start with the first breath of wind that sprang up. To profitably employ our time we set to work to fish for our supper. Our larder was not over and above flush, and a few fish would prove quite acceptable. Just about sundown a breeze sprang up, and we took advantage of it. We hoisted anchor and stood up the Sound with every stitch of canvas set and drawing.
"I forget just the name of the next stopping place we reached, but I should judge it was a point opposite, or nearly opposite, to Greenwich or Stamford. We remained on board until about eight o'clock next morning, and then a little party went ashore to reconnoiter. The town proper was only a short distance from the little harbor. Imagine our feelings when we ascertained that North had billed this town also, and was to show there that very night. This was too much for poor, trusting human nature. The opposition show itself we wouldn't have minded, but the colored printing, streamers, and snipes that adorned the fences, barns and hen houses almost paralyzed us.
"In sheer desperation we brought the tent ashore and prepared to tackle fate and the opposition, and trust to luck. We put out no bills, and got ready to make much big noise of the proper kind when the opportune moment arrived. We hired a wagon from an enterprising farmer for our band; then sent complimentary tickets to the dominie to come to see 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' for the familiar old drama, notwithstanding the wear and tear of many years of barn-storming, is still regarded as somewhat of a religious entertainment. We toiled like beavers to work up business for the night. The attraction pitted against us was strong, but what of that? Desperation gave us strength, and we hoped for the best.
"Along in the afternoon as I was about to board the Gem I was astonished to find no appearance of the North circus steamer. It was nigh on to high water, a dead calm prevailed, and the atmosphere was hot and misty. I thought little of it at the time, until I reached the deck. I knew that, allowing a fair margin for delay, a power craft could run up in short order, and an hour or so would be ample time to put up the tent and get everything in readiness for the night's performance.
"While I sat at the head of the companionway meditating over the situation and drawing consolation from a bit of briarwood, the property man hailed me from the shore. I immediately manned the dingy and rowed for the shore to ascertain what was the matter. When I got there he informed me that some of the inhabitants from the interior had got in town to see the show and were anxious to buy reserved seats. I inquired if he had accommodated them. He told me he had not done so, as he had an idea that it was the other show they were looking for. However, he was not certain on that score. For the time being, however, he put them off with the explanation that the ticket register was out of order and the tickets were not yet ready. The family wagons and carryalls were beginning to come in, and by four o'clock or thereabouts the little place presented quite an animated appearance. The prospects for a crowd were good. Every minute I expected to hear the sound of the steamboat's whistle at the point announcing her arrival. It was getting along well in the afternoon when the thought entered my mind, 'Now, if by any chance the steamer should be delayed, what course would I pursue?'
"The more I turned the subject over in my mind the stronger I became impressed with the idea that desperate cases necessitate strenuous remedies. The heat of the afternoon became oppressive, and the haze had become a thick fog over the water. Occasionally it would lift slightly and then settle down more dense than before. Five o'clock came, and still no steamer. About ten minutes later we heard a sound that nearly knocked me out. It was the steamer with the other fellow's show. We heard the blow, but could not get a glimpse of the blowpipe. We could hear, but could not see. We remained on board some time, and then all hands went ashore. The fog still hung over the water and the whistle continued to blow. We resolved to play a desperate game. So long as the fog continued we were all safe, as I felt satisfied the captain of the steamer would not dare venture to run in closer to the shore at that stage of the tide, especially in such a fog.
"We hurried up to the tent and began to sell tickets. Buyers naturally made inquiries, but the ticket-seller economized considerably on the truth in his answers. We paid the farmer for his wagon that had been used by the band one half in cash and the balance in passes. Sharp at eight o'clock we rung the curtain up to a jammed house of the most astonished countrymen, women and children you ever set eyes upon. They did not know what to make of it, but they swallowed it all in the most good-natured manner possible. We introduced bits of 'The Old Homestead,' 'The Two Orphans,' 'Rip Van Winkle,' slices of Shakespeare, Augustus Thomas, George Ade, and other great writers, so you see we were giving them bits of the best living and dead dramatists. Our native Shakespeares do the same thing nowadays in all of their original works, and that's no idle fairy tale. We sandwiched comedy, drama, tragedy, and farce, and interlarded the mixture with Victor Herbert and Oscar Hammerstein's opera comique and May Irwin coon songs. Such a presentation of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' was never before presented, and I am free to confess the chances are never will be again. We actually played the town on the other fellow's paper. It wasn't exactly according to Hoyle, but then any reasonable thinking man will concede that necessity knows no law, and as the country people came to see a show it would have been a grievous sin to have disappointed them.
"It did not take us long to strike tent and hurry on board when the curtain fell on the last act. By this time the fog had lifted. As there was a breeze we made sail and stood out for the open sea. It was near the top of high water as we passed the point, and there we saw the steamer going in. She had run on a sandbar in the fog and was compelled to stay there for high water to get off. That's how the other fellow got left and how we turned his mishap to our advantage."
"Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground.... The wills above be done, but I would fain die a dry death." —TEMPEST.
By midnight the Gem of the Ocean was well out in the Sound. A stiff breeze was now blowing, and the little craft was footing it at a rapid rate. Handy was now in his native element. He and his company felt that they had turned a clever trick. It was an achievement worthy of the most accomplished barnstormer. The idea of playing the town on the other fellow's paper, ye gods! it was an accomplishment to feel proud of; something to be stored away in the memory; something to be set aside for future use when nights were long and congenial companions were gathered about a cheerful fireside to listen to stories of days gone by.
Supper disposed of, the company were grouped together near the companionway smoking the pipes of peace and anxious to discuss the next managerial move. Handy, of course, was the prime mover in all things—the one man to whom they all looked to pilot them safely through the difficulties they expected to encounter. So far they considered he had made good. He appeared to be in the best of spirits. Seated on an up-turned bucket, drawing meditatively on his well-seasoned briarwood, he looked a perfect picture of content. Not so, however, the "little 'un," as the boys playfully addressed the dwarf. The motion of the vessel did not harmonize with peculiarities of his interior arrangements, and unless the Gem stopped rolling and pitching there was evidently trouble ahead. Matters were approaching a crisis with him. He had little or nothing to say. In fact, he was doing his best, as he afterwards admitted, to keep his spirits up while he manfully struggled to keep material matter down.
"Is it always as rough as this, Handy?" he asked in a plaintive voice.
"Rough as this, eh, my bold buccaneer," responded Handy, cheerily; "rough as this? Why, there's scarcely a whitecap on the water. You ain't going to be seasick, are you? Well, at any rate, if you are, possibly it may be all for the best. 'Twill make a new man of you."
"Maybe he don't want to be made a new man of," suggested the low comedy man.
"Oh, cork up and give us a rest," appealed the Little 'Un, somewhat testily. "I'm all right, only I don't relish the confounded motion of the craft. First she rocks one way, then another, and then again she seems to have the fidgets, and pitches in fits and starts. I don't see any sense in it. Steamboats don't cut up such capers, at least, none of those that I've had any experience with."
"Brace up, my hearty," said Handy, removing the briarwood from his lips. "Brace up. You'll feel all right anon."
"Anon isn't half bad," again jocularly interposed the comedy gentleman.
The wind was gradually freshening. There was by this time quite a sea on, and the Little 'Un was beginning to succumb to the influence of prevailing conditions. A sudden gust struck the Gem, and, yielding to it, the group that was sitting so contentedly a few seconds before about the companionway went rolling in a heap down to leeward in the cockpit. This was altogether too much for the Little 'Un. He picked himself together as well as he could, and doubled over the rail, Handy holding on to his extremities. It was a trying scene for a time, and Handy had the worst of it.
"Steady there, now, old fellow, you'll feel all serene when you give up. There's no danger."
A minute or so later the poor little chap was taken from the rail as limp as a wet rag, and was stretched out on the deck with a coil of rope for a pillow.
"When you get me on a snap of this kind again," he began in a feeble voice, after he had somewhat recovered, "you just let me know. No more water adventures for me. I know when I have had enough. Dry land for mine hereafter."
Handy endeavored to console and cheer him up, but in vain. The poor sufferer was completely used up. He had yielded his gross receipts to Neptune, and would, at that particular moment, have mortgaged his prospects in the future to have been able to set foot on terra firma. With some little difficulty Handy and one of the crew succeeded in getting him below and stowed him away in a bunk.
The wind increased during the night, and by two in the morning it was blowing a half-gale. The Gem was trimmed down to close reefs, and all but the crew and Handy had turned in—but not to sleep. Handy, who was an experienced sailor, remained on deck all night. He was never away from his post. He was as good a sailor as he was bad as a financier. This speaks volumes for his abilities as a mariner.
The night passed over without mishap, and shortly before sunrise the wind gave evidence of going down. There was, however, a high sea running, and though the little craft behaved nobly and was skillfully handled, yet to men unaccustomed to go down to the sea in ships calmer weather would have been acceptable. Daylight dawned at last. Later the sun made his appearance, red and fiery, looking as if annoyed at the capers old Boreas had been cutting up during the night. The wind went down as the sun rose higher, and long before noon all was calm and peaceful. The spirits of the company were restored. As the morning passed jokes and merriment helped to dispel the unpleasant experiences of the storm of the previous night. Handy's good humor was particularly conspicuous, as he had a cheerful word for all. His spirits were as buoyant as the craft that bore his troupers.
At breakfast—or after breakfast, rather—the momentous question rose as to where the next stand should be made. The company had already tested its ability as well as the forbearance of two audiences, and financially, if not artistically, came out fairly well. It is only fair to admit, however, not one individual member of the troupe made what is designated as a personal success. There was now money in the treasury, and plenty of confidence to go with it. The consensus of opinion, however, appeared to be that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was a little too risky to repeat. It was admitted that Eva was not what might be described as a howling success. Moreover, the boxes that did duty for ice floes were fortunately, or unfortunately, left behind on the golden sands of Long Island. In addition to that, the artist who performed the dog act and who as a barker in Coney Island might be considered clever in a way was now as hoarse as a second-hand trombone from a third-rate pawnshop let out for hire to a broken-down German band. An hundred and one difficulties were interposed against the further presentation of the well-worn old drama. It was finally decided that Uncle Tom should be relieved from duty, for the present at least, and the play and the public given a rest.
"I would rather live in Bohemia than in any other land." —JOHN BOYLE O'REILLY
The main point to be decided was the selection of the town in which the next exhibition should be made. Various places were named, their resources summed up, and the peculiarities of the inhabitants canvassed. None of them seemed to the assembled wisdom of the company to fill the bill. Handy apparently appeared to take slight interest in the deliberations, but his active brain, notwithstanding, was at work. He was considering the situation, and quietly letting his companions ventilate their views before offering his. At length the exchange of opinions reached the stage when the sage deemed it was proper to speak.
"Eureka!" he exclaimed, "I have it."
"Suffer us not to remain in ignorance," urged the comedian. "Do not dissemble—enlighten us."
"Newport!" they all repeated in surprise.
"Newport!" Handy replied calmly, and the company looked at each other and then turned their gaze on Handy.
"He's off his base," said the dwarf. "Why, we wouldn't take in money enough to pay for the lights. Newport! Great Caesar's ghost!"
"We'll never get out of the place alive," volunteered the dog-man.
Handy merely smiled as he listened to his companions' objections, but he was firm in his resolve to have his way.
"Newport, my friends," began Handy, complacently, "is our mutton; and when I explain my reason for the selection I think you will concede the wisdom of my choice. Society, or the blue blood of the country, as it is regarded by some, make annual visits about this time to Newport, to enjoy themselves and to be amused and entertained. We can give them an entertainment such as they have never seen before, and possibly may never see again. However, you never can tell. Anything and everything in the way of novelty goes with them. It matters not what it may be so long as it is odd, new, or novel. Remember, we live in a changeable, hustling, ragtime age. Coon songs are almost as popular with the best of them as grand opera, and more readily appreciated. If we don't surprise and amuse them I shall be very much disappointed. A tent show in staid, fashionable old Newport is an unheard-of undertaking, and we will have the honor, and, I may add, the profit of inaugurating the fashion. There's the rub. The very novelty and the boldness of the undertaking cannot, in my humble judgment, fail to appeal to these pleasure-seekers. Of course, we can hardly expect them to invite us to remain for the rest of the season. But let that pass. That's another consideration. It is a one night only racket, and trust me we'll do business. When they will have the—the a—well, call it pleasure of listening to that strenuous band of ours on parade, it will be the talk of the town. Mark what I say," and Handy smiled.
"Good heavens, Handy, old man!" exclaimed the Little 'Un tremulously, "you are not going to let that band loose on the unsuspecting inhabitants, are you?"
"Such is my fell purpose," he replied.
"Is there a police force there?" queried the comedian; "for if there be you can hand me my divvy right now. Tie the Gem up to the first rock we come to and put me ashore. No Newport for mine, thank you."
"Say, what is the matter with all of you? Does the name of Newport faze you? Don't you know that human nature is the same the world over in all time and in all places, and that the venturesome fellow appeals to all classes—rich as well as poor? Let me tell you, boys, if you will stand by me in this deal I'll pull you through all right. Besides, the success of our Newport date—and in the height of the season, too—will be something to boast of when we get back to the Great White Way. It sounds big—some style about it, and, take it from me, boys, style is everything in our profesh just now. You may have no talent, and not be able to act even a little bit, but if you have style and cheek and put up a good front you can count on an engagement every time. That's the kind of stuff stars are made of now."
Handy's matter-of-fact argument was sufficient. He carried his point. The company agreed to do Newport and take chances. It had previously been decided to shelve "Uncle Tom's Cabin." So that perplexing matter was settled. The important consideration, however, arose, what should they substitute. A variety of pieces were named, but no decision was reached. Handy's wonderful fertility of resource at length came to the rescue and brought forth, much to the amazement of all, "Humpty Dumpty." They had, it is true, no columbine, but a little thing like that did not trouble the irrepressible Handy.
"Do not the annals of the American stage lay bare the fact," quoth he, "that on one occasion in Wallack's old theatre, when it was located downtown on Broadway, near Broome Street, in New York, during the run of John Brougham's brilliant burlesque, 'Pocahontas,' with the famous author himself in the cast as Powhattan, and Charles Walcot as Captain John Smith, the extravaganza was given for one night only without a Pocahontas. And the records say it was the most remarkable and amusing performance of its entire run."
Plays with and without plots are frequently presented nowadays in many of our so-called first-class theatres, with players of no experience and little natural ability. The public accepts them because they are offered nothing better. But that's neither here nor there at present. In "Humpty Dumpty" they had a good standard name. Just old enough to be new.
"It is true," Handy argued, "we have not the necessary stage equipment for a metropolitan production. The only thing we have, for that matter, is the name. That is enough for us, and we are going to do the best we can with it. Ordinary actors, together with all the necessary equipment of props and scenery, might be able to attempt a presentation of the famous pantomime, but it takes your strolling players, bred and brought up in the old stock school, to turn the trick without them."
It was a lazy day on board the little vessel. There was no wind. The sun poured down his rays so fiercely that it was almost unbearable. It was a dead calm. All the sailing vessels within sight were motionless. Not a sound disturbed the monotony of the scene, save the distant beat of the paddles or propellers of an approaching or receding steamboat. Newport, the gay world of the summer metropolis of fashion, loomed up in the distance, looking as beautiful as an alliance of art with nature could make a favored location. This was the Mecca toward which those on board directed their eyes and thoughts.
Evening came, and with it a refreshing breeze. Once more the Gem was under headway, and shortly after sundown the little vessel was safely in port, her anchor dropped, and the sails snugly furled. As soon as everything was made shipshape on board, Handy and a member of the company rowed ashore to see how the land lay from a stroller's point of view as well as to select a site for the tent.
"What strange things we see and what queer things we do." —'TIS ENGLISH, YOU KNOW.
It was the height of the season. The colony was alive with the wealthy and fashionable ones of the republic. Thousands of bright lights shone through the clearness of the purple night, and music filled the summer air with melodious sound. Life, apparently devoid of care, and pleasures with youth, beauty and excitement, were blended in harmonious ensemble. Handy took in the entire situation. He read, and read correctly, too, the constituency to which he was about to appeal. An ordinary theatrical company going there and hiring a hall, he concluded, would be nothing out of the usual run, and the chances are the performance would fall flat, stale and unprofitable. The possibility for the success of the tent, on account of its novelty, appealed strongly to his optimistic imagination. He was determined to carry the place by storm. A vacant lot close to one of the fashionable drives was secured for the scene of the thespian operations.
"Here pitch we our tent," said Handy, "and don't you make any bloomin' error about it. 'Tis the boss place. Elegant surroundings; magnificent locality, easy to reach, and lots of room for carriages to come and go!"
It may, perhaps, be as well to mention that the date selected for the entertainment was Saturday, just two nights ahead. For that same night a grand operatic concert was announced, under the patronage of an aspiring clique, in another part of the town. Good artists, though somewhat ancient, were billed to take part in it. The craze for the antique then, as now, had no such potency as may be positively relied upon. Well-seasoned age has its disadvantages. Fashion is ever capricious in the selection of objects for its recognition. So far as Handy was concerned, the operatic enterprise did not in the least disturb his mind.
It was rather late when he got aboard. All hands, however, were on the look-out for him, anxiously awaiting his return. He briefly summed up the result of his work on shore; explained what he purposed to do, and concluded by impressing upon the members of his company the necessity of making all preparations with a view to rapid movements both before and after the performance.
After all the others had turned in for the night Handy remained on deck cogitating over his plans and perplexing his brain over approaching futurities. At length he too stretched himself out for sleep. He was up with the sun. Like a celebrated statesman of bygone days, he was going to make the greatest effort of his life.
By noon next day he received from the local printer the proof sheet of a bill of the play. It was a curiosity in its way, and a copy of it may interest the reader. It read as follows:
THE INDEPENDENT THEATRE!
The Greatest Show of its Kind on Earth!
FUN UNDER A TENT.
On this Saturday Evening
Will be presented for the first and only occasion, Under the Distinguished Patronage of Everybody, the Great Spectacular and Classic Pantomime HUMPTY DUMPTY,
By a company of well trained star artists.
The Only Show of its Quality in Existence.
Those who see the performance will never forget it.
Secure Your Seats Early.
By special request of a number of distinguished visitors the performance will not begin until 8:30.
Carriages may be ordered for any hour.
Box sheet ready at noon Saturday, corner of Vanderbilt and Astor Avenues.
When Handy read the programme to his company they were so astonished they scarcely knew what to say. At first they appeared to regard it as a joke. Handy's manner betokened earnestness. His companions thought it best to withhold their curiosity and await further developments. Their manager they knew to be a man of action—a species of Oscar Hammerstein in embryo, with a blending of Wilkins Micawber and Mulberry Sellers mixed in.
The company employed the afternoon in folding circulars and programmes. Handy himself was deep in the study of the elite directory, and under his direction a large number of envelopes were carefully addressed. The work went on systematically. Night at last arrived, and all hands enjoyed a respite from clerical labor. At nine o'clock the company went ashore, carrying with them their tent, costumes and properties—such as they were. It was a busy night on land, and their strenuous exertions, under the cover of darkness, accomplished wonders under Handy's guidance. It was next door to daylight when they got back to the ship to take a rest before the arduous work of the eventful day began.
Before noon the canvas showhouse on the corner was the principal subject of conversation throughout the town. During the night the strollers had set up their tent, and there was scarcely a house in town in which they had not placed handbills and circulars announcing the coming performance. No matter where an inhabitant wandered one of the "Humpty Dumpty" programmes was sure to be found. The people at first glance regarded the announcement with some degree of doubt, but the appearance of the tent, with the flags flying, dispelled that fear. The tent seemed to have got there by magic. Like the palace of Aladdin, it had sprung into existence during the night. Its appearance excited curiosity and provoked gossip, and the announcement of "Humpty Dumpty" was a puzzle. With the most unparalleled nerve messenger boys were dispatched to the fashionable cottages with circulars soliciting patronage and inviting attendance, and a considerable number of the cottagers, attracted by the novelty of the undertaking, concluded it would be a good joke to go to see the extraordinary show.
"We'll paralyze 'em," said Handy to his fellow-players, as they were grouped together on the stage preparing red lights, which he proposed to use as a species of illumination. "Wait until I let the band loose in the streets, and if it don't fetch 'em, well, I'll quit the business."
"Handy, methinks we made a bloomin' blunder," remarked the Little 'Un. "We ought to have billed the town for a week."
"A week?" queried the property man in some surprise. "Why so, may I ask, my noble critic?"
"Well, to be frank with you, because if we did, methinks after once or twice having made acquaintance with our band, 'tis dollars to doughnuts they would have substantially staked us to leave town."
Handy looked at the speaker with a glance of mingled cynicism and humor, and turning to the treasurer inquired, "How is the advance sale?"
"Ninety-seven and a half dollars," replied the secretary of the treasury.
"Good enough! We're away ahead of expenses now."
At eight o'clock there was some excitement noticeable down near the water convenient to one of the avenues. A few minutes later and the band, led by Handy, came forth. As the musicians marched the crowd increased. Up the principal street the strollers paraded, preceded and accompanied by a crowd of urchins and curiosity seekers. People came to the doors to look and hear, and many windows had their occupants. The streets were crowded, and by the time the band reached the tent it was fairly well filled. It might be as well to say that the majority of those who went to witness "Humpty Dumpty" did so for the pure fun of the thing, and determined to have the lark out. There was no orchestra, for the orchestra was the band, and the band had to do the acting.
The curtain went up somewhere about the hour announced. Had poor dead and gone G. L. Fox, the original Humpty, and the greatest pantomimist of the American stage, been living and among the audience, he could not have failed to enjoy the performance. It is impossible to describe it in detail.
After a brief period the most friendly relations were established between the people before and beyond the footlights. Remarks full of fun and humor were freely exchanged. Handy played Humpty, and introduced by way of variety a breakdown that, in the manipulation of his legs, would have made Francis Wilson grow green with envy. Smith was the Pantaloon, and obligingly entertained the audience, by special request, with the song of "Mr. Dooley," in the chorus of which the audience joined with vigor. The song is not new, but Smith's particular version, as well as his vocal rendition, was. The dwarf, who posed somewhat as a magician and sleight-of-hand man, undertook for some reason or other to attempt the great Indian box trick. Two gentlemen from the audience were invited to come on the stage to tie the performer with a rope. This was a most unfortunate move. Two well-known yachtsmen, and good sailors to boot, saw the chance for additional fun, and accepted the invitation with alacrity. They set to work and knotted the little man so tightly that he yelled to them, for heaven's sake, to let up. The audience could restrain itself no longer with laughter. It was plainly to be recognized that the show was fast drawing to a close.
"Stand him on his head," spoke some one at the rear of the tent.
"Pass him along this way, my hearties, and we'll take a reef in his dry goods," cried out someone else.
"We won't do a thing to him," chipped in a third humorist in the center of the tent.
The tent was convulsed with laughter and merriment had full swing. It was indeed a most remarkable performance, and the best of good nature prevailed. At the moment when the hilarity was at its height a commotion was heard outside of the tent. The band, or a portion of it, burst forth once more in the street with the most discordant sounds mortal ears ever heard. This brought the performance on the stage to a close.
"I would never have been able to get them out of the tent," explained Handy afterwards, "only for my letting the band—that is, the worst portion of it—loose on the outside."
To make a long story short, as the saying goes, the poor players cleared over three hundred dollars by the night's show, while the distinguished artists who gave grand opera in homeopathic doses in another end of the town sang to almost empty benches. Handy told no untruth when he announced on the bills that "those who witnessed the performance will never forget it."
Years have rolled by since this company of poor strolling players attempted "Humpty Dumpty" in Newport, but the memory of that night still remains green in the minds of many.
"He employs his fancy in his narrative and keeps his recollections for his wit." —RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.
A more delightful morning than that which followed the night of the strollers' eventful performance it would be difficult to imagine. It was the Sabbath, and the spirit of peace seemed to exercise its influence all around. The sun shone brightly; a gentle breeze diffused its cooling power, and the surface of the water was calm and placid. The graceful yachts riding at anchor were decked as daintily in their gay bunting as village maidens celebrating a fete. There was little of active life afloat or ashore. Those on board the pleasure craft presented an appearance different from that which characterized their movements the days previous. It was, indeed, a day of rest.
Among the fleet of pleasure craft lay the Gem of the Ocean. She was not a comely craft; her sides were weather-beaten, and her general appearance homely and unprepossessing; but the same waters that bore the others bore her. In her homeliness she presented a strange contrast to her surroundings. In the composition of those who were her occupants there was still greater difference. The men who trod the decks of the yachts were seekers after the pleasures of life, while those on board the Gem were engaged in the hard struggle to win bread for the loved ones who were miles and miles removed—living in want, perhaps, yet hoping for the best and for what expectancy would realize. The one set comprised the lucky ones of fortune—the butterflies of fashion; the other the strugglers for life—the vagabonds of fate. Yet these vagabonds had homes and mothers, wives and children, to whom the rough, sun-browned, coarsely clad men of the Gem of the Ocean were their all, their world, and on the exertion of whose hands and brain they depended for food, raiment, and shelter. These poor strolling players had homes,—humble, it is true,—but still they were homes, which they loved for the sake of the dear ones harbored there.
The forenoon was spent in letter writing. How eagerly these letters were longed for only those who hungered for tidings from absent loved ones can explain. There is a magic influence in these silent messengers. Freighted with consolation, joy, or sorrow, they are anxiously awaited. How much happiness do they not bring into a home when laden with words of tenderness and affection! Home! ah, he is indeed no vagabond who has a home, however modest, and dear ones awaiting to welcome him when he returns, tired and weary with his struggle in the race for advancement.
Before midday the occupation of the morning was completed, and after a hearty meal the company gathered aft to pass away the time and talk over the past as well as to ventilate the prospects for the future. They were enjoying one day's rest, at least. Seated in the companionway was Handy, the high priest of the little organization.
"Do you think, gentlemen, on mature reconsideration," began Handy, "we might take another shy at 'Uncle Tom,' and do business?"
The subject was thrown out for general discussion. The Little 'Un was the first to respond. He had been an Uncle Tommer for years, and his views consequently on the matter were regarded with consideration.
"Gentlemen," he commenced, "the 'Uncle Tom' times are dead and gone. The play has had its day. To be sure, if it was resurrected and put on with what might be called an elaborate presentation, with a phenomenal cast, it might catch on for a brief spell. Of course, the cast would be an easy enough matter to get, as casts go. Stars nowadays, such as they are—Heaven save the mark!—are more plentiful than stock. But let them rest at that. I have known the time when there were as many as fifty Uncle Tommers on the road—all doing well, if not better. There were no theatrical syndicates in those times to limit the enterprise and energy of the aspiring though poor and ambitious manager. 'Uncle Tom' audiences were different from those who attended other theatrical snaps. There was so much of the religious faking mixed in with the old piece that it caught the Sunday-go-to-meeting crowd and drew them as a molasses barrel will draw flies. That class of people reasoned that 'Uncle Tom' wasn't a real theatre show—it was a moral show. What fools we mortals be? Didn't some poor play actor say that, or did I think it out myself? Well, no matter now. But don't the newspapers tell us that there was a big bunch of people in New York City at one time who used to flock to Barnum's Museum, which stood opposite St. Paul's Church, on Broadway, and how they'd scoop in the show there simply because old Barnum called his theatre a lecture-room. It was the lecture-room racket that caught them. The old showman was a cute one—slick as they made 'em. When the museum burned down, didn't he go to work and sell the hole in the ground the fire made to James Gordon Bennett, the elder, founder of The Herald, and got the best of the famous editor in the sale into the bargain. Ah, those were the good old times!"
"The palmy days of the drama, I suppose," interjected Handy.
"Palmy fiddlesticks!" laughingly chimed in one of the group.
"Oh, joke as you may, boys, but I am giving you the straight goods," continued the Little 'Un, handing out a little bit of reminiscent news of days gone by that will never be duplicated.
"He's dead right. Speakin' of those days," added Smith, "I remember well the times gone by in the old Bowery Theatre on certain gay and festive occasions to have seen as many as seventeen glasses of good old Monongahela whisky set up in the green-room and not a man took water when called upon to do his duty. They have no green-rooms any more. But let me tell you that's where the managers of the present day take their cues from, for those after-performance first-night stage suppers that are frequently given for the entertainment of the principal players, a few select friends, and a big bunch of newspaper scribes. On the stage, mind you, not in the green-room, for the green-room is now a thing of the past."
"Were you in the old Bowery shop then?" inquired Handy.
"Was I? What! Well, I should smile! You know me. Say, you may talk of the realistic drama of these degenerate days—why, they aren't one, two, nine with the shows of days gone by. Oh, you may laugh about stage realism and chin about real race-horses in racing scenes, and real society women to play real ladies, real burglars to crack unreal property safes, and real prize-fighters to do their prize-fighting fakes, in addition to attempting to act, but let me tell you fellows that the managers who are gone never missed a trick when they had to do a realistic stunt."
"Well, you ought to know, Smith," said Handy.
"Why, hang it, man alive! they did everything in the show business as good then as they do now; and what's more, they didn't have to import actors from abroad nor send over to the other side for stage managers to teach the company how to act. Was I in the old Bowery in them days? Was I? Sure, Mike! I went in there as a call-boy. Let me see—when? Oh, yes, I remember. It was the season that 'The Cataract of the Ganges' was brought out. Yes, sir, and they gave the 'Cataract' with real water, too, and make no bloomin' error about it either!"
"Oh, come, come there, old man! Draw it mild. Don't pile it on too thick," interposed the doubting Thomas of the party and the most juvenile member of the troupe. "We can't stand all that. We are willing to swallow the whisky in the green-room, but water on the stage—oh, no! that's a little too much of a good thing. Why, my gentle romancer, the Croton water pipes weren't laid in the city in them days. Then how the mischief could they give the waterfall scene? With buckets, tubs, or with a pump—which? or with all three combined?"
For a moment the speaker was nonplussed for an answer. He felt embarrassed, and looked so. He was about to make reply when another of the company who, by the way, was an old-timer like himself, boldly came to the rescue.
"He's right," boldly asserted the new contributor to the conversation, "dead right. I remember the stunt myself."
It may be as well to state that Smith's veracity about theatrical things in general was not what it should be. His stories never could keep companionship with truth. He had so ingenious a manner of prevarication that he actually believed his own tales. If what Smith at odd times, when he happened to be in the vein, related of himself was true, then he might be credited with having acted in nearly every city this side of the Rockies and have supported all the great stars. He was closely approaching his fiftieth year, yet he maintained he had participated in the principal theatrical productions of a generation previous, with the most reckless disregard of probabilities. He seemed to have no appreciable estimate of time or place when relating his marvelous experiences.
"Yes, sirree," said Smith, "I can call the turn on that trick. Why, the thing is as fresh in my mind as if it only happened last night. Maybe you don't believe me. Well, every man is entitled to his own belief, but let me explain how I remember it so well."
"Fire away! We're all attention."
"Well, it happened in this way. I was engaged in the old National Theatre in Chatham Street at the time when the 'Cataract' was brought out, and it made old man Purdy, the manager, so hoppin' mad to think that his Bowery rival should get the bulge on him with a scene like the waterfall that he determined to see Hamblin and go him one better. Now what do you think he did?"
"Put on the piece with two cataracts," innocently suggested Handy.
"No, he didn't put on no two cataracts either," replied Smith, somewhat indignantly.
"Well, then, be good enough to let us know how he got square."
"He went to work and announced the production of 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,' with forty real thieves in the cast. How was that for enterprise, eh?"
"Great! Were you in the cast?" inquired the low comedy gentleman.
"Nit! I wasn't of age then. You can't be legally a criminal under age. Don't you know there's a society for the protection of crime?"
"Excuse me. No reflection, I assure you. I did not intend to be personal. I was merely trying to find out how the old man filled out his cast."
"Well, my boy," replied Smith patronizingly, "think it over a minute, and you will realize that the morals of the old days were in no respect different from those in which we now live. Thieves, then as now, were a drug in the market, and the City Hall stood precisely where it stands to-day. Thieves in those times frequently masqueraded as grafters."
"Smith," said Handy, "you take the cake," removing the briarwood from his mouth to knock the ashes from the bowl preparatory to loading up for a fresh pull at the weed.
It was in this harmless manner the afternoon was allowed to slip by in the exchange of yarns. Many strange and comical experiences were related by the happy-go-lucky little group.
The shades of evening began to fall before there was any perceptible lull in the gossip. The past was being rehearsed and made food for the present. How often do we not recognize that men live over again their past in recalling their experiences in the dead years that have passed away for ever! How fondly do they revive old memories, though many of them perhaps were associated with pain and sorrow! The poor players lived their lives over again in the stories they exchanged on the deck of the Gem of the Ocean as she lay at anchor off Newport that peaceful Sunday evening.
"Every one shall offer according to what he hath." —DEUT.
All hands, at Handy's request, turned in early, as he was determined to make an early start down the Sound. He had not yet decided where his next stand should be. The selection lay between Stonington and New London. If fortune continued to favor him he felt confident of accomplishing something worth seeking for in either place. There were certain reasons, however, why one of them should be steered clear of; but Handy's memory as to names was somewhat vague, so he resolved to sleep on the thought before he determined on his course.
Handy was the first man up and stirring next morning. The others, however, were not far behind. The wind was favorable and the indications were all that a sailor could wish for. After a hearty breakfast the anchor was weighed and the Gem was once more under way, with all sails set. The Little 'Un was somewhat timorous and apprehensive of a repetition of the trouble that overcame him the night before they played the Long Island town on the circus man's paper, but he appeared to be satisfied by Handy's assurance that it never stormed on the Sound in the daylight. His looks indicated that he had doubts as to the truth of the assurance.
The run down the Sound was uneventful. There was no one sick on board, and all were in a cheerful mood when they came to anchor in the Thames River, off New London, the town in which Handy finally determined next to try his fortune. The company had been out at this time nearly two weeks. Though all its members were strong and hearty, their sunburnt looks and somewhat dilapidated apparel did not contribute to the elegance of their personal appearance. Most of them looked like well-seasoned tramps. Handy recognized this. He also knew that though the Nutmeg State was at that time regarded as a paradise of tramps, the inhabitants did not, as a rule, take kindly to the knights of the road. This may be uncharitable and unchristianlike, but people have got to accept the situation as they find it.
No one went ashore until after nightfall. Then Handy and Smith made a landing in the small boat, and surveyed the situation. An available vacant lot was picked out. Ascertaining there was to be an agricultural fair there the following Thursday, that night was selected for the Strollers' next effort. On the prospectors' return to the vessel a council of war was held, at which the plan of operations and course of action were freely discussed.
"It won't do," said Handy, "to try them on 'Uncle Tom,' and I hardly think they'd stand for 'Humpty Dumpty' as we give it. I've been here in the good old summer days before many a time and oft, and I am conversant with the kind of audience we've got to stack up against. On mature reflection, I have come to the conclusion that a variety or vaudeville entertainment this trip will be most likely to appeal to their sensibilities. Song and dance, imitations of celebrated histrionic celebrities, coon acts, legerdemain exhibitions, the famous Indian box trick, and——"
"Easy there," interrupted the dwarf. "Who's goin' to do the box trick?"
"Why, you, of course," replied Handy.
"Not on your life. Count me out on that stunt, Mister Manager. New London is a seaport town. There are vessels in port and sailors on shore. My Newport experience has taught me a lesson. The sailor men there tied me up so darned tight that you'll never get me to undertake any such job as that again within a hundred miles of seawater."
"No buts about it. I know when I've had enough. Skip me."
"Then I'll do the act myself," retorted Handy, with a slight exhibition of feeling.
"K'rect, old man. You're welcome to the stunt. I pass every time when there's any rope-tying business in a seawater town."
"Smith, you can give them a banjo solo, do a clog dance, and afterwards wrestle with your celebrated imitations you know so well, and do so badly, of John Drew, Dave Warfield, Nat Goodwin, Sarah Bernhardt, and Sir Henry Irving."
"But I never saw Irving or Bernhardt," interposed Smith.
"Neither did the audience. What's the matter with you? And for a wind-up you can give them a stump speech, and I'll bill you as Lew Dockstader, second. We have got to make up our programme, please remember. If you don't want to take a shy at Dockstader, name someone else equally prominent. It's all the same to me. When I do that Indian box trick I propose to bill myself as Hermann XI. Darn it, man, we have to have names! This company, bear in mind, is made up of an all-star cast."
"All right then, say no more," said Smith.
"Say," continued Handy, addressing the ambitious young man of the troupe, "don't you think you could manage to take off Billy Crane? And give them some exhibitions of his genius in scenes from his many-sided repertory, and we'll star you on the bills."
"Excuse me," replied the comparatively juvenile and promising artist, "but might I inquire who is going to look after my wife and the kid if that New London congregation should tumble to the joke? No, sir. Mr. Crane, permit me to inform you, is a fearless and experienced yachtsman; every hair in his head, nautically speaking, is a rope yarn. He is, as well, a good actor, and New London is a yachting port. Not on your life! Billy Crane is too well known here, so in justice to my physical welfare I must decline the honor of being so presented."
"Well, gentlemen," returned Handy somewhat dejectedly, "these unseasonable, frivolous, and unbusinesslike objections are really disheartening and unworthy of a conscientious member of the histrionic calling. Let me tell you that you are the first actor I ever heard of ever having declined the distinction of being elevated to the position of a star. In the words of the immortal bard, 'Can such things be and overcome us like a summer's dream without our special wonder?' Go to. Were it not that my hair is red and I have no suitable wig—and what would Sweet William be without a wig?—I'd do Crane myself."
After further discussion on minor details the programme was arranged for Thursday night. The next day posters were in evidence all through the town. The fair grounds were literally strewn with handbills. Handy was a great believer in printer's ink, and he used his paper with a lavish hand. The show was announced for two nights—Thursday and Saturday. The variety entertainment was billed for Thursday night, and "Pinafore," with an all-star cast, was promised for Saturday evening. The company had no knowledge about the "Pinafore" scheme. When Handy was questioned about it, he satisfied his questioners with the assurance that it was all right, and he would explain matters later on. His assurance was sufficient. The company knew their man.
Wednesday night the tent was put up. That day Handy succeeded, for a consideration, in inducing the country band that played during the day at the fair to perform a like office for his show at night, and do the duty of an orchestra for the performance.
The afternoon of the day of the show an unexpected storm loomed up, which threatened the enterprise with destruction. It seems that Handy had visited New London before with a somewhat similar venture, and had been compelled by financial circumstances which he was unable to control to depart the town in a hurry, leaving behind him an unpaid printer's bill. Now a slight omission of that character very easily escaped Handy's memory. The printer, on the contrary, being a thoughtful man, on finding that Handy was the manager of the new all-star theatrical outfit, made his appearance with the sheriff and a writ of attachment. For a time the aspect of affairs was anything but cheering. The printer was as mad as the traditional hatter. Fortunately the sheriff, who was an old Bowery man in days past, and a pretty decent and sympathetic kind of a fellow, discovered in Handy an old acquaintance, and magnanimously came to the rescue and volunteered to help him out of his difficulties. The kind-hearted official guaranteed the payment of the printer's bill, to be taken out of the first receipts that came in at the box office. This arrangement being mutually agreed upon, the preliminary work progressed actively.
The night brought a crowd, composed mainly of the country people who had attended the fair. It was the biggest, best natured, and most easily entertained audience a theatrical company ever played to. There were more bucolic auditors gathered together in the tent than the troupe had seen previously. Handy had the country band well in hand. He made them play down the main street and parade up to the tent. Then he got them inside and astonished his auditors with such a liberal manifestation of music that those present could not well decide whether they had come to listen to a concert or have an opportunity to see the real "theayter" actors. Handy evidently was determined to furnish them with music sufficient to last them until the next Fair day. The band played so long that the town element among the audience became somewhat unwelcomely demonstrative.
The curtain at last arose, and the variety portion of the entertainment began. The tent was well filled,—the front rows of seats being unpleasantly near the stage. The minstrel act in the first part was something unique and original. The country people took it seriously, but the town contingent, recognizing the fake element, started in to indulge in guying the performers. This incensed the countrymen. They had paid their good money to see the show without being subjected to annoyance from the town fellows. One particularly strenuous young New London dude had his derby smashed by an excited rustic who determined that his Phoebe Ann should enjoy the entertainment even if he himself had to make peace by teaching the city chap the way to behave himself and keep quiet. He evidently meant business and apparently had many friends who were not only ready, but willing, to assist him.
All the acts were short—very short—and between each of the acts there was more music by the band. At length the performance was brought to a close. Before the curtain fell Handy came forward, and, after thanking the audience heartily for the magnificent attendance and generous support, announced that on Saturday evening he would have great pleasure in presenting, providing negotiations in contemplation were perfected, for their consideration, the melodious and tuneful grand comic opera, "Pinafore," in the presentation of which the company would be reinforced by several valuable additions, who were expected to arrive early on Saturday from the Metropolitan Grand Opera House.
"Great Scott—'Pinafore!' You don't mean to say," asked a friend a short time after hearing of Handy's moving adventures by land and water, "you had the nerve to attempt 'Pinafore' with your small band of strolling players, eh?"
"Play 'Pinafore'!" replied the irrepressible Handy, with a smile. "Of course, not. Never intended to. You see this was the situation; and the man who isn't equal to the position in which he places himself is bound to come out at the wrong side of the account book, when he is compelled to settle up. The 'Pinafore' announcement was for the edification of the New Londoners. I recognized the fact that the country people in their innocence and goodness of heart would take kindly to the entertainment we had prepared for them, but for the town chaps it was an altogether different proposition. When I announced 'Pinafore' I felt satisfied they would defer their energies and lay low for the 'Merry, Merry Maiden and the Tar,' determining to have a little fun of their own kind with us on Saturday; but after the performance we struck tent and by early morning we were once more out on the Sound for fresh fields and pastures new."
"One man in his time plays many parts." —AS YOU LIKE IT.
If the "boys" of New London looked forward to having a good old summer time with Handy and his all-star company the following Saturday evening, they were wofully out in their reckoning. Though "Pinafore" was announced with due managerial formality, perhaps somewhat ambiguous, for that particular occasion, when the time for presentation arrived there was not a vestige of either tent or performers. After the entertainment on the night of the fair the company went aboard the Gem of the Ocean. Handy alone remained ashore. As he had been manager, advance and press agent, and principal performer, he concluded to add another to his many responsibilities and become night watchman. The tent, stage properties, etc., had to be guarded, and he undertook the duties of guardian.
"Let no one turn in until I get aboard," said he to Smith, "and you row ashore in an hour's time. Mind, don't be later than that, and you needn't get here sooner. Tell the boys I have some work for them to do before they lay down to rest. Take a bite and a sup and join me here in an hour."
The two men parted; one with his companions for the boat at the end of the pier and the other to play the part of watchman over his outfit. A few of the town chaps lingered in the neighborhood of the tent.
In the country, as in the city, it is remarkable what a fascinating influence players exercise over young fellows who are ambitious to be regarded as the knowing ones regarding everything appertaining to the playhouse. How glibly the beardlings of the twenties or thereabouts will use the names of actors with whom perhaps they have never exchanged a word, in the silly belief they are raising themselves in the estimation of their auditors. It is an odd conceit, yet it prevails with the would-be fast young men of the present day. To hear some of these mollycoddles prate one who was not acquainted with their weaknesses would imagine these chaps were on intimate terms with players—who, as a rule, are slow to cultivate new acquaintances, attend strictly to their own business, and do not particularly relish that particular class of hanger-on. No man knew this type better than Handy. However, he never antagonized them. That he considered would not be wise policy. He good-naturedly humored them with much superficial gossip that really meant nothing. His good nature never forsook him, and he always had his temper well under control. He knew to a nicety the side his bread was buttered on. That happy-go-lucky disposition of his stood him in good stead many a time, and his free-and-easy manner of drawing people out frequently served as an aid to determine his future course of action. The limited exchange of conversation he had with the loungers satisfied him that he was right in his estimate that there would be a hot time in the old town on Saturday night if he remained. Finally the last dallier had his say, and, after an exchange of cordial good nights, departed.
Smith was at this time about due, and as he was noted for his promptitude, he was on hand to keep his date when the hour expired.
"What's the lay now, Handy, old man?" inquired Smith, as he joined his manager.
"Only this, and nothing more," replied the veteran melodramatically. "There's blood upon the face of the moon, an' blow my buttons, if your Uncle Rube is going to supply the gore. See!"
The answer was not altogether satisfactory, and Smith apparently was unable to grapple with the problem. It puzzled him; but then Handy himself was at all times more or less of a conundrum to him.
"Now then, bear a hand, send the boat back and get the company ashore as speedily as possible. We have a few good hours' work on hand before we turn in."
Smith made quick time, and it was not long before the members of the all-star combination began to materialize out of the obscurity of the night as noiselessly as shadows.
"Say, boys," began Handy, in a low tone of voice confidentially, "we move to-night, and I want you to strike tent, pack and get everything aboard without delay. I'll explain all later on."
"Move to-night!" repeated Smith. "Don't we play here Saturday night?"
"Nary a play," responded the manager.
"But you announced 'Pinafore' from the stage!"
"Of that fact I am well aware," replied Handy, "but don't you know that 'Pinafore' is an opera, and let me further inform you that disappointments in opera are quite the regular thing. In fact, an impresario cannot get along legitimately, my boy, in grand opera or in fact any old kind of opera, without disappointments every now and then. The public expect operatic disappointments. They come naturally, and sometimes come as a godsend. You never can tell when a particular opera is announced what you are going to get."
"Then why don't you substitute something in place of 'Pinafore?'" meekly suggested the Little 'Un.
"Pardon me, my unthinking friend, but you lose sight of the fact that substitutions are always unsatisfactory, if not positively dangerous. Besides, they are strong evidences of weakness. We are nothing if not strong and resourceful. Suppose I substituted 'Faust,' for instance, and announced it with Melba as Marguerite, and suppose again that the famous Astralasian prima donna caught an attack of the American grip that same afternoon, it would hardly do to substitute Marie Cahill or May Irwin to take her place, that is, provided we could have induced either of those distinguished artists to become the great diva's substitute. Oh, no! 'Tis out of the question. But, come, get a move on you. Let us be just to a public that has treated us well."
The members of Handy's company were under good discipline. They were satisfied that he had valid reasons for this sudden change of base, and therefore, went cheerfully to work. Handy himself started for the water-side, and after a brief absence was once more among them, doing the work of two men and encouraging his companions by energetic action and example. Their task was accomplished without the aid of light save that which was afforded them by the bright stars overhead. It was an hour before dawn when everything was placed on board and the tired strollers had gone below to court the rest and repose they both longed for and needed.
"Let her swing out in the stream away from the dock, captain," ordered Handy, when they were ready to start. "The tide is nearly flood and we can drop down the river with the first of the ebb. We can get outside early and then determine where next we'll make for."
"Aye, aye, sir," replied the skipper.
"Originality is nothing more than judicious imitation." —VOLTAIRE.
Next morning when the company appeared they were not a little surprised to find themselves far out to sea. The day was bright and all hands were in a cheerful mood. The first question asked of the energetic manager was "Where next?" He turned toward the inquirer and replied he never discussed business on an empty stomach when he had the opportunity of doing so on a full one.
"Lay her course south by east, cap," was his brief order to the sailing master. "Rather fancy we'll run in somewhere near Oyster Bay—where, I'll tell you later on."
When breakfast was served ample justice was done to the repast. Here, be it said, the company lived well. The best the market afforded was not too good for them. Handy was as capable a judge of a beefsteak as any man on the boards, and he bought the best. His companions knew it, and were willing at all times to go with a commission to the shop.
"Were you ever in the market, governor?" inquired the Little 'Un at the close of the meal.
"Yes, sir. I have frequently been in the market," was the prompt reply, "but like many other willing and anxious individuals somehow or other, no one ever reached my price."
"Oh, I didn't mean that, old man. I simply meant were you ever employed in a meat market, for that was as nice a piece of steak as I ever tackled, it was so tender and juicy. Unless a fellow was a judge he never could have picked out such a choice cut."
"Oh, I did not quite comprehend you! I now catch on. Well, you all, of course, know that I served in the army and——"
"I told you," whispered Smith, in a humorous aside, "he was a butcher."
"And, as I was about to remark, I had much experience in the commissariat depart——"
"Say," interposed the Little 'Un, who had frequently been an unwilling and tired listener to very many of Handy's well-worn war stories, "are you agoing to ring in a war story on us, old pard?"
"Well, I was merely about to explain that in keeping with my army experience that——"
"Nuff sed," remarked the dwarf, rising from his seat. "Good morning!"
"Some other morning" echoed Smith, and he too rose from his seat.
"Me, too. Ta ta! Tra la la!" lilted the light comedy man, as he pushed his empty plate to one side, and one by one the remainder of the Pleiades rose in solemn silence before Handy had time to realize that his war stories were away below par among the members of his company.
Handy remained alone for some time below, probably turning over in his mind the problem of the next venture, and then went on deck. He found his companions taking things easy in free and easy positions aft. It was a forenoon to satisfy every desire of those who love the open air. The wind was light—a nice sailing breeze—and the sun was not too warm. Few words were spoken, save inconsequent remarks now and then on some passing sail. The monotony of the situation was finally broken by the manager, as he proceeded to unburden himself of his intentions for the next entertainment.
"Our next move will be to play Saturday night, that is, to-morrow, in one of these little towns near by on the Long Island shore, and with that performance bring our tour to a close, return to the city, get a few more good people and lay out a new route. We have done fairly well, all things considered, on this trip, and we can afford to strengthen our organization and give the public something better, if not stronger. The pieces we have been presenting are rather ancient,—almost too classic,—though I must admit we offered them in a somewhat original manner. We must, however, keep pace with the times—be up to date. The simple life is all very fine in books, but, my friends, 'tis the strenuous life that produces the stuff. Excuse slang, but it is much employed nowadays, and vigorous emphasis is used even by the most refined. If we don't get new attractions I am afraid we may have to resort to giving away souvenirs. Souvenirs have, in their day, had all the potency of a bargain counter in a popular department store well advertised. Personally, I do not take kindly to the souvenir business. It isn't professional."
"That's all right," conceded Smith, "but an old piece frequently becomes new when you subject it to unique treatment. Now, for example, I don't think anyone has any kick coming at the original manner in which we gave 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and 'Humpty Dumpty.' No one ever saw them so presented before. Of course, if we had one of these modern Shakespeares, that the commercial managers keep on tap, we could have a piece written for us while we were under way to the next night stand. But that's out of the question. I would like, in common with the rest of the push, to know what is going to be our next offering."
"Let me see. Just a moment's pause," replied Handy thoughtfully. "We might do a bit of a tragedy if we had the props, but we haven't got them. Besides, the trouble with most tragedies, as a rule, is the long cast, and in addition they do not give a compact all-star organization such as ours a chance to show what we really can do. We gave them our version of Uncle Tom nearly two weeks ago; and outside of Brooklyn, I conscientiously believe that once a year is often enough for the remainder of Long Island. On mature consideration, therefore, I have come to the conclusion that our best offering would be a minstrel grand opera concert entertainment. We have made an impression in that direction, and I am in favor of that which will sustain the reputation we have so admirably earned."
"Who's going to sing the solos, old man?" asked the Little 'Un. "You know, boss, the boys ain't much on the sing. They can work along all right with a good strong chorus when they once get started and warmed up, but when it comes down to the fine single throat work I am afraid we'll get in the soup."
"He's dead right," put in Smith, "the single singing—solos, I believe they call them—in the first part will be a hard nut to crack. We can't give a minstrel show without a first part. They'd never believe we were operatic minstrels without it, even if we didn't black up."
"Hold! Enough!" cried Handy, in his favorite Macbeth voice. "You make me a bit tired with this kind of baby talk. Haven't you fellows got common sense enough to know that it is not absolutely necessary to have a voice to be a singer? Suppose a singer once had a voice and lost it, would that be a good and sufficient reason for him or her to get out of the business? How many of them do it, eh? It is just the same with the singing trade as it is in our overcrowded profession. How many of the so-called actors that inundate the stage quit the boards when they know—if they know anything—they have no talent for it. You fellows give me a pain. Voices and singing! Pshaw! I'll fix all that! I'll give a couple of you good high-sounding Eyetalian names, and I'll announce you as hailing from the Royal Imperial Conservatory of Stockholm, and I'd like to see the Long Island jay that will say you couldn't sing, even if you had as little music in your voice as the acrobatic star of a comic opera company."
"And now will you be good?" playfully chirruped in Smith.
"Now, Nibsy, you will have to tackle a solo; and as you are to be announced as a foreigner, you must treat your audience to something different from anything they have heard before. As you will sing it, of course, none of those present, with, possibly, the exceptions of a few, will undertake to understand what you are driving at. A few will pretend they do—there are know-alls in every audience; the majority will take their cue from them, and that will settle the matter."
"I tumble. But might I ask if you have any choice in the operatic selection."
"No; none in particular, only that you must avoid any of the very familiar airs from 'Faust,' 'Trovatore,' or 'Lohengrin.' These great works have been so hackneyed by frequent repetitions at the Metropolitan Opera House and Hammerstein's, and Sunday sacred concerts, that they have been worn threadbare and become as commonplace as 'Mr. Dooley' or 'Harrigan.' Now let me think. Ah, yes! Have you heard that comparatively new opera by Punch and Ella called 'Golcondo?'"
"Search me. No."
"Well, then, I don't think the audience have either," replied Handy, "so your first solo will be from that delightful composition!"
"And for the encore, what?"
"The last part over again, if you can remember it, and we'll help you out in the chorus."
"Say, can't you let me know the name I am going to honor? And, by the way, there's one thing more I wish to be enlightened on. Will it be necessary for me to speak with a foreign accent before the show, in case I come across any of the inhabitants of the town before I go on?"
"Oh, no! That is not absolutely necessary. Don't you know that many of the Eyetalian opera singers in these days are Irish, some are English, a big bunch are Dutch, Poles or Scandinavians, and quite a sprinkling of them Americans. No, it isn't essential to use the accent in private. You will be announced as Signor Nibsinsky!"
"Is that an Eyetalian name?"
"Oh, Nibs, don't be so specific. Nibsinsky is as valid a name as any artist might select to adopt. I give it the Russian smack because of my Russian proclivities."
"Say no more, old man. Let it go at that."
"So far as the chorus is concerned, we know where we stand and what we can do—and the audience will before the show is over. As for jokes and funny business—they are easy. But, say, we ought to ring in a couple of instrumental solos. The banjo, of course, will do for one. It is new, because it is very old. So that's all right. For the other—now, let me think. By Jove, I've struck it! Little 'Un, you can do a violin solo in great shape."
"What! Me do a violin solo," answered the dwarf. "Why, you know very well I can only play a little bit, and only in an amateur way. Oh, no! Oh, no! Not this trip."
"Easy there, my festive fiddler. Easy there, and loan me your ear. I'll arrange that all right. You will be announced as a pupil of the great Ysaye, and of course, being a pupil of that wonderful magician of the violin, you must start in with a classical selection from one of those old masters. Which of them there's no use wasting time over. They won't be recognized. Then when it comes for you to get in your classic work, all you've got to do is to play as crazy as you can, bend your body, hug your fiddle, make your bow saw wood over the strings, look at times as if you were going into a trance or a fit, do any blame thing that may appear eccentric—for that, you know, is one of the characteristics of genius and originality—and you'll catch the crowd every time."
"But, say, Handy, what about the wig?"
"Oh, that's all serene. We've got it. You don't for a moment imagine I would have you go on as a star fiddler without a bushy head of hair! Not much. As the poet sings—'There's music in the hair.'"
"That settles it. My mind is easier now."
"But that's not all. When you get through with your classical gymnastics on the instrument, I will come down to the front and announce that you will kindly give an imitation of an amateur player wrestling with 'Home, Sweet Home.' There will be your great opportunity. The worse you play it the more successful you will be, for, don't you see, you will be closer to nature. I think that will be a great stunt. Don't you, boys?"
They all thought it would be immense; at least, so they said. The Little 'Un himself fairly chuckled with glee at the prospects of being an amateur virtuoso of the fiddle, even for one night only. The remainder of the programme was quickly made up. One or two brief sketches and a rather rough and tumble arrangement for the close, which the enterprising managers designated as "The Strollers' Melange," completed the night's entertainment.
"All places that the eye of Heaven visits Are to the wise man ports and happy havens." —RICHARD II.
By midday the Gem of the Ocean, aided by a favoring wind, made good time and Handy determined to run in to a convenient little cove near Oyster Bay. He knew the locality and felt satisfied that if he had his usual share of luck he could make good and therefore add something to the company's treasury. By one o'clock the anchor was dropped and he and Smith made a landing and both started to do the usual prospecting. They were successful beyond their expectations. The little town which they proposed to honor with a visit was not far from the water. A small grove and a hill shut it out from a view of the Sound. The main road ran down to a narrow inlet which served as a kind of harbor for fishing boats, oyster sloops and clammers. Handy's well-trained eye lighted on an eligible site for the tent. It was a nice level plot with a fence about it. A good-natured Irishman named McGuiness owned the property, and Handy lost no time in opening negotiations and getting on his right side.
"An' yez want the use of the lot for a concert minstrel entertainment?" inquired the proprietor.
"Yes," replied Handy, "and for to-morrow night."
"An' yez are going to give the show under the cover of a tint?"
"That's about the size of it."
"Have yez got the tint?"
"We have, and the show that goes with it, and what's more, after you have witnessed the performance you'll say it is the best that ever struck the town. Moreover, I want you to bring your whole family with you and have seats in the first row for all of them."
"Well," said McGuiness, "I don't mind lettin' yez have the use of the lot, an' I'll do all I kin, in a quiet way, to help yez along, but there's one thing I want to be afther tellin' yez, an' it is this, that I'm thinkin' there will be the divil to pay whin Mr. Dandelion finds out there's going to be a minstrel entertainment here."
"How's that?" inquired Handy, "and who is Mr. Dandelion?"
"He's a very dacint kind of man, as min run at present," replied McGuiness, "even if he is a Methodist preacher, but he hates showmin like snakes. He don't seem to want the young people to have any fun or amusement at all, at all, shure. That's why I'm afraid he will raise ould Harry when he finds yez here. An' then again, don't yez see, there's a fair goin' on in his church, an' to-morrow is to be the big day, and iv yez are goin' to have your show to-morrow night, don't yez see he may think you would draw off some of his customers? Well, I don't go to his church, God help me, so yez kin have the use of the ground. But looka heer. Whisper, if it's all the same to you, don't put up the tint till after nightfall. I'll see yez again. I'm goin' home now," and Mr. McGuiness walked slowly up the road.
"Smith, me boy," spoke Handy, as soon as Mr. McGuiness was out of hearing, "we have struck a bonanza. Are we in it? Well, this is the best ever! Say, old fellow, when that sky-pilot casts his eyes on that tent of ours to-morrow morning there will be something doing about these diggins, and don't you forget it. Why, the amount of advertising he will give the show will do us more service than if we planted twenty acres of posters all over the fences that adorn the smiling landscape of this peaceful and prosperous community. Let us go aboard at once. The main biz is done. It's a dead sure cinch, Horatio."
No move was made on board until ten o'clock. The place was then as still as a country church-yard, and scarcely a light was to be seen in any of the houses when Handy and his company took possession of the lot and began the preliminaries for the following day's operations.
A few hours of energetic work and the tent was set up, and later on the stage properties, costumes and musical instruments were all safely lodged under the cover of the canvas. Two of the organization remained on guard and the others returned to the Gem.
The unexpected appearance of the tent next morning took the inhabitants completely by surprise. No one could tell how it got there. Like a mushroom it came up overnight. The farm-hands on their way to work halted to look it over; the oystermen and clammers on the way to their boats loitered near the spot to inspect it, and by nine o'clock most of the boys and girls within a mile of the place spread the news broadcast that there was an actors' show in town. About ten o'clock the news had reached the dominie, and half an hour later he was in consultation with the leading lights of his congregation. The consensus of views induced them to call upon Mr. McGuiness. The tent was on his property, and he, they concluded, when appealed to would no doubt order the trespassers off. They considered it an abomination, from their standpoint, for him to permit show-actors to offer an entertainment, and more especially on the last day of the church fair, when a numerous gathering was expected. A committee was accordingly appointed to wait on Mr. McGuiness, but unfortunately that gentleman was nowhere to be found.
At two o'clock in the afternoon Handy gave a free concert in front of the tent. The audience, it is needless to say, was not a critical one and was easily pleased. When it was over and the energetic manager announced a display of fireworks in the evening, both before and after the performance, there wasn't a youngster within the sound of his voice who did not spread the cheering information far and wide. Those who came to attend the fair in the little church performed that duty early in the afternoon and afterward arranged to visit the tent show of the actors later on in the evening. The display of fireworks was not what one might expect to witness at Manhattan Beach in the height of the season, when that popular resort was swept by ocean breezes and when the renowned Pain was there, but there was sufficient red fire burned to light up the surrounding country. There was a crowd outside and when the doors were opened there was a rush for seats.
The house or tent was filled in a short time, and the audience was treated to a polyglot entertainment of the most remarkable character. Nibsinsky's Eyetalian selections were listened to with some degree of attention and a considerable measure of perplexity. He could not be considered a success and no inducements could compel him to repeat the performance. But these things will occasionally happen even with some of the latest edition of stars! Ysaye's musical prodigy made some extraordinary exhibitions with his classical contortions, but his imitations of an amateur violinist with "Home, Sweet Home" won the approval of all present and brought down the house. It was voted the best thing of the whole show. The familiar choruses too pleased the young folks, so much so that they all joined in and had a jolly time. The grown people laughed heartily over all the threadbare jokes that were given, and which have been passing current in every minstrel show and country circus from the days of Dan Rice down to Lew Dockstader.
"It was, I have an idea, the worst show we ever gave," declared Handy a few days after while speaking of it, "but the people seemed to like it. Just as it is in New York, it is a difficult matter to strike public taste. That's what makes the manager's life like unto that of a policeman's—not a happy one. The people who paid to see the show made no complaint, and I don't think that I should."
"Do you think the dominie's opposition hurt your entertainment much?"
"Hurt it! Not in the slightest. On the contrary, I believe it benefited it. His opposition advertised the entertainment, and, by the way, advertising is another of these vexed problems most difficult of solution. I felt I owed his reverence something for what he unintentionally accomplished in our behalf, so how do you think I got square with him?"
"That's too much for me, old chap," answered his friend. "How?"
"Well, the next day was Sunday, and before we got away I called on Mr. McGuiness, to return him thanks for the way he treated us. 'Mr. McGuiness,' said I, 'you have been kind and generous to my little company of players, who are doing their best to make an honest living in their own peculiar way. I now come again to you to ask that you do me one more favor.' 'What is it?' said he. 'It is this,' said I. 'Will you accompany me to call on the dominie? He helped me with his opposition last night, and I want to get square with him if I can.' McGuiness hesitated. 'Oh, don't fear,' I assured him. 'I mean no harm. The fair at the little church, I learned, was to swell the fund that's being raised to help the widow and orphan. I want you to go with me to ask the dominie to accept the offering of a few poor strolling players to increase the fund.' McGuiness thrust his hand toward me, but said nothing. I could see he was affected, for there was a watery look in his eyes. We walked together in silence down the road until we reached the little church."
"And the dominie?"
"He met us like a man. And when I explained my errand, and handed him our little dole, and turned as if to leave, big, good-hearted McGuiness, his voice somewhat affected by his feelings, said, 'Howld on a minnit; I don't know, dominie, what he's givin' you, and what's more I don't care, but you can count on me, dominie, for double the amount.'
"I don't know when I felt so happy, as I walked down to the shore, between the dominie and McGuiness, for I felt we had done an act that men might well feel an honest pride in, while we made two men friends in that little village who might otherwise have remained estranged."