Transcribers Notes: Title and Table of Contents added.
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THE IDLER MAGAZINE. AN ILLUSTRATED MONTHLY.
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THE LYCEUM REHEARSALS. BY G. B. BURGIN.
A BLESSING DISGUISED. BY F. W. ROBINSON.
"LIONS IN THEIR DENS." III.—GEORGE NEWNES AT PUTNEY. BY RAYMOND BLATHWAYT.
NOVEL NOTES. BY JEROME K. JEROME.
ON PILGRIMS AND THE PILGRIM SPIRIT. BY A. ADAMS MARTIN.
A COLLEGE IDYL. BY S. GORDON.
MY FIRST BOOK. BY F. W. ROBINSON.
TOLD BY THE COLONEL. XI. HOSKINS'S PETS. BY W. L. ALDEN.
EXPERIENCES OF A 'VARSITY OAR. BY AN "OLD BLUE." (F. C. DRAKE.)
THE IDLERS CLUB. IS CHILDHOOD THE HAPPIEST OR THE MOST MISERABLE PERIOD OF ONE'S EXISTENCE?
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The Lyceum Rehearsals.
BY G. B. BURGIN.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. BERNARD PARTRIDGE.
(Photographs by Messrs. Barraud.)
One day a paragraph appears in the papers that a new piece will shortly be produced at such and such a theatre. Paterfamilias lays down the paper and placidly observes that it may be worth while getting seats. Then he goes down to the theatre, books seats, and troubles himself no more about the matter until the first night of the play in question. The world behind the curtain is one with which he is totally unfamiliar. He knows naught of its struggles, its hopes and fears, its arduous work, its magnificent prizes and sore disappointments. So many thousands of pounds have been spent in preparing the play, so many reputations are at stake, so many hearts will be gay and glad to-morrow, or aching with the bitter pain of defeat. But to Paterfamilias these are all the joys or sorrows of another world. As he watches the smooth, easy performance, in which every actor has his place, in which the whole pageant produces itself without apparent effort, he fails to imagine the ceaseless work involved in its adequate realisation. He does not know that for weeks before the production of a new play, say at the Lyceum for instance, Mr. Irving and the wonderful company which he has gathered round him labour over it often far into the night after the audience has left. The general idea of an actor's life is that it is a delightful round of social pleasures tempered by a few hours' light, agreeable work in the evening; to those who think this, a visit to the Lyceum rehearsals would reveal the other side of the shield. Very few men in London labour so indefatigably as Mr. Irving. To watch him directing a rehearsal almost makes one's head ache at the mere idea of such unceasing labour. Every motion, however insignificant, of each individual on the stage, from himself down to the newest and rawest "super," has to be thought out and planned in Mr. Irving's brain. Like an ideal general, he leaves nothing to chance, nothing to subordinates. The turning up or down of every gas jet, the movement of every piece of furniture, the effect of every note of music, has received his most careful thought. One watches him stand hour after hour on the Lyceum stage, without weariness, without impatience, guiding the whole of the great production. And though Mr. Irving never spares himself, he is very considerate to others. When, for instance, a young actor is unable to comprehend the full meaning of an explanation, Mr. Irving walks up and down the stage, one arm on his shoulder, and explains the whole conception of the part. He is not only a great actor, but a great teacher; and his influence pervades and dominates every being in the theatre. He does not merely assert, but gives full and sufficient reason for every action until every one on the stage grasps the exact meaning of the scene as well as he does himself. As an instance of this, let us follow the rehearsals of "Becket."
The theatre itself is deserted save by some ghostly caretaker who glides noiselessly through the shadowy gloom, sliding a brush over the upholstery without looking at it, and replacing each covering as she goes. On the stage are two gentlemen wearing picturesque soft hats, and long coats which reach to within half-a-foot of the ground. The taller of the two, Mr. Henry Irving, wears a light drab-coloured coat and dark hat; Mr. William Terriss is attired in a light hat and dark coat. In the centre of the stage, close to the foot-lights, stands a screen; behind the screen is a chair. To the left of the stage (as you look at it from the stalls) is placed a small table with a big gilt cross on it. On the extreme right there is another small table laden with papers, plans of the stage, and letters. At the back of the stage are grouped numerous male "supers," clad in ordinary morning costume and wearing the inevitable "bowler" hat, which does not harmonise very well with the huge spears they carry. It is the scene in the second act of the late Poet Laureate's "Becket," "The Meeting of the Kings," and Mr. Irving is busily engaged grouping some fifty people who are required to pose as barons, French prelates, and retainers. When he has done this, there is still something wanted to complete the picture. Two pages are lacking. "Where's Johnny?" asks Mr. Irving, and "Johnny" appears. Mr. Irving eyes him critically. "I'm afraid you're too big, Johnny," he says, and "Johnny" disappointedly makes way for a smaller boy.
Mr. Irving stands well in the centre of the stage, absorbing every detail. The French bishops are huddled too near together, and he groups them more naturally. Becket's mortal foes, Fitzurse, De Brito, De Tracy, and De Morville, are moved lower down towards the audience, so that they can go "off" with greater effect when jeering at Becket.
The cameo-cut outlines of Mr. Irving's fine serious features are plainly visible as he turns to look at the wings. "I don't see any necessity for having these 'wings' so forward," he declares, and the wings at once slide gently back, moved by some invisible agency. In response to Mr. Irving's request for another alteration in the scenery (he speaks with an utter absence of effort in a voice which can be heard at the other end of the theatre, although it does not appear to be raised above a conversational pitch), a middle-aged gentleman, attired in a frock coat, his brows carefully swathed in a white pocket handkerchief, comes forward, yardstick in hand, and measures the stage with great assiduity. When this has been done, Mr. Irving sits down with "Please go on." Then he turns to Mr. Terriss: "Shall we go through it first without the dialogue?" "Yes," answers Mr. Terriss; and the whole action of the scene is gone through. Mr. Irving and Mr. Terriss exchanging their direction of the various groups for the assumption of their own parts with an ease and rapidity born of long practice, Mr. Irving moving about from group to group until he is satisfied with the effect of the whole. Mr. H. T. Loveday, the stage manager, being at present ill, Mr. Terriss is kindly assisting Mr. Irving with rehearsal. After the entrances and exits have been arranged for the twentieth time, Henry's magnificent voice rings out as Louis enters:
"'Brother of France, what shall be done with Becket?'"
As this is one of the early rehearsals, the actors are not yet word perfect. Each holds his part in one hand, and refreshes his memory as he goes on. When Henry and Louis have finished their dialogue, and Becket is about to enter, Mr. Irving suddenly pauses. "Make a note that before Becket's entrance there should be a slow chant—a Gregorian chant—and flourishes. Where are the gentlemen who sing?" "The gentlemen who sing" come on, and practise the chant. "Not quite so loud." Mr. Irving claps his hands (the stage signal for stopping people) and decides to try the effect behind the scenes. "That will do; very good," he declares, as the solemn chant steals slowly in, and then, merging the manager in the actor, kneels at Henry's feet.
At this juncture, Mr. Irving becomes the stage-manager again, and turns to the group of Henry's followers. "You, gentlemen, are to come up here. You are rather startled, and listen attentively; that's the spirit of it." King Henry's followers move up, and jeer at Becket, who curses them. Then come the voices of the crowd without:
"'Blessed be the Lord Archbishop, who hath withstood two kings to their faces for the honour of God.'"
But Mr. Irving is not satisfied with the crowd. "Slower and more gravely, please. I want the emphasis on 'the Lord Archbishop.' So! That will be very good."
After this, there is an interval, and Mr. Irving and Mr. Terriss disappear. Before they return, the stage carpenters begin to prepare for the murder scene in the last act. A number of what appear to be canvas-covered trunks are brought in and laid down to represent stones in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral.
Meantime, some of the gentlemen who represent the monks in this scene playfully spar at one another, or lunge with walking-sticks at imaginary foes. The carpenters are busy measuring the stage in all directions with tapes in accordance with a plan which one of them holds in his hand. Before Mr. Irving returns, the "supers" group themselves "left" and answer to their names. When he reappears, they look at him expectantly. "I am not going to rehearse this scene to-day," he says, "but will just arrange it. Those who sing, go over right (left from the audience). You sing the vespers. I want six more with you. Then, twelve of the shortest. You follow them. All the short ones you have, please. Yes, you're short (to a diminutive 'super' who is standing on tiptoe and trying to look seven feet high at least). Don't be bashful. You're none the worse for being short. Come along"; and with unfailing memory Mr. Irving calls each man by name, and indicates his place. When a man fails to quite realise what is required of him, Mr. Irving takes him by the shoulders, and gently moves him along to the required position, very much as if the individual in question were a pawn about to be played in a game of chess. As soon as the monks are grouped to his satisfaction, he steps back. "That's it. Now, you all come down from the choir. There is a loud hammering against the door. I go to open the door, and all of you rush right by me." Then Mr. Irving opens the door to his murderers, and is borne back by the crowd of terrified monks. Five minutes afterwards, he has returned to life, and is rehearsing a scene from "King Lear," with Miss Ellen Terry's understudy, in as natural and unembarrassed a manner as if he had not been working hard for three hours previously.
Especial care is bestowed by Mr. Irving with regard to every detail of the murder scene. On another occasion, the scenery is not ready, but a flight of steep steps, essential to the action, is placed far back in a position to left of the stage. As "Becket" has never been played before, there are no traditions whatever to guide actors or scenic artists, and each movement, phrase, gesture, and intonation, must be "created." Mr. Irving picks up a huge battle-axe and hatchet, and carefully plans the details of his own murder. Having decided how to die, he thoughtfully surveys the steps up which the frightened monks are supposed to rush. "They won't do," says Mr. Irving. "They are too steep; there is no hand-rail; and the monks will fall over and hurt themselves. Take off four steps. It would be too dangerous if anyone fell down. Now, then, Salisbury and Grim, I enter, forced along by you. Catch hold of me, and put your arms round me this way. That's it. No; I don't like those steps."
Mr. Irving again tries the steps personally, and decides what further alterations are required. Then he addresses the monks, who stand by the steps awaiting instructions. "This is a scene, gentlemen, which requires the utmost carefulness and patience, and all the earnestness you can throw into it. Now, gentlemen."
The crowd: "Here is the great Archbishop. He lives! he lives!"
"No, I wouldn't do it that way," says Mr. Irving. "'Here is the great Archbishop.' You're surprised to see me, you know. Then pause. 'He lives! he lives!' in a sort of whisper. Now, go back and chant the service, and do it all over again."
The solemn strains of the organ are heard, as Rosamond goes off, the cue for the monks to enter being, "And pass at once perfect to Paradise." But the organ is too loud; so is the chant. After several attempts, the organ sounds more softly, the monks appear, and Becket enters, hurried along by his friends. But the monks have not yet caught the spirit of the scene. "You are frightened out of your lives. See," says Mr. Irving, and, in a second, he personates a frightened monk. The next moment, with bewildering rapidity, he is the Archbishop again. "'What do these people fear?' When I say, 'I will go out and meet them,' you must murmur as if to stop me. I tell you, 'Why, these are our own monks who follow'd us,' and you are reassured. Then I open the door, with, 'Come in, my friends, come in.' Yes, that's it. Who leads the monks as they come in? Mr. Belmore? Yes, that's right. You rush in, followed by monks, crying out as if you were thoroughly frightened:
"'A score of knights all arm'd with swords and axes.'
"Then pause a moment, and shout, 'To the choir, to the choir.' Some of you run half-way up the steps, then come down again as if you had changed your minds, and rush right across the other side. You are confused, and don't know what to do. You, Mr. Bishop, shout out in your tremendous voice, 'To the crypt.'"
This movement is rehearsed some twenty times before it satisfies Mr. Irving. At last, the monks disappear, and Becket is left to confront his murderers. "I stand here in the transept, and Fitzurse rushes up to me. What's he say? Oh, 'I will not only touch but drag thee hence.' Then I say, 'Thou art my man, thou art my vassal. Away,' and push him off."
Fitzurse falls, and Mr. Irving stops reading from the part. "No, Fitzurse, you take hold of me, and I fling you off violently. You must remember that I am supposed to be a strong man—a man who has been a soldier. Like this," and Mr. Irving falls on the stage with an ease born of long practice. "You pick yourself up, rush at me with drawn sword (it's all one movement), and shout, 'I told thee that I should remember thee.' I say, 'Profligate, pander.' You come on with, 'Do you hear that? Strike! strike!' I cover my face. 'I do commend my cause to God,' and you rush off, drunk with blood, half-horrified at what you've done, and yet braving it out, crying, 'King's men! King's men!' to support your Dutch courage."
The murderers go "off," and Mr. Terriss and Mr. Irving practise a series of different attitudes for the death scene until Mr. Irving is finally satisfied. He has taken off his coat in order to better rehearse the murder scene. Mr. Terriss now helps him on with it again, the monks are recalled, and some dozen more painstaking attempts made to get everything right. "It's very simple, gentlemen," Mr. Irving assures the monks. "Very simple, when you've once caught the spirit of it." This rehearsal has lasted for nearly three hours, during the whole of which time Mr. Irving has superintended everything, thrown himself into each man's part, grouped everyone, created the action, devised suggestions for scenery, as if regardless of the fact that in the evening he will have to undergo the awful stress and strain of King Lear. Any other man, with a less intense vitality, would simply collapse under all this pressure. Mr. Irving puts up his eyeglass, takes a last look at the stage, and walks buoyantly off as if the whole thing were mere child's play.
But where is Miss Ellen Terry? The question answers itself as soon as asked, for a gliding, graceful feminine presence appears on the stage. Miss Ellen Terry is attired in black, with a white fichu at her breast to relieve the monotony of this sombre garb. In her hand she carries a little black basket, and there is a glimmer of steel at her side as if she wore a reticule containing the hundred-and-one trifles which ladies like to carry about with them. So much has been written and said about Miss Terry that it would seem at first sight utterly impossible to say anything new. In five minutes, the difficulty is to say enough. The supreme unconsciousness of Art, or Nature, enables her to assume a hundred changing attitudes; her voice is heard without effort from one end of the theatre to the other; she possesses the most exquisite tact. Watch the skill, for instance, with which she induces some young actor to realise the true meaning of a passage in the play. She seems to be thinking it out to herself as if a new idea had been presented to her. "Yes," she says, musingly, "I wonder if that is what Tennyson meant?" Or, "Wait a minute," she adds brightly, "How would this do?" Then she repeats the passage with the right emphasis, action, and intonation, giving the meaning clearly and fully. "Don't you think that must be what is meant?" she asks questioningly. "Hum-m," says the actor, looking at the lines. "Ah, very likely. Perhaps it is." It is agreed that it shall be spoken that way, and the actor gives a delicate and truthful reading of the part, which will procure him a pat on the back from the critics when the play is produced. In the presence of her intuitive perception, the members of the caste instinctively become energetic and animated. At one moment she bends over to Mr. Meredith Ball in the orchestra, her long black skirt sweeping the stage in graceful folds; at another "moves up" to test a portion of the scenery and confer with Mr. Irving, or, with chair lightly dragging after, walks towards the wings, sits down, and rapidly cons her part. Three minutes after, she has crossed the stage, and is writing a letter. Before the letter is finished, something else claims her attention. Then she comes back, finishes it, and is consulted by Mr. Irving and Mr. Terriss as to how he (Mr. Terriss) is to jump over a table without forfeiting his kingly dignity. Mr. Terriss has already vaulted over the table some eight times with the agility of a deer, but Mr. Irving wants it done differently. "I think you'd better," he says, "have something on the table, and pick it up before you go over. If you do it this way, it looks rather like Lillie Bridge, you know." Miss Ellen Terry reflects a moment, then asks, in mirthful tones, suiting the action to the word, "What is that jump that makes you go sideways as you fly over hurdles?" Mr. Terriss, like Mr. Winkle's horse, goes "sideways." This method, however, still lacks dignity, and at last it is decided that he shall place both hands on the table, spring over, and so lightly up the steps and exit. Half-way up the steps he is recalled by Mr. Irving's warning voice, "Don't go up there; it isn't safe yet."
There is one gentleman who plays a very important part in the proceedings, yet never appears on the Lyceum stage in public, and that is Mr. Hawes Craven, the scenic artist. Frequenters of the theatre have for many years past been familiar with Mr. Craven's beautiful scenery, but very few of them know the manner of place where it is produced. Down many deep steps beneath the stage is a winding passage leading past the unornamental bases of what appear to be huge balks of timber, rising up into space. These timbers are interspersed with rubber pipes for lighting purposes. Leaning against the wall is a dilapidated structure, very much like a huge Robinson Crusoe umbrella out of repair, which, on closer inspection, proves to be the hovel used in "King Lear." Close to it is affixed a placard giving directions how to manipulate the celebrated Lyceum thunder. A little beyond is a narrow flight of stone steps leading to Mr. Craven's painting room, which is fifty feet long and about thirty feet wide. It is lit by a skylight extending the full width of the roof. On each side of it are stretched huge canvasses, eighteen feet high and forty-seven feet long. These canvasses are extended on frames, which can be raised or lowered by means of a winch to suit Mr. Craven's convenience. Some idea of the expensiveness of the materials for stage scenery may be gathered from the fact that the canvas alone costs a shilling a yard, with an additional charge of one penny for sewing. It takes Mr. Craven and his two assistants four hours to "prime" one cloth ready for painting. In times of emergency, he often works fourteen hours at a stretch. The floor of the room is bespattered thickly with paint: Mr. Craven's clothes are all the hues of the rainbow; so are those of his assistants, one of them unconsciously having decorated himself with a blue nose. The centre of the room is occupied by huge tables, on which stand earthen pots containing paint by the half-gallon, and brushes of all shapes and sizes. Indeed, some of the brushes will hold two pounds weight of paint at a single dip, and Mr. Craven's implement for sketching in outlines is a thick stick of charcoal fastened on a long pole. The artist's method of painting is to walk to the centre tables, take a huge dip of paint, and speed back again to his canvas, which represents a huge ash tree. Mr. Craven, besides sporting as much woad on his person as an ancient Briton, wears a white handkerchief round his brows. When he is very much pressed for time, he exchanges this handkerchief for a red one, and the joke goes round that this means blood. As it is impossible to carry heavy pots of paint about all day, Mr. Craven really performs a kind of "sentry-go," painting as he goes. One curious fact is that his colours dry very quickly about two shades lighter than when they are wet. After Mr. Craven has covered a certain amount of space, he motions to the boy at the winch, and the whole vast canvas moves slowly up some two or three feet. Mr. Craven, in addition to his artistic knowledge, is a perfect ambulatory encyclopaedia, his work requiring an intimate acquaintance with architecture, botany, history. He is, above all things, an artist, with an intimate knowledge of the shapes, the hues, the seasons of flowers, the colours and habits of birds, the tints of leaves, their varied forms, and the other thousand and one things which he is called upon to depict at a moment's notice. The rapidity with which he works is simply marvellous. "So sorry I can't talk much," he says; "but I had fourteen hours of it yesterday, and my feet are beginning to give out." "You ought to join the eight hours' movement, Mr. Craven." Mr. Craven makes a semi-circular sweep with a huge brush, the point of which lights on a pendulous ash bough. "Eight hours!" he echoes with genial scorn. "Why, if I did, my profession would (dab! dab! dab!) cease (dab! dab! dab!) to (dab!) exist for me"; and the naked bough is clad in graceful foliage with magical rapidity.
One evening, it is announced that for a couple of days Mr. Irving will not play. Before he has fully recovered, however, he comes down to rehearsal with Mr. Loveday, who is, happily, convalescent. Miss Terry and Mr. Terriss spare him all they can, the latter's Jove-like voice thundering over the stage when Mr. Irving wishes to convey commands to distant groups. But it is evident that Mr. Irving will not be restrained. After the rehearsal begins, the force of habit causes him to be here, there, and everywhere with unabated energy, as the grouping in the third scene of the first act is very difficult. The following rough diagram will give some idea of the stage:
This scene is laid in Northampton Castle. Some fifty people are on the stage, bishops, Templars, knights, and John of Oxford, President of the Council. Mr. Irving runs his eye over the different groups. "Put one man on the steps. Now, a group by the throne. The barons sit round the table, and the rest of you occupy the benches."
As the groups arrange themselves in obedience to Mr. Irving's directions, his somewhat elderly fox-terrier moves slowly "on," and superciliously surveys the general effect. As the barons give vent to angry murmurs, the dog howls. Sometimes, when Mr. Irving walks up the steps after bidding defiance to the barons, the dog follows stiffly after him to lend the weight of his moral support. Satisfied that all is well, the dog returns to Miss Terry, and goes to sleep on her dress. Now and then he wakes up, stretches himself, and evinces the most profound contempt for John of Oxford's speech by yawning in the orator's face. Seeing, at last, that the rehearsal will be longer than usual, he resigns himself to the inevitable, and goes to sleep again.
After Mr. Irving has grouped the men on the benches, he steps back and looks at the table. "We ought to have on it some kind of mace or crosier," he says—"a large crosier. Now for the 'make up.' All the barons and everyone who has a moustache must wear a small beard. All the gentlemen who have no beards remain unshaven. All the priests and bishops are unshaven. The mob can have slight beards, but this is unimportant. Now, take off your hats, gentlemen, please. Some of you must be old, some young. Hair very short;" and he passes from group to group selecting the different people. "Now, I think, that is all understood pretty well. Where are the sketches for dresses?"
The sketches are brought, and he goes carefully through them. Miss Terry and Mr. Terriss also look over the big white sheets of paper. The fox-terrier strolls up to the group, gives a glance at them, and walks back again to Miss Terry's chair with a slightly cynical look. Then Mr. Irving returns to the groups by the benches. "Remember, gentlemen, you must be arguing here, laying down the law in this way," suiting the action to the word. "Just arrange who is to argue. Don't do it promiscuously, but three or four of you together. Try to put a little action into it. I want you to show your arms, and not to keep them glued to your sides like trussed fowls. No; that isn't half enough action. Don't be frightened. Better make too much noise rather than too little, but don't stop too suddenly. Start arguing when I ring the first bell. As I ring the second bell, you see me enter, and stop." The dog stands one bell, but the second annoys him, and he disappears from the stage altogether, until the people on the benches have finished their discussion.
Mr. Irving next tries the three-cornered stools which are placed around the table, but prefers square ones. The dog returns, walks over to the orchestra, looks vainly for a rat, and retreats under the table in the centre of the stage as if things were getting really too much for him. But his resting place is ill-chosen, for presently half-a-dozen angry lords jump on the table, and he is driven forth once more. After a stormy scene with the lords, Mr. Irving walks up the steps again. "When I say 'I depart,' you must let me get up the steps. All this time your pent-up anger is waiting to burst out suddenly. Don't go to sleep over it." He looks at the table in the centre of the stage, and turns to a carpenter. "This table will never do. It has to be jumped on by so many people that it must be very strong. They follow me. (To Miss Terry) They'd better catch hold of me, up the steps here."
Miss Terry: They must do something. They can't stand holding you like that.
Mr. Irving: No. The door opens suddenly at top of steps, and discovers the crowd, who shout, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
The doors open and the crowd shout, but the effect is not good.
Miss Terry: It would be better if it were done at the foot of the steps. The people needn't show their faces as they do it, and the effect will be so much better.
The effect is tried, and found to answer admirably. Then the carpenters carry away the scenery, and the stage is "set" roughly for the Bower scene in the second act. Mr. Terriss fetches a screen from the left, and places it behind Miss Terry's chair; Mr. Irving sits facing Miss Terry, backed by another screen to keep off draughts; Mr. Terriss sits a little way back, and the dog goes to sleep in the centre of the group. In the background appear three or four costumed specimen monks and retainers waiting to be inspected, one frivolous being trying to balance a yard measure on the tip of his nose in a manner which ill accords with his monkish vestments. The "music cues" are very difficult to get right. Nearly an hour is consumed in trying different effects. Miss Terry insists that the whole scene entirely depends upon the action, and that the music must be subordinated to it. When the music drowns her voice, she suddenly stops with a despairing gesture, "We couldn't speak through this any more than the dead. Can't it begin loudly, Mr. Ball, then die away?" Then she turns to Miss Kate Phillips, who is her maid in the play. "Please try your song at the back there, Miss Phillips."
Miss Phillips sings a very pretty but sad little song, and Miss Terry listens attentively.
"It's an Irish wail," says Mr. Irving. "You don't want an Irish wail here, but a merry song. You should have a mirthful, running accompaniment," and the song is changed. "That is enough for to-day."
The dog thinks so too. The "Irish wail" has been the last straw. He precedes everyone towards the wings with joyous barks which quite belie his air of long-suffering cynicism. It is lunch time.
At the first full-dress rehearsal, the Lyceum stage resembles a bee-hive with its swarms of busy occupants. Huge pieces of scenery move about, propelled by perspiring carpenters in shirt-sleeves; whole skies suddenly float up into "the flies"; the prompter converses amicably with a mail-clad baron; then, more scenery glides majestically down from the roof or springs up suddenly through the stage, which is literally full of "traps" for the unwary. The "tum-tum-tum" of the fiddles in the orchestra sounds weirdly as the composer of the incidental music, Professor Stanford Villiers, leans over from the stalls and chats with Mr. Meredith Ball, or makes a mysterious statement to him that "the staccato should be a little more staccato." Presently, Professor Villiers remarks to the orchestra, "Instead of playing two short quavers, please play the crotchet in three time." The orchestra respond vigorously, but are stopped with a further request to "play the first chord in the second bar as a dotted minim instead of a quaver," and the Professor wanders about all over the house testing the effect of every note.
The prologue goes off as smoothly as if it had been played for a hundred nights. Miss Terry, clad in Rosamond's magnificent robes, sits in the stalls and watches the effect of the lights upon each group. Sometimes a light is too blue, or too yellow, or too white, and in the first act the rehearsal is stopped several times on this account. When Miss Terry is on the stage, Mr. Irving watches the lights; when Mr. Irving is acting, she studies each flash.
On the whole, there are wonderfully few details which require modification. In the Bower scene, the light is at first too yellow, and has to be altered. Practical experience proves that the bank up which the lovers go is too slippery. A portion of it is cut away, thus avoiding the probability of an awkward accident. Miss Ward trips on the hem of her regal robe, and requests the costumier to "take it up a little." Mr. Irving, with unfailing memory, notices that some spearmen are without their spears. But there is little to alter; at the second full-dress rehearsal there will be less; and on the evening of the first performance everything and everybody will have settled down into the right place. Mr. Hawes Craven comes on once or twice to look at his handiwork, and see that it has been properly "set." Then he walks away with a brisk step to his well-earned rest.
Apart from the interest of the Bower scene, it is delightful to watch Miss Terry and Master Byrne, who plays Geoffrey. When he comes "on" a little before he is wanted, Miss Terry throws her arms round him and kisses the pretty little fellow tenderly with, "There, run away for a moment, darling; we're not quite ready for you." It is this sweet and all-pervading womanliness of Miss Terry's which fascinates the onlooker. Suddenly, from some dark recess, her voice floats out with an eminently practical suggestion, a shrewd idea as to effect, some playful query. It comes from every quarter of the theatre, and is marvellously thrilling, with all the subtle fascination of what a poet-musician would call its "tone-colour." When the curtain draws up for the Bower scene, and she playfully chides her royal lover, it is more exquisite still. The solitary observer sits and listens to it, the sole representative from the outer world. All this gorgeous pageantry is for him alone; all this wealth of emotion, this story of love and murder, this work of the great poet now passed away—all this is poured into the ears of one man, who sits motionless, entranced, until the tale is told, the play done, and he walks out into the quiet night, quivering with the terrible pathos of Becket's end.
A Blessing Disguised.
BY F. W. ROBINSON.
ILLUSTRATED BY A. BIRKENRAUTH AND ST. M. FITZGERALD.
When I came home from my fortnight's holiday, amongst Tom Brisket's cows, in Huntingdonshire—once a year, for just fourteen days, do I unbend from the cares of business and seek relaxation far away from Bermondsey—and let myself in, with my patent latchkey, and walked with my usual confidence into my front parlour, you might have knocked me down with a feather. Any feather would have done it—a butterfly's, say—I was thrown so completely off my guard. I had been so confident. I was not in any way prepared for it.
The house was desolate enough, but that was not it. Mrs. Kibbey had failed to put in an appearance at the end of her holiday, although I had wired to her only yesterday that I should be home at precisely 8.15 p.m.; but it was not the unlooked for absence of Mrs. Kibbey—my housekeeper—that upset me thoroughly, oh, no. The gas was not lighted, and the supper was not likely to come off in the absence of Kibbey, certainly, but these were only minor features of a colossal surprise—bagatelles, or anything you may like to call them. Golden Birch Villa, Streatham, S.E., was simply chaos—that is the mildest and easiest way of explaining the matter to begin with. One word suffices—Chaos. It will take a great many words to explain why my little suburban retreat, on which I had prided myself for so many years of my bachelor life, was a mass of conglomerated wreckage. I will be as brief as I can. I am not a prolix man; I know the value of time, and of other people's time. I should not have had a flourishing business in Bermondsey, if I didn't know. Golden Birch Villa, Streatham, then, had been burgled. Broken into, despoiled and defaced, was my little country retreat from the turmoil of town, and it was this which had confronted me after fourteen days of pastoral simplicity, during which I had got very sick of Tom Brisket, and Tom's wife, and Tom's cows, and Tom's children—especially his children—which palled upon one badly and became unbearable, and beastly personal. The country soon tells upon me, and I am not fond of children—yet a while—because—but this is mere babbling of green fields and babies. In describing my return to Golden Birch Villa that evening, I still feel a confusion in the brain which whirls and whirls gently round with me. It was the greatest surprise of my life, the first chapter in a series of surprises, the reader will say presently. I shall leave the story in his hands, and a remarkable story it is, take it altogether. It illustrates clearly the old axiom, that one never knows what is for the best, and that to be robbed—"cleaned out"—and one's premises generally done for, should turn out to be a blessing in disguise, will not be very clearly apparent to the reader until I have explained the whole affair and he has heard my story to the end.
At the precise moment of which I write now—8.15—I felt as if utter ruin had overtaken me, as if there were no getting over this gigantic trouble—this shock, as it were, of a moral earthquake. The usual kind of earthquake would have been very much the same kind of article, things a little more askew, perhaps, but not half so "messy." I staggered into an easy chair—after lighting one of my gas-burners—and took a survey of the situation, with my mouth open, my chin on my chest, my knees knocking gently together, and my hair slowly rising upon my head. All the doors had been locked before the departure of Mrs. Kibbey—my housekeeper—and myself on our separate ways of recreation, and all the doors were now wrenched open, and the locks hanging, as it were, by bits of skin! Everything in the room of any real value had vanished like a beautiful dream, and everything "of no value to anyone but the owner" had been tilted into the middle of the room for the convenience of a hasty analysis before departure. The contents of two desks, of my carved oak sideboard ("late the property of a gentleman"), of my bookcase (to make sure that nothing had been stowed away behind the books), of all the drawers in all the tables, were in one large heap upon the carpet; bills, letters, tablecloths, tablecovers, dinner knives, decanters, chimney ornaments, books, purses, lead pencils, corkscrews, my silver-mounted flute, with all the mounts gone, and the cruets minus their silver tops. Also all the silver spoons, the electros being turned out upon the heap as "non-negotiables." The piano had been split open and gutted—it was an unredeemed Grand—the burglar or burglars having been seized with the suspicion that I had secreted articles of value in the body of the instrument. And so I had! one valuable in particular being a favourite hand or carriage-clock mosaic, and a mass of miniature dials, gold-mounted, the dials at one time having been capable of giving all kinds of unnecessary information, before the death of the manufacturer, who departed this life leaving no one skilled enough in the world to undertake the repairs; but it was a great curiosity, and I set great store by it. So did the burglars, for they had found it and carried it away, along with a large quantity of portable property too numerous to mention in the pages of this magazine without changing their appearance to a kind of "Catalogue of Sale."
Yes—I was robbed. And I had been so very sure that to leave the premises to take care of themselves was so exceedingly wise an expedient. "Cocksure Kippen" had been my nickname in Bermondsey since I had been in the pawnbrokering, just because I had opinions of my own, and did not call on other people to let me know their views of a question upon which I had made up my mind. What did I want with other people's opinions, when I knew my own were ever so much better? But I was a little crestfallen on the present occasion—I will say that. And it was my own fault for going down to Tom's—I will say that too. What did I want with country air? I had not been ailing anything. I had always considered a fortnight in Tom Brisket's company a frightful waste of time. I was never without an excellent appetite, and I measured forty-one inches round the chest, one inch for every year of my life, I had said jocosely, only yesterday, before I returned to town, but there was no jocosity in me when I was at home again—if this bear-garden could be called home, that is, or made to look like home ever any more!
It was a clean job, the policeman said—quite admiringly—when I had strength to reach the front door and call him in. Why had I not gone round to the station-house, the policeman asked, and told the Inspector I was off for a holiday, as other people generally did? Oh, yes, that was very likely! Why had not I insured in a Burglary Company? Oh, yes—and let no end of people know that there was a furnished house at Streatham with nobody inside of it for a fortnight. Did I think I could trust my housekeeper? Trust Martha Kibbey, who was my father's housekeeper before me—dear, deaf, old, palsy-stricken Kibbey, with a sister in the Cookshops Almshouses, Caterham, and with whom she spent her holiday invariably. Kibbey, whom the policeman and I found upstairs in a fit, in her own bedroom, having it all to herself, like a quiet, unobtrusive old soul as she always was. She had come into the house in good time, and realising the position, had rushed upstairs to her room, first of all, to see what had been taken of those worldly goods of her own, in which she was more naturally interested than anybody else. And when she discovered that her chest of drawers had been opened with an indifferent chisel, and that a silver watch of her grandfather's—weighing one pound and a quarter—had disappeared, along with an apple-scoop, also of precious metal, belonging to her late husband, who was "gummy," Mrs. Kibbey became a physical wreck, fit for nothing, and comprehending next to nothing. When she understood that I was in the house—safe and sound—she went into hysterics of thankfulness of so violent a description that I had to leave her with police-constable 906, and run across the road for the doctor.
The police made a great fuss over the robbery. The Inspector called later on and entered all the particulars in a notebook, and looked at the broken doors and the hole in the breakfast parlour shutters, through which admittance had been obtained, and the general turn-out of everything in the middle of each room, and then adding his testimony to the neatness of the job, took his departure, promising to let me know when anything turned up.
"We shall want a complete list of the articles you miss, so that we can send round to the pawnbrokers," he had said before leaving me.
"I'm a pawnbroker myself," I replied.
"Ah! then you'll get one."
"Thankee. Perhaps I shall get one of the thieves too."
"Well, you'll know your own property, I expect, sir," he said, with a most unbecoming grin, as he took himself off the premises. I did not see him again. I hope I never shall, the unsympathetic beast.
Time passed on and brought no tidings of the robbers or the stolen property. I was very much distressed over the whole affair, and my neighbours tried to comfort me by telling me that I could afford the loss, and that it was a good job it had not happened to a poorer man. How did they know I could afford the loss, or that I was not utterly ruined? I had never posed as a wealthy man—I was not wealthy, in the strict sense of the term. I had been only careful, I had spent nothing in waste, and I had put by a little money for a rainy day. If people in Bermondsey called me a money-grubber, it was no fault of my own; but there were a few who did, because I held to the strict letter of the law in my contracts. That was praiseworthy, but they could not see it. I believe a few of them were actually glad that I had been robbed.
Some six months after the burglary, in the dusk of an early winter's afternoon, a tall, sunken-cheeked man, with a huge white moustache and a vermilion face, which seemed put on expressly to show it up by, came limping into my shop at Bermondsey. He was very lame, or pretended to be, I thought, to throw me off my guard. As if I, Edwin Kippen, was likely to be off guard in business hours, as if it were possible to be off one's guard and get one's living, Bermondsey way.
I told my apprentice, who was behind the counter polishing up a few window goods for next Saturday, to light up, though there was quite half-an-hour's daylight left in the street. But, somehow—such is instinct—I did not like the get-up of this man. I had never seen him before; he did not look "made in Bermondsey," and he was seedy, and a little nervous, though he talked in strident tones, in a Sir Anthony Absolute kind of manner, which made the gas glasses jingle.
"Do you buy articles outright, Mr. Kippen, as well as lend money on them?" he asked abruptly as he entered.
"Yes, sir, I do."
"And at a fair price?"
"Certainly. May I ask what——"
But he was an impetuous man, and so full of his own mission, that he did not wait for me to conclude my inquiry.
"Then what will you give me for this article, money down?" he asked, producing from his pocket, to my complete astonishment, the identical little carriage clock, all dials and complications and internal irregularities, which I had hidden in my piano before going down to Brisket's farm—the clock that had been stolen from my Streatham villa. The same feeling came over me which I had had in that residence on the night of my return. I was swimmy for a moment, and saw stars, and then thought that a thick fog had broken out in Bermondsey. I recovered myself by a mighty effort of will. Here was to be a battle of the wits. Here was one item of my lost property within a hand's grasp of me. I couldn't keep that hand from trembling as I took the clock from him.
"Don't shake it up like a bottle of medicine," said the old gentleman, irritably; "it's a delicate piece of workmanship, and won't stand bobbing up and down like that; it upsets the mechanism, and it isn't easily set right."
"Is it in working order, then?" I inquired, with suppressed amazement.
"Yes, of course it is."
"Good gracious! is it though?" I said, nearly dropping it in my surprise.
"It tells the days of the month, the dates of the month," he went on, "the phases of the moon, the month of the year, the year of the century, the variations in the weather; it chimes the quarters, halves, and three-quarters; it plays a waltz after it strikes the hour; it acts as a revolver—I mean as a repeater—and it is mounted in solid gold of 20 carat, almost pure gold. A timepiece fit for a prince, and belonged originally to Louis Seize. What is it worth to you, money down—on the nail—as you tradesmen say?"
"I shall want a little time to consider the matter."
"Take your own time, sir, only, for God's sake, look sharp," said the old man irreverently, as he removed his hat and wiped his forehead with a big, old-fashioned silk bandanna.
"A clock of this description cannot be reckoned up in a hurry," I said. "I haven't examined the works yet."
"You'll find them perfect, wonderfully perfect. But don't breathe into them if you can help it. It affects the waltz movement particularly."
"Oh, does it, indeed?" I said, ironically.
I professed to be examining the works with the closest attention, but I was only resolving on my plan of future action. I was playing with my prey—an angler with his "catch," a cat with a mouse. This was the man who had broken into Golden Birch Villa, and walked off with the pick of the property. An ingenious burglar, who was an expert in clocks, and—I smiled grimly at the joke—who had actually put the article into my own hands again in perfect order. I could have imagined that it was a duplicate copy of mine, and in better condition altogether, had it not been for my private mark, which I was focussing now through a single-barrelled magnifier. I could talk to the man better in this fashion; had I looked him straight in his brazen chaps, my virtuous indignation would have betrayed me. And my policy was to dissemble, like the man in a melodrama.
"You have had this a long time in the family, I suppose?" I said quietly—very quietly—but tentatively.
"It's not new. Any fool can see that it is a Louis Seize clock, and of considerable value."
"It's a valuable thing in its way, no doubt, but it would suit a West End house better than my establishment."
"I know that, sir, as well as you do," was the testy reply, "but I haven't got the time to run to the other side of the water, and I want money in a hurry—in a great hurry, or I should not have come to you," he added bluntly.
"Are you living in this neighbourhood?"
"What business is that of yours?" he cried. "What—yes, I do live in the neighbourhood—round the corner in Tan Yard Road—if you want to know. No. 239 is my address, if it is likely to do you any good, and my name is Youson. I see you have your doubts as to my rightful possession of the article; pawnbrokers are all alike, have exactly the same tricks of the trade. I know their ways, no one better, and I know what you are going to say to me next."
"I really do not think that is possible."
"You'll tell me it is unsaleable—that not one in ten thousand would think of buying such a thing—that at the price of the metal it will be worth to you—well, what the devil is it worth? You have been staring at it long enough to know now."
"I am sorry you are in such a tremendous hurry," I said, nettled a little by his unceremonious deportment.
"I am in a hurry. It is a question of life and death to me that I should have that money quickly, don't you see? No—you don't see—how can you see—how can you know anything about me, save that I want money? You see that fast enough. Well, sir, you are welcome to your knowledge," he went on excitedly, "and I am not clever enough to disguise it, though I know you'll take advantage of my extremity—a man of business, and in your line of business, is sure to do that. But give me a fair price. I—I—don't want the money for myself, I don't want a penny of it—shan't take a penny of it, by God!"
This was an odd way of trying to get rid of stolen goods, but it was ingenious, and there was a refreshing novelty in the style of it. But I was not the man to be done. I flattered myself that I was as shrewd as this artful and red-faced old fox, and that I held the trump card in my hand to play at any moment.
"I have a friend only a few doors off who will know the value of this article far better than I," I said; "he is a collector of—of clocks, and will give you a better price than I can afford. This is not in my line at all; I should never get a bid for it. Ten pounds would be too much for me to pay, or even to lend upon it."
"It's worth a hundred pounds, you know that well enough."
"I should not like to say what it is actually worth. I don't buy things like these without Bender's opinion; he's a sleeping partner of mine, and only just round the corner."
"Ah, is he?"
"Heaven forgive me these dreadful lies," I whispered softly to myself.
"Let us go to him," he said, snatching the clock suddenly from my hands. And I had never intended to let the property get out of my possession again! This man was adroit; he might be one too many for me after all, if I betrayed the slightest doubt of him, or made anything like a scene. He was fidgeting with something in the right pocket of his snuffy, old greatcoat too—perhaps there was a pistol there—I was almost sure there was a pistol!
"Yes, let us go to him, Mr. Youson," I said. "I'm sure he or I will make you a handsome offer; he's just the fellow to put down his hundreds. Isaac, get me my hat—any hat or cap, anything you can find—only look alive. I am going round to Mr. Bender's with this gentleman."
"Where's Ben——" began that stupid ass of a boy, but I checked him with a malevolent and meaning glance, and the youth, looking frightened, dived into the back parlour in search of my head-gear. He came out with a straw hat, with a ticket on it, but I did not notice anything in my excitement. I pined to be in the open with this miscreant, who had put the clock into his pocket. With a policeman in view, on the far horizon at the end of the street, my happiest hour would have arrived.
We sallied forth together, I keeping very close to him, lest he should grow suspicious and make up his mind to run. Every minute did I expect that he would plunge into the middle of the road and tear madly down the street. And it was a trouble to keep by the side of him; the people were streaming home from work, were out marketing, looking for something cheap for tea or supper to be bought off the barrows which were flanking the kerbstones. Side by side, we got jostled occasionally, the pavement being narrow and the people thickish, and twice I caught surreptitiously at the hem of his garment when I thought that we were going to be separated. And, as usual, there was not a policeman on the beat anywhere—no sign of official force—nothing but men and women, boys and girls, the boys terribly in the way, and after the girls!
"Do you call this a few doors off?" said Youson, snappishly, at last.
"It looks like half-a-mile," he grumbled.
"Another minute or two, Mr. Youson. I am sorry you are so pressed for time."
"So am I. Not but what I have had about enough of your company, with that ridiculous hat of yours over your eyes," he added, ungraciously. "I wish I had never come near your infernal shop. You are about the slowest tradesman I have ever encountered."
"It does not pay to be too fast in my line of business."
"Oh, I don't blame you, I don't blame you, sir; I only say I wish——what are you jumping at? Ain't you well? Are you subject to anything?" he asked. "Spasms or twitches?"
I had seen a policeman on the other side of the way, standing under the shop-blind of a cheesemonger's shop, talking to the young man with the apron who was in charge, grinning from ear to ear with him, and grossly neglecting his duty, which was to keep a sharp look out at what was going on up and down the street.
"Where are you off to now?" asked Mr. Youson.
"Bender's is over the way."
"What, the butterman's?"
"No, no, but just by there. Come along. Mind this horse and cart; I should not like you to get run over with that in your pocket," I said, almost incoherently.
Mr. Youson gave a short double-knock sort of a laugh.
"What, you are getting anxious about the clock, after all?"
"I am indeed."
We had reached the other side of the way, and the policeman had turned his back upon us—just like him!—and was staring straight into the shop. There was a row of egg-boxes full of eggs of all sizes and prices and ages in front of the premises. Suddenly, I sprang like a panther upon my prey, flung my arms round Youson's neck, and yelled, at the top of my lungs, for "Help!" and for the "Police!"
"Damn—confound it, sir—what!"—gurgled forth Youson, in his supreme astonishment; then we both staggered, our feet went from under us, and, locked in each other's arms, we sat down, all of a heap, in the "28 a shilling, not warranted," compartment, and a hideous crackling, as of a subdued and squashy landslip, went on beneath our writhing forms.
"Oh, good Lord!" exclaimed the young butterman, throwing up both arms in his despair, "here's a go!"
"Here—hullo—what the blazes are you two blokes hup to?" cried the policeman, catching us both by the collars of our coats and shaking us; "this is a nice place to begin larking, I must say."
"It is not larking," I exclaimed, getting on my feet, a hideous mass of egg-shells and indifferent egg-flip; "it's highway robbery! This man is in possession of my property—proceeds of a burglary—I'm Kippen, the pawnbroker, No. 319; he's got my clock in his pocket now. I—I give him in charge, constable, I give him in charge! Why don't you catch hold of him?"
"The man's mad!" ejaculated Mr. Youson, "raving mad. Somebody catch hold of him."
There was a big crowd round us—it doesn't take long to get up a mob in Bermondsey—and the proprietor of the cheesemonger's shop, who had emerged from his caves of double Gloucester, was wanting to make a case of his own out of it all, and run the two of us in. The policeman was bewildered, and Mr. Youson was beside himself with ungovernable rage.
"He has got the clock in his pocket," I repeated.
"Yes, I know I have a clock in my pocket," he spluttered, "you—you rascal—you unmitigated——"
"It's my clock. I can swear to it," I yelled. "I've plenty of witnesses to prove it's mine."
"You'd better both come round to the station-house," said the policeman; "do you charge him with taking your clock, sir?" he added to me.
We went off to the station-house, Mr. Youson and I, the policeman and the cheesemonger, and a grand procession in the rear of about fifteen hundred persons with nothing to do. The cheesemonger and I conversed amicably en route, when he had become thoroughly convinced that I was a brother tradesman, resident at the far end of the street. He understood the case then—he grasped the situation—but he could not for the life of him make out, he said, why we had sat down in the middle of his eggs to argue the point. Who was answerable for all the damage, he should like to know? I didn't know, I told him, and I was damaged materially so far as wearing apparel went, I delicately intimated, by the indifferent quality of his eggs. That you cannot get reliable eggs for twenty-eight a shilling in the winter season, in Bermondsey, is a miserable fact, and discreditable to the reputation of French poultry.
I had never been in such a mess in my life, but I was in a greater mess the next day. It's a long story, that of the examination at the police station, and I will spare the reader the harassing details. Mr. Youson, in his confusion, made a very rambling statement of how he came into possession of the clock, prejudiced the Inspector against him, and got himself locked up, and I was told to call the next day at the Police Court in Blackman Street and explain matters, and bring my witnesses. I did so, and brought a neighbour or two who had seen the clock upon my mantelpiece at Streatham, and I clinched the argument with Mrs. Kibbey, who shed copious tears during the evidence, till the magistrate asked her sharply what she was snivelling at, when she fainted dead away under the reproof, and had to be carried from the witness-box into the fresh air to recover.
It was a clear case, however, against Mr. Youson, everybody considered, and he was remanded for a week, without bail, whilst enquiries as to his antecedents were to be vigorously made. There was a very grave suspicion, the Inspector whispered confidentially into my ear, along with some strong puffs of gin and peppermint which impregnated his breathing apparatus dreadfully, that Youson was one of a desperate gang of Lambeth burglars, for whom the police had been searching for some time.
There was a woman's scream in court when Youson was remanded, and the magistrate, who was certainly in a bad temper that morning, said that he would commit anybody for contempt who made such a noise as that again, and then the next case was called, and I was outside in Blackman Street, Borough.
I had, with some difficulty and a little pleasure, lodged the hysterical Mrs. Kibbey in a Streatham omnibus, and was making my way thoughtfully down King Street to my Bermondsey premises, when someone touched me on the arm. I looked round, and was considerably surprised to find a pale, grave young woman of some thirty years of age, poorly but neatly clad, keeping step with me on the narrow pavement.
"I beg pardon, sir, but you are Mr. Kippen, I think?"
"Yes, my name is Kippen."
"I wanted to speak to you. I wanted so much to see you before this case came on. My name is Youson, Lucinda Youson," she said, hurriedly.
"God bless me, is it though? You are——"
"Mr. Youson's daughter."
"My good woman, I hope you are not going to bother me," I said, imploringly; "the case is out of my hands. I am bound over to prosecute. It was a shameful robbery."
"My father did not rob you, Mr. Kippen. Does he look like a thief?"
"I don't know what he looks like."
"You don't know the truth," she said quickly. "Perhaps you don't know what kindness is, or charity—some people don't. You would not wait for him to explain, and you have nearly killed us with anxiety. We—we did not know what had become of him."
"Killed us," I repeated, vacantly; "are there many of you?"
"My sister-in-law and her little boy, and myself. And the boy is dying—that's the worst of it—oh! poor little chap, that is the worst of it! And his grandfather was so fond of him; he was selling the clock so that the boy and his mother should go away to Madeira, the only chance to save him, sir. The only chance that was left.
"And so he thought he would sell something valuable that did not belong to him, and go to Madeira at my expense, and——"
"You must not say my father stole it—you dare not!" she cried, and her eyes literally flashed fire at me. This young woman was as impulsive as her felonious father. Here was another scene likely to spring up in the street if I were not particularly careful, and I had had enough of demonstrations in the public highway.
"My good woman, what is it that you want with me?"
"I want you to hear how that clock came into my father's possession, and then—and then prosecute him if you can. And at your peril, sir—please to understand, at your peril, though I utter no threats."
"It strikes me you do."
"No—no—I don't mean that," she cried. "Heaven help me, I am almost distracted, I am not myself to-day, and you will listen? It will not cost you anything to listen to me, sir, will it?"
She laid her hand upon my arm entreatingly—she had very earnest brown eyes, and I was not, as I thought, wholly unsusceptible to the influence of brown eyes upon the nervous system. And as she had delicately intimated that listening would not cost me anything, why should I object to listen to her? We were both going the same way. Of course, I should hear a good roundabout story—a second edition of her father's rigmarole which had prejudiced the magistrate against him—but I was not bound in any way to believe a word that she said.
It sounded uncommonly like truth though, and took me very much aback when she said suddenly—
"Yes, that clock was stolen from you. We knew it was stolen—and who stole it."
"But you just said——"
"That my father did not steal it. God bless him, no. He did not know—did not dream that we knew—did not know anything about it in any way—does not to this day. It was his property, he thought—all that was left of any value in the world to him; and it had belonged to his son—his eldest son, my half-brother, who——"
"Who was the thief. The infernal——"
"Please don't, sir. He is dead."
"Oh! I beg your pardon. I didn't—know," I found myself saying in an apologetic manner which really surprised myself.
"Yes, sir, he was the thief," she said, sinking her voice into a whisper almost. "He committed suicide two months ago abroad, but we have kept the truth back from father. He wasn't to know—it would have broken his heart, he was so proud of his son, always. But before my half-brother died—he had gone to Canada, to make a home for Kitty and her boy, he said—he wrote to Kitty that he was a repentant man, and that, unknown to any of us, he had been for years in bad hands, working with them, stealing with them. Our poor father thought he was a traveller for a Manchester firm, and so did we, until that terrible confession came across the sea to us. We were not to tell father—we were to make all the restitution that we could presently; he would send full instructions what we were to do by the next mail, he wrote, and the next mail only told us of his death."
"And your father?"
"Kitty and I have fought hard to keep the truth from him—the truth would have broken his heart. Why the news of his son's death nearly did, sir. And he has had so much trouble—so many losses too—and we have been for the last six months so very hard driven to live. Of late days father wished to sell this clock, but we would not let him—we were sure it had been stolen, and we hoped to find the owner some day."
"But not like this, I suppose?"
"Oh! no, not like this. But when little Willie got very ill; when residence abroad for a few months might save him, the doctor said—it was only yesterday he told us that—father took the clock out of the house unknown to us, and—and came at once to you. He is so very impetuous, poor father."
"Ah! is he? And who put the clock in working order, may I ask?"
"I was brought up to the watch-making—I am rather clever at it, they say."
"Clever. By George, I should think you were! Why, in a business like mine you would be invaluable."
"I was always handy with my fingers."
"So was your half-brother—it seems to run in the family."
"I beg pardon," I said, for the second time. "I—I did not mean to say that. It slipped out promiscuously."
"Never mind, sir—never mind," she said hurriedly. "What are you going to do? Pray tell me what you think of doing when I prove the truth of this."
"If it's all true—and I believe it is already, Miss Youson—I—I am going to withdraw from the prosecution, and ask your father to bring an action against me for illegal detention."
"Oh! he would never think of such a thing."
And he never did. The story was quite true, every word of it, and we arranged to keep it from the old man, so far as the peculiar profession of his first-born was concerned. He never knew that. I got rather intimate with the Youson family by degrees, although our acquaintance had begun so inauspiciously. Rather intimate, I say—well, very intimate, rather! would be a clear expression, if a trifle inelegant.
For I married that girl, and pensioned off Mrs. Kibbey, and I never did such a fine stroke of business in all my life. The old man—he was a fine old fellow, too—went to Madeira with Kitty and the boy, and I bore Lucinda off to Streatham. She is one of the best of wives, and so very handy in the business too—saves me a heap of money. It was a lucky day for me when that rascal of a half-brother of hers broke burglariously into Golden Birch Villa, and took away everything that had an atom's worth of precious metal in its composition. It was a blessing very much in disguise, but it has answered its purpose thoroughly well. I am as happy as the day is long—and so is Lucinda. Everybody tells me that I secured a treasure when I took her for better, for worse. Everybody but Mrs. Kibbey—past housekeeper, and living with her sister now in the Cookshops Almshouses at Caterham—and she says I could have done much better for myself, long before, if I had only looked about me in a sensible and practical sort of way.
"Lions in Their Dens."
III.—GEORGE NEWNES AT PUTNEY.
BY RAYMOND BLATHWAYT.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY GEO. HUTCHINSON.
(Photographs by Messrs. Fradelle & Young.)
As I toiled up the hill which leads to Putney Heath, I met a small boy, of whom I asked the way to Mr. George Newnes's house. To my astonishment he did not know where it was. I gazed at him more in sorrow than in anger. "What! not know where Tit-Bits lives!" a smart lad standing by ejaculated, as he pointed out to me the right direction in which to go. "George Newnes! 'im wot writes Tit-Bits! wy I thought everyone knowed w'ere 'ee lived!" I thanked him, and wandered on half-a-mile or so until I reached the beautiful house which the "writer" of Tit-Bits built for himself some years ago. Here I was received by Mr. George Newnes with a welcome which left nothing to be desired in the way of hearty kindness. Mr. Newnes is a man of middle height, very good-looking, with auburn beard, and hair dashed with grey. Though exceedingly wealthy, he is not, as somebody has well expressed it, "beastly rich." No feeling of the oppression of newly-acquired wealth flooded my soul as I walked about the pretty house and grounds in his company. He and his surroundings have the good taste not to obtrude themselves upon the casual visitor. The man is simplicity itself, and the most genial and cordial of hosts. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, nor was it without infinite interest, for George Newnes is a companion always amusing, and with always something new and original to say. As we wandered through the beautiful grounds, some of which are reclaimed from the wild heath which stretches for miles round the house, he pointed out to me the curious obelisk, grey and time-worn, which still perpetuates the memory of the historic mansion once known as "Fireproof." For it was here that George III. and Queen Charlotte once breakfasted in peace in the drawing room upstairs, whilst the dining-room below was purposely ignited to prove that the house was really fireproof. Upon one side of the house stand the stables, just beyond them a beautiful covered lawn-tennis court lighted by electricity and heated with hot water, in which play can go on by night as well as by day, in winter just as much as in summer. "We miss this tennis court dreadfully when we are in Devonshire," said Mr. Newnes, as we quitted the beautiful hall for the house. "I am myself devoted to tennis and golfing, and, indeed, I sometimes think it is that that has helped me to get through so much work. Good players generally make good workers," he added, with a laugh. "Now will you come and join our party at luncheon?" and as he spoke he led the way into a handsome dining-room. At luncheon the conversation dealt chiefly with sport and games, to my own great relief be it added, for the dweller in the tents of the literary world hears but little of the ordinary topics of conversation, and becomes suffocated, if he be not to the manner born, with the nauseating cant and self-sufficiency which is so typical of the literary world of to-day, and more especially typical of its younger members. But at George Newnes's house you hear but little shop. We discussed golf and its rapidly increasing popularity, the newest "serve" at tennis, and some of the most remarkable cricket scores made during the past season.
The host joined eagerly in our talk until interrupted by the servant, who brought in a message. Quitting us for a moment, he returned with a smiling apology, and told me that in that brief space of time he had transacted a piece of business which certainly was not without its interest. A gentleman, it appeared—the son of a celebrated litterateur of a past day—had called to show some beautiful drawings by the celebrated "Dicky" Doyle, a relation of Dr. Conan Doyle. With Mr. Newnes—and it is thoroughly characteristic of the man—to close with a good bargain is but the work of a moment, and therefore I was not surprised, as he placed the dainty pictures before me, to learn that he had purchased them for reproduction in his world-famed magazine. After luncheon, Mr. Newnes suggested that we should retire to his billiard-room, to reach which we had to pass through his own special sanctum in which he dictates his letters, &c., to his private secretary—energetic Mr. William Plank, who has been with him for five hard working years—while he walks up and down the room. "I can always think better whilst I walk," he explained to me; "indeed, I have recently had the study lengthened to give me more room." By this time we were in the billiard-room, wherein stands a large English organ with upwards of four hundred pipes. And in this room, prowling round and round the billiard-table like a couple of wild beasts—for I also, like my host, think best upon my legs—and occasionally cannoning up against one another and recoiling with a laugh and a start, George Newnes told me the history of his interesting and successful life.
"My father," he began, "was, at the time of my birth, the minister of Glenorchy Chapel, Matlock Bath. He was a very able man, and the best informed man you could meet. He kept me at school till I was about sixteen. I finished up at the City of London School, and, curiously enough, I am going to-night to reply for the House of Commons at a banquet given by the John Carpenter Club in honour of the Home Secretary, who was a City of London School boy. My father put me into a house of business in the City, at which I remained for a number of years, and then I went down to Lancashire to open up a branch of the business there. I settled in Manchester and married, there. One night, in 1880, when I was sitting at home reading the Manchester Evening News—and, by the way, it has never occurred to me before," added Mr. Newnes, as a sudden thought flashed into his mind, "the very people who printed that paper were the same people who afterwards printed Tit-Bits for ten years—I came across a story, or some interesting account, which very much pleased me. I read it to my wife and said, 'There, that's what I call a real "tit-bit." This paper, but for it, is to-day decidedly dull, because there is absolutely no news to put in it. Now, why cannot a paper be brought out which should contain nothing but "tit-bits" similar to this?'"
"And that really," said I, much interested, as Mr. George Newnes paused for a moment in his journey round the billiard-table, and gazed absently at me while I lit a cigar and threw myself into an armchair, "and that really is how Tit-Bits came to be first thought of?"
"Yes," he replied, as he started off once more, and I rose to follow in his track, "that was the first idea of my little green paper. But I was a whole year before I was able to carry it out. I was very busy in other matters, and had not much time to attend to it. But I never lost sight of the idea, and ever and anon the word 'tit-bits' would come to me with the force of a warning dream. I worked continually at the idea in my mind, and all my leisure thoughts were given up to it. In fact, I was constantly afraid—so convinced was I that the idea was a good one—that someone would bring it out before I could do so, and every Saturday morning, the usual day for new weekly papers, I used to look almost with painful anxiety to see whether there was a placard announcing that such a paper had appeared. But, however, nothing of the sort was brought out. The more I thought of it the more enamoured I became of the idea, till, in October, 1881, the first number appeared." And as he spoke Mr. Newnes handed me the very first number of the now celebrated paper. "As soon as it was fairly started," continued my host, "I gave up my other business and devoted myself to the editing and publishing of the paper. At first, the chief pieces in it were selected from books and periodicals—any sources, in short, that were not copyright. I would get an anecdote from one book, and something else from another, anything interesting, in fact, from wherever I could pick it up; of course, now we have a large list of original contributors, but at first that was the way in which it was compiled. In the early days, naturally enough, its circulation was confined chiefly to Manchester. There it simply 'caught on' immediately, and sold like wildfire. Why, the newspaper boys' brigade," continued Mr. Newnes, now fairly excited at the memory of that eventful Saturday morning, "sold something like 5,000 copies in two hours of the first number in Manchester alone. They came rushing back to the office, where I sat anxiously awaiting their news, full of the wonderful result. Tit-Bits was then, I felt certain, an assured success, and the public used to write to me to tell me of its popularity. I receive letters to this day, and especially from ministers and clergymen, who write to say that they recommend it because of the information it contains, and its instructive character, and, above all, because of the purity of its contents. Yet there are some clergymen who think there is some double entendre in the title Tit-Bits, and from its title that it is probably a paper they ought to speak against; and often, solely on account of its title, I believe they bracket it with all kinds of other literature of a low-class type, and in this way I suffer from the name."
"And how was it you came to inaugurate your system of insurance against railway accidents?" I asked Mr. Newnes, after a brief discussion on the ridiculous and narrow-minded behaviour of these worthy clerics. "It was in this way," he replied, as he brought himself to an anchor against the billiard-table, where he rested for a brief moment. "It was in this way: A woman wrote to me saying that her husband had been killed on the railway, and as he had a copy of Tit-Bits upon him at the time, she asked whether I would make her some allowance of money. At once the idea of an insurance system occurred to me, and you know now how widespread this system has become."
I smiled as I noted how in each case his wonderful successes are owing not more to the flash of a striking idea than to the wonderful promptitude which follows on the thought; how remarkable an instance his whole career affords of the benefit and wisdom of striking while the iron is hot.
"And then after Tit-Bits came the Review of Reviews, I suppose?" I queried, as my host jotted down some notes in his pocket-book.
"Yes," he replied, as he once more took the floor. "That was one of the quickest arranged things I have ever heard of. It was all done in a month. I was staying down at Torquay, where I have a house for the winter, and Mr. Stead wrote to me to say he contemplated leaving the Pall Mall Gazette, and would like to be associated with me in some journalistic scheme. He sent descriptions of three which were passing through his mind, asking if I would care to take either of them into consideration. I replied by return, saying that I did not care for two of them much, but that I was delighted with the third. I then and there told him the terms upon which I would work with him. He wrote back, saying that he would accept them, and I came to London the following week, in order that I might make arrangements, and in thirty days from the first proposal of the idea, the Review of Reviews was published. At first it was decided to call it The Sixpenny Monthly, with a sub-title, A Review of the Reviews; as such, indeed, it appeared upon the cover till the day before going to press, which was a Sunday. I was so convinced that the title ought to be reversed, and that it should be The Review of Reviews, a Sixpenny Monthly, that I went over and waylaid Mr. Stead as he was coming with his family out of church. I explained my views to him, and in a few minutes he agreed that I was right, and the title was altered to that which has now become so familiar. Well, when the Review of Reviews went out of my field of vision, I had made certain arrangements with people for publishing magazine work, and so on, and I wanted something to take its place. Then came to me a very old and favourite idea of mine—the idea of a magazine with a picture on every page! I engaged the services of Mr. Greenhough Smith, now my assistant editor on the Strand Magazine, who had the idea of largely producing translations from foreign authors, and as soon as the Review of Reviews had gone, I was at work on the new venture."
"And, with regard to its title, Mr. Newnes," said I, "you are great on titles, are you not?" "I attach great importance to them, certainly," he vigorously replied. "I thoroughly agree with Shakespeare that there is much in a name. Why, indeed, should names be valueless? They are as great facts as anything else in the constitutions of humanity. And in the journalistic world a name is half the battle. The Strand was a good title, it appeared to me, short, and at the same time attractive. After all, it is through the Strand itself that the tide of life flows fullest and strongest and deepest. I felt that with a good picture on the cover it would sell well on the book-stalls. The picture was rather difficult, and much depended on that picture. At first I did not succeed in getting the artist to embody my idea of a picture of a street. Now I had here at home an oil painting which I thought would help him." And as he spoke, Mr. Newnes led me to the staircase and showed me a very charming perspective of some street in an English town. "I showed Mr. Haite this picture," he continued, "and I asked him if he could do a similar perspective of the Strand."
The Picture Magazine, which started with this year, is likely to be nearly as successful as The Strand. After we had discussed the position and the prospects of the new paper which Mr. Newnes has started to fill the place in the Radical journalistic ranks of the P.M.G., we drifted into a general conversation on his habits of life, his occupations, and the varied qualities which go to the making of a successful business man, the future of popular journalism, and the like. "How do you manage to keep all your irons hot?" I asked my host; "you edit three papers, you are a member of Parliament, you build railways up the cliffs of popular watering-places, you play games, you do everything. How is it all done, pray, Mr. Newnes? What is the secret of your life?" "Well," he slowly replied, and with a certain shy hesitation, for though prompt and energetic enough in actual business, no more modest man, or one more reluctant to speak of himself and his doings walks this earth—"well, though I don't want to boast about it, yet the simple fact is, I work very quickly, and I get through my business much faster than most men do. I make up my mind, form my plans, and arrive at conclusions very rapidly. With regard to my editorial work, for instance, all 'copy' for the papers is sifted for me at the office, then it is sent up here, where I work three days a week, selecting that which I think shall go in, and marking it for press. I dictate the 'Answers to Correspondents' page to my private secretary. This page always takes up three hours a week. I get through my editorial, parliamentary and business work, and manage to get a good deal of leisure besides. Golf, tennis and chess take up my leisure. When I am in the country I have all my work sent there. The fact is, I work hard and I play hard, and I believe each is equally necessary for good health and real happiness. Curiously enough, I do not believe that naturally I am of a very systematic nature, but so much business forces me to be so."
"And as to the future of journalism generally, and of such papers as yours in particular, Mr. Newnes?" I queried. "With the spread of education and the increase of Board Schools, there is a great change coming over the masses, is there not?" "I think this," he replied, "that many of the papers of the day are developing too much the gambling and lottery spirit, which I regard as a very evil one, and would not for a moment countenance. I think, as you say, that the Board Schools have immensely increased the number of buyers of papers of this kind, and it is a great source of satisfaction to me that I should have inaugurated a popular paper which should be taken largely by the masses, and which is absolutely pure. When I came out with Tit-Bits there was not a single popular paper containing fun or jokes or anything of the kind—except the illustrated ones—but what relied more or less upon prurient matter to tickle the fancies of prurient minds. Besides, my idea is that, just at present, the Board Schools tend to a certain hardness and narrowness of character, which is perhaps softened down by the development by these papers of the lighter side of human nature. Tit-Bits, I have reason to know, has in many cases induced the study of some science or literature on the part of a man or boy who has read some interesting 'tit-bit' on one of these subjects, and has desired, naturally enough, to know more about it."