An Illustrated Monthly
Vol. 5, Issue. 27.
A GAME of CHESS.
FROM THE FRENCH.
King Phillip II. was playing at chess in the Escurial Palace. His opponent was Ruy Lopez, a humble priest, but a chess player of great skill. Being the King's particular favourite, the great player was permitted to kneel upon a brocaded cushion, whilst the courtiers grouped about the King were forced to remain standing in constrained and painful attitudes.
It was a magnificent morning. The air was perfumed with the orange groves, and the violet curtains of the splendid hall hardly softened the burning rays which streamed in through the windows. The blaze of living light seemed scarcely in harmony with the King's gloomy countenance. His brow was black as night, and from time to time he bent his eyes impatiently upon the door. The nobles stood in silence, darting meaning glances at each other. It was easily to be discerned that some event of great importance weighed upon the spirits of the assembly. No one paid any attention to the chess-board except Ruy Lopez, who, as he moved the pieces, hesitated between the temptation of checkmating his opponent and the deference due to his King. The silence was unbroken except by the sound made by the players moving their pieces.
Suddenly the door opened, and a man of rude and savage aspect advanced into the hall, and, presenting himself before the King, stood waiting his commands to speak. This man's appearance was anything but prepossessing, and on his entrance the nobles, as if animated with one thought, shrank back with contempt and loathing, as if some unclean animal had entered into their midst. His massive, herculean figure was clad in a doublet of black leather, and his face, in which could be seen no trace of intelligence, expressed, on the contrary, nothing but vileness and villainy; a great scar, running right across his face and losing itself in a bushy beard, added still further to the natural brutality of his countenance.
An electric thrill ran through the assembly. The new comer was Fernando Calavar, high executioner of Spain.
"Is he dead?" asked the King, in an imperious tone.
"No, sire," replied Calavar, bowing low.
The King frowned.
"Great Sovereign of Spain," Calavar continued, "the prisoner has claimed his privileges, and I cannot take proceedings against a man whose blood belongs to the noblest in Spain, without having a more imperative order from your Majesty," and he bowed again.
The nobles, who had listened with great attention to these words, broke into a murmur of approbation as the man finished speaking. The proud Castilian blood rushed like a stream of lava through their veins, and dyed their faces crimson. The manifestation became general. Young Alonza D'Ossuna openly asserted his opinion by putting on his plumed cap. His bold example was followed by the majority of the nobles, and their lofty nodding crests seemed to proclaim with defiance that their masters protested in favour of the privilege, which the hidalgos of Spain have always enjoyed, of covering their heads before their Sovereign.
The King gave a furious start, and striking his fist violently upon the chess-board, scattered the chessmen in all directions.
"He has been judged by our Royal Court of Justice," he cried, "and condemned to death. What does the traitor demand?"
"Sire!" replied the executioner, "he asks permission to die upon the block, and also to pass the three last hours of his life with a priest."
"Ah, that is granted!" replied Philip, in a tone of relief. "Is not our confessor in the prison according to our orders?"
"Yes, sire!" said Calavar, "the holy man is there; but the Duke refuses to see St. Diaz de Silva. He says he cannot receive absolution from anyone below the dignity of a Bishop. Such is the privilege of a noble condemned to death for high treason."
"Yes, these are our rights!" boldly interrupted the fiery D'Ossuna; "and we claim from the King our cousin's privileges."
This demand acted as a signal.
"Our rights and the King's justice are inseparable," cried Don Diego de Tarraxas, Count of Valence, an old man of gigantic stature, clothed in armour, holding in his hands the baton of Great Constable of Spain, and leaning upon his long Toledo blade.
"Our rights and our privileges!" cried the nobles, repeating the words like an echo. Their audacity made the King start with fury from his ebony throne.
"By the bones of Campeador!" he cried. "By the soul of St. Jago! I have sworn neither to eat nor sleep until the bleeding head of Don Gusman lies before me. As I have sworn, so shall it be. But Don Tarraxas has said well, 'The King's justice confirms his subjects' rights.' My Lord Constable, where does the nearest Bishop reside?"
"Sire, I have more to do with camp than with the Church," the Constable replied, somewhat abruptly. "Your Majesty's chaplain, Don Silvas, is present: he can tell you better than I."
Don Silvas began to speak in trepidation.
"Sire," he said, humbly, "the Bishop of Segovia is an official of the King, but he who filled the duty died last week, and the parchment which names his successor is still upon the Council table, and is yet to be submitted to the Pope's seal."
At these words a joyous smile hovered about D'Ossuna's lips. This joy was but natural, for the young man was of the blood of the Gusmans, and his cousin, the condemned prisoner, was his dearest friend. The King perceived the smile, and his eye shot forth lightning.
"We are the King!" he said, gravely, with the calm which presages a storm; "our Royal person must be no butt for raillery. This sceptre appears light, my lords, but he who ridicules it shall be crushed thereby as with a block of iron. I believe that our holy father the Pope is somewhat indebted to us, so that we do not fear his displeasure at the step which we are about to take. Since the King of Spain can make a Prince, he can also make a Bishop. Rise, then, Don Ruy Lopez. I create you Bishop of Segovia. Rise, I command you, and take your rank in the Church."
The courtiers stood dumfounded.
Don Ruy Lopez rose mechanically. His head was whirling, and he stammered as he strove to speak.
"If your Majesty pleases——" he began.
"Silence, my Lord Bishop!" replied the King. "Obey your Sovereign. The formalities of your installation shall be performed another day; our subjects will not fail to acknowledge our wishes in this affair. Bishop of Segovia, go with Calavar to the condemned man's cell. Give absolution to his soul, and in three hours leave his body to the executioner's axe. As for you, Calavar, I will await you here; you will bring us the traitor's head. Let justice be accomplished."
Then Philip turned to Ruy Lopez.
"I give you my signet ring," he said, "to show the Duke as a token of the truth of your story."
The executioner left the chamber, followed by Ruy Lopez.
"Well, gentlemen," said the King, turning to the others, "do you still doubt the King's justice?"
But the nobles answered not a word.
The King, having taken his seat, made a sign to one of his favourites to place himself before the chess-board, and Don Ramirez, Count of Biscay, accordingly knelt down upon the velvet cushion.
"With a game of chess, gentlemen," said the King, smiling, "and your company, I cannot fail to make the time pass agreeably. Let no one leave the chamber until Calavar's return. We cannot spare a single one of you."
With these ironical words, Philip commenced a game with Don Ramirez, whilst the nobles, almost dropping with fatigue, resumed the positions about their august master which they had occupied at the beginning of this story.
Calavar, leading the way, conducted the new Bishop to the condemned man's cell. Ruy Lopez walked like one in a dream. Was he awake, or not? He hardly knew. At the bottom of his heart he cursed the King and his Court. He understood perfectly that he had become Bishop of Segovia, but he felt deeply at what a price he had bought his dignity. What had Don Gusman done that he should be thus sacrificed? Don Gusman, the best chess player in Spain! He thought of all this as he proceeded over the marble flags which led to the State prison, and as he thought he prayed that the ground would open and swallow him up.
Don Gusman was pacing impatiently up and down his narrow cell with a hurried step that betrayed the feverish anxiety of his mind. The cell was furnished with a massive table and two heavy wooden stools, the floor being covered with coarse, thick mats. Shut out from all the noises of the outer world, here silence reigned supreme. A crucifix, roughly carved, was fixed to the wall in the niche of a high window, which was carefully barred with iron. Except for this image of resignation and mercy, the walls were bare. Well might this dungeon serve as antechamber to the tomb.
As Ruy Lopez entered the cell a sudden burst of sunshine flooded the walls as if in bitter mockery of him who was soon to see it no more.
The Duke saluted the new Bishop with great courtesy. They regarded each other, and exchanged in that look a thousand words which they alone could understand. Ruy Lopez felt the painfulness of his position deeply, and the Duke understood his embarrassment. Their thoughts were both the same, that in the condemnation of one of the principal favourites of the King an innocent life was threatened! The proofs of the crime imputed to the Duke were grave; the most important being a despatch written in Don Gusman's hand to the French Court, in which he unfolded a scheme for assassinating Philip II. This had sufficed to condemn him.
Don Gusman, strong in his innocence, had kept a rigorous silence when brought before his judges, and the accusation not being denied, sentence of death was passed upon him. Don Gusman since his incarceration had not altered. He had braved the storm, and looked upon death with an unmoved countenance. His last hours had no terrors for him. If his forehead was overshadowed, if his steps were agitated and his breathing hurried, it was because there rose before his eye the image of his betrothed, Dona Estella, who, ignorant of her lover's fate, was waiting for him in her battlemented castle on the banks of the Guadalquiver. If he felt weak at this fatal moment, and if a pang shot through his heart, it was because his thoughts were of her who was to him the dearest thing in all the world.
Ruy Lopez had not entered alone. Calavar was at his side; and it was he who announced to the Duke the King's decision and reply. Ruy Lopez confirmed the executioner's words, and the Duke, falling on his knees before the new Bishop, asked his blessing, then turning to Calavar with a gesture of authority, he dismissed him, saying:—
"In three hours I shall be at your disposal."
Calavar obeyed him and went out, and the Duke and Bishop were left alone.
Ruy Lopez was trembling with nervousness, whilst Don Gusman's face wore a calm and serene expression. He took the Bishop's hand, and wrung it warmly. There was a pause. The Duke was the first to break the silence.
"We have met before in happier circumstances," he said, smiling.
"It is true," stammered Ruy Lopez, who, pale and agitated, resembled rather the penitent than the confessor.
"Much happier," repeated the Duke, absently. "Do you remember, when you played your celebrated game of chess with Paoli Boy, the Sicilian, in the presence of the King and Court, that it was upon my right arm that the King leant?" Then after a pause he continued: "Do you remember also, father, those words of Cervantes, 'Life is a game of chess?' I have forgotten the exact place in which the passage occurs, but its meaning is, that upon earth men play different roles. There are, as in chess, kings, knights, soldiers, bishops, according to their birth, fate and fortune; and when the game is over death lays them all as equals in the tomb, even as we gather together the chessmen into a box."
"Yes, I remember those words of Don Quixote," replied Don Lopez, astonished at this singular conversation, "and I remember also Sancho's reply: 'That however good the comparison was, it was not so new that he had not heard it before.'"
"I was your favourite pupil, even your rival," said the Duke, without appearing to hear Don Lopez.
"It is true," cried the Bishop. "You are a great master of the game, and I have been often proud of having such a pupil. But now, on your knees, my son."
They knelt down together, and there before the crucifix Don Gusman made confession to Ruy Lopez, who as he listened could hardly restrain his tears.
When the Duke had finished, two hours after—for the confession under the Church seal was long and touching—the Bishop blessed the prisoner, and gave him absolution. The face of Don Gusman, as he rose, was calm and resigned.
But there remained still an hour to wait.
"This delay is torture," cried the Duke. "Why do they not cut off the prisoners at once, instead of stretching their souls upon such a rack of agony? An eternity of suffering is in each of these minutes." And the prisoner began to walk impatiently to and fro, with his eyes constantly bent upon the door. The Duke's firmness was shaken by the thought of that weary hour of waiting. Ruy Lopez had fulfilled his duty. The prisoner's soul was purified, and now the priest could become the friend.
As Don Lopez heard Don Gusman utter this exclamation, and saw his face grow white, he understood what agony he was undergoing, and felt at once that something must be done to divert his thoughts. But in vain he racked his brain for an idea. He could think of nothing. What could he propose to a man about to die? For such as he, the flower has no longer perfume, woman has no longer beauty. Then suddenly a thought flashed across his brain.
"How would a game of chess—" he began, timidly.
"An excellent idea!" cried Don Gusman, recalled to himself by this singular proposal. "A farewell game of chess."
"Most readily; but where are the chessmen, my friend?"
"Am I not always provided with the instruments of war?" said Ruy Lopez, smiling. Then he pulled forward the two stools and set out upon the table a microscopic set of chessmen. "Our Lady pardon me!" he continued. "I often pass my spare time in the confessional in working out some problem."
The chessmen being set out, the players took their seats, and were soon absorbed in the excitement of the game.
This strange contest, between a priest and a condemned prisoner, made a picture worthy of the brush of Rembrandt or Salvator Rosa. The light which streamed from the arched windows fell upon the pale, noble features of Don Gusman, and upon the venerable head of Ruy Lopez.
The emotions of the two players were very different. Ruy Lopez played with a preoccupation which was not usual to him, and which rendered him much inferior to his ordinary strength. Don Gusman, on the contrary, stimulated by excitement, played with more than his ordinary skill. At this moment his noble Castilian blood did not fail him, for never had the Duke given better proof of the clearness of his mind. Such a flash of intellect must be compared to the last flickers of the failing lamp, or to the last song of the dying swan.
Don Gusman suddenly attacked his adversary with an impetuosity which nearly gained him a certain victory; but Ruy Lopez, recalled to himself by this vigorous effort, defended himself bravely. The game became more and more complicated. The Bishop strove to gain a mate which he saw, or believed he saw, at hand, whilst Don Gusman played with the eagerness of certain victory. Everything was forgotten, and time passed unnoticed. The chess-board was their universe, and a life of anxiety was in each move.
The minutes, the quarters, the half-hours flew by, and the fatal hour arrived at last.
A distant sound struck on their ears; it grew nearer, it increased, and the door swinging open gave admittance to Calavar and his assistants, who advanced into the cell with torches in their hands. They were armed with swords, and two of them bore the block, covered with a black cloth, on which lay an axe.
The torches were placed in the receptacle prepared for them, whilst one of the men scattered cedar sawdust on the floor. All this was the work of a moment, while the executioner stood waiting for the prisoner.
As Calavar entered, Ruy Lopez started to his feet, in a tremor of alarm, but the Duke did not move. His eyes were fixed upon the chess-board. It was his turn to play. Calavar, seeing his abstracted gaze, advanced to the Duke's side and placed his hand upon his shoulder.
"Come," he said.
The prisoner shuddered as if he had trodden upon a serpent.
"I must finish this game," he said, imperiously.
"It is impossible," Calavar replied.
"But, fellow, the game is mine! I can force mate in a few moves. Let me play it out."
"I cannot. It is impossible," repeated the executioner.
"Are the three hours gone already?"
"The last stroke has just struck. We must obey the King."
The assistants, who had until then stood leaning on their swords, came forward at these words.
The Duke was sitting against the wall, under the high window, with the table between him and Calavar. He started to his feet.
"I shall not move until the game is over. In half an hour my head shall be at your disposal."
"My lord," replied Calavar, "I respect you deeply, but I cannot grant you this request. I answer for your life with mine."
Don Gusman made a gesture of impatience, and pulling off his diamond rings, he threw them at the executioner's feet. "I mean to finish the game," he said, carelessly.
The jewels sparkled as they rolled and settled in the dust.
"My orders are imperative," cried Calavar, "and you must pardon us, noble Duke, if we have to use force; but the King's orders and the law of Spain must be carried out. Obey, then, and do not waste your last moments in a useless struggle. Speak to the Duke, my lord Bishop. Tell him to submit to his fate."
Ruy Lopez's reply was as prompt as it was decisive. He seized the axe which lay upon the block and swung it with both hands above his head.
"By Heaven!" he cried, "the Duke shall finish his game!"
Scared by the gesture which accompanied these words, Calavar drew back in such a fright that he stumbled and fell back on his companions. The swords flashed from their scabbards, and the band prepared for attack. But Ruy Lopez, who appeared to have put forth the strength of a Hercules, cast upon the ground his heavy wooden stool.
"The first of you who passes this limit dies!" he cried in a loud voice. "Courage, Duke!—to the attack! There are only four of these miscreants. The last desire of your Grace shall be gratified, were I to lose my life in the attempt. And you, wretched man, beware how you lay a finger upon a Bishop of the Church. Down with your swords and respect the Lord's anointed!" And Ruy Lopez continued to hurl forth, in a jargon of Spanish and Latin, one of those formulas of excommunication and malediction which at that period acted so strongly upon the masses of the people.
The effect was prompt. The men stood rooted to the spot with terror, whilst Calavar, thinking that to kill a Bishop without a sealed order from the King was to run the risk of putting his life in jeopardy in this world and his soul in the next, avowed himself vanquished. He knew not what to do next. To rush with the news to the King, who was waiting impatiently for Don Gusman's head, was only to expose himself. To attack the prisoner and the priest would be too hazardous, for Ruy Lopez was a man of no mean strength. The position of affairs was critical. At last he decided to take the easiest way out of the difficulty—to wait.
"Will you promise me faithfully to give yourself up in half an hour?" he demanded of Don Gusman.
"I promise," replied the Duke.
"Play on, then," said the executioner.
The truce being thus concluded, the players returned to their seats and their game, whilst Calavar and his companions, forming themselves into a circle, stationed themselves round the two players. Calavar, who was himself a chess player, looked on with interest, and could not prevent himself from involuntarily considering each move the players made.
Don Gusman looked up for an instant upon the circle of faces which surrounded him, but his sang froid did not abandon him.
"Never have I played in the presence of such a noble company!" he cried. "Bear witness, rascals, that at least once in my life I have beaten Don Lopez." Then he returned to the game with a smile upon his lips. The Bishop gripped the handle of the axe which he still held in his hand.
"If I were only sure of escaping from this tigers' den," he thought, "I would break every head of the four of them."
If three hours had dragged in the prisoner's cell, they had not passed more quickly in the Royal chamber of King Philip.
The King had finished his game with Don Ramirez de Biscay, and the nobles, still compelled from etiquette to remain standing, appeared almost ready to drop with fatigue, rendered still more painful from the weight of their armour.
Don Tarraxas stood motionless, with closed eyes like one of those iron figures which ornamented the castles of the savage Goths. Young D'Ossuna, with drooping head, stood propped against a marble pillar, whilst King Philip strode impatiently about the apartment, only stopping at intervals to listen to some imaginary noise. According to the superstitious custom of the age, the King knelt for a few moments at the foot of a figure of the Virgin placed upon a porphyry pedestal to pray the Madonna to pardon him the deed of blood which was about to take place. Silence reigned, for no one, whatever his rank might be, dared to speak before his Sovereign without his commands.
As the King's eyes saw the last grain of sand fall in the hour-glass he uttered an exclamation of joy.
"The traitor dies!" he cried.
An almost inaudible murmur ran through the assembly.
"The hour is passed, Count of Biscay," said Philip, turning to Don Ramirez, "and with it your enemy."
"My enemy, sire?" asked Ramirez, affecting surprise.
"Why do you repeat my words, Count?" replied the King. "Were you not a rival to Don Gusman in the affections of Dona Estella, and can rivals be friends? Dona Estella shall be yours. This young girl will bring you her beauty and her fortune. I have not spoken of this to our Council, but my Royal word is pledged. If the ingratitude of Sovereigns is ever spoken of before you, Count, you will be able to reply that we did not forget the true friend of the King and of Spain who discovered the plot and the correspondence of Don Gusman with France."
Don Ramirez de Biscay seemed to listen to the King with uneasiness. He kept his eyes fixed upon the ground, as if he disliked to be thus praised in public. Then he made an effort to reply.
"Sire!" he said, "it was with great repugnance that I fulfilled such a painful duty"—he hesitated, and then was silent.
Tarraxas gave a slight start, whilst D'Ossuna struck sharply the pommel of his sword with his iron glove.
"Before Dona Estella shall belong to this man," thought D'Ossuna, "I will have vengeance or perish in the attempt. Tomorrow shall be the day of my revenge."
The King continued:—
"Your zeal, Don Ramirez, and your devotion must be rewarded. The saviour of our throne, and perhaps of our dynasty, merits a particular gift. This morning I ordered you to make out some lettres-patentes, which confer upon you the rank of Duke and Governor of Valence. Are these ready to be signed?"
Don Ramirez grew pale with pleasure. He shook like an aspen and his eyes grew dim. But the King made an impatient movement, and the Count, drawing a roll of parchment hastily from his breast, presented it on his knees to the King.
"My first public duty to-day shall be to sign these papers," said the King. "The executioner has already punished treason; it is now time for the King to recompense fidelity."
The King unrolled the parchment and began to read. As he read, his face became convulsed with fury, and his eyes shot forth flames of wrath.
"By my father's soul!" he shouted; "what do I behold?"
The game of chess was finished. Don Gusman had beaten Ruy Lopez, and his triumph was complete. He rose to his feet.
"I am now, as ever, ready to obey the wishes of my King," he said to Calavar.
The executioner understood him, and began to prepare the block. Whilst this was being done Don Gusman advanced towards the crucifix, and said in a firm voice:—
"Oh, Heaven! may this unjust and rash act which is about to take place fall upon the head of him who is the instigator of this treachery; but let not my blood recoil upon the head of my King."
Ruy Lopez, crouching in a corner of the cell, and burying his face in his mantle, began to recite the prayers for the dying.
Calavar approached Don Gusman, and putting his hand upon the Duke's shoulder began to loosen his ruff. Don Gusman shrank back from the contact.
"Nothing that belongs to you, except this axe, shall touch a Gusman," he said, taking off his ruff himself and placing his head upon the block. "Strike!" he added, "I am ready!"
The executioner raised the axe—the King's justice was at last to be satisfied, when shouts, rapid footsteps and confused voices arrested the sweep of the executioner's arm.
The door gave way under the united efforts of a troop of armed men, and D'Ossuna, rushing into the cell, threw himself between the executioner and his victim. He was just in time.
"He lives!" cried Tarraxas.
"He is saved!" repeated D'Ossuna. "My beloved cousin, I never hoped to have seen you alive again. God in His mercy has not let the innocent perish for the guilty. God be praised!"
"God be praised!" echoed all the spectators, and louder than the rest rang out the voice of Ruy Lopez.
"You have arrived in time, my friend," said Don Gusman to his cousin; "but now I shall have no longer strength to die," and he sank back fainting on the block. The shock had been too much for him.
Ruy Lopez seized the Duke in his arms, and, followed by all the nobles, bore him along the passages to the King's apartment. When Don Gusman opened his eyes he found himself in the midst of a circle of his friends, amongst which stood the King, looking down upon him with an expression of joy.
Don Gusman could hardly believe his senses. From the axe and the block he had passed to the King's apartment. He did not understand why this change had taken place. He did not know that Don Ramirez, in giving his lettres-patentes to the King to sign, had, in his agitation, given him instead a paper containing a plot in which he schemed to get rid for ever of Don Gusman, a detested rival, and one of the firmest supporters of the throne. He was ignorant of all that had passed, and did not know how he had escaped from the clutches of the executioner. It was some time before everything could be made clear to him.
Three days afterwards, at the same hour as Gusman's miraculous delivery, Calavar beheaded Don Ramirez, Count of Biscay, traitor and false witness. Don Gusman was overwhelmed with congratulations on all sides. King Philip grasped him cordially by his hand.
"Gusman," he said, "I have been very unjust. I can never forgive my folly."
"Sire," replied the Duke, "let us speak of it no more. Such words spoken by my King are worth a thousand lives."
But the King continued.
"I desire," he said, "that henceforth, in commemoration of your almost miraculous deliverance, you carry upon your escutcheon a silver axe emblazoned on an azure chess-board. This month we shall celebrate your marriage with Dona Estella. The marriage shall take place in our Escurial Palace."
Then he added, turning to Ruy Lopez:—
"I believe that the Church will possess a good servant in its new Bishop. You shall be consecrated Lord Prelate, with a scarlet robe, enriched with diamonds; that will be the recompense of your game of chess with Don Gusman."
"Sire," replied Don Lopez, "never before this day have I been satisfied to be checkmated."
The King smiled, and the courtiers followed his example.
"Now, my lords," continued Philip, "we invite you all to our Royal banquet. Let Don Gusman's seat be placed upon our right, and the Bishop of Segovia's on our left. Give me your arm, Don Gusman."
XXL—MR. AND MRS. KENDAL.
If one had waited for a few months, "The Kendals" would have been getting settled in their new home in Portland Place. But, then, the happiest associations are always centred around the old, and the pleasantest and frequently the dearest recollections are gathered about the familiar. That is why I went to them once more to their home of many years at 145, Harley Street.
It would be difficult to realize a woman of more striking characteristics than she who was for so many years known as "Madge" Robertson, and notwithstanding a very important visit one morning in August twenty-three years ago to St. Saviour's, Plymouth Grove, Manchester, when she became the wife of Mr. William Hunter Grimston, there are many who still know and speak of her by her happily-remembered maiden name. From that day husband and wife have never played apart—they have remained sweethearts on the stage and lovers in their own home. At night—the footlights; by day—home and children. Mrs. Kendal assured me that neither her eldest daughter, Margaret, nor Ethel, nor Dorothy—the youngest—nor "Dorrie," who is now at Cambridge, nor Harold, a "Marlborough" boy, would ever go on the stage. Home, husband, and children—home, wife, and children, are the embodiment of the life led by the Kendals.
Together with Mr. Kendal we sat down in the drawing-room, and were joined for a moment by Miss Grimston, a quiet, unaffected young girl, who looked as though she could never rid herself of a smile, either in her eyes or about her mouth—a young maiden who suggested "sunshine." She was carrying Victoria, a pet dog. The mother's whole thoughts seemed to go out to her daughter.
"Our Jubilee dog," she cried. "I bought her on Jubilee Day, and, curiously enough, Mr. Kendal bought one too, neither of us telling the other we were going to make such canine purchases."
Then, when Miss Grimston had left the room, her mother turned to me quietly, and said:—
"The image of my brother Tom. The same hair, the same expression of eyes, the same kind and loving ways. I think he lives in my girl. Come with me and you shall see his portrait."
It hung in Miss Grimston's boudoir—an apartment the walls of which were decorated with pictures of the Comedie-Francaise Company, the original designs for the dresses in "A Wife's Secret"; while over the mantel-board are Mr. and Mrs. Kendal in "The Ironmaster," and many family portraits are about.
"It is so amusing to hear people talk and write about my eldest brother Tom and me playing together as children," she said. "My mother was married when she was eighteen, and my brother was born when she was nineteen; I was born when she was forty-eight, and was her twenty-second child! So my brother was a grown man with a moustache when I knew him. I was brought up with his two children—little Tom and Maude, my own nephew and niece."
What a delightful story it was! Little Madge Robertson used to dress up as a policeman and take Maude into custody before Tom, the younger, as the judge. And this was the trial:—
"What is the prisoner charged with, constable?" asked the judge.
"Murder, my lord," replied the representative of law and order.
"Prisoner, are you guilty?"
"Yes, my lord," answered the poor prisoner.
"Prisoner, have you anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon you according to law?"
"Yes, my lord. I'm the daughter of the author of 'Caste'."
The prisoner always got off, and dear old William Robertson would watch this little scene and roar with laughter.
"Yes," Mrs. Kendal said quietly, as we again looked at "Tom's" picture, "my brother was kindness itself, even from his infancy. I remember hearing how, when he was a very small boy and living with his aunt, he went out one summer's day with a new velvet jacket on. He caught sight of a poor little beggar child his own size, who was in tatters, and, beckoning him across, at once divested himself of his new coat, put it on the wondering youngster, and ran away home as fast as he could. His aunt questioned him, and upon finding out the true circumstances of the case, and not wishing to damp the kind spirit in the little fellow's heart, said:—
"'Well, we'll go and try to find the boy you gave it to, and buy your jacket back.'
"Fortunately the search was successful, and the coat was bought back for no less a sum than half-a-sovereign.
"And in later years it was just the same with Tom. He could never pass by a common cookshop, in front of the windows of which was often a crowd of men, women, and children, looking on with longing eyes, without getting them inside and giving them a fill to their hearts' content. When out driving it was no different. He would stop the horse, and have all the watching hungry ones inside, and the next moment they would be revelling in the satisfying properties of thick slices of plum-pudding and roast beef."
The house throughout is most artistic. Mr. Kendal is a painter of great merit, and he "knows" a picture as soon as he sees it. Pictures are his hobby; hence there is not a room in the house—even to the kitchen—which does not find a place for some canvas, etching, or engraving. The entrance-hall is at once striking, with its quaint thirteenth century furniture, bronzes, and Venetian ware. There are some fine engravings of Miss Brunton—who became Countess of Craven—Kemble, Garrick, Phelps, and Mrs. Siddons. A picture of Mrs. Kendal in "The Falcon" was done at the express wish of, and paid for by, the late Poet Laureate. Tennyson said it reminded him of a woman he liked and admired. In the shadow is a fine bust of Macready, given by the great actor to the father of Mrs. Kendal; resting against the fireplace on either side are the two lances used in "The Queen's Shilling," and close by are two huge masks representing a couple of very hirsute individuals. They came from California, and represent "The King of the Devils" and "The King of the Winds."
The entrance to the dining-room is typical of all the other door decoration in the house—a carving of cream enamel of beautiful design and workmanship. The walls of this apartment are terra-cotta, with a finely carved oak-panelling. It is a little treasure room of canvases, the gem of which is probably C. Van Hannen's "Mask Shop in Venice"—a painter of a school which Luke Fildes, R.A., has done so much to popularize. Macbeth is represented by a couple of delightful efforts, and there are samples of the skill of Eugene Du Blas, Crofts, John Reid, Andriotti, Sadler, De Haas, Rivers; a grand landscape by Webb—nearly all of which are Academy works. The decorative articles are as artistic as in some cases they are peculiar. Running about above the oaken fireplace, amongst choice bronzes and blue ware, and a black boy who is trudging along with a very useful clock on his back, are many quaint animals of polished brass—even mice are not missing, with wonderfully long tails—that sparkle and glisten in the firelight. Ascending the staircase you find etchings after Alma Tadema, Briton Riviere, and others; the walls are covered with them.
Here are a series of delightful pictures showing Mr. and Mrs. Kendal in Gilbert's "Sweethearts," and I am reminded that the gifted actor and actress were the first to appear before the Queen after a period of five-and-twenty years, during which Her Majesty had never seen a play, the performance that night consisting of "Sweethearts" and Theyre Smith's "Uncle's Will." And as one takes note of many rare works—the bedroom is almost entirely given up to Dore's marvellous creations, though near the window is a splendid specimen of the photographer's art: a head of Miss Mary Anderson—one cannot fail to observe the family spirit everywhere—sometimes portraits of children, sometimes small and dainty pencil studies made of them by their father. Occasionally theatrical sketches by Mr. Kendal appear. Here are some of the principal members of the old St. James's Company, who used to give Mr. Kendal sittings between the acts—here a capital bit of artistic work depicting a scene from "The Squire," made from stray memorandums and with the aid of a looking-glass for securing the actor-artist's face.
Leaving Mr. Kendal for a time, Mrs. Kendal and I returned to the drawing-room. It overlooks Harley Street and is a handsome two-roomed apartment, the prevailing tone of blue, cream, and gold harmonizing to perfection. It is positively one huge collection of curios.
The screen at the far end is rather shuddery, not to say creepy, to those of nervous temperament. It is decorated with tomahawks of fearful and wonderful shapes and sizes, and other Indian implements of warfare.
"These came from California," Mrs. Kendal explained. "No sooner are you out of the train than the Indians tomahawk you! Look at this bow and arrow."
The pots of palms and ferns all hold American flags. These colours—the stars and stripes—once surmounted baskets of flowers and floral emblems—five, six, and even seven feet high—handed to Mrs. Kendal during her recent tour in the States; and amongst the sweetly-perfumed blossoms diamonds, pearls, and other precious gems have glistened in the shape of ornaments. A table near the window tells you of the generosity of the Americans. It is crowded with silver ornaments and mementos. You may handle the diminutive silver candlesticks to light "The Kendals" away—silver jugs, souvenir spoons, frying-pans, coffee-pots—all in miniature. This silver dollar is only one of a hundred. You touch a spring, when, lo and behold! the portrait of the donor appears. All American women have dainty feet. These little ebony and silver lasts for your boots remind you of this. On this table is a letter from the Princess of Wales, thanking Mrs. Kendal for "the lovely silver wedding bells and flowers which you so kindly sent me on the tenth." You may examine George IV.'s cigar-case—a silver tube in which the King was wont to carry a single cigar. It is impossible to number all the treasured odds and ends, but still more difficult to total up the miniature articles set out in a pair of cabinets.
Mrs. Kendal has a hobby—it lies in the collecting of the tiniest of tiny things. If her intimate friends come across any curiosity particularly choice and small, it is at once snapped up and dispatched to Harley Street. I had some little leaden mice in my hand the size of half-a-dozen pins' heads. Handkerchiefs an inch square, babies' woollen shoes, pinafores, shirts, all of the tiniest, but perfectly made, with buttons and button-holes complete, and even buns with currants no bigger than a pin's point. Sheep, dogs, cats, monkeys, pigs, giraffes—in short, convert the entire Zoo into miniature china knick-knacks, and you have a considerable portion of Mrs. Kendal's collection realized. One must needs stand for a moment at Napoleon's writing-table, near which rests a characteristic clay by Van Beers. The pictures here are many. Millais' work is well represented by several etchings, and a remarkably clever thing by Emslie, entitled "Shakespeare and Bacon," suggests the two extremes of taste to a nicety. Whilst a young enthusiast is declaiming Shakespeare, one of his listeners—doubtless, equally enthusiastic, but with an eye for victuals—is interrupting a soliloquy with the remark: "Now! who says bacon?" Every portrait has a history—Prince and Princess Henry of Battenberg in their wedding garments, the late Duke of Albany, Professor Huxley, Mrs. Beecher Stowe, Mr. and Mrs. Pinero, Mr. and Mrs. Bancroft, and many others. Three suggestive pictures, however, cannot be passed by. This dear little fellow is the son of Mr. B. J. Farjeon. Mr. Farjeon married "Rip Van Winkle" Jefferson's daughter, and the youngster is pictured dressed in the tattered garments of merry, rollicking Rip. You know how Rip always drinks your health? He holds the glass of hollands high up and cries, "Here's your health and your family's good health, and may they all live long and prosper!" but Mr. Farjeon's little boy cries out, "Here's your health, and your family's good health, and may you all live long and proper!"
A photo, of Dr. Pancoast stands near a bust of Mrs. Kendal as Galatea, done when she was seventeen. Dr. Pancoast—a celebrated American physician—saved Mrs. Kendal's life when her maid accidentally administered a poisonous drug to her mistress. The poor girl herself nearly died of fright.
But perhaps the portrait of the late Duchess of Cambridge, which Mrs. Kendal now holds in her hand, is more interesting than them all. "Her late Royal Highness," Mrs. Kendal said, "always addressed me and wrote to me as Mrs. Grimston. She was paralyzed in her right hand and wrote with her left; perhaps that is why this letter, written in pencil and with great effort, is treasured more than it otherwise would have been."
It was one of the last letters written by Her Royal Highness. The letters and words were wonderfully legible; it read:—
"DEAR MRS. GRIMSTON,—One line only to thank you for sending me the stalls for my dressers, who enjoyed your and Mr. Grimston's charming acting immensely. My first deaf one was able to follow perfectly, thanks to your having kindly let her have the book previously. Again thanking you,
"Yours very sincerely, AUGUSTA."
And in a little cabinet in the far corner is a beautiful Sevres bowl. In the bowl is a telegram from "Princess Mary," asking Mrs. Kendal to come to St. James's Palace at once. Written on a black-edged envelope were these words: "To dearest Mrs. Grimston Kendal. A little souvenir. Found amongst the last wishes of her late Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge."
It is only just possible to hasten through the collection of substantial reminiscences which add to the charm of this corner of the house. The quaint white china hare was given to Mrs. Kendal many years ago by Mr. John Hare, when playing together at the Court. A curious but vividly suggestive idea of Japanese wit, in the shape of a couple of characteristically dressed figures, typifies "Health" and "Wealth"; the figure, representing "Health" has a countenance of the deepest red, the other a face all golden and as resplendent as the sun. In a small frame is the letter from the Goethe Club of New York, making Mrs. Kendal an honorary member. She is the only woman member of this club. And this pretty little doll dressed as a Quakeress—a charming compliment to the recipient—was presented by the Quakeresses of Philadelphia, who never, never, never go the play, yea, verily! So they sent this as a tribute of their admiration for the talents and character of the woman who has been called "The Matron of the Drama."
We sat down on a settee in front of the fire. The cushions were of white lawn marked with the initial "M.," and were worked by the late Lady Eglinton.
Mrs. Kendal's happy and homely face is familiar to all. She has a truly tender and sympathetic expression there at all times. Her hair was once that of the fair one with golden locks, now it is of a rich brown colour—very neatly and naturally trimmed about her head. She is very kind—very motherly; just the woman you would single out in time of trouble and ask, "What would you advise me to do?" I gathered these impressions whilst listening to many things she said of which I need not write. Her views on theatrical life are strong, nay, severe. She is not afraid to speak, and she hits hard and sends her shots home. But you cannot mistake the earnestness of her manner, the true intent of her motives.
"I am only a common-place woman," she said to me. "I used to be ever so light-hearted—now, I'm a morbid creature. Here we are sitting down by the fireside. I may tell you happy reminiscences that may make one merry, and all the time I should be thinking about—what? Cancer! I return to my dressing-room from the stage at night. As I am passing along a fellow player may turn to me and say, 'How well the play has gone to-night!' I am only thinking of those who have trod that same stage before me. What are they now? Dust—earth—worms!"
I stirred the fire, and the bright glow from its burning embers lit up the corner where we sat. And we talked together.
Margaret Brunton Robertson was born at Great Grimsby on March 15th, 1849—curiously enough these lines will be read on the anniversary of her birthday. Her grandfather, father, and uncle were all actors.
"I lived alone with my father and mother," she said, "and the only real recollection I have of my father is his fine white beard, which he grew towards the latter days of his life, and a little advice he once gave me.
"'Always count twenty,' he said, 'when you are walking across the quay at Bristol, then you won't hear the sailors swear!' Yet he would use very bad language to me when he was teaching me my parts; for you know I commenced acting at a very early age. I was only three when I made my first appearance—and I ruined the play. It was at the Marylebone Theatre in the 'Three Poor Travellers,' and I was a blind child. My nurse was in the front row of the pit—that is, in the very first row, for there were no stalls. All I thought about was my new shoes—a very pretty, dainty little pair, and as soon as I stepped on the stage, I opened my eyes, caught sight of the delighted face of my nurse, and cried out:—
"'Oh! nursey, dear, look at my new shoes!'
"I played at Chute's Theatre in Bristol in many child's parts. When my father went to the wall over the Lincoln Circuit, Mr. Chute engaged him as an actor, and I went with him. I remember in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'—I was Mustard Seed, I think, or Peas Blossom; at any rate, some small character that required very prettily dressing, and plenty of flowers on my little costume. I am as fond of flowers to-day as I was then. Well, when once I got on the stage in my pretty dress—of which I was particularly proud—before I would leave it, I had to be bought off with apples and oranges! There they would stand at the wings, and the price would go up—up—up—two oranges, three oranges, three oranges and two apples—until I inwardly murmured a childish equivalent for 'sold,' and toddled off.
"I acted Eva in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' when I was eight. I think I was always a sad child—I looked forty when I was fifteen. After little Eva I used to play anything."
And they were hard times for little Madge—she worked like the brave little woman she was. Her childish thoughts were constantly with her parents—how best could she add to the weekly income. And this is what the same little Madge would do. Night after night, after playing in a serious piece, she would appear in burlesque, sing, dance, and crack her small jokes with the best of them. It was hard work that made her a woman—it was dearly-bought experience that gave birth to the sympathetic heart she has to-day.
So at fourteen she was a woman grown—and at fifteen at Hull played Lady Macbeth to Phelps's Macbeth!
"I was dressed in my mother's clothes," Mrs. Kendal said, "and I fear I must have looked a fearful guy!"
At rehearsal Phelps looked upon the young woman.
"And who—who is this child?" asked the great actor.
"Madge Robertson," the manager answered; "a rare favourite here. It was a choice between her and a very old woman, Mr. Phelps."
"Then let the young woman play, by all means," Phelps said.
What a night it was! At the end of the play they wanted her on again, but Phelps was obdurate. A party of men came round, and threatened to throw Phelps into the Humber! Phelps remained firm.
"He was kindness itself through it all," Mrs. Kendal assured me, "and though I did not go on again, he proved his thoughtfulness a little later on by sending for me to play Lady Teazle. I played the leading parts during the three nights Phelps remained in Hull in 'The Man of the World,' 'Richelieu,' and 'Macbeth.' On July 29th, 1865, I made my debut in London, at the Haymarket, as Ophelia to the Hamlet of Walter Montgomery. Poor Montgomery! He was what you would call a 'lady-killer'—very conceited, but, withal, very kind. He once wrote a letter to my father, and added a postscript, saying: 'Keep this letter. Should poverty fall upon you or yours, your great-grand-children may be able to sell it for a good sum of money!' I was only with him six weeks."
The only play of her brother's in which Mrs. Kendal has appeared was "Dreams," when the Gaiety first opened. At this time the managers always tried to induce Mrs. Kendal to appear in a riding habit—a costume in which she looked strikingly handsome.
"Alfred Wigan played in 'Dreams,'" continued Mrs. Kendal. "His wife was one of the kindest women I ever met. She gave me a gold bracelet for a very curious little service I used to render her husband every night. He had to sing a song in 'Dreams,' and one or two of the high notes were beyond his reach. I used to take these notes for him, and the audience never guessed the truth."
"And have you not played Desdemona?" I asked.
"Oh! yes—and to a real black man, and so he did not have to put his head up the chimney to make himself up for the part! His name was Ira Aldridge, and scandal said he was the dresser of some great actor whom he used to imitate. But he had very ingenious ideas as to the character of Othello. He thought him a brute, and played him as such. His great notion was to get the fairest woman possible for Desdemona—and I was selected, for at that time my hair was quite golden.
"In one part of the play he would cry out, 'Give me thy hand, Desdemona!' and certainly the effect of my hand in his huge grasp was impressive. Then in the last act he would pull me from the couch by the hair of my head. Oh! there was something in his realism, I can tell you!"
Miss Robertson made a great sensation when she appeared as Blanche Dumont, in Dr. Westland Marston's "Hero of Romance," when it was performed for the first time at the Haymarket Theatre, on March 14th, 1868. Seventeen months after this, on August 7th, 1869, she was Madge Robertson no longer. On that day she was married to Mr. William Hunter Grimston, whose stage name is Kendal. It is a charming little story.
It occurred at Manchester. Mr. Kendal and Miss Robertson were on tour with the elder Compton, and they were—sweethearts. A convenient time seemed to have arrived for their wedding day, for on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights pieces were to be played in which neither of them would be required. This would mean a nice little honeymoon—and the two lovers would reappear on the Monday night. So the day was fixed—Thursday; the church chosen—St. Saviour's, Plymouth Grove; and the best man booked—Walter Gowing, who used to play under the name of Walter Gordon.
Then bad news came. Compton's brother was taken ill, and he had to hurry away from Cottonopolis. Another play had to be put in the bill, both Mr. Kendal and Miss Robertson would be needed—for it was "As You Like It," and the one would be wanted for Orlando and the other for Rosalind. Still, the wedding was proceeded with on Thursday morning, quietly and happily, and in the evening husband and wife met on the stage in the Forest of Arden. There, with Celia as the priest, amidst the leafy trees and grassy pathways, Orlando turns to the merry Celia, and pointing to the far, far happier Rosalind, cries out:—
"Pray thee, marry us!"
"Will you, Orlando, have to wife this Rosalind?"
"Then," Rosalind pertly remarks, "you must say, 'I take thee, Rosalind, for wife.'"
"I take thee, Rosalind, for wife," said Orlando, earnestly.
Then Rosalind asked, "Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her?"
And Orlando replied—both in the words of Shakespeare and in the language of his own heart—"For ever and a day!"
That is the true story of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Kendal. It was a natural desire of each never to play apart from the other, and from that day they have never separated. For some seven years Mr. and Mrs. Kendal played at the Haymarket, under Buckstone's management, and the gifted actress merrily referred to the little jokes played on "Bucky" by some of the actors. He was stone deaf, and could only take his cues when to speak from the movements of his fellow-actors' lips, so they would annoy him by continuing the lip movement, and "Bucky" sometimes got "stuck."
Little need be said of Mrs. Kendal's subsequent work—her acting at the Court, the Prince of Wales's, and her labours at the St. James's, when, in 1881, she appeared there under the joint management of Mr. Kendal and Mr. Hare. Not only in this country has her name become fondly familiar in the homes of those who "go to the theatre" and those who "never would," but in America the artistic acting of herself and husband has been instantly and enthusiastically recognised.
I left the drawing-room—pausing, before entering Mr. Kendal's study, to admire the aviary—a veritable home of song—and to notice one diminutive member of the feathered tribe in particular, who has been taught by Miss Grimston to perform tricks ad lib., in addition to giving forth the sweetest of notes.
The study is a very delicate apartment in terra-cotta and gold—here and there are quaint blue china vases and many exquisite bronzes. The window in the recess where the table is—a typical study table, suggesting plenty of work—is of stained glass, the quartet of divisions representing the four seasons. A glance round the walls of this room at once reveals the substantial side of Mr. Kendal's artistic hobby—pictures. In this apartment there is nothing but water-colours, save a very clever pen-and-ink sketch by a New York artist, called "Six Months After Marriage," which Jefferson caught sight of at the New York Dramatic Bazaar, and reminded Mr. Kendal to "keep his eye on," and a portrait or two of Mrs. Kendal and the children. "Hetty Sorrell" at her butter pats, with her thoughts very far from the churning-pan, is a gem. "The Last of St. Bartholomew" is a magnificent bit of painting, and the Venetian views at once carry one back to the home of the merry gondolier and perfect moonlight nights. This picture of Salvini—who its possessor assured me was the finest tragedian he had ever seen—was painted by Mr. Kendal himself. The bookcase, running along opposite the window, contains many rare first editions, of which Mr. Kendal is a very persevering and successful collector, and a bound manuscript copy of every play produced by him, together with the original sketches for the scenery. You may look over the "Scrap of Paper," "The Falcon," "Queen's Shilling," "Ladies' Battle," "Clancarty," "The Ironmaster," "The Money Spinner," and "The Squire"—Pinero's play, of which somebody wrote that it wafted the scent of the new-mown hay across the footlights.
It is interesting to learn how Mr. Kendal first came across Pinero.
"I only knew him as an actor at the Lyceum," he said, "and had never met him. He wrote and asked if we would let him read a play to us. As a rule we never do that; but, remembering that Pinero was himself a player, we made an exception. So it came about that one day, after a rehearsal, the actor playwright read his piece to us in the foyer of the St. James's. We never expected anything at first, but the reading ended in our taking the play immediately, though we scarcely knew what we should do with it, seeing it was a two-act play. We found an opportunity, however, and you know the success it was. It was called 'The Money Spinner.'"
Mr. Kendal is a striking-looking man—the very ideal of a picturesque soldier, with a constitution of steel. He talks to you frankly, easily, for there is not two penny-worth of presumption about him. He lives and labours very quietly—he enjoys his days, and a good cigar. He divides his talents between the stage and the brush. His pencil and palette have been with him in far-off places, and there is always a corner in his bag for them if he only travels twenty miles from Harley Street. His peculiarity of painting—so to speak—lies in the fact that he never fails to chronicle the view obtained from any hotel where he may be staying. He showed me a book full of these hasty impressions—all of which were most beautifully done—many of them he could only give ten minutes or a quarter of an hour to. Two of these I brought away for reproduction in these pages; they are both unfinished, however—the pencil reminders of certain little additions tell that.
The first of these is a view of the Infirmary as seen from Mr. Kendal's window at the Queen's Hotel, Manchester; the second—done in a quarter of an hour—shows the way the Americans erect their buildings for exhibiting a cyclorama—popularly known here as a panorama. It was done from a back window in an hotel in Cleveland, U.S.A. The actor-artist never learnt drawing, save for a few hours' lessons he took at the Slade Schools under the tuition of Le Gros. He draws everything that impresses him—his painting memory is remarkable. He sees a man's face in the street, carries it home in his mind, and it will be very faithfully put on paper or canvas.
We talked for a long time on "pictures"—he was so happy and earnest about it that it was some time before we made an attempt to tread the boards and get behind the footlights.
Mr. Kendal—William Hunter Grimston—was born at Notting Hill, and just outside the sound of Bow Bells, on December 16th, 1843. His parents belonged to the Low Church, and their views of the theatre in general, and on adopting the stage as a profession in particular, will be readily understood. Mr. Kendal was intended for the Army—how he came to "go on" the stage is best told in his own words:
"I had only been to three or four pantomimes previously," he said, "and one night—I was about eighteen years of age at the time—I found myself in the stalls of the old Soho Theatre, in Dean Street, Soho, now known as the Royalty Theatre. My paper and pencil were out, and I was busily engaged in making sketches of the various actors and actresses. The piece was 'Billie Taylor.' Suddenly I felt a gentle tap on the shoulder from behind. I turned round.
"'Would you allow me to take those sketches round and show the 'parties' interested?' a gentleman asked.
"'Certainly; with pleasure,' I replied.
"'Perhaps you would like to come behind the scenes as well?'
"It was just what I wanted, so I followed the person who had so kindly interested himself in my scribble. He proved to be Mr. Mowbray, the manager of the theatre. The picture behind the scenes that night was a perfect Elysium to me. I think Mowbray must have noticed the impression it made upon me, for he asked if I would like to go on the stage. I did—as a sort of super."
Mr. Kendal's first important engagement lasted four or five years at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Here he met and played with such people as Helen Faucit (Lady Martin), G. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean, Dion Boucicault, Fechter, Miss Bateman (Mrs. Crowe), and the elder Sothern. When Sothern left, the accomplished young actor played Dundreary, and found himself straying in the footsteps of the famous originator of the part, even to the hop. One would have thought that people would have praised the actor for taking such a worthy example—but it displeased Tom Taylor, and he wrote very wrathfully. Then Mr. Kendal went to the Haymarket, met Miss Robertson, and from their wedding day their lives may be said to have been the same in thought, word, and deed.
As an organizer and man of business his tact and judgment were tested and proved during his joint management of the St. James's with Mr. Hare in 1881. For some time previous to this Mr. Kendal had been on the look-out for a theatre, and his mind wandered towards the St. James's, but it required a large sum of money spending on it before it could be opened.
"One night I was talking to Lord Newry at my club," said Mr. Kendal, "and happened to say that if L2,000 or so were spent on the St. James's I might feel inclined to take it.
"'Suppose I spend that amount of money on the place, will you take it?' Lord Newry asked.
"My only reply was that I would think about it. In the meantime I went to the Court, from there to the Prince of Wales's to play in 'Diplomacy'—it ran a year—'Peril' and 'London Assurance.' Then I returned to the Court again, and during this time Lord Newry had practically gutted the old and unlucky St. James's, turned it inside out—John Hare, my wife and self entered, and we remained there nearly ten years."
Mr. and Mrs. Kendal share the same opinion of America—it is the land of to-day, the land of the future. As to its theatres in comparison with ours, Mrs. Kendal—who had now joined us—was most enthusiastic. I had reached the pillars, from which hung curtains of intricate Japanese workmanship, leading to the hall. Victoria, the Jubilee dog, was barking a friendly "Good-bye," and the lusty throats of Miss Grimston's two-and-twenty canaries forced their sweet notes from a far-away room into the passage.
"I will give you some idea of what an American theatre is like," said Mrs. Kendal. "You reach your destination by rail at some small place for a one-night stay. If it is raining and the ground is wet, men in long jack-boots catch hold of you and gallantly take you across the puddles. You do not see a soul about—and you are in fear and trembling as to where your night's audience is coming from. You get to your hotel, and then your next thought is—where is the theatre? You expect to find a little, uncomfortable, band-box of a place, and you set out to see it with a heavy heart. It is a palace—a marble palace—a positive poem! And your heart leaps happily—only to drop dull again, for you suddenly remember that you have seen—nobody, not even the oldest inhabitant. You turn to the manager.
"'Yes, yes—but, what about an audience, how are you going to fill it?' you ask.
"'Wall,' he replies, 'I don't trouble myself much about that. I reckon that every seat in this theatre is sold for to-night, that's all!'"
BY E. W. HORNUNG.
This story has to do with two men and a play, instead of a woman, and it is none of mine. I had it from an old gentleman I love: only he ought to have written it himself. This, however, he will never do; having known intimately in his young days one of the two men concerned. But I have his leave to repeat the story more or less as he told it—if I can. And I am going to him for my rebuke—when I dare.
* * * * *
"You want to hear the story of poor old Pharazyn and his play? I'm now going to tell it you.
"Ah, well! My recollection of the matter dates from one summer's night at my old rooms in the Adelphi, when he spoilt my night's work by coming in flushed with an idea of his own. I remember banging the drawer into which I threw my papers to lock them away for the night; but in a few minutes I had forgotten my unfinished article, and was glad that Pharazyn had come. We were young writers, both of us; and, let me tell you, my good fellow, young writing wasn't in those days what it is now. I am thinking less of merit than of high prices, and less of high prices than of cheap notoriety. Neither of us had ever had our names before the public—not even in the advertised contents of an unread and unreadable magazine. No one cared about names in my day, save for the half-dozen great ones that were then among us; so Pharazyn's and mine never used to appear in the newspapers, though some of them used our stuff.
"In a manner we were rivals, for we were writing the same sort of thing for the same sort of publications, and that was how we had come together; but never was rivalry friendlier, or mutually more helpful. Our parts were strangely complementary; if I could understand for the life of me the secret of collaboration, which has always been a mystery to me, I should say that I might have collaborated with Pharazyn almost ideally. I had the better of him in point of education, and would have turned single sentences against him for all he was worth; and I don't mind saying so, for there my superiority ended. When he had a story to tell, he told it with a swing and impetus which I coveted him, as well I might to this day; and if he was oftener without anything to write about, his ideas would pay twenty shillings in the pound, in strength and originality, where mine made some contemptible composition in pence. That is why I have been a failure at fiction—oh, yes, I have! That is why Pharazyn would have succeeded, if only he had stuck to plain ordinary narrative prose.
"The idea he was unable to keep within his own breast, on the evening of which I am telling you, was as new, and simple, and dramatic as any that ever intoxicated the soul of story-teller or made a brother author green with envy. I can see him now, as I watched him that night, flinging to and fro with his quick, nervous stride, while he sketched the new story—bit by bit, and often the wrong bit foremost; but all with his own flashing vividness, which makes me so sorry—so sorry whenever I think of it. At moments he would stand still before the chair on which I sat intent, and beat one hand upon the other, and look down at me with a grand, wondering smile, as though he himself could hardly believe what the gods had put into his head, or that the gift was real gold, it glittered so at first sight. On that point I could reassure him. My open jealousy made me admire soberly. But when he told me, quite suddenly, as though on an afterthought, that he meant to make a play of it and not a story, I had the solid satisfaction at that moment of calling him a fool.
"The ordinary author of my day, you see, had a certain timorous respect for the technique of the stage. It never occurred to us to make light of those literary conventions which it was not our business to understand. We were behind you fellows in every way. But Pharazyn was a sort of forerunner: he said that any intelligent person could write a play, if he wanted to, and provided he could write at all. He said his story was a born play; and it was, in a way; but I told him I doubted whether he could train it up with his own hand to be a good-acting one. I knew I was right. He had neither the experience nor the innate constructive faculty, one or other of which is absolutely necessary for the writing of possible plays. I implored him to turn the thing into a good dramatic novel, and so make his mark at one blow. But no; the fatal fit was on him, and I saw that it must run its course. Already he could see and hear his audience laughing and crying, so he said, and I daresay he could also feel the crinkle of crisp weekly receipts. I only know that we sat up all night over it, arguing and smoking and drinking whisky until my windows overlooking the river caught the rising sun at an angle. Then I gave in. For poor old Pharazyn was more obstinate than ever, though he thanked me with the greatest good temper for my well-meant advice.
"'And look here, my boy,' says he, as he puts on his hat, 'you shan't hear another word about this till the play's written; and you are to ask no questions. Is that a bargain? Very well, then. When I've finished it—down to the very last touches—you shall come and sit up all night with me, and I'll read you every word. And by gad, old chap, if they give me a call the first night, and want a speech—and I see you sitting in your stall, like a blessed old fool as you are—by gad, sir, I'll hold up you and your judgment to the ridicule of the house, so help me never!'
"Well, I am coming to that first night presently. Meanwhile, for the next six months, I saw very little of Pharazyn, and less still in the new year. He seldom came to my rooms now; when he did I could never get him to stay and sit up with me; and once when I climbed up to his garret (it was literally that), he would not answer me, though I could smell his pipe through the key-hole, in which he had turned the key. Yet he was perfectly friendly whenever we did meet. He said he was working very hard, and indeed I could imagine it; his personal appearance, which he had never cherished, being even untidier, and I am obliged to add seedier, than of old. He continued to send me odd magazines in which his stuff happened to appear, or occasionally a proof for one's opinion and suggestions; we had done this to each other all along; but either I did not think about it, or somehow he led me to suppose that his things were more or less hot from the pen, whereas many of mine had been written a twelvemonth before one saw them in type. One way or another, I gathered that he was at work in our common groove, and had shelved, for the present at all events, his proposed play, about which you will remember I had undertaken to ask no questions.
"I was quite mistaken. One night in the following March he came to me with a haggard face, a beaming eye, and a stout, clean manuscript, which he brought down with a thud on my desk. It was the play he had sketched out to me eight or nine months before. I was horrified to hear he had been at work upon it alone from that night to this. He had written, so he said, during all this time, not another line, only each line of his play some ten times over.
"I recollect looking curiously at his shabby clothes, and then reminding him that it was at his place, not mine, I was to have heard him read the play: and how he confessed that he had no chair for me there—that his room was, in fact, three parts dismantled—that he had sacrificed everything to the play, which was worth it. I was extremely angry. I could have helped him so easily, independent as I was of the calling I loved to follow. But there was about him always an accursed, unnecessary independence, which has since struck me—and I think I may say so after all these years—as the mark of a rather humble, very honest origin.
"He read me the play, and I cried over the third act, and so did he. I thought then, and still think, that there was genius in that third act—it took you off your feet. And to me, certainly, it seemed as if the piece must act as well as it read, though indeed, as I took care to say and to repeat, my opinion was well-nigh valueless on that point. I only knew that I could see the thing playing itself, as I walked about the room (for this time I was the person who was too excited to sit still), and that was enough to make one sanguine. I became as enthusiastic about it as though the work were mine (which it never, never would or could have been), yet I was unable to suggest a single improvement, or to have so much as a finger-tip in the pie. Nor could I afterwards account for its invariable reception at the hands of managers, whose ways were then unknown to me. That night we talked only of one kind of reception. We were still talking when the sun came slanting up the river to my windows; you could hardly see them for tobacco-smoke, and we had emptied a bottle of whisky to the success of Pharazyn's immortal play.
"Oh, those nights—those nights once in a way! God forgive me, but I'd sacrifice many things to be young again and feel clever, and to know the man who would sit up all night with me to rule the world over a bottle of honest grog. In the pale light of subsequent revelations I ought, perhaps, to recall such a night, with that particular companion, silently and in spiritual ashes. But it is ridiculous, in my opinion, to fit some sort of consequence to every little insulated act; nor will I ever admit that poor Pharazyn's ultimate failing was in any appreciable degree promoted or prepared for by those our youthful full-souled orgies. I know very well that afterwards, when his life was spent in waylaying those aforesaid managers, in cold passages, on stage doorsteps, or, in desperation, under the public portico on the street; and when a hundred snubs and subterfuges would culminate in the return of his manuscript, ragged but unread: I know, and I knew then, that the wreck who would dodge me in Fleet Street, or cut me in the Strand, had taken to his glass more seriously and more steadily than a man should. But I am not sure that it matters much—much, you understand me—when that man's heart is broken.
* * * * *
"The last words I was ever to exchange with my poor old friend keep ringing in my head to this day, whenever I think of him; and I can repeat them every one. It was some few years after our intimacy had ceased, and when I only knew that he had degenerated into a Fleet Street loafer of the most dilapidated type, that I caught sight of him one day outside a theatre. It was the theatre which was for some years a gold-mine to one Morton Morrison, of whom you may never have heard; but he was a public pet in his day, I can tell you, and his day was just then at its high noon. Well, there stood Pharazyn, with his hands in his pockets and a cutty-pipe sticking out between his ragged beard and moustache, and his shoulders against the pit door, so that for once he could not escape me. But he wouldn't take a hand out of his pocket to shake mine; and when I asked him how he was, without thinking, he laughed in my face, and it made me feel cruel. He was dreadfully emaciated, and almost in rags. And as I wondered what I ought to do, and what to say next, he gave a cough, and spat upon the pavement, and I could see the blood.
"I don't know what you would have done for him—but for all I knew what had brought him to this, I could think of nothing but a drink. It was mid-winter, and I tell you the man was in rags. I felt that if I could get him to a bar he might eat something, too, and that I should get a hold of him this time which I would never again let go. Judge of my surprise when he flatly refused to come with me even for a drink.
"'Can't you see? he said in his hollow voice. 'There'll be a crowd here directly, and I want the best seat in the pit—the best in the house. I've been going dry for it these two days, and I'm going dry till I've seen the piece. No, I've been here an hour already, and there's three hours more, I know; but I'm not going to risk it, thanks all the same.'
"By this I had remembered that Morton Morrison was to re-open that night with a new piece. Indeed, I ought not to have forgotten that, seeing that I had my order about me somewhere, and it meant a column from my pen between twelve and one that night. But this sudden, sorry meeting had put all other thoughts out of my head.
"'My dear fellow,' I said, with a sort of laugh, 'are you a first-nighter, too?'
"'Only at this theatre.'
"He looked me queerly in the face.
"'You admire Morrison very much?'
"'I love him!'
"I suppose my eyes thawed him, though God knows how hard I was trying not to hurt him with pitying looks. At all events he began to explain himself of his own accord, very impetuously; indeed I rather think the outburst was purely involuntary.
"'Look here,' he said, with his hoarse voice lowered: 'I hoped never to see your face again. I hoped you'd never see mine. But now you are here, don't go this minute, and I'll tell you why I think so much of Morton Morrison. I don't know him, mind you—he doesn't know me from Adam—but once long ago I had something to do with him. And God bless him, but damn every other manager in London, for he was the only one of the lot that gave me a civil hearing and a kind word!'
"I knew what he was talking about, and he knew that I knew, for we had understood one another in the old days.
"'I took it to him last of all,' he went on, wiping his damp lips with his hand. 'When I began hawking it about he was an unknown man; when his turn came he was here. He let me read it to him. Then he asked me to leave it with him for a week; and when I went back to him, he said what they had all said—that it would never act! But Morton Morrison said it nicely. And when he saw how it cut me up, into little bits, he got me to tell him all about everything; and then he persuaded me to burn the play, instead of ruining my life for it; and I burnt it in his dressing-room fire, but the ruin was too far gone to mend. I wrote that thing with my heart's blood—old man, you know I did! And none of them would think of it! My God! But Morrison was good about it—he's a good soul—and that's why you'll see me at every first night of his until the drink finishes its work.'
"I had not followed him quite to the end. One thing had amazed me too much.
"'You burnt your play,' I could only murmur, 'when it would have turned into such a novel! Surely you have some draft of it still?'
"'I burnt the lot when I got home,' Pharazyn replied; 'and by-and-by I shall join 'em and burn too!'
"I had nothing to answer to that, and was, besides, tenacious of my point. 'I don't think much of the kindness that makes one man persuade another to burn his work and throw up the sponge,' said I, with a good deal of indignation, for I did feel wroth with that fellow Morrison—a bread-and-butter drawing-room actor, whose very vogue used to irritate me.
"'Then what do you think of this?' asked Pharazyn, as he dipped a hand within his shabby coat, and cautiously unclenched it under my nose.
"'Why, it's a five-pound note!'
"'I know; but wasn't that kind, then?'
"'So Morrison gave you this!' I exclaimed.
"Two or three persons had stopped to join us at the pit door, and Pharazyn hastily put the note back in his pocket. As he did so, his dreadfully shabby condition gave my heart a fresh cut.
"'Are you never going to spend that?' I asked in a whisper; and in a whisper he answered:—
"'Never! It is all my play has brought me—all. It was given me as a charity, but I took it as my earnings—my earnings for all the work and waiting, and blood and tears, that one thing cost me. Spend it? Not I! It will bury me as decently as I deserve.'
"We could converse no more. And the presence of other people prevented me from giving him my overcoat, though I spoke of it into his ear, begging and imploring him to come away and take it while there was still time for him to clip back and get a seat in the front row. But he would not hear of it, and the way he refused reminded me of his old stubborn independence; all I got was a promise that he would have a bite with me after the performance. And so I left him in the frosty dusk, ill-clad and unkempt, with the new-lit lamp over the pit door shining down upon the haggard mask that had once been the eager, memorable face of my cleverest friend.
"I saw him next the moment I entered the theatre that evening, and I nodded my head to him, which he rebuked with the slightest shake of his own. So I looked no more at him before the play began, comprehending that he desired me not to do so. The temptation, however, was too strong to go on resisting, for while Pharazyn was in the very centre of the front row in the pit, I was at one end of the last row of the stalls; and I was very anxious about him, wanting to make sure that he was there and not going to escape me again, and nervous of having him out of my sight for five minutes together.
"Thus I know more about the gradual change which came over Pharazyn's poor face, as scene followed scene, than of the developments and merits of those scenes themselves. My mind was in any case running more on my lost friend than on the piece; but it was not till near the end of the first act that the growing oddity of his look first struck me.
"His eyebrows were raised; it was a look of incredulity chiefly; yet I could see nothing to impale for improbability in the play as far as it had gone. I was but lightly attending, for my own purposes, as you youngsters skim your betters for review; but thus far the situation struck me as at once feasible and promising. Also it seemed not a little familiar to me; I could not say why, for watching Pharazyn's face. And it was his face that told me at last, in the second act. By God, it was his own play!
"It was Pharazyn's play, superficially altered all through, nowhere substantially; but the only play for me, when I knew that, was being acted in the front row of the pit, and not on the stage, to which I had turned the side of my head. I watched my old friend's face writhe and work until it stiffened in a savage calm; and watching, I thought of the 'first night' he had pictured jovially in the old days, when the bare idea of the piece was bursting his soul; and thinking, I wondered whether it could add a drop to his bitterness to remember that too.
"Yet, through all my thoughts, I was listening, intently enough, now. And in the third act I heard the very words my friend had written: they had not meddled with his lines in the great scene which had moved us both to tears long ago in my rooms. And this I swear to, whether you believe it or no—that at the crisis of that scene, which was just as Pharazyn made it, the calm ferocity transfiguring his face died away all at once, and I saw it shining with the sweetest tears our eyes can shed—the tears of an artist over his own work.
"And when the act was over he sat with his head on his hand for some minutes, drinking in the applause, as I well knew; then he left his seat and squeezed out on my side of the house, and I made sure he was coming to speak to me over the barrier; and I got up to speak to him; but he would not see me, but stood against the barrier with a mien as white and set as chiselled marble.
"What followed on the first fall of the curtain I shall relate as rapidly as it happened. Louder call for an author I never heard, and I turned my eyes to the stage in my intense curiosity to see who would come forward; for the piece had been brought out anonymously; and I divined that Morrison himself was about to father it. And so he did; but as the lie passed his lips, and in the interval before the applause—the tiny interval between flash and peal—the lie was given him in a roar of fury from my left; there fell a thud of feet at my side, and Pharazyn was over the barrier and bolting down the gangway towards the stage. I think he was near making a leap for the footlights and confronting Morrison on his own boards; but the orchestra came between, and the fiddlers rose in their places. Then he turned wildly to us pressmen, and I will say he had our ear, if not that of the whole house besides, for the few words he was allowed to utter.
"'Gentlemen!' he cried at the top of his voice—'Gentlemen, I'm one of you! I'm a writing man like yourselves, and I wrote this play that you've seen. That man never wrote it at all—I wrote it myself! That man has only altered it. I read it to him two years ago—two years ago, gentlemen! He kept it for a week, and then got me to burn it as rubbish—when he had made a copy of it! And he gave me this, gentlemen—he gave me this that I give him back!'
"It was a matter of only a few seconds, but not till my own last hour shall I forget Morrison's painted face on the stage, or that sweating white one beneath the boxes; or the fluttering from Pharazyn's poor fingers of the five-pound note he had treasured for two years; or the hush all over the house until the first hand was laid upon his dirty collar.
"'What!' he screamed, 'do none of you believe me? Will none of you stand by me—isn't there a man—not one man among you——'
"And they threw him out with my name on his lips. And I followed, and floored a brute who was handling him roughly. And nothing happened to me—because of what happened to Pharazyn!"
* * * * *
The dear old boy sat silent, his grey head on his hand. Presently he went on, more to himself than to me: "What could I do? What proof had I? He had burnt them every one. And as long as the public would stand him, Morrison kept his good name at least. And that play was his great success!"
I ventured gently to inquire what had happened to Pharazyn.
"He died in my arms," my old friend cried, throwing up his head with an oath and a tear. "He died in a few minutes, outside the theatre. I could hear them clapping after he was dead—clapping his piece."
Zig Zags at the Zoo: Conkavian
If the gentle reader, full of a general desire for knowledge and a particular enthusiasm for natural history, will refer to any one of the great standard works on birds, and, turning to the index, seek for the family title of the Conkaves, I have every hope and confidence that he will not find it; because, as a matter of fact, it is a little invention of my own, and, I may modestly urge, rather a neat thing in scientific nomenclature, on the whole. It has the advantage of including in one family the storks and the pelicans, which in all orthodox books on birds are planted far apart and out of sight of each other, with many orders, tribes, and families between. Under my title they are gathered amicably together in the common possession of very long bills, like two tailors on a man's doorstep. The word is derived, in the proper and regular manner, from ancient sources; from conk, a venerable Eastern word, signifying a nose or beak, and the Latin avis, a bird. And I offer the term freely as my humble, but I trust useful, contribution to science; my first contribution.
The stork is regarded, in many countries, with a certain semi-superstitious reverence and esteem. After many prolonged and serious attempts to saturate myself with a similar feeling, I regret to confess to a certain smallness of esteem for the stork. You can't esteem a bird that makes ugly digs at your feet and heels with such a very big beak. Out in their summer quarters the storks are kept in by close wire, and close wire will give an air of inoffensiveness to most things. But, away in a by-yard, with a gate marked "private," there stands a shed wherein the storks are kept warm in winter, behind wooden bars; and between these bars stork-heads have a way of dropping at the toes of the favoured passer-by, like to action of a row of roadmen's picks.
The stork has come off well in the matter of bodily endowment. The pelican has a tremendous beak—achieved, it would seem, by a skimping of material in the legs; but the stork has the tremendous beak and legs of surprising growth as well. His wings, too, are something more than respectable. At flying, at eating, at portentous solemnity of demeanour—in all these and in other things the pelican and the stork score fairly evenly; but at walking the pelican is left behind at once. This makes one suspect the stork's honesty. The pelican has a good beak and wings, and pays for them, like an honest bird, out of its legs, just as the ostrich pays for its neck and legs out of its wings. But the stork is abnormally lucky in beak, neck, legs, and wings together, and even then has material left to lay out in superfluous knobs and wens to hang round its neck, which leads to a suspicion that many of its personal fittings belong properly to some other bird. I've a notion that the unlucky kiwi might identify some of the property.
Perhaps the adjutant should be acknowledged king of the conkavians. Billy, the Zoo adjutant, has, I believe, no doubt on the subject at all. Billy is an ornament to the military profession—a very fine fellow, with a thing on the back of his neck like a Tangerine orange, and a wen on the front of it, which he can blow out whenever he wants to amuse himself, and everything else handsome about him. He is an old soldier, too, is Billy, having been Adjutant of the Regent's Park Conkavian Corps for seventeen years; but if you knew nothing of his age, still you would call Billy an old soldier—upon a little acquaintance with his habits.