Pencil sketches; or, out.., p.11
Pencil Sketches; or, Outlines of Character and Manners, page 11
A SKETCH FROM LIFE.
"Let the players be cared for."--SHAKSPEARE.
In the early part of the present century, there lived in one of the longstreets in the south-eastern section of Philadelphia, a tailor, whom weshall introduce to our readers by the name of Peter Jones. Hisold-fashioned residence, which (strange to say) is yet standing, was notthen put out of countenance by the modern-built structures that havesince been run up on each side of it. There were, it is true, three orfour new houses nearly opposite, all of them tenanted by genteelfamilies--but Peter's side of the way (at least for the length of asquare), was yet untouched by the hand of improvement, his own domicilebeing the largest and best in the row, and moreover of three stories--anadvantage not possessed by the others. It had a square-topped doorlighted by three small square panes--the parlour window (there was butone) being glazed to match, also with small glass and heavy wood work.The blue-painted wooden door-step was furnished with a very convenientseat, denominated the porch, and sheltered above by a moss-grownpent-house. The whole front of the mansion was shaded by an enormousbuttonwood tree, that looked as if it had been spared from the primevalforest by the axe of a companion of William Penn. The house, indeed,might have been the country seat of one of the early colonists. Underthis tree stood a pump of excellent water.
Adjoining to the house was a little low blue frame, fronting also thestreet--and no ground speculator could pass it without sighing to thinkthat so valuable a lot should be thus wasted. But Peter Jones owned bothhouse and shop--his circumstances were comfortable, his tastes andideas the reverse of elegant, and he had sense enough to perceive thatin attempting a superior style of life he should be out of his element,and therefore less happy. Assisted at times by a journeyman, hecontinued to work at his trade because he was used to it, and that hemight still have the enjoyment of making clothes for three or fourveterans of the revolution; and also for two old judges, who had been inCongress in those sensible times when that well-chosen body acted moreand talked less. All these sexagenarians, having been enamoured of PeterJones's cut when he was the Watson of his day, still retained theirpredilection for it; liking also to feel at ease in their own clothes,and not to wear garments that seemed as if borrowed from "the sons oflittle men." These gentlemen of the old school never passed withoutstopping at the shop window to chat a few words with Peter; sometimesstepping in, and taking a seat on his green Windsor chair--himselfalways occupying the shop-board, whether he was at work or not.
Our hero, though a tailor, was a tall, stout, ruddy, well-looking oldman, having a fine capacious forehead, thinly shaded with gray hair,which was tied behind in a queue, and a clear, lively blue eye. He hadacquired something of a martial air while assisting in the war ofIndependence, by making regimental coats--and no doubt this assistancewas of considerable importance to the cause, it being then supposed thatall men, even Americans, fight better, and endure hardships longer, whendressed in uniform.
Peter Jones was a very popular man among his neighbours, being frank,good-natured, and clever in all manner of things. As soon as the newhouses opposite were occupied, he made acquaintance with theirinhabitants, who all regarded him as what is called a character; and henever abused the degree of familiarity to which they admitted him. Hewas considered a sort of walking directory--but when applied to, by anew settler, for the "whereabout" of a carpenter who might be wanted fora job, his usual answer was--"I believe I will bring over my saw andplane, and do it myself"--also, if a lock-smith or bell-hanger wasinquired for, Peter Jones generally came himself, and repaired the lockor re-fixed the bell; just as skilfully as if he had been "to the mannerborn."
He took several of the opposite gardens under his special protection,and supplied them with seeds and roots from his own stock. He was asproud of their morning-glories, queen margarets, johny-jump-ups,daffydowndillies (for so in primitive parlance he called all thesebeautiful flowers), as if they had been produced in his own ratherextensive ground, which was always in fine order, and to see which heoften invited his neighbouring fellow-citizens. In flower season, he wasrarely seen without a sprig or two in one of the button-holes of hislengthy waistcoat, for in warm weather he seldom wore a coat except onSundays and on the Fourth of July, when he appeared in a well-kept,fresh-looking garment of bottle-green with large yellow buttons, a verylong body, and a broad, short skirt.
His wife, Martha, was a plump, notable, quiet, pleasant-faced woman,aged about fifty-five, but very old-fashioned in looks and ideas. Duringthe morning, when she assisted her servant girl, Mrs. Jones wore acalico short gown, a stuff petticoat, and a check-apron, with a closemuslin cap--in the afternoon her costume was a calico long gown, a whitelinen apron, and a thinner muslin cap with brown ribbon; and on Sundaysa silk gown, a clear muslin apron, and a still thinner and much largercap trimmed with gray ribbon. Everything about them had an air of homelycomfort, and they lived plainly and substantially. Peter brought homeevery morning on his arm an amply-filled market basket; but on Sundaystheir girl was always seen, before church time, carrying to the baker'sa waiter containing a large dish that held a piece of meat mounted on atrivet with abundance of potatoes around and beneath, and also a hugepudding in a tin pan.
Peter Jones, who proportioned all his expenses so as to keep an evenbalance, allowed himself and his wife to go once in the season to thetheatre, and that was on the anniversary of their wedding, an event ofwhich he informed his neighbours he had never found cause to repent.This custom had been commenced the first year of their marriage, andcontinued ever since; and as their plays were few and far between, theyenjoyed them with all the zest of novices in the amusement. To themevery actor was good, and every play was excellent; the last beinggenerally considered the best. They were not sufficiently familiar withthe drama to be fastidious in their taste; and happily for them, theywere entirely ignorant of both the theory and practice of criticism. Tothem a visit to the theatre was a great event; and on the precedingafternoon the neighbours always observed symptoms of restlessness inPeter, and a manifest disinclination to settle himself to anything.Before going to bed, he regularly, on the eve of this important day,went round to the theatre to look at the bills that are displayed in thevestibule a night in advance; being too impatient to wait for theannouncement in the morning papers. When the play-day actually came, heshut up his shop at noon, and they had an earlier and better dinner thanusual. About three, Peter appeared in full dress with a ruffled shirtand white cravat, wandering up and down the pavement, going in and outat the front-door, singing, whistling, throwing up his stick andcatching it, stopping every one he knew, to have a talk with them ontheatricals, and trying every device to while away the interveninghours. At four, the tea-table was set, that they might get over therepast in good time, and, as Mrs. Jones said, "have it off their minds."
The play-day was late in the spring, and near the close of the season;and while the sun was yet far above the horizon, Mr. and Mrs. Jonesissued from their door, and walked off, arm-in-arm, with that peculiargait that people always adopt when going to the theatre: he swinging hisclouded cane with its ivory top and buckskin tassel, and she fanningherself already with a huge green fan with black sticks; and amblingalong in her best shoes and stockings, and her annual silk gown, which,on this occasion, she always put on new.
As they went but once a year, they determined on doing the thingrespectably, and on having the best possible view of the stage;therefore they always took seats in an upper front box. Arriving soearly, they had ample time to witness the gradual filling of the house,and to conjecture who was coming whenever a box door was thrown open. Tobe sure, Peter had frequent recourse to his thick, heavy, but unerringsilver watch, and when he found that it still wanted three quarters ofan hour of the time for the curtain to rise, his wife sagely remarked tohim that it was better to be even two hours too early than two minutestoo late; and that they might as well get over the time in sitting inthe play-house as in sitting at home. Their face
Many a listless and fastidious gentleman, having satiated himself withthe theatre by the nightly use of a season ticket (that certaindestroyer of all relish for dramatic amusements), might have envied inour plain and simple-minded mechanic the freshness of sensation, theunswerving interest, and the unqualified pleasure with which he regardedthe wonders of the histrionic world.
To watch Peter Jones at his annual play was as amusing as to look at theperformance itself (and sometimes much more so), such was his earnestattention, and his vivid enjoyment of the whole; as testified by theglee of his laugh, the heartiness of his applause, and the energy withwhich he joined in an encore. If it chanced to be a tragedy, he consoledhis wife in what she called the "forepart of her tears," by remindingher that it was only a play; but as the pathos of the scene increased,he always caught himself first wiping his eyes with the back of hishand; then blowing his nose, trumpetwise, with his clean bandannapocket-handkerchief; and then calling himself a fool for crying. LikeAddison's trunk-maker, he frequently led the clap; and on Peter Jones'snight there was certainly more applause than usual. The kindness of hisheart, however, would never allow him to join in a hiss, assuring thoseabout him that the actors and the play-writers always did their best,and that if they failed it was their misfortune, and not their fault.
That all the old observances of the theatre might be duly observed, hefailed not to produce between the play and farce an ample supply of whatchildren denominate "goodies," as a regale for Mrs. Jones and himself;also presenting them all round to every one within his reach; and ifthere were any little boys and girls in the vicinity, he always produceda double quantity.
It is unnecessary to say that Mr. and Mrs. Jones always stayed to theextreme last; not quitting their seats till the curtain had descended tothe very floor, and shut from their view, for another year, the bowsand curtsies of the actors at the final of the _finale_ in theconcluding scene of the after-piece. Then our happy old couple walkedleisurely home, and had a supper of cold meat and pickles, and roastedpotatoes; and talked of the play over the supper-table; and also overthe breakfast-table next morning; and also to all their acquaintancesfor a month or two afterwards.
In those days, when Peter Jones found the enjoyment of one playsufficient to last him a twelvemonth, the Philadelphia theatre was inits "high and palmy state." There was an excellent stock company, with acontinual succession of new pieces, or judicious revivals of old ones ofstandard worth. The starring system, as it is called, did not thenprevail. The performers, having permanent engagements, were satisfied todo their duty towards an audience with whose tastes they were familiar.Each actor could play an infinite number of parts--each singer couldsing an infinity of songs--and all considered it a portion of theirbusiness to learn new characters, or new music.
Having seen Mr. Bluster in Hamlet, Pierre, and Romeo, we were notexpected, after a short interval, to crowd again to the theatre toapplaud Mr. Fluster in Romeo, Pierre, and Hamlet. Having laughedsufficiently at Mr. Skipabout in Young Rapid, Bob Handy, and Rover, wewere not then required, in the lapse of a few weeks, to laugh likewiseat Mr. Tripabout in Rover, Bob Handy, and Young Rapid. Also, if we hadbeen properly enraptured with Madam Dagolini Dobson in Rosina andRosetta, we were not compelled, almost immediately, to re-prepare our_bravos_ and _bravissimas_ for Madame Jomellini Jobson in Rosetta andRosina.
The list of acting plays was not then reduced to about five comedies,and six tragedies; served out night after night, not in the alternatevariety of one of each sort successively, but with a course of tragedyfor a hero of the buskin, and a course of comedy for the fortunate manthat was able to personate a lively _gentleman_. Neither were the loversof vocal harmony obliged to content themselves with the perpetualrepetition of four musical pieces, regularly produced, "when certainstars shot madly from their spheres" in the brilliant and _recherche_opera-houses of Europe (where princes and kings pay for a song indiamonds), to waste their glories on yankees, buckeyes, and tuckahoes,whose only idea of pay is in the inelegant form of things calleddollars.
It is true that in those days the machinery and decorations of thePhiladelphia stage, and the costume of the actors, were far inferior tothe _materiel_ of the present time; but there was always a regularcompany of sterling excellence, the pieces were various and wellselected, and the audience was satisfied.
Years had passed on, and Peter and Martha Jones were still "keeping theeven tenor of their way," and enjoying the anniversary play with alltheir might, when a house on the other side of the street was taken by arespectable hair-dresser, whose window soon exhibited all the emblems ofhis profession, arranged with peculiar taste, and among them an unusualassortment of wigs for both sexes.
Now, if Mrs. Jones had a failing (and who is perfect), it was inindulging a sort of anti-barber prejudice, very unaccountable,certainly--but so are most prejudices. This induced her rather todiscourage all demonstrations of her husband's usual disposition to makeacquaintance with the new neighbours, whom she set down in her own mindas "queer people"--a very comprehensive term. To be sure, Mr. Dodcomb'slooks and deportment differed not materially from those of any otherhair-dresser; but Peter Jones could not help agreeing that theappearance of his family were much at variance with the imputed virtuesof the numerous beautifying specifics that were set forth in his shop.For instance, notwithstanding the infallibility of his lotions andemollients, and creams and pastes, the face and neck of Mrs. Dodcombobstinately persisted in remaining wrinkled, yellow, speckled, andspotty. And in spite of Macassar oil, and bear's oil, and other certainpromoters of luxuriant, soft, and glossy tresses, her locks continuedscanty, stringy, stiff, and disorderly. By-the-bye, though there were"plenty more in the shop," she always wore a comb whose teeth were "fewand far between."
Though Mr. Dodcomb professed to cut hair in a style of unrivalledelegance, the hair of his children was sheared to the quick, their headslooking nearly as bald as if shaved with a razor; and this phrenologicaldisplay was rather unbecoming to the juvenile Dodcombs, as their earswere singularly prominent and donkey-like. Then as to skin, the faces ofthe boys were sadly freckled, and those of the girls surprisingly coarseand rough.
Mrs. Jones came to a conclusion that their new neighbour must be aremarkably close man, and unwilling to waste any of his stock in tradeupon his own family; and Peter thought it would be more politic in Mr.Dodcomb to use his wife and children as pattern cards, exhibiting ontheir heads and faces the success of his commodities; which Mrs. Jonesunamiably suspected to be all trash and trickery, and far inferior toplain soap and water.
Things were in this state when election day came; and on the followingmorning Mr. Dodcomb came over to look at Mr. Jones's newspaper, and seethe returns of the city and county; complaining that ever since he hadlived in the neighbourhood, his own paper had been shamefully purloinedfrom the handle of the door so early as before the shop was open. Tosteal a newspaper appeared to honest Peter the very climax of felony,for, as he said, it was stealing a man's sense and knowledge; and, beinghimself the earliest riser in the neighbourhood, he volunteered to watchfor the offender. This he did by rising with the first blush of dawn,and promenading the pavement, stick in hand. I
As soon as the Dodcomb house was opened, Peter Jones went over with thetrophy of his success. Mr. Dodcomb was profuse of thanks, making someremarkably handsome speeches on the occasion, and Peter went home andassured his wife that, though a barber, their new neighbour was a veryclever man and well worth knowing. Mrs. Jones immediately saw things intheir proper light, did not perceive that the Dodcombs were at allqueerer than other people, concluded that they had a right to look asthey pleased, and imputed their indifference to hair and cosmetics tothe probability that they were surfeited with the sight of both; asconfectioners never eat cakes, and shoemakers' families are said to gobarefoot.
The same evening, Mrs. Jones accompanied her husband to make aneighbourly visit to the Dodcombs, whom, to their great surprise, theyfound to be extremely _au-fait_ of the theatre; Mr. Dodcomb being barberto that establishment, and his sister-in-law, Miss Sarah Ann Flimbrey,one of the dressmakers.
The progress of the intimacy between the Jones and Dodcomb families nowincreased rapidly, making prodigious strides every day. By the nextweek, which was the beginning of January, they had made up a party to gotogether to the theatre on New Year's night; Peter Jones having beenactually and wonderfully over-persuaded to break through histime-honoured custom of going but once a twelvemonth. The Dodcombs hadan irregular way of seeing the plays from between the scenes, from theflies over the stage, and from all other inconvenient and uncomfortableplaces where they could slip in "by virtue of their office;" but on NewYear's night they always went in form, taking a front box up stairs,that their children might have an uninterrupted view of the whole show;Mr. Dodcomb on that evening employing a deputy to arrange the heads ofthe performers.
Early on New Year's morning, Peter Jones put into the hands of hisneighbour two dollars, to pay for the tickets of himself and wife; andduring the remainder of the day (which, fortunately for him, was at thisseason a very short one) he had his usual difficulty in getting throughthe time.
It was in vain that the Joneses were dressed at an early hour and hadtheir usual early tea. The Dodcombs (to whom the theatre was no novelty)did not hurry with _their_ preparations, and on Peter going over to seeif they were ready, he found them all in their usual dishabille, andtheir maid just beginning to set the tea-table. That people (under anycircumstances) could be so dilatory with a play in prospect, presentedto the mind of the astonished Peter a new view of the varieties of thehuman species. But as all things must have an end, so at last had thetea-drinking of the Dodcombs; and luckily their toilets did not occupymuch time, for they only put themselves in full dress from their waistupward; to the great surprise of Mrs. Jones, who was somewhatscandalized at their oldish shoes and dirtyish stockings.
To the utter dismay of the Joneses, the curtain, for the first time intheir lives, was up when they arrived; and to this misfortune theDodcombs did not seem to attach the least consequence, assuring themthat in losing the first scene of a play they lost nothing.
The five children were ranged in front, each of the three girls wearinga rose-bud on one side of her closely trimmed head, which rose-bud, asMrs. Jones afterwards averred to her husband, must have been stuck thereand held in its place by some hocus pocus, which no one but a play-housebarber could contrive or execute. During the progress of the play, whichwas a melo-drama of what is called "thrilling interest," Peter Jones,who always himself paid the most exemplary attention to the scene beforehim, was annoyed to find that his wife was continually drawn in to talk,by the example of Mrs. Dodcomb and Miss Flimbrey, one of whom sat oneach side of her, and who both kept up a running fire of questions,answers, and remarks during the whole of the performance--plays, as theysaid, being mere drugs to them.
"How do you like that scarlet and gold dress?" said Mrs. Dodcomb.
"Oh! it's beautiful!" replied Mrs. Jones, "and he's a beautiful man thatwears it! What handsome legs he has?--and what a white neck for aman!--and such fine curly hair--"
"You would not say so," said Mrs. Dodcomb, "if you were to see him indaylight without his paint, and without his chestnut wig (they have allsorts of wigs, even flax, tow, and yarn). His natural face and hair areboth of the same clay-colour. As to his neck, it's nothing when it isnot coated all over with whitening--and then his stage legs are alwayspadded."
"Mr. Jones, you are a judge of those things--what do you suppose thatman's dress is made of?" asked Mr. Dodcomb.
"Scarlet cloth and gold lace."
"Fudge! it's only red flannel, trimmed with copper binding."
"I'm sorry to hear that," observed Mrs. Jones--and during the remainderof the piece she designated him as "the man in the flannel jacket."
"That's a pretty hat of his sweetheart's," she remarked, "that gauze hatwith the long white feathers--how light and airy it looks!"
Miss Flimbrey now giggled. "I made it myself, this morning," said she,"it's only thin catgut, with nothing at all outside--but at a distance,it certainly may be taken for transparent gauze."
From this time Mrs. Jones distinguished the actress as "the woman withthe catgut hat."
The hero of the piece appeared in a new and magnificent dress, which wasvery much applauded, as new and showy dresses frequently are. It was apurple velvet, decorated profusely with gold ornaments, somewhatresembling rows of very large buttons; each button being raised orrelieved in the centre, and having a flat rim round the edge. They wentup all the seams of the back, and down the front of the jacket, andround the cuffs; and, being very bright and very close together, theeffect was rich and unique. Also, one of them fastened the plume andlooped up the hat, and two others glittered in the rosettes of theshoes.
"Oh! how grand!--how very grand!" exclaimed Mrs. Jones. "This dressbeats all the others!"
"Upon my word, that trimming is fine," said Peter.
"Ain't they big gold buttons, put very close together?" asked his wife.
"Why, no," replied Peter. "They ain't buttons at all--not one of them.Surely I ought to know buttons, when they _are_ buttons. I can't makeout these things exactly. But they're handsome, however."
Mr. Dodcomb now began to laugh. "I'll tell you," said he, "the historyof these new-fashioned ornaments. It was a bright idea of the actor'sown when he was planning his new dress. He went to one of the greathardware stores in Market Street, and bought I don't know how many grossof those shining covers that are put over the screw-holes of bedsteadsto hide the screws, and that are fastened on by a small thing at the topof each, like a loop, having a hole for a little screw, to fix themtight in their places. And these holes in the loops were just convenientfor the needle to go through when they were sewed on to the dress. Soyou see what a good show they make now."
"Of all contrivances!" exclaimed Peter. "To think that bed-screw coversshould trim so well!"
"Wonders will never cease!" ejaculated Mrs. Jones. And whenever theactor reappeared, she jogged her husband, and reminded him that "herecame the man all over bed-screws."
"What beautiful lace cuffs and collars all those gentlemen have, thatare gallanting the ladies to the feast!" said Mrs. Jones.
"Cut paper, my dear--only cut paper," replied Mrs. Dodcomb. "SallyFlimbrey cuts them out herself--don't you, Sally?"
Miss Flimbrey (who was not proud), nodded in the affirmative--"You wouldnever guess," said she, "my dear Mrs. Jones, what odd contrivances theyhave--did you observe the milk-maid's pail in the cottage scene?"
"Yes--it was full to the brim of fine frothy new milk--I should like tohave
"You would have found it pretty hard to swallow, for it was only cottonwadding," said Miss Flimbrey.
"Well now! if ever I heard the beat of that!" interjected Mrs. Jones.
"How do you like the thunder and lightning?" said Mr. Dodcomb to Mr.Jones.
"It's fine," replied Peter, "and very natural."
"I'll tell you what it is," replied Dodcomb, "the lightning is made bysprinkling a handful of powdered rosin into a ladle heated over a pan ofcharcoal. A man stands between the scenes and does it whenever a flashis wanted. The thunder is produced by a pair of cannon balls joinedacross a bar to which is fixed a long wooden handle like the tongue of achild's basket wagon, and by this the balls are pushed and hauled aboutthe floor behind the back scene."
"Astonishing!" exclaimed Mr. Jones. "But the rattling of therain--_that_ sounds just as if it was real."
"The rain!" answered Mr. Dodcomb. "Oh, the rain is done by a tall woodencase, something on the plan of a great hour glass, lined with tin andfilled half full with small shot, which when the case is set on end,dribbles gradually down and rattles as it falls."
"Dear me," ejaculated Mrs. Jones, "what a wonderful thing is knowledgeof the stage! I never _shall_ see a thunder-gust again (at theplay-house, I mean) without thinking all the time of rosin and ladles,and cannon balls with long handles, and the dribbling of shot."
"Then for snow," pursued Mr. Dodcomb, "they snip up white paper intoshreds, and carry it up to the flies or beams and rafters above thestage, and scatter it down by handfuls."
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Mrs. Jones--
"Well--now the storm is over," said Mrs. Dodcomb, "and here is a castlescene by moonlight."
"And a very pretty moon it is," observed Mrs. Jones, "all solemn andnatural."
"Not very solemn to me," said Mr. Dodcomb, "as I know it to be a bit ofoiled linen let into a round hole in the back scene, with a candle putbehind it."
"Wonders will never cease!" ejaculated Mrs. Jones. "And there's an owlsitting up in that old tumble-down tower--how natural he blinks!"
"Yes," said Mr. Dodcomb, "his eyes are two doors, with a string to each;and a man climbs up behind, and keeps jerking the doors open and lettingthem shut again--that's the way to make an owl blink. But here comes thebleeding ghost, that wanders about the ruins by moonlight."
The children all drew back a little, and looked somewhat frightened; ithappening to be the first ghost they had ever seen.
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Jones, drawing her shawl closely round her, "whatan awful sight a ghost is, even when we know it's only a play-actor!This one seem to have no regular clothes, but only those white fly-awaythings--how deadly pale it is--and just look at the blood, how it keepsstreaming down all the time from that great gash in the breast!"
"As to the paleness," explained Miss Flimbrey, "it's only that the faceis powdered thick all over with flour; and as to what looks to you likeblood, it's nothing but red ribbon, gathered a little full at the topwhere the wound is, and the ends left long to flow down the whitedrapery."
"Why this beats all the rest!" exclaimed Mrs. Jones, "Well--I never_shall_ see a bloody ghost again without thinking of meal and redribbon."
Previous to the last act of the melo-drama, a man belonging to thetheatre came and called Mr. Dodcomb out of the box to ask him if hewould be so obliging as to go on the stage for a senator in the trialscene, one of the big boys that usually assisted in making out thisaugust assemblage having unexpectedly run away and gone to sea. Mr.Dodcomb (who was not entirely unused to lending himself to similaremergencies) kindly consented; and, after returning to whisper thecircumstance to his wife, he slipped out unobserved by the rest of theparty. When the drop-curtain again rose, eight or ten senators, withvenerable white wigs, were seen sitting in a sort of pews, and wearingpink robes and ermine capes; which ermine, according to Miss Flimbury,was only white paper spotted over with large regular splotches of ink atequal distances.
Presently, on recognising their beloved parent among the conscriptfathers, the Dodcomb children became rather too audible in expressingtheir delight, exclaiming: "Oh! there's pappy. Only see pappy on thestage. Don't pappy look funny?"
The pit-people looked up, and the box-people looked round, and Mrs.Dodcomb tried to silence the children by threats of making them go home.Peter Jones quieted them directly by stopping their mouths with cakesfrom his well-stored pocket; thus anticipating the treat he had providedfor them as a regale between the play and after-piece.
The scene over, Mr. Dodcomb speedily got rid of his senatorial costume,and returned to the box in _propria persona_, where he was loudlygreeted by his children, each insisting on being "the one that firstfound out their pappy among the men in wigs and gowns."
"Well if ever!" exclaimed Mr. Jones. "There's no knowing what good'sbefore us! Little did we expect when we came here to-night, that weshould be sitting here in the same box with anybody that ever acted onthe stage. I am so glad."
The after-piece was the Forty Thieves, which Peter and Mrs. Jones hadnever seen before, and which had extraordinary charms for the old man,who in his youth had been well versed in the Arabian Tales. Givinghimself up, as he always did, to the illusion of the scene, he couldwell have dispensed with the explanations of the Dodcombs, who began byinforming Mrs. Jones that the fairy Ardanelle, though in hershell-formed car she seemed to glide through the water, was in realitypulled along by concealed men with concealed ropes.
When the equestrian robbers appeared one by one galloping across thedistant mountains, and Mrs. Jones had carefully counted them all toascertain that there was the full complement of exactly forty, MissFlimbrey laughed, and assured her that in reality there were only three,one mounted on a black, one on a bay, and one on a white horse, but theypassed round and appeared again, till the precise number wasaccomplished. "And the same thing," said she, "is always done when anarmy marches across the stage, so that a few soldiers are made to seemlike a great many."
"You perceive, Mrs. Jones," said Mr. Dodcomb, "these robbers that rideover the distant mountains are not the real men; but both man and horseis nothing more than a flat thin piece of wood painted and cut out."
On Peter remarking that there was certainly a look of life or reality inthe near leg of each rider as it was thrown over the saddle, Mr. Dodcombexplained that each of these equestrian figures was carried by a manconcealed behind, and that one arm of the man was thrust through anaperture at the top of the painted saddle; the arm that hung over so asto personate a leg, being dressed in a Turkish trowser, with a bootdrawn on the hand.
"Do you mean," said Peter, "that these men run along the ridge, eachcarrying a horse under his arm?"
"Exactly so," replied Dodcomb, "the horse and rider of painted boardbeing so arranged as to hide the carrier."
"Well--I never did hear anything so queer," said Mrs. Jones, "I wonderhow they can keep their countenances. But, there are so many queerthings about play-acting. Dear me! what a pug-nose that cobbler has! Letme look at the bill and see who he is--why I saw the same man in theplay, and his nose was long and straight."
"Oh! when he wants a snub nose," replied Miss Flimbrey, "he ties up theend with a single horse-hair fastened round his forehead, and the horsehair is too fine to be seen by the audience."
During the scene in which Morgiana destroys the thieves, one at a time,by pouring a few drops of the magic liquid into the jars in which theyare hidden, Mrs. Jones found out of her own accord that the jars wereonly flat pieces of painted board; but Mrs. Dodcomb made her observethat as each of the dying bandits uttered distinctly his own separategroan, the sound was in reality produced from the orchestra, by he ofthe bass viol giving his bow a hard scrub across the instrument.
"Well," said Mrs. Jones on her way home, "now that my eyes are opened, Imust say there is a great deal of deception in plays."
"To be sure there is," replied Peter, "and that we knew all along, ormight have known if we had thought about it; but people
Next morning, while talking over the play in Peter's shop, Mr. Dodcombkindly volunteered to procure for him and Mrs. Jones, bones or ordersfrom the managers or chief performers, that would insure a gratuitousadmission. Peter, much as he liked plays, demurred awhile about availinghimself of this neighbourly offer, but the urgency of his wife prevailedon him to consent; and a day or two after, Mr. Dodcomb put into his handtwo circular pieces of lettered ivory, which on giving them to thedoorkeeper admitted Mr. and Mrs. Jones to the house for that evening;and thus, for the first time in their lives, they found themselves atthe theatre twice in one week.
In this manner they went again and again; and a visit to the theatresoon ceased to be an event. It was no longer eagerly anticipated, andminutely remembered. The sight of one play almost effaced therecollection of another. The edge of novelty was fast wearing off, andthe sense of enjoyment becoming blunted in proportion. Weariness creptupon them with satiety, and they sometimes even went home before theconcluding scene of the farce, and at last they did not even stay to seethe first. Often they caught themselves nodding shamefully during themost moral and instructive dialogues of sentimental comedy, and theyactually slept a duett through the four first acts of the Gamester, inwhich, however, they were accompanied by a large portion of theaudience.
Their friends the Dodcombs escorted them one afternoon all through theinterior of the theatre, so that they obtained a full comprehension ofthe whole paraphernalia, with all its illusions and realities; and ofthis knowledge Mrs. Jones made ample use in her comments at night duringthe performance.
As Peter's enjoyment of the drama grew less, he became more fastidious,particularly as to the ways and means that were employed to produceeffect. He now saw the ridicule of the armies of the rival roses beingrepresented by half a dozen men, who when they belonged to King Richardwere distinguished by white stockings, but clapped on red ones when, inthe next scene, they personated the forces of Richmond. The theatricalvision of our hero being cleared and refined, he ceased to perceive amoving forest when the progress of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane wasrepresented by six or seven men in plaid kilts, each holding up beforehis face, fan-wise, a little bunch of withered pine twigs. He nowdiscovered that the proper place for the ghost of Banquo was a seat atthe table of his murderer, in the midst of the company, and not on amodern parlour chair, set conspicuously by itself near one of the stagedoors. He also perceived that in Antony's oration over Caesar, the Romanpopulace was illy represented by one boyish-looking, smooth-faced youngman (plebeians must have been strangely scarce) who at the words, "Goodfriends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up to sudden mutiny"--alwaysmade sundry futile attempts to look mutinous.
[Footnote 76: All these things the author has seen.]
To conclude--in the course of that season and the next, Peter Jones andhis wife by dint of bones and Dodcombs, became so familiar withtheatricals that they ceased entirely to enjoy them; and it finallybecame a sort of task to go, and a greater task to sit through the play.
Mrs. Jones thought that the old actors had all fallen off, and that thenew ones were not so good as the old ones; but her more sagacioushusband laid the fault to the right cause, which was, "that plays werenow a drug to them."
The Dodcombs removed to New York, and the Joneses gave up without regretthe facilities of free admission to the theatre. After a lapse of twoyears, they determined to resume their old and long-tested custom ofseeing one single play at the close of the season, and on theanniversary of their wedding. But the charm was broken, the illusion wasdestroyed; the keenness of their relish was palled by satiety, and couldrevive no more.
In a less humble sphere of life, and in circumstances of far greaterimportance than the play-going of Peter Jones, how often is thelong-cherished enjoyment of a temperate pleasure destroyed for ever by ashort period of over-indulgence!
by Eliza Leslie / Nonfiction / Classics have rating 4.5 out of 5 / Based on18 votes