Part 3 out of 4
we walked. The orchestra was playing it fortissimo. You could hear it above
the footfalls, the laughter, and the conversation of the promenaders.
Folsom stopped. "Listen to that."
"Yes, 'La Gitana.' It's all around. It's a catchy thing, and suits this
"It goes to the spot. Let's go inside. What's the play?"
He turned at once toward the main entrance of the theatre.
"A farce called 'Three Cheers and a Tiger,'--a Hoyt sort of a piece. The
little Tyrrell is doing her tambourine dance to the music."
"Never heard of the lady," he said to me. And then to the youth on the
other side of the box-office window, "Have you any seats left in the front
Folsom always asked for seats in the front row. This time it was fatal. As
we walked up the aisle, Folsom ahead, the little Tyrrell shot one casual
glance of her gray eyes at him, as almost any dancer would have done at a
front row newcomer entering while she was on the stage. In the next instant
her eyes were following her toe in its swift flight upward to the centre
of the tambourine that her hand brought downward to meet it. But the one
glance across the footlights had been productive. Folsom sat staring over
the heads of the musicians, his gaze fastened upon the little Tyrrell, who
was leaping about on the stage to the tune of "La Gitana." His lips opened
slightly and remained so. His eyes feasted upon the flying dancer in the
rippling blond wig, his ears drank in the buoyant notes.
It is well known that power lies in a saltatorial ensemble of white lace
skirts, pale blue hose, lustrous naked arms, undulating bodice, magnetic
eyes, flying hair, and an unchanging smile, to focus the perceptions of a
man, to absorb his consciousness, aided by a tune which seems to close out
from him all the rest of the world.
And there, while this plump little girl danced and the frivolous, stupid
crowd looked eagerly on, from all parts of the overheated theatre, began
the tragedy of Billy Folsom.
He gazed in rapture, and when she had finished and stood panting and
kissing her hands in response to applause, he heaved an eloquent sigh.
"I'd like to meet that girl," he whispered to me, assuming a tone of
Thereafter he kept his eye fixed upon the wings until she reappeared. And
the rest of the performance interested him only when she was in view.
I knew the symptoms, but I did not think the malady would become chronic.
He managed to have himself introduced to her a week later in New York by
Ted Clarke, the artist, who made newspaper sketches of her in some of her
dances. Folsom saw her going up the steps to an elevated railway station.
He ran after her, in order to be near her. He followed her into a car,
where Ted Clarke, recognizing her, rose to give her his seat. She rewarded
the artist by opening a conversation with him, and Folsom availed himself
of his acquaintance with Clarke to salute the latter with surprising
cordiality. She looked a few years older and less girlish without her blond
wig but she was still quite pretty in brown hair. She treated Folsom with
her wonted offhand amiability. He left the train when she left it, and
he walked a block with her. With pardonable shrewdness she inspected his
visage, attire, and manner, for indications of his pecuniary and social
standing, while he was indulging in silly commonplaces. When they parted at
the quiet hotel where she lived she said lightly:
"Come and see me sometime."
To her surprise, perhaps, he came the next day, preceded by several dozen
roses and a few pounds of bonbons.
Every night thereafter he was at the theatre where she was appearing,
watching her dance from the front row or from the lobby, agitated with
mingled pleasure and jealousy when she received loud applause, angry at the
audience when the plaudits were not enthusiastic. When their acquaintance
was two weeks old, she allowed him to wait for her at the stage door, and
at last he was permitted to take her to supper.
There was a second supper, at which four composed the party. We had a room
to ourselves, with a piano in the corner. The event lasted long, and near
the end, while the other soubrette played the tune on the piano, and Folsom
kept time by clinking the champagne glass against the bottle, the little
Tyrrell, continually laughing, did her skirt dance, "La Gitana."
Thus with that waltz tune ever sounding in his ears, he fell in love with
her; strangely enough, really in love. She, having her own affairs to mind,
gave him no thought when he was not with her, and when they were together
she deemed him quite a good-natured, bearable fellow, as long as he did not
He made several declarations of love to her. She smiled at them, and said,
"You're like the rest; you'll get over it. Meanwhile, don't look like that;
be cheerful." At certain times, when circumstances were auspicious, when
there was night and electric light and a starry sky with a moon in it, she
was half-sentimental, but such moods were only superficial and short-lived,
and she invariably brought an end to them with flippant laughter or some
matter-of-fact speech that came with a shock to Billy, although it did not
cool his adoration.
Billy became quite gloomy. He was the veritable sighing lover. Although for
a month he was admittedly the chief of her admirers and saw her every day,
he seemed to make no progress toward securing a hospitable reception for
and a response to his love.
One day, as they were walking together on Broadway, she said:
"You're always in the dumps nowadays. Really you must not be that way.
Doleful people make me tired."
And thereafter Billy, possessed by a horrible fear that his mournful
demeanour might cause his banishment from her, kept making desperate
efforts to be lively, which were a dismal failure. It was ludicrous. The
gayer he affected to be, the more emphatic was his manifest depression. So
she wearied of his company. One day he called at her hotel, and, as was his
custom, went immediately to her sitting-room without sending in his card.
Before he knocked at the door, he heard the notes of her piano; some one
was playing the air of "La Gitana" with one finger. After two or three
bars, the instrument was silent. Then a man's voice was heard. Billy
knocked angrily. Miss Tyrrell opened the door, looked annoyed when she saw
him, and introduced him to the tenor of a comic opera company of which she
recently had been engaged as leading soubrette. Billy's call was a short
At eight o'clock that evening he sent this note to her from the cafe where
he was dining:
"Will be at stage door with carriage at eleven, as before."
He was there at eleven. So was the tenor. The little Tyrrell came out and
looked from one to the other. Billy pointed to his waiting carriage. The
dancer took the tenor's arm and said:
"I'm sorry I can't accept your invitation, Mr. Folsom. Really I'm very much
obliged to you, but I have an engagement."
She went off with the tenor, and Billy went off with the cab and made
himself drunker than he had ever been in his life. At dawn his feet were
seen protruding from the window of a coupe that was being driven up
Broadway, and he was bawling forth, as best he could, the tune which had
served indirectly to bring the little Tyrrell into his life.
After that night, it was the old story, a woman ridding herself of a man
for whom she had never cared, and who indeed was not worth caring for. But
the operation was just as hard upon Folsom as if he had been. You know the
stages of the process. She began by being not at home or just about to go
out. He wrote pleading notes to her, in boyish phraseology, and she laughed
over these with the tenor. He made the breaking off the more painful by
going nightly to see her dance that fatal melody. He watched her from afar
upon the street, and almost invariably saw the tenor by her side. He drank
continually, and he begged Ted Clarke to tell her, in a casual way, that
he was going to the dogs on account of her treatment of him. Whereupon she
laughed and then looked scornful, saying: "If he's fool enough to drink
himself to death because a woman didn't happen to fall in love with him,
the sooner he finishes the work the better. I have no use for such a man."
No one has, and I told Billy so. But he kept up his pace toward the goal of
confirmed drunkenness. He ceased his attendance at the theatre where she
danced, only after he learned that the tenor had married her. But that
dance of hers had become a part of his life. Its accompanying tune was
now as necessary to his aural sensibilities as food to his stomach. He
therefore spent his evenings going to theatres and concert-halls where "La
Gitana" was likely to be sung or played. He rarely sought in vain. The
melody was to be found serving some purpose or other at almost every
theatre that winter. It was the "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay" of its time.
Some men who drink themselves to death require years and wit to complete
the task. Others save time by catching pneumonia through exposure due to
drink. Billy Folsom was one of the pneumonia class. He "slept off" the
effects of a long lark in an area-way belonging to a total stranger. A
policeman took him to his lodgings by way of the station house, and a day
later his landlord sent for a doctor. Five days after that I went over to
see him. He was in bed, and one of his friends, a man of his own kind, but
of stronger fibre, was keeping him company. Billy told us how it had come
"I wouldn't have gone on that racket if it hadn't been for one thing. I'd
made up my mind to turn over a new leaf, and I was walking along full of
plans for reformation. Suddenly I heard the sound of a banjo, coming from
an up-stairs window, playing a certain tune I've got somewhat attached to.
I saw the place was a kind of a dive and I went in. I got the banjo-player
to strum the piece over again, and I bought drinks for the crowd. Then I
made him play once more, and there were other rounds of drinks, and the
last I remember is that I was waltzing around the place to that air. Two
days after that the officer found me trespassing on some one's property
by sleeping on it. I dropped my overcoat and hat somewhere, and it seemed
there must have been a draft around, for I caught this cold."
I told Folsom to stop talking, as he was manifestly much weaker than he or
his friend supposed him to be. There ensued a few seconds of silence. A
loud noise broke upon the stillness with a shocking suddenness. It was the
clamour of a band-piano in the street beneath Folsom's window, and of all
the tunes in the world the tune that it shrieked out was "La Gitana." I
looked at Folsom.
He rose in his bed and, clenching his teeth, he propelled through their
interstices the word:
He remained sitting for a time, his hair tumbled about, his eyes wide open
but expressive of meditation as the notes continued to be thumped upward by
the turbulent instrument. Presently he said, in a husky voice:
"How that thing pursues me! It's like a fiend. It has no let-up. It follows
me even into the next world."
He sat for a moment more, intently listening. Then, with a quick, peevish
sigh, he fell back from weakness. We by his side did not know it at the
instant, but we discovered in a short time what had taken place when his
head had touched the pillow, for he remained so still.
And that was the last of Billy Folsom, and up from the murmuring street
below came the notes of the band-piano playing "La Gitana."
Three of us sat upon an upper deck, sailing to an island. The day was
sunlit, the wind was gentle, and the faintest ripple passed over the sea.
"Do you see the tremulous old man sitting over there by the pilot-house
absorbing the sunshine? He reminds me of another old man, one whom I
watched for six years, while he faded and died. He never knew me, but he
walked by my house daily and I walked by his. It was an interesting study.
The conclusion of the process was so inevitable. The time came when he did
not pass my house. Then he took the sunlight in a bow-window on the second
floor of his residence. So closely had I watched his decadence during the
six years that I was able to say to myself one morning, 'There will be
crape on his door before the day is out.' And so there was."
The bon-vivant laughed rather mechanically, but the other, he who makes
verses so dainty that the world does not heed them, smiled softly and
sympathetically to me and said:
"You are right. Nothing is so fascinating as the study of a progress--a
development or a decline. The inevitability of the end makes it more
engrossing, for it relieves it of the undue eagerness of curiosity, the
feverishness of uncertainty."
"Well, I am content rather to live than to contemplate life," said the
bon-vivant. "It's true I have given myself up to observing anxiously such
an advancement as you describe--a vulgar one you will say. When I was
a very young man I was a very thin man. I determined to amplify my
dimensions. I followed with careful interest my daily increase toward my
present--let us not say obesity, but call it portliness."
"You are inclined to be easy upon yourself," I commented.
"Indeed I am--in all matters."
After a pause the verse-maker, throwing away his cigarette, took up again
the theme that I had introduced.
"Yes, it is an engaging occupation to note any progression, even when it is
toward a fatal or a horrible culmination. But when it is to some beautiful
and happy outcome, this advancement is an ineffably charming spectacle.
Such it is when it is the unfolding of a flower or the filling out of a
"But no growth nor transformation in the material world is more entrancing
to observe than that by which a young girl becomes a lovely woman.
"This transition seems to be sudden. It is not so. It is rapid, perhaps, as
life goes, but each stage is distinctly marked. All men have not time to
watch the change, however, and so most men awaken to its occurrence only
when it is completed. Such was the case of the young and lowborn lover of
Consuelo in George Sand's romance. Do you remember that incomparable scene
in which he suddenly begins to notice that some feature of Consuelo is
handsome, and, with surprise, calls her attention to its comeliness? She,
equally astonished and delighted, joins him in the visual examination of
her charms, and the two pass from one attraction to the other, finally
completing the discovery that she is a beautiful woman.
"The Italian gamin was not the sort of man to have anticipated this
transfiguration and to have watched its stages.
"You may argue that his delight at suddenly opening his eyes to
the finished work was greater than would have been his pleasure at
contemplating the alteration in process. Doubtless his was. As to whether
yours would be in such a case, depends upon your temperament.
"I have experienced both of these pleasures. Perhaps it may be due to
certain special circumstances that I cherish the memory of the more lasting
delight, even though it was tempered by occasional doubts as to the end,
more tenderly than I do the more sudden and keen awakening.
"There is a woman who first came under my observations when she was
thirteen years old. She was then agreeable enough to the eye, more by
reason of the gentleness of her expression than for any noteworthy
attractions of face and figure. Her face, indeed, was plain and
uninteresting; her figure unformed and too slim. Her hair, however, was
charming, being soft and extremely light in colour. She seemed awkward,
too, and timid, through fear of offending or making a bad impression.
"For a reason I was particularly interested in her. I knew, young as I then
was, that plain girls, in many cases, develop into handsome women.
"At fourteen her hair showed indications of changing its tint. Its tendency
was unmistakably toward brown. This was temporarily unfavourable, but a
brightening of the blue eyes and a newly acquired poise of the head, with a
step toward self-confidence in manner, were compensating alterations.
"At fifteen there came an emancipation of mind and speech from schoolgirl
habits. A defensive assumption of impertinent reserve, varied by fits
of superficial garrulity, gave way to real thoughtfulness, to natural
amiability. Then came, too, an emboldenment of the facial outline, a
constancy to the colour of the cheeks, a certainty of gait, and the first
perceptible roundness of contour beneath the neck.
"At sixteen she had adorable hands, and she could wear short sleeves with
impunity. A rational, unforced, and coherent vivacity had now revealed
itself as a characteristic of her mode and conversation. Her ankles had
long before that grown too sightly to be exhibited. Such is so-called
civilization! Her hair seemed to darken before one's eyes. The oval of her
face attracted the attention of more than one of my artist friends.
"At seventeen she had learned what styles of attire, what arrangements of
her hair, were best suited to display effectively her comeliness.
"This was one of the greatest steps of all.
"The simplest draperies, she found, the least complicated headgear, were
most advantageous to her appearance.
"A taste for reading the most ideal and artistic of books, as well as her
liking for poetry, the theatre, music, and pictures had implanted that
exalted something in her face which cannot be otherwise acquired.
"When she was eighteen people on the street turned to look at her as she
"At nineteen her figure was unsurpassable. Indeed, I think there cannot be
a more beautiful and charming woman in America. She is now twenty.
"It was my privilege to view closely the bursting of this bud into bloom."
The fin de siecle versewright became silent and lighted a fresh cigarette.
"Will you permit me to ask," said I, "what were the especial facilities
that you had for observing this evolution?"
"Yes," he answered, softly, a tender look coming into his eyes. "She is my
wife. She was thirteen when I married her. Suddenly placed without means of
subsistence, knowing nothing of the world, she came to me. I could see no
other way. We are very happy together."
The pretty narrative of the rhymer put each of us in a delectable mood.
The notes of a harp and violins came from the lower deck in the form of a
seductive Italian melody. White sails dotted the far-reaching sea.
A MAN WHO WAS NO GOOD
Hearken to the tale of how fortune fell to the widow of Busted Blake.
The outcome has shown that "Busted" was not radically bad. But he was
wretchedly weak of will to reject an opportunity of having another drink
with the boys--or with the girls--or with anybody or with nobody.
In the days of his ascendancy, when he was a young and newly married
architect, he was a buyer of drinks for others. Waiters in cafes vied with
each other in showing readiness to take his orders. He was rated a jolly
good fellow then. No one would have supposed it destined that some fine
night a leering barroom wit should reply to his whispered application for a
small loan by pouring a half-glass of whiskey upon his head and saying:
"I hereby christen thee 'Busted.'"
The title stuck. Blake, through continued impecuniosity, lost all shame of
it in time; lost, too, his self-respect and his wife. Mrs. Blake, a gentle
and pretty little brunette, had wedded him against the will of her parents.
She had trusted, for his safety, to the allurements of his future, which
everybody said was bright, and to his love for her.
The years of tearful nights, the pleadings, the reproaches, the seesaw
of hope and despair, need not here be dwelt upon. They would make an old
story, and some of the details might be shocking to the young person. They
reached a culmination one day when she said to him:
"You love drink better than you love me. I have done with you."
She was a woman and took a woman's view of the case.
When he came back to their rooms that night, she was not there. Then he
knew how much he loved her and how much he had underestimated his love.
She did not go to her parents. There was a very musty proverb that she knew
would meet her on the threshold. "You made your bed, now lie on it." Her
father was a man of no originality, hence he would have put it in that way.
She got employment in a photograph gallery, where she made herself useful
by being ornamental, sitting behind a desk in the anteroom.
I know not what duties devolve upon the woman who occupies that post in the
average photographer's service; whatever they are she performed them. But
within a very short time after she had left the "bed and board" of Busted
Blake, she had to ask for a vacation. She spent it in a hospital and Busted
became a father. She resumed her chair behind the photographer's desk
in due time, found a boarding-house where infants were not tabooed, and
managed to subsist, and to care for her child--a girl.
Somebody lived in that boarding-house who knew Busted Blake, and it was
through inquiries resulting from, this somebody's jocularly calling him
"papa" one night in a saloon that Busted was made aware of his accession to
the paternal relation.
When the poor wretch heard the news, he made a prodigious effort to keep
his face composed. But the muscles would not be resisted. He burst out
crying, and he laid his head upon his arm upon a beer-flooded table and
wept copiously, causing a sudden hush to fall upon the crowd of topers and
a group to gather around his table and stare at him,--some mystified, some
grinning, none understanding.
The next day he made a herculean effort to pull himself together. He
obtained a position as draughtsman from one who had known him in his
respectable period, and he went tremblingly and sheepishly to call upon his
wife and child.
The consequence of his visit was a reunion, which endured for two whole
weeks. At the end of that time she cast him off in utter scorn.
How he lived for the next two years can be only known to those who are
familiar through experience with the existence of people who ask other
people on the street for a few cents toward a night's lodging. By those
who knew him he was said to be "no good to himself or any one else." He
acquired the raggedness, the impudence, the phraseology of the vagabond
class. He would hang on the edge of a party of men drinking together in
front of a bar, on the slim chance of being "counted in" when the question
went round, "What'll you have?" He was perpetually being impelled out
of saloons at foot-race speed by the officials whose function it is, in
barrooms, to substitute an objectionable person's room for his company.
One winter Sunday morning he slept late on a bench in a public square.
Awakened by an officer, he arose to go. Hazy in head and stiff at joints,
he slightly staggered. He heard behind him the cooing laugh of a child. He
looked around. It was himself that had awakened the infant's mirth--or that
strange something which precedes the dawn of a sense of humour in children.
The smiling babe was in a child's carriage which a plainly dressed woman
was pushing. He looked at the woman. It was his wife and the pretty child
was his own.
He walked rapidly from the place, and on the same day he decided to leave
the city. He had herded with vagrants of the touring class. The methods of
free transportation by means of freight-trains and free living, by means
of beggary and small thievery in country towns, were no secret to him.
He walked to the suburbs, and at nightfall he scrambled up the side of a
coal-car in a train slowly moving westward.
What hunger he suffered, what cold he endured, what bread he begged, what
police station cells he passed nights in, what human scum he associated
with, what thirst he quenched, and with what incredibly bad whiskey, are
particulars not for this unobjectionable narrative, for do they not belong
to low life? And who nowadays can tolerate low life in print unless it be
redeemed by a rustic environment and a laboured exposition of clodhopper
English and primitive expletives? Low life outside of a dialect story and a
dreary village? Never!
Mrs. Blake and the child lived in a fair degree of comfort upon the
mother's wages, but often the mother shuddered at thought of what might
happen should she ever lose her position at the photographer's.
Consumption had its hold on Busted Blake when he arrived in the mining-town
called Get-there City, in Kansas, one evening. Get-there City had not
gotten there beyond a single straggling street of shanties. But it had
acquired a saloon, although liquor-selling had already been forbidden in
Busted Blake, with ten cents in his clothes, entered the saloon and asked
in an asthmatic voice for as much whiskey as that sum was good for.
While awaiting a response, his eyes turned toward the only other persons in
the saloon,--three burly, bearded miners of the conventional big-hatted,
big-booted, and big-voiced type. Above their heads and against the wall was
this sign, lettered roughly with charcoal, under a crudely drawn death's
"Five thousand dollars will be paid by the undersigned to the widow of
the sneaking hound that informs on this saloon. This is no meer bluf. P.
Blake, after a brief coughing fit, looked up at the man behind the bar,--a
great thick-necked fellow with a mien of authority, and yet with a certain
bluff honesty expressed about his eyes and lips. This man, whose air of
proprietorship convinced Blake that he could be none other than P. Gibbs,
had first looked sneeringly at the ten cents, but had shown some small sign
of pity on hearing the ominous cough of the attenuated vagrant. He set
forth a bottle and glass.
"Help yerself," said P. Gibbs. While Blake was doing so, Mr. Gibbs went on:
"Bad cough o' yourn. Y' mightn't guess it, but that same cough runs in my
fam'ly. It took off a brother, but it skipped me."
Here was a bond of sympathy between the big, law-defying saloon-keeper and
the frail toper from the East. Busted Blake drained his glass and presently
coughed again. P. Gibbs again set forth the bottle, and this time he drank
with Blake. Before long, by dint of repeated fits of coughing on the part
of Blake, the sympathy of P. Gibbs was so worked upon that he invited the
three miners in the saloon to join him and the stranger.
Blake slept in a corner of the saloon that night. He left the next morning,
a curious expression of resolution on his face.
During the next three weeks he was now and then alluded to in P. Gibbs's
saloon as the "coughing stranger."
In the middle of the third week, at nine o'clock in the evening, when the
lamps in P. Gibbs's saloon were exerting their smallest degree of dimness
and the bar was doing a good business, the door opened and in staggered
Busted Blake. His staggering on this occasion was manifestly not due to
drink. His face had the hideous concavities of a starved man and the
uncertainty of his gait was the token of a mortal feebleness. His
emaciation was painful to behold. His eyes glowed like huge gems.
The crowd of miners looked at him with surprise as he entered.
"The coughing stranger!" cried one.
"The coffin stranger, you mean," said another.
Busted Blake lurched over to the bar. His eyes met those of P. Gibbs on the
other side, and the latter reached for a whiskey-bottle.
Blake fumbled in his pocket and brought forth a piece of soiled paper,
which he laid on the bar under the glance of P. Gibbs.
"Keep that!" said Blake, in a husky voice, whose service he compelled with
much effort. "And keep your word, too! That's where you'll find her."
P. Gibbs picked up the paper.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"That woman's name there. It's the name of my widow; the address, too, of a
photograph man who will tell you where she is. Get the money to her quick,
before the governor and the troops comes down on you to close you up. And
don't let her know how it comes about. Pick a man to take it to her,--let
him pay his expenses out of it,--a man you can trust, and make him tell her
I made it somehow, mining or something, so she'll take it. You know."
P. Gibbs, who had listened with increasing amazement, opened wide his eyes
and drew his revolver. He spoke in a strangely low, repressed voice:
"Stranger, do you mean to say--"
"Yes, that's it," shrieked Busted Blake, turning toward the crowd of
intensely interested onlookers. "And I call on all you here to witness and
to hold him to his word. That's no mere bluff he says in his notice there,
and I'm the sneaking hound that informed. My widow is entitled to $5,000. I
did it in Topeka, and for proof, see this newspaper."
P. Gibbs fired a shot from his revolver through the newspaper that Blake
pulled from his shirt. Then the saloon-keeper brought his weapon on a level
with Blake's face.
"It's good your boots is on!" said P. Gibbs, ironically.
But he did not fire. Blake stood perfectly still, awaiting the shot, and
So the two remained for some moments, until Blake suddenly sank to the
floor, quite exhausted. He died within a half-hour on the saloon floor, his
head resting in the palm of P. Gibbs, who knelt by his side and tried to
At the next dawn, a man whom they called Big Andy started East, and the
piece of paper that Blake handed to P. Gibbs was not all that he took with
him. The United States marshal arrived and duly closed Gibbs's saloon,
which reopened very shortly afterward, minus the $5,000 offer.
And Big Andy found the widow of Busted Blake, to whom he told a bit of
fiction in accounting for the legacy conveyed by him to her that would have
imposed upon the most incredulous legatee. When she had recovered from
the surprise of finding herself and her child provided with the means of
surviving the possible loss of her situation, she forgave the late Busted,
and there was a flow of tears unusual to a boarding-house parlour and
unnerving to Big Andy.
Presently she asked Andy whether he knew what her husband's last words had
"Yep," said Andy. "I heard'm plain and clear. Pete Gibbs,--the other
executor of the will, you know,--Pete says, 'It's all right, pardner, me
and Andy'll see to it,' and then your husband says, 'Thank Gawd I've been
some good to her and the child at last.'"
Which account was entirely correct. When Big Andy had returned to Get-there
City, and related how he had performed his mission, he added:
"I'd been such a lovely liar all through, it's a shame I had to go an'
spoil the story by puttin' in some truth at the finish."
They put up a wooden grave-mark where Blake was buried, and after his name
they cut in the wood this testimonial:
"A tenderfoot that was some good to his folks at last."
MR. THORNBERRY'S ELDORADO
Near the uneven road among the hills a small field of stony ground lay
between woods and cultivated land. Nothing grew upon it and no house could
be seen from it. The sun beat upon it and crows flew over it to and from
Along the road trudged a thin old negro with stooping back and gray wool.
His knees were bent and his cumbrously shod feet pointed far outward from
his line of progress. He wore an aged frock coat and a battered stiff hat,
although the month was June. His small face, beginning with a smoothly
curved forehead and ending with a cleanly cut chin, was mild and
conciliating, shiny, and of the colour of light chocolate. He carried a tin
bucket full of cherries. Pop Thornberry was returning to the town.
Pop, whose proper name was Moses, and who was a deacon in the African
Methodist Church, made his living this way and that way. He did odd jobs
for people, and he fished and hunted when fishing and hunting were in
On this June day he had risen early and walked three miles to pick cherries
"on shares." He had picked ten quarts and left four of them with the
farmer whose trees had produced them. At six cents a quart he would profit
thirty-six cents by his walk of six miles and his work of a half-day.
The sun was scorching and Pop was tired. He decided to rest in the barren
field, at its very edge in shade of the woods. He climbed the zigzag fence
with some labour and at the expense of a few of his cherries. He sat down
upon a little knob of earth, took off his hat, drew a red handkerchief from
the inside thereof, and slowly wiped his perspiring brow.
He looked up at the sky, which was so brightly blue that it made his eyes
blink. He sought optical relief in the dark green of the woods. Then, in
steadying his pail of cherries between his legs, he turned his glance to
the ground in front of him.
His attention was caught by a lump of earth that sparkled at points In the
sun's rays, a mere clod composed of clay and mica, lying In the dry bed of
a bygone streamlet. Because it glittered he picked it up and examined it.
After a time he bethought him that he was yet two and a half miles from
town and very hungry. He arose, somewhat stiff, and put the shining clod in
his coat-tail pocket. On his way back to the road he noticed other little
earth lumps that shone. He resumed his walk townward, his knees shaking
regularly at every step, as was their wont.
At three o'clock in the afternoon he had reached home, sold his cherries,
and dined on dried beef and bread in his little unpainted wooden house on
the edge of the creek at the back of the town.
He owned his house and a small lot upon which it stood. Near it was a
flour-mill, whose owner held a mortgage upon Pop's house and lot. The old
negro had been compelled to borrow $200 to pay bills incurred during the
illness and subsequent funeral of the late Mrs. Thornberry, and thus to
avoid a sheriff's sale. Hence came the mortgage. It would expire on the
10th of September. Pop was almost ready to meet that date. He already had
$192 hidden in his cellar, unknown to any one.
He had heard rumours of the mill-owner's desire to build an addition to his
mill. To do this would necessitate the acquisition of contiguous property.
But Pop had not suspected any ulterior motive when the miller had offered
to lend him the money.
"I kin soon lay by 'nuff t' pay off d' mohgage, w'en I ain't got no one but
m'se'f t' puvvide foh no moah," he had said, after the loan had been made.
And, having dined on this June day, he took twenty cents from the amount
received for cherries and placed it in a cigar-box to be added to the $192.
He kept that sixteen cents with which to purchase provisions for to-morrow,
and then he walked down the quiet street to the railway station. He often
made a dime by carrying some one's satchel from the station to the hotel.
The railroad division superintendent, a well-fed and easy-going man, came
down from his office on the second floor of the station building and saw
Pop sitting on a baggage-truck. The old negro, forgetful of the clod in his
coat-tail pocket, had felt it when he sat down. He had taken it out of his
pocket and was now casually looking at it as he held it in his hand.
"Hello, Pop!" said the division superintendent, upon whose hand time was
hanging heavily. "What have you there?"
"Doan' know, Mistah Monroe. Doan' know, sah. Looks like jes' a chunk o'
He held out the clod to Mr. Monroe.
The spectacle of the division superintendent talking to the old negro
attracted a group of lazy fellows,--the driver of an express wagon, the man
who hauls the mail to the post-office, a boy who sold fruit to passengers
on the train, two porters, with tin signs upon their hats, who solicited
patronage from the hotels.
"Why, Pop," said the superintendent, winking to the expressman, "this lump
looks as though it contained gold."
"Yes," put in the expressman, "that's how gold comes in a mine. I've often
handled it. That's the stuff, sure."
The fruit-selling boy and the mail-man grinned. Pop Thornberry opened wide
his mouth and eyes and softly repeated the word:
"I'd be careful of it," advised Mr. Monroe, handing the clod back to the
Pop took it with a trembling hand and looked at it. Presently he asked:
"W'at'll you give me foh dat air goal, Mistah Monroe."
"Oh, a piece like that would be no use to me. It has to be washed and it
wouldn't be worth while putting just one piece through the whole process of
cleaning. Now. If you have a lot of it, we might go into partnership in the
Before the old man could answer to this pleasantry a whistle was heard up
the track, and Pop was forgotten in the excitement attending the arrival of
Dislodged from the baggage-truck, the old man looked around for Mr. Monroe,
but the superintendent had disappeared. Pop did not seek to carry any
satchels that day. His mind was full of other matters. He went behind the
station and sat down beside the river.
"Goal!" That meant proper tombstones for the graves of his wife and
children, a new pulpit for the African Methodist Church, equal to that of
the African Baptist Church, future ease for his somewhat weary legs and
arms and back.
The next afternoon the division superintendent found himself awaited at his
office door by Pop Thornberry, who was very dusty and who carried a basket
heavy with clods of clay and mica. He had been out to the arid field that
"H-sh!" whispered Pop. "Doan' say a word, Mistah Monroe! Hyah's a lot o'
dem air goal lumps, and I know weah dey's bushels moah,--plenty 'nuff to go
into pahtnehship on."
The superintendent, looked bewildered, then amused, then ashamed.
Embarrassed for a reply, he finally said:
"I haven't time to talk to you now, Pop. Besides, I've made up my mind not
to go into the gold business. You see, I'm rich enough already. Good day."
Thereafter Pop lay in wait for Mr. Monroe daily, but the superintendent
always avoided him. Pop neglected to earn his living and spent his time
going about town with his basket of clods in search of the superintendent.
Finally being openly ignored by Mr. Monroe when the two met face to face,
Pop became angry and took his secret to a jeweller on Main Street. The
jeweller laughed and told Pop that the gold in the basket must be worth at
least a thousand dollars, but he was not in a position to buy crude gold.
Then the jeweller made known to many that Pop Thornberry was crazy over
some lumps of mud and mica that he mistook for gold.
After that, people would stop Pop on the street and say:
"Let's see a piece of the gold in your basket."
Pop, astonished that his secret was out, but somewhat proud at being
thought the possessor of a treasure, would hesitate and then comply. The
small boys soon recognized in Pop's delusion a new means of fun. Observing
the solicitude with which he watched his clod while out of his own hands,
they would innocently ask for a glimpse into his basket. This granted, they
would grasp a piece of his treasure and run away, greatly annoying the old
man, who was in a state of keen distress until he recovered the abstracted
clod. These affairs between Pop and the boys were of hourly recurrence.
They diverted barroom loungers and passers-by.
Pop called on one local capitalist after another, seeking one who would
buy his gold or aid into preparing it for the market. All laughed at
his delusion, deeming it harmless, and all gave him good reason for not
accepting his offer of business partnership. So he went from the bank
president to the baker, from the member of congress for whom he had voted
to the barber, from the hotel proprietor to the bartender. The negroes of
the town, feeling that their race was humiliated in Pop, began to hold
aloof from him. No serious-minded person who learned of his delusion gave
it a second thought.
"Say Pop, where do you get this gold, anyhow?" asked a tobacco-chewing
gamin at the railroad station one day.
"Dat's my business," replied Thornberry, with some dignity.
"Oh," said his questioner, "I know. Tobe McStenger followed you out the
other day and saw where you got it. He'd a brung some in hisself, but it
wasn't on his property."
"Yes, Pop, you better look out," put in a telegraph operator, "or you'll be
taken up for trespassing. 'Tisn't your land, you know, where you find your
There was no truth in the assertion of the gamin. No one had taken the
trouble to follow Pop in his semiweekly excursions to the barren field.
But the old man knew that the field was not his. A ludicrous expression of
overwhelming fright came over his face.
Three days afterward, the farmer who owned the worthless field was
astonished when Pop offered to buy it.
"But what on earth do you want that land fer?" asked the farmer, sitting on
his barnyard fence.
Pop made a guilty attempt to appear guileless, and told the farmer that he
wished to build a shanty and raise potatoes. He was tired of living in town
and sought the quietude of the hills.
"Bein' as dat ere fiel' ain't good foh much, I thought you might be willin'
to paht with it," explained Pop.
The farmer eventually agreed to build a shanty on the field and sell it to
Pop for $180. Pop desired immediate occupancy. There was a legal hitch,
owing to the badness of the land and the questionable condition of Pop's
mind. But the transfer of the property was finally recorded.
Pop no longer had to fear arrest for trespass. His gold field was now
legally his. But he was still kept uneasy by his inability to make his
gold marketable. His uneasiness increased as September approached. He had
applied to the purchase of the field the sum saved to cancel the mortgage
upon his house at the rear end of the town.
The three days before the foreclosure of the mortgage were days of
exquisite anguish to Pop. When the foreclosure came and he and his goods
were turned out on the banks of the creek to make room for the mill-owner's
improvements, his mental turmoil ended. He took the crisis calmly.
"Jes' wait," he said to a neighbour who had stopped at sight of the
moving-out. "Wait till I get dat ere goal on de mahket. I'll bull' a mill
dat'll drive dis yer mill out o' d' business. Den I'll done buy back dis
yer ol' home."
But the next day, when the unexpected happened,--when builders began to
tear down his house,--the enormity of his deed dawned upon him. After a day
of moaning and staring, as he sat amidst his household goods on the bank of
the creek, he became animated by a deep rage against the mill-owner. Now
more than ever had he a special purpose for enriching himself by means of
his treasure across the hill.
The coming of two circuses in succession had taken the interest of the boys
away from Pop during August and part of September. Now they turned again to
him for amusement. First they besieged the abandoned stable to which he had
conveyed his goods, and in which he slept,--for he had not found will to
betake himself from the town he had so long inhabited, and his shanty in
the field remained unoccupied. His purchase of the land had betrayed to
general knowledge the location of his treasure, of which he continued to
bring in new specimens.
One October day he had just come from vainly attempting to induce the
postmaster to join him in the enterprise of exploiting his gold-field.
In front of the post-office, he was met by some boys coming noisily from
school. They surrounded him and demanded to see the gold in his basket. As
the town policeman was sauntering up the street, Pop felt safe in refusing.
The boys, also observing the officer of the law, contented themselves with
retaliating in words only,
"Say, Pop," cried one of them, "you'd better keep an eye on your
gold-field. Nick Hennessey knows where it is, and he's gittin' up a diggin'
party to take a wagon out some night and bring away all your gold."
The boys, laughing at this quickly invented announcement, ran off after
a hand-organ. The old man stood perfectly still, or as nearly so as the
feebleness of his legs would permit.
That evening Pop was missing from the town. And when Abraham Wesley, who
had often lent his shotgun to the old man, went to look for that weapon,
intending to shoot glass balls in the fairgrounds across the river, the
fowling-piece too was missing.
Pop had gone out to protect his possession. Three nights passed and three
days. The few country folk and others who travelled that way during this
time saw the old man walking about in his field or sitting in front of his
shanty, his shotgun on his shoulders, his eyes fixed suspiciously on all
who might become intruders. Night and day he patrolled his little domain.
At dusk of the third day a lively party was returning to the town in a
wagon from a search for nuts. The full moon was rising and the merrymakers
were singing. One of the girls was thirsty. When she saw the shanty in the
rugged field, she asked a young man to get her a glass of water at the hut.
The wagon stopped and the youth climbed astride the rail fence. Suddenly an
unnaturally shrill and excited voice was heard:
"Hyah, you, doan' come no farder! Dese yer's my premises!"
From behind the empty shanty appeared the thin old negro, bareheaded, his
shotgun at his shoulder, a striking figure against the rising moon.
The young man descended from the fence into the field. There came a flash
and a crack from Pop Thornberry's gun. The youth felt the sting of a piece
of birdshot in his leg. Howling and limping, he turned quickly over the
fence into the wagon, which made a hasty flight.
The next morning some idlers went out from the town to the scene of the
adventure. They found the old man lying hatless in the middle of the field,
face downwards, upon the shotgun. He had died of sheer exhaustion, on
guard--and on his own land, as befit an honest citizen who had never
intruded upon the peace of other men.
AT THE STAGE DOOR [Footnote: Courtesy of _Lippincott's Magazine_.
Copyright, 1892, by J. B. Lippincott Company.]
First let me explain how I came to be sitting in so unsavoury a place as
Gorson's "fifteen cent oyster and chop house" that night. Most newspaper
men--the rank and file--receive remuneration by the week. Those not given
over to domesticity, those who enjoy that alluring regularity identical
with liberty, fare sumptuously, as a rule, on "pay-day." Thereafter the
quantity and quality of the good things of life that they enjoy diminish
daily until the next pay-day.
Pay-day with us was Friday. This was Thursday night. I having gone to
unusual lengths of good cheer in the early part of that week, had now
fallen low, and was duly thankful for what I could get--even at Gorson's.
As my glance wandered over my table, over the beer-bottles and the oysters,
beyond the crowd of ravenous and vulgar eaters and hurrying waiters, to the
street door, some one opened that door from the outside and entered. An odd
looking personage this some one.
A person very tall and conspicuously thin. These peculiarities were
accentuated by the dilapidated frock coat that reached to his knees, and
thus concealed the greater portion of his gray summer trousers, which
"bagged" exceedingly and were picturesquely frayed at the bottom edges, as
I could see when he came nearer to me. He wore a faded straw hat, which
looked forlorn, as the month was January. His face, despite its angularity
of outline and its wanness, had that expression of complacency which often
relieves from pathos the countenances of harmlessly demented people. His
hair was gray, but his somewhat formidable looking moustache was still
dark. He carried an unadorned walking-stick and under his left arm was what
a journalistic eye immediately recognized as manuscript. From the man's
aspect of extreme poverty, I deduced that his manuscripts were never
As he passed the cashier's desk, he stopped, lowered his body, not by
stooping in the usual way, but by bending his knees, and with a quick sweep
of his eyes by way of informing himself whether or not he was observed, he
picked up a cigar stump that some one had dropped there.
Then he walked with a rather shambling but self-important gait to the table
next mine, carefully placed his manuscript upon a chair, and sat down upon
it. He was soon lost in a prolonged contemplation of the limited bill of
fare posted on the wall, a study which resulted in his ordering, through a
hustling, pugnacious-looking waiter, a bowl of oatmeal.
A bowl of oatmeal is the least expensive item on the bill of fare at
Gorson's. When I hear a man ordering oatmeal in a cheap eating-house, my
heart aches for him. I had just the money and the intention to procure
another bottle of beer and another box of cigarettes. The sum required to
obtain these necessaries of life is exactly the price of a bowl of oatmeal
and a steak at Gorson's. So I hastily arose to go, and on my way out I had
a brief conversation with the bellicose-appearing waiter, which resulted in
my unknown friend's being overwhelmed with amazement later when the waiter
brought him a warm steak with his oatmeal and said that some one else had
already paid his bill. I did not wait to witness this result, for the man
looked one of the sort to put forth a show of indignation at being made an
object of charity.
An hour later I saw him walking with an air of consequence up Broadway,
smoking what was probably the bit of cigar he had picked up in the
restaurant. He still carried his manuscript, which was wrapped in a soiled
blue paper. As I was hurrying up-town on an assignment for the newspaper,
I could not observe his movements further than to see that when he reached
Fourteenth Street he made for one of the benches in Union Square.
It was by the size, shape, and blue cover that I recognized that manuscript
two days later upon the desk of the editor of the Sunday supplementary
pages of the paper, as I was submitting to that personage a "special" I had
written upon the fertile theme, "Producing a Burlesque."
"May I ask what that stuff is wrapped in blue?"
"Certainly. A crank in the last stages of alcoholism and mental depression
brought it in yesterday. It's an idiotic jumble about Beautiful Women of
History, part in prose and part in doggerel."
"Of course you'll reject it?"
"Naturally. I'll ease his mind by telling him the subject lacks
contemporaneousness. Have a cigarette? By the way, have you any special
interest in the rubbish?"
"No; I only think I've seen it before somewhere. What's the writer's name
"It's to be called for. He didn't leave any address. From that fact and his
appearance, I infer that he doesn't have any permanent abode. Here's his
name,--Ernest Ruddle. Not half as much individuality in the name as in the
man. I remember him because he had a straw hat on."
The burlesque production which had served as material for my Sunday article
saw the light for the first time on the following Monday night. There being
no other theatrical novelty in New York that night, the town--represented
by the critics and the sporting and self-styled Bohemian elements--was
there. The performance was to have a popular comedian as the central
figure, and was to serve, also, to reintroduce a once favourite comic-opera
prima donna, who had been abroad for some years. This stage queen had once
beheld the town at her feet. She had abdicated her throne in the height
of her glory, having made the greatest success of her career on a certain
Monday night, and having disappeared from New York on Tuesday, shortly
afterward materializing in Paris.
There was abundant curiosity awaiting the appearance of Louise Moran, as
the playbills called her. It was whispered, to be sure, by some who had
seen her in burlesque in London, after her flight from America, that she
had grown a bit passee; but this was refuted by the interviewers who had
met her on her return and had duly chronicled that she looked "as rosy
and youthful as ever." Brokers, gilded youth, all that curious lot of
masculinity classified under the general head of "men about town," crowded
into the theatre that night, and when, after being heralded at length by
the chorus, the returned prima donna appeared, in shining drab tights, she
had a long and noisy reception.
My friendly acquaintance with the leading comedian and the stage manager
had served to obtain for me an unusual privilege,--that of witnessing the
first night's performance from the wings. As I looked out across the stage
and the footlights, and saw the sea of faces in the yellowish haze, a
familiar visage held my eye. It was in the front row of the top gallery,
and was projected far over the railing, putting its owner in some risk of
decapitation. An intent look on the pale countenance at once distinguished
it from the terrace of uninteresting, monotonous faces that rose back of
it. The face was that of my man of the restaurant and of the blue-covered
I stood, somewhat in the way of the light man, where my eye could command
most of the stage, and a brief section of the auditorium, from parquet to
roof. The star of the evening, having rattled off, with much sang-froid and
a London intonation, a few lines of thinly humourous dialogue, came toward
the footlights to sing. While the conductor of the orchestra poised his
baton and cast an apprehensive look at her, she began:
"I'm one of the swells
Whose accent tells
That we've done the Contenong."
When she had sung only to this point, people in the audience were
exchanging significant smiles. There was no doubt of it; Louise Moran's
voice had lost its beauty. The years and joys of life abroad had done
their work. We now knew why she had given up comic opera and had gone into
burlesque. The house was so taken by surprise that at the end of her second
stanza, where applause should have come, none came. There was no occasion
for her to draw upon her supply of "encore verses."
Unprepared for the chilling silence that followed her song, she bestowed
upon the audience a look of mingled astonishment, pain, and resentment. But
she recovered self-possession promptly and delivered the few spoken lines
preceding her exit gaily enough. Her face clouded as soon as she was off
the stage. She abused her maid in her dressing-room and sent the comedian's
"dresser" out for some troches. The state of her mind was not improved by
the sound of a hail-storm-like sound that came from the direction of the
stage shortly after,--the applause at the leading comedian's entrance.
As the newspapers said the next day, the only honours of that performance
were with the comedian. The star of Louise Moran had set. Not only was her
singing-voice a ruin, but the actress had grown coarse in visage. The once
willowy outlines of her figure had rounded vulgarly. On the face, audacity
had taken place of piquancy. Even the dark gray eyes, which somehow seemed
black across the footlights, had lost some lustre.
Why had the once lovely creature come back from Europe to disturb the
memories of her other radiant self, and to turn those dainty photographs of
her earlier person into lies?
Every man in the house was thinking this question at the end of the first
She had another solo to sing in the second act. It was while she was
attempting this that my glance strayed to the man in the gallery. His face
this time surprised me.
It wore a look of ineffable sympathy and sorrow. Surely tears were falling
from the sad eyes.
This pity touched me. It was so solitary. The feeling of the rest of the
audience was plainly one of resentful derision at being disappointed.
After the performance I waited for the comedian. He was called before the
curtain and a speech was extorted from him. There were but a few faint
cries for the actress, to which she did not respond. She had summoned the
manager to her dressing-room. While she hastily assumed her wraps for the
street, she was excitedly complaining of the musical director "for not
knowing his business," the comedian for "interfering" in her scenes, the
composer for writing the music too high, and the librettist for supplying
such "beastly rubbish" in the way of dialogue.
"Very well; I'll call a rehearsal to-morrow at ten," the conciliatory
manager replied. "You talk to Myers" (the musical director) "yourself about
it. And you can introduce those two songs you speak of. Myers will fix the
other music to suit your voice."
"And you start Elliott to write over the libretto at once," she commanded,
"and see that that song and dance clown" (the comedian) "never comes on the
stage when I'm on, if it can be helped, or I won't go on at all. That's
The comedian and I left the stage door together. The actress's cab was
waiting at the opposite side of the dark alley-like street upon which the
stage door opened. This street or court, stretching its gloomy way from a
main street, is a place of tall warehouses, rear walls, and bad paving.
The electric light at its point of junction with the main street does not
penetrate half-way to the stage entrance, and the blackness thereabout is
diluted with the rays of the lonely, indifferent gas-lamp that projects
above the old wooden door. Farther on, an old-fashioned street-lamp marks
the place where the alley turns to wind about until it eventually reaches
another main street.
This dark region, the feeble lamp above the stage door, the shadows
opposite, have a peculiar charm, especially at night. One would not think
that within that door is a short corridor leading to the mystic realm which
the people "in front" idealize into a wonderful inaccessible country,
the playworld. Back here, especially on a rainy night and before the
playworld's inhabitants begin to sally forth to partake of terrestrial beer
and sandwiches, one seems millions of miles away from the crowds of men and
women in the theatre and from the illumined street in front.
The ordinary world, when passing this strange place, peers in curiously
from the main street. Sometimes folks wait at the corner of the street
to see the stage people come out. If the piece is a burlesque or a comic
opera, much life moves in the darkness back here. Light comes from the
up-stairs windows of the theatre, the dressing rooms of the subordinate
players being up there. Snatches of song from feminine throats, mere trills
sometimes, isolated fragments of melody, break into the silence. These are
always numerous during the half-hour after the performance and before the
actors have left the theatre. Chorus girls in ulsters emerge in troops,
usually by twos, from the door beneath the light, and it is constantly
opening and shutting. In the gloom opposite the door hover a few bold
youths, suddenly become timid, smoking cigarettes and trying to look like
men of the world. As the comedian and I came forth, one of these young men
struck a match to light a cigarette. The momentary flash attracted my eye,
and I saw in the farthest shadow, with his gaze upon the stage door, my man
of the restaurant, and the manuscript, and the gallery. If possible,
he looked more haggard than before, and, as it was cold, he shivered
"Whom can he be waiting for, I wonder?" I said, aloud.
The comedian, thinking that I alluded to the cabman, half-asleep upon his
seat, replied, as he turned up the collar of his overcoat:
"Oh, he's waiting for Miss Moran. She didn't always go home from the
theatre in a cab. She acquired the habit abroad, I suppose. How she's
changed. I knew her in other days."
"Really? I didn't know that. Tell me about her."
"It's a common story. She's the result of a mercenary mother's schemes.
She's not as old as people think, you know. Her career has been
eventful, which makes it seem long. But I was in the cast, playing a
small part in the first play she ever appeared in, and that was only
twelve years ago. She was about twenty-one then. She waited on customers
in her mother's little stationery store, until one day she eloped with a
poor young fellow whom she loved, in order to escape a rich old man whom
her mother had selected for a son-in-law. She could have endured poverty
well enough, if the mother hadn't done the 'I--forgive--and--Heaven--
bless--you--my--children' act, after which she succeeded in making the
girl quarrel with her husband continually. She was a schemer, that
mother. A theatrical manager, whom she knew, was introduced to the girl,
who was more beautiful then than ever afterward. The mother managed to
have the girl's husband discharged from the bank where he was employed
on the same day that the manager made the girl an offer to go on the
stage. The boy naturally wanted to keep his wife with him, but the
mother told him he was a fool.
"'I'll travel with her,' she said, 'and you stay here and get another
situation.' The wife, intoxicated at the prospects of stage triumphs,
urged, and the boy gave in.
"A year or so after that, the girl had drifted completely out of the
husband's life, as they say in society plays, the mother managed to bring
about the estrangement so promptly.
"The husband stayed at home and got work in a railroad office or somewhere,
so as to earn money with which to drink himself to death--I say, let's
go in here and eat. If we go to the club, I'll be bored to death with
We turned into a lighted vestibule and mounted the stairs to a modest
little cafe over a Broadway saloon. There, over the cigars and Pilsner
presently the comedian continued the story:
"When the husband learned that to his charming mother-in-law's machinations
he owed the loss of his position and his wife, he bided his time, like
a sensible fellow, and one day he called upon the old lady at her flat.
Without a word, he proceeded to pull out much of her hair and otherwise
to disfigure her permanently, which, as she was a vain woman, made her
miserable the rest of her days. Then he disappeared, and has not been heard
of since. It seems strange the thing never got into the newspapers. By
the way, you won't print this story, my boy, until she or I leave the
"Why not? Are you the only man who knows it?"
"No; it was general gossip in the profession at that time."
"How did you get it so straight?"
"She told me. I knew her well in those days. Oh, use the story if you like,
only don't credit it to me. She's very mad because I made a hit to-night
and she didn't."
"But what was the name of her husband?"
"Poor devil!--his name was--what was it, anyhow? By Jove, I can't think
of it! It'll come back to me, though, and I'll let you know later. He had
literary aspirations, by the way. She used to laugh at the poetry he had
written about her. Poor boy!"
The next night, radical changes having been effected in the burlesque, the
prima donna made a more creditable showing. I happened to be at the stage
door again when she came out with her maid after the performance, as I had
under my guidance one of the newspaper's artists, who had been making some
sketches of life behind the scenes. She was in a gayer mood than that in
which she had been on the previous night.
As she was entering the cab, I heard a muffled exclamation, which came from
the shadow opposite the stage door. Dimly in that shadow could be seen a
form with arms outstretched toward the woman, as in an involuntary gesture.
The cab rolled away. The form emerged from the darkness and wearily strode
by. It was that of my manuscript man. He had the same straw hat, stick, and
"That queer old chap must be really in love with her," I thought, smiling.
Such things often happen. I knew a gallery god--but that will keep.
Evidently here was an amusing case, not without its aspect of pathos.
Being in that vicinity on the following night, I strolled up to the stage
door, merely to see whether the straw hat would be there again. There it
was, patiently waiting, scourged by the most ferocious of January winds.
Doubtless the man came here every night to catch a glimpse of his divinity.
He was quite unobtrusive, and I was probably the only one who noticed his
constant attendance. I learned at the newspaper office that he had called
for the rejected manuscript bearing his name,--Ernest Ruddle. Then for a
time I neither saw nor thought of him.
One night, in the last of January,--the coldest of that savage winter,--I
happened again to be in the corridor leading to the stage door, having come
from within the theatre in advance of my friend the comedian, with whom
I was to have supper at the Actors' Athletic Club. The actress's cab was
waiting. The dark little portion of the world back there was deserted.
Along the corridor, through which the sound of chorus girls' laughter
came, strolled the comedian, his cigar already lighted and behind it his
cheerful, hearty, smooth-shaven visage appearing ruddy from the recent
washing off of "make-up."
"Hello!" he began, thrusting his hand into his overcoat pockets. "By
the way, while I think of it, I just passed Miss Moran coming from the
dressing-room, and suddenly that name came back to me, the name of her
husband. It was a peculiar name,--Ernest Ruddle."
Ernest Ruddle! the name on the manuscript! The man of the restaurant and
the gallery, the tears, the waiting at the stage door, were explained
now. Ere we reached the stage door, the actress herself appeared in the
corridor, on the arm of her maid. She was laughing, rather coarsely. We
stepped aside to let her pass out into the night.
"So the manager said he'd give me $50 more on the road," she was saying,
"and I said he would have to make it $75 more--gracious! what's this?"
She had stumbled over something just outside the threshold of the stage
door. Her companion stooped, while the actress jumped aside and looked down
at the large black object with both fright and curiosity.
"It's a man," said the maid; "drunk, or asleep, or dead. He looks frozen.
He's a tramp, I guess; hurry away! We'll tell the policeman on the corner."
The actress passed on, with a final look of half-aversion, half-pity, at
the prostrate body. The comedian and I were both by that body within two
"Frozen or starved, sure!" said the comedian. "Poor beggar! Look at his
straw hat. Observe his death-clutch on the cane."
From down the alley came two sounds: one was a policeman's approaching
footsteps; the other, of a woman's laughter. What, to be sure, was the dead
or drunken body of an unknown vagabond to her?
And it seems strange that I, who never exchanged speech with either the
woman or the man, was the only one in the world who might recognize in the
momentary contact of the living with the dead, a dramatic situation.
"POOR YORICK" [Footnote: Courtesy of _Lippincott's Magazine_. Copyright,
1892, by J.B. Lippincott Company.]
The name by which he was indicated on the playbills was Overfield. His real
name was buried in the far past. By several members of the company to which
he belonged he was often called "Poor Yorick."
I asked the leading juvenile of the company--young Bridges, who was
supposed to attract women to the theatre, and for whose glorification "The
Lady of Lyons" was sometimes revived at matinees--how the old man had
acquired the nickname.
"I gave it to him myself last season," replied Bridges, loftily. "Can't
you guess why? You remember the graveyard scene in 'Hamlet.' The skull of
Yorick, you know, had lain in the earth three and twenty years. Yorick had
been dead that long. Well, the old man had been dead for about the same
length of time,--professionally dead, I mean. See?"
It was true that, so far as being known by the world went, the old man
was as good, or as bad, as dead. He no longer played other than quite
It was said by some one that he was the poorest actor and the noblest
man in the country; a statement commended by Jennison, an Englishman who
usually played villains, to this, that his were the worst art and best
heart in the profession.
Poor Yorick was a thin man, with a smooth, gentle face, lamblike blue eyes,
and curling gray locks that receded gracefully from his forehead. He had
just an individualizing amount of the pomposity characteristic of many
old-time actors. He was not known to have any living kin. He permitted
himself one weakness, a liking for whiskey, an indulgence which was never
noticed to have brought appreciable harm upon him.
Once I asked him when he had made his debut. He answered, "When Joe
Jefferson was still young and before Billie Crane was heard of."
"In what role?"
"As four soldiers," he replied.
"How could that be?"
He explained that he had first appeared as a super in a military drama,
marching as a soldier. The procession, in order to create an illusion of
length, had passed across the stage and back, the return being made behind
the scenes four times continuously in the same direction.
The old man took uncomplainingly to the name applied to him by Bridges.
He must have known what it implied, for surely he could not have mistaken
himself for "a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy." His
non-resentment was but an evidence of his good nature, for he was aware
that it was not a very general custom of actors to give each other
nicknames, and that his case was an exception.
When he was playing the insignificant part of the old family servant of a
New York banker, in the most successful comedy of that season, he came to
know Bridges better than ever before. Poor Yorick had little more to do in
the play than to come on and turn up some light, arrange some papers on a
desk, go off, and afterward return and lower the light. Bridges was doing
the role of the bank clerk in love with the banker's daughter. Yorick and
Bridges, through some set of circumstances or other, were sharers of the
Upon a certain Wednesday, and after a matinee, the two were in their
dressing-room, hastily washing up their faces and putting on their street
clothes. Said the old man:
"Did you notice the pretty little girl in the upper box? She reminds me
of--" here his voice fell and took on suddenly a tone of sadness--"of some
one I knew once, long ago."
Bridges, drying his face with a towel before the big mirror, did not
observe the old man's change of voice, nor did he heed the last part of the
"Notice her?" he answered, with a touch of triumphant vanity in his manner
of speech. "I should say I did. She was there on my account. I'm going to
make a date with her for supper after the performance to-night."
Old Overfield, sitting on a trunk, stared at Bridges in surprise.
"Do you know her?" he asked.
"No," replied the leading juvenile. "That is, I have never met her, but
she's been writing me mash notes lately, asking for a meeting. In the
last one she said she could get away from her house this evening, as her
father's out of town and her mother is going over to Philadelphia this
afternoon. So she invited me to have supper with her to-night, and was good
enough to say she'd occupy that box this afternoon, so I could see what she
was like. Didn't you observe her embarrassment when I came on the stage? I
paid no attention to her first letter. But, having seen her, you bet I'll
answer the last one right away. Don't you wish you were me, old fellow?"
The old fellow stood up and looked at Bridges severely.
"Yes, I do wish I were you,--just long enough to see that you don't answer
that girl's letter. Surely you don't mean to!"
"Hello! What have you got to do with it? Do you know the young woman?"
"No, I don't. But I can easily guess all about her. She's some romantic
little girl, still pure and good, afflicted with one of those idiotic
infatuations for an actor, which is sure to bring trouble to her if you
don't behave like a white man. You want to show her the idiocy of writing
those letters, by ignoring them. You know that actors who care to do
themselves and the profession credit make it a rule never to answer a
letter from a girl like that, unless to give her a word of advice. Come,
my boy, don't disgrace yourself and profession. Don't spoil the life of a
pretty but foolish girl who, if you do the right thing, will soon repent
her silliness, and make some square young fellow a good wife."
Bridges had continued to dress himself during this long speech, assuming
a show of contemptuous indignation as it progressed. When Overfield,
astonished at his own eloquence, had subsided, the young man replied, in a
quiet but rather insolent tone:
"Look here, old man, don't try to work the Polonius racket on me. I don't
like advice, and I'm going to meet that girl, see? She arranged the whole
thing herself; she's to be at a certain spot at eleven-thirty P.M. with a
cab. All I've got to do is to signify my assent in a single line, which
I'm going to write and send by messenger as soon as I get out of here. Of
course, if the girl was a friend of yours, it would be different, but she
isn't, and if you want to remain on good terms with me, you won't put in
your oar. Now that's all settled."
"Is it? Well, young man, I don't want to remain on good terms with anybody
I can't respect. I can't respect a man who would take advantage of a
love-struck girl's ignorance of life. If you meet her, you will simply
be obtaining favours on false pretences, anyhow, for you know you're not
really half the fascinating, romantic, clever youth that you seem when
you're on the stage speaking another man's thoughts. That girl is probably
good, and she looks like some one I used to know. If I can save her, I
will, by thunder!"
"Really, old man, you're quite worked up. If you could act half that well
on the stage, you'd be doing lead, instead of dusting furniture while the
audience gets settled in its seats."
Old Yorick stood for a moment speechless, stung by the insult. Then he took
up his hat, excitedly, and left the dressing-room without a word.
Some of the other members of the company wondered at the angry, flushed
look on his face when he hurried through the corridor to the stage door.
A few minutes later he was seen walking down the street, apparently much
heated in mind. When he reached a certain cafe he went in, sat down, and
called for whiskey. He remained alone in deep thought, mechanically and
unconsciously answering the salutations bestowed upon him by two or three
acquaintances who strolled in. Suddenly he nodded thrice, as if denoting
the acquiescence of his judgment in some plan of action formed by his
inventive faculty. He rose quickly, paid his bill at the cashier's desk,
and moved rapidly across the street to the ---- Hotel. Passing in through a
broad entrance, he turned aside to a writing-room, where, without removing
his soft hat, he sat down at a desk.
He was soon immersed in the composition of a letter, which caused him many
contractions of the brow, many lapses during which he abstractedly stared
at vacancy, many fresh beginnings, and the whole of the two hours allowed
him before the evening's performance for dinner.
When he had finished the letter, he carefully read it, and made a few
corrections. Then he folded it up, put it in an envelope, and placed
it unsealed in his inside coat pocket. He arose with an expression of
resolution about his eyes that was quite new there.
Ascertaining by the clock in the thronged main corridor that the time
was ten minutes after seven, the old man rushed into the cafe, where he
devoured hastily a chicken croquette, and swallowed a cup of coffee and
a glass of whiskey before starting to the theatre. He was in his
dressing-room and in his shirt-sleeves, touching up his eyebrows, when
Bridges arrived. A cool greeting passed between the two.
"You sent the note?" asked the old man.
"What note?" gruffly queried Bridges, taking off his coat.
"To that girl."
A curious look, unobserved by Bridges, shot from Poor Yorick's eyes. It
seemed to say, "Wait, things may happen that you're not looking for."
At about the time when Bridges and Yorick were dressing for the
performance, a newspaper reporter, wishing to make a few notes of an
interview that had been accorded him by a politician staying in the
hotel at which the old man had written his long letter, went into the
writing-room and made use of the desk where the actor had sat earlier in
the evening. Several sheets of blank paper were scattered over it. One of
them contained almost a page of writing. Yorick had negligently left it
there. It was a beginning made by him before he had succeeded in obtaining
a satisfactory wording for his thoughts. This rejected opening read:
"My DEAR, FOOLISH YOUNG LADY:--Something has happened which prevents Mr.
Bridges from keeping the appointment with you, and you're much better off
on that account, for nothing but unhappiness can come to you if you allow
yourself to be carried out of your senses by your infatuation for a man
who has neither the brains nor the manliness which he seems to have when
playing parts that call for the mere simulation of these gifts. Never make
an appointment with a man you do not know, especially a young and vain
actor who has once got the worst of it in a divorce suit. You'll be
thankful some day for this advice, for I know what I speak of. I was once,
years ago, just such an actor. The woman got into all sorts of trouble
because she wrote me such letters as you have written Bridges, and brought
to an early end a life that might have been very happy and youthful. Looked
like you, and it is a memory of what she lost and suffered that makes me
wish to save you. My dear young ----"
There were yet two lines to spare at the foot of the page. The newspaper
man, interested by the fragment, thrust it into his pocket.
When Poor Yorick had finished his final scene in the comedy at the ----
Theatre that night, he made haste to dress and to leave the playhouse. But
he loitered near the stage entrance, keeping in the shadow on the other
side of the alley, out of the range of the light from the incandescent
globe over the door.
Bridges was slightly surprised, on returning to his dressing-room, to find
that Yorick had already gone. But he attributed this to the ill feeling
that had arisen on account of the intended meeting with the girl of the
letters and the box.
The leading juvenile attired himself for the conquest carefully but
rapidly. When he was ready he surveyed his reflection complacently in
the long mirror, assuming the slightly languid look that he intended to
maintain during the first half-hour of the supper. He retained the dress
suit which he wore in the second and third act of the play, and which he
rarely displayed outside of the theatre. He flattered himself that he was
quite irresistible, and wondered whether she would take him to Delmonico's
or to some quiet little place. He indulged, too, in some vague speculation
as to what the supper might result in. The girl was evidently of a rich
family, but her people would doubtless never hear of her making a match
with him, that divorce affair being in recent memory. A marriage was
probably out of the question. However, the girl was a beauty and this
meeting was at least worth the trouble. So he donned his coat and hat and
swaggered out of the theatre. He had no sooner turned from the alley upon
which the stage door opened than Yorick, unnoticed by him, darted out in
pursuit. Ten minutes' walking brought the leading juvenile near the spot
where he was to be awaited by the girl in the cab. Yorick, whose only means
of ascertaining the place of meeting was to follow Bridges, kept as near
the young actor as was compatible with safety from discovery by the latter.
Bridges, strutting along unconscious of Yorick's presence a few yards
behind, had half-traversed the deserted block of tall brown stone
residences, when he saw a cab standing at the corner ahead of him. He
quickened his pace in such a way as to warn the old man that the eventful
moment was at hand. The cab stood under an electric light before an
Yorick, with noiseless steps, accelerated his gait. Bridges, as he neared
the cab, deflected his course toward the curbstone and threw his head back
impressively. This little action, interpreted rightly by the pursuer, was
the old man's cue. Yorick suddenly rushed forward with surprising agility.
Before Bridges could be seen by the occupant of the cab for which he was
making, he was dazed by a blow on the side of the head, just beneath the
ear, and knocked off his feet by a sound thump on the same spot. He reeled,
clutched at the air, and fell heavily upon the sidewalk. There he lay
stunned and silent.
Yorick, not waiting to see what became of the man whom he had felled,
dashed forward to the cab. Opening the door, he caught a momentary vision
of a white, round face, with big, scared eyes, above a palpitating mass of
soft silk and fur, and against a black background. He thrust toward her the
letter, which he had quickly drawn from his pocket, and whispered, huskily:
"Mr. Bridges couldn't come. Here's a note."
Then he slammed the cab door, and called out in a commanding tone:
"Drive on there! Quick!"
The cabman, who had evidently received directions in advance from the girl,
jerked his reins, and the cab moved forward, turned, and rattled away, the
horse at a brisk trot.
Yorick speedily left the scene. At the next corner he met a policeman, to
whom he said:
"There's a man lying on the sidewalk back there by the church. I don't know
whether he's drunk or not."
He was off before the officer could detain him.
Bridges spent the night in a station-house, recovering from the effects of
a fall, which the police attributed to drunkenness. Assuming that he had
received his blows from some masculine relative or admirer of the girl,
he gave a false account of the bruises when the next night he asked the
manager for a few nights of rest and enabled his understudy to obtain a
chance long coveted.
The leading juvenile manifestly thought best not to attempt a renewal of a
flirtation with a young woman who had so formidable a protector; and the
girl herself, whatever became of her, addressed him no more epistles of
adoration, or of any sort whatever.
Yorick got from the stage manager permission to change his dressing-room.
Thereafter he and Bridges maintained a mutual coolness, until one day the
leading juvenile, warmed by cocktails, melted, and addressed the old man
familiarly by his nickname.
"Old fellow," said Bridges, over a cafe table, "when I come to play Hamlet,
I'll send for you to act Poor Yorick. You'd do it well. You're always best,
you know, in parts that don't require you to come on the stage at all."
The old man smiled grimly and then shrugged his shoulders at this
pleasantry. When he died the other day, he left a curious will, in which,
after naming several insignificant legacies, he bequeathed his skull "to a
so-called actor, one Charles Bridges, to be used by him in the graveyard
scene when he shall have become able to play Hamlet,--if the skull be not
disintegrated by that time."
Max took us down into a German place into the bowels of the earth. It was a
bit of Berlin transplanted to Philadelphia and thriving beneath a Teutonic
eating-house. Imagine a great cellar, with stone floor, ornamented ceiling,
massive rectangular pillars of brown wood, substantial tables, heavy
mediaeval chairs, crossbeams bearing pictures of peasant girls and lettered
with sentiments of good cheer in German, and walls covered with beer-mugs
of every size and device.
Scores of men sat talking at the tables, smoking, devouring sandwiches,
upturning their mugs of beer over the capacious receptacles provided by
The mediaeval chairs appealed to the romanticism that lies beneath
Breffny's satirical exterior; and when Max called our attention to the fact
that the mugs of beer came through apertures from caves beneath the street,
we were content.
For the hour, the problem of human happiness was solved for us three by
three foaming mugs, three sandwiches, and tobacco.
Here communed we three, blown from various winds, to this local Bohemia:
Max, native of the free German City of Frankfort, operatic manager in Rio
Janeiro, musician in New York, Denver resident by adoption, Philadelphia
newspaperman by preference; Breffny, born in a Spanish village, reared in
Continental countries, professedly an Irishman, but more than half-Latin in
temperament and appearance, a cyclopedia for the benefit of his friends,
The talk ran to the imposture recently attempted by young Mr. Herdling, who
claimed that the dead body found at Tarrytown was that of his wife.
"A very touching fake," said Max.
"Yes; thanks to the skill of the reporters who wrote up his story," cried
"We visited many morgues in search of her, Louise and I," said I, quoting
the most effective passage of the narrative.
"I did know of one case of a husband starting off at random to find his
runaway wife," observed Breffny.
"As there's yet an hour to midnight, we have time for one of your stories."
"I can tell this in five minutes. All I know of the story is the beginning.
No one ever heard of the end. It was like this:
"When I lived in Glasgow, I knew a young fellow there who was timekeeper in
a shipyard. He was a very quiet, pleasant boy, so bashful that I used to
wonder how he had ever summoned the courage to propose to the pretty Scotch
girl who was his wife. As I got to know more of the pair, I divined the
secret. Although poor, he was of good Glasgow parentage, while the wife had
been a country girl so eager to get to the city that she had courted him
while he was on a visit to the village in which she had lived. She had
merely used him as a means for finding the life for which she had longed.
"How much he really loved her was never suspected until he came home one
evening and found that she had run away with the youngest son of one of the
proprietors of the shipyard.
"He learned within a week that they had sailed for America. He packed a
valise, took the money that he had saved, and started out.
"'But where are you going to look for them?' I asked him.
"'To America,' he said, turning toward me, his face drawn and gaunt with
the grief that he had survived.
"'But America is a vast country.'
"'I will hunt till I find her.'
"'And when you find her--you will not kill her, surely!'
"'I will try to get her to come back to me.'
"He took passage in the steerage, and I do not know what happened to him
Each of us hid his emotions in his beer-mug. Then Max ordered fresh mugs,
and said that Breffny's story recalled a somewhat similar thing that he had
witnessed in Denver.
"When I was a reporter out there, I was standing one evening in front of a
hotel. A crowd collected to see the body of a guest brought out and placed
upon an ambulance.
"'Where are you taking him, and what is it?' I asked the driver.
"'To the lazaretto. Smallpox.'"
For a moment, while he was being lifted into the ambulance, the victim's
face was visible. A loud cry was heard in the crowd. It came from a ragged,
wild-looking man, whose unkempt beard made him look much older than I
afterward found him to be. As the ambulance hurried off, he ran after it,
"'I must see that man! Stop! I must ask him something!'
"But he tripped upon a horse-car track, and when he had staggered to his
feet, the ambulance was out of sight.
"I ran into the hotel and asked the clerk about the lazaretto patient. He
was a young European--an Englishman--they thought, who had arrived from the
East two days ago, and whose condition had just been discovered.
"Coming out, I went to the tramp who had cried out at the sight of the ill
man. I found him seated on the curbstone, weeping like a child. I asked him
why he wished to see the smallpox victim, and said that I could get him
admission to the lazaretto, if he would tell me what he knew, and wouldn't
let any other reporter have the story.
"He jumped up eagerly.
"'It's this,' he said. 'That man ran away with my wife, and I've hunted
them over sea and land. This is the first sight I've had of him.'
"'Then, 'I said,' if you mean to harm him, I'm afraid I can't bring you to
"'Him!' said the ragged man, disdainfully. 'I don't want to hurt him. I
only want to find out where she is. I swear I wouldn't harm either of
"I accompanied him to the city physician, with whom he had a long talk.
That official finally promised to take him to the lazaretto. The doctor led
the man to the side of the iron bed where the smallpox patient lay. The
latter started like a frightened child at sight of his pursuer.
"'Remember,' said the doctor to the sick man, 'you have scarcely a chance
for life. You would do well to tell the truth.'
"'Only tell me where she is,' pleaded the husband, 'and I'll forgive you
"The sick man gasped:
"'I left her in Philadelphia--at the station. She had smallpox. It was from
her I got it. I was a coward--a cur. I left her to save myself. The money I
had brought from home was nearly all gone. Ask her to forgive me.'
"He was dead that evening. The husband was then upon an east-bound
freight-train. The newspaper telegraphed to Philadelphia, but nothing could
be found out about the woman. I've often wondered what became of the man."
The loud hubbub of conversation,--nearly all in German,--the shouts of the
waiters, the noise of their footfalls upon the stone floor, the sound of
mugs being placed upon tables and of Max draining his "stein" of beer,
bridged the hiatus between the ending of Max's narrative and the beginning
of my own:
"Your story reminds me of one to which the city editor assigned me on one
of my 'late nights.' I took a cab and went to the station-house. The case
had been reported by a policeman at Ninth and Locust Streets, who had
called for a patrol-wagon. From him I got the story. He had seen the thing
"He was walking down Locust at half-past twelve that night, and was
opposite the Midnight Mission, when his attention was attracted to the only
two persons who were at that moment on the other side of the street. One
was a man of the appearance of a vagabond, coming from Ninth Street. The
other was a woman, who had come from Tenth Street, and who seemed to walk
with great difficulty, as if ready to sink at every step from weakness.
"The woman dropped her head as she neared the man. The man peered into her
face, in the manner of one who had acquired the habit of examining the
countenances of passers-by.
"The two met under the gas-lamp that is so conspicuous a night feature of
the north side of Locust Street, between Ninth and Tenth.
"The woman gave no attention to the man. So exhausted was she that she
leaned helplessly against the fence. The man ran forward, shrieking like a
"The woman lifted her eyes in a dull kind of amazement and whispered:
"She fell back, but he caught her in his arms and kissed her lips a dozen
times, with a half-savage gladness, crying and laughing hysterically, as
"When the policeman had reached the pair, the woman had seen the last of
"Afterward we found that she had been discharged from the municipal
hospital, where she had been in the smallpox ward two weeks before; and we
surmised that she had virtually had nothing to eat since then.
"At the station-house the man explained that the woman was his runaway
wife. He had started in search of her two years before, with no other clue
as to her whereabouts than the knowledge that she had sailed for America
with a man named Ferriss--"
"What?" cried Max. "Was the name Archibald Ferriss? That was the name of
the man who died in the Denver lazaretto--"
But Max was stopped by Breffny, who almost shouted in excitement:
"And the name of the son of McKeown & Ferriss, of Glasgow, in whose
shipyard was employed as timekeeper the Donald Wilson--"
"Donald Wilson was the name of the man who met his wife that night in front
of the Midnight Mission," said I, in further confirmation.
It was remarkable. One of the three chapters of this tragic story had
entered into the experience of each of us three who sat there emptying
stone mugs. Now, for the first time, was the story complete to each of us.
"But what became of the man?" asked Breffny.
"When the police lieutenant spoke of having her body interred in Potter's
Field, the husband spoke up indignantly. He brought forth two gold pieces,
"'I have the money for her grave. I saved this through all my wanderings,
because I thought that when I should find her she might be homeless and
hungry and in need.'
"So he had her buried respectably in the suburbs somewhere, and I was too
busy at that time to follow up his subsequent movements. It is enough for
the story that he found his wife."
NEWGAG THE COMEDIAN
It was not his real name or his stage name, but it was the one under which
he was best known by those who best knew him. It had been thrown at him in
a cafe one night by a newspaper man after the performance, and had clung
to him. Its significance lay in the fact that his "gags"--supposedly
comic things said by presumably comic men in nominal opera or
burlesque--invariably were old. The man who bestowed the title upon him
thought it a fine bit of irony.
Newgag received it without expressed resentment, but without mirth, and
he bore its repetition patiently as seasons went by. He was accustomed
to enduring calmly the jests, the indignities that were elicited by his
peculiar appearance, his doleful expression, his slow and bungling speech
and movement, his diffident manner.
He was one of the forbearing men, the many who are doomed to continual
suffering of a kind that their sensitiveness and timidity make it the more
difficult for them to bear.
Undying ambition burned beneath his undemonstrative surface; dauntless
courage lay under his lack of ability.
He was an extremely spare man, of extraordinary height, and the bend of his
shoulders gave to his small head a comical thrust forward. His black hair
was without curl, and it would tolerate no other arrangement than being
combed back straight. It was allowed to grow downward until it scraped the
back of Newgag's collar, a device for concealing the meagreness of his
He had a smooth, pale face, slanting from ears to nose like a wedge, and
the dimness of the blue eyes added to its introspective cast. He blushed,
as a rule, when he met new acquaintances or was addressed suddenly. He had
a gloomy look and a hesitating way of speech. An amusing spectacle was his
mechanical-looking smile, which, when he became conscious of it, passed
through several stages expressive of embarrassment until his normal
mournful aspect was reached.
As he usually appeared in a sack coat when off the stage, the length of his
legs was divertingly emphasized. After the fashion of great actors of a
bygone generation, he wore a soft black felt hat, dinged in the crown from
front to rear.
He had entered "the profession" from the amateur stage, by way of the comic
opera chorus, and to that chance was due his being located in the comic
opera wing of the great histrionic edifice. He had originally preferred
tragedy, but the first consideration was the getting upon the stage by any
means. Having industriously worked his way out of the chorus, he had been
reconciled by habit to his environment, and had come to aspire to eminence
therein. He had reached the standing of a secondary comedian,--that is to
say, a man playing secondary comic roles in the pieces for which he is
cast. He was useful in such companies as were directly or indirectly
controlled by their leading comedians, for there never could be any fears
of his outshining those autocratic personages. Only in his wildest hopes
did he ever look upon the centre of the stage as a spot possible for him to
His means of evoking laughter upon the stage were laborious on his part and
mystifying to the thoughtful observer. He took noticeable means to change
from his real self. It mattered not what was the nature of the part he
filled, he invariably assumed an unnatural, rasping voice; he stretched
his mouth to its utmost reach and lowered the extremities of his lips; he
turned his toes inward (naturally his feet described an abnormal angle) and
bowed his arms. Brought up in the school which teaches that to make others
laugh one must never smile one's self, he wore a grotesquely lugubrious and
changeless countenance. Such was Newgag in his every impersonation. When
he thought he was funniest, he appeared to be in most pain and was most
"My methods are legitimate," he would say, when he had enlisted one's
attention and apparent admiration across a table bearing beer-bottles and
sandwiches. "The people want horse-play nowadays. But when I've got to
descend to that sort of thing, I'll go to the variety stage or circus ring
at once--or quit."
"That's a happy thought, old man," said a comedian of the younger school,
one night, when Newgag had uttered his wonted speech. "Why don't you quit?"
Such a speech sufficed to rob Newgag of his self-possession and to reduce
him to silence. He could not cope with easy, offhand, impromptu jesters.
In truth, no one tried more than Newgag to excel in "horse-play," but his
temperament or his training did not equip him for excelling in it; he
defended the monotony, emptiness, and toilsomeness of his humour on the
ground that it was "legitimate."
One night Newgag drank two glasses of beer in rapid succession and looked
at me with a touching countenance.
"Old boy," he said, in his homely drawl, "I'm discouraged! I begin to think
I'm not in it!"
"Why, what's wrong?"
"Well, I've dropped to the fact that, after all these years in the
business, I can't make them laugh."
I was just about to say, "So you've just awakened to that?" but pity and
politeness deterred me. Every one else had known it, all these years.
Newgag, to be sure, should naturally have been, as he was, the last to
Newgag thus went one step further than any comedian I have ever known.
Having detected his inability to amuse audiences, he confessed it.
People who know actors and read this will already have said that it is a
fiction, and that Newgag's admission is false to life. Not so; I am writing
not about comedians in general, but about Newgag.
That he had come to so exceptional a concession marked the depth of his
despair. I tried to cheer him.
"Nonsense, my boy! They give you bad parts. Go out of comic opera. Try
I had spoken innocently and sincerely, but Newgag thought I was jesting.
Instead of his usual attempt at lofty callousness, however, he smiled that
dismal, marionette-like smile of his. That gave me an idea, of which I said
nothing at the time.
Several months afterward, a manager, who is a friend of mine, was suddenly
plunged in distress because of the serious illness of an actor who was to
fill a part in a new American comedy that the manager was to produce on the
"What on earth shall I do?" he asked.
"Play the part yourself, as Hoyt does in such an emergency--or get Newgag."
"He's a friend of mine, out of a position. I met him to-day very much
"Bring him to me."
Newgag was overwhelmed when I told him of the opportunity.
"I never acted in straight comedy," he said. "I can't do it. I might as
well try to play Juliet."
"He wants you only to speak the lines, that's all. You're a quick study,
you know. Come on!"
I had almost to drag the man to the manager. He allowed himself, in a
semistupefied condition, to be engaged. He took the part, sat up all
night in his boarding-house and learned it, went to rehearsal almost