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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 244, 17 January 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THREE SCENES IN THE LIFE OF A TRAVELLING SHOWMAN.
A Sketch from Life.
SCENE THE ITRST. — Continued. The manager watched the giant diminish in perspective with a complacent air. “ Seven foot two in his stockings,” he said. “We call him seven ten in the bills, because it sounds better. Never recovered being on board a collier before he’d done growing. Very useful for ghosts and apparitions, only that he is taller than the scenes, and that don’t look well. He plays the trombone beautiful, and he’s thought ; clever on the kettle-drum. He’s not good in comedy, but in melodrama he’s a stunner, and has refused London engagements to keep with me and Polly. He’s known in the profession as Monument Billy, from his being such a topper.” “ ![e seems a quiet, amiable sort of fellow'.” “ A sucking dove, that’s what he is, and no more harm in him than there is in a kitten. The worst of him is, he’s subject to low spirits, and then he drinks, and sometimes tries to burn the caravan, and then I fail on him. He can’t stand much punishment; he’s not so game as you’d think from his size. But here’s the caravan, and Polly with the tea as right as a trivet, as she always is.” 1 had not been able to get a word in. I had been playing Rosencrantz to his Hamlet. The great red and yellow caravan w r as moored, in a snug place on the hill, in an opening among the furze bushes ; the stove door was open, the fire glowed scarlet, the little chimney in the roof bteathed up the smoke steadily in the calm evening air. The little table w r as spread with tea-things, a nice loaf, and some fresh butter. The giant, w'ith a pea-coat on, amiable as ever, was toasting the muffins, watched by a crowing, rosy, fat baby, in the wife’s arms, and a pretty little boy o about five years old. The wife of Mr, Mumford—that w'as the little man’s name—was a goodnatured, pretty little woman, with a slight trace of theatrical pertness about her. She seemed verj fond of the children, and very proud of her husband’s talent. She had a gilt band round her waist and a mother-of-pearl band round her forehead. “ You see that child?” said Mr. Mumford, pointing to the pale, keenlooking little boy. “He could walk on his head two years ago, and he knows all ‘ Blue Beard ’ through. He’ll be an actor, , sir, some day, won’t you Jack?” “ He’s to go on the regular stage, Joe; he’s a genius, he is. See how he dances—only see his double shuffling ; then the wiolin,” struck in the giant, In the course of tea, Mr. Mumford was good enough to narrate the story of his courtship. The thirfty, clever little woman had been a stage-struck farmer’s daughter, three miles from Hull, and Joe had fallen in love with her from her applauding him, on a fair day, from the front row of the pit. The farmer—arough, hard man—would not hear of the match, and forbade Joe the house, which was a mile or two out of the town. Polly was kept locked up in a first-floor room looking out on a garden. The giant used to hoist him up to the window on his shoulders. At last an elopement w r as prepared, the giant as chief accomplice. There was to be a light cart ready at a cross-road at a certain hour. Joe was to take care of the horse while the giant helped down Polly and carried her off on his shoulders to meet Joe. The carrying off did very well; but there was a pursuit on horseback, and with lanterns, and the lovers would soon have been captured had not the giant, by some extraordinary instinct, prepared for the pursuit, by bringing a bundle of Roman candles, crackers, etc, with which lie kept up a brisk fire at the angry father and his friends, frightening some and scaring the horses of others, and eventually routing them with great discomfiture. The story was just over, and Polly, laughing and playing with the baby, was just pressing me to take a second cup, when a shrill Australian “ K-o-o-o-i, k-o-o-o-o-o-i ” from my friend King compelled me to shake hands with the little manager, his wife, and his faithful henchman.
SCENE THE SECOND. FAIR DAY. I was riding home from a petty sessions at Amesbury. It was the last day of : the great Wiltshire coursing match. Three years had passed since the evening just described. There was quite a fair round the great stone doorways of Stonehenge, one of which, to the universal amusement, had been turned into the entrance to the theatre of a strolling company —“ Mumford’s Company.” I thought I had heard the name before, but I could not remember where. A great red curtain waved there, emblazoned with the royal arms —the meekest lion and fiercest unicorn I ever saw. Outside the stone circle the boat swings were no longer revolving, full of screaming, laughing country people. The rifle-firing for nuts, equal to a general engagement, had ceased ; there was throwing at cocoa-nuts, and all other intellectual amusements peculiar to fairs. It was getting dark on a June evening. The real business of the fair was over, for the bulk of the people had gone, and the strolling players were amusing themselves like ordinary mortals. All at once the red curtain at Mumford’s was lifted up, and who should appear but the little manager, his wife, the genius, and the giant. They knew me at once, and greeted me heartily. “ You see before you, sir,” said Joe, shaking my proffered hand, “ a man of property. That ’ere theatre and fifty pounds worth of scenery, and several pairs of russet boots, a hat and feathers, is all mine, partly owing to a legacy from rny wife’s uncle. If ‘ Douglas’ doesn’t take care, I’ll get ahead of him yet. -■ Fair Rosamond ’ and ‘ Blue Beard’ take more than ever in our way of doing them ; and as for Jack, he’s got a taste fori tragedy—real undiluted article—as’ll make a great man of him someday. You should just see him play the violin as he stands on Billy’s shoulders. Billy, put the young Roscius on your shoulders.” “Where is the company now?” I
astred, when'!,, had admired the boy’s gymnastics. “ Well, I think it is intent on winning coker-nuts outside the ring there, somewhere,” said Mrs. Mumford, “ and those gipsies won’t leave them a single brown. Billy, go and look after them. It requires a good deal of genius, sir, to be up to gipsies.” I quite agreed with Mrs. Mumford, and enjoyed the delicious vanity of the strolling manager. “ Are you in a hurry, sir?” asked the manager’s wife. “ Not at all.” ‘ There was a whisper or two exchanged between Mr. and. Mrs. Mumford, after which the manager came up to me with his droll grimace—half fun, half self-complacency. “ If you wouldn’t take it as an bin-, trusion, sir—being of a theatrical tendency—Polly, that is, my missus /here* wants to know if you would honor lul by seeing one of our performances ? I know I’m not a Robson, but I love my profession, and I’m allowed to do The trapeze as well as any one but Signor Turnarelli, of Plymouth, and no one can beat him, he’s A it. It isn’t every one who could dance sixteen quadrilles of a morning, and act in fourteen tragedies, besides double somersaults? The question is, would you like to see what we can do? if so, say, the word. _ I said I was reluctant to increase his fatigue after theatre hours. Mrs. Mumford and the giant smiled.
“Tire me,” said the little man, doubling his arm. “ Oscar, ; pajlr the company ; here, give ,m,ethe speak jpg trumpet—the walk-up trumpet, as I call it—and I’ll rouse.’em. Polly; light-the: lamps up again : and : ring in. Mr. Tones! ” he bellowed through the stentorian trumpet, with ftinning!c’dmmentaries : “ that’s bUr” heavy drinking more than’is good 'lqr.' njm, r t be bound. Mr. Thompson! that’s out walking gentleman ; a gop4 one to-iook at, and finds his own togs. ■: Mrs? A,evison ! that’s our violinist. Mr. Roberts ! that’s our bassoon ; druni and fluted-ar|. gone to town.” .. . , v> , . r.TL?/. “ But I really—” “Oh, but you know you must,” said Mrs, Mumford. “ Ever since you*said you once saw EdmumJ Kean, and had often imitated him, my husband here has been longing to meet you again, and show how hVe 1 do s pur things.” _ . : The company was soon assembled; Mr. Mumford beat the the big drum, and was stage manager/ 'prompter, everything. He sat with me Tn'Vfhe., front row of the pit, and was,;at,;the.. same time critic, performer; orchestra,arid acrobat. , .nr j ( Tt ie continue „
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 244, 17 January 1881
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