Travellers through Canada will have come in contact with many troupes of actors who visit the small towns in their annual circuit of the country. George Hibbard has found in this feature of Canadian life material for a good story. It will be particularly interesting to the dwellers on the prairie. Bomance, daring, and enterprise are strangely mingled in a happy result.
AT the small way-station the sad-eyed man wearing the overcoat with the worn astrakhan collar sat on the large ironbound trunk. It was marked in fading letters, “Mammoth Folly and Fancy Aggregation.”
“Speaking of the procession of the equinoxes and the tide in the affairs of men,” he said, “once I was lifted on the crest of the wave of opportunity, hung suspended amid the glittering froth of
fortune, and then— Well, speaking
of the way the cat jumps, the town was a one-night stand, though that hardly describes it either, for there was a palpitating doubt, almost amounting to certainty, that it might not stand for us—even for one night. We were giving ‘Mazeppa.’ Now, of course, you’ll understand that we weren’t an outfit carrying any untamed steed of Cayuse breed about with us. For the wild courser of the plains we mostly had recourse to the local livery-stable. Mapleton, though, wasn’t of a size to boast a livery-stable, and the horse that the hotel proprietor sent out with the buggy had temporarily succumbed under a twenty years’ strain of dragging drummers round to the cross-roads stores. Speaking of ‘my kingdom for a horse,’ Gridley, the manager—he played the Castellan of Laurinski, and the trombone before the show—was ready to go to the perilous extent of ’most a dollar and a half for the hire of one for the evening. A breath of relief was breathed by the entire company when by superhuman efforts and the aid of the
Mapleton barber an animal was secured. We hired him out of the wagon of the Mapleton Steam Laundry. They had bought him the day before from a farmer out in the country. His name was Napoleon. You’d have concluded, to look at him, that it was Napoleon at the end of a long, hard, Russian winter. His knees were bigger than his hoofs, with his head hanging down between them, and his ribs like the gratings they have to keep the cows from straying on the railroad tracks. Still, I never liked the look of his eye, which was by way of being red where it ought to be white.”
The narrator at this point took from his pocket the half of a cigar, which he lit and inserted in his mouth.
“Now, speaking of misfortunes never coming otherwise than in mixed sizes,” he went on, “that wasn’t all which we was up against on that particular pleasant April evening. Charley Springer— Montagu Delorme, who was lead and Mazeppa—had been stricken with the mumps to a degree that even Mapleton wouldn’t have accepted him for a heroic figure. He might be all right next day, for they were subsiding, but at that moment his face looked more like a punching-bag than anything human. Well, as the subjects come up of what’s one man’s dope being another man’s dinner, I wasn’t keeping back any hot, burning tears because of Charley’s inability to appear. In fact, they weren’t pressing forward at all ready to fall. My eyes were as dry as a village the day
after it has voted prohibition. The entente cordiale between Charley and me was to say the least strained, owing to his riding something of the high horse even when he wasn’t playing Mazeppa. My chance had come. You know the story: The star out, the understudy called in ; the scene of tumultuous applause at the fall of the curtain ; the accidental presence of the metropolitan manager; the contract at his own terms waiting for him in his dressing-room; a season on Broadway. Of course there wasn’t going to be any metropolitan manager in Mapleton, or any Broadway to follow for a demitasse. I was bound, though, to show them what I could do, and if Charley Springer got one of those engagements about which he was always boasting, why, I might have the glory of appearing every night before an enraptured audience in ‘Flesh legs, arms, and body, short tight trunks, half body of brown cloth’ (which is the costume directions for the big scene), to say nothing of drawing increased pay when the ghost walked on Saturday.”
Here the speaker paused to rekindle the cigar, the end of which he kept alight with difficulty.
“Since Cardinal Richelieu—I played the part in stock for a week in Toronto, Ontario—made use of that bright lexicon of youth in which there was no such word as ‘fail,’ there’s other editions of the dictionary been brought out in which it’s to be found fast enough, with several other distressing synonyms. I had made up my mind, though, to make good, for the reason already stated, and likewise, moreover, and according to the party of the second part, because—now, right here comes in that heart interest without which no drama can be complete. Her name was Nettie Mayhew! Being by chance in the drugstore, I beheld her at the soda-water fountain, and I heard her whisper to the second female juvenile who was with her that if she could induce ‘popper’ to bring her in from the farm that evening she was going to the play. How did I know who she was? No sooner had she passed from my sight than I sought
the requisite information. Thereupon, I learned with further satisfaction that she was the daughter of old farmer Mayhew, out on the Millpond Trail, whose holding of stock in the Mapleton Private Bank amounted to more than half. Within half an hour of our walking up from the station, the village had picked out each one of the ‘actors.’ I saw she knew who I was, and if I had not misread a look in her eyes, I had reason to believe that I had something to do with her wishing to be present in the evening.
“I had a temperature. Speaking in the words of an all-star cast of lago and Monte Cristo, if I got it over, ‘the oyster was mine.’ Do you think I was anxious? As I stood in the balcony before the Mapleton Opera House, where the supers that were Tartar Shepherds were doubling in brass, and saw the youth, beauty, and fashion of the fairest gem of outstrung villages of the prairie crowding to the door, I swore that I’d be worthy of the occasion and of her. When I went down to dress, I noticed that Charley Springer was putting up a talk that he was all right to go on. A sight, though, of his face, which resembled a contour map of the country round Edson, Alberta, was enough to satisfy anybody; so for that night— ‘Only to-night, only to-night, as the old song has it—the centre of the stage and the limelight were mine. I dressed with care in Charley’s costume, which fitted well enough, and when I stood in the flies I felt the pleasing sensation permeating my being that there were no flies on me. And just then a kicking and a stamping, mingled with a suppressed murmur as if the mob was a-coming on before its cue, caught my attention. They were leading in Napoleon through the stage entrance, it being on the ground floor, with an opening as big as a barn-door into the alley. This was easy enough, but Napoleon objected. There seemed to be something about the air of the playhouse that didn’t attract him.
Now, if ever there was a horse that you’d say offhand could be warranted to stand without hitehing, it was Na-
pol eon. Seemed as if that was the job he’d have naturally sought in life, but
now-! He fidgeted this way and
that, and those cunning old eyes of his with the red whites kept looking here and there. Anyhow, they finally got him in and stationed at the R. U. side off. With a pair of blinders and a nosebag, we strove to impart the impression to his mind that no evil was intended. They say one of those old guys, Ed. Keene, used to shake a prop, ladder just before he went on in one part of Shylock, to get himself waked up. The little encounter with Napoleon had the same exhilarating effect on me. From the moment I stepped into sight of the audience, I knew I had ’em.
When I spoke these few simple opening words: ‘Olinska! Dear Olinska! Ere yet the envious daylight robs, my soul of the sweet privilege of drinking from thine eyes deep draughts of the bright liquid fire which as from twin stars of love stream through my enraptured heart,’ and so forth, you could have heard a roseleaf drop from the corsage of the belle of the village green in the front row. When I came to the utterance, ‘Aim at my heart; it has no defense but courage and this good sword/ the volume of sound had such a pressure to the square inch that no boilerinspector would have passed it if it had been steam. And there was an explosion ! I took five calls at the end of the fourth scene of the first act. All was going well, gloriously. The only drawback was that I could not discover Nettie in the audience. However, she might be sitting back in the darkness under the gallery, and I played as if I knew that her eyes were upon me.
“The stage directions of Scene Sixth, Act First, read: ‘The Outer Terrace of the Castle, overlooking a tract of desolate country, composed of precipitous mountain ranges, abounding with cataracts; the rocky pathway crosses a stupendous waterfall by a slight rustic bridge, and is finally lost in the chain of lofty eminences stretching into the distance.’ Of course in the way of ‘stupendous waterfalls’ and ‘lofty eminences’ the most high-browed critic couldn’t
accuse us of any over-elaboration of realism. Later there is ‘music/ and the book says, ‘The horse is brought forward.’ Well, as to the horse, we were all there. We had a horse. At least, Napoleon would have passed with a Professor of Zoology, if not with judges of the Horse Show. Also, he allowed himself to be led on. His little playful attempt to land with his off hind-hoof on Rudzloff, which, if it failed to reach that character successfully, put Drolinsko out of action, added verisimilitude to the occasion. Instantly he won the plaudits of the multitude. He was restless while I was being bound to his back. Charley Springer had been obliged to go on among the ‘Knights, Officers, Guards, Heralds/ where his face didn’t count, and was not feeling kindly about it. He fastened those knots as if he were a committee tying up a clairvoyant. To move in the least was impossible for me—and then-
“I don’t blame Charley Springer for what happened. Charley has his little faults, but he’d never play it low down like that. The leader of the orchestra was to blame. He started it—beginning all of a sudden before the time with the bars of the ‘Ride of the Walkurie/ that we brought in to set the audience off. Well, it did, and it set Napoleon off. He stood straight up on his old hind-legs. Gridley cried ‘Whoa !’ which wasn’t in his lines, and the rest of the dramatis persons began to make remarks for which they’d have been fined in any theatre in the country. No wonder! Napoleon was scattering all over the place. That horse wasn’t a horse; he was a centipede. He had the stage cleared in a minirtt. All the actors were looking out frorft round corners of the scenery, except those which had climbed down into the orchestra for safety. For an instant Napoleon stood still. Then he headed for a group which had ventured forth a little L, consisting of Abder Khan, King of Tartary; Thamar, Zemba, and some Chieftains and Warriors. He went through them like the champion Harvale quarterback through the line of a minor college for ’steen yards. Next
he pranced into the space behind the back drop, where the door to the alley was. He ramped out of that into the alley, where I caught for an instant the frenzied tumult in the opera house. He clattered up the alley and round a corner. Round another corner into Main Street. As I dashed past, all the men and boys on the sidewalk shouted.
“The cries faded away. I don’t know Napoleon’s pedigree, but when he got going he had speed. We were out in the open country. The road led into a wood. We tore through that. Once more black fields were on either side. There have been some rides in history—some. Paul Revere took quite a little run for the money. I once heard a reciter put it up about a fellow who rode from a place called Ghent— I wonder if it was in Alberta — to I. None of them, though, even took their rides dressed in pink tights and little else, tied to the back of a strange horse going they didn’t know where or the time he’d take in getting there. The night was clear and starry—and cold. Napoleon seemed ’most as good in wind as in limb. I began to entertain nervous doubts as to how long he could keep it up. Miles passed. Time went on. So did Napoleon. The lights were out in the bouses. We met nobody in the road. The first fine exhilaration of the adventure was wearing down, wearing down to the bone. At least, I was chilled to the bone. At the rate he was going, the night air whistled over me. On ; on, raced Napoleon, as if he thought that he was entered in some equine Marathon, and then, just as I was about thinking of having my berth made up for the night, he turned into a lane. He pounded down it and into a farmyard, and brought up against a barn door with a bang that would have waked any one. I could see the farmhouse, which was a big, prosperouslooking place. At once I started to call. Finally lights began to show in the wTindow7s, and at last the door opened. An old man with a lantern appeared on the threshold.
“ ‘What’s the matter?’ he growled.
“ ‘ ’Most everything,’ I answered. ‘Come and see.’
“He looked about cautiously, and concluding there was no one else, he came forward. A girl, who had evidently dressed hurriedly and held a shawl about her and over her head, followed him. It was Nettie.
“ ‘What April fool’s business is this?’ he demanded, and T could tell how easy it was for him by nature to be unpleasant.
“ ‘If you think anybody’s going to ride a night like this, dressed like this, for a joke—’I began.
“ ‘Why,’ cried Nettie, looking at the horse, ‘it’s Napoleon!’
“ ‘So it is,’ said her father, his curiosity overcoming his propensity to make himself disagreeable. ‘Iiow in thunder-’
“ ‘If you’ll unfasten me,’ I answered, ‘and let me get a little warm, I’ll tell you all about it.’
“Of course in common charity he had to take me in and take care of me. They gave me something to eat, and n®w I ask you, wasn’t there enough in the manner of my arrival to satisfy a girl who had followed from page to page stories of romances all her happy young life?
“ ‘You didn’t come to the play,’ I whispered tenderly to Nettie, as she offered me another slice of peach pie.
“ ‘Father wouldn’t let me,’ she replied, wdth a laugh which greatly disquieted me. ‘But this is as good as a play.’ ”
The whistle of the way train sounded
faintly beyond the bend as the narrator stood up and looked along the tracks. ^
“Nettie? No. I didn’t marry Nettie. Charley Springer came out with Gridlev the next morning about the horse. He’d got over the mumps. When Charley Springer and Nettie saw each other, there couldn’t be any doubt from the first blush that it was a case of two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one. They say that Charley Springer is a su pend sor out there now, and that father-in-law Mayhew is going to make him president of the bank.”
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