Puppets at Large: Scenes and Subjects from Mr Punch's Show
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A DIALOGUE ON ART
(A Study in Spirits and Waters.)
The Smoke-room of a Provincial Hotel. Time – Towards midnight. Characters – Mr. Luceslipp-Bletheron, a middle-aged Art Patron and Dilettante. He has arrived at his third tumbler of whiskey and water, and the stage at which a man alludes freely before strangers to his "poor dear father." Mr. Milboard, a Painter, on a sketching tour. He is enduring Mr. L. – B. with a patience which will last for just one more pipe. First Commercial, who considers Mr. L. – B. a highly agreeable and well-informed gentleman, and is anxious to be included in his audience. Second Commercial, who doesn't intend to join in the conversation until he feels he can do so with crushing effect.
Mr. Luceslipp-bletheron. Yes, I assure you, I never come acrosh a David Cox but I say to myself, "There'sh a Bit!" (Here he fixes his eye-glass, sips whiskey and water, and looks at Mr. Milboard as if he expected him to express admiration at this evidence of penetration. The only tribute he extorts, however, is a grunt.) Now, we've a Cornelius Janssen at home. Itsh only hishtory is – my dear father bought it. He was an artist himself, painted a bit, travelled man, an' all that short o' thing. Well, he picked it up for ten pounds!
First Commercial (deferentially). Did he reelly now? A Johnson for ten pounds! Did he get a warranty with it, Sir?
Mr. L. – B. (after bringing the eye-glass to bear on the intruder for a second). Then I've a Mieris – at leasht, shome clever f'ler painted it, and it'sh a pleashure to look at it, and you can't get over that, can you?
Mr. Milboard. I don't intend to try to get over it.
Mr. L. – B. You're qui' right. Now I'm the lasht man in the world to shwagger; shtill, I'm goin' to ashk you to lemme have my lil' shwagger now. I happened to be at Rome shor' time ago, and I met Middleman there. We had our lil' chat together and what not – he'sh no pershonal friend o' mine. Well; I picked up a lil' drawing by a Roman chap; worth nothing more than what I got it for, or anything, as you may shay. Middleman had the whole run of this chap's studio. I saw this drawing – didn't care mush about it – but thought it wash a gem, and gave the modesh shum of a hundred an' fifty lire for it. Put it in my portmanteau between a couple o' shirts —
First Comm. (still pining for notice). When you say shirts, Sir, I presume you mean clean ones?
Mr. L. – B. No man with the shlightest feelin' or reverence for Art would put sush a queshtion! (The First Comm. collapses.) Between a couple of – (underlining the word) Shirts, and brought it home. Now I'm comin' to my point. One afternoon after my return, I wash walking down Bond Street, when I saw a sketch exhibited in a window by the shame f'ler. I went in and shaid, "What are you asking for thish? Mind I don' wanter buy it; ashk me any price yer like!" And they shaid forty guineash.
Mr.Milb. Apparently they availed themselves of your permission, and did ask you any price they liked.
Mr. L. – B. No doubt; but wait till I've done. I saw another – a finished drawing not qui' so good as mine, there. Then I shaid to them quietly, "Now, look here, why don' you go an' buy 'em for yourshelves in the artist's own shtudio?" It shtruck me as sho odd, a man like Middleman, being there, and having the pick, shouldn' buy more of 'em!
Mr. Milb. Wasn't worth his while; he can't buy everything!
Mr. L. – B. (after considering this impartially with some more whiskey). No; your ansher is a very good one, and a very fair one. He can't buy everything. I did pick, however, an' I gorrit. I said to him, "How mush?" an' he tol' me, and there wash an end of it, do you shee?
Mr. Milb. It's the ordinary course of business, isn't it?
Mr. L. – B. Egshackly. But how few do it! Now, I'll tell you 'nother shtory 'bout my poo' dear father. He came 'pon a sculpture in a curioshity shop; it wash very dirty and used up, but my dear father saw it was worth shpotting, and a thing to be shpotted, and sho he put hish finger on it!
First Comm. (undaunted by past failure). And was it antique, Sir?
Mr. L. – B. That'sh more'n I can tell you; it wash very dirty, at any rate, and he only gave fifty guineash for it. Wasn't a great shum —
First Comm. (encouraged by his affability). No, indeed; a mere nothing, so to speak, Sir!
Mr. L. – B. (annoyed). Will you have the goodnesh to lemme finish what I was telling thish gentleman? When my poo' father got that busht home, it was the mos' perfect likenesh o' Napoleon!
Mr. Milb. Ha! puts me in mind of the old story of the man who picked up a dingy panel somewhere or other, took it home, cleaned it, and found a genuine Morland; went on cleaning and discovered an undoubted Rembrandt; cleaned that, and came to a Crivelli; couldn't stop, kept on cleaning, and was rewarded by a portrait of George the Fourth!
First Comm. (deeply impressed). And all of them genuine? How very extraordinary, to be sure!
Mr. L. – B. (wagging his head sapiently). I could tell you shtranger things than that. But as I was shaying, here was this busht of Napoleon, by some French chap – which you would tell me was against it.
Mr. Milb. Why? The French are the best sculptors in the world.
Mr. L. – B. The Frensh! I can not bring myshelf to believe that, if only for thish shimple reashon, they haven't the patiensh for it.
First Comm. So I should have said. For my own part – not knowing much about it, very likely – I should have put the Italians first.
Mr. Milb. If you are talking of all time —
First Comm. (feeling at last at his ease). I should say, even now. Why, there was a piece of statuary in the Italian Exhibition at Earl's Court some years back that took my fancy and took my wife's fancy very much. It was a representation in marble of a 'en and chickens, all so natural, and with every individual feather on the birds done to such a nicety – !
Mr. Milb. I was hardly referring to the skill with which the Italians carve – ah —poultry.
Mr. L. – B. Ridic'lous! Great mishtake to talk without unnershtanding shubject. (The First Commercial retires from the room in disorder.) One thing I should like to ashk is thish. Why are sculptors at present day so inferior to the antique? Ishn't the human form divine ash noble and ash shymmetrical ash formerly? Why can't they reproduce it then?
Mr. Milb. You must first find your sculptor. Providence doesn't see fit to create a Michael Angelo or a Praxiteles every five minutes, any more than a Shakspeare.
Mr. L. – B. (wavering between piety and epigram). Thank the Lord for that! Now there'sh Florensh. Shome of us who have had the run there – well, there you see all the original thingsh – all the originalsh. And yet, if you'll believe me (dreamily), with all my love and charm for Art, gimme the Capitoline Venush living and breathing in flesh and blood, Sir, not in cold lifelesh marble!
Mr. Milb. That of course is a matter of taste. But we are talking about Art, not women.
Mr. L. – B. (profoundly). Unforsh'nately, women are the shubjects of Art. You've got to find out your client's shtyle of Art firsht, and then carry it out in the besht possible manner.
Mr. Milb. (rising, and knocking his pipe out). Have I? But I'm going to bed now, so you'll excuse me.
Mr. L. – B. (detaining him). But look here again. Take the Louvre. (As Mr. Milboard disclaims any desire to take it.) Now, nobody talksh about the Gallery there, and yet, if you only egshemp the thingsh that are rude and vulgar, and go quietly roun' —
Second Commercial (who sees a Socratic opening at last). Might I ask you, Sir, to enumerate any pictures there, that, in your opinion, are "rude and vulgar"?
Mr. L. – B. In the Grand Gallery of the Louvre there'sh an enormous amount of shtuff, as everybody who'sh an artisht and a lover of Art knowsh. If I had a friend who wash thinking of going to the Louvre (here he looks round vaguely for Mr. Milboard), I should shay to him, "Do you care about pictursh at all? If you don't, don't borrer yourshelf 'bout it. If you do, drop in shome day with Me, and I'll give you a hint what to shee." (As he cannot make out what has become of Mr. Milboard, he has to content himself with the Second Commercial.) If you were my boy, I should shay to you —
Second Comm. (at the door). Pardon me for remarking that, if I was your boy, I should probably prefer to take my own opinion. (With dignified independence.) I never follow other persons' taste in Art!
Mr. L. – B. (hazily with half-closed eyes). If you wash my boy, I should shay to you, very quietly, very sherioushly, and without 'tempting to dictate – (Perceives that he is addressing the Page.) Jus' bring me 'nother glash whiskey an' warrer.
THE OLD LOVE AND THE NEW
The Stables at Saddlesprings, the Wheelers' Country House near Bykersall. Miss Diana's Horse Bayard discovered in his Stall.
Bayard (talking to himself, as is the habit of some horses when alone). I can't make it out. She's here. All the family came down yesterday – I heard the omnibus start for the station to meet them. And yet she hasn't sent for me; hasn't even been near me! She always used to rush in here and kiss me on the nose the very first – She's ill – that's it of course – sprained her fetlock or something. If she was well, she'd have had me saddled as soon as she'd had her morning feed, and we'd have gone for a canter together somewhere… I hope she'll get well soon. I'm sick of being taken out by the stable-man; he's so dull – no notion of conversation beyond whistling! Now, Miss Diana would talk to me the whole way… Perhaps her hands and seat might have been – But what did that matter? I liked to feel she was on my back, I liked the sound of her pretty voice, and the touch of her hand when she patted me after her ride… (He pricks his ears.) Why, that's her voice outside now! She's all right, after all. She's coming in to see me!.. I knew she couldn't have forgotten!
Miss Diana's Voice (outside). Yes, you might put it in here for the present, Stubbs. I suppose it will be quite safe?
Stubbs' Voice. Safe enough, Miss, there's plenty o' empty stalls this side. Nothing in 'ere just now, except —
Miss D.'s Voice. Very well, then. Just wipe some of the dust off the mud-guards, because I shall want it again after lunch. And mind you don't scratch the enamel taking it in.
Stubbs. Very good, Miss. I'll be keerful.
Bayard (to himself). She's gone – without even asking after me! What has she been out in – a bath chair? I'm sure she must be ill.
Stubbs (to the Bicycle, as he wheels it in). 'Ere, steady now, 'old up, can't ye? And keep that blarsted near pedal o' yourn off o' my enamel. Blest if I wouldn't rather rub down arf a dozen 'unters nor one o' them yere bloomin' bi-cycles. I know where I am with a 'orse; but these 'ere little, twisty, spidery wheels – Come over, will ye. I'll lean ye up agen 'ere till I've 'ad my dinner.
Bayard (to himself, as he inspects his neighbour with the corner of his eye). It's not a bath-chair; it's one of these bicycles. It must be a sort of animal, I suppose, or Stubbs wouldn't have spoken to it. I should like to ask it one or two questions. (He gets his neck over the partition, and breathes gently through his nostrils upon the handle-bars.) Excuse me, but do you understand horse-language at all?
The Bicycle (answering by a succession of saddle-creaks). Perfectly. I'm a kind of horse myself, I believe, only greatly improved, of course. Would you mind not breathing on my handle-bars like that? It tarnishes the plating so. The saddle is the seat of my intelligence, if you will kindly address your remarks here.
Bayard. I beg your pardon. I will in future. I don't creak myself, but I've been closely connected with saddles ever since I was a two-year-old, so I can follow you fairly well. Didn't I hear my mistress's voice outside just now?
The Bicycle. No; my mistress's, Miss Diana's. I'd just taken her out for a short spin – not far, only fifteen miles or so.
Bayard. Then, she – she's quite well?
The Bicycle. Thanks, she's pedalling pretty strong just now. I'm going out with her again this afternoon.
Bayard. Again! You will have had a hard day of it altogether, then. But I suppose you'll get a day or two's rest afterwards? I know I should want it.
The Bicycle. Bless you, I never want rest. Why, I've been forty miles with her, and come home without clanking a link! She was knocked up, if you like – couldn't go out for days!
Bayard. Ah, she was never knocked up after riding me!
The Bicycle. Because – it's no fault of yours, of course, but the way you've been constructed – you couldn't go far enough to knock anybody up. And she doesn't get tired now, either. I'm not the kind of bicycle to boast; but I've often heard her say that she much prefers her "bike" (she always calls me her "bike" – very nice and friendly of her, isn't it?) to any mere horse.
Bayard. To any mere horse! And does she – give any reasons?
The Bicycle. Lots. For one thing, she says she feels so absolutely safe on me; she knows that, whatever she meets, I shall never start, or shy, or rear, or anything of that sort.
Bayard. I don't remember playing any of those tricks with her, however hard she pulled the curb.
The Bicycle. Then she says she never has to consider whether any distance will be too much for me.
Bayard. As for that– But the longer I was out with her, the better I was pleased; she might have brought me home as lame as a tree all round, and I shouldn't have cared!
The Bicycle. Perhaps not. But she would; so inconvenient, you see. Now my strong point is, I can't go lame – in good hands, of course, and she knows exactly how to manage me, I will say that for her!
Bayard. Does she give you carrots or sugar after a ride? she did me.
The Bicycle (with a creak of contempt). Now what do you suppose I could do with sugar or a carrot if I had it? No, a drop or two of oil now and then is all I take in the way of sustenance. That's another point in my favour, I cost little or nothing to keep. Now, your oats and hay and stuff, I daresay, cost more in a year than I'm worth altogether!
Bayard.. I must admit that you have the advantage of me in cheapness. If I thought she grudged me my oats – But I'm afraid I couldn't manage on a drop or two of oil.
The Bicycle. You'd want buckets of it to oil your bearings. No, she wouldn't save by that! (Stubbs re-enters.) Ah, here comes my man. I must be going; got to take her over to Pineborough, rather a bore this dusty weather, but when a lady's in the case, eh?
Bayard. There's a nasty hill going into Pineborough; do be careful how you take her down it!
The Bicycle. You forget, my friend, I'm not a Boneshaker, I'm a Safety. Why, she'll just put her feet up on the rests, fold her arms, and leave the rest to me. She knows I can be trusted.
Bayard. Just tell me this before you go. Does – she doesn't pat you, or kiss you on your – er – handle-bar after a run, does she?
The Bicycle (turning its front wheel to reply, as Stubbs wheels it out). You don't imagine I should stand any sentimental rot of that sort, do you? She knows better than to try it on!
Bayard (to himself). I'm glad she doesn't kiss it. I don't think I could have stood that!
Same Scene. Some Hours Later.
Stubbs (enters, carrying a dilapidated machine with crumpled handles, a twisted saddle, and a front wheel distorted into an irregular pentagon). Well, I 'ope as 'ow this'll sarve as a lesson to 'er, I dew; a marcy she ain't broke her blessed little neck! (To the Bicycle.) No need to be hover and above purtickler 'bout scratchin' your enamel now, any'ow! (He pitches it into a corner, and goes.)
Bayard (after reconnoitring). You don't mean to say it's you!
The Bicycle. Me? of course it's me! A nice mess I'm in, too, entirely owing to her carelessness. Never put the brake on down that infernal hill, lost all control over me, and here I am, a wreck, Sir! Why, I had to be driven home, by a grinning groom, in a beastly dog-cart! Pleasant that!
Bayard. But she – Miss Diana – was she hurt? Not – not seriously, eh?
The Bicycle. Oh, of course you don't care what becomes of me so long as —She's all right enough – fell in a ditch, luckily for her, I came down on a heap of stones. It'll be weeks before I'm out of the repairer's hands.
Bayard (to himself). I oughtn't to be glad; but I am – I am! She's safe, and – and she'll come back to me after this! (To the Bicycle.) Wasn't she sorry for you?
The Bicycle. Not she! These women have no feeling in them. Why, what do you suppose she said when they told me it would take weeks to tinker me up?
Bayard (to himself – with joy). I think I can guess! (To the Bicycle.) What did she say?
The Bicycle (rattling with indignation). Why, all she said was: "How tiresome! I wonder if I can hire a decent bike here without having to send to town for one." There's gratitude for you! But you can't enter into my feelings about it.
Bayard. Pardon me – I fancy I can. And, after all, your day will come, when the Vet has set you up again. Mine's over for ever. (To himself.) Oh, why, why wasn't I born a bicycle!
A DOLL'S DIARY
January 1.– Just had a brilliant idea —quite original. I don't believe even any human person ever thought of such a thing, but then, – besides being extremely beautiful and expensive, with refined wax features and golden hair – I am a very clever doll indeed. Frivolous, no doubt; heartless, so they tell me – but the very reverse of a fool. I flatter myself that if anybody understands the nature of toys, especially male toys – but I am forgetting my idea – which is this. I am going this year to write down – the little girl I belong to has no idea I can write, but I can– and better than she does, too! – to write down every event of importance that happens, with the dates. There! I fancy that is original enough. It will be a valuable dollian document when it is done, and most interesting to look back upon. Now I must wait for something to happen.
January 6.– Went to Small Dance given by the Only Other Wax Doll (a dreadful old frump!) on the Nursery Hearthrug. Room rather nicely illuminated by coloured fire from grate, and a pyramid nightlight, but floor poor. Didn't think much of the music – a fur monkey at the Digitorium, and a woolly lamb who brought his own bellows, make rather a feeble orchestra. Still, on the whole, enjoyed myself. Much admired. Several young Ninepins, who are considered stuck-up, and keep a good deal to their own set, begged to be introduced. Sat out one dance with a Dice-box, who rattled away most amusingly. I understand he is quite an authority on games, and anything that falls from his mouth is received with respect. He is a great sporting character, too, and arranges all the meetings on the Nursery Race-course, besides being much interested in Backgammon. I do like a Toy to have manly tastes!
The Captain of a Wooden Marching Regiment quartered in the neighbourhood was there in full uniform, but not dancing. Told me they didn't in his regiment. As his legs are made in one piece and glued on to a yellow stand, inclined to think this was not mere military swagger. He seemed considerably struck with me. Made an impression, too, on a rather elderly India-rubber Ball. Snubbed him, as one of the Ninepins told me he was considered "a bit of a bounder."
Some of the Composition Dolls, I could see, were perfectly stiff with spite and envy. Spent a very pleasant evening, not getting back to my drawer till daylight. Too tired to write more.
Mem.– Not to sit out behind the coal-scuttle another time!
February 14.– Amount of attention I receive really quite embarrassing. The Ninepins are too absurdly devoted. One of them (the nicest of all) told me to-day he had never been so completely bowled over in his whole existence! I manage to play them off against each other, however. The India-rubber Ball, too, is at my feet – and, naturally, I spurn him, but he is so short-winded that nothing will induce him to rise. Though naturally of an elastic temperament, he has been a good deal cast down of late. I smile on him occasionally – just to keep the Ball rolling; but it is becoming a frightful bore.
March.– Have been presented with a charming pony-carriage, with two piebald ponies that go by clock work. I wish, though, I was not expected to share it with a live kitten! The kitten has no idea of repose, and spoils the effect of the turn-out. Try not to seem aware of it – even when it claws my frock. Rather interested in a young Skipjack, whom I see occasionally; he is quite good-looking, in a common sort of way. I talk to him now and then – it is something to do; and he is a new type, so different from the Ninepins!
April 1.– Have just heard the Skipjack is engaged to a plaster Dairy-maid. A little annoyed, because he really seemed – Have been to see his fianc?e, a common-place creature, with red cheeks, and a thick waist. Congratulate the Skipjack, with just a hint that he might have looked higher. Afraid that he misunderstood me, for he absolutely jumped.
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