George Niblo.

Step Lively! A Carload of the Funniest Yarns that Ever Crossed the Footlights



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So a lot of us got together – I guess there was a dozen.

We had fishhorns and cowbells and tin pans galore.

Well, the racket we put up was enough to wake up the dead.

An hour went by, and not even a light showed.

This made us mad, for you see it's customary after a time to beg off from the serenade by calling the boys in and giving a spread.

We did it some more.

Another hour passed.

There was a lot of tired arms and ringing ears in that gang – say, we could hardly talk above a whisper.

Yet, with true American grit, we were determined to keep the ball rolling until we dropped dead or they gave in.

I think it must have been near the end of the third watch that I saw a head with a nightcap on it stuck out of a second-story window.

Immediately we all quit pounding and waited to hear the glad summons.

And this is what old Squire Joskins said:

"Don't stop if you're havin' a good time, boys. You ain't disturbin' nobody. The young folks that was married here this evenin' are both deaf and dumb."

Then the window was lowered and deep silence immediately began to reign.

We went home.

If any one tells you we are losing our fine sense of humor, don't you believe it.

To my mind as the years go on, human nature is taking more and more interest in whatever pertains to the funny side of life.

The growth of vaudeville proves it.

At the same time I must say some people go to extremes, like a certain individual I happened to run across one night on the Bowery.

I chanced to be passing a tough joint near Grand Street when they were ejecting a foreigner who bore all the signs of extremely rough usage, nevertheless was laughing immoderately.

"What is the joke?" I asked, holding him up.

"Why," said he, "a man came up to me in the bar just now, gave me a fearful punch on the nose, and said, 'Take that, you blooming Norwegian,'" and he fell to laughing again as though his sides would split.

I was interested, and said:

"Just so, but I don't see anything so funny about that."

"You don't, eh? That's queer," the man answered; "but then he hit me a crack in the eyes, and afterward knocked out one of my teeth, saying, 'And take that, too, you blooming Norwegian.'"

"But still I can't see anything funny," I protested.

"Ho! ho! ho!" the other yelled, "I made a fool of him, for you see, mister, the joke is that I'm a Swede."

They make it as easy as possible these days for those who want to become citizens.

Ever been on the scene when a lot of these fellows line up to be naturalized?

My friend, Clerk Donovan, down at City Hall, through whose hands the applications go, says it's as good as a circus.

One red-faced son of the Emerald Isle, whose carroty hair looked like a danger signal, stood in front of Clerk Donovan the other day, hoping to squeeze in.

It was necessary, before application could be granted, that he should show some familiarity with the style of government in this country.

Evidently Pat had not been properly coached, and hoped to pull through by natural assurance.

"Have you read the Declaration of Independence?" asked Clerk Donovan.

"No, sir."

"Have you read the Constitution of the United States?"

"I hov not."

"Well, then," cried Clerk Donovan, in an exasperated tone, "have you read the history of the United States?"

"No, sir."

"No? Well, what in thunder have you read?"

"Oi have red hair on me head, your honor," said the fellow, triumphantly.

He thought he had scored his point.

While I was dramatic editor on a metropolitan paper I used to mingle with the actors a good deal.

That's how I took to my present calling.

A fellow came to a manager I knew, one day, and wanted a berth.

He had been a high roller in his day, I guess, but had of late been on his uppers.

The manager looked over his list, and finally said:

"Well, that's the best I can do for you.

You've been idle all season so far. Now, will you remain idle all the rest of the year, or take this small part?"

The actor considered a bit, and then made up his mind.

"I'll take it," he said. "In this case a small role is better than a whole loaf."

While I was attending the theatre in my official capacity as a critic, wishing to obtain the various opinions of those patrons whose views should be valuable, I remember tackling a bald-headed man with whom I had scraped an acquaintance.

"Do you think vaudeville should be reformed?" I asked.

He grinned at me diabolically, and replied:

"No, but I'm of the positive opinion that some of these soubrettes they've been springing on us lately might be reformed all right."

Now, while dramatic editors may possibly know something of music, they don't claim to be high art critics.

The editor expects it, however.

He sent me to report a musicale once.

I dished it up to perfection I thought, with the assistance of a friend, a Bohemian who conducted an orchestra in a Broadway theatre.

Judge of my surprise when the editor had me on the carpet the following day.

I knew his digestion was bad, and that he meant to trip me up on some mere trifle.

So I was on my guard.

"See here," he said, "did you do this write-up of the concert last night?"

I confessed that it was my job.

He frowned and rapped the paper.

"I see you speak of the audience 'drinking in the marvelous strains of the orchestra.' That is a hackneyed phrase, I know, but tell me, how in the name of Heaven can any one drink in music?"

"Well," I suggested, "one way I suppose it might be done would be with a Rubinstein."

I should have been bounced, I know, but it was my first offense, and the great editor let me down easy.

Awowch! I've got it sure!

It's worse than being run over by a team of wild horses.

Where it comes from no fellow can discover, and once you've got it, look out, for it sticks closer than a porous plaster.

That's the grippe.

Ever have it – then see here if this don't just describe your feelings to a dot. All keep quiet, please, while I tell how it throws a fellow worse than he ever went down in his football college days.

The little ballad is called "Please Bring the Ice;" or, "The Lay of the Last Lameback."

 
When your cerebellum's reeling,
And you have a creepy feeling,
And the pains are o'er you stealing
Like you'd stepped upon a tack;
When your neck is nearly breaking,
And your every bone is aching,
And a billion imps are making
Footprints up your cringing back;
When your head is madly jumping,
And your love of life is slumping,
And you're bumping and you're thumping
From your topknot to your feet;
When with fever you are burning
And the throbbings, oft returning
To the start, bring on a yearning
For a bucketful of ice;
When you thrash the bed and swear, too,
That there's nothing to compare to
All the achings you are heir to
That are anything but nice;
When you hurt from head to toe, sir,
And you draw the ice pan closer,
Then it is that you should know, sir,
That it's got you on the hip;
And for all your frantic wailing
You will have to keep on ailing —
For you've got the grand prevailing
Malady – and that's the grip!
It's the grip,
grip,
grip,
and it's got you on the hip!
You are home when it goes calling,
And you can't give it the slip;
You can howl, and kick and holler,
But you bet your bottom dollar,
That your pleading will be wasted
On the
grip,
grip,
grip!
 

My butcher has evidently grown weary of hearing complaints regarding the high prices of meat.

And he is also suspicious of any one who begins to talk of the grinding monopoly controlling the market.

Why, it was only the other morning he closed up a sour-looking man so suddenly that I fancy the fellow has not up to this time got over wondering what hit him.

"It's got so now," he began to say, "that the infernal beef trust – "

"You won't find any beef trust at this shop, I'm telling you right now – my terms are strictly cash," was what the cruel purveyor of loins and steaks tossed at him.

And there was my old friend, the grocery man, getting into hot water again when I entered.

He is used to it, being parboiled every day.

When I saw the same young matron who had ordered "condemned milk" and those other astonishing things the other day, I pricked up my ears, under the belief that something rich, rare and racy might happen.

It did.

"I've come to complain of that flour you sent me," she was saying, with fire in her eye.

"What was the matter with it?" asked the grocer, meekly.

"It was tough. I made a pie with it, and it was as much as my husband could do to cut it," was what the dear young thing said in all candor.

And I suppose that grocer promised to remedy matters by sending up some "tender" flour.

While I loitered in the grocer's who should come in but Dr. Instantaneous, as gay and chipper as though he had never killed a man in his thirty years of deadly practice. He's a crank on the liquor question, and to stave him off, I said:

"Terrible thing, that case of Sweitzer, the brewer."

"The brewer – yes, I've heard his name – what happened to him?" he asked, innocently.

"Dead."

"Why, it must have been sudden."

"Very."

"How did he die?"

"Too much absorbed in his business."

"What!"

"Fell into one of his beer vats and was drowned."

Then the medical man smiled gently, but I knew he would want to moralize on the story and I let fly again.

"Notice that tall gentleman over yonder?" I said, mysteriously.

"The one looking at those truffles?"

"Yes. What do you think of his looks?"

"A very homely individual."

"Wouldn't take him for a heart-smasher?"

"I guess not."

"Well, he's turned more girls' heads, I suppose, than any other man in New York."

"H'm! a matinee idol, I suppose," grunted Dr. Instantaneous.

"Wrong. He's the manufacturer of the celebrated Madame Justine's hair bleach."

"Well, doctor," I rattled on, "days are getting pretty short now. Why, d'ye know the ink doesn't seem to have time to dry on a thirty-day note before it's due. But tell me, doctor, have you seen Prof. Bigsby since he came back from Martinique?"

"Has he really returned, then?" he asked, in surprise.

"Yes, they thought he had the measles, and sent him home as an invalid."

"Did he have them?"

"No."

"Hope it wasn't smallpox, then?"

"Nothing so serious. You see, during his investigations with regard to the causes of the volcanic disturbances, the professor must have swallowed a great quantity of lava dust. That was quite natural, wasn't it?"

"I suppose so."

"Well, it stands to reason that an eruption followed."

Perhaps you know that I've taken something of a prominent part in the agitation for merry-go-rounds in the public parks, to better the condition of the poor.

Seen my name among those of the committee, haven't you? Well, a certain genius called Cropsey dropped in on me to ask if it wouldn't be the proper caper in connection with those merry-go-rounds to enlist the sympathy and co-operation of the Daughters of the Revolution.

There! That ought to be enough to make you weep, like you'd been peeling onions.

"Onions! Now there's something I'm particularly fond of," he remarked.

"Ditto," I said, "the only trouble about onions is that when you eat them you have to take so many people into your confidence about it."

Speaking about confidence, what do you think of the sublime assurance of the monkey that lost his hold on the branch of the tree, and fell into the crocodile's waiting jaws? Even then his wits did not desert him.

"I just dropped in for dinner," he said, with an engaging smile.

"It seems to me," remarked a business acquaintance, "that our employees get more assurance every day they live. Now, there's that young bookkeeper of mine. He asked me, early in the week, whether I could let him off to attend his great-aunt's funeral."

"And what did you tell him?" I asked the man of business.

"That it was impossible, as we were so overwhelmed with work. He seemed to take it so to heart that I felt a touch of pity for him, so I told him that if business dropped off some I wouldn't mind his going to a funeral, say on Saturday afternoon."

Had a great game of poker last night. Here's an inch of horse-sense you poker-players will appreciate:

 
All poker sharps with one accord
Admit this truth we trust:
The man who always sweeps the board
Is bound to get the dust.
 

Zacharia, my barber, is quite a character.

I thought to joke him the last time he cut my hair.

"Look here," I remarked, "hair getting thin, eh?"

"Sure, it is."

"Seems to me you ought to charge me half price, since the quantity has fallen off so."

"It would 'pear so, sah, but on de udder hand I orter charge double price."

"How's that, Zacharia?"

"Jest see what trouble I has to find it."

Last summer I took Zacchy out in the country with me, as he wanted a change.

He did the chores around the place, you know, tended the horse, made the garden, cut the lawn.

It was quite a change for him.

And I guess he was awful glad to get back to town again.

Well, Zacchy has a pretty good disposition, easy-going, you know, like most darkies.

My wife noticed that right away.

It takes the women to see through things.

And she had the strongest way of remedying the trouble you ever heard of.

Would you believe it, one day she came to me all smiles, and she said:

"George, dear, I want you to be sure and give Zacharia a good scolding to-morrow morning."

I was surprised, and wondered what the fellow had been doing.

"Why not now?" I demanded, growing warm under the collar at the idea of the darky having been impudent.

"No, no, restrain your impetuosity. I said to-morrow morning.

"But what has he been doing?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing at all out of the way – he's such an easy-going chap, you know."

"Well," I said, "I don't understand. Zacchy's all right, and I quite fancy him. Now, why should I scold him in the morning?"

"You see, he has to beat the carpets to-morrow, and strikes ever so much harder when he's in a bad temper."

What do you think of that?

Who, but a woman could have conceived such a master stroke of genius?

I often feel compelled to take off my hat to Mrs. Niblo.

Why, we were discussing a particular lady friend who was noted for her eccentricities.

"She's such a stickler for doing everything appropriately," I chanced to remark.

"Well, I should say so," chimed in my better half, who had delighted to take note of these things; "why, she always does her marketing in a basket-phaeton."

I've had a little experience in building, and of course paid for it, as all men do.

They were putting an addition on my country house.

I call it by that name, for it sounds well.

I am generally a particular man, believing in the motto "A place for everything and everything in its place."

The boss carpenter annoyed me.

He seemed very careless – why, he would leave his tools just where he dropped them, and it took me half an hour every evening going around collecting the same.

Finally, I thought to reprove him gently.

"My friend, suppose some one should drop in here and get away with some of the valuable tools you let lie around. It would be a serious loss."

"Don't lose any sleep about it, my friend," he said, "all those things will be found in your bill."

Why, would you believe it, that same carpenter used to bring his dog around with him and charged me for his meals. That dog got so fat no sausage-maker could pass him by without a sigh.

I heard of a meditative kind of terrier that got grabbed up by a sausage-man the other day.

"Well," moaned the dog, as the net fell over him, "of all the unlucky dogs, I guess I'm the worst yet."

"No," chuckled the sausage-man, "you are not the wurst yet, but you pretty soon will be!"

Well, talking about sausages has made me hungry, so we'll call it off till we meet again.

No bouquets, please!

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