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An Old Meerschaum by David Christie Murray

We shall have the noble Demetri here next


'Billy,

old man,' said he, 'I think Sir What's-his-name there's about my style of man. Before you put that immortal work upon the public stage you'd better try an amateur performance carefully rehearsed. You play George Rondel. I'll play Sir What's-his-name. Easily fill up the other characters. Ladies from London. Week's rehearsals. Bring it out at your own place at Christmas.'

Barndale caught at this idea so eagerly that he sat down that evening and wrote to a London manager requesting him to secure the services of three famous actresses, whom he named, for the first week of the next year. He stipulated also for the presence of a competent stage manager through the whole week, and promised instructions with respect to scenery, and so forth, later on. In his enthusiasm he drew up a list of critics and authors to invite, and he and Leland straightway began to study their respective parts. It was getting near the end of August now, and the evenings began to close in rapidly. The river was quite deserted as a rule by eight o'clock, and then the two friends used to rehearse one especial scene. There was a quarrel in this scene which, but for the intervening hand of the deux ex machina, bade fair to be deadly. When, after repeated trials, they warmed to their work, and got hold of something like the passion of their part, a listener might have acquitted them of all play-acting, and broken in himself to prevent bloodshed. For they both started from the assumption

that the tones of the stage must be gradually built up into power from those used in ordinary speech, and so they avoided the least taint of staginess, and were on their way to become rather better actors than the best we have just now.

Leland's temperament was not of a nature to persuade him to perpetual effort in any direction; and so, whilst Barndale worked, the other amateur relieved vacuity with billiards. It got into a settled habit with him at last to leave Barndale nightly at his comedy, and to return to the house-boat at an hour little short of midnight. He would find Barndale still at work writing by the light of a lamp grown dim with incrustations of self-immolated insects. Moths fluttered to this light in incredible numbers, and literal thousands of lives were thus sacrificed nightly at the drama's shrine. It was nearly midnight, and as black as a wolfs mouth, when Leland sculled up from the 'Swan' to spend his last night but one aboard the house-boat.

'Billy, old man,' he cried, bursting in suddenly; 'look here! Ain't I in for it now? Read this!'

He handed to his friend a letter which Barndale read in silence.

'This is awkward,' the latter said after a long, grave pause.

Leland sat in constrained solemnity for awhile, but by-and-by a genial grin spread over his features, and he chuckled in deep enjoyment.

'It's a lark for all that, Billy. We shall have the noble Demetri here next, I suppose. Let's hire him for the great Christmas show. "Signor Demetri Agryopoulo will appear in his great stiletto trick, frustrated by Billy Barndale, the Bounding Brother of the Bosphorus."'


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