Happening to pass that way in the morning, I was just in time to witness a gentleman belonging to the establishment (a lank, dirty-bearded gentleman he was, who smoked a dirty pipe, and wore the sleeves of his dirty shirt rolled above his dirty elbows) engaged in affixing to a great board that hung against the "gaff" door an announcement of a new piece to be produced that evening.

It was an announcement calculated to arrest the attention of the passers-by, being inscribed in bold and flourishing red and blue letters on orange-coloured cardboard, and that it was the work of the gentleman, who published it was evident from the fact that his face and hands and the side of his trousers were smudged with the same brilliant colours. "Astounding!" (in blue); "Startling!!" (in red); "Don't miss it !!!" (in red and blue artistically blended) were the head-lines of the placard, which further went on to inform the public that that evening "your old favourites," Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Fitzbruce, would appear with the rest of the talented company, in a new and original equestrian spectacle entitled: "Gentleman Jack, or the Game of High Toby," with real horses and a real carriage. By the time the person with the short pipe had finished tacking up the placard, and had added a few additional touches by means of a small paint-brush to the most telling lines, several young men and women of the neighbourhood had congregated to spell and discuss its contents. Their criticism was highly favourable. They prognosticated that it would be a "clippin'" piece, not only on account of the real horses, but because Mrs. Douglas Fitzbruce was a "reg'lar stunner" in the highwayman line. The majority of the critics vowed "strike them blind" if they wouldn't come and see it, while the rest promised themselves the treat provided they could raise the ha'pence. As for me, I made up my mind on the spot.

"First performance at half-past six," the bill stated, and, desirous of obtaining a front seat, I was at the "gaff" door at least twenty minutes earlier. Not early enough however. The "pit" and "box" passages leading to the inner doors were already densely thronged, and that by individuals who would not submit to elbowing. I did not attempt it. No one is so tenacious of his right to recognition as a fellow-man as the budding costermonger aged fifteen or sixteen, and no one is readier to uphold his dignity than the female of his bosom, who, although a year or two younger, comes of a stock that will stand no nonsense. The mob pressed about the gaff were nearly all of the sort indicated; the exception being a few old men and a few children.

In a few minutes the doors were opened, and we were admitted—the box customers on payment of twopence, and the pit customers at the rate of a penny each. It was not a commodious building, nor particularly handsome, the only attempt at embellishmentappearing at the stage end, where for the space of a few feet the plaster wall was covered with ordinary wall paper of a grape vine pattern, and further ornamented by coloured and spangled portraits of Mrs. Douglas Fitzbruce in her celebrated characters of "Cupid" and "Lady Godiva." There were many copies of these portraits, and they were ticketed for sale—the former at sixpence, and the latter at ninepence; though why the difference is hard to say, since in the matter of spangling, or, indeed, any other kind of covering, the cost of producing Lady Godiva must have been even less than that incurred in perfecting the print of the "God of Love." The stage itself was a mere platform of rough boards; the seats in the pit were of the same material. The boards that were the box seats, howeveer, were planed, and, further to insure the comfort of the gentility patronising that part of the theatre, there were written bills posted up to the effect that "smoking and spitting was objected to on account of fire," but as the auditory treated this vague and contradictory notice, with well-merited contempts, I was not sorry that I could advance no closer than the back seat of all.

The performance commenced with a black man—a brawny ruffian, naked to the waist, and with broad rings of red round his ancles and wrists, illustrative, as presently appeared, of his suffering from the chafing of the manacles he had worn in a state of slavery in the "tyrant South." It was a very long descriptive ballad, set to the not over lively tune of "Mary Blane," and the audience—who had possibly heard it on a few previous occasions—at the termination of the fifth verse expressed a desire that the singer should "cut it short," and on the oppressed negro taking no notice of this intimation, but beginning the sixth verse in all coolness, somebody threw a largish crust of bread at him, which narrowly missed his head, and somebody else threw a fish-bone with more certain aim, so that it was lodged in the unfortunate African's wool, and there instantly followed an explosion of mirth that by no means tended to solace the indignity cast on him. He glared to the right and left of him, and apparently marking the delingquent in the pit, jumped off the stage, and rushed towards him. What then transpired I cannot say, not being in a position to see, but after a minute of uproar, and cursing, and swearing, and yelling laughter, the black man scrambled on to the stage again with a good deal of the blacking rubbed off his face, with his wool wig in his hand, exposing his proper short crop of carroty hair. "Now looky' here!" exclaimed he, with a desperate, but not entirely successful, effort to deliver himself in a calm and impassioned manner, "Looky' here, if you thinks by a choking me off to get at the new piece a gallus bit the sooner you're just wrong. When I've done a singin' my song then the piece 'll be ready and not a oat before, and the more you interups why the longer you'll be kept a waiten', that's all." And having expressed these manly and British sentiments in genuine Whitechapel English, he readjusted his wig and became once more an African bewailing how

Cruel massa stole him wife and lily piccaninny,

and continued without further interruption till he had accomplished the eighth verse, and was about to commence the ninth, when some one behind the scenes audibly whispered "Off, Ginger," and off he went, and the star of the evening, Gentleman Jack, came in with a bound and a bow that elicited even a louder roar from the company than had greeted the lodgment of the fish-bone in Ginger's wool. It was Mrs. Douglas Fitzbruce, fully equipped for the "High Toby Game." She wore buckskin shorts, and boots of brilliant polish knee high and higher, and with spurs to them; her coat was of green velvet slashed with crimson, with a neat little breast-pocket, from which peeped a cambric handkerchief; her raven curls hung around her shoulders, and on her head wass a three-cornered hat, crimson edged with gold; under her arm she carried a riding whip, and in each hand a pistol of large size. By way of thanking her friends in the boxes and pit for their generous greeting (it is against the law for the actors to utter so much as a single word during the performance of a "gaff" piece), she uttered a saucy laugh (she could not have been more than forty-five) and, cocking her firearms, "let fly" at them point blank as it seemed; however, the whistling and stamping of feet that immediately ensued showed that nobody was wounded—indeed, that the audience rather enjoyed being shot at than otherwise.

Being debarred the use of speech, the bold highwayman was driven to the exercise of his vocal talent, in order to explain his own game in general, and the High Toby game in particular. The highwayman sang a song all about another highwayman, who "mounted on his mare, with his barkers at his belt," boldly faced an old miller "jogging home from market," and appropriated his bag of gold afteer blowing his brains out. Also how the same thief and murderer was pursued by Bow-street runners—one a blue-eyed man. But the "High Toby" boy, turning about in his saddle, took aim with his pistol at the runner and fired, and—

His eyes of a colour a minute ago,
Were now one of 'em red and the tother one blue—

a jocular result which the company assembled seemed keenly to appreciate. It terminated the song, and besides shouts of "Hencore!" and stamping and whistling, there was a cry of "Chuck 'em on!" followed by a casting of halfpence on to the stage. Not many, however; not more than amounted to sixpence; but the dashing highwayman seemed very grateful, and looked after the rolling coins with an avidity that showed how ill he could afford to forego the smallest of them.

Presently in rushed another highwayman, seedier than Gentleman Jack. This was Mr. Douglas Fitzbruce, and from his being pitted with small-pox, and having a slight squint in his right eye, I at once recognised in him the gentleman who had nailed up the outside poster in the morning. He came in for some applause, but chiefly from the female portion of the audience, the males appearing [1] to entertain feelings of envy and jealousy against him as the lawful proprietor of the lady in the long boots.

The second highwayman, who was greeted as Tom King, seemed in a tremendous hurry about something. He slapped his breast energetically, and pointed repeatedly and determinedly in a certain direction; on which Gentleman Jack started violently and commenced to load his pistols to their muzzles with powder and ball, the other highwayman following his example. Then Gentleman Jack straddled his legs and bobbed up and down, working his arms as though he held reins in his hands, as an intimation to the second highwayman that he wanted his horse; then, waving their hats in the most daring and gallant manner, they both rushed off.

After a lapse of about a minute a hurricane of applause welcomed the approaching sound of horse's hoofs, and presently appeared Gentleman Jack with a bit of black crape concealing the upper part of his features, on horseback. It was a remarkably docile horse, not to say a subdued one, and hung its big head down to its thick and heavy legs in a decidedly sleepy manner. Properly, I believe he should have shown his high mettle by rearing and plunging a bit when Gentleman Jack spurred him, but though the bold rider sawed at its bit until the animal's toothless gums were visible, and spurred it until the rowels were completely clogged with the yielding hair of its flanks, it only wagged its tail languidly and snorted. Again was the sound of approaching hoofs heard, this time accompanied by the rumbling of wheels, and Gentleman Jack, rising in his stirrups, detected the sound and gave a low whistle, which was responded to, and Tom King King promptly made his appearance with black crape on his face, and a naked sword in one hand, and a horse pistol in the other. Then the highwaymen clasped hands, and looked upwards, as though calling on the gods to witness the compact they had made to stick to each other till the death.

Now all was ready for the robbery, but it couldn't come off for some reason. The rumbling of the wheels had stopped suddenly, though the sound of hoofs had not, and there was heard as well strange muffled "clucking" noises, as of men covertly urging on a a horse disinclined to go. This rather spoilt the scene, for the gentlemen of the audience having a practical knowledge of donkeys and horses, and of the obstinate fits that occasionally seize on those animals, instantly guessed the difficulty, and gleefully shouted suggestions as to the proper mode of treatment to be applied to the quadruped that was stopping the play. "Hit him on the 'ock!" "Twist the warmint's tail!" "Shove him up behind!" Which—if either—of these suggestions was adopted I cannot say, but suddenly the vehicle that contained the highwaymen's booty bolted on to the stage, amid the uproarious plaudits of the spectators.

It was not a very magnificent turn-out, being nothing else indeed than an old street cab drawn by a vicious brother of the animal Gentleman Jack rode, and made to look slightly like a chariot by the driver's seat being set round with coloured chintz hammer-cloth wise. A driver in a cocked-hat sat on the box, and a footman with a cocked-hat stood on the springs behind; but neither retained his place long, for from his saddle Gentleman Jack shot the coachman dead as a door-nail, while Tom King, rushing on the footman with his naked sword, hacked him down in a twinkling, to the great delight of the young costermongers.

Then we came to the pith of the play. Loud shrieks were heard proceeding from the interior of the chariot, and simultaneously a gray-haired old man put his head out at one window and a lovely damsel put her head out at the other. The gray-haired old man clasped his hands, and the lovely damsel clasped her hands. With a gesture of joy, Gentleman Jack sprang from his horse, and, rushing to the carriage on the damsel side, flung open the door and caught the fair and fainting form that at that identical moment was tumbling out. Tom King rushed to the grey-haired side, and, flinging open the door, dragged out the old man, and, kneeling on his chest, pointed the naked sword at this throat, and the muzzle of his pistol at his temple. At which stirring though somewhat perplexing spectacle, the audience cheered more vociferously than ever, and "chucked on" ninepence at the very least. The most inexplicable part of the business (to me, that is, though nobody else appeared to regard it so) was that the lovly damsel seemed well acquainted with Gentleman Jack, for as soon as that gallant had restored her to consciousness by the administration of kisses and something out of a bottle, she flung her arms round his neck with a cry that caused the grey-haired old man to wriggle visibly, in spite of the enormous weight pressing on him. Insignificant as the movement appeared to me, it was enough to furnish a clue to the keener perceptions of my fellow occupants of the box.

"Now don't you twig, Ben?" remarked a young woman, with no bonnet and largish coral earrings, to her young man, who had just before expressed his inability "to make 'eads or tails on it;" "Now don't you twig? It's the old cove wots runnin' away with the gal wot Gentleman Jack used to keep the company of afore he took to High Toby. He's a takin' of her off to marry here or somethink, and Gentleman Jack is jest in time to prewent him."

If this was not a strictly correct guess at the state of the case it was not far wrong, as the progress of the dumb-show drama proved. Rising from the prostrate old man, but still keeping the pistol pointed at his head, Tom King approached the chariot and hauled out a box labelled "plate," and several canvas bags, each branded "5,000l." As each bag was brought out the old man writhed and uttered a deep groan; but Tom's eyes glared on him and he dare not rise. At last all property was removed from the carriage and place in a heap, and then Gentleman Jack led the beautiful damsel forward, her hand in his, and the pair stood by the money-bags and the plate-chest. The old man rolled his head from side to side and wrung his hands. Tom King whispered in his ear, and the old man shook his head fiercely and very decidedly. Evidently they wanted him to do something he had no mind to. The fiar damsel went on her knees and clasped her hands, and Tom King glared and pressed the muzzle of his pistol to the old man's head. The old man was melted and shed tears. Seeing which, Tom King melted too, and shed tears, as did Gentleman Jack and the damsel. Then the old man staggered to his feet, and, spreading his hands over the plate-box and the money-bags and Gentleman Jack and the damsel, blessed the lot; and that was the end of the play.—James Greenwood, the "Amateur Casual" in the "Evening Star."

[1] Corrected from apearing.


Do you want to see if there is more on a subject? Follow these links to the subject index: