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Stage waits !” shouted the call-boy, bouncing into the “Stage waits !” cried the stage-manager, running in. Off scampered Hilson.
Simpson, be sure you forfeit Tam for that,” said the laughing tragedian ; "and be sure to come to my room when the curtain falls.” Thus, for the present, parted those who were to be the plotters, in pure sport, against the peace of Zeb Spiff, the water-drinker.
Our heroine in Theatre-alley.
darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day."'-David, King of Israel.
"Towards his design moves like a ghost.”
Wax dim as drawing to their exigent.'
“Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud."-Shakspeare. “I know not what disposition has been made of my plantation at Cayenne, but I hope Madame de Lafayette will take care that the negroes who cultivate it, shall preserve their liberty.”—Lafayette.
“Mistake me not for my complexion."- Shakspeare. "There is something in the nature of man, by means of which, as long as he is not penetrated with the sentiment of independence as long as he looks up with a self-denying and a humble spirit to any other creature of the same figure and dimensions as himself, he is incapable of being all that man, in the abstract, is qualified to be."-Ġodwin.
"The facility of relieving the coarser distresses, is one of those circumstances which corrupt and harden the rich, and fills them with insolent conceit, that all the wounds of the human heart can be cured by wealth."
We will turn our eyes from the mimic scenes of the stage, and the bustling drama of the green-room, to scenes and characters contrasting with the first by their reality, and with the second, by their sober tone of feeling ; yet agreeing with both, in that they are equally belonging to our story.
Let it be remembered, that at the time of which we write, plays were performed (at the only theatre in New-York) but three times a week-except that an occasional Saturday night was pressed into the manager's service. The occurrences which we are now to relate, happened on the evening after those of the last chapter.
Every body conversant with New-York, its streets, and alleys, knows that there is a narrow passage behind the park play-house, called Theatre-alley. We have introduced the
reader to this thoroughfare, already, in an early chapter. Of this place, the building from which it derives its name forms nearly one side, and on the other (at this time), are towering, miscalled, fire-proof store-houses, and manufactories of those potent missiles, fraught, like Pandora's box, with good and evil
, but leading on the human race to its destiny-books. At the north-east corner of this alley, stands a stupendous hotel, dedicated to temperance and every godly virtue. sage or alley existed at the time of which we treat; but of all the towering walls which now enclose it, none were in being except those of the theatre.
Opposite to the back or private entrance to this building, stood a lofty wooden pile, erected for, and occupied by, the painters, machinists, and carpenters of the establishment; to the north of which (where now the above-mentioned temperance hotel is planted), were several low, wooden dram-shops, and other receptacles of intemperance and infamy; and to the south, several taller wooden houses, occupied by the poor and industrious ; one of which tenements, immediately adjoining the scene-house, was the residence of John Kent, the property-man of the theatre, and his wife. We have seen in the last chapter, that among other properties, he was to furnish a tarrapin-supper for the young manager and his joyous companions. As some of my readers may not be sufficiently initiated in the mysteries of stage-management, I will tell them what a property-man is.
'Though, in such matters, I do consider my authority as indifferent good, yet I will first give higher. Peter Quince says, “I will drawa bill of properties, such as our play wants;" and Bottom, who appears to be the manager, gives us a list of beards, as your straw-coloured beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your French crown-coloured beard, your perfect yellow.”
That I may not mislead, let me note, that actors in the year 1811 found their own wigs and beards; but then propertybeards and wigs were supplied to the supernumeraries, the “ reverend, grave and potent seignors” of Venice, the senatorial fathers of Rome, or parliamentary lords of England.
Quince performed the part of the prompter, whose duty it was, to give a bill of properties to the property-man ; and these consisted of every imaginable thing. In the Midsum
mer Night's Dream, for example, one property is an ass's i head; which, if not belonging to the manager, or one of the company,
property-man must find elsewhere. Arms and
ammunition, loaded pistols for sham mischief, and decanters of liquor for real :-(for though the actors could dispense with the bullets, they required the alcohol, ) --- love letters and challenges-beds, bed-linen, and babies--in short, the property-man was bound to produce whatever was required by the incidents of the play, as set down in the “ bill of properties” furnished by the prompter. Such was the office of John Kent, besides furnishing suppers occasionally for the manager, and doing other extra services, for which he was well remunerated, and experienced the favour of his employer. He was habitually kindperhaps, owing to former situations in life, he was rather submissive; but Cooke used to say, when in his abusive half-tipsy vein, that he was the only gentleman about the house.
This worthy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, had no children; and the wife was at this time dying of consumption-real, honest, much-to-be-pitied consumption-not that disease sometimes so called, which is the effect of folly or vice.
Kent and his wife were old. In youth they had been slaves to the same master, under that system established and enforced on her colonies by that nation who at the same time boasted, justly, 6 that the chains of the slave fell from him on his touching her shores ;” that he became a man as soon as he breathed the air of her glorious island; yet, with that inconsistency so often seen in nations as well as individuals, sent her floating dungeons with the heaviest chains, forged for the purpose, to manacle the African, and convey him to a hopeless slavery among her children in America ; even refusing those children the privilege of rejecting the unhallowed and poisonous gift. But England has washed this stain from her hands; while the blot remains where she fixed it, and has produced a cancerous sore on the fairest political body that ever before existed.
Mr. and Mrs. Kent were not Africans by birth, but descendants from the people so long the prey of European and American avarice; and by some intermixture of the blood of their ancestors with that of their masters, their colour was that which is known among us as mulatto, or mulatre; still they were classed with what people of African descent (who abhor the word“ negro") call " people of colour.”
The master of this couple had been a kind one; and they had both received the rudiments of English literature, with the foundation of a good moral and religious education; so that being freed by his will at his death, they had lived reputably, without the means however of accumulating property beyond decent clothing and furniture. Owing to the long sickness of
the wife, honest John's emoluments as property-man, had not proved sufficient to supply the much valued little delicacies that become necessaries to the sick ; and which were the more necessaries, as these people, having been house-servants in a wealthy family when in a state of slavery, had been accustomed to many of the luxuries of the rich.
Emma Portland became acquainted with the situation of this honest pair and the sufferings of the woman, by observing in the first place the conduct of the man, who, in his capacity of property-man, was often brought under her view while she attended upon her aunt and cousin. Hearing that his wife was a helpless invalid, she introduced herself to her apartment and bedside ; for Emma had been taught not to shrink from the duties of humanity, when most wanted ; when the sufferers were surrounded by objects, or divested of proprieties, rendering their situation more deplorable. The precepts of her master as she read them, or heard them read, and commented upon from the pulpit, were as seed falling on good ground, and springing up into fruits of well doing.
Neither the colour of the inhabitants of the house (for Kent only occupied an upper apartment, and below, lived a mass of deeper tint, with marks of greater poverty, and much less of worth or cleanliness,) nor any objects disagreeable to sight, could deter this delicate and lovely girl from frequent visits to the worthy and grateful invalid. To motives of duty and benevolence were added admiration of the resigned patience of the sick woman, and the exemplary attention of her husband. Emma carried fruits and conserves to the dying woman ; and she read to her in such books as she wished to hear, and particularly passages in the bible.
To converse with the well disposed poor-to console them in sickness or grief-was to Emma Portland a delightful duty. It sometimes happened that the conversation when she was with Mr. and Mrs. Kent, turned on topics which personally interested her, owing to Kent's knowledge of affairs connected with the theatre. I would willingly introduce my reader to one such conversation, before relating the incident which is the principal subject of this chapter.
The original of the picture I wish to paint, could only be found in our northern portion of the United States, and I will not believe that my readers are so fastidious as not to take pleasure in the contemplation of such a painting, because it treats of the familiar life of the poor; there shall be nothing in it so low as is seen in the admired paintings of many a famous master. I