Pupils prepared for the stage, or private theatricals, on a principle combining intelligent interpretation of the text, with the action of the arms and legs adopted by the late illustrious Roscius of the English stage, J. Kemble, Esquire; and attentively studied from close observation of Mr J.K. by Mr R.W. Orators and clergymen improved (with the strictest secrecy), at three-and-sixpence the lesson of an hour. Impediments and hesitation of utterance combated and removed. Young ladies taught the graces of delivery, and young gentlemen the proprieties of diction. A discount allowed to schools and large classes. Please to address, Mr Reuben Wray (late of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), 12, High Street, Tidbury-on-the-Marsh.
No Babylonian inscription that ever was cut, no manuscript on papyrus that ever was penned, could possibly have puzzled the young assistant more than this remarkable advertisement. He read it all through in a state of stupefaction; and then observed, with a bewildered look at the young girl on the other side of the counter:--
'Very nicely written, miss; and very nicely composed indeed! I suppose--in fact, I'm sure Mr Dunball'-- Here a creaking was heard, as of some strong wooden construction being gradually rent asunder. It was Mr Dunball himself, squeezing his way out of the branch bank box, and coming to examine the advertisement.
He read it all through very attentively, following each line with his forefinger; and then cautiously and gently laid the cardboard down on the counter. When I state that neither Mr Dunball nor his assistant were quite certain what a 'Roscius of the English stage' meant, or what precise branch of human attainment Mr Wray designed to teach in teaching 'Elocution', I do no injustice either to master or man.
'So you want this hung up in the window, my--in the window, miss?' asked Mr Dunball. He was about to say, 'my dear'; but something in the girl's look and manner stopped him.
'If you could hang it up without inconvenience, sir.'
'May I ask what's your name? and where you come from?'
'My name is Annie Wray; and the last place we came from was Stratford-upon-Avon.'
'Ah! indeed--and Mr Wray teaches, does he?--elocution for half-a-crown--eh?'
'My grandfather only desires to let the inhabitants of this place know that he can teach those who wish it, to speak or read with a good delivery and a proper pronunciation.'
Mr Dunball felt rather puzzled by the straightforward, self-possessed manner in which he--a branch banker, a chemist, and a municipal authority--was answered by little Annie Wray. He took up the advertisement again; and walked away to read it a second time in the solemn monetary seclusion of the back shop.
The young assistant followed. 'I think they're respectable people, sir,' said he, in a whisper; 'I was passing when the old gentleman went into No. 12, yesterday. The wind blew his cloak on one side, and I saw him carrying a large cash box under it--I did indeed, sir; and it seemed a heavy one.'
'Cash box!' cried Mr Dunball. 'What does a man with a cash box want with elocution, and two-and-sixpence an hour? Suppose he should be a swindler!'
'He can't be, sir: look at the young lady! Besides, the people at No. 12 told me he gave a reference, and paid a week's rent in advance.'
'He did--did he? I say, are you sure it was a cash box?'
'Certain, sir. I suppose it had money in it, of course?'
'What's the use of a cash box, without cash?' said the branch banker, contemptuously. 'It looks rather odd, though! Stop! maybe it's a wager. I've heard of gentlemen doing queer things for wagers. Or, maybe, he's cracked! Well, she's a nice girl; and hanging up this thing can't do any harm. I'll make enquiries about them, though, for all that.'
Frowning portentously as he uttered this last cautious resolve, Mr Dunball leisurely returned into the chemist's shop. He was, however, nothing like so ill-natured a man as he imagined himself to be; and, in spite of his dignity and his suspicions, he smiled far more cordially than he at all intended, as he now addressed little Annie Wray.
'It's out of our line, miss,' said he; 'but we'll hang the thing up to oblige you. Of course, if I want a reference, you can give it? Yes, yes! of course. There! there's the card in the window for you--a nice prominent place (look at it as you go out)--just between the string of corn plasters and the dried poppy-heads! I wish Mr Wray success; though I rather think Tidbury is not quite the sort of place to come to for what you call elocution--eh?'
'Thank you, sir; and good morning,' said little Annie. And she left the shop just as composedly as she had entered it.
'Cool little girl, that!' said Mr Dunball, watching her progress down the street to No. 12.
'Pretty little girl, too!' thought the assistant, trying to watch, like his master, from the window.
'I should like to know who Mr Wray is,' said Mr Dunball, turning back into the shop, as Annie disappeared. 'And I'd give something to find out what Mr Wray keeps in his cash box,' continued the banker-chemist, as he thoughtfully re-entered the mahogany money chest in the back premises.
You are a wise man, Mr Dunball; but you won't solve those two mysteries in a hurry, sitting alone in that branch bank sentry-box of yours!--Can anybody solve them? I can.
Who is Mr Wray? and what has he got in his cash box?--Come to No. 12, and see!
II Before we go boldly into Mr Wray's lodgings, I must first speak a word or two about him, behind his back--but by no means slanderously. I will take his advertisement, now hanging up in the shop window of Messrs Dunball and Dark, as the text of my discourse.
Mr Reuben Wray became, as he phrased it, a 'pupil of the late celebrated John Kemble, Esquire' in this manner. He began life by being apprenticed for three years to a statuary. Whether the occupation of taking casts and clipping stones proved of too sedentary a nature to suit his temperament, or whether an evil counsellor within him, whose name was VANITY, whispered:--'Seek public admiration, and be certain of public applause,'--I know not; but the fact is, that, as soon as his time was out, he left his master and his native place to join a company of strolling players; or, as he himself more magniloquently expressed it, he went on the stage.
Nature had gifted him with good lungs, large eyes, and a hook nose; his success before barn audiences was consequently brilliant. His professional exertions, it must be owned, barely sufficed to feed and clothe him; but then he had a triumph on the London stage, always present in the far perspective to console him. While waiting this desirable event, he indulged himself in a little intermediate luxury, much in favour as a profitable resource for young men in extreme difficulties--he married; married at the age of nineteen, or thereabouts, the charming Columbine of the company.
And he got a good wife. Many people, I know, will refuse to believe this,--it is a truth, nevertheless.