‘I remember once being called on to be humorous under circumstances which made me feel that fun was as difficult to catch as a bat with a fishing rod.’ With the cultivated instinct of listeners, which all actors must be able to pretend to be, the Company gave simultaneously that movement of eagerness which implies a strained attention. The perfection and simultaneity of the movement was art, but the spirit of truth lay behind it, for all felt whatever was coming was real. The Low Comedian, with the trained instinct of an actor, felt that his audience was with him – en rapport – and allowed himself a thought more breadth in his manner as he proceeded:
‘I was playing “Con” in The Shaughraun for want of a better, having been put into the part because I could manage a kind of brogue. We had a wretched Company, and we went to wretched places, places nearly bad enough to do us justice. At last we found ourselves in a little town on the west side of the Bog of Allen. It was hopeless business, for the people were poor; the room we played in was an awful hole, and the shebeen which they called a hotel where we all stayed was a holy terror. The dirt on the floor had caked, and felt like sand under your feet. As to the beds -‘
‘Oh, don’t, Mr Parmentire; it’s too dreadful!’ said the Leading Lady, shuddering. So he went on:
‘Anyhow, the audience – what there was of them – were fine. They weren’t used to play-acting, and I think most of them took what they saw as reality – certainly while the curtain was up. We played three nights; the second night when I came out a big-made young man came up to me and said:
‘”Kin I have a wurrd wid ye, sorr?”
‘”Begob! but ye may,” said I, in as near a brogue as I could get to his. “Twinty av ye loike!”
‘”Then whisper me,” said he, and, taking me by the arm, he led me across the street where we were alone. “What is it?” I asked.
‘”I seen ye, sorr, at the wake to-night. Begorra, but it was an illigant toime. Shure the fun iv that would have done good to a rale corpse, much less to his frinds. I wondher now wud ye care to do a neighbourly act?” He said, this with considerable diffidence. There was something genial and winning in his way, as there is generally with Irishmen; so I said as heartily as I could that I hoped I would, and asked him how I could do it. His face brightened as he answered:
‘”Well, there’s a wake to-night, a rale wake, yer ann’r, at Kenagh beyant and the widdy is in a most dishtressful state intirely. Now, av yer ann’r as is used to the divarshins iv wakes would come, shure it might help to cheer her up. It’s only a rough place, surr, an’ the byes an’ the girrls is all there is; but there’s lashins iv whiskey an’ tobaccy, an’ wan iv the quality like yer ann’r will be mighty welkim.”
‘That did it! For a man who took me for one of the quality I would have done anything! I tell you, you have to be mucking about for a spell in such places as we had been, and treated with the contempt which used to be the actor’s meed in his private life in such places in my young days, to appreciate fully the help such a thing was to one’s self-esteem. I told my pals that I was going to a local party, for I didn’t want to disturb my new dignity all at once, and went off with my friend. We went on a donkey cart without springs. Such a cart, and such a road! There was a bundle of straw to sit on, so I was comfortable enough; except when the jolting through an unusually deep rut banged me about more than was consistent with physical self-restraint. At last we stopped where a small house stood back some hundred yards from the road. The light was coming through the little windows and the open door, that seemed quite bright through the inky blackness of the night. I separated myself from the straw as well as I could, and got down. A small boy appeared out of the darkness, like an attendant demon, and took away the donkey and cart. It seemed to fade into space, for, as it disappeared through a gap in the hedge, the wheels ceased to sound upon the soft turf. My friend said:
‘”Stiddy, surr! the boreen is a bit rough!” He was right; it was! I stumbled towards the house through what seemed the bed of a small watercourse floored with peculiarly uneven boulders. When we got near the house, the light from within told more on the darkness, and as we came close to the projecting porch, the white oblong of the open doorway to the right became darkened as a figure came out to meet us – an elderly woman with grey hair and a white cap and a black dress. She curtsied when she saw my dress, and said with a certain air of distinction that most Irish-women have in their moments of reserve, and which all good women have in their grief:
‘”Welkim, yer ann’r. I thank ye kindly for pathernisin’ this house iv woe!”
‘”God save all here!” said my cicerone as he removed his caubeen.
‘I repeated the salutation, feeling a little bit chokey about the throat as I followed the woman into the house.
To read the rest of this story visit:
“A New Departure in Art” at bramstoker.org