The Stage DOOR KEEPER.

By clement W. SCOTT.

Clement_ScottA MEAN and narrow opening in an unromantic wall — an entrance less pretentious than any that can be found at the side of a factory gate — an approach difficult to find, hidden up a blind alley, swarming with miscellaneous children, and lumbered up with ragged and disconsolate-looking scenery crumbling to ruin — a dark prison-looking gate, at whose ominous sight have fallen down the wreck of torn forests and the glory of departed palaces; the guardian an overworked and faithful servant, and the sentinel a carpenter, resting from his labours and smoking a clay pipe — this is the approach to a paradise that feeds the unhealthy imagination with unworthy fancies, and has given the text for many a lying sermon — this is the Stage Door.

It is always well that people should be slightly acquainted with the subject they discuss; and I sometimes wish that those who are so eloquent in denouncing scenes with which they are evidently unfamiliar, lives of which they know nothing, and professions which might be far more honourable and honoured were they not so persistently maligned, boasted half the philosophy perspicuity, shrewd judgment, and common sense of my old friend Tom Porter. He was a stage-door keeper, and. a man of vast experience, great memory, and considerable attainments.

His father had been an actor who, under another name, was famous in the dramatic annals of his time, and his son promised to follow very close upon his father’s footsteps, when his bright career was cut short by a blundering half-drunken carpenter, who left a trap open one night, and crippled the poor fellow for life. Misfortune, so I have been told, fell heavily upon Tom Porter’s family soon after this deplorable accident, that nearly broke the. heart of an honourable and ambitious man.

He had seen all the great actors from the time he could toddle to Drury Lane or  Covent Garden; he had lived in an atmosphere of art; the talk was of nothing else but acting at home, over the baked joint on Sunday down to bed-time on Saturday night, from morning till night, it was nothing but theatres and theatre-going, old texts and new readings; and young Tom had dreamed of playing- Hamlet, Macbeth, Werner, and Richelieu with the best of them, when the hospital doctor pressed his hand, and told him at the very outset of his young life that he would never act again, and poor Tom turned his face to the wall, and sobbed like a child, “God’s will be done! “Yes, my dear sir, don’t smile. Actors can pray, like the rest of us, and they have hearts of their own, I can assure you.

But how to remain at the theatre? It would have been death to Tom Porter to desert that familiar ship. The very smell of the place fascinated him; he would have taken checks at the top of the gallery staircase sooner than leave the dear old walls; but it was not so bad as he thought, for he was appointed confidential secretary to successive managers at the best established theatres in London; and it was only when age and infirmities crept upon him that old Tom went through the stages of prompter and copyist, till finally he was installed close by the stage door in that bright and cosy little recess, hung round with pictures, warmed by a bright fire, and made companionable by a comfortable cat. It was here that I made the good fellow’s acquaintance, and derived such constant pleasure from his interesting and varied conversation.

“Yes, sir,” he used to say to me, “there are good theatres and bad theatres, just as there are good parsons and bad parsons, or good judges and bad judges. We’re none of us perfect in this world, except, no doubt, the good gentlemen who know such a precious lot more about our business than we do ourselves. Look round here, sir, now do, and see for yourself, where are the broughams, and bouquets, and diamonds, and the swells waiting outside, that the papers make so much fuss about! It all seems pretty neat, and tidy, and decent now, don’t it? You can sit there in the corner by the fire, and see them pass. All right, sir, sit you down; don’t mind the black cat, old Othello always takes the most comfortable seat in the room.”

And so I sat down and observed. A constant swaying backwards and forwards of an adjacent door; dressers and messengers passing in and out with a “Good evening, Mr. Porter,”or a “Good night, Tom;” modest women and quiet men passing in and out in an orderly, business-like way; an occasional author, who disconsolately called for his manuscript, or exultingly deposited a great roll of brown paper that would have broken down the rack, and was accordingly put aside for the manager — why, there was really nothing in the outside appearance of the place to distinguish it from a factory, when the wheels of the machinery of pleasure spin round between seven o’clock and midnight. Where on earth is the fascination of the stage door, and the glittering revelry of life behind the scenes? I could not find anything of the kind, and old Tom was delighted at my antipathy to the dull and unromantic side of a world spangled with so much idealism and fancy. No sensible spectator likes to have his illusions destroyed.

He does not care to see the ropes and spars, and guys and pulleys; to be convinced
that it is not a forest, but canvas; not a grass bank, but matting; not a sparkling river, but glass and gelatine; that the heroes and heroines discuss the ordinary affairs of life
in the green-room; that the adorable actress is compelled to paint her face and her eyebrows, and never fails to smother you with powder when she shakes her head; that the pale student Hamlet looks as brown as a Zulu Kaffir, and the love-sick Romeo is daubed over like a Red Indian. No one has a right behind the scenes; not that there is the slightest temptation in such a prosy work-shop, but because it is cruel to tear down the veil and expose the machinery of so excellent an art. It is the dreariest and dirtiest of spots.

So Tom Porter laughed when I obstinately refused to stir a step further than his
comfortable sanctum, to which I obtained admission through some trifling service I had rendered to one of his family who was very dear to him indeed.

Returning from the seaside one summer, I happened to be in a bad railway accident,
and was mercifully preserved. I was able to pay some attention to the distresses of my unfortunate fellow-passengers, who stood disconsolate and dazed, in a hideous wreck and
heartrending confusion I can scarcely forget, or recall without a shudder.

The sun-burned children crying for their dead mothers; the ruin of life and property piled up amidst pipes, and pleasure baskets, and broken toys; the cruel engine lying twisted and torn, in a cloud of blinding mist; the doctors hurrying to their mangled patients, presented a most distressing scene. Alone, and apparently uncared for, I found swooning on the embankment a young girl. At first I thought she was dead, so fair, calm, and undisturbed she looked, but a little brandy revived her, and I found that she was more frightened than hurt.

Her nerves were far more injured than her body, and I soon saw that it was absolutely necessary to remove her immediately from the scene. She cried piteously for her
father, and implored to be taken home; and between the paroxysms of her fear, it was easy
to see that her mind was intensely troubled with the thought that the news of the accident would arrive in London before the poor girl could get home. “Oh, sir, I am travelling alone,” she said; “if father hears of it, it will break his heart. What shall I do? what shall I do?”

I reflected for an instant, and decided. A couple of miles away from the scene of the accident was the station of a branch line to London. A few shillings to a lad procured me a fly, by merciful chance we caught a train at the side station, and we were back in London just as they were howling the news of the frightful accident all over the streets. On the journey home I had ascertained that the father of my little protegee was a stage- door keeper at a theatre in the immediate neighbourhood of the Strand — where news
bad and good spreads like wildfire. So I told the cabman to drive as fast as he could
to the stage door of the theatre. It was best to take the bull by the horns, and to prevent
mischief as soon as possible.

I found a crowd of good-natured folk round the door that led to the theatre, and
inside the stage-door keeper’s box I could hear distinctly that strange, low, moaning
wail as of a strong man in pain. It is terrible to hear a man sob; and all these much-
abused women at the vicious theatre were actually drying their eyes, and trying to
comfort a broken-hearted father who thought he would never see his daughter again.

“Make way there,” I said, as I tried to make an opening through the crowd.

The usual response came; on one side the surly ill-conditioned “Why should I make
way for you? “on the other, “Why not let the gentleman pass? “They did let the
gentleman pass when they saw he had a young and frightened girl on his arm. There
was a silence, and then we heard —

“Father! father!”

“Oh! Madge, my little one; thank God!”

That was all. We heard no more after that. They were united in an embrace that belongs to things heavenly, and that gives one a lump in the throat to think of it. And, strange to say, from that instant I was made welcome whenever I cared to look in upon Tom Porter the old stage-doorkeeper. The best chair in the little den was always at ray disposal, the warmest corner was mine by the fire out of all the draughts; I was allowed to smoke a pipe if I leaned very much up the chimney; and it was as much as my comfort was worth if I refused an occasional pull at the comforting “dog’s nose” that simmered on the hob.

The honest fellow could never get it out of his head that I had saved his daughter’s life,, and that I was a kind of hero to be rewarded with all the hospitable honours of his paternal mansion. I had done nothing of the kind, but he insisted I was wrong, and there was no good in arguing the point. That reconciliation made a deep impression on the old man. She was alive who was dead. His heart made one bound from sorrow to unspeakable joy, and the happy accident of courtesy earned for me the never-ending gratitude of as honest a soul as ever lived.

Fancy this, Mr. Preacher, you who are never weary of raising your eloquent voice against the antechamber of Hades, although I am sorry to say you use a very much stronger expression; fancy this, Mr. Tub Spouter in the parks, who tell me when I am walking out amidst the fields and the flowers that if I dare to enter a theatre I had better renounce all hope of salvation; fancy this, my fine ladies who talk about “actors and actresses and such kind of people;” fancy this, Mr. Superciliousness, who argue in some strange kind of way that those who possess unsavable souls are somehow connected with a most elevating and regenerating art, kept down from salvation by cruel prejudice and viler cant. Why, here was this venerable keeper of the door that leads to the stage, who had actually brought up his large family in an honest and God-fearing manner, and regarded his pure and tender little daughter as one of the best of the blessings that had cheered his simple life.

The three cosiest scenes that at present appeal to my imagination are, the inside of a
travelling caravan; the bar parlour of a country inn, with a happy circle enjoying the first
autumn fire; and that small and neatly-arranged little den where the stage-door
keeper is supposed to sulk away his life, and to be the intermediary between Cupid and
the postman, I always envied our old friend Mrs. Jarley, and can conceive no existence
more delightful than to be dragged in a house upon wheels about the leafy lanes of Old
England; to sit outside in the morning, and eat your breakfast off a drum, and to get to
bed in a comfortable alcove when the mists begin to rise and the land is chill. And then
there is the bar parlour, as seen by the lonely traveller, who peeps through the crimson curtains, and sees the firelight glancing upon the polished mahogany, blue china in a corner cupboard, and old Dutch clock that ticks, in a paternal fashion over the contented
scene. Well is it for those who cannot enjoy realities to taste occasionally the pleasures of
imagination.

The caravan is the home of giants, dwarfs, hardware sellers, and ubiquitous cheap jacks;
the country inn is the rest of the landscape painter; but the Cockney follower of art must
warm his toes by the stage door fire.

Fortified by this strange friendship of which I have spoken, and flattered by the warm attachment that old Tom expressed for me, I found myself very often, particularly
in winter, a guest at his hospitable fire. My passion for the art of which he was so humble
a representative grew under his guidance. He lent me strange old theatrical books that
he had picked up at odd bookstalls, showed me rare prints he had collected, and delighted me with curious reminiscences of his valuable experience.

Old Tom Porter must have been a notable exception to his race, for I am given to
understand that the Cerberus of the stage door is sometimes a strange dog, who snarls
and shows his teeth when any one approaches his kennel. “Cave canem” should be written up over his lodge, for his primary idea is to look upon every one as an intruder, and he takes a delight in keeping an author — who is his special abomination — in a thorough draught and in an ignominious position, in order to show how thoroughly he is the master, and the author is the slave.

A fixed idea possesses him that the male portion of the Metropolis is in a combination to bear off the leading actress, storm the manager’s castle, and hold high revel amidst the dirty ropes and grappling-irons that disfigure the hold of the theatrical ship. His first instinct is to act on the defensive, to assert his authority in a brusque and bearish manner, and to look upon the world outside his tub as a set of refractory carpenters and supernumeraries. I may be mistaken, but this is the prevailing notion of the keeper of the stage door.

Tom Porter belonged to quite a different school. He obtained influence and authority without a harsh tone or a coarse word. He loved women because they were gentle
and sweet as his own nature. About him there was a certain air of distinction and
good breeding, and he handed the letters from the rack with the air of a courtier. And
so it was that every one in the theatre made a friend and a confidant of the old man,
they told him their troubles, and related their experiences, and with the aid of a prodigious
memory, and a habit of jotting down what he heard, he managed to collect a fund of
varied anecdotes and reminiscences. The most celebrated actors and actresses of the
day had often dropped in for a chat with Tom Porter, to talk over old times, and compare
notes, and so as his life had been devoted to the stage, and his tastes bound up in it, he
became the storehouse to which many people referred when they were puzzled for a verification, circumstance, or a date. He was an encyclopaedia in himself, and had a
strange method of memory to bring scenes of the past before him.

The smiling retreat in which Tom Porter spent the best part of his days, now that his
home was reduced to a simple lodging, his good wife was in her grave, and all his children scattered about the world, was hung about with pictures, all bearing upon the
stage in some way or another.

One of these pictures always absorbed my attention. It haunted me, and somehow or
other invariably fascinated my eyes towards it. Placed too high on the walls to enable a
close inspection, it seemed to my short sight like a fair-haired woman, clothed in white, and on her death-bed. “Dear dead women, with such hair too! What’s become of all
the gold?” This familiar line haunted me whenever I looked at the picture. It was
one of those strange, hungry faces that outstrip mere beauty with rare expression. The
eyes closed now were a little sunken, and half overshadowed by the bar that marks
both intellect and music.

A large and full mouth gave the best character to the face, and the hair, a luxurious river of gold, might have adorned the head of one of Raphael’s Madonnas. Many would have scorned the idea of beauty in such a face, but it contained the reflection of strong character and soul, it represented an ideal nature, and in it was that tired and hunted look that mean nervous power and the exhaustion of keen susceptibility. What then was this strange picture of a fair, dead woman? Was it a Juliet in her tomb? a Desdemona on her death-bed? an Ophelia in her love swoon?

One night I was sitting alone with old Tom. It was bitter cold and dreary outside, and I suppose the play they were acting inside was unusually solemn, for not a sound could
be heard through the swing-doors, and no carpenter, with some abnormal thirst upon him, disturbed our conversation and slouched out for his unnecessary beer. Neither of us
spoke, and instinctively I found that I was looking at the picture.

“What is it, Tom? I didn’t like to ask you, but what is it?”

“Eh! What? “said the old fellow, who was dozing off before the fire.

“The picture. What does it mean?”

“Where?”

“Up there! ”

He took it down, and then I examined it for the first time. It was not Ophelia, or Juliet, or Desdemona. No Shakesperian heroine or romantic scene was here depicted. I rubbed away the dirt from the glass, and saw the figure of a fair English woman stretched upon a copper couch. She was wrapped in a white peignoir, and over her still white features trickled a silent stream of water that seemed to tighten the garments on her and to emphasize her shroud. It was the photograph of a dead woman in the Parisian Morgue.

“This is what jealousy brings them to,” said old Tom.

“What do you mean? Who was she?”

“One of the kindest, dearest women I ever knew. God bless her ! But because she had not admirers enough over here in England, she must needs leave the stage when she had made a considerable name, marry a foreigner, and settle in France. How the men loved her! Not because she was so very beautiful, you know, for her features were sharp, and her cheek-bones were strongly marked; but there was that in her face which scores of her rivals never had — an unsatisfied hunger, an undetermined longing, a pathetic weariness, a kind of something in her expression which seemed to say, ‘ Only love me and understand me, only be patient with me and let us learn one another, and there will come a sympathy and a union which mere fools do not understand.’

“Such women are not made for fools. The popular beauty, with a faultless face and
a stereotyped expression, with a gaze on one side and a gaze on the other, always the same, the same vacant look, the same silly simper, the same attitude of self-satisfaction, as much as to say, ‘I am a doll; I am very lovely, but don’t rumple my nice silver paper or disarrange my curls,’ — these are the women for the majority. But then they don’t understand anything about it, and don’t deserve anything better than a soulless face and a
settled smile. The Frenchman did who married this poor creature, and he so well
appreciated the prize that his jealousy became a madness. Women like men to be
a little jealous, for it is in a certain sense a compliment. When it is exaggerated, it becomes a bore.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t believe she ever liked the man. He overwhelmed her with kindness, and that touched her heart. She pitied him and respected him; but never loved him. If she could have eaten gold he would have given it to her. Every wish was anticipated; every whim considered. Her life with him was one round of luxury and contented ease; but that is not love. A woman with a face like that, with such a restless, soaring, unsatisfied spirit, wanted a man with brain, and force, and power to love her. She was clever, and she desired intellect in her lover. She wanted to be led on to the higher tastes, culture, and light for which she inwardly craved. But she got suppers, dinners, smart dresses, and diamond rings, things that no woman despises, but then how very few
women do they satisfy. However, she married him, and she was soon cloyed with the sweets of her married life. She cursed herself for her ingratitude; she wanted to love the man so much, and yet she couldn’t.

“But she was loyal.  A woman with a nature like hers, had only to hold up her finger, and she might have had lovers by the score; but she was loyal on my oath.

“Wearied with all this persistent devotion, and unsatisfied with her dissatisfaction, she
lent herself to a deception innocently conceived, but one calculated to destroy the peace of her husband for ever. She meant no harm, but look at her there on her miserable death-bed. Her punishment came surely and swiftly enough.

“She had a brother, of whose existence her husband was unaware. He was a scamp, a
bad lot, and had been transported years before for dishonesty in the bank in which he
was employed. Her husband had been so good to her that she did not care to distress
him with her family troubles, and so she. perhaps foolishly, covered over that bad spot, and held her tongue.

“But she did not remember that the time would come when her brother’s sentence
would expire, and there must be an explanation. It did expire, and the brother came
back to the world, penniless and an outcast.

“He found his sister out, he traced her to Paris, and, woe-begone wretch as he was,
presented himself at her luxurious apartments, luckily when her husband was away.

“She was in a dilemma. She had not the heart to turn her brother away, and had not
the strength to tell her husband. The most unfortunate course she could take, she took.
Whenever her husband was out she received her brother, and delighted in surrounding
his appearance with a mystery. Secret notes were conveyed to him. She admitted him to
her apartments at unreasonable hours. No servant was taken into her confidence, and still
in her heart desiring to spare her husband, she innocently compromised her reputation.

“It is impossible to keep these scandals secret, let women manoeuvre as they will. Tongues will wag; and who amongst us is without enemies?

“Some kind Iago, good, generous, upright, and self-denying creature, poured the
necessary poison into the husband’s ear. He received anonymous letters, and was told to
be on his guard. ‘English women are not to be trusted,’ wrote the correspondent, in a
female hand. You must remember the husband had a large fortune, and did not marry
one of his own countrywomen. The explanation is obvious.

“Once his jealousy was aroused, the cruelty of his nature came out; and once the innocent woman knew that she was suspected, her better feelings were outraged. She was so true, that she hated the man who could believe her false; and in one of those wild freaks to which women are partial, she heaped up coals of fire, and bade her innocent brother come and act his part under more suspicious circumstances than ever. Poor thing! she had friends as well as enemies; and one night, when she had arranged a settlement for her brother, and had ordered him back to England, with his pockets lined, and an excellent start in life again, she received a note, scribbled in pencil:

” ‘For God’s sake, be cautious; your husband is watching.’

“She laughed a scornful laugh of triumph, and scattered the fragments of the note upon the floor, and then, as they were parting possibly for many years, she led her brother to the door of her apartment.

“She saw a dark shadow in the doorway opposite, and knew it must be her husband.

Her heart was steeled and nerved for the encounter, and she hated the man for playing
the spy upon her. A sudden inspiration came upon her.

” ‘Kiss me, Maurice,’ she said.

“Her brother kissed her, and wondered at the embrace that tightened about his neck.

” ‘Good night, dear.’

” ‘Good night’

“What followed was the work of an instant. There was a loud scream of hatred that rang through the house, and the young brother, taken unawares, was hurled headlong down the stairs. The wife fled back.

Without another word the husband rushed into the apartment like a madman. He did not wait for explanation, or ask it. His curses were so terrible, that the wife’s blood chilled
in her very veins. Her love died out under the fury of his accusations, and she laughed,
pale and unmoved, at his bloodless face and quivering fingers.

“It was the last sound heard in the tall Parisian house that night; for, when the servants returned, they found their mistress stabbed to the heart with the dagger she had once worn as Juliet. Next day her husband’s body was fished up from the Seine! The day after, the suicide and the murdered woman were side by side in the Morgue.”

Old Tom looked at me, and there were tears in his eyes. He kissed the picture-reverently, and put it back in its corner again. I looked astonished; and then he spoke:

“It was the only time I was ever in Paris, and it will be the last. I went to claim what
belonged to me. She was my sister.

“Bless you, sir,” said old Tom, ” Othello was not the only one! I could tell you scores
of tragedies in our profession that arose out of jealousy. It is as useful a passion for dramatic purposes as love, and that no author can do without, let him try ever so hard.”

*******

It was Christmas-time, and all was going on merrily at the theatres. Managers were
nervously active, scene-painters worn out with fatigue and anxiety, stages crowded with
neat girls and irrepressible children; stage directors, loud of tongue but kind of heart,
vowing vengeance one minute, and patting a child on the head the next — flouncing about
with hands in pockets, and declaring, “It shall be done if I have to stay here all night, so
there! “and immediately afterwards dismissing some section of giggling girls with a smile
and a “There! that will do, my dears! Go to bed! ”

For was it not within a week of Boxing Night, that great feast-day in the Calendar of the Stage, when untold blessings are told out to thousands of honest and hard-working
households by what I shall ever call the charity of Christmas play going? At other times of the year there are signs of weariness and fatigue at the close of a series of rehearsals. Repetition induces a kind of contempt for the subject. But not at Christmas on the eve of the pantomime. Dear me, what a noise and a chattering! The children look upon the stage as a huge playground, have games at hide-and-seek behind the wings, lose themselves in mysterious cellars, and get into endless scrapes.

The girls gather into knots and discuss their dress, longing for the time when they will exchange their poor, worn, little gowns for the gorgeous vestments of the princes and princesses of imaginative extravaganza; and everyone seems exhilarated with the thought that “treasury ” will come very soon, and that unless something very unforeseen and unexpected occurs, there will be a comfortable and convenient income for six or seven weeks at least. It is the fashion nowadays to sneer at our good old-fashioned Christmas amusement, and there is an inclination to take sides against it, and to veneer it over with the cheap superciliousness that is the stock-in-trade of the Brummagem critic and the “second-hand gentleman”; but many of us would be sorry to deprive the children of their innocent sport, or to abolish, without ample reflection, one branch of the merry and healthy trade of pleasure.

For the first time for six-and-twenty years Tom Porter was not at his post at the theatre. The old faces came to the door again, but they were not greeted by his cheery countenance. Where was old Tom? This was the question from the clown to the columbine. They all liked the good fellow, and as they are the most conservative of people, these artists, it did not seem like old times to come to work at Christmas, and see a new guardian at the stage door.

But disappointment yielded to sympathetic regret when it was whispered about that Tom Porter was very ill. He had worked on through a neglected cold, and he was very bad — so somebody said who had heard it from somebody else. Of late years there had been a mystery about the old man. No one knew exactly where he lived, and he showed an obstinate disinclination to tell them.

He was to all intents and purposes the last of his race. The wife had died long ago. The sons had emigrated, and his favourite daughter, married now, had gone to join her brother in Australia, and so, when Tom Porter took ill, as they say, he found for the first time in his life that he was alone in the. world. This is a terrible moment in the life of a solitary man. His occupation at the theatre gave him friends, amusement, and distraction. He only came home to sleep, and got to work again, and hardly perceived the misery of isolation; but when he had to lower his flag, and was compelled to keep to his bed, it was positive pain for a man of his disposition to look round the empty room and find solitude.

Gaiety, excitement, business, conversation, stories, and anecdotes had been the food
of his daily life, and now, suddenly and unexpectedly, he knew that he was very ill, and was too proud to tax the claims of friendship.

There were hundreds of good men and women — for they are generous, self-sacrificing, self-denying, and most human in this great profession — who would have come and nursed the old man, but he preferred to go back to his hole and die without bothering a soul.

But he sent for me all the same. He denied himself to all his old friends, he refused to let them know in what corner of this London world he was passing away, but one night I received a note scribbled in pencil, that said, “Come and see the old man, like a good friend. He is very bad and lonely.”

I followed the direction, and made for a top floor in a little cul-de-sac out of Great
Ormond Street. I knocked at the door, and a faint voice answered me. There he lay, the good old fellow, and I could see that the pain of death was on his face.

All was perfectly neat and in order; nothing had been neglected, but here he was in this silent upper room with nothing to console him but the dull roar of distant London.

“I am going fast, old friend,” he said.

“I know it, I feel it. Let the doctors do what they will, I know I am going home. But, oh, do take me away from here. They are very kind, and charitable, and attentive, but they are strangers, and this silence is horrible. I want some excitement and noise. I’d sooner be in a hospital where I could hear some one talk, or in a workhouse to listen to a grumble; but oh, these days and nights without a word, I cannot endure it.”

I promised I would have him removed where he would be happier; but I knew the end was very near. His breath came rapidly, and he looked at me with that searching, piercing gaze that means the end.

All on a sudden he lifted himself up with some strange nervous power and pulled a book from under the pillow.

“Look here,” he said, “this was the work of my life.”

“I loved the old theatre, and it was my amusement to jot down all I heard when I got home. Here they all are, scraps, anecdotes, stories, all sorts of odds and ends. If I lived two hundred years I never could get to the end of all I have heard at one place or another. I never showed it to any one but you, but I thought you might get something out of it that would make them laugh — yes, and perhaps make them cry. You love the stage, and I like you for it — besides, bless you, you saved my girl.”

I protested.

“Don’t say another word — you saved my girl; and where is she now? Why doesn’t she come to her old father, who is alone — so terribly alone.”

He was getting weaker now as he handed me the book of manuscript and newspaper
cuttings, but he touched it tenderly till the last. It seemed as if he were parting from a dear friend.

The breathing came harder than before, and I took his hand. A nervous thrill of satisfaction went through his body as our hands touched, for though I was a stranger, still he looked on me as a friend.

“I shall not die alone now,” he said.

“God bless you for coming to the old man.”

He seemed asleep, but as I bent over him he was murmuring, “Take care of the book, it is yours — remember, yours.”

“What shall I call it, Tom?” I whispered.

His face lighted up for the last time, as he murmured very faintly, “The Stage Door.”

The rest was silence.


Originally published ca. 1880

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