The MYSTERIOUS Customer.

By J. L. TOOLE.

MANY years ago, there was a very popular song in London called “The Gay Cavalier.” It was adorned with a wonderful picture of a Charles the Second gallant, all-feathered hat, bulgy boots with lace ruffles tacked onto them, a lot of effeminate curls, and a tremendous john_l-toolesword decorated with ribbons. He had sneaked up a rope-ladder to serenade the idol of his affections, and seeing that she was a married woman, it was very foolish of the gay cavalier to leave his gloves behind him. The husband discovered the gloves, and that was the dramatic situation of the song.

I remember the ditty began, ” ‘Twas a gay cavalier to a bower drew near, his lady to ser-er-en-ade!” but every other second came a doleful wail over the “glo-o-oves that never belonged to me!” They make a good many complaints, but I think that they write better songs than that now-a-days, and manage to favour the warbling actor with more metrical effusions. Did you ever hear the “‘Orrible Tale,” or “Obadiah”?

The old song reminds me, however, that I have a story about some gloves “that never belonged to me.” Some of my critics say that long-fingered Berlin gloves play very many powerful parts in my repertoire; but I will let that pass. There must be jealousy and envy in this wicked world. Many a good laugh have I got out of a good long-fingered greengrocer’s glove as a muddled and a puzzled waiter; but, “bless you, it is not the glove that gets the laugh, but the art that arranges the fingers into comic attitudes.So long as the public laughs I shall stick to the gloves, so long as they stick to me. In the present case they did not stick to me at all, and hence my story.

I was out of gloves, and my fame as a low comedian was threatened with extinction; for  what could I do — hear this, O my critics — with any conceivable farce without the  assistance of some comic gloves?

You shall hear. No, joking apart, I was really out of gloves. Just listen. In “Artful Cards” — you know the piece — capital funny play by Burnand— trick act, and all that kind of thing. Well, I was playing Mr. Spicer Rumford in “Artful Cards,” and you know in the second act he goes to an evening party, and he has bought a pair of white kid gloves. Burnand is far too observant an author to think of writing a play for me without gloves in some shape or other. This time they are aristocratic gloves — white kid — no greengrocer’s pattern or Berlin material — regular party-going gloves, warranted not to split, at one-and-six. But they do split, and here is the fun of the introduction of those comical articles called  hand-shoes by the matter-of-fact Germans. By-the-by, I imitate the music of the prominent instrument in a German band in that farce, and parade the streets with a melancholy trombone.

But to resume, I am always rushing off at a tangent. I have really got so much in my head, that I am bound to let it off occasionally.

The gloves were necessary for the fun of the play; they must be split, or there is no fun; and I usually keep a dozen pairs ready in case of emergency, as I have to split them before going upon the stage.

When acting in a celebrated provincial town, where they are extremely critical and  particular down to the smallest detail, my dresser told me that I had no gloves; I had used them all, I told him it was all right, I would bring some down from my box at the hotel; but on my way to the theatre the next night, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten the gloves.

It was a dreadfully wet night, pouring cats and dogs, and all the best shops were shut up; so I told the coachman to stop at the first glove-shop he came to. We came to a halt at a miserable-looking fourth-rate shop, where they sold cheap braces and mouldy neckties, fly-blown shirts, and the most alarming brass studs fixed into cardboard. The socks looked as if they had been knitted in the year one, and there was a thick layer of dust on the cotton pocket-handkerchiefs displayed on the chairs, and bearing upon them the coloured pictures of winners of the Derby and the Oaks ten years ago. I often wonder who buys those sporting handkerchiefs. They are not used in farces.

The proprietor of this dingy emporium was just about to close, and seemed half-asleep. I could see at once he was a surly, ill-conditioned fellow, and I don’t think I improved his temper by making my request very earnestly and in a low tone, accompanied by gibberish which he could not understand.

My earnestness impressed him, but no tone word could he comprehend. I heard him muttering to himself, “What does he mean? the man’s a fool.” When suddenly, as he was bouncing about and losing his temper, I said, as distinctly as possible,”Have you got any white kid gloves? I don’t understand your provincial dialect.”

It was as well to turn the tables at once, and put him in the wrong.

He did not know whether he had any gloves, but he would see. So he groped about in a silly, aimless fashion, opening boxes of socks, neckties, under jerseys, braces, and  everything but gloves, until at last, when he was red with the exertion, he found a forgotten box of white kids. They were uncommonly dusty, and had evidently been the original stock of his grandfather’s shop. I picked out a pair, and he went through the stupid old formula of doubling them across my knuckles. I never found that prevented them from ripping open at the thumb during a mazy dance, or splitting at an evening party.

“I think these will do,” he said.

“Oh! will they? then give me a pair of scissors.”

“They are untied; you don’t want any scissors.”

“Yes, I do.”

I then deliberately cut the gloves in five or six places. The man positively shuddered, and said, “Oh, don’t!” It seemed to hurt him, although the gloves were mine. The more he shuddered, the more I cut away.

“But I could have got you a larger pair without that,” he whined, as if he were in dreadful pain.

“They are quite large enough, my dear sir,” I replied, hacking away; “but I like plenty of ventilation.”

He shuddered again.

“Give me another pair!” I said, fiercely, as if I were thirsting for destruction.

“Will you have a larger size? Do,” he murmured. “Don’t hurt them,” he added, with real pathos.

“No!” I said, melodramatically. “Give me some larger scissors!”

I saw a large pair of scissors on the counter, and seizing them, cut away at two or three pair as eagerly as a child cutting up paper. The more I cut, the more puzzled and distressed he looked.

“There, that will do,” said I, throwing down the money and pocketing the gloves.

“Will you have any paper? Oh! dear!” he roared, as if the scissors had been ripping him  open, and he was recovering from the shock!

“No, indeed, not I. Belinda shall be revenged!” I groaned between my teeth. “Thus will I destroy my hated rival.”

He backed away from me as I waved the scissors in the air, and I could see by his terrified face that he thought I was stark staring mad. As I was leaving the shop I looked out and said,

“It’s a lovely morning, isn’t it?” It was seven o’clock in the evening, and raining in
torrents.

“Don’t talk nonsense, sir,” he replied angrily, but evidently very frightened and
astonished.

With a hideous grimace I left the shop and jumped into the carriage. In five minutes I was at the theatre, trying to amuse the audience with the perplexities of Mr. Spicer Rumford, while the puzzled shopman was brooding in the little back parlour over this strange adventure with his “Mysterious Customer.”


1880

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