Our Theatricals (Rudyard Kipling, 1886)
Snuffley is our great actor—the mainstay of our theatrical world. Little need to tell you that, though, for of course he's well known all over India as a man of great histrionic ability. Wherever Snuffley goes, he is to be found the day after his arrival running about the station trying to find out who acts. This year he got away for a time to a small hill station, and after the usual enquiries, delivered himself in his usual sanguine way. It is a characteristic of Snuffley, that he is always sanguine.
"Mrs. de la Maine coming up do you say? Grand actress that! Tooth of 'Ours' here now, Mrs. Squaring and Miss Squeezer? Ever seen Miss Squeezer act? I have not myself but they say she's good. Then there's yourself and myself. Let's see me now, how many's that now" as he tells them off on his fingers. "Oh! first class! Capital! We'll have some ripping theatricals this reason, won't we old chap? In about a fortnight's time Snuffley went the rounds. All the expected articles had arrived, and the great actor was eloquent. "Must start something you know," is what he said. Eventually he surrounded himself with a-dozen or more bound books of plays, an odd hundred or so librettos, and devoted some hours to selection. Convinced at last of the right play, as one in which each character was exactly suited to his proposed company, he sent it round with a nice little note, asking each severally to take the particular part he named.
But Tomkyns knew the piece, and refused to take any other part than the very one that Snuffley had chosen for himself, on the portraying of which he particularly prided himself. Mrs. de la Maine and Mrs. Squaring, as befitted their great names on the Indian stage. Both declined to act at all, unless they were each given the best part. "Mind you, Mr. Snuffley, the best." And hoodwinked they would not be, though Snuffley did his level best to persuade them both—when he got them apart—that the part he had chosen for them was simply made for them. "You've got all the best 'hits' you know—'fact, to my mind its the best part in the whole piece. And it wasn't any good when he got very much the same answer from each. "It's all very well to say that's a good part, Mr. Snuffley, I know better. I've acted too often to be palmed off with that; no, I'll take the part of Lady Thingamebob or none at all."
Now Snuffley was wise in his generation, and having pondered over the matter, he became convinced that it was impossible that both ladies could take the same character; so with a hope that time and persuasion might in the end work matters right in that quarter, he passed on to Miss Squeezer. Miss Squeezer asked to be allowed to read the play through, as—well, of course, she must have seen it before—she'd quite forgotten it. Snuffley sent her the book. She kept it for week, while Snuffley foamed with impatience, and then sent a very sweet little reply.
"Dear Mr. Snuffley,
I think the play a capital one, and I have read it through most carefully, "Marion de l'Orme" is the only part that would suit me, and I shall be very happy to take it if you can get no one else."
"Great Scott" quoth Snuffley as he shouted for a peg and nearly wont into a fit before it arrived. "Marion de l'Orme" he had reserved for little Viola Ploring, a girl of eighteen with the prettiest of figures and the sweetest of faces. A contrast indeed of figures and the sweetest of faces. A contrast indeed to Miss Squeezer who, though it might'nt have been her fault, had seen at least twenty-nine summers, was somewhat freckled, had ruddy hair and a turned up nose. Beside this, the part required a certain amount of activity, and poor Miss S. had lived so contested a life, that eleven stones of solidity had been the imposing result.
Tooth, it must be said, was good nature itself; offered the choice among three parts, he chose one and copied it out. Snookson however, when asked to take one of the remaining parts, declared that the part that that fellow Tooth had [illegible], would suit him far better. Perhaps Tooth would not mind changing—but Tooth would be hanged if he would, especially for that conceited chap, Snookson. He'd copied his part out, and half learnt it for that matter. He wasn't to change half a dozen times.
Somehow that play did not come out.
But nothing daunts Snuffley. He was like a paper cork in that respect, you may keep him under water for a bit, but he will rise again.
First one play, then another, he suggested with just the same old difficulties. Then every one suggested one, but all the suggestions were different.
At length, by dint of perseverance, a play hit upon by agreement of about a third of the company. Yet the difficulties, though less, were still imposing, for Tooth had quarrelled with Mrs. Squarring and Snookson had fallen in love with little Viola Pioring; and the one would not act if Mrs. Squarring was going to act, and the other would only act if Miss Sheraton was going to act too.
This had to be got over somehow, and you may trust Snuffley to have done it in the best way possible. Some of the original cast had to be left out as a matter of course; and at last, as the season waned, the Amateur Dramatic Society their first performance to a crowded and enthusiastic audience.
Snuffley's exertions were crowned with a brilliant [sadness?].
Yet, though "there's a silver lining to every cloud," one mustn't forget the cloud.
And Snuffley's cloud consisted of—so it was remembered—some of those who had been left out of the cast. For actually someone wrote to the papers, and severely criticized the performance; such a shame. True, the criticisms might have been the plain unvarnished truth, but then "so spiteful you know," "I am sure I know who wrote that letter to the paper, and I'll find out for certain, as sure as my name is—." Any way, the result was appalling. Some of the ladies cried, and vowed they'd never sit again in that station. And a man or two went shout the Mall for the next few days with big stinks and a dangerous look is the corner of their eyes, a wandering whose head aught to be broken.
They never found out. How should they? And despite what happened, Snuffley just [illegible] began again to find something to act you know.