Having engaged lodgings in a private house nearly opposite the Assembly Rooms, in Princes Street, Bristol, my landlord being Portuguese of the name of Luis, we there remained until the end of the season, unknowing and unknown, and little dreaming that, after an interval of more than half a century, I should be penning these memoirs and chronicling the then occurrences, so far as connected with myself.
Tom Denning was the Matthew’s of Macready’s company and had made an unsuccessful appearance at Drury Lane some few months before my acquaintance with the Bristol footlights; and, being at that time a friend of Russell’s, occupied an occasional seat at my father’s hospitable board. I had reason, subsequently, to know that it was through his friendly agency, that Mr. Munden made the arrangement with Mr. Macready on my account. It was very fortunate that I had this friend at hand in my hour of need; for the manager was either very poor or very mean, and I and everybody else found it very difficult to draw upon the treasury for the most trifling instalment of our weekly salaries. “Business is very bad” – “Wait until Monday” were the uniform substitutes for cash, and but for my friend Denning, I should have been very greatly inconvenienced. I have good reason to recollect that, at one particular time, my arrears of pay exceeded fifteen pounds and thereby hangs a tale and which tale I proceed to narrate.
The citizens had been duly appraised of the near approach of the annual saturnalia of a pantomime at the Theatre Royal; with, as a special attraction, the appearance of the celebrated Bradbury as the clown; and for several days our manager, in eager anticipation of a replenished treasury, was exuberantly hilarious and amiable.
One day whist enjoying a social cup of tea with my wife, Mr. Macready vouchsafed a call in order, as he said, to consult me upon a matter of considerable difficulty and some annoyance.
“I expect Bradbury down tomorrow for a first rehearsal,” said Macready, “and Brown declares he will not be his pantaloon; what on earth am I to do?”
“Get Jones to be Brown’s substitute,” I said.
“I have asked Jones and he refuses,” continued the manager.
“That’s very strange,” I observed,” but perhaps Robinson – or Smith or . . . . . ,”
“To tell you the truth at once,” said my visitor, “I have asked all of them in turn; and with the same vexatious result. Perhaps you can now see the full extent of my unfortunate position? Can you advise or assist me in this dilemma?”
I confess my utter inability – but suggest the postponement of the pantomime until he could effect a satisfactory arrangement with some competent individual.
But he would listen to nothing of the kind and after pacing the room for some time, he sat down opposite me and talking and squeezing my hand affectionately, or at least energetically, thus enlightened me – “My dear friend, I have come to you as a last resource and I may say in desperation. You have it in your power to render me an essential service; will you kindly play pantaloon? I have no other. I can get no other. You see the full extent of my difficulty and you have it now in your power to lay me under a heavy personal obligation to you. Will you do it?”
I replied that I knew nothing of the pantomime business; but that I did know that he was in debt to me for and being very short of money I was willing to make it a matter of business and play the old fool for him upon his squaring up my account.
He solemnly declared his inability to comply with my terms; but offered me an instalment of with a promise of the balance within a month.
I refused to accept anything short of a settlement in full, and he left me.
In about half an hour a Miss Desmond brought me the money and so Macready got out of his difficulty; but not so with me, for enquiring of Brown, Jones and Robinson, and the rest, I was informed that they, one and all, had refused because it was well understood in the profession that Bradbury was mad and they were naturally disinclined to risk life and limb to oblige Mr. Macready. I will merely add that I did not feel perfectly comfortable until our star clown had turned his back on Bristol. I certainly made a questionable bargain with my creditor and was very fortunate to get out of it without injury.
As a sequel to this little story, I should state that when I called upon Denning, to repay him the few pounds he had lent me, I was informed by him that Munden had consigned me to his Bristol friend (Macready,) free of salary, my father forwarding the manager the night I left London, and another shortly afterwards, out of which cash in advance, I was to be paid a weekly salary as from the manager for services rendered. I repeat that the father of the great tragedian must have been very poor or very mean; and I fear the latter; to which conclusion I am led or drawn by other occurrences.