ON THE PLAYING OF MARCHES AT THE FUNERALS OF MARIONETTES
He began the day badly. He took me out and lost me. It would be so
much better, would he consent to the usual arrangement, and allow me
to take him out. I am far the abler leader: I say it without
conceit. I am older than he is, and I am less excitable. I do not
stop and talk with every person I meet, and then forget where I am.
I do less to distract myself: I rarely fight, I never feel I want
to run after cats, I take but little pleasure in frightening
children. I have nothing to think about but the walk, and the
getting home again. If, as I say, he would give up taking me out,
and let me take him out, there would be less trouble all round. But
into this I have never been able to persuade him.
He had mislaid me once or twice, but in Sloane Square he lost me
entirely. When he loses me, he stands and barks for me. If only he
would remain where he first barked, I might find my way to him; but,
before I can cross the road, he is barking half-way down the next
street. I am not so young as I was and I sometimes think he
exercises me more than is good for me. I could see him from where I
was standing in the King's Road. Evidently he was most indignant.
I was too far off to distinguish the barks, but I could guess what
he was saying--
"Damn that man, he's off again."
He made inquiries of a passing dog--
"You haven't smelt my man about anywhere, have you?"
(A dog, of course, would never speak of SEEING anybody or anything,
smell being his leading sense. Reaching the top of a hill, he would
say to his companion--"Lovely smell from here, I always think; I
could sit and sniff here all the afternoon." Or, proposing a walk,
he would say--"I like the road by the canal, don't you? There's
something interesting to catch your nose at every turn.")
"No, I haven't smelt any man in particular," answered the other dog.
"What sort of a smelling man is yours?"
"Oh, an egg-and-bacony sort of a man, with a dash of soap about
"That's nothing to go by," retorted the other; "most men would
answer to that description, this time of the morning. Where were
you when you last noticed him?"
At this moment he caught sight of me, and came up, pleased to find
me, but vexed with me for having got lost.
"Oh, here you are," he barked; "didn't you see me go round the
corner? Do keep closer. Bothered if half my time isn't taken up,
finding you and losing you again."
The incident appeared to have made him bad-tempered; he was just in
the humour for a row of any sort. At the top of Sloane Street a
stout military-looking gentleman started running after the Chelsea
bus. With a "Hooroo" William Smith was after him. Had the old
gentleman taken no notice, all would have been well. A butcher boy,
driving just behind, would--I could read it in his eye--have caught
Smith a flick as he darted into the road, which would have served
him right; the old gentleman would have captured his bus; and the
affair would have been ended. Unfortunately, he was that type of
retired military man all gout and curry and no sense. He stopped to
swear at the dog. That, of course, was what Smith wanted. It is
not often he gets a scrimmage with a full-grown man. "They're a
poor-spirited lot, most of them," he thinks; "they won't even answer
you back. I like a man who shows a bit of pluck." He was frenzied
with delight at his success. He flew round his victim, weaving
whooping circles and curves that paralyzed the old gentleman as
though they had been the mystic figures of a Merlin. The colonel
clubbed his umbrella, and attempted to defend himself. I called to
the dog, I gave good advice to the colonel (I judged him to be a
colonel; the louder he spoke, the less one could understand him),
but both were too excited to listen to me. A sympathetic bus driver
leaned over, and whispered hoarse counsel.
"Ketch 'im by the tail, sir," he advised the old gentleman; "don't
you be afraid of him; you ketch 'im firmly by the tail."
A milkman, on the other hand, sought rather to encourage Smith,
shouting as he passed--
"Good dog, kill him!"
A child, brained within an inch by the old gentleman's umbrella,
began to cry. The nurse told the old gentleman he was a fool--a
remark which struck me as singularly apt The old gentleman gasped
back that perambulators were illegal on the pavement; and, between
his exercises, inquired after myself. A crowd began to collect; and
a policeman strolled up.
It was not the right thing: I do not defend myself; but, at this
point, the temptation came to me to desert William Smith. He likes
a street row, I don't. These things are matters of temperament. I
have also noticed that he has the happy instinct of knowing when to
disappear from a crisis, and the ability to do so; mysteriously
turning up, quarter of a mile off, clad in a peaceful and
pre-occupied air, and to all appearances another and a better dog.
Consoling myself with the reflection that I could be of no practical
assistance to him and remembering with some satisfaction that, by a
fortunate accident, he was without his collar, which bears my name
and address, I slipped round the off side of a Vauxhall bus, making
no attempt at ostentation, and worked my way home through Lowndes
Square and the Park.
Five minutes after I had sat down to lunch, he flung open the
dining-room door, and marched in. It is his customary "entrance."
In a previous state of existence, his soul was probably that of an
From his exuberant self-satisfaction, I was inclined to think he
must have succeeded in following the milkman's advice; at all
events, I have not seen the colonel since. His bad temper had
disappeared, but his "uppishness" had, if possible, increased.
Previous to his return, I had given The O'Shannon a biscuit. The
O'Shannon had been insulted; he did not want a dog biscuit; if he
could not have a grilled kidney he did not want anything. He had
thrown the biscuit on the floor. Smith saw it and made for it. Now
Smith never eats biscuits. I give him one occasionally, and he at
once proceeds to hide it. He is a thrifty dog; he thinks of the
future. "You never know what may happen," he says; "suppose the
Guv'nor dies, or goes mad, or bankrupt, I may be glad even of this
biscuit; I'll put it under the door-mat--no, I won't, somebody will
find it there. I'll scratch a hole in the tennis lawn, and bury it
there. That's a good idea; perhaps it'll grow!" Once I caught him
hiding it in my study, behind the shelf devoted to my own books. It
offended me, his doing that; the argument was so palpable.
Generally, wherever he hides it somebody finds it. We find it under
our pillows--inside our boots; no place seems safe. This time he
had said to himself--"By Jove! a whole row of the Guv'nor's books.
Nobody will ever want to take these out; I'll hide it here." One
feels a thing like that from one's own dog.
But The O'Shannon's biscuit was another matter. Honesty is the best
policy; but dishonesty is the better fun. He made a dash for it,
and commenced to devour it greedily; you might have thought he had
not tasted food for a week.
The indignation of The O'Shannon was a sight for the gods. He has
the good-nature of his race: had Smith asked him for the biscuit he
would probably have given it to him; it was the insult--the
immorality of the proceeding, that maddened The O'Shannon.
For a moment he was paralyzed.
"Well, of all the--Did ye see that now?" he said to me with his
eyes. Then he made a rush and snatched the biscuit out of Smith's
very jaws. "Ye onprincipled black Saxon thief," growled The
O'Shannon; "how dare ye take my biscuit?"
"You miserable Irish cur," growled Smith; "how was I to know it was
your biscuit? Does everything on the floor belong to you? Perhaps
you think I belong to you, I'm on the floor. I don't believe it is
your biscuit, you long-eared, snubbed-nosed bog-trotter; give it me
"I don't require any of your argument, you flop-eared son of a tramp
with half a tail," replied The O'Shannon. "You come and take it, if
you think you are dog enough."
He did think he was dog enough. He is half the size of The
O'Shannon, but such considerations weigh not with him. His argument
is, if a dog is too big for you to fight the whole of him, take a
bit of him and fight that. He generally gets licked, but what is
left of him invariably swaggers about afterwards under the
impression it is the victor. When he is dead, he will say to
himself, as he settles himself in his grave--"Well, I flatter myself
I've laid out that old world at last. It won't trouble ME any more,
On this occasion, _I_ took a hand in the fight. It becomes
necessary at intervals to remind Master Smith that the man, as the
useful and faithful friend of dog, has his rights. I deemed such
interval had arrived. He flung himself on to the sofa, muttering.
It sounded like--"Wish I'd never got up this morning. Nobody
Nothing, however, sobers him for long. Half-an-hour later, he was
killing the next-door cat. He will never learn sense; he has been
killing that cat for the last three months. Why the next morning
his nose is invariably twice its natural size, while for the next
week he can see objects on one side of his head only, he never seems
to grasp; I suppose he attributes it to change in the weather.
He ended up the afternoon with what he no doubt regarded as a
complete and satisfying success. Dorothea had invited a lady to
take tea with her that day. I heard the sound of laughter, and,
being near the nursery, I looked in to see what was the joke. Smith
was worrying a doll. I have rarely seen a more worried-looking
doll. Its head was off, and its sawdust strewed the floor. Both
the children were crowing with delight; Dorothea, in particular, was
in an ecstasy of amusement.
"Whose doll is it?" I asked.
"Eva's," answered Dorothea, between her peals of laughter.
"Oh no, it isn't," explained Eva, in a tone of sweet content;
"here's my doll." She had been sitting on it, and now drew it forth,
warm but whole. "That's Dorry's doll."
The change from joy to grief on the part of Dorothea was distinctly
dramatic. Even Smith, accustomed to storm, was nonplussed at the
suddenness of the attack upon him.
Dorothea's sorrow lasted longer than I had expected. I promised her
another doll. But it seemed she did not want another; that was the
only doll she would ever care for so long as life lasted; no other
doll could ever take its place; no other doll would be to her what
that doll had been. These little people are so absurd: as if it
could matter whether you loved one doll or another, when all are so
much alike! They have curly hair, and pink-and-white complexions,
big eyes that open and shut, a little red mouth, two little hands.
Yet these foolish little people! they will love one, while another
they will not look upon. I find the best plan is not to reason with
them, but to sympathize. Later on--but not too soon--introduce to
them another doll. They will not care for it at first, but in time
they will come to take an interest in it. Of course, it cannot make
them forget the first doll; no doll ever born in Lowther Arcadia
could be as that, but still-- It is many weeks before they forget
entirely the first love.
We buried Dolly in the country under the yew tree. A friend of mine
who plays the fiddle came down on purpose to assist. We buried her
in the hot spring sunshine, while the birds from shady nooks sang
joyously of life and love. And our chief mourner cried real tears,
just for all the world as though it were not the fate of dolls,
sooner or later, to get broken--the little fragile things, made for
an hour, to be dressed and kissed; then, paintless and stript, to be
thrown aside on the nursery floor. Poor little dolls! I wonder do
they take themselves seriously, not knowing the springs that stir
their sawdust bosoms are but clockwork, not seeing the wires to
which they dance? Poor little marionettes! do they talk together, I
wonder, when the lights of the booth are out?
You, little sister doll, were the heroine. You lived in the
white-washed cottage, all honeysuckle and clematis without--earwiggy
and damp within, maybe. How pretty you always looked in your
simple, neatly-fitting print dress. How good you were! How nobly
you bore your poverty. How patient you were under your many wrongs.
You never harboured an evil thought, a revengeful wish--never,
little doll? Were there never moments when you longed to play the
wicked woman's part, live in a room with many doors, be-clad in furs
and jewels, with lovers galore at your feet? In those long winter
evenings? the household work is done--the greasy dishes washed, the
floor scrubbed; the excellent child is asleep in the corner; the
one-and-elevenpenny lamp sheds its dismal light on the darned
table-cloth; you sit, busy at your coarse sewing, waiting for Hero
Dick, knowing--guessing, at least, where he is--! Yes, dear, I
remember your fine speeches, when you told her, in stirring language
the gallery cheered to the echo, what you thought of her and of such
women as she; when, lifting your hand to heaven, you declared you
were happier in your attic, working your fingers to the bone, than
she in her gilded salon--I think "gilded salon" was the term, was it
not?--furnished by sin. But speaking of yourself, weak little
sister doll, not of your fine speeches, the gallery listening, did
you not, in your secret heart, envy her? Did you never, before
blowing out the one candle, stand for a minute in front of the
cracked glass, and think to yourself that you, too, would look well
in low-cut dresses from Paris, the diamonds flashing on your white
smooth skin? Did you never, toiling home through the mud, bearing
your bundle of needlework, feel bitter with the wages of virtue, as
she splashed you, passing by in her carriage? Alone, over your cup
of weak tea, did you never feel tempted to pay the price for
champagne suppers, and gaiety, and admiration? Ah, yes, it is easy
for folks who have had their good time, to prepare copybooks for
weary little inkstained fingers, longing for play. The fine maxims
sound such cant when we are in that mood, do they not? You, too,
were young and handsome: did the author of the play think you were
never hungry for the good things of life? Did he think that reading
tracts to crotchety old women was joy to a full-blooded girl in her
twenties? Why should SHE have all the love, and all the laughter?
How fortunate that the villain, the Wicked Baronet, never opened the
cottage door at that moment, eh, dear! He always came when you were
strong, when you felt that you could denounce him, and scorn his
temptations. Would that the villain came to all of us at such time;
then we would all, perhaps, be heroes and heroines.
Ah well, it was only a play: it is over now. You and I, little
tired dolls, lying here side by side, waiting to know our next part,
we can look back and laugh. Where is she, this wicked dolly, that
made such a stir on our tiny stage? Ah, here you are, Madam; I
thought you could not be far; they have thrown us all into this
corner together. But how changed you are, Dolly: your paint rubbed
off, your golden hair worn to a wisp. No wonder; it was a trying
part you had to play. How tired you must have grown of the glare
and the glitter! And even hope was denied you. The peace you so
longed for you knew you had lost the power to enjoy. Like the girl
bewitched in the fairy tale, you knew you must dance ever faster and
faster, with limbs growing palsied, with face growing ashen, and
hair growing grey, till Death should come to release you; and your
only prayer was he might come ere your dancing grew comic.
Like the smell of the roses to Nancy, hawking them through the hot
streets, must the stifling atmosphere of love have been to you. The
song of passion, how monotonous in your ears, sung now by the young
and now by the old; now shouted, now whined, now shrieked; but ever
the one strident tune. Do you remember when first you heard it?
You dreamt it the morning hymn of Heaven. You came to think it the
dance music of Hell, ground from a cracked hurdy-gurdy, lent out by
the Devil on hire.
An evil race we must have seemed to you, Dolly Faustine, as to some
Old Bailey lawyer. You saw but one side of us. You lived in a
world upside down, where the leaves and the blossoms were hidden,
and only the roots saw your day. You imagined the worm-beslimed
fibres the plant, and all things beautiful you deemed cant.
Chivalry, love, honour! how you laughed at the lying words. You
knew the truth--as you thought: aye, half the truth. We were swine
while your spell was upon us, Daughter of Circe, and you, not
knowing your island secret, deemed it our natural shape.
No wonder, Dolly, your battered waxen face is stamped with an angry
sneer. The Hero, who eventually came into his estates amid the
plaudits of the Pit, while you were left to die in the streets! you
remembered, but the house had forgotten those earlier scenes in
always wicked Paris. The good friend of the family, the breezy man
of the world, the Deus ex Machina of the play, who was so good to
everybody, whom everybody loved! aye, YOU loved him once--but that
was in the Prologue. In the Play proper, he was respectable. (How
you loathed that word, that meant to you all you vainly longed for!)
To him the Prologue was a period past and dead; a memory, giving
flavour to his life. To you, it was the First Act of the Play,
shaping all the others. His sins the house had forgotten: at
yours, they held up their hands in horror. No wonder the sneer lies
on your waxen lips.
Never mind, Dolly; it was a stupid house. Next time, perhaps, you
will play a better part; and then they will cheer, instead of
hissing you. You were wasted, I am inclined to think, on modern
comedy. You should have been cast for the heroine of some old-world
tragedy. The strength of character, the courage, the power of
self-forgetfulness, the enthusiasm were yours: it was the part that
was lacking. You might have worn the mantle of a Judith, a
Boadicea, or a Jeanne d'Arc, had such plays been popular in your
time. Perhaps they, had they played in your day, might have had to
be content with such a part as yours. They could not have played
the meek heroine, and what else would there have been for them in
modern drama? Catherine of Russia! had she been a waiter's daughter
in the days of the Second Empire, should we have called her Great?
The Magdalene! had her lodging in those days been in some bye-street
of Rome instead of in Jerusalem, should we mention her name in our
You were necessary, you see, Dolly, to the piece. We cannot all
play heroes and heroines. There must be wicked people in the play,
or it would not interest. Think of it, Dolly, a play where all the
women were virtuous, all the men honest! We might close the booth;
the world would be as dull as an oyster-bed. Without you wicked
folk there would be no good. How should we have known and honoured
the heroine's worth, but by contrast with your worthlessness? Where
would have been her fine speeches, but for you to listen to them?
Where lay the hero's strength, but in resisting temptation of you?
Had not you and the Wicked Baronet between you robbed him of his
estates, falsely accused him of crime, he would have lived to the
end of the play an idle, unheroic, incomplete existence. You
brought him down to poverty; you made him earn his own bread--a most
excellent thing for him; gave him the opportunity to play the man.
But for your conduct in the Prologue, of what value would have been
that fine scene at the end of the Third Act, that stirred the house
to tears and laughter? You and your accomplice, the Wicked Baronet,
made the play possible. How would Pit and Gallery have known they
were virtuous, but for the indignation that came to them, watching
your misdeeds? Pity, sympathy, excitement, all that goes to the
making of a play, you were necessary for. It was ungrateful of the
house to hiss you.
And you, Mr. Merryman, the painted grin worn from your pale lips,
you too were dissatisfied, if I remember rightly, with your part.
You wanted to make the people cry, not laugh. Was it a higher
ambition? The poor tired people! so much happens in their life to
make them weep, is it not good sport to make them merry for awhile?
Do you remember that old soul in the front row of the Pit? How she
laughed when you sat down on the pie! I thought she would have to
be carried out. I heard her talking to her companion as they passed
the stage-door on their way home. "I have not laughed, my dear,
till to-night," she was saying, the good, gay tears still in her
eyes, "since the day poor Sally died." Was not that alone worth the
old stale tricks you so hated? Aye, they were commonplace and
conventional, those antics of yours that made us laugh; are not the
antics that make us weep commonplace and conventional also? Are not
all the plays, played since the booth was opened, but of one
pattern, the plot old-fashioned now, the scenes now commonplace?
Hero, villain, cynic--are their parts so much the fresher? The love
duets, are they so very new? The death-bed scenes, would you call
them UNcommonplace? Hate, and Evil, and Wrong--are THEIR voices new
to the booth? What are you waiting for, people? a play with a plot
that is novel, with characters that have never strutted before? It
will be ready for you, perhaps, when you are ready for it, with new
tears and new laughter.
You, Mr. Merryman, were the true philosopher. You saved us from
forgetting the reality when the fiction grew somewhat strenuous.
How we all applauded your gag in answer to the hero, when, bewailing
his sad fate, he demanded of Heaven how much longer he was to suffer
evil fortune. "Well, there cannot be much more of it in store for
you," you answered him; "it's nearly nine o'clock already, and the
show closes at ten." And true to your prophecy the curtain fell at
the time appointed, and his troubles were of the past. You showed
us the truth behind the mask. When pompous Lord Shallow, in ermine
and wig, went to take his seat amid the fawning crowd, you pulled
the chair from under him, and down he sat plump on the floor. His
robe flew open, his wig flew off. No longer he awed us. His aped
dignity fell from him; we saw him a stupid-eyed, bald little man; he
imposed no longer upon us. It is your fool who is the only true
Yours was the best part in the play, Brother Merryman, had you and
the audience but known it. But you dreamt of a showier part, where
you loved and fought. I have heard you now and again, when you did
not know I was near, shouting with sword in hand before your
looking-glass. You had thrown your motley aside to don a dingy red
coat; you were the hero of the play, you performed the gallant
deeds, you made the noble speeches. I wonder what the play would be
like, were we all to write our own parts. There would be no clowns,
no singing chambermaids. We would all be playing lead in the centre
of the stage, with the lime-light exclusively devoted to ourselves.
Would it not be so?
What grand acting parts they are, these characters we write for
ourselves alone in our dressing-rooms. We are always brave and
noble--wicked sometimes, but if so, in a great, high-minded way;
never in a mean or little way. What wondrous deeds we do, while the
house looks on and marvels. Now we are soldiers, leading armies to
victory. What if we die: it is in the hour of triumph, and a
nation is left to mourn. Not in some forgotten skirmish do we ever
fall; not for some "affair of outposts" do we give our blood, our
very name unmentioned in the dispatches home. Now we are passionate
lovers, well losing a world for love--a very different thing to
being a laughter-provoking co-respondent in a sordid divorce case.
And the house is always crowded when we play. Our fine speeches
always fall on sympathetic ears, our brave deeds are noted and
applauded. It is so different in the real performance. So often we
play our parts to empty benches, or if a thin house be present, they
misunderstand, and laugh at the pathetic passages. And when our
finest opportunity comes, the royal box, in which HE or SHE should
be present to watch us, is vacant.
Poor little dolls, how seriously we take ourselves, not knowing the
springs that stir our bosoms are but clockwork, not seeing the wires
to which we dance. Poor little marionettes, shall we talk together,
I wonder, when the lights of the booth are out?
We are little wax dollies with hearts. We are little tin soldiers
with souls. Oh, King of many toys, are you merely playing with us?
IS it only clockwork within us, this thing that throbs and aches?
Have you wound us up but to let us run down? Will you wind us again
to-morrow, or leave us here to rust? IS it only clockwork to which
we respond and quiver? Now we laugh, now we cry, now we dance; our
little arms go out to clasp one another, our little lips kiss, then
say good-bye. We strive, and we strain, and we struggle. We reach
now for gold, now for laurel. We call it desire and ambition: are
they only wires that you play? Will you throw the clockwork aside,
or use it again, O Master?
The lights of the booth grow dim. The springs are broken that kept
our eyes awake. The wire that held us erect is snapped, and
helpless we fall in a heap on the stage. Oh, brother and sister
dollies we played beside, where are you? Why is it so dark and
silent? Why are we being put into this black box? And hark! the
little doll orchestra--how far away the music sounds! what is it
they are playing:--
[Start of Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette]