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Triplet, the Cerberus of art, who had the first bark in this legend, and has since been out of hearing, ran from Lambeth to Covent Garden, on receipt of Mr. Vane's note. But ran he never so quick, he had built a full-sized castle in the air before he reached Bow Street.
The letter hinted at an order upon his muse for amatory verse; delightful task, cheering prospect.
Bid a man whose usual lot it is to break stones for the parish at tenpence the cubic yard--bid such an one play at marbles with some stone taws for half an hour per day, and pocket one pound one--bid a poor horse who has drawn those stones about, and browsed short grass by the wayside-- bid him canter a few times round a grassy ring, and then go to his corn--in short, bid Rosinante change with Pegasus, and you do no more than Mr. Vane's letter held out to Triplet.
The amatory verse of that day was not up-hill work. There was a beaten track on a dead level, and you followed it. You told the tender creature, with a world of circumlocution, that, "without joking now," she was a leper, ditto a tigress, item marble. You next feigned a lucid interval, and to be on the point of detesting your monster, but in twenty more verses love became, as usual, stronger than reason, and you wound up your rotten yarn thus:
You hugged a golden chain. You drew deeper into your wound a barbed shaft, like--(any wild animal will do, no one of them is such an ass, so you had an equal title to all). And on looking back you saw with horrible complacency that you had inflicted one hundred locusts, five feet long, upon oppressed humanity.
Wont to travel over acres of canvas for a few shillings, and roods of paper on bare speculation, Triplet knew he could make a thousand a year at the above work without thinking.
He came therefore to the box-keeper with his eyes glittering.
"Just gone out with a gentleman."
"I'll wait then."
Now Mr. Vane, we know, was in the green-room, and went home by the stage-door. The last thing he thought of was poor Triplet; the rich do not dream how they disappoint the poor. Triplet's castle fell as many a predecessor had. When the lights were put out, he left the theater with a bitter sigh.
"If this gentleman knew how many sweet children I have, and what a good, patient, suffering wife, sure he would not have chosen me to make a fool of!" said the poor fellow to himself.
In Bow Street, he turned, and looked back upon the theater. How gloomy and grand it loomed!
"Ah!" thought he, "if I could but conquer you; and why not? All history shows that nothing is unconquerable except perseverance. Hannibal conquered the Alps, and I'll conquer you," cried Triplet, firmly. "Yes, this visit is not lost; here I register a vow: I will force my way into that mountain of masonry, or perish in the attempt."
Triplet's most unpremeditated thoughts and actions often savored ridiculously of the sublime. Then and there, gazing with folded arms on this fortress of Thespis, the polytechnic man organized his first assault. The next evening he made it.
Five months previously he had sent the manager three great, large tragedies. He knew the aversion a theatrical manager has to read a manuscript play, not recommended by influential folk; an aversion which always has been carried to superstition. So he hit on the following scheme:
He wrote Mr. Rich a letter; in this he told Mr. Rich that he (Triplet) was aware what a quantity of trash is offered every week to a manager, how disheartening it must be to read it at all, and how natural, after a while, to read none. Therefore, he (Triplet) had provided that Mr. Rich might economize his time, and yet not remain in ignorance of the dramatic treasure that lay ready to his hand.
"The soul of a play," continued Triplet, "is the plot or fable. A gentleman of your experience can decide at once whether a plot or story is one to take the public!"
So then he drew out, in full, the three plots. He wrote these plots in verse! Heaven forgive us all, he really did. There were also two margins left; on one, which was narrow, he jotted down the locale per page of the most brilliant passages; on the other margin, which was as wide as the column of the plot, he made careful drawings of the personages in the principal dramatic situations; scrolls issued from their mouths, on which were written the words of fire that were flowing from each in these eruptions of the dramatic action. All was referred to pages in the manuscripts.
"By this means, sir," resumed the latter, "you will gut my fish in a jiffy; permit me to recall that expression, with apologies for my freedom. I would say, you will, in a few minutes of your valuable existence, skim the cream of Triplet."
This author's respect for the manager's time carried him into further and unusual details.
"Breakfast," said he, "is a quiet meal. Let me respectfully suggest, that by placing one of my plots on the table, with, say, the sugar-basin upon it (this, again, is a mere suggestion), and the play it appertains to on your other side, you can readily judge my work without disturbing the avocations of the day, and master a play in the twinkling of a teacup; forgive my facetiousness. This day month, at ten of the clock, I shall expect," said Triplet, with sudden severity, "sir, your decision!"
Then, gliding back to the courtier, he formally disowned all special title to the consideration he expected from Mr. Rich's well-known courtesy; still he begged permission to remind that gentleman that he had, six years ago, painted for him a large scene, illuminated by two great poetical incidents: a red sun, of dimensions never seen out of doors in this or any country; and an ocean of sand, yellower than up to that time had been attained in art or nature; and that once, when the audience, late in the evening, had suddenly demanded a popular song from Mr. Nokes, he (Triplet), seeing the orchestra thinned by desertion, and nugatory by intoxication, had started from the pit, resuscitated with the whole contents of his snuff-box the bass fiddle, snatched the leader's violin, and carried Mr. Nokes triumphantly through; that thunders of applause had followed, and Mr. Nokes had kindly returned thanks for both; but that he (Triplet) had hastily retired to evade the manager's acknowledgments, preferring to wait an opportunity like the present, when both interests could be conciliated, etc.
This letter he posted at its destination, to save time, and returned triumphant home. He had now forgiven and almost forgotten Vane; and had reflected that, after all, the drama was his proper walk.
"My dear," said he to Mrs. Triplet, "this family is on the eve of a great triumph!" Then, inverting that order of the grandiloquent and the homely which he invented in our first chapter, he proceeded to say: "I have reared in a single day a new avenue by which histrionic greatness, hitherto obstructed, may become accessible. Wife, I think I have done the trick at last. Lysimachus!" added he, "let a libation be poured out on so smiling an occasion, and a burnt-offering rise to propitiate the celestial powers. Run to the 'Sun,' you dog. Three pennyworth of ale, and a hap'orth o' tobacco."
Ere the month was out, I am sorry to say, the Triplets were reduced to a state of beggary. Mrs. Triplet's health had long been failing; and, although her duties at her little theater were light and occasional, the manager was obliged to discharge her, since she could not be depended upon.
The family had not enough to eat! Think of that! They were not warm at night, and they felt gnawing and faintness often by day. Think of that!
Fortune was unjust here. The man was laughable, and a goose; and had no genius either for writing, painting, or acting; but in that he resembled most writers, painters, and actors of his own day and ours. He was not beneath the average of what men call art, and it is art's antipodes--treadmill artifice.
Other fluent ninnies shared gain, and even fame, and were called 'penmen,' in Triplet's day. Other ranters were quietly getting rich by noise. Other liars and humbugs were painting out o' doors indoors, and eating mutton instead of thistles for drenched stinging-nettles, yclept trees; for block-tin clouds; for butlers' pantry seas, and garret-conceived lakes; for molten sugar-candy rivers; for airless atmosphere and sunless air; for carpet nature, and cold, dead fragments of an earth all soul and living glory to every cultivated eye but a routine painter's. Yet the man of many such mediocrities could not keep the pot boiling. We suspect that, to those who would rise in life, even strong versatility is a very doubtful good, and weak versatility ruination.
At last, the bitter, weary month was gone, and Triplet's eye brightened gloriously. He donned his best suit; and, while tying his cravat, lectured his family. First, he complimented them upon their deportment in adversity; hinted that moralists, not experience, had informed him prosperity was far more trying to the character. Put them all solemnly on their guard down to Lucy, aetat five, that they were morituri and ae, and must be pleased to abstain from "insolent gladness" upon his return.
"Sweet are the uses of adversity!" continued this cheerful monitor. "If we had not been hard up this while, we should not come with a full relish to meat three times a week, which, unless I am an ass (and I don't see myself in that light)," said Triplet dryly, "will, I apprehend, be, after this day, the primary condition of our future existence."
"James, take the picture with you," said Mrs. Triplet, in one of those calm, little, desponding voices that fall upon the soul so agreeably when one is a cock-a-hoop, and desires, with permission, so to remain.
"What on earth am I to take Mrs. Woffington's portrait for?"
"We have nothing in the house," said the wife, blushing.
Triplet's eye glittered like a rattlesnake's.
"The intimation is eccentric," said he. "Are you mad, Jane? Pray," continued he, veiling his wrath in scornful words, "is it requisite, heroic, or judicious on the eve, or more correctly the morn, of affluence to deposit an unfinished work of art with a mercenary relation? Hang it, Jane! would you really have me pawn Mrs. Woffington to-day?"
"James," said Jane steadily, "the manager may disappoint you, we have often been disappointed; so take the picture with you. They will give you ten shillings on it."
Triplet was one of those who see things roseate, Mrs. Triplet lurid.
"Madam," said the poet, "for the first time in our conjugal career, your commands deviate so entirely from reason that I respectfully withdraw that implicit obedience which has hitherto constituted my principal reputation. I'm hanged if I do it, Jane!"
"Dear James, to oblige me!"
"That alters the case; you confess it is unreasonable?"
"Oh, yes! it is only to oblige me.
"Enough!" said Triplet, whose tongue was often a flail that fell on friend, foe and self indiscriminately. "Allow it to be unreasonable, and I do it as a matter of course--to please you, Jane."
Accordingly the good soul wrapped it in green baize; but to relieve his mind he was obliged to get behind his wife, and shrug his shoulders to Lysimachus and the eldest girl, as who should say voila bien une femme votre mere a vous!
At last he was off, in high spirits. He reached Covent Garden at half-past ten, and there the poor fellow was sucked into our narrative whirlpool.
We must, however, leave him for a few minutes,
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