As I was walking one morning with Buckthorne, near one of the Principal theaters, he directed my attention to a group of those equivocal beings that may often be seen hovering about the stage-doors of theaters. They were marvellously ill-favored in their attire, their coats buttoned up to their chins; yet they wore their hats smartly on one side, and had a certain knowing, dirty-gentlemanlike air, which is common to the subalterns of the drama. Buckthorne knew them well by early experience.
These, said he, are the ghosts of departed kings and heroes; fellows who sway sceptres and truncheons; command kingdoms and armies; and after giving way realms and treasures over night, have scarce a shilling to pay for a breakfast in the morning. Yet they have the true vagabond abhorrence of all useful and industrious employment; and they have their pleasures too: one of which is to lounge in this way in the sunshine, at the stage-door, during rehearsals, and make hackneyed theatrical jokes on all passers-by.
Nothing is more traditional and legitimate than the stage. Old scenery, old clothes, old sentiments, old ranting, and old jokes, are handed down from generation to generation; and will probably continue to be so, until time shall be no more. Every hanger-on of a theater becomes a wag by inheritance, and flourishes about at tap-rooms and six-penny clubs, with the property jokes of the green-room.
While amusing ourselves with reconnoitring this group, we noticed one in particular who appeared to be the oracle. He was a weather-beaten veteran, a little bronzed by time and beer, who had no doubt, grown gray in the parts of robbers, cardinals, Roman senators, and walking noblemen.
“There’s something in the set of that hat, and the turn of that physiognomy, that is extremely familiar to me,” said Buckthorne. He looked a little closer. “I cannot be mistaken,” added he, “that must be my old brother of the truncheon, Flimsey, the tragic hero of the strolling company.”
It was he in fact. The poor fellow showed evident signs that times went hard with him; he was so finely and shabbily dressed. His coat was somewhat threadbare, and of the Lord Townly cut; single-breasted, and scarcely capable of meeting in front of his body; which, from long intimacy, had acquired the symmetry and robustness of a beer-barrel. He wore a pair of dingy white stockinet pantaloons, which had much ado to reach his waistcoat; a great quantity of dirty cravat; and a pair of old russet-colored tragedy boots.
When his companions had dispersed, Buckthorne drew him aside and made Himself known to him. The tragic veteran could scarcely recognize him, or believe that he was really his quondam associate “little gentleman Jack.” Buckthorne invited him to a neighboring coffee-house to talk over old times; and in the course of a little while we were put in possession of his history in brief.