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Chapter 14

THE morning after our arrival in Edinburgh we went out to Barnton in pursuance of our strict regime of "exercise on Monday if no other day," and it was rather odd to find brilliant warm sunshine and snow underfoot. However, we played a round, though Norman Salmond expressed great displeasure at the course being played backwards, by way of resting the greens.

There was great fun in the selection of our bedrooms when the four of us arrived on the Sunday. It appeared that Mitton and Salmond had been somewhat cramped at the last town, and there was a great struggle to get first out of the lift, in which my dignity would not allow me to take part, and little de Frece had naturally no chance. Salmond was the first to "get a Ball down," as he styled selecting a room, Mitton being a good second, then de Frece. I strolled up last, having some idea that the manageress might have reserved me something, an idea which was well founded, and the result was an absolute palace of a room. Norman Salmond’s conscience must have smitten him (he is one of the most conscientious artists I know), for he shouted from his room, "Barry, if you’re not comfortable you can take mine." I replied, in as hurt a tone as I could manage, " Thanks very much, but I can put up with this; it doesn’t matter." He forthwith came along to look at my room and was duly astonished, called to Mitton, and they both heartily enjoyed the way in which the laugh had turned against them.

I had another turn of laryngitis this week, and had to give up after the Monday; felt very much like the Prisoner of Chillon when they all left me to go to work on Tuesday night, and the feeling was evidently a sort of premonition, for while I sat playing patience a mouse jumped up on the table and stayed quite a long time while I fed it with crumbs of cake. It took a dislike to a cough lozenge I offered it, however, and left me, never to return.

We had a glorious drive to Luffness for day’s golf, which wound up with a blizzard. I was very badly beaten by Graham Walker, but Mitton made a great fight with A. M. Ross. I was thankful that our host, George Law, had a covered car, in which I slept like a dormouse all the way back to Edinburgh.

As I was not expected to appear that night I saw the opera from "the front," and came to the conclusion that it really was an exceptionally fine company and a capital piece. It being de Frece’s birthday (his seventeenth, he told us, but if true he must have commenced to acquire worldly wisdom in the cradle), it was made an occasion of a festal supper, from which I retired early – that is, about three o’clock, having arranged with my old friend, W. W. Macfarlane, to go to Muirfield for the day, with Norman Salmond, Mitton, and de Frece, who had all gone to bed about 6.30. I succeeded in rousing the two former, but his birthday had been too much for de Frece. Our Saturday night performance was received with great enthusiasm, and the audience insisted on a speech from me – a novel experience.

A windy morning, with rain, snow, and sleet, greeted our departure from the capital of Bonnie Scotland, and on my walk to the station in my best rough-weather overcoat I was forced to take shelter in the niche of a bridge. While there my friends, the Laws, drove by on their way to see us off. George Law pointed me out, but the ladies declined to recognize me, asserting that it was not me, but a tramp. We had an amusing experience of the cinematograph here, being taken entering the train, leaving for Glasgow, arriving there, and disembarking all of which was done at the Waverley Station. The author of the play travelled with me on this occasion, having much to discuss about the piece and being also solicitous as to my constantly recurring attacks of hoarseness, which involved such frequent absences, to the detriment of the ensemble. The journey was a short one, and there was no undue strain upon our friendly relations.

We had a great day at Prestwick during the week, being entertained at lunch by Mr. Hutchinson of "Kite" fame; and for the afternoon match Robb, the amateur champion, gave the best ball of myself and Mitton a bad beating.

Glasgow is also memorable to me for a "first experience," which I sincerely trust may also prove a last, which was, that during the first act my voice completely gave out and I was unable to finish the evening’s work. Fortunately there was a "week out" for all of us after this town, and Monday saw me, after consulting my doctor, sent home to bed with orders to write all communications on a slate!

I began to wonder if I were going to be a spirit, but by dint of obeying "doctor’s orders," I found myself well enough to leave for Newcastle after a week’s rest, but broke down again after the first night, and did not appear again until the Thursday. The directors of Amāsis Limited were naturally much upset over my frequent relapses, and, guided by one of their number, took the rather strong step of "cancelling my contract" (which, of course, they could not do), and covering the bills announcing us the next week in Birmingham with the name of another artist, not unknown to fame as a dramatic actor, but with less singing voice when perfectly well than I had when perfectly ill!

The artist in question spent the greater part of the journey from Newcastle to Birmingham with the musical conductor, striking out "a few bars" here and there throughout the opera, entirely without reference to the singer concerned, with the result that on the first performance at the latter town, the tenor and the chorus came to utter grief in the difficult finale to Act 1.

I left for town on the Monday, after making an offer to appear and do the best I could, which was refused in a spirit of confidence hardly justified by the result, as I received a telegram the next morning asking me to take up the part again the following week. This my doctor refused to allow me to do, and it was finally decided that I should rejoin for Manchester in a fortnight’s time; and I was meanwhile kept amused by letters from my friends in the company detailing the humours of the situation from the professional point of view.

Our journey from King’s Cross to Manchester was without exception the worst I have ever experienced at the hands of the Great Northern Railway. We were due at 4.30 and arrived at 7.50. How it was managed I could not make out. The luxury of the Midland Hotel would compensate, however, for a worse journey than that, and our troubles were soon forgotten in the discussion of a menu as elaborate and good as any you could find at the "Ritz," "Carlton," or "Savoy," to say nothing of the courteous welcome at the hands of my old friend Mr. Towle.

I was delighted to find myself in great form on Monday night after two rounds of golf in Trafford Park, and I believe I pleased the audience almost as much as I did myself. Through the kindness of Judge Parry I was a guest at the Brazenoze Club, a delightful rendezvous for a wet afternoon, with the certainty of a rubber almost any time after lunch. On my first visit I found a great gathering of the "law," but I was not only allowed to get away safely, but also to take a little plunder with me.

I had a bad attack of bridge fever one night, brought on by finding Arthur Collins was staying in the hotel, and he, Norman Salmond, de Frece, myself, and one other sat up until four o’clock at the game. We were all to have played golf the next day, but I was the only one to start, having promised to play my old friend George Lee, from whom I had a bad beating, which convinces me that one of two things must be done, either I must not indulge in late nights, or Lee’s handicap must be lowered.

It was the turn of Norman Salmond and Constance Drever to develop bad throats in Liverpool, and we had two understudies to cope with. Winifred O’Connor surprised and gratified us all with the way in which she played the Princess at such very short notice, the trying song in the first act not presenting any difficulty to her, and the dialogue being well delivered.

It blew half a gale all the week, and golfing at Formby was almost more a toil than a pleasure, so that it was quite a relief to have to play a matinee one day.

It was one of the most womanly audiences I ever remember, and I have seen a good few; but after carefully searching all parts of the house I did at last discover two men and one boy. This is a most difficult kind of audience to give a really good performance to, for the reason that though highly appreciative they cannot applaud or laugh sufficiently loudly to make the players conscious of their enjoyment.

In Nottingham I had what I believe is known as a "succès fou" with a verse on a local topic, which I had been recommended to allude to by a well-known townsman. There had been a great agitation as to the advisability of shutting up, or lighting up, the Forest at sunset, neither of which propositions appeared to suit the taste of the promenaders there, and it seemed to relieve their minds greatly when I pointed out in my verse that the quality of the gas supplied was so inferior that should they decide to illuminate the park in question it would make no material difference.

Three of our "principal ladies" and de Frece and myself went to supper at Mr. Payne’s, the instigator of the verse, and it was a great pleasure to meet unexpectedly one of the daughters of my old friend Burnand, married to an excellent barrister and capital fellow, Tinsley Linley. We had a very trying jaunt on leaving the house about two o’clock. There was only one cab available, so de Frece and I had to escort the three ladies to their different addresses before going to our hotel; this should have been easy enough, but none of the three were quite certain of the names of their streets, or their numbers when we found the streets. The last one to be safely housed was Madge Vincent, and after driving round and round for an hour she exclaimed tearfully, "If he’d only go past the theatre I should know which way to go." At that moment the theatre hove in sight, and her house was visible from the cab window!

We had some great days at Hollinwell, a long course set in beautiful surroundings. I had great match with Doctor Neilson which lives in my memory as being the best game I had played for a very long time, but their team was too strong for us.

We usually had a four-a-side match every week and generally did fairly well, but at Radyr, near Cardiff, a very beautiful course, we disgraced ourselves to the extent of losing every match; I myself only won one hole through my opponent driving into a very thick hedge.

The last week of the tour saw us at Portsmouth, a place of which I have always been fond, having pleasant recollections of many visits paid to my naval brother when he happened to be there. I made another experiment in the way of taking rooms here, with happier results than in former cases; but my catering seemed to leave something to be desired, as, having two or three people to lunch one day, and ordering "a decent slice of salmon," I found myself left with an enormous block of fish which was served at each and every meal untouched, until I told the landlady that if I saw it again it would go out of the window.

The usual Monday exercise took place at Hayling, an interesting course though somewhat gravelly, and when approached via Eastney entailing a somewhat longer walk than I care to take before and after golfing.

There was a great naval show during the week in honour of Prince Fushimi, of which some three or four of us had an excellent view owing to the kindness of Flag Commander Macdonald, who took us on board the Fire Queen. The passing of the submarines was a most interesting feature, and I felt I would sooner be where I was than in the place of the sailor standing at attention right on the bows of these rapidly-moving sea-devils, with his feet apparently awash in the sea. Not the least pleasant incident was the arrival of two boatloads of cadets from Osborne, who swarmed on to the deck of the Fire Queen and were intensely interested spectators, and most chatty, pleasant boys.

Two or three of the most cheery and popular members of the Amāsis Syndicate came to Portsmouth to spend the last week of the tour with us, and by their genial hospitality enlivened the proceedings considerably. On the Friday night they entertained us with a supper and dance to follow at the Esplanade Hotel; possibly not the best night to have selected in view of a matinée and a "last performance" the next day, but who is going to refuse an "evening’s amusement" on account of the "morning’s reflection"? Certainly none of the Amāsis company, and though some of us looked rather like wrecks in the morning, it was "all right at night." I think the audience were aware of its being a kind of fête performance, for though there were some marvellous vagaries indulged in, everything was taken in good part. I have before now met with the experience of an audience resenting that kind of fooling on the part of the players, and, to my mind, very justly, for after all they pay to see "the piece" unembroidered by personal jokes however humorous. Bouquets and presents of all kinds were flying from boxes to stage all the evening, and the climax came when I, as Pharaoh, having finished my song about "Lovely Woman," with its chorus of eight pretty girls, had to bring them all on again and pick up and hand them the eight bouquets lying on the stage, amongst which was a crown of laurel for myself – or perhaps it was "bays"; I am not sure. Even the High Priest, Norman Salmond, so far unbent from his normal dignity both "on" and "off" as to join in a plot to upset me. There was a quartette in which we all had to "toss up" for a fortune, and, according to the author, Ptolemy was the winner, but on this occasion they arranged it that the High Priest should win, which he did, supplemented with the remark, "That does your Majesty in the eye," thus causing an absolute bouleversement of the plot; but the piece was less upset than Norman himself, who was so overcome with excitement and delight at having "gagged" as to be incapable of completing the quartette. Mitton and de Frece added to the unexpected gaiety of the evening with a kind of miniature Hackenschmidt and Madrali effect, which left the former too breathless from laughter to sing, de Frece’s wrestling being of the "little Marceline" type; and altogether, as I have tried to indicate, it was a merry, if disgraceful, presentation of Egyptian manners and behaviour.

Nor was the evening to conclude without the breaking of the law, for a small party of us assembled for a final supper at our host’s hotel (of which I had better not give the name, or it may be raided); after which an hour or two of baccarat brought to a conclusion a most delightful tour, which will live in my memory as an extremely pleasant experience.


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