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CHAPTER VI I FOUND HIM GARRULOUSLY GIVEN.
The oldest inn in Seacomb was the ‘New London Inn,’ built upon the site of a still more ancient hostelry, but itself nearly two hundred years old. The quadrangular yard, in which the coaches were wont to stand, was now embellished with a glazed roof, and served for the assembling of farmers on market days. Here was held the corn exchange and samples of grain were exhibited, and bargains made, amidst a lively hubbub, while the odour of roast beef and pastry pervaded the atmosphere.

Here Maurice and Martin parted, the former telling his friend that he had business to transact in Seacomb, the young Cornishman bidding his companion a reluctant farewell.

As soon as the dog-cart had driven off, Maurice strolled into the bar, called for soda and sherry, and surveyed his ground. On the other side of the shining counter a comfortable-looking elderly matron, in a black silk gown and a cap with rose-coloured ribbons was engaged in conversation with a stalwart grey-coated farmer, who had been admitted to the privileged sanctorum within. ‘The landlady, evidently,’ thought Maurice.

He sipped his sherry and soda, and asked if he could be accommodated with an airy bedroom.

‘Certainly, sir. You’d like a room on the first floor, perhaps, overlooking the street?—Chambermaid, show Number 10.’

‘I won’t trouble to look at the room, thank you, ma’am. I’ve no doubt it’s all that’s comfortable.’

‘There’s not much fear about that, sir. I look after my bedrooms myself, and always have done so for the last thirty years. I go into every room in the house every morning, after the chambermaids have done their sweeping and dusting; and that’s neither more nor less than a housekeeper’s duty, in my opinion.’

‘Just so, ma’am. It’s a pity that kind of housekeeping should ever go out of fashion.’

‘It is indeed, sir. You intend staying for some days at Seacomb, perhaps? There are a good many objects of interest in the neighbourhood.’

‘I am sorry to say that I shall have to leave to-morrow.’

‘Well, good morning, Mrs. Chadwick,’ said the farmer, having drained his glass, and wiped his lips with a flaming orange handkerchief.

Mrs. Chadwick opened the half-door of the bar for him to go out, and then, holding it open politely, invited Mr. Clissold to enter.

‘You may as well sit down, sir, and take your soda and sherry,’ she said, nothing averse from a little gossip with the stranger.

‘I shall be very glad to do so,’ answered Maurice. ‘The fact is, I want a little friendly chat with some one who knows Seacomb, and I dare say you know pretty well as much as any one else about the town and its inhabitants.’

The landlady smiled, as with inward satisfaction.

‘It’s my native town, sir. I was born here, and brought up here, and educated here, and I could count the months I’ve spent away from Seacomb on my fingers. It isn’t everybody can say as much.’

‘You were educated at Seacomb,’ said Maurice. ‘Then perhaps you may remember Miss Barlow’s school for young ladies?’

‘Yes, sir. I remember Miss Barlow well, but her school flourished after my schooling days, and it was above my father’s station. No Seacomb trades-people ever went to Miss Barlow’s. Their money might be good enough for most people, but Miss Barlow wouldn’t have it. She set her face against anything under a rich farmer’s daughter. She had a good deal of pride—stuckupishness some people went so far as to call it—had Miss Barlow. And a very pretty show she used to make with her young ladies at the parish church, in the west gallery, on the left of the organ.’

‘Do you happen to remember the daughter of a Mr. Trevanard, of Borcel End?’

‘Remember Miss Trevanard! I should think I did. She was about the prettiest girl I ever saw, and the Seacomb gentlemen would go out of their way to get a look at her. I’ve seen them hanging about the church door to watch Miss Barlow’s young ladies come out, and heard them whisper, “That’s the belle of the school! That’s Trevanard’s daughter!” I thought she’d have made a rare good match when she left school; but she never married, and I believe she went a little queer in her head, or was bedridden, or some affliction of that kind, while she was quite young. I haven’t heard anybody mention her name for the last twenty years—not her own father even, though he dines here every market day. That was young Mr. Trevanard drove you here, wasn’t it? I just caught a glimpse of him in the hall.’

‘Yes, Martin and I are great friends.’

‘A very nice young man he is too, and nice-looking, but not a patch upon his sister.’

‘Do you know what became of Miss Barlow when she left Seacomb?’

‘Well, I’ve heard say that she went to the Continent to cultivate music. She had a fine finger for the piano, and took a good deal of pride in her playing, and after she’d lived abroad some years, studying in a conservatory—I suppose they teach them that way on account of the climate—I heard that she came back to England, and settled somewhere near London, and gave lessons to the nobility and gentry, and stood very high in that way. She had made a nice little fortune at Seacomb before she retired, so she had no call to work unless she liked. But Miss Barlow wasn’t the woman to be idle. She had a vast amount of energy.’

A musical professor, and residing in the neighbourhood of London. It seemed to Maurice that, knowing this much, he ought to be able to find Miss Barlow. There was only the question of time.

‘How long is it, do you imagine, since you last heard of this lady?’ he asked, in a purely conversational tone.

‘Well, I can’t take upon myself to say very particularly for a year or so. But I think it might be about eight or nine years since I heard Dr. Dorlick, our organist, say that a friend of his in London had told him Miss Barlow was residing in the neighbourhood of the parks, and doing wonderfully well.’

‘Could I see Dr. Dorlick, do you think?’ asked Maurice eagerly.

‘Dr. Dorlick is in heaven,’ replied Mrs. Chadwick, with solemnity.

‘I’m sorry for that,’ said Maurice, with reference to his own disappointment rather than Dr. Dorlick’s elevation.

He passed onto another subject, also an important one in his mind.

‘How is it that you managed to do away with your theatre in Seacomb?’ he asked.

‘Well, you see, sir,’ returned Mrs. Chadwick, musingly, ‘I don’t think the theatre ever fairly took with the Seacomb people. Ours is a serious town, and though there’s plenty of spare room in our old parish church—a very fine old church, as you may have seen with your own eyes, but rather in want of repair—there’s always a run upon our chapels, revival services, and tea meetings, and love feasts, and what not. People must have excitement of some sort, no doubt, and the Seacomb people like chapel-going better than play-going; besides which it costs them less. I’ve no prejudices myself, and I know that a theatrical is a human being like myself; but I can’t say that I’ve ever cared to see theatricals inside my doors.’

‘But I suppose you used to go to the theatre sometimes, when there was one?’

‘Once in a way I have gone to our theatre, when there was a Bespeak night, or a London star performing, more to please my husband, who was fond of anything in the way of an entertainment, than for my own pleasure.’

‘Do you remember the names of the actors whom you saw there?’

‘No, I can’t call to mind one of them. But if you take any interest in theatricals, go and see Mr. Clipcome, our hairdresser. He’ll talk to you for the hour together of our theatre, and the people who’ve acted there. He never cut my hair in his life that he didn’t tell me how he once curled and powdered a wig for the celebrated Miss Foote to act Lady Teazle in. It’s his ’obby.’

‘Indeed! Then I shall certainly look in upon Mr. Clipcome. Where does he live?’

‘In a little court, by the side of Bethlehem Chapel, which was the theatre.’

‘Thanks, Mrs. Chadwick,’ said Maurice, rising. ‘I’ll step round to Mr. Clipcome at once, and get him to give me the county crop. I’ve been running to seed lately. Perhaps you’ll be kind enough to order me a little bit of dinner in the coffee-room at half-past six.’

‘With pleasure, sir. Any choice?’

‘None whatever. I shall walk about your town for a few hours, and get an appetite for anything you like to set before me.’

‘A very agreeable gentleman,’ thought Mrs. Chadwick, as Maurice strolled out of the bar, ‘so chatty and friendly. Doesn’t give himself half the airs of your commercial gents, yet any one can see he’s altogether superior to them.’

Mr. Clissold strolled through the quiet old town, with its long straggling high street, graced here and there by a picturesque gable or an ancient lattice, but, for the most part, somewhat commonplace. At one point there was a kind of square, from which two lateral streets diverged—a square with a pump and police office in the centre, and a Methodist chapel on each side. One of these chapels, the newest and smartest, was Bethlehem, as an inscription over its portal made known to the world at large—Bethlehem, 1853,—and at the side of Bethlehem, once the Temple of Thespis, there was a clean paved alley, leading to another street; an alley with a public-house at one corner, and a few decent shops on one side, facing the blank wall of the chapel. One of these shops was the emporium of Mr. Clipcome, who was at once tobacconist, hairdresser, and dealer in fancy and miscellaneous articles too numerous to mention.

Maurice found Mr. Clipcome standing upon his threshold contemplating life as exhibited in Playhouse Court, where a small child in a go-cart, and a woman cheapening bloaters at the greengrocer’s were the only objects that presented themselves at this particular time to the student of humanity. But then Mr. Clipcome had an oblique view of the square, town pump, and police station, and in a general way could see anything that was going on from the vantage-ground of his door-step.

He was an elderly man, stout, and comfortable looking, but balder than he ought to have been considering the resources of his art, and that he was himself the inventor of an infallible cure for baldness. But he may have preferred that smooth and shining surface as cooler and more comfortable than capillary embellishment. He wore a clean linen apron, with a comb or two stuck in the pocket thereof—an apron that was in itself an invitation to the passing pedestrian to have his hair cut. On seeing Mr. Clissold making for his door, Mr. Clipcome stepped aside with a smile and a bow, and made way for the stranger to enter his abode.

It was a very small abode, consisting of a shop and a little slip of a parlour behind it, both the pink of neatness, and both agreeably perfumed with hair oil and lavender water. There was a shining arm-chair with a high back, whereon the patient sat enthroned during the hair-cutting process. A looking-glass squeezed into an angle of the parlour reflected patient and operator. A pincushion hung beside it, balanced by a smart chintz bag, containing a variety of implements. But the object which most struck Maurice’s eye was an old playbill, smaller than modern playbills, and yellow with age, framed and glazed, and hanging against the wall, just as if it had been some choice work of art.

It was the programme of a performance of ‘Othello’ that had taken place early in the century. ‘Othello, the Moor of Venice, Mr. Kean.’

‘You remember the great Kean?’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, sir,’ answered Mr. Clipcome, with pride. ‘I remember Edmund Kean, and I remember Charles Young, and Miss O’Neil, and Miss Foote, and Mrs. Nesbitt, and Mr. Macready, and a good deal more talent such as you’re not likely to see in these days. Seacomb Theatre was worth going to in my boyhood.’

‘And you were an enthusiastic patron of the drama, I imagine?’

‘If spending every sixpence of my pocket-money upon admission to the pit is a proof of enthusiasm, I was an enthusiast, sir,’ replied Mr. Clipcome. ‘The sixpences which boys—well, I will venture to say boys of an inferior mind—would have laid out upon cakes and apples, peg-tops, and such like, I spent upon the drama. There’s hardly a line of Shakespeare you could quote that I couldn’t cap with another line. I used to go to the pit of that theatre twice a week while I was a youngster, and three or four times a week after my father’s death, when I was in business for myself and my own master, and used to get a weekly order for exhibiting the bills. And though there were a good many opposed to the closing of the theatre for ever, I don’t believe there was any one in all Seacomb took it to heart as keenly as I did. “Othello’s occupation was gone.”’

‘Why did they do away with your theatre at last?’ asked Maurice.

‘Well, you see, sir, the town had grown serious-minded, and for some years before they turned it into a chapel the theatre had been going down. The great actors and actresses were dead and gone, and the stars that were left didn’t care about coming to Seacomb. Managers had been doing worse and worse year after year, business dwindling down to next to nothing, half salaries, or no salaries towards the end of every season, and it became a recognised fact in the theatrical profession that Seacomb was no go. The actors and actresses that came here were sticks, or if not, they made up in rant what they wanted in talent. The county families left off coming to the place—there were no Bespeaks, and the poor old theatre got to have a dilapidated woe-begone look, so that it gave one the horrors to sit out a play. The actors looked hungry and out at elbows. It made one uncomfortable to see them. Many a time I asked one of them in to share my one o’clock dinner, if it was but a potato pasty, or a squab pie made with scrag of mutton. The stage door used to be just opposite my shop. It’s walled up now, but you may see the outline of it in the brickwork. The actors used to be always lounging about that doorway of a morning, on and off, and whilst the rehearsal was going on inside. And they were very fond of coming into my shop for a gossip, or a peep at a newspaper. Papers were dear in those days. No Standard or Telegraph with all the news of the world for a penny. And the poor chaps couldn’t afford to lay out fivepence.’

‘You must have been on friendly terms with a good many of them,’ said Maurice, feeling that from this loquacious barber, if from any one in Seacomb, he was likely to obtain the information he sought. ‘Do you happen to remember a man called Elgood?’

‘Elgood! Mat Elgood,’ cried the operator, dropping his scissors in the vehemence of his exclamation, ‘I should think I did indeed! He was one who hung on to our Theatre Royal to the very last,—stuck to it like a barnacle, poor fellow,—when there was not enough sustenance to be got out of it to keep body and soul together. He lodged in this very court, the last house on the other side, next door but one to the Theatre—a tailor’s it was then—and a good little man the tailor was, and a kind friend to Mat Elgood—as long as he had a crust to share with him, or a garret to shelter him. But one day, about a month after the theatre had shut up shop altogether, the manager having bolted—the brokers walked into poor Jones’s little place and took possession of everything, and Jones went to prison, so Mat Elgood and his wife, a poor weak thing that had lost her first baby only a few weeks before that time, were cast loose upon the world, and what became of them from that hour to this I never heard. If I’d had an empty room in my house I’d have given it them, but I hadn’t, and my wife is a prudent woman, who never forgot to remind me that my first duty was to her and my children, or, in other words, that charity begins at home.’

‘Do you remember the date of this occurrence—the year and month in which Matthew Elgood left Seacomb? I may as well tell you that I do not ask these questions out of idle curiosity. I am personally interested in knowing all about this Mr. Elgood.’

‘My dear sir,’ exclaimed the barber, swelling with importance at the idea of giving valuable information, ‘you could not have come to a better source. If I fail to remember the dates you require, I can produce documentary evidence which will place the fact beyond all doubt. For a period of ten years or upwards I made it a rule to keep a copy of every playbill issued in our town. They were delivered at my door gratis for exhibition in my window, and instead of throwing them aside as waste paper, I filed them as interesting records for re-perusal in the leisure of my later life. I am rather proud of that collection. It contains the name of many a brilliant light in the dramatic hemisphere, and, indeed, I look upon it as a history of dramatic art in little. My impression is that Elgood and his wife left Seacomb nineteen years ago last winter, but the bills will make matters certain. Matthew Elgood was among that diminished band which trod the boards of our poor little theatre on that final night when the green curtain descended on the Seacomb stage, never to rise again. The theatre remained in abeyance for some two or three years after that last performance, dismantled, shut up, a refuge for rats and mice, and such small deer.’

‘Nineteen years ago, you say?’

‘Nor more nor less,’ returned Mr. Clipcome, who was wont to wax Shakesperian. ‘I remember it was an extraordinary severe winter. We had frost and snow, a great deal of snow, as late as the end of February, and even into March. Some of the roads between Seacomb and neighbouring villages were impassable, and there was a good deal of trouble generally. I felt all the more for those unfortunate Elgoods on this account,—it was a hard winter in which to be cast adrift.’

‘Thanks, Mr. Clipcome, you have given me really valuable information. I should be glad to refer to that file of bills, so as to get the exact date of the closing of the theatre.’

The hairdresser produced his collection, roughly bound in a ponderous marble-paper covered tome, of his own manufacture, a triumph in amateur book-binding. Here Maurice saw the last play bill that had ever been issued by the manager of the Seacomb theatre. Its date was January 10th, 1849.

‘And Mr. Elgood stayed at the tailor’s for a month after the closing of the theatre?’ interrogated Maurice.

‘About a month.’

Having jotted down dates and facts in his note-book, and reiterated his thanks to the good-natured barber, Maurice felt that his business in Playhouse Alley was concluded. He bought some trifles in the shop, on his way out, an attention peculiarly pleasing to Mr. Clipcome, from the rarity of the event, his trade being chiefly confined to two-penny-worths of hair oil, or three-halfpenny cakes of brown Windsor.


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