By CHARLES H. ROSS.
reproduced form Routledge's Every Boy's Annual 1873
THERE were three of them if you counted the dog. Three of the most woebegone vagabonds I ever set eyes on. There was, first, a short man, with a long and solemn face; then there was a tall man, with a wrinkled face and dull, weary eyes; and the dog- was the saddest, dullest, most undoglike dog I ever came across.
It was pouring with rain, and the three had sought shelter in an archway leading to a mews, in one of those hopeless-looking streets in the neighbourhood of Mecklenburgh Square. They, the men, were Punch showmen, and the dog was a comedian: he was Toby.
The long man carried the drum and pipes, and the short man the " frame " and figures - the latter in a box swung frorn his shoulder by a strap.
The presentation of a fusee and a pipeful of tobacco led to further confidences, and I inquired after the call. Without changing his countenance, he obliged me with a specimen of Mr. Punch's well-known vocalization. He had had his speaking instrument stowed away in his cheek all the while, and I had not noticed it, and he produced it now for my inspection. It was a small flat thing, made of two curved pieces of metal bound together with black thread. He said, I think by way of a hint, that gents had been glad to give a pound for one before now, and that the happy possessor of the coveted article derived much amusement from it, as well as imparting equal pleasure to his friends.
"You don't sell many, I suppose," said I, " at that price? "
I've seen them selling in the streets, though, at a penny each," I said.
I intimated politely that I would not like to put myself under an obligation in the matter, and asked, by way of changing the subject, whether he could drink when
he had the call in his mouth without swallowing it. He replied laconically, "Try me," and I tried him. with some beer that his partner, the long man, fetched with a run from an adjacent tavern.
"And he could take his bread and cheese the same," the long man casually observed; but we did not try the experiment.
The short man then told me something about the "Slumareys"' by which he meant the figures, scenes, frame, and properties. A good frame, with baize, proscenium, one scene, two wings, and act-drop, or lettercloth, cost about three pounds. A set of new figures, properly dressed, came to from twelve to fifteen pounds. You could not get properly carved heads under five shillings each, and a figure took about a yard of stuff to dress it, besides tinsel, Dutch metal, and other ornamental etceteras. There is a man who gets his living, or part of it, by the figure carving ; he lives in a street off the Westminster Bridge Road. "Most likely he does other things as well," the short man said.
The trade is not now anything like it used to be. Porsini, the very first original Punch showman, made his ten pounds a day quite easily, and went home to a dinner of chickens and sherry wine. The short man had known a day when be and his partner had not taken tenpence. It wasn't as bad as that though as a rule. Not likely. How could he live else ? The man he took this show of did very well not over twenty years ago - six or seven shillings taken at one pitch, and not more than half a dozen pitches in a day. He himself had often not taken a single halfpenny at a pitch, and played over twentv minutes too, thinking, the luck might come. He didn't know how it was exactly or what was wrong, but things were not what they used to be, that was sure.
He let me have a look at the figures, holding them up one by one, and as he did so explaining their characteristics.
"This one is Punch himself; he's the principal figure, you know. It wouldn't be rightly the play of Punch if he was left out. His dress is just the same, or very nearly, what Porsini's Punch was, or Pike's Punch. Pike was Porsini's apprentice. They made a heap of money in them days, but spent it all squandering like.