The Wail of a Banner-Bearer

by Arthur Matthison

Well, what if I am only a banner-bearer? There's bigger blokes than me what begun as "supes," an' see where they've got to? Why don't I get there? Cause I ain't never had the chance. You just let me get a "speaking part" as suits me, that's all! Oh—it "would be all," eh? Why—but there! you're a baby in the purfession! you are! When you've been Capting of the Guard, and Third Noble, and a Bandit Keerousin, and First Hancient Bard, and Fourth in the Council of Ten what listens to Otheller, and the Mob in the Capitol, and a Harcher of Merry England, and a Peer of France, what doesn't speak, but has to look as if he could say a lot; when you've been all this you may talk! I needn't be offended? All right, old pal; I ain't. Though I was 'urt when that utilerty cove said as I was only a banner-bearer. "Only!" Why I should like to know where they'd be without us—all them old spoutin' tragedy merchants! They'd have no armies, consequently they couldn't rave at 'em, and lead 'em on to victory and things. They wouldn't 'ave no sennits, so they'd 'ave to cut out their potent, grave, and reverent seniors—an' that 'ud worry em. They wouldn't 'ave no hexited citizens, and so they couldn't bury old Ceser nor praise him neither. They couldn't strew no fields with no dead soldiers. They'd 'ave nobody to chivy 'em when they come to the throne, or returned from the wars. They couldn't 'ave no percessions; as for balls, and parties, and torneymongs, why, they couldn't give 'em. And where 'ud they often be without the "distant ollerings" behind the scenes, allus a-comin' nerer and louder. Why, I remember a 'eavy lead one night, as had insulted his army fearful, at rehearsal; he stops sudden, and thumps his breastplate, and says, "'Ark, that toomult!" when there warn't no more toomult than two flies 'ud make in a milk-jug. We jest cut off his toomult, and quered his pitch, in a minnit, for the laugh come in 'ot. We're just as much wanted as they are, make no error.

Only a banner-bearer! "Only," be blow'd! Oh, don't you bother, I ain't getting waxy. I'm only a standin' up for my purfession. What do you say? They could do without me in the modden drarmer? The modden drarmer, my boy, ain't actin'! It's nothing but "cuff-shootin'." You just has to stand against a mankel-shelf, with your hands in Poole's pockets, and say nothing elegantly. You don't want no chest-notes; you don't want no action; you don't want no exsitement; you don't want no lungs, no heart, and no brain; only lungs an' soda, heart an' potash, brain an' selzer. Everything's dilooted, my boy, for the modden drarmer; and the old school, an' the old kostumes 'ud bust the sides and roof too of the swell band-boxes, where they does the new school and the new kostumes. P'r'aps I'm right? Of course I'm right; and I'm in earnest, too! Why, my boy, if they was to offer me an engagement as a "guest" in one of them cuff-shootin' plays, and ask me to go on in evening-dress, I'm blest if I wouldn't throw up the part. Trousers and white ties cramps me. I wants a suit o' mail an' a 'alberd; a toonic, and my legs free; a dagger in my teeth—not a tooth-pick; a battle-axe in my 'and—not a crutch. I likes to be led to victory, I does. I likes to storm castles, and trampel on the foe! I does. I likes to hang our banners on the outward walls, I does. I'm a born banner-bearer, I am, and I glories in it. No, my boy! none of your milk-and-water "guests," and such, for the likes of me! An' if I was the Lord Chamberlain, I'd perhibit the modden drarmer altogether. Them's my sentiments. If he don't perhibit it, actin' 'ull soon be modden'd out of existence; an' we shall 'ave Macbeth in a two guinea tourist suit, and Looy the Eleventh in nickerbockers, on a bisykel. It's the old banner-bearing school as got us all our big actors, an' it stands to reason, my boy; for a cove can't spred hisself in a frock coat and droring-room langwidge. They're both on 'em too tame for what I calls real actin'. What! you have heard say as us banner-bearers don't act—was only machines? Well, some on us don't, p'r'aps, but some on us does, and no mistake.

You can't, as a rule, expect much feeling, much dignerty, much patriertism, or much simperthy for a shillin' a night. If they was all the real articles, they'd fetch a lot more than that; but there is gentlemen in my line as goes in for all four—reg'lar comes nateral to 'em. Why, I've been that work'd on when I've seen Joan o'Hark goin' in a perisher at the stake, an' makin' that last dyin' speech and confession of hers, that I've felt a real 'art beat against my property breast-plate, and felt real tears a tricklin' down to my false beard. I've been so struck with admirashun for some Othellos, that when they've been a addressin' of me as the sennit, I've felt as dignerfied as if I'd been the Doag of Venice hisself, and I bet he looked it.

As for patriertism, there isn't a man living as has died for his country—willing, mind you—as often as I have; and I've strewed many a bloody field of batel with a ernest corpse, I have. An' as far as regards simperthy, it's stood in my way, for I've been that upset by Queen Katherines and Prince Arthurs, and even old Shylock (for Grashyano does giv' 'im a doin'), and Ophelias, and other sufferin' parties, as I've often forgot my hexits and been fined a tanner; and if that ain't actin', I should like to know what is.

It's all very well for them noospaper crickets to harry us, and say as we're a set o' this and a set o' the other, and that we ain't got no hideas. They wouldn't 'ave many hideas if they wasn't paid more than a shilling a night (with often twopence off to the hagent) for the use of 'em; the article's as good as the price, an' no mistake. Some on us gets a bit more, and accordin' some on us gives a bit more; for there's first heavy lead, and setterer, among the supes, just as there is among the principles, don't make no error! Have to do as the "stars" tell us? Well, of course, we does, only if the stars don't treat us like gents, we knows how to queer their pitches: rather! Why, it ain't so very long since as I was a-playing a Roman Licktor in "Virginius," and when we was a rehearsin' of it, 'im as played Happyus Clordyus called me a "pig." "All right," says I, "aside" like, "I'll pig yer." Accordin', when night comes, and he makes an exit in the third act, and says—didn't he enjoy hisself with it—"And I shall surely see that they reseve it!" he chucks his toger over his right shoulder, and turns round as magestick as a beedle to walk off—well, some'ow, just then I drops my bundle of sticks ("fusses," they call 'em), all accidentle like, and Happyus Clordyus, with his heyes in the hair, comes to grief, slap over 'em. He was the un-happyest Clordyus all through that play as ever you see. What did he call me a "pig" for, the idiot?

"Seem to be important, after all?" Important! I should think we was! There couldn't be no big drarmers without us, no gallant warryers, no 'owling mobs, no "Down with the tirants!" no briggands reposin', no 'appy pezzants, and no stage picturs of any account, if it warn't for the supes and banner-bearers, as ought to be made more on and seen to a bit better than they is; for what says the old Shyley, in the play, 'im what old Phellups us'd to warm 'em up in? "What?" says he, "what! Hath not a supe eyes, 'ands, horgans, somethin' else, and passions? fed with the same food?—(no! Shakey, old man, he ain't!) Well, if you prick us, don't us bleed? if we larf, don't you tickle us? and if you wrong us, ain't we goin' to take it out of you, like I took it out o' Happyus Clordyus?" How I do wag? Well, ain't it enough to make me? Don't let that 'ere utilerty cuff-shooter allood to me as "only a banner-bearer," then! Let 'im, and all the others, treat us more respectful, and he and them too 'ull find a feeling 'art and good manners too, at even a shilling a night, though we could throw 'em in a lot; more of both for an extra bob.—Good night, old man.