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.