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HUMOROUS READINGS
AND
RECITATIONS.



HUMOROUS READINGS
AND
RECITATIONS

_IN PROSE AND VERSE_.


SELECTED AND EDITED

BY
LEOPOLD WAGNER,

EDITOR OF
"MODERN READINGS AND RECITATIONS,"
"NEW READINGS FROM AMERICAN AUTHORS," ETC.


London and New York:
FREDERICK WARNE AND CO.
1889.



LONDON:
BRADBURY, AGNEW, & CO., PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.




PREFACE.


In introducing to the public a Third Series of "Popular Readings," I
consider it merely necessary to state that the courtesy of authors and
publishers has enabled me to bring together a choice selection of
humorous pieces which have acquired a large share of popularity, in
addition to a number of others that may justly be regarded as novelties.

Concerning the former, I have so often had occasion to answer inquiries
respecting particular pieces for recitation, that it occurred to me the
handy collection of those most generally sought after, but hitherto
scattered through various publications, would be welcomed by many; and I
took steps accordingly. How far I have succeeded in my purpose a glance
at the Contents-list will show. For the fresh matter admitted to these
pages, I sincerely trust that from among so many new candidates for
popularity, at least one or two of them may be elected to represent the
Penny Reading Constituents of each respective Borough for some time to
come.

Once more I beg to express my indebtedness and thanks to those authors
and publishers who have so generously placed their copyright pieces at
my disposal.

L. W.

BROMPTON.




CONTENTS.


PAGE

ACCOMPANIED ON THE FLUTE _F. Anstey_ 1
THE TROUBLES OF A TRIPLET _W. Beatty-Kingston_ 8
SLIGHTLY DEAF _Bracebridge Hemming_ 10
THE LADY FREEMASON _H. T. Craven_ 18
WHAT HAPPENED LAST NIGHT! _F. B. Harrison_ 24
THE FATAL LEGS _Walter Browne_ 27
THE CALIPH'S JESTER _From the Arabic_ 29
A JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF NOTHING _Wilkie Collins_ 32
GEMINI AND VIRGO _C. S. Calverley_ 37
KING BIBBS _James Albery_ 41
MOLLY MULDOON _Anonymous_ 48
THE HARMONIOUS LOBSTERS _Robert Reece_ 52
THE PROVINCIAL LANDLADY _H. Chance Newton_ 57
MY MATRIMONIAL PREDICAMENT _Leopold Wagner_ 58
ETIQUETTE _W. S. Gilbert_ 62
A LOST SHEPHERD _Frank Barrett_ 65
A MATHEMATIC MADNESS _F. P. Dempster_ 70
WAITING AT TOTTLEPOT _J. Ashby-Sterry_ 72
MARRIED TO A GIANTESS _Walter Parke_ 75
THE VISION OF THE ALDERMAN _Henry S. Leigh_ 79
THE DEMON SNUFFERS _Geo. Manville Fenn_ 80
THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER _Lewis Carroll_ 86
MY BROTHER HENRY _J. M. Barrie_ 89
A NIGHT WITH A STORK _W. E. Wilcox_ 92
THE FAITHFUL LOVERS _F. C. Burnand_ 95
THE WAIL OF A BANNER-BEARER _Arthur Matthison_ 96
THE DREAM OF THE BILIOUS BEADLE _Arthur Shirley_ 99
MY FRIEND TREACLE _Watkin-Elliott_ 101
THE VOICE OF THE SLUGGARD _Anonymous_ 107
ARTEMUS WARD'S VISIT TO THE TOWER
OF LONDON _Chas. Farrar Browne_ 108
MR. CAUDLE HAS LENT AN ACQUAINTANCE
THE FAMILY UMBRELLA _Douglas Jerrold_ 111
DOMESTIC ASIDES _Tom Hood_ 113
THE CHARITY DINNER _Litchfield Moseley_ 115
ACTING WITH A VENGEANCE _W. Sapte, Jun._ 120
MY FORTNIGHT AT WRETCHEDVILLE _George Augustus Sala_ 126
THE SORROWS OF WERTHER _W. M. Thackeray_ 132
MORAL MUSIC _Anonymous_ 133
BILLY DUMPS, THE TAILOR _Charles Clark_ 136
ON PUNNING _Theodore Hook_ 139
SEASIDE LODGINGS _Percy Reeve_ 140




HUMOROUS READINGS

AND

RECITATIONS.




ACCOMPANIED ON THE FLUTE.

F. ANSTEY.


The Consul Duilius was entertaining Rome in triumph after his celebrated
defeat of the Carthaginian fleet at Mylæ. He had won a great naval
victory for his country with the first fleet that it had ever
possessed - which was naturally a gratifying reflection, and he would
have been perfectly happy now if he had only been a little more
comfortable.

But he was standing in an extremely rickety chariot, which was crammed
with his nearer relations, and a few old friends, to whom he had been
obliged to send tickets. At his back stood a slave, who held a heavy
Etruscan crown on the Consul's head, and whenever he thought his master
was growing conceited, threw in the reminder that he was only a man
after all - a liberty which at any other time he might have had good
reason to regret.

Then the large Delphic wreath, which Duilius wore as well as the crown,
had slipped down over one eye, and was tickling his nose, while (as both
his hands were occupied, one with a sceptre the other with a laurel
bough, and he had to hold on tightly to the rail of the chariot whenever
it jolted) there was nothing to do but suffer in silence.

They had insisted, too, upon painting him a beautiful bright red all
over, and though it made him look quite new, and very shining and
splendid, he had his doubts at times whether it was altogether becoming,
and particularly whether he would ever be able to get it off again.

But these were but trifles after all, and nothing compared with the
honour and glory of it! Was not everybody straining to get a glimpse of
him? Did not even the spotted and skittish horses which drew the
chariot repeatedly turn round to gaze upon his vermilioned features? As
Duilius remarked this he felt that he was, indeed, the central personage
in all this magnificence, and that, on the whole, he liked it.

He could see the beaks of the ships he had captured bobbing up and down
in the middle distance; he could see the white bulls destined for
sacrifice entering completely into the spirit of the thing, and
redeeming the procession from any monotony by occasionally bolting down
a back street, or tossing on their gilded horns some of the flamens who
were walking solemnly in front of them.

He could hear, too, above five distinct brass bands, the remarks of his
friends as they predicted rain, or expressed a pained surprise at the
smallness of the crowd and the absence of any genuine enthusiasm; and he
caught the general purport of the very offensive ribaldry circulated at
his own expense among the brave legions that brought up the rear.

This was merely the usual course of things on such occasions, and a
great compliment when properly understood, and Duilius felt it to be so.
In spite of his friends, the red paint, and the familiar slave, in spite
of the extreme heat of the weather and his itching nose, he told himself
that this, and this alone, was worth living for.

And it was a painful reflection to him that, after all, it would only
last a day; he could not go on triumphing like this for the remainder of
his natural life - he would not be able to afford it on his moderate
income; and yet - and yet - existence would fall woefully flat after so
much excitement.

It may be supposed that Duilius was naturally fond of ostentation and
notoriety, but this was far from being the case; on the contrary, at
ordinary times his disposition was retiring and almost shy, but his
sudden success had worked a temporary change in him, and in the very
flush of triumph he found himself sighing to think, that in all human
probability, he would never go about with trumpeters and trophies, with
flute-players and white oxen, any more in his whole life.

And then he reached the Porta Triumphalis, where the chief magistrates
and the Senate awaited them, all seated upon spirited Roman-nosed
chargers, which showed a lively emotion at the approach of the
procession, and caused most of their riders to dismount with as much
affectation of method and design as their dignity enjoined and the
nature of the occasion permitted.

There Duilius was presented with the freedom of the city and an address,
which last he put in his pocket, as he explained, to read at home.

And then an Ædile informed him in a speech, during which he twice lost
his notes, and had to be prompted by a lictor, that the grateful
Republic, taking into consideration the Consul's distinguished services,
had resolved to disregard expense, and on that auspicious day to give
him whatever reward he might choose to demand - "in reason," the Ædile
added cautiously, as he quitted his saddle with an unexpectedness which
scarcely seemed intentional.

Duilius was naturally a little overwhelmed by such liberality, and, like
every one else favoured suddenly with such an opportunity, was quite
incapable of taking complete advantage of it.

For a time he really could not remember in his confusion anything he
would care for at all, and he thought it might look mean to ask for
money.

At last he recalled his yearning for a Perpetual Triumph, but his
natural modesty made him moderate, and he could not find courage to ask
for more than a fraction of the glory that now attended him.

So, not without some hesitation, he replied that they were exceedingly
kind, and since they left it entirely to his discretion, he would
like - if they had no objection - he would like a flute-player to attend
him whenever he went out.

Duilius very nearly asked for a white bull as well; but, on second
thoughts, he felt it might lead to inconvenience, and there were many
difficulties connected with the proper management of such an animal. The
Consul, from what he had seen that day, felt that it would be imprudent
to trust himself in front of the bull, while, if he walked behind, he
might be mistaken for a cattle-driver, which would be odious. And so he
gave up that idea, and contented himself with a simple flute-player.

The Senate, visibly relieved by so unassuming a request, granted it with
positive effusion; Duilius was invited to select his musician, and chose
the biggest, after which the procession moved on through the arch and up
the Capitoline Hill, while the Consul had time to remember things he
would have liked even better than a flute-player, and to suspect dimly
that he might have made rather an ass of himself.

* * * * *

That night Duilius was entertained at a supper given at the public
expense; he went out with the proud resolve to show his sense of the
compliment paid him by scaling the giddiest heights of intoxication. The
Romans of that day only drank wine and water at their festivals, but it
is astonishing how inebriated a person of powerful will can become, even
on wine and water, if he only gives his mind to it. And Duilius, being a
man of remarkable determination, returned from that hospitable board
particularly drunk; the flute-player saw him home, however, helped him
to bed, though he could not induce him to take off his sandals, and
lulled him to a heavy slumber by a selection from the popular airs of
the time.

So that the Consul, although he awoke late next day with a bad headache
and a perception of the vanity of most things, still found reason to
congratulate himself upon his forethought in securing so invaluable an
attendant, and planned, rather hopefully, sundry little ways of making
him useful about the house.

As the subsequent history of this great naval commander is examined with
the impartiality that becomes the historian, it is impossible to be
blind to the melancholy fact that in the first flush of his elation
Duilius behaved with an utter want of tact and taste that must have gone
far to undermine his popularity, and proved a source of much
gratification to his friends.

He would use that flute-player everywhere - he overdid the thing
altogether: for example, he used to go out to pay formal calls, and
leave the flute-player in the hall tootling to such an extent that at
last his acquaintances were forced in self-defence to deny themselves to
him.

When he attended worship at the temples, too, he would bring the
flute-player with him, on the flimsy pretext that he could assist the
choir during service; and it was the same at the theatres, where
Duilius - such was his arrogance - actually would not take a box unless
the manager admitted the flute-player to the orchestra and guaranteed
him at least one solo between the acts.

And it was the Consul's constant habit to strut about the Forum with his
musician executing marches behind him, until the spectacle became so
utterly ridiculous that even the Romans of that age, who were as free
from the slightest taint of humour as a self-respecting nation can
possibly be, began to notice something peculiar.

But the day of retribution dawned at last. Duilius worked the flute so
incessantly that the musician's stock of airs was very soon exhausted,
and then he was naturally obliged to blow them through once more.

The excellent Consul had not a fine ear, but even he began to hail the
fiftieth repetition of "Pugnare nolumus," for instance - the great
national peace anthem of the period - with the feeling that he had heard
the same tune at least twice before, and preferred something slightly
fresher, while others had taken a much shorter time in arriving at the
same conclusion.

The elder Duilius, the Consul's father, was perhaps the most annoyed by
it; he was a nice old man in his way - the glass and china way - but he
was a typical old Roman, with a manly contempt for pomp, vanity, music,
and the fine arts generally, so that his son's flute-player, performing
all day in the courtyard, drove the old gentleman nearly mad, until he
would rush to the windows and hurl the lighter articles of furniture at
the head of the persistent musician, who, however, after dodging them
with dexterity, affected to treat them as a recognition of his efforts
and carried them away gratefully to sell.

Duilius senior would have smashed the flute, only it was never laid
aside for a single instant, even at meals; he would have made the
player drunk and incapable, but he was a member of the _Manus Spei_, and
he would with cheerfulness have given him a heavy bribe to go away, if
the honest fellow had not proved absolutely incorruptible.

So he would only sit down and swear, and then relieve his feelings by
giving his son a severe thrashing, with threats to sell him for whatever
he might fetch; for, in the curious conditions of ancient Roman society,
a father possessed both these rights, however his offspring might have
distinguished himself in public life.

Naturally, Duilius did not like the idea of being put up to auction, and
he began to feel that it was slightly undignified for a Roman general
who had won a naval victory and been awarded a first-class Triumph to be
undergoing corporeal punishment daily at the hands of an unflinching
parent, and accordingly he determined to go and expostulate with his
flute-player.

He was beginning to find him a nuisance himself, for all his old shy
reserve and unwillingness to attract attention had returned to him; he
was fond of solitude, and yet he could never be alone; he was weary of
doing everything to slow music, like the bold, bad man in a melodrama.

He could not even go across the street to purchase a postage-stamp
without the flute-player coming stalking out after him, playing away
like a public fountain; while, owing to the well-known susceptibility of
a rabble to the charm of music, the disgusted Consul had to take his
walks abroad at the head of Rome's choicest scum.

Duilius, with a lively recollection of these inconveniences, would have
spoken very seriously indeed to his musician, but he shrank from hurting
his feelings by plain truth. He simply explained that he had not
intended the other to accompany him _always_, but only on special
occasions; and, while professing the sincerest admiration for his
musical proficiency, he felt, as he said, unwilling to monopolise it,
and unable to enjoy it at the expense of a fellow-creature's rest and
comfort.

Perhaps he put the thing a little too delicately to secure the object he
had in view, for the musician, although he was deeply touched by such
unwonted consideration, waved it aside with a graceful fervour which was
quite irresistible.

He assured the Consul that he was only too happy to have been selected
to render his humble tribute to the naval genius of so great a
commander; he would not admit that his own rest and comfort were in the
least affected by his exertions, for, being naturally fond of the flute,
he could, he protested, perform upon it continuously for whole days
without fatigue. And he concluded by pointing out very respectfully that
for the Consul to dispense, even to a small extent, with an honour
decreed (at his own particular request) by the Republic, would have the
appearance of ingratitude, and expose him to the gravest suspicions.
After which he rendered the ancient love-chant, "Ludus idem, ludus
vetus," with singular sweetness and expression.

Duilius felt the force of his arguments. Republics are proverbially
forgetful, and he was aware that it might not be safe even for him, to
risk offending the Senate.

So he had nothing to do but just go on, and be followed about by the
flute-player, and castigated by his parent in the old familiar way,
until he had very little self-respect left.

At last he found a distraction in his care-laden existence - he fell
deeply in love. But even here a musical Nemesis attended him, to his
infinite embarrassment, in the person of his devoted follower. Sometimes
Duilius would manage to elude him, and slip out unseen to some sylvan
retreat, where he had reason to hope for a meeting with the object of
his adoration. He generally found that in this expectation he had not
deceived himself; but, always, just as he had found courage to speak of
the passion that consumed him, a faint tune would strike his ear from
afar, and, turning his head in a fury, he would see his faithful
flute-player striding over the fields in pursuit of him with
unquenchable ardour.

He gave in at last, and submitted to the necessity of speaking all his
tender speeches "through music." Claudia did not seem to mind it,
perhaps finding an additional romance in being wooed thus; and Duilius
himself, who was not eloquent, found that the flute came in very well at
awkward pauses in the conversation.

Then they were married, and, as Claudia played very nicely herself upon
the _tibiæ_, she got up musical evenings, when she played duets with the
flute-player, which Duilius, if he had only had a little more taste for
music, might have enjoyed immensely.

As it was, beginning to observe for the first time that the musician was
far from uncomely, he forbade the duets. Claudia wept and sulked, and
Claudia's mother said that Duilius was behaving like a brute, and she
was not to mind him; but the harmony of their domestic life was broken,
until the poor Consul was driven to take long country walks in sheer
despair, not because he was fond of walking, for he hated it, but simply
to keep the flute-player out of mischief.

He was now debarred from all other society, for his old friends had long
since cut him dead whenever he chanced to meet them. "How could he
expect people to stop and talk," they asked indignantly, "when there was
that confounded fellow blowing tunes down the backs of their necks all
the time?"

Duilius had had enough of it himself, and felt this so strongly that one
day he took his flute-player a long walk through a lonely wood, and,
choosing a moment when his companion had played "Id omnes faciunt" till
he was somewhat out of breath, he turned on him suddenly. When he left
the lonely wood he was alone, and near it something which looked as if
it might once have been a musician.

The Consul went home, and sat there waiting for the deed to become
generally known. He waited with a certain uneasiness, because it was
impossible to tell how the Senate might take the thing, or the means by
which their vengeance would declare itself.

And yet his uneasiness was counterbalanced by a delicious relief: the
State might disgrace, banish, put him to death even, but he had got rid
of slow music for ever; and as he thought of this, the stately Duilius
would snap his fingers and dance with secret delight.

All disposition to dance, however, was forgotten upon the arrival of
lictors bearing an official missive. He looked at it for a long time
before he dared to break the big seal, and cut the cord which bound the
tablets which might contain his doom.

He did it at last; and smiled with relief as he began to read: for the
decree was courteously, if not affectionately, worded. The Senate,
considering (or affecting to consider) the disappearance of the
flute-player a mere accident, expressed their formal regret at the
failure of the provision made in his honour.

Then, as he read on, Duilius dashed the tablets into small fragments,
and rolled on the ground, and tore his hair, and howled; for the
senatorial decree concluded by a declaration that, in consideration of
his brilliant exploits, the State hereby placed at his disposal two more
flute-players, who, it was confidently hoped, would survive the wear and
tear of their ministrations longer than the first.

Duilius retired to his room and made his will, taking care to have it
properly signed and attested. Then he fastened himself in; and when they
broke down the door next day they found a lifeless corpse, with a
strange sickly smile upon its pale lips.

No one in Rome quite made out the reason of this smile, but it was
generally thought to denote the gratification of the deceased at the
idea of leaving his beloved ones in comfort, if not in luxury; for,
though the bulk of his fortune was left to Carthaginian charities, he
had had the forethought to bequeath a flute-player apiece to his wife
and mother-in-law.

(_From_ "THE BLACK POODLE," _by permission of Messrs. Longmans,
Green, & Co._)




THE TROUBLES OF A TRIPLET.

W. BEATTY-KINGSTON.


I am, I really think, the most unlucky man on earth;
A triple sorrow haunts me, and has done so from my birth.
My lot in life's a gloomy one, I think you will agree;
'Tis bad enough to be a twin - but I am one of three!

No sooner were we born than Pa and Ma the bounty claimed;
I scarce can bear to think they did - it makes me feel ashamed,
They got it, too, within a week, and spent it, I'll be bound,
Upon themselves - at least, I know I never had _my_ pound.

Our childhood's days in ignorance were lamentably spent,
Although I think we more than paid the taxes, and the rent;
For we were shown as marvels, and - unless I'm much deceived -
The smallest contributions were most thankfully received.

We grew up hale and hearty - would we never had been born! -
As like to one another as three peas, or ears of corn.
Between my brothers _Ichabod_, _Abimelech_ and me
No difference existed which the human eye could see.

This likeness was the cause of dreadful suffering and pain
To me in early life - it nearly broke my heart in twain;
For while my conduct as a youth was fervently admired,
That of my fellow-triplets left a deal to be desired.

I was amiable, and pious, too - good deeds were my delight,
I practised all the virtues - some by day and some by night;
Whilst _Ichabod_ imbrued himself in crime, and, sad to say,
_Abimelech_, when quite a lad, would rather swear than pray.

Think of my horror and dismay when, in the Park at noon,
An obvious burglar greeted me with, "Hullo, Ike, old coon!"
He vanished. Suddenly my wrists were gripped by Policeman X - - ,


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