A brief comic opera
A BRIEF COMIC OPERA.
W. PETT RIDGE.
The charming "Chanteus Eccentricque" La Belle Emilie (she carries her eccentricity even to the manner of so spelling her virtues on the programme) has reached her last verse. She is in Quaker dress and is singing a song which is, until the chorus comes, something like a hymn, and something like a dirge, and something like a canticle. Then, with a wild fling round, La Belle Emilie changes her tune and her general deportment:—
"But when my eldest sister goes, and we're together, I and Rose,
We jump about like this and this, and feel so very gay,
We make the neighbours gasp and stare, they frown and say, 'Well, I declare'!
For we sing and dance throughout the live-long day."
The orchestra scrapes away at a quick repetition of the tune as she dances, but they do not scrape quick enough for La Belle Emilie. She claps her hands as a sign to the conductor to increase the speed; when at last she turns an unexpected somersault and goes, the orchestra fans itself with the band parts before it drops the books on the floor to be picked up by the grubby boy attendant. A gent in the front row of the stalls—costs you a shilling in Poplar—hands his glass over to the second fiddle, and second fiddle says softly as a toast before tasting it "Hooray!"
The act drop comes down after La Belle Emilie, and there is sound of bustle and turmoil behind. The band parts are served round, and cornet plays softly a little run up and down the scales just for exercise. The attendants in the pit and upstairs are crying the contents of their big baskets which they carry, and patrons with only twopence to spend are trying to make up their mind whether it shall be a crusty sandwich, or a large jam tart, or three apples, or a bag of dates, or nuts. The smoke from many cigarettes floats ceilingwards, and there goes about flurried and anxious in search of ventilation. The number at the side of the stage is changed, a gong behind the scenes rings.
"Now then," says the conductor of the orchestra, "let her go."
Overture lasting half a minute. Curtain up and much cheering from gallery at sight of as many as three sailors (two wearing moustaches), who with dry mops and empty pails are industriously cleaning the deck of H.M.S. Tearem, and swabbing down the palpitating back cloth. The three sailors turn and face the audience and hitch their trousers, crane their backs, and slap with much emphasis their legs. Then they sing—
"Yes, we are the croo of Her Majesty's ship,
Let no one this fact dare deny.
Let old England's enemies take the strite tip,
And slip off before we come nigh,
For should we get near 'em——."
Some conversation, given shyly by the three sailors after their song; conversation which in as few words as possible places the audience in possession of the present state of the plot. Captain Phipps is (with the assistance of the three) chasing a slave-trader. On board the Tearem is a German (who the sailor without the moustache declares is "’and and glove with the slave owners"); Miss Phipps, the captain's fair daughter ("Bless," says one of the sailors with a moustache, "bless her golden 'air and her pretty blue eyes"); Lieutenant Steerwell, and a stowaway ("Let us not be 'ard on him," says the third sailor to the gallery with much humanity, "because he's a stowaway, for although he has no boots he has a honest 'eart").
Enter thereupon Miss Phipps. She is a magnificent lady with a generous figure, and she acknowledges with her riding-whip the salutes of the three.
"Pardon a rough silor," says one stepping forward respectfully, "but can our little missy while away a few idle moments with a song?"
The little missy looks down from her six-foot altitude and smiles graciously.
"Yes, my gallant man," answers Miss Phipps in a surprisingly deep voice, "I will if you'11 promise to join in the chorus, I'll tip you a stave or two that shall make your honest English hearts swell with patriotic pride."
(The three rub their hands with anticipations of pleasure, the band plays a prelude, and Miss Phipps strides to the footlights):—
"In the merry days of old, so I've been always told,
Britannia was the ruler of the seas;
(Ta-ra-ta-ra, proudly from the cornet.)
In fights with foreign powers the victory was ours,
And Napoleon was brought down on his knees.
When the enemy we met, the flag was always set,
And guns into position then were fixed.
(Ta-ra-ta-ra, with enthusiasm from the cornet.)
And stripped unto the waist, the foreign foe we chased;
In mortal combat soon they all were mixed.
(A wild run of much ecstacy from the cornet. Cornet, a plumpish lad, quite scarlet with the effort.)
Then give one cheer for 'appy, 'appy England,
Before her see the enemy he flees,
For we will let them know, before they turn to go,
That (pause) Britannia is the ruler of the seas."
The three sailors sing the repeated chorus, the gallery hums it a little nervously, not being quite sure of the tune; a mild middle-aged lady in the pit stalls astonishes every one by singing it very loudly and singing it all wrong.
"But see," says Miss Phipps, shading her eyes, "what is that black speck in the offing? It is—no, it cannot be—yes" (with a wild shriek), "it is the scoundrelly slave schooner!"
Tumult on board. Captain hurries on, tumbling over his sword, to the great delight of the hall, and rubbing his red nose with a coloured handkerchief, and changing its colour to green. Captain Phipps, it is at once clear, is the life and soul of the ship. He comes down to the conductor and explains matters in dumb show to the conductor, and when double bass gives a suddenly comic burst, Captain Phipps says, pointing to cornet, "Sit on his head," as though double bass were a disabled 'bus horse. The mild young lieutenant has come on, and has piped all hands on deck, whereupon the three sailors, who had gone off, come on again, together with the German and the stowaway.
Shots are heard off, and the stowaway (obviously a girl) is extremely busy running about and doing absolutely nothing.
"Me men," cries Captain Phipps, "at such a moment 'tis meself that feels proud of the Imerald Isle that I was born in."
(The firing of the enemy politely ceases.)
"Did I iver tell you the shtory of Mrs. McCarthy's party?"
The crew, Miss Phipps, the German, the busy stowaway, all express their entire ignorance of the story of Mrs. McCarthy's party, and hint an unanimous desire to hear all about it now. Obviously no better opportunity could be chosen—
"Misthress McCarthy gave a swell party,
All the great men of the coontry were there.
Bridget O'Flannigan, young Patrick Braningan,
All of the brave and all of the fair.
"After the supper, boys—"
The firing recommences as soon as Captain Phipps has taken his encore, an anxious man in a bowler hat is muttering at the wings some instructions as to speed. The German seizes a cutlass, and nobody but the stowaway notices the fact; Captain Phipps, standing near the fluttering bulwarks, is urging the crew of three to act like Englishmen and free the slaves; the mild lieutenant, with one arm around the considerable waist of Miss Phipps, is adding in piping voice to the general clamour. Suddenly the German runs forward. He is about to lunge with the cutlass at the back of the gallant captain——
"Oh, my father!" cries Miss Phipps.
When the stowaway throws himself in the way, and the cutlass goes under his arm. Limelight on stowaway, who kisses a locket containing—so he says—his sweetheart's portrait; one of the sailors cries, "Victory is ours! Triumphant music from the band, with a delirious blast from the cornet; Captain Phipps blesses the lieutenant and his stupendous daughter, the while the three sailors throw the rascally German overboard. Curtain.
The curtain goes up, as well it may, in view of the generous applause from the front. All the persons of the drama are in line, Captain Phipps with his red wig off; the German down, with two-thirds of the crew standing upon him. More cheers, more loud chords from orchestra, and again—Curtain.