Our next play was more ambitious, and distinctly better in every respect. It was called The Pride of Finisterre; but I am still at a loss to understand why Pat selected a Spanish setting for his play. I sustained the title role, and Willie was my lover Bernard; this time a very ardent and faithful one indeed. Mary Kate was again cast for my mother; whilst her tiny brother John (he was about two feet tall!) played the part of a priest. He had only a few lines to say which he said correctly, if somewhat mechanically.
Maggie was a notable lady of Spain, by name Marie D’Artua! (I am afraid I have not got this peculiar name quite right; but I have spelt it as we pronounced it, at all events!) This noble dame was grievously tormented and humiliated by a most villainous husband called Alexander. The young author sustained this part himself. He was a Count, and he had a servant, Louis, who was as big a scamp as the Count himself. Willie played the double role of Bernard and Louis.
The play was written in verse, some of which I can still remember. In the first scene Bernard told the audience that he was an art student, who was going to Rome to finish his education. He said good-bye, and swore eternal fidelity to ‘the Pride of Finisterre,’ his sweetheart. They parted in great sorrow.
The next scene was the outskirts of a wood, and the disreputable Count with his wicked servant strolled on together. Louis complained that he was very tired, and the Count resolved to rest awhile.
I recollect these lines:—
Count: Come, lay us down beneath the shade
Which these old ivied trees have made.
Accordingly they stretched themselves on the floor and dozed blissfully; whilst the audience had time to note the Count’s very peculiar costume. He wore an odd kind of bodice, called at the time a ‘Garibaldi.’ In colour it was a most startling and ugly red, quite indescribable. Round the Count’s slim waist was a wide red sash; and on his head an old Leghorn hat. Over his shoes and stockings this amazing gentleman had drawn a long white pair of Maggie’s stockings, which she used to wear with a white dress when walking in processions. The Count had ribbons at his knees, to hold up the stockings; and his floppy hat was looped up in a most fantastic manner.
But the redoubtable nobleman’s crowning glory—if I may use the term—was his large, intensely black moustache, which he used to stick on with gum, thereby hurting his lips very much. There is no doubt that Pat, with his pleasant soft face and the aggressive moustache under the brim of the rakish hat, must have been a most astounding little figure! But I used to think him most imposing, and even heroic.
Well, we left the Count and his henchmen resting themselves under some leafy trees in the woods near the Castle of Nevère. After some little while, the two ladies from the Castle came slowly on the stage together. Eugénie (the ‘Pride of Finisterre’) began to speak in a very plaintive fashion:
Eug.: O mother! I feel ill today!
Mother: My daughter, chase these thoughts away;
Thy lover’s in Rome—far o’er the sea;
Yet trust me, he’ll be true to thee.
Eug.: Yes, mother, that is very true;
Yet when I said my last adieu
I felt my heart would break in twain!
Oh, when shall I see my lover again?
Then the ladies went on to the Castle, leaving the Count quite inflamed with Eugénie’s beauty. He expressed his determination to woo and win her, regardless of the fact that he had a wife already! The scamp Louis willingly promised to help his wicked master.
An old mendicant came tottering on (my sister, disguised), and from him the Count learned all about the ladies and Bernard. When this old beggar went off, the Count and his accomplice arranged their nefarious schemes. Louis rather overdid his protestations of devotion to his master, and that wily gentleman saw through it immediately:
Count: Now, that’s a lie, thou wily curse;
It is not me—it is my purse
that’s dear to thee, and to thy heart;
But, Louis, come; let us depart!
The day grows late, and we must go:
Tomorrow, good Louis, what! Dost thou know?
Louis: Yea! yea! good Count! I do—right will!
Thou’lt storm the heart of the Finisterre Belle!
But just before this dramatic ending, a rather embarrassing accident had befallen the proud Count. At least, it would have been awkward to anyone excepting my brother. In the midst of his impassioned speech to Louis, regarding his love for Eugénie, his preposterous moustache suddenly fell off.
But the resourceful villain was not in the least disconcerted. With the utmost coolness he lightly tossed the facial appendage over the back-cloth, and calmly proceeded to finish the scene!
How the audience must have enjoyed the episode!
The fourth scene of the play showed the full villainy of the wretched Count. Having determined ‘to storm the heart of the Finisterre Belle,’ he carefully laid his plans. He purposely met the guileless maiden as she was walking in the woods near her home, and they fell into easy conversation.
Eugénie, like all love-sick maids, at once began to babble about her absent lover. The Count pretended to be amazed and horrified when he heard the student’s name.
Eug.: His name is Bernard D’Epathà;
A student, who has gone to Rome,
The Eternal City—far from home.
Count.: His name is Bernard D’Epathà!
O! is it true what thou dost say?
Because the man of whom you speak,
Is dead, I say, for many a week!
Eug. (wringing her hands): Kind Count, take back these words of thine!
Count: I can’t, because the power’s not mine;
’Tis true, alas! What I do say—
Thy lover’s dead for many a day.
Eug. (flinging up her arms wildly): My Bernard dead!
My heart will break!
My Father! To Thyself, oh, take,
This child of sorrow and of woe;
I pray to Heaven that I may go
To join my Bernard up above;
The only man that I can love!
Here the stricken girl swooned back into the Count’s arms, and he laid her on a rustic seat, and knelt beside her until she revived.
Then they could be seen whispering earnestly together, as though the Count were telling the lady something of deep import, to which she listened with rapt attention.
At this juncture Marie, the betrayed wife, came or rather glided on; but she was not supposed to be seen by the others.
Marie: O! What a wicked wretch is he!
He pledged his troth one day to me!
And now he leaves for this maid!
Both of our lives he would degrade!
O! What if she should fickle be
To Bernard, who is o’er the sea!
O! If she were—’twould break his heart!
That gentle, high-born son of Art!
Then the lady glided away again, and the stage was left to the Count and Eugénie; that is to say, to Pat and me. Both of us were keyed up to the highest pitch; yet I think that under my brother’s earnestness there ran the usual little vein of whimsical laughter, which was perilously near the surface!
I began my next lines, as though continuing the whispered conversation, during which the perfidious Count had told me that Bernard had died in his (the Count’s) arms, and had begged his friend to find his sweetheart Eugénie, and give her his last message—to wit, that she was to marry his friend, instead of himself. Eugénie, to honour the memory of Bernard, began to think the idea not bad.
Eug.: You say this is his last request?
Count: I do! Before he joined the blest!
Tell Eugénie, my dearest love——
And then the lies began all over again, until the amazing girl consented to wed the false-hearted Count. She rose up and, giving him her hand, said happily: ‘Dear Alexander! I say—Yes!’
This was all very well, of course—but what was to happen to Marie and Bernard? Marie was not the sort of person to be made a fool of!
The dénouement came in the last scene, however. This scene opened by my running on happily:
Eug.: Today it is my wedding-day!
I’m going to wed this Count so gay!
’Tis now a year since Bernard died!
(I heaved a big sigh here.)
Count (entering): What! Art thou here, my heart’s own pride?
He folded me in his arms and kissed my brow.
Eug.: Yes! Alexander, do you know,
I feel some foreboding of woe!
Count: My gentle dove, you make me laugh,
I know you talk but silly chaff!
I disregard these feelings mad;
They only tend to make one sad.
Here my lady mother came on, also quite happy.
Mother: The wedding will just now take place.
Count (aside): All recollections must I chase
Of my once loved wife, Marie,
Who still, I know, is true to me!
For sheer, cool effrontery I think this is hard to beat.
Mother: The wedding will just now begin,
Good Father, quickly, pray, come in.
The diminutive priest came on, and was placed in the centre of the stage. The Count and his bride stood on the left, and the mother on the right.
Priest: Do ye both, now, for weal or woe,
Consent to wed each other?——
But before either could reply, a most dramatic disturbance took place. Marie and Bernard rushed in, crying out wildly: No!
Priest: Who are ye both, in Heaven’s name?
Bernard and Marie: We’re two that have a lawful claim
To stop this wedding——
All looked amazed, and Eugénie, recognising her lover, rushed into his arms. Marie sternly went on to denounce her unworthy husband.
Marie: For this man
Would wish my weary life to ban.
He is my husband——
Count (savagely): That’s a lie!
You’re not my wife!
Marie: O! husband! Fie!
I am your wife—these words are true!
To think that I am joined to you!
It breaks my heart! O! my poor head!
O! heavens! Would that I were dead!
Count (grimly, drawing his dagger): I am undone,
and by thy hand!
Dost think that I’ll by quietly stand?
I’d sooner perish—than by thee
Be shamed to death—my wife Marie!
(N.B.—‘Marie’ had of course the accent on the last syllable, so that it would rhyme properly).
Here the wretched man made an attempt to stab himself, but Marie sprang to him and caught the dagger.
Marie: Great heavens, No! My husband Live!
Marie D’Artua knows how to forgive!
Bernard: Nay, what is this! Good Count, arise!
Arise, I say, and take the prize,
Which Heaven hath kindly sent to thee;
Thy faithful loving wife Marie.
Count (as he dropped the dagger and slowly rose up, Marie nestling into his arms): Do you forgive me, everyone?
Priest: Of course they do, my erring son!
Count: And thou, Eugénie, dearest maid;
Forgive me, too, for all I’ve said.
Dost thou forgive me?
Eug. (who had prayed in the other scene that the Count would have a very fair fortune): Yes, good Count.
You see my prayer, that fortune’s fount
Would give a model wife to thee,
Has come to pass—Behold Marie!
Bernard (proudly): My Father, wilt thou now commence
To give to me my recompense
For years a-waiting for my bride,
Eugénie, who is called the pride
Of the old Castle of Nevère,
Or else ‘the Pride of Finisterre’!
I don’t believe that any of the greatest actors on the stage ever felt such exquisite delight when they received the plaudits of a vast audience as we felt when we ‘took our curtain’ amidst wild clapping from our friends! It was simply the perfection of joy!
But it is still amazing to me how any little boy, of my brother’s years, could have imagined and written—quite unaided—such melodramatic business as The Pride of Finisterre. With all its faults, it demonstrates the active intelligence with which my brother was lavishly endowed. And Pat never stayed from school, or neglected his schoolwork for his writing. His whole soul was bound up in study.