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The Friendly Genii
by [?]

Do you not confess yourself to be several years past that time of greenest youth when burnt cork holds its greatest charm? Although not fallen to a crippled state, are you not now too advanced to smudge your upper lip and stalk agreeably as a villain? Surely you can no longer frisk lightly in a comedy. If you should wheeze and limp in an old man’s part, with back humped in mimicry, would you not fear that it bordered on the truth? But doubtless there was a time when you ranged upon these heights–when Kazrac the magician was not too heavy for your art. In those soaring days, let us hope that you played the villain with a swagger, or being cast in a softer role, that you won a pink and fluffy princess before the play was done. Your earliest practice, it may be, was in rigging the parlor hangings as a curtain with brown string from the pantry and safety pins. Although you had no show to offer, you said “ding” three times–as is the ancient custom of the stage when the actors are ready–and drew them wide apart. The cat was the audience, who dozed with an ear twitching toward your activity. A complaint that springs up in youth and is known as “snuffles” had kept you out of school. It had gripped you hard at breakfast, when you were sunk in fear of your lessons, but had abated at nine o’clock. Whether the cure came with a proper healing of the nasal glands or followed merely on the ringing of the school bell, must be left to a cool judgment.

Your theatre filled the morning. When Annie came on her quest for dust, you tooted once upon your nose, just to show that a remnant of your infirmity persisted, then put your golden convalescence on the making of your curtain.

But in the early hours of afternoon when the children are once more upon the street, you regret your illness. Here they come trooping by threes and fours, carrying their books tied up in straps. One would think that they were in fear lest some impish fact might get outside the covers to spoil the afternoon. Until the morrow let two and two think themselves five at least! And let Ohio be bounded as it will! Some few children skip ropes, or step carefully across the cracks of the sidewalk for fear they spoil their suppers. Ah!–a bat goes by–a glove–a ball! And now from a vacant lot there comes the clamor of choosing sides. Is no mention to be made of you–you, “molasses fingers”–the star left fielder–the timely batter? What would you not give now for a clean bill of health? You rub your offending nose upon the glass. What matters it with what deep rascality in black mustachios you once strutted upon your boards? What is Hecuba to you?

My own first theatre was in the attic, a place of squeaks and shadows to all except the valiant. In it were low, dark corners where the night crawled in and slept. But in the open part where the roof was highest, there was the theatre. Its walls were made of a red cambric of a flowered pattern that still lingers with me, and was bought with a clatter of pennies on the counter, together with nickels that had escaped my extravagance at the soda fountain.

A cousin and I were joint proprietors. In the making of it, the hammer and nails were mine by right of sex, while she stitched in womanish fashion on the fabrics. She was leading woman and I was either the hero or the villain as fitted to my mood. My younger cousin–although we scorned her for her youth–was admitted to the slighter parts. She might daub herself with cork, but it must be only when we were done. Nor did we allow her to carry the paper knife–shaped like a dagger–which figured hugely in our plots. If we gave her any word to speak, it was as taffy to keep her silent about some iniquity that we had worked against her. In general, we judged her to be too green and giddy for the heavy parts. At the most, she might take pins at the door–for at such a trifle we displayed our talents–or play upon the comb as orchestra before the rising of the curtain.