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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHead Of Kay's - Chapter XV - DOWN TOWN
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Head Of Kay's - Chapter XV - DOWN TOWN Post by :IdeaGuy Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :2250

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Head Of Kay's - Chapter XV - DOWN TOWN

CHAPTER XV - DOWN TOWN


Fenn arrived at the theatre a quarter of an hour before the curtain
rose. Going down a gloomy alley of the High Street, he found himself
at the stage door, where he made inquiries of a depressed-looking man
with a bad cold in the head as to the whereabouts of his brother. It
seemed that he was with Mr Higgs. If he would wait, said the
door-keeper, his name should be sent up. Fenn waited, while the
door-keeper made polite conversation by describing his symptoms to him
in a hoarse growl. Presently the minion who had been despatched to the
upper regions with Fenn's message returned. Would he go upstairs,
third door on the left. Fenn followed the instructions, and found
himself in a small room, a third of which was filled by a huge
iron-bound chest, another third by a very stout man and a
dressing-table, while the rest of the space was comparatively empty,
being occupied by a wooden chair with three legs. On this seat his
brother was trying to balance himself, giving what part of his
attention was not required for this feat to listening to some story
the fat man was telling him. Fenn had heard his deep voice booming as
he went up the passage.

His brother did the honours.

"Glad to see you, glad to see you," said Mr Higgs, for the fat man was
none other than that celebrity. "Take a seat."

Fenn sat down on the chest and promptly tore his trousers on a jagged
piece of iron.

"These provincial dressing-rooms!" said Mr Higgs, by way of comment.
"No room! Never any room! No chairs! Nothing!"

He spoke in short, quick sentences, and gasped between each. Fenn said
it really didn't matter--he was quite comfortable.

"Haven't they done anything about it?" asked Fenn's brother, resuming
the conversation which Fenn's entrance had interrupted. "We've been
having a burglary here," he explained. "Somebody got into the theatre
last night through a window. I don't know what they expected to find."

"Why," said Fenn, "we've had a burglar up our way too. Chap broke into
the school house and went through the old man's drawing-room. The
school house men have been talking about nothing else ever since. I
wonder if it's the same crew."

Mr Higgs turned in his chair, and waved a stick of grease paint
impressively to emphasise his point.

"There," he said. "There! What I've been saying all along. No doubt of
it. Organised gang. And what are the police doing? Nothing, sir,
nothing. Making inquiries. Rot! What's the good of inquiries?"

Fenn's brother suggested mildly that inquiries were a good beginning.
You _must start somehow. Mr Higgs scouted the idea.

"There ought not to be any doubt, sir. They ought to _know_. To
KNOW," he added, with firmness.

At this point there filtered through the closed doors the strains of
the opening chorus.

"By Jove, it's begun!" said Fenn's brother. "Come on, Bob."

"Where are we going to?" asked Fenn, as he followed. "The wings?"

But it seemed that the rules of Mr Higgs' company prevented any
outsider taking up his position in that desirable quarter. The only
place from which it was possible to watch the performance, except by
going to the front of the house, was the "flies," situated near the
roof of the building.

Fenn found all the pleasures of novelty in watching the players from
this lofty position. Judged by the cold light of reason, it was not
the best place from which to see a play. It was possible to gain only
a very foreshortened view of the actors. But it was a change after
sitting "in front".

The piece was progressing merrily. The gifted author, at first silent
and pale, began now to show signs of gratification. Now and again he
chuckled as some _jeu de mots hit the mark and drew a quick gust
of laughter from the unseen audience. Occasionally he would nudge Fenn
to draw his attention to some good bit of dialogue which was
approaching. He was obviously enjoying himself.

The advent of Mr Higgs completed his satisfaction, for the audience
greeted the comedian with roars of applause. As a rule Eckleton took
its drama through the medium of third-rate touring companies, which
came down with plays that had not managed to attract London to any
great extent, and were trying to make up for failures in the
metropolis by long tours in the provinces. It was seldom that an actor
of the Higgs type paid the town a visit, and in a play, too, which had
positively never appeared before on any stage. Eckleton appreciated
the compliment.

"Listen," said Fenn's brother. "Isn't that just the part for him? It's
just like he was in the dressing-room, eh? Short sentences and
everything. The funny part of it is that I didn't know the man when I
wrote the play. It was all luck."

Mr Higgs' performance sealed the success of the piece. The house
laughed at everything he said. He sang a song in his gasping way, and
they laughed still more. Fenn's brother became incoherent with
delight. The verdict of Eckleton was hardly likely to affect London
theatre-goers, but it was very pleasant notwithstanding. Like every
playwright with his first piece, he had been haunted by the idea that
his dialogue "would not act", that, however humorous it might be to a
reader, it would fall flat when spoken. There was no doubt now as to
whether the lines sounded well.

At the beginning of the second act the great Higgs was not on the
stage, Fenn's brother knowing enough of the game not to bring on his
big man too soon. He had not to enter for ten minutes or so. The
author, who had gone down to see him during the interval, stayed in
the dressing-room. Fenn, however, who wanted to see all of the piece
that he could, went up to the "flies" again.

It occurred to him when he got there that he would see more if he took
the seat which his brother had been occupying. It would give him much
the same view of the stage, and a wider view of the audience. He
thought it would be amusing to see how the audience looked from the
"flies".

Mr W. S. Gilbert once wrote a poem about a certain bishop who, while
fond of amusing himself, objected to his clergy doing likewise. And
the consequence was that whenever he did so amuse himself, he was
always haunted by a phantom curate, who joined him in his pleasures,
much to his dismay. On one occasion he stopped to watch a Punch and
Judy show,

And heard, as Punch was being treated penally,
That phantom curate laughing all hyaenally.

The disgust and panic of this eminent cleric was as nothing compared
with that of Fenn, when, shifting to his brother's seat, he got the
first clear view he had had of the audience. In a box to the left of
the dress-circle sat, "laughing all hyaenally", the following
distinguished visitors:

Mr Mulholland of No. 7 College Buildings.
Mr Raynes of No. 4 ditto,
and
Mr Kay.

Fenn drew back like a flash, knocking his chair over as he did so.

"Giddy, sir?" said a stage hand, pleasantly. "Bless you, lots of gents
is like that when they comes up here. Can't stand the 'eight, they
can't. You'll be all right in a jiffy."

"Yes. It--it is rather high, isn't it?" said Fenn. "Awful glare, too."

He picked up his chair and sat down well out of sight of the box. Had
they seen him? he wondered. Then common sense returned to him. They
could not possibly have seen him. Apart from any other reasons, he had
only been in his brother's seat for half-a-dozen seconds. No. He was
all right so far. But he would have to get back to the house, and at
once. With three of the staff, including his own house-master, ranging
the town, things were a trifle too warm for comfort. He wondered it
had not occurred to him that, with a big attraction at the theatre,
some of the staff might feel an inclination to visit it.

He did not stop to say goodbye to his brother. Descending from his
perch, he hurried to the stage door.

"It's in the toobs that I feel it, sir." said the door-keeper, as he
let him out, resuming their conversation as if they had only just
parted. Fenn hurried off without waiting to hear more.

It was drizzling outside, and there was a fog. Not a "London
particular", but quite thick enough to make it difficult to see where
one was going. People and vehicles passed him, vague phantoms in the
darkness. Occasionally the former collided with him. He began to wish
he had not accepted his brother's invitation. The unexpected sight of
the three masters had shaken his nerve. Till then only the romantic,
adventurous side of the expedition had struck him. Now the risks began
to loom larger in his mind. It was all very well, he felt, to think, as
he had done, that he would be expelled if found out, but that all the
same he would risk it. Detection then had seemed a remote contingency.
With three masters in the offing it became at least a possibility. The
melancholy case of Peter Brown seemed to him now to have a more
personal significance for him.

Wrapped in these reflections, he lost his way.

He did not realise this for some time. It was borne in upon him when
the road he was taking suddenly came to an abrupt end in a blank wall.
Instead of being, as he had fancied, in the High Street, he must have
branched off into some miserable blind alley.

More than ever he wished he had not come. Eckleton was not a town that
took up a great deal of room on the map of England, but it made up for
small dimensions by the eccentricity with which it had been laid out.
On a dark and foggy night, to one who knew little of its geography, it
was a perfect maze.

Fenn had wandered some way when the sound of someone whistling a
popular music-hall song came to him through the gloom. He had never
heard anything more agreeable.

"I say," he shouted at a venture, "can you tell me the way to the High
Street?"

The whistler stopped in the middle of a bar, and presently Fenn saw a
figure sidling towards him in what struck him as a particularly
furtive manner.

"Wot's thet, gav'nor?"

"Can you tell me where the High Street is? I've lost my way."

The vague figure came closer.

"'Igh Street? Yus; yer go--"

A hand shot out, Fenn felt a sharp wrench in the region of his
waistcoat, and a moment later the stranger had vanished into the fog
with the prefect's watch and chain.

Fenn forgot his desire to return to the High Street. He forgot
everything except that he wished to catch the fugitive, maltreat him,
and retrieve his property. He tore in the direction whence came the
patter of retreating foot-steps.

There were moments when he thought he had him, when he could hear the
sound of his breathing. But the fog was against him. Just as he was
almost on his man's heels, the fugitive turned sharply into a street
which was moderately well lighted. Fenn turned after him. He had just
time to recognise the street as his goal, the High Street, when
somebody, walking unexpectedly out of the corner house, stood directly
in his path. Fenn could not stop himself. He charged the man squarely,
clutched him to save himself, and they fell in a heap on the pavement.

Content of CHAPTER XV - DOWN TOWN (P G Wodehouse's novel: Head of Kay's)

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