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Title: "Not In The Bill."
       REAL DRAMAS Part 3
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200721.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: "Not In The Bill."
       REAL DRAMAS Part 3
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White

*

REAL DRAMAS
(Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent).
By FRED. M. WHITE.

*

The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, 14 August, 1909.

*



No. 3: "Not In The Bill."


When young Lord Strandford came or age there were festivities in honour
of the occasion at Strandford Park, the family seat in Loamshire. As
everybody knows, the Mepherhams are an extremely good old family,
somewhat simple and unaffected, and by no means meriting the title of
'up-to-date.' As a matter of fact they would have resented anything of
the kind as suggestive of the modern financier of Teutonic origin, the
like of which would have had a poor chance of obtaining admission beyond
the gates of Strandford Park--unless they came on Mondays and Fridays to
see the pictures.

Therefore it was considered a daring innovation on Lady Challenger's
part when she suggested theatricals. An amateur performance was not in
her mind at all--greatly daring, she wanted to have a professional
company, and a drama performed by them in the Rubens Gallery.

Lord Challenger raised no objection, provided that the expense was not
too great. Dramatic 'stars,' of course, were out of the question. How to
set about it was hardly less difficult a matter. Almost in despair, Lady
Challenger wrote to a friend who had a position almost unique as a
leading amateur. Really the thing was quite simple, the reply came. Lady
Challenger had only to state her requirements in a letter to Blank's
Dramatic Agency, 1194, Strand, and the thing was done. She would be able
to pick her own play, and, as Strandford Park was on a main line, the
whole company could catch the down express and be back in London by
half-past one. All trains could be stopped by signal at Strandford Park
Station. The rest was merely the signing of the necessary cheque.

Really it was delightfully simple. Messrs. Blank were quite willing to
supply a competent cast, they had the honour of submitting some
comedy-dramas for her Ladyship's selection. The fee would be so much,
and Messrs. Blank would produce the play, erect the stage, and generally
manage the proceedings.

Like most simple-minded ladies who pass most of their time in the
country, Lady Challenger was of a romantic turn. She wanted a pretty
play with considerable emotion in it. She finally made selection of a
piece founded on an incident in one of Wilkie Collins' novels--the story
of a persecuted woman who suffered punishment for the crime of another.
It really was a pretty story, and Lady Challenger shed tears over the
woes of Hester Walters, the innocent convict.

She was interested in women convicts, and, indeed, she knew something of
their habits. The female prison at Oldchester was only four miles away,
and Lady Challenger was one of the visitors. No doubt this fact
influenced her in choosing the play.

Messrs. Blank's representatives duly appeared, a pretty little stage was
elected in the Rubens Gallery, the invitations were out, and the
programme printed. The dramatic performance was the culminating point in
a long day's festivities. There was a cricket match against the Free
Foresters in the Park, a dinner for the workmen on the estate at
mid-day, and a children's fete in the afternoon. The house was filled to
its utmost capacity. At four o'clock most of the talented cast arrived,
and immediately proceeded to dine. Lady Challenger was pleased to be
present.

"I hope you have a good company, Mr. Trenor?" said her Ladyship.

"I can confidently say so, Lady Challenger," Mr. Vernon Trenor, the
stage-manager smiled. "To all practical purposes we have a London
company. We are all artists. Most of us are under contract to the big
managers--we accept these engagements by special arrangement."

Lady Challenger smilingly accepted the assurance. Everything appeared to
be going very smoothly indeed. And really these good people looked very
nice, quite presentable. It was astonishing what a lot of well-bred
people took to the stage nowadays! Still, Lady Challenger was just a
little displeased. She had particularly desired a few words with 'Hester
Walters,' and that heroine not yet arrived.

"She could not possibly come down with the rest of us," the manager
explained. "She has a sick relative with whom she desired to stay until
the last moment. We brought her dresses with us and she will be here
herself by the 7.46, which stops here. She knows that it is only a few
minutes' walk across the park. I am sorry that your Ladyship should be
disappointed."

"You see I am acquainted with real convicts," Lady Challenger smiled. "I
am a frequent visitor at Oldchester Prison. Some most interesting cases
there, I assure you. Not real criminals, but poor creatures unable to
resist a sudden temptation."

"Wasn't there an accident at Oldchester last night?" Trenor asked.

"Oh, yes; might have been very serious indeed, Mr. Trenor. An escape of
gas and an explosion that wrecked part of the building. Happily, no
lives were lost, though some of the creatures were badly hurt. I'm told
that they are in a sad state of confusion."

Lady Challenger tripped away, having seen that her guests were made free
of the house. She was pleased to find that they afforded quite an
attraction in themselves. There were young people present who were glad
of the chance of talking to real actors and actresses. They spread over
the lovely old grounds, they explored the woods and shrubberies,
relating their experiences to knots of appreciative listeners.

As the hour for the performance drew near Mr. Trenor began to feel
anxious. It was a little past the time now and Miss Hillhouse, who was
down to play 'Hester Walters,' had not put in an appearance. If she had
missed her train, then the performance would be spoilt. Fortunately, she
did not come on till the middle of the first act, so that the curtain
could go up without her. She came presently, in the nick of time,
breathless and full of apologies. The train was late, she had missed the
pathway in the gathering darkness, and had had a nasty fall over some
brambles. She had managed to blunder into a boggy marsh, so that she was
splashed and muddy. The long coat that hid her from head to foot was a
mass of clay.

Trenor stared at her with open-mouthed amazement.

"But, I don't understand," he stammered. "You are not Miss Hillhouse at
all. In that case----"

"I quite forgot to explain," the newcomer gasped. "Miss Hillhouse could
not come at the very last moment. She was detained, and telephoned to
Messrs. Blank, who sent for me at once. Fortunately, I have played the
part quite recently, so you need not be nervous on that score. Mr. Blank
gave me my instructions, and I came as fast as I could. My name is
Hill."

"Almost the same as Hillhouse," Trenor smiled. "I haven't had the
pleasure of meeting you before."

"I am Australian," Miss Hill explained. "I have been touring in America
and Africa. I only arrived in London a week ago. I suppose I shall be
able to manage with my predecessors outfit and make-up. I presume that
it is here. Let me get to my dressing-room at once. And could you
procure me a few sandwiches and a glass of champagne? I missed my dinner
to-day, intending to dine late, and I had to come away without a meal at
all."

Trenor was only too delighted. The anxiety was off his mind now, and
everything was going smoothly. Miss Hill ate her sandwiches and drank
her champagne with a fine healthy appetite. Trenor examined her make-up
with an approving eye. Miss Hillhouse's convict-dress fitted her as if
it had been made on purpose. There was no mistake about the strength and
power of her performance either. Miss Hillhouse had been just a little
too refined and ladylike for the part. The audience seemed to feel it
too. They were quite carried away by the force and fire of the wronged
heroine's acting. When the curtain fell on the first act there was a
perfect hurricane of applause from the stalls and from the packed mass
of farmers and tenantry behind. Lady Challenger came fussing into the
dressing-rooms in her kindly way, bent upon making the acquaintance of
Miss Hill.

"We are charmed--delighted!" she said. "Really, you carried us right
away. And I understand that you were so good as to come here at the very
last moment. And you have had nothing since lunch but a few poor
sandwiches and a glass of wine. Have you a long wait now?"

"Not more than half an hour," Miss Hill explained. "I don't have to
change my dress at all."

"Capital!" Lady Challenger explained. "Then you will have time to get a
proper meal. The house is more or less in a state of chaos, so I make no
apology for asking you to have supper in my dressing-room. I have had it
set out for you there. I will take you there myself, and I will arrange
for the call-boy to fetch you directly you are required. Only you must
not mind if I do not remain with you--I have so many little duties to
attend to."

Miss Hill appeared to be overwhelmed by all this kindness. Indeed, it
was a great deal more than she had any right to expect. And, after all,
she was only doing what she was paid to do. Out in Australia and South
Africa she had really known what hardships were. Nevertheless, she was
quite ready to avail herself of this pleasing hospitality. She had a
splendid appetite, and the sandwiches had not gone very far. One point
she was firm upon--she was not going to trespass too far on Lady
Challenger's good nature. She quite understood how busy the latter must
be.

"Please do not consider me for a moment," she said. "I have given you
too much trouble already. I shall not feel comfortable until you return
to your guests, Lady Challenger. They will call me directly my presence
is needed on the stage again. Please, please do not wait."

Lady Challenger took the speaker at her word. The performance went its
smooth way until the final fall of the curtain and the inevitable
triumph of virtue over vice. Then Miss Hill hurried upstairs, just as
she was, to finish her supper, coming down finally to the dressing-rooms
after everybody had gone. She was some considerable time in removing her
'make-up' and changing into everyday gait again. In this she
good-naturedly refused the services of a dresser.

"I am not going to keep you another moment," she said. "I should have
come down before. Go away and get your supper with the rest of them.
Tell Mr. Trenor that I shall not be more than half an hour at the
outside. If only I had a clean pair of shoes----"

By this time the members of the theatrical company had mingled in the
supper-room with the rest of the guests. Lady Challenger was beginning
to wonder what had become of Miss Hill. At the same moment the portly,
dignified old butler approached Trenor with a certain suggestion of
haste, and whispered something in his ear. The message appeared to be
slightly incredible.

"The thing is impossible," he said. "It is a joke, a mistake on
somebody's part."

"Perhaps it is, Sir," the butler said. "All the same, I shall be glad if
you will come and see the young woman for yourself. She is very
persistent in what she says, Sir."

Trenor hurried away into the morning-room. There he found a somewhat
dishevelled young lady, whose eyes were full of indignant tears. Her
dress appeared to be considerably damaged.

"Miss Hillhouse!" Trenor gasped. "What is the meaning of this, please?"

"I only wish that I could tell you," the girl said faintly. "I was
coming across the park to-night when a woman encountered me. I stopped
to speak to her and she promptly threw me down. She had a knife in her
hand, and she threatened to kill me if I called out. She pushed my
handkerchief in my mouth, and bound me fast with some rope that she had
found somewhere. And there I lay, half dead, till some men found me and
brought me here. They were poachers, I expect, for they did not stop.
Then I rang the bell and saw the butler, and--well, here I am."

Tenor did some rapid thinking in the next few moments. In the first
place, he desired to see Miss Hill without the lease delay. Miss Hill,
strange to say, had left the house. She had gone away without the
formality of saying good-bye, she had helped herself to certain choice
articles from Lady Challenger's wardrobe, including a complete outfit of
lingerie and shoes. It was some little time before Lady Challenger could
understand the real state of affairs. But it began to come home to her
presently, after a brief but painful interview with her maid. Not only
was Miss Hill and a portion of her wardrobe missing, but a valuable
selection of jewels could not be found. They had gone also.

"But how was it managed?" the bewildered hostess asked. "How did she
know, and how did she----"

"May I make a suggestion?" Trenor asked. "I have an idea. It is just
possible that, during the confusion following the explosion at
Oldchester Prison, one or more of the convicts escaped. The fact might
have only just been found out. If Lord Challenger will telephone to the
prison he may find that my surmise is correct. Evidently the escaped
convict is an actress. She was probably hiding in the grounds to-day,
and heard all that she needed to know. A chance conversation gave her
the idea. She wanted a change of garments and a good meal. There was a
certain amount of risk in the whole business, but it was worth taking.
The part of Hester Walters is one familiar to most emotional actresses
who travel with stock companies. Really, it was quite easy."

Lord Challenger returned to the library presently with a grave face.

"Mr. Trenor is quite right," he explained. "I got the Governor of the
prison on the telephone. It appears that two of the women are missing.
One is Louisa Reynards, an Australian who has had a deal of experience
on the stage. After hearing this I had the dressing-room searched, and
surely enough I found the real convict garb worn by the impudent
impostor. She actually came here in her convict-dress, with Miss
Hillhouse's cloak over it. But she cannot be far away."

"I expect she is," Trenor said. "A woman like that generally knows a
thing or two. There are at least two score of motors in the stables
belonging to your various guests. Miss Reynards either took one of these
on her own hook, or she persuaded one of the drivers to take her, say,
as far as Barham Junction, where she could easily get a train to town.
Once there, it is pretty certain that she can find friends to help her,
especially as she has jewels that she can turn into money. I only hope
that your Lordship will not blame us for the disaster."

Lord Challenger was a just man, and he didn't. One of the cars was
missing, to return at the end of an hour and a half with an explanation
that fitted in with what Trenor had suggested. Lady Challenger listened
ruefully; she had no hope of seeing the actress or the jewels again, and
in this she was not destined to a pleasant surprise.

"It has been a successful day, all the same," she told her husband. "But
I don't think I shall try theatricals in the future. They are a little
too dramatic for my taste."



THE END


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