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Title: The Man in Possession
       REAL DRAMAS Part 5
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200741.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

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Title: The Man in Possession
       REAL DRAMAS Part 5
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White


(Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent).


The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, 28 August, 1909.


No. 5: The Man in Possession.

That kind of thing is very amusing when it takes the form of a Christmas
story in a theatrical paper; but to those who know, the element of
tragedy is not lacking. There is no more light-hearted and cheery soul
than your Thespian, but he finds no real amusement in the knowledge that
he is stranded, practically penniless, in a strange town where credit is
impossible and he himself is more or less an object of suspicion. It
requires a stout heart to face a poor landlady at the end of the first
week with the information that her rent and the little odds and ends
will not be forthcoming. It is harder still when there is a woman in the

There was nothing new in the situation--it had happened hundreds of
times, and it will happen some hundreds of times more. Mr. Clarence
Crawshoy, of the West End theatres, the darling of fashion and the
admired of kings, had, in a fit of absent-mindedness gone off on the
Saturday evening with the week's exchequer, and there was no indication
that he had the slightest intention of returning. That astounding fur
coat, those darling white spats, and that brilliant (Alaska) diamond
stud would awaken envy in the hearts of 'The Indian Girl' company no
more. In other words, they had come 'up against' the inevitable
provincial tour swindler, and most of them were penniless. It is all
very well for Raymond Duke to tell the story now to his guests in Hill
Street after coming home from his own theatre in London; but it was a
very different Raymond Duke who crept along to the shabby little
lodgings over the news-shop in High Street, Marborough, to tell his
pretty little wife what had happened.

"I felt sure that that man was a rascal," Netta Duke said.

"We all knew it," Duke groaned. "We knew it from the first. We felt it
before we began to rehearse the show. Still, when one's been 'out' for
ten weeks, anything is good enough to risk. The mischief is done, Netta.
I've got ninepence and you have one-and-two. Mrs. Meekins's bill will be
at least twenty-five shillings. I wonder what she will say when I tell

It was no easy task. It never is an easy task for an honest,
sensitive-minded man to explain that he really is not a rascal, when all
the time hard fact testifies to the contrary. Mrs. Meekin was
distressed; she declared (with truth) that she had suffered like this
before. She declared (also with truth) that theatricals had gone away
vowing a cheque next Friday, and that, like the Good Samaritan, she had
seen their face no more. She relaxed slightly, finally she wept and
produced something charming in the way of supper, alleging (not with
truth this time) that the good things had come as a present from her
sister in the country. It was all very funny, very human, and very real.

'The Indian Girl' company met next day in conference. Something had to
be done. They had played all the week to fairly good business, for
Marborough is a thriving little place and trade was good. But for a
lamentable weakness of Mr. Clarence Crawshoy in connection with the '3
o'clock race,' things might have been far more propitious. But that was
all over now. Something had to be done. They were a mixed crowd, and a
variety entertainment looked the proper course to adopt. The Mayor and
many of the leading citizens were approached; by midday on Monday,
Marborough had heard the story. And on the whole, Marborough behaved
very well.

'The Indian Girl' company did not ask for much. They had a week's rent
of the hall to pay, their landladies and laundresses to satisfy, and a
further week's provisions to buy. If this could be cleared off and
railway fares to London provided, all would be well. It sounded a modest
programme enough, but it represented a capital sum of not far short of
fifty pounds.

The benefit performance was fixed for Friday night. All being well, the
company would leave for London the same evening somewhere about twelve
o'clock. Enough money had been taken during the week to keep things
going, and Friday was expected to wipe out the deficit altogether. There
was every promise of a bumper house. It was late on the Friday afternoon
that the sinister rumours began to go round. Confirmation came from
Signor Biardi, the world-renowned conjurer, who arrived in Marborough to
attend a children's party in the evening.

"Lord bless you," he told Duke and some of the others. "What I couldn't
tell you about Clarence Crawshoy isn't worth knowing. Bad egg from the
start, dear boys! Been doing this kind of thing for years. Dealing with
anybody but a crowd of professionals, he would have found himself in
gaol long ago. Oh, there are no flies on Clarence Crawshoy!"

"But how can he possibly hurt us?" Duke asked.

"Easy as falling off a house, dear old chap," the Signor explained.
"Crawshoy only skipped as far as Middlesborough. Saw him there
yesterday. Trying to borrow the price of a brief to London. Good thing
for you if he'd raised it. Because he knows what is going on here, and
he's hatched a pretty little conspiracy to get his share of it. You see,
in law, he is still responsible for the hall here; he owes a good bit
for printing, and there is a judgment out against him on this account.
He's got a little sweep of a printer in Middlesborough to buy up this
debt for a sovereign or two, so that he stands your creditor. It's a
goodish sum that is owing, and if this little man comes along about half
past seven to-night and takes possession of your box-office, where are
you? He can take every cent until his debt is paid, and that will just
about clear you out. He'll come over with some County-court official,
and it will be too dangerous to defy him. Afterwards he will divide the
swag with Crawshoy, and all will be well, as the melodrama says."

"Do you know this as an absolute fact?" Duke asked anxiously.

"I do," the Signor said solemnly; "I had a bit of printing done at the
same shop, and the foreman, who is a decent sort, told me. Fact is, he
asked me to give you a tip."

All this was pleasant hearing! A fair sum of money had resulted from the
sale of tickets, but quite another was calculated as the takings at the
door. Unless something in the nature of a miracle happened, love's
labour would be lost. They debated the matter solemnly and seriously for
the best part of an hour. The low comedian began to see his way.

"This is decidedly a case where strategy is required," he said. "It is
no time for half measures. Signor Biardi, kindly favour me with some
particulars of this creditor of ours. Tell me something as to his
personal appearance and his characteristics. Is he an athlete?"

"Oh, Lord, no!" Biardi responded. "Anything but. A greasy, nervous
little beggar--sort of a man who would do anything for money. The loss
of it would arouse what little pluck he has. He isn't looking forward to
coming here at all. He'll probably leave the County-court bailiff at
some eminent pub, and come personally to make a compromise. He'll be
content with twenty pounds. And ready to make a 'sacrifice' to save
anything in the way of unpleasantness."

"Webster, the 'low-comedian merchant,' smiled. He was seeing his way
quite clear now.

"The little blackguard shan't get a penny," he said. "Only leave it to
me and we shall quit the place by the advertised train with all the swag
in our pockets. We shall have time to pay everybody, and clear out at
the cost of paint and a few feathers. Only the programme must be altered
slightly. I am going to give an imitation of an Indian snake-charmer.
Miss Elaimi is lending me the tame pythons she uses in the title-role of
'The Indian Girl.' My show was intended to be a burlesque, of course. As
a matter of fact, the audience will be deprived of the opportunity of
interviewing that masterpiece of humour. It is a thousand pities, but in
the circumstances it can't possibly be helped. Duke, when the time
comes, you will have to announce that, owing to a sudden indisposition,
the snake-charming scene will be omitted. See that the minion from the
County-court is tracked down to the pub, where, doubtless, he will be in
waiting, and arrange for him to be placated with unlimited beer. This is
only a precaution, but it will be just as well for us to take it. Rig up
the little dressing-room on the prompt side as an office, and when our
little printer comes, see that he is shown into the office at once. 'On
with the dance, let joy be unconfined,' and all that sort of thing. Pay
everybody, say good-bye, and look out for me at the last moment at the
station. Meanwhile, advance me ten shillings."

"What for?" Duke asked prudently.

"Why, to save the situation, of course. As a matter of fact, I am going
to buy half-a-dozen of those sand-bags they used here in the winter time
to keep the cold air from coming in between the window sashes. They are
long bags in red flannel. If you want to know what they are required
for, I shall decline to tell you. Let it be sufficient that they are
intended to save the situation. The rest of the dark and bloody secret
is mine."

And Webster refused to say any more. He departed armed with his
half-sovereign, and for the rest of the afternoon was conspicuous by his
absence. Spies from the theatrical camp carefully watched the trains
from Middlesborough, and just after half-past six a message arrived to
the effect that the force was in sight and was bearing down on the hall.
Presently the rear-guard called a halt at the Three Compasses, where he
was speedily joined by an affable carpenter, who loudly proclaimed the
fact that he had had a good day starting-price betting, and was almost
morbidly anxious that all and sundry should share his good fortune. In
this way half the invading force was speedily, permanently disposed
of--the conscientious carpenter had seen to that.

A shock head of black hair and a greasy face was thrust into the
box-office window, and a voice, intended to be firm, asked for Mr. Duke.
The box-keeper was politeness himself. He understood that Mr. Duke was
down in his office checking the takings, and would the gentleman go and
see him there? The gentleman in question intimated that he desired
nothing better. All he wanted was his share of the plunder and to avoid
anything like a personal explanation with the boys in the gallery. He
began to take fresh heart of grace, and the large lump at the back of
his throat was diminishing rapidly. An attendant ushered him into the
office, and banging the door, hurried back to his duties.

A figure bent over the desk under the gaslight--a figure the like of
which the little printer had never looked upon before. The figure rose
to his full height and glanced at the intruder. His face was black as
ink, his hair hung over it in long ringlets. His brow was surrounded by
a great headdress of feathers that hung far behind. The dress on the
whole reminded the printer of the literature of his boyhood. Here was
the dusky Redskin of the plain, palpable and in the flesh. It was also
palpable that he was exceedingly annoyed. He advanced with a threatening

"What is it the little white man desires?" he asked. "Why does he
intrude upon us when our heart is turned towards the great Maker of the
Universe? Why does he pollute the hour of meditation?"

The printer stammered something to the effect that it was all a mistake.
The Indian stalked solemnly across the room and locked the door. He
appeared to be muttering incantations. Then, to the sweating horror of
the printer, he plunged his brown arms into a basket on the table and
produced a glittering, scaly, writhing mass of living snakes. They
wriggled over the table.

"Take one," the Indian said hospitably. "Take two--take the blooming.
The dusky children of the forest are long as my eye is on
them. But don't move, don't so much as wink an eyelid, or you are lost.
Folks say that I am mad. They lie in their beards. It is for a penance
that I am doing this thing in your land of fogs and snow. The Great
Spirit ordained it and I obey him. I yearn for no blood tonight, the
desire for peace is upon me."

He advanced upon the timid printer and coiled two snakes about his neck.
The intruder collapsed into a chair, the snakes writhed and wriggled on
the floor. Then very carefully and solemnly, the Indian collected them
into his basket again. With dry lips the printer essayed to speak.

"Silence," the Indian whispered. "The spirits are abroad and they will
hear you. Even the snakes like like death in their presence. Behold,
pale-face, look for yourself!"

He took up the basket again and dragged from it a pile of those
loathsome reptiles. He tossed them about the floor, by the door, along
the skirting, where they lay absolutely still and motionless. To a
terrified and distorted imagination they were snakes--they could be
nothing else but snakes. All the same, they were nothing else but
window-bags filled with sand and procured at an outlay of some few
shillings. But they served the purpose as if they had been so many

"Now let us understand that the spirit is upon us," the Indian said
solemnly. "Do not move until I return, as you value your safety. Anon,
paleface, I will join thee again. Bit if you move. .. I will turn down
the gas--ah, have I already warned thee of thy fate, rash man?"

The printer uttered no further protest. He sat there in the dark,
listening to the noise and bustle outside; he heard the clock strike the
hour of eleven. He became aware of the fact that the silence was getting
more and more oppressive. The clock struck twelve, the hoot of a distant
railway whistle told him that the last train for London was starting,
but he did not connect that fact in any way with his imprisonment. That
confounded Indian had forgotten all about him, of course. And he sat
there with his feet drawn up, trembling and sweating in the knowledge
that death in a score of hideous, creeping shapes was all around him.
Finally, he fell into a weary slumber, and there the daylight found him,
cold and uncomfortable, but not forgotten.

"The beggar swallowed it like milk," the low comedian explained, amidst
shouts of laughter, as the train proceeded towards London. "Never saw
such a state of funk in your life. Only shows you what imagination will
do even for the most practical of us."


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