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Title: A Pair of Handcuffs
       REAL DRAMAS Part 6
      (Being Some Leaves from the Notebook of a Late Theatrical Agent)
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200751.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

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

Title: A Pair of Handcuffs
       REAL DRAMAS Part 6
      (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, 4 September, 1909.

*



No. 6--A Pair of Handcuffs.


It was quite a new departure for so high-class a crowd as the
Sutton-Vascombe Opera Company, but from the financial point of view it
had been a great success. The company were on sharing terms, though the
general public was not supposed to know that. The expenses had been
heavy, and something had to be done. More than half the chorus were
dismissed, two-thirds of the orchestra found engagements in Melbourne or
Sydney, and then 'the grand tour' of the 'back blocks' began. It was
somewhat rough-and-ready, but the miners and sheep-shearers did not mind
that. They got the best of singing and acting for their money, which
they put down freely. There were mining villages where the exchange was
pure dust--an ounce for a stall, and in proportion for the gallery, so
that the exchequer was actually getting heavy with gold that had yet to
see the mint. The treasurer was naturally a little anxious--it was a
wild district, and 'robbery under arms' was not yet altogether a thing
of the past. Jim Baynham came that way sometimes, and when he did
somebody had to suffer. Jim was the last word in the way of
bushrangers--an Englishman who had left his country for his country's
good; there were warrants out for his apprehension in England. For the
last five years he had been ever the delight and terror of the territory
between the Poonah and the Yarra. He was by way of being a gentleman,
too, and he could do the thing very well when he chose. On the other
hand, he could behave with the most cold and malignant cruelty.

Consequently the secretary of the Sutton-Vascombe Company was uneasy in
his mind. He was responsible for some twelve hundred ounces of
gold-dust, and there was no chance of conveying it to a place of safety.
He confided his fears to all and sundry. They treated him lightly--they
had no fear of Jim Baynham. The women were nervous, of course--Marjorie
Hickson, for instance. She was a sweet little girl with a sweet voice,
and she was going far in her profession. Meanwhile, she had a brother
just recovering from a serious illness, and lying in a Melbourne
hospital, who was entirely dependent upon her for the time being. And in
turn he had a wife in England. If anything happened to Marjorie's share
of the treasury, she trembled for the consequences.

"None of 'em care," the treasurer groaned. "Seem to think that actors
are exempt from troubles of that kind. They say that Jim Baynham was in
the house at Banawaddy. Just as if that was going to make any
difference. And that chap Claxton agrees with me. He knows the ropes.
Been out here for years, he tells me."

Claxton had joined the company at Paira River. He was understood to be
the surviving actor of a variety company which had been utterly stranded
a year ago. Claxton had been down with fever, and when he was on his
feet again, it was only to stand in his last pair of boots with the last
shilling in his pocket. He had drifted up against the Sutton-Vascombe
combination just at the time when they were short of an assistant
baggage-man. The mere fact that Claxton was undoubtedly a gentleman
weighed very little with the company. The knowledge that the stranger
had been in vaudeville was enough. They never even asked him what his
line was. Most of them had been recruited from the Universities, a good
many of the women bore good names. They really were a 'tony' crowd. They
admitted that the baggage-man was a gentleman; therefore they tolerated
him. But, artistically, they made him aware of the awful gulf between
them.

With the sweet unreasonableness of her sex, Marjorie took to Claxton
from the first. She was sorry for him--she felt sure that he had been
the victim of misfortune. She admired his square, handsome face, and
that well-knit figure of his. His eye was clear, his check was brown--he
could not have passed anything but a clean, wholesome existence. He had
been all over the world, too, and had many an interesting story to tell.
At least, Marjorie thought them interesting. And whenever her mind
wandered uneasily in the direction of bushrangers, she was curiously
confronted by the knowledge that Claxton was travelling with the
company.

He was a little man, with a clean-cut, alive face, with a
great beak of a nose all on one side: a mass of thick black hair was
brushed back from the forehead and fell over the nape of his neck. A
thin, clean-shaven mouth was parted in a smile that disclosed a really
splendid set of teeth. He was dressed in a neat, double-breasted, blue
serge suit; his brown shoes shone with a glittering polish. In his right
hand he had a revolver.

They had played for two nights near Sendigo when the drama began in
earnest. People had come from far and near to see the show--they were
prepared to travel home under the coolness of the stars, and the village
was deserted. The so-called 'hotel' was filled with the company, to the
exclusion of everybody else; supper was a thing of the past, and the
management had retired. Most of the combination were still in the big
pitch-pine dining-room, talking over the events of the evening, when the
door was suddenly pushed open and a stranger entered. He was a little
man, with a clean-cut, alive face, with a great beak of a nose all on
one side; a mass of thick black hair was brushed back from the forehead
and fell over the nape of his neck. A thin, clean-shaven mouth was
parted in a smile that disclosed a really splendid set of teeth. He was
dressed in a neat, double-breasted, blue serge suit; his blown shoes
shone with a glittering polish. In his right hand he held a revolver.

"Mr. James Baynham, greatly at your service," he said gently. "It is as
well, perhaps, to remark that the first suggestion of resistance on the
part of any of you gentleman will result in a vacancy in the company. I
should deeply deplore this, as I am a musician myself. To shoot a tenor
or precipitate a baritone into an untimely grave would be a source of
lasting sorrow to me."

Nobody moved for a moment. They were taken utterly by surprise, there
was not a revolver amongst the whole crowd; indeed it is doubtful
whether a single member of the company had the slightest idea how to
handle one. Marjorie Hickson crept a little closer to Claxton.

"Is that really the man, or is it somebody playing a trick on us?" she
asked.

"Oh, that's the man right enough," Claxton replied. "We are old
acquaintances. As a matter of fact, I was at school with him in
England."

"Oh, indeed! And is he really quite as bad as people----"

"Worse," Claxton said curtly. "He's a born rascal. As a matter of fact,
he couldn't be anything else. Some chaps are like that, you know. We
shall have to make the best of it."

Baynham was speaking again. He was understood to say that he was not
alone. He had come with two other intimate friends of his for a little
music. The friends were engaged at that moment taking precautions
against a surprise on the part of the hotel management. He regretted
that he would be compelled to take similar measures so far as the male
members of the company were concerned. There were too many of them for
safety; they boasted too many athletes.

"We raided the police-station at Garralong as we came here," Baynham
said smilingly. "It was necessary to my scheme that we should have some
handcuffs. We found some score of pairs, and they are at present in the
bar. Very sorry, of course, but the thing must be done. You gentlemen
will kindly line up against the wall, facing it. Ladies, we are your
devoted slaves. No harm shall come to any of you. Now, you chaps!"

The last word rang out like a threat. Claxton shut his teeth together
grimly.

"It might be a great deal worse," he whispered to Marjorie. "You will
see where I come in presently. Don't worry about your share of the
exchequer, and don't be afraid. No harm will come to any of you girls.
You will have to sing and play until they have had enough of it. We
shall look on with our hands fastened behind our backs. It's a grim
joke, but you will see presently that there are two sides to it."

Marjorie smiled bravely. She heard Baynham utter a curse as Caxton
lagged behind. He strode up to Claxton and caught him by the shoulder.
Then he started back.

"Good evening, James," Claxton said mockingly. "Quite an unexpected
pleasure, isn't it? Never expected to see me again. Nice sort of life
you are leading, isn't it? Wonder how a family like yours managed to
turn out such a waster! It would have been far better if we had let you
down that day in the Monk's Pool below Chesham Bridge."

Baynham's lips parted in a snarl.

"So it's Claxton," he said, "Claxton of the Sixth. Head of the school.
The shining example to the rest of us! Kicking about Australia juggling,
or something of that kind. Very glad to meet you again, Phil Claxton. I
shall know how to deal with you presently. Be so good as to point out
the treasurer of this powerful operatic cast to me. He is suffering from
over-anxiety, and I want to relieve him of some of it. Oh, yes; the
little man in the spectacles. Still, pleasure before business is always
my motto. Where is the music? I expect the piano is a sufficiently
ancient instrument, but we must make the best of that. Now, ladies,
please."

Two other men came trooping into the room at the same time. There was
nothing in their appearance to give cause for alarm. They were neatly
and quietly dressed like their chief, and were openly amused at the
sight of the helpless row of men facing the wall.

"Have you got the bracelets there?" Baynham asked.

The glittering pile of handcuffs were produced and handed to the leader
of the raid. One by one he fitted them on the wrists of the male members
of the company. The quick snapping of the locks was the only sound that
could be heard.

"So far so good," Bayham said cheerfully; "I am sorry that you will not
be able to smoke, gentlemen, but you can stand there with your hands
behind you and listen to the concert. When it is over I shall be able to
relieve the anxious mind of your treasurer, and after that I will place
the key of the handcuffs on the old green tree where the roads cross
about a mile away."

The concert began promptly. The performers were palpably nervous, but
that wore off after a time. At any rate there was no violence to be
feared. They might lose all their money, but there was ample time to
make some more. And, after all, the situation was not devoid of comedy.
The light-heartedness of the artistic nature was asserting itself.
Marjorie Hickson had sung a song that had been received by the select
audience with singular favour. Claxton stood with a group of men about
him whispering something in their ears. They seemed to be interested in
what he was saying. Claxton had a chance to say a few words to Marjorie
presently.

"I am very thirsty," she exclaimed. "It is such a hot night. Please get
me some lemonade."

Baynham turned to his colleagues. They hurried off in the direction of
the bar. Claxton strolled across the room towards Baynham. There was an
ugly gleam in his eye. Baynham saw it and rose to his feet
instinctively. Instantaneously his hand went to his hip-pocket. Then he
smiled as if half-ashamed of himself. Claxton's hands were securely
fastened behind him. Nothing but a miracle.. .. the miracle happened.
Claxton's right fist appeared with the left end of the handcuff dangling
from it. The heavy metal described a gleaming circle in the air, then it
came down with a sickening blow on the parting of Baynham's thick black
hair. Something spurted hot and red as Baynham pitched headlong to the
floor and laid there lost to all creation. The thing was so startling,
so dramatic, so utterly unexpected, that no cry came from the ring of
white-faced women looking on. Claxton flung himself on the prostate body
and hastily searched Baynham's pocket. He held up something not unlike
the key of an ordinary beer-barrel.

"Gather round," he said hoarsely. "Stand in a group as naturally as you
can. I can release two or three of you if you will be quick. Make a
stage scene of it--nobody should be able to do it better."

Baynham's subordinates came bustling into the room carrying glasses and
bottles. As they advanced somebody stumbled against one of them, and a
glass smashed on the floor. There was a scramble to pick it up, and an
instant later the two outlaws lay at the bottom of a veritable football
scrimmage. The thing was done almost without a word being spoken.

"I think that will about do," Claxton said, after the discomfited
ruffians had been searched. "Take this key, somebody, and release the
rest of the crowd. I don't know who you two rascals are, but I expect
the police do, and that comes to the same thing. I've laid open the head
of your chief, and he is not likely to do any more mischief for some
time to come. Now let's release the landlord and the hotel staff and get
them to ride for the police."

Claxton's popularity was assured now. The story spread like wildfire all
through the colony. Baynham was safe in jail with his followers; he was
never likely to do any more mischief. The whole thing was a piece of
coolness and courage calculated to appeal to the Colonial mind. But
nobody quite knew how Claxton had managed to get rid of his shackles. He
did not in the least seem disposed to talk about it either. It was
Marjorie Hickson in whom he finally confided.

"It was quite easy," he said. "I'll tell you, because you are the only
one who has been really nice to me. Besides, I'm giving up the game and
going home. My uncle is dead, and I have come into his property. As a
matter of fact, the whole business was a piece of wonderful good luck.
These chaps here wanted to know what my line was, and I refused to say.
I was a Handcuff King. I learnt the dodge from a professor in England. I
have a wonderful pair of wrists, and I can get out of anything. When
these handcuffs were produced by Baynham, I saw my way at once. He might
just as well have tied me up with a piece of cobweb. I waited till he
felt quite comfortable, and then I took him unawares, as you saw. You'll
keep my secret, Miss Marjorie."

Marjorie thanked him with tears in her eyes.

"You have saved everything," she said. "I don't know what I should have
done without my money. I was going to offer to share it with you, but
since you have so much----"

"Then let me share with you," Claxton said eagerly. "I shall never enjoy
it alone. And the worst of the thing is, there is such a lot of it, my
dear. I hope you are not offended."

But Marjorie was not in the least offended. She was not even annoyed
when Claxton kissed her. And she has seen no reason to repent her
decision since.



THE END


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