A Novelty Act: Hammersmith (twenty-four)
A Novelty Act
“I can’t tell you why, but for some reason a fried egg will always get a laugh. And so I had one cemented to the first plate, with two strips of bacon…rubber, of course…the plate was a round of enameled iron, like your kitchen sink. The coffee pot and cup were painted on the inside…audience couldn’t tell.”
Professor le Fontainebleau chuckled.
“Couldn’t care, more like. Now, there is one of our secrets I don’t mind spilling for you…it bears interestingly on, shall we say, other affairs. Once I’d got settled on my seat, and taken up my knife and fork, Ced would place himself on the left, Cyril on the right. Ced doing his acrobatics…hand-stand, somersault…sort of thing. Light roman candles and manage tossing them across, could Ced, with his toes, mid-flip. I remain dashed. Cyril, on the other hand, equally a talent…which I don’t count myself, particularly…
“Cyril, yes, everything he pulled from his coat was a gag in its own right. Rubber chicken, pair of baby shoes, watermelon…sometimes a cocoanut. Tomahawk. Tried a lady’s corset once, caught too much wind. But take up each candle in its turn, and get those spinning, too. There was a hidden air hose I used to take a breath. The juggling, you see, got people’s eyes off the tank. But also, and it’s a thing worth noting—all this business, timed out, took about three minutes. Now. You will appreciate, with so much to laugh at and goggle over, the audience came to feel I’d been in the water a very long time. My brothers bowed and stepped off…I put away my breakfast—different plate I’d hold up, empty—then took up a hand mirror and straight razor. Miming, you know.”
He mimed now, collecting the eyes of his coach-mates, shifting his chin sideways, bulging one eye and squinting the other, dabbing an invisible hankie at a spot on his cheek.
“I will tell you, the most difficult part of the act was at the end, when I came out. I’d learned to take a great breath through my nose without showing it…but soaking wet as I was, oftentimes I’d get a little tickle of water in my throat. Near thing. With an underwater act, aplomb means all. A bit like fire-eating, that way…and fortunately, not otherwise.”
Vic, in a tired way, raised a smile. The professor was one of those whose confessional impulse opened floodgates. They were on the open road, making for Hammersmith. The countryside being hilly, and the road winding, the pace of Mrs. Mossbunker’s personal coach was steady, more than speedy.
Aimee was trying not to nap. What the professor—“Charley. Used to be Chillingsworth, fair posh, all us with the cees, righto…but Ced and Cyril are still at it, somewheres…I had to take on a new persona” (pronouncing this word with a great fondness for its tony implications)—
Righto. What the professor had to say, eventually, in regard to Mr. Shaw, was important. She’d taken a kind of responsibility for Shaw. In ignorance, she’d left him in charge of her house.
Curach had stopped at Green Glade Lodge long enough for a cup of tea, not yet to be taken in the presence of Mossbunker’s wife. Aimee sat afterwards alone with Jane, on a brocaded sofa under a towering ceiling, done over in traceries from center medallion to corner encrustations: scrollwork, twined in leaves, shouldered by cherubs, balanced on columns. More such, at intervals, descending to the floor.
Jane had been wilting in stages until Aimee, standing, said without proof, “Stretch out, dear. No one will mind.”
Mrs. Mossbunker entered, with drama, at that moment.
“Now, my dears, I make this excuse. I have had a note, brought by a man on horseback…Paul Revere, you know.”
Jane was asleep. Mrs. Mossbunker, motioning a housemaid to follow, crossed to peer. She did this from a height of something, heels to hair, near six feet.
“Urgent, you mean,” Aimee guessed. A call to arms would have been pushing it. Or she had supposed so.
“Margaret. The Sofia suite, with the little daybed on the balcony.”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)