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.A tram went Ting! and eased slowly aside to reveal the glorious legend: Hippodrome! Sanctuary!Almost there! I looked for the rescuing Black Maria.No sign of it.More shouts from behind.“Grab him! Stop him!” Another whistle.Well, nothing for it but to make a dash for the theatre itself and take refuge inside.I gathered myself for the final sprint … and out went the lights.I came to a second later, sprawling on the road outside a butcher’s shop.The meat monger himself was standing over me, holding a great leg of pork in triumph above his head.I still had a moment.I scrambled to my feet to complete my mad dash for safety, only to find myself grasped firmly from behind by an unseen hand.No! I wasn’t going to let myself be taken.I swung round and let fly at my captor, connecting cleanly with his jaw.There was a wet and bony sort of splat, then the sound of teeth rattling, and down he went like a sack of spuds.Off came his helmet, and his whistle bounced into the gutter.I’d punched a policeman.In all honesty, I can’t recommend spending a night in jail.Especially not – and I say this from bitter first-hand experience – after receiving a right royal kicking from the larger part of the population of a northern industrial town.Early the following morning I gasped myself up into a sitting position on my plank – it really didn’t deserve the name of bed – and gingerly tried to enumerate my injuries.One eye was pretty much closed, but I was able to prise the swollen lids apart and satisfy myself that it was still in working order.I seemed to have escaped with all my teeth loosened but intact, although I could only just open my mouth wide enough to count them.Breathing was painful – maybe a cracked rib or two.And the fingers on one hand were like a little collection of black puddings.I tried to stand, but the cell immediately began to swim around alarmingly, so I sat back down again quickly.I had a little time then, wincing whenever another unsuspected bruise made itself known, to think about Sydney Chaplin’s hilarious prank.Clearly it was one part putting the new boy in his place, mixed with three or four parts of payback for spoiling his plan to get his younger brother a job with Karno.I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I realised that Syd was the number one, the top dog, and if I was going to get the favourable notice I needed from him I’d be well advised not to let my temper get the better of me.Which is why, when the bolt eventually shot back and the door swung open to reveal a police constable and then Syd Chaplin himself, I didn’t immediately leap to my feet and grab the bastard by the throat.Also, as it happened, neither leaping nor grabbing was on the list of activities I felt capable of just then.“Ha! Well, good morning! Look at you!” Syd exclaimed, nudging a surly-looking constable to welcome him into Chaplin’s World of Mirth.“Hnnnf…!” I croaked.“Well, you almost made it, they tell me.”“Mmmmgrmmf…!” I said, spitting blood into the piss bucket.“By the time we got the Black Maria round to the theatre you were already in custody, you see, and if only you hadn’t thumped one of His Majesty’s finest we might have been able to get you out, but they insisted that you needed to learn your lesson.”The constable whacked the palm of his hand with his truncheon, seemingly keen to enrol me on a refresher course.“So what do you say, sir?” Syd declaimed dramatically.“Is he free to go?”After a long moment the constable grudgingly stepped aside, and Syd helped me out of the cell.As he helped me out of the police station, into a cab, and then eventually into a comfortable armchair at the digs where I should have stayed the night before, Syd was solicitousness itself, quite unrecognisable as the superior character from the previous day.“Now then,” he said finally, as he brought a cup of tea and a biscuit through for me from the landlady’s little kitchen.“You do look in quite a bad way, you know, old chap.Quite a bad way.”I felt in quite a bad way too, and was thinking that a drop of Scotch might suit my situation rather better than a cup of tea.The effort of asking, though, kept me quiet.Syd perched on the adjacent settee and patted my knee, which made me hiss sharply through my wobbly teeth.“Sorry!” he said, withdrawing his hand quickly.“So-o-o-o… I was thinking, if you wanted to drop out, then everyone will understand.No shame in it, or anything, and don’t feel you’re letting anybody down.I’m sure the Guv’nor will give you another go when you’re mended, of course he will, and I’ll just wire down to London now for a replacement, so don’t you worry about a thing.”In a flash I saw what he was up to.The replacement would be his brother, of course, who would be installed in a Karno company before the Guv’nor knew anything about it, while I joined poor Ronny Marston in the ranks of the forgotten.Poor Arthur Dandoe, they’d call me!“It’s for the best,” he said, laying his hand on my shoulder with extravagant care and then heading for the door.“Mo!” I grunted.Syd turned.“What’s that, old chap?”“Mo!” I insisted.“I’n no’ dro’ing ou’! I be fine, rea’y! Just nee’ couple hour’ res’.”Syd looked doubtful.“Really?”“Rea’y!”“You’re absolutely sure?”“Yeshhh!”“You want to do the show tonight, you mean? In your present condition?”“Yeshhh! Yeshhh! I do!”Syd’s face hardened.“Well [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]

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