Desmond Oakwood. Okewood of the Secret Service

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Mr. Arthur Mackwayte slipped noiselessly into the dining-room and took his place at the table. He always moved quietly, a look of gentle deprecation on his face as much as to say: "Really, you know, I can't help being here: if you will just overlook me this time, by and by you won't notice I'm there at all!" That was how he went through life, a shy, retiring little man, quiet as a mouse, gentle as a dove, modesty personified.

That is, at least, how Mr. Arthur Mackwayte struck his friends in private life. Once a week, however, he fairly screamed at the public from the advertisement columns of "The Referee": "Mackwayte, in his Celebrated Kerbstone Sketches. Wit! Pathos! Tragedy!!! The Epitome of London Life. Universally Acclaimed as the Greatest Portrayer of London Characters since the late Chas. Dickens. In Tremendous Demand for Public Dinners. The Popular Favorite. A Few Dates still Vacant. 23, Laleham Villas, Seven Kings. 'Phone" and so on.

But only professionally did Mr. Mackwayte thus blow his own trumpet, and then in print alone. For the rest, he had nothing great about him but his heart. A long and bitter struggle for existence had left no hardness in his smooth-shaven flexible face, only wrinkles. His eyes were gray and keen and honest, his mouth as tender as a woman's.

His daughter, Barbara, was already at table pouring out the tea—high tea is still an institution in music-hall circles. Mr. Mackwayte always gazed on this tall, handsome daughter of his with amazement as the great miracle of his life. He looked at her now fondly and thought how.... how distinguished, yes, that was the word, she looked in the trim blue serge suit in which she went daily to her work at the War Office.

"Rations a bit slender to-night, daddy," she said, handing him his cup of tea, "only sardines and bread and butter and cheese. Our meatless day, eh?"

"It'll do very well for me, Barbara, my dear," he answered in his gentle voice, "there have been times when your old dad was glad enough to get a cup of tea and a bite of bread and butter for his supper. And there's many a one worse off than we are today!"

"Any luck at the agent's, daddy?"

Mr. Mackwayte shook his head.

"These revues are fair killing the trade, my dear, and that's a fact. They don't want art to-day, only rag-time and legs and all that. Our people are being cruelly hit by it and that's a fact. Why, who do you think I ran into at Harris' this morning? Why, Barney who used to work with the great Charles, you know, my dear. For years he drew his ten pound a week regular. Yet there he was, looking for a job the same as the rest of us. Poor fellow, he was down on his luck!"

Barbara looked up quickly.

"Daddy, you lent him money...."

Mr. Mackwayte looked extremely uncomfortable.

"Only a trifle, my dear, just a few shillings.... to take him over the week-end.... he's getting something.... he'll repay me, I feel sure...."

"It's too bad of you, daddy," his daughter said severely. "I gave you that ten shillings to buy yourself a bottle of whiskey. You know he won't pay you back. That Barney's a bad egg!"

"Things are going bad with the profession," replied Mr. Mackwayte. "They don't seem to want any of us old stagers today, Barbara!"

"Now, daddy, you know I don't allow you to talk like that. Why, you are only just finished working.... the Samuel Circuit, too!"

Barbara looked up at the old man quickly.

"Only, four weeks' trial, my dear.... they didn't want me, else they would have given me the full forty weeks. No, I expect I am getting past my work. But it's hard on you child...."

Barbara sprang up and placed her hand across her father's mouth.

"I won't have you talk like that, Mac"—that was her pet name for him—"you've worked hard all your life and now it's my turn. Men have had it all their own way before this war came along: now women are going to have a look in. Presently' when I get to be supervisor of my section and they raise my pay again, you will be able to refuse all offers of work. You can go down to Harris with a big cigar in your mouth and patronize him, daddy..."

The telephone standing on the desk in the corner of the cheap little room tingled out sharply. Barbara rose and went across to the desk. Mr. Mackwayte thought how singularly graceful she looked as she stood, very slim, looking at him whimsically across the dinner-table, the receiver in her hand.

Then a strange thing happened. Barbara quickly put the receiver down on the desk and clasped her hands together, her eyes opened wide in amazement.

"Daddy," she cried, "it's the Palaceum... the manager's office... they want you urgently! Oh, daddy, I believe it is an engagement!"

Mr. Mackwayte rose to his feet in agitation, a touch of color creeping into his gray cheeks.

"Nonsense, my dear!" he answered, "at this time of night! Why, it's past eight... their first house is just finishing... they don't go engaging people at this time of day... they've got other things to think of!"

He went over to the desk and picked up the receiver.

"Mackwayte speaking!" he said, with a touch of stage majesty in his voice.

Instantly a voice broke in on the other end of the wire, a perfect torrent of words.

"Mackwayte? Ah! I'm glad I caught you at home. Got your props there? Good. Hickie of Hickie and Flanagan broke his ankle during their turn at the first house just now, and I want you to take their place at the second house. Your turn's at 9.40: it's a quarter past eight now: I'll have a car for you at your place at ten to nine sharp. Bring your band parts and lighting directions with you... don't forget! You get twenty minutes, on! Right! Goodbye!"

"The Palaceum want me to deputize for Hickie and Flanagan, my dear," he said a little tremulously' "9.40... the second house... it's... it's very unexpected!"

Barbara ran up and throwing her arms about his neck, kissed him.

"How splendid!" she exclaimed, "the Palaceum, daddy! You've never had an engagement like this before... the biggest hall in London...!!

"Only for a night, my dear"' said Mr. Mackwayte modestly.

"But if they like you, daddy, if it goes down... what will you give them, daddy?"

Mr. Mackwayte scratched his chin.

"It's the biggest theatre in London"' he mused, "It'll have to be broad effects... and they'll want something slap up modern, my dear, I'm thinking..."

"No, no, daddy" his daughter broke in vehemently "they want the best. This is a London audience, remember, not a half-baked provincial house. This is London, Mac, not Wigan! And Londoners love their London! You'll give 'em the old London horse bus driver, the sporting cabby, and I believe you'll have time to squeeze in the hot potato man..."

"Well, like your poor dear mother, I expect you know what's the best I've got" replied Mr. Mackwayte, "but it'll be a bit awkward with a strange dresser... I can't get hold of Potter at this time, of night... and a stranger is sure to mix up my wigs and things..."

"Why, daddy, I'm going with you to put out your things..."

"But a lady clerk in the War Office, Barbara... a Government official, as you might say... go behind at a music-hall... it don't seem proper right, my dear!"

"Nonsense, Mac. Where Is your theatre? Come along. We'll have to try and get a taxi!"

"They're sending a car at ten to nine, my dear!"

"Good gracious! what swells we are! And it's half-past eight already! Who is on the bill with you?"

"My dear, I haven't an idea... I'm not very well up in the London programmes' I'm afraid... but it is sure to be a good programme. The Palaceum is the only house that's had the courage to break away from this rotten revue craze!"

Barbara was in the hall now, her arms plunged to the shoulder in a great basket trunk that smelt faintly of cocoa-butter. Right and left she flung coats and hats and trousers and band parts, selecting with a sure eye the properties which Mr. Mackwayte would require for the sketches he would play that evening. In the middle of it all the throbbing of a car echoed down the quiet road outside. Then there came a ring at the front door.

At half-past nine that night, Barbara found herself standing beside her father in the wings of the vast Palaceum stage. Just at her back was the little screened-off recess where Mr. Mackwayte was to make the quick changes that came in the course of his turn. Here, since her arrival in the theatre, Barbara had been busy laying out coats and hats and rigs and grease-paints on the little table below the mirror with its two brilliant electric bulbs, whilst Mr. Mackwayte was in his dressing-room upstairs changing into his first costume.

Now, old Mackwayte stood at her elbow in his rig-out as an old London bus-driver in the identical, characteristic clothes which he had worn for this turn for the past 25 years. He was far too old a hand to show any nervousness he might feel at the ordeal before him. He was chatting in undertones in his gentle, confidential way to the stage manager.

All around them was that curious preoccupied stillness hush of the power-house which makes the false world of the stage so singularly unreal by contrast when watched from the back. The house was packed from floor to ceiling, for the Palaceum's policy of breaking away from revue and going back to Mr. Mackwayte called "straight vaudeville" was triumphantly justifying itself.

Standing in the wings, Barbara could almost feel the electric current running between the audience and the comedian who, with the quiet deliberation of the finished artist, was going through his business on the stage. As he made each of his carefully studied points, he paused, confident of the vast rustle of laughter swelling into a hurricane of applause which never failed to come from the towering tiers of humanity before him, stretching away into the roof where the limelights blazed and spluttered. Save for the low murmur of voices at her side, the silence behind the scenes was absolute. No one was idle. Everyone was at his post, his attention concentrated on that diminutive little figure in the ridiculous clothes which the spot-lights tracked about the stage.

It was the high-water mark of modern music-hall development. The perfect smoothness of the organization gave Barbara a great feeling of contentment for she knew how happy her father must be. Everyone had been so kind to him. "I shall feel a stranger amongst the top-liners of today, my dear," he had said to her in the car on their way to the hall. She had had no answer ready for she had feared he spoke the truth.

Yet everyone they had met had tried to show them that Arthur Mackwayte was not forgotten. The stage-door keeper had known him in the days of the old Aquarium and welcomed him by name. The comedian who preceded Mr. Mackwayte and who was on the stage at that moment had said, "Hullo, Mac! Come to give us young 'uns some tips?" And even now the stage manager was talking over old days with her father.

"You had a rough but good schooling, Mac," he was saying, "but, by Jove, it gave us finished artists. If you saw the penny reading line that comes trying to get a job here... and gets it, by Gad!... it'd make you sick. I tell you I have my work cut out staving them off! It's a pretty good show this week, though, and I've given you a good place, Mac... you're in front of Nur-el-Din!"

"Nur-el-Din?" repeated Mr. Mackwayte' "what is it, Fletcher? A conjurer?"

"Good Lord' man' where have you been living?" replied Fletcher. "Nur-el-Din is the greatest vaudeville proposition since Lottie Collins. Conjurer! That's what she is, too, by Jove! She's the newest thing in Oriental dancers... Spaniard or something... wonderful clothes, what there is of 'em... and jewelry... wait till you see her!"

"Dear me"' said Mr. Mackwayte' "I'm afraid I'm a bit behind the times. Has she been appearing here long?"

"First appearance in London, old man' and she's made good from the word 'Go!' She's been in Paris and all over the Continent, and America, too, I believe, but she had to come to me to soar to the top of the bill. I saw at once where she belonged! She's a real artiste, temperament, style and all that sort of thing and a damn good producer into the bargain! But the worst devil that ever escaped out of hell never had a wickeder temper! She and I fight all the time! Not a show, but she doesn't keep the stage waiting! But I won! I won't have her prima donna tricks in this theatre and so I've told her! Hullo, Georgie's he's finishing..."

The great curtain switched down suddenly, drowning a cascade of applause, and a bundle of old clothes, twitching nerves, liquid perspiration and grease paint hopped off the stage into the centre of the group. An electric bell trilled, the limelights shut off, with a jerk that made the eyes ache, a back-cloth soared aloft and another glided down into its place, the comedian took two, three, four calls, then vanished into a horde of dim figures scuttling about in the gloom.

An electric bell trilled again and deep silence fell once more, broken only by the hissing of the lights.

"You ought to stop behind after your turn and see her, Mac," the stage manager's voice went on evenly. "All right, Jackson! On you go, Mac!"

Barbara felt her heart jump. Now for it, daddy!

The great curtain mounted majestically and Arthur Mackwayte, deputy turn, stumped serenely on to the stage……………………

Misterio y suspenso
7 de junio
Rectory Print
Babafemi Titilayo Olowe

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