The Fatal Legs by Walter Browne

I am an actor, or rather, I call myself one. I am, however, "disengaged;" the more so since Widow Walker has——. But let me not anticipate; which, by-the-bye, I never could have done—no matter. I took apartments, comfortably furnished, with a widow lady named Walker. I was "first floor back"; and "first floor front" was Mr. Simon Simpkin, of the —— Theatre. The widow always called us "first floors," either "back" or "front," and never by our names, although we never called her out of hers. If we had, she would not have come. She was an obstinate woman, but at times she got confused. She always called me in the morning, and once she called me "front," and then went to Simpkin with my shaving water. When I called her back, she called me something else, and threw the pitcher at me. I was in hot water for a while.

The Widow Walker was fair, fat, and forty—that is, rather fair, extremely fat, and very forty. She might be more; at any rate her voice was forte too. The actor, Simpkin, was fragile and long. He played heavy parts, which possibly was the cause of his constant complaint that he had not got his share of "fat." Although lengthy, he was even less in his various diameters than I was, still I longed for his length. And why? The Widow Walker wallowed in wealth untold, and I could see she smiled upon the suit of Simon Simpkin. Well she might. It was second-hand. He, too, was a widower, or rather, he would have been if his wife had lived. I mean, if she had lived to be his wife. But she didn't. She died before the fatal knot was tied; in fact, it was not tied at all. No matter, he had loved before, while my suit was brand new. I determined to try it on. I longed to win the widow for my wife—I should say for myself. One day I saw the actor kiss her through the keyhole. We were rivals from that moment—at least I was. He didn't see me, or he would have been one too; I mean one also. That is to say there would have been two of us, whereas there was only one of me—no matter.

The widow went a good deal to the theatre. She ordered him, and he gave her orders—that is, "passes for two." He knew her size. She always took "twos" in seats. He did the villains at the theatre, while I did the hero at home. He bellowed in blank verse, while I blew the kitchen fire with the bellows. He mashed her, while I mashed the potatoes for supper. But I determined to beard the clean-shaved lion in his lair. In short, or rather, at length, I obtained an engagement, and became an actor. My rival and myself now stood on the same footing. I mean we should have done, only, in a word, we didn't. Simon Simpkin, as before observed, indeed observed anyhow, was slender as a willow wand, and appropriately pliable, especially about the legs. Still, on the stage, his nether limbs looked round and well proportioned. His calves might pass for cows, and his knees were second elbows, or rather, "Elba's"—they held a bony part in exile.

On the other hand—I should say legs—my tights were always loose, and while the widow smiled on his understanding, she smiled at mine. I thirsted for my hated rival's blood, or rather for his flesh, more correctly speaking, for the shape of his legs—technically, for his "leg-shapes." Having failed in an attempt to have his blood by means of a darning-needle, I determined to go for his shapes. I went for them one night before the performance. I went to his dressing-room and got them. That night the Widow Walker was in front. I was desperate. I was determined that she should see her Simpkin in all his naked—I should say his unpadded—deformity, and that mine—that is, my limbs—should be resplendent in his borrowed plumes. But alas, all my plans—and myself—were violently overthrown—by Simpkin.

I had merely insinuated one leg in the woolly pads, when he insinuated another somewhere else. We argued the matter all over my dressing-room. Meanwhile, time jogged merrily along. The curtain was raised, and so were we eventually; but unfortunately I had only retained one half of those precious pads. The right was left on my leg, but Simpkin had carried off the left leg all right! What was I to do? My left leg would not look right, or if it did, my right would be wrong. There was no time, however, for consideration, as my face required sponging before applying the sticking-plaster, and eventually I had to hobble on to the stage with two odd understandings—that is, one odd one and one even one. Even that was odd, which appears odd—no matter.

Fortunately I went on from the O.P. side, which enabled me to put my best leg foremost. In the centre of the stage I met Simpkin, who had entered from the prompt side. The widow gazed with rapture on us both, until, oh, horror! after a short scene it was necessary that each of us should retire to the place from whence we came. We advanced towards it, backwards, and mutually stumbling, our other legs became exposed to view. A yell from the audience, the sack from the management, and a week's notice from the widow, subsequently greeted us. Besides which, Simpkin and myself are not on the best of terms. We get into argument when we meet in the streets. I stay at home a good deal now.