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.