Hammersmith: Epilogue (part one)
Hogben felt his odds of escape improved by company. The company was not choice. In point of fact, he strongly entertained having no more to do with le Fontainebleau. Wistful thoughts of roosting had lately crossed Hogben’s mind, and a settled man needs an honest profession.
It was true no one had ever proven him dishonest…
But the same thing could be said for the Professor.
“I will tell you a trade secret, one I learned from the Man of a Thousand Voices. This fellow called himself Marih Yesac the Mystifying, because, you see, his given name was Hiram Casey.”
The Professor had picked up a German character to his speech, Hogben noted. He would use Casey’s trick, go to bed le Fontainebleau, wake up Auel B. Nofel.
Or some such.
“It takes a partner, hidden in the wings, who, just before you are to say…yoo hoo, we will suppose…”
“For the sake of argument. What’s wrong with you, chum?”
The Professor took this inquiry deafly. “Will blow a whistle, or knock two blocks of wood together, as you like. And the audience has it then fixed in their mind that the noise comes from there. Yesac was not more than ordinarily talented.”
“And so, that miscreant the Professor…with some help, but no one’ll ever know for sure who it was…got away from Shaw. I heard Medlow sacked him.”
His phrasing of matters pleased his comrade, whose lips formed a gentle arc. At Hogben’s last remark, he shrugged. They approached the little bridge. This also formed a gentle arc, a rueful sort of moue, as it waited, harboring its enchantments, for its favored victim to just try crossing.
And here coming at them was a man, determined in his pace, dressed in a hobo’s mishmash of bunched trousers and overlong coat, but clean-shaved. Youthful, if not effeminate, and long-haired at that.
“Are you leaving us, Mr. Hogben? Professor!” The fellow gave the professor a chiding eye. “I hope you’re ashamed of yourself. But…between you and me and the fencepost, you’ve done Shaw a favor. Don’t let it swell your head!”
Merrily, the stranger passed, daring to smack Hogben on the arm.
“I would almost swear that was Mrs. Bard…”
Shaw, having got to the comfortable, floating sensation of stepping over a cliff merely metaphorical, and finding all values equal…
Nothing capable of being lost, unthought of things potentially gained…
Had found in himself wings of courage. And thinking this a pretty good title for a song, if a musical lady of his acquaintance could put a tune to it…
Told his late boss, pouches be damned, “No, I don’t think I will. Here, you can have this right now.”
He stuffed his agent’s badge in Medlow’s pocket…and, as Medlow stood slackhanded, stuffed in also an assortment of fountain pens. “All the notes I took while you were paying me I’ll write up neat for you, and send them along registered mail. All my case files you got anyhow.”
Thus refusing to return with Medlow to Baltimore and help his replacement get up to snuff, Shaw made for Hammersmith. As he climbed the hill, he turned the odds over in his mind, whether when Minnie had said to him, “What you need to do is marry me, Bladon,” she might have meant it.
Ruby Magley Curach, was made so in a modest ceremony held in Mrs. Krabill’s kitchen, attended by her hostess, and by Philander Piggott, Papageno and Tamino, Mrs. Krabill’s mouse-catcher Hank (pursuing an interest of his own), Curach’s son Michael (whose arrival twenty-three years past had lent insurmountable complication to the prospect of Curach’s marrying his mother), Curach’s daughter Lydia (complication again), and his grandchildren, three: small Declan, small Michael, and Maria.
Embarked on this new life, Ruby found variety enough. Piggott had not often needed to turn a vote, but the neighborhood was changing. When, as chairwoman of the Entertainments Committee of her husband’s fellowship society’s Ladies’ Auxiliary, she guided Mother-Daughter excursions to New York City—balcony seating two cents off a ticket, at the Shaw-Leybourne Theatre, Amateur Day matinees—and when she sat down in the green room with Minnie, they shook heads at the changes a new century promised.
In vaudeville, these were not profound. Onstage, on a pyramid of stacked chairs, a Broom Brother tapped; this act to be followed by a woman who could whistle harmony with herself while singing Yankee Doodle Dandy.
“And so of course, busy like that, you don’t miss us at all…” Minnie put her chin in her hands. “How is Poppy?”
“Oh, flown off, the poor thing.”
Could this sound unloving? Ruby’s great store of affection was given to the grandchildren, and she felt now a hair less sentimentality towards her birds. But the city was the place for strays needing rescue, to be sure.
“Shame. Ruby,” Minnie said, leaning in, “I think of doing something uptown.”
Minnie and her manager had been buttonholing librettists, had conditionally bagged one, and… “We can’t discount any longer. But you won’t abandon me?”
Shame, indeed, Ruby thought. Opera, it’ll never go.
She said, “Abandon you! Never in life, love.”
(2019, Stephanie Foster)