I woke up, one Frunsday morning, by something as annoying as a telephone signal. Bereft of dreams of bread and roses, I got up, stumbled over a week’s worth of clothes on my floor, cursed my own slovenliness, and picked up the receiver.
”This is Miss B, ” Miss B said, at the other, or business, end of the phone. ”There is a mango-related emergency here!”
I am nothing if not chivalrous, and hurried through my breakfast — two cups of tea (Tetley’s ”Assam and Badgerspit”, which puts hair on your chest, and Lipton’s ”Lady Godiva’s Surprise”, which takes it away again), some cinnamon scones with cloudberry marmalade, two fresh pancakes with imported Basque honey (36%), and a glass of Newfoundland milk — and hurried out the door, without even taking time to fluff my beard!
I arrived at her house shortly afterwards, through a combination of public and secret transportation. The house was lovely. She had designed it herself, and it was freshly painted in several common colours. The morning sun was playing on the Western Tower and the Tower of Owls, and the chrysanthemum hedges around the Frog Conservatory had been freshly cropped. The rest of the garden was, as always, in a state of bewilderment.
I pulled the drawstring by the door, and the sound of geese flying north was heard from within. The door opened, and there, dressed entirely in corduroy – from the neat slippers to the home-made Stetson hat – stood Miss. B. We did the handshake to reassure each other that we were both real humans, and not filled with beans.
“I do apologise profusely for my unfluffed beard,” I said. “I took this to be an emergency, and paid no attention to my personal hygiene and appearance.”
“It is of no great consequence, compared to the state of my fruit basket,” Miss B. said. “Come inside and have a look.”
We went to the Red Study, and barely took time to have a cup of tea and some shortbread before proceeding to the scene of the crime. As we entered the Green Study, I immediately saw what had happened. The fruit basket, which as recently as the evening before had been filled with mangoes, was empty! It took some time for the shock to settle down, and then Miss B. pointed upwards. Above the fruit basket, there was a hole in the ceiling and through to the roof.
“Evidently,” Miss B. said, “the dreadful scofflaw that so audaciously stole my mangoes entered here” – she indicated the hole with a long wooden ruler – “stole the mangoes” – she indicated the empty fruit basket – “and made his or her exit through the hole” – she indicated the hole again – “and disappeared in the night” – she indicated a painting of a starlit night over Geneva.
I examined the hole. It was roughly half a metre in diameter, and almost perfectly circular. I could think of several implements that could have been used to make it, but none seemed more likely than another. Then a thought struck me. I knew who had perpetrated this monstrous crime.
“I know who has perpetrated this monstrous crime,” I told Miss B.
“Who?” Miss B asked, reaching for her Victoria and Prince Albert Memorial Branding Iron. “Tell me at once, so that my revenge will be swift and not tainted by the remorsefulness of distance!”
I promised to show her the very same night, and went directly from her house to town, where I arranged some matters, had tea, and went home. I telephoned Miss B, and we agreed to meet by the Goodhusband’s Victory in Tibet Memorial Fountain at John James Children Square at seven.
At six, I put on my green velvet suit, fluffed my beard, adding some nutmeg to heighten its colour, and stepped outside. The weather was bleak, the streets crowded. I reached the fountain by a circuitous route, and arrived just a few minutes before Miss. B appeared around a corner. She was, as always, something of a vision, in a plums-in-wine patterned skirt, a burgundy frilly shirt, and a black vest; her hat had two ostrich plumes of equal length.
The handshake was performed, and arm in arm we walked down the Boulevard of the Final Judgement, to Theatre de Saint-Die. Miss. B tried almost continuously to extract the name of the culprit from me, to no avail. I smiled one of my several mysterious smiles, and refused to comment.
The music was initially very simple. A lone bassoon played a hauntingly familiar tune, which somehow grew in intensity, was augmented by a march rhythm from the celli, and then erupted into a bassoon-cello-timpani crescendo. Some dancers in green entered, and made some simple leaps around the stage. A woman in black, with very large and strange shoes, took the stage, and touched the dancers in green with a black plume while the music alternately ascended and descended. Every time the plume touched another dancer, he collapsed to the floor, until only the dancer in black remained.
I leaned over towards Miss B. and whispered, “There is your culprit.”
She looked at me with incomprehension, as if to say, “How do you know that?” but never had time to formulate that or any similar question, as the evidence presented itself. The dancer in black assumed a tiptoe posture, balancing absurdly on her strange shoes, grabbed a pair of thick ropes that descended from above the stage, and, at a cue from the orchestra, she began revolving.
Almost at once the purpose of the shoes became evident, as, when in this toes-down position and placed in close proximity, they locked together and became a drill. And as the music approached, and eventually reached, a crescendo, she disappeared into the floor, and the ropes were pulled up again.
The green dancers regained life, and the rest of the ballet proceeded more conventionally. Three times more, the woman in black appeared, but the green dancers had learned their lesson, and stayed well clear of the plume. We applauded dutifully when the curtain closed, despite the mango-thief standing there in front of us, smiling in apparent oblivion that the rightful owner of those purloined fruits were just metres from her.
The moral of this story is:
The ballerina twirled around
And spun herself into the ground
I said to dear Miss B. at once:
“It’s one of those lathespians!”