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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE PROFESSOR'S TULIP

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As published in The Northern Miner, Charters Towers, Qld, Australia, 2 October 1908

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-18
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

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"I'M glad to hear that you are a single man, Professor," said Mr. Bulger, the owner of Bulger's Variety Theatre. "And if you'll take an old showman's advice, you'll keep single long as you're with me."

"I will," said the Professor, with an earnestness that impressed the veteran showman. "My professional skills and my nerve power would suffer, I feel sure, were I unfortunate enough to marry a lady with a temper." He added thoughtfully, "Many a career in the world of legerdemain has been ruined through an unhappy alliance. A man of my occupation must preserve his will power, Mr Bulger."

"Quite so," answered the show proprietor. "It doesn't pay to appear before big audiences with your nerve out of joint. My lost conjuror, Signor Mephistopheles, was married to a virago, and his stage career, from the day he left the altar, was a perfect sermon in the way of failures."

"Poor Meph. I knew him in London!" sighed the Professor. "His experiences were truly awful."

"He was a great illusionist," continued Mr. Bulger, "and an unrivalled exponent in the art of balancing furniture on his nose. His popularity was at its height when his evil star prompted him to marry. I did my best to prevent the miserable affair coming to a head, but the woman was too smart for me, sir. She led him to the altar before I could even reduce his salary."

"You think that would have had an effect?" queried the Professor anxiously.

"It might have," growled Mr. Bulger. "Anyway she beat me at the altar, so to speak. But she beat the man who could pull rabbits out of the lining of his hat."

"I know the trick," interrupted the Professor, sadly.

"The altar-trick or the rabbit illusion?" questioned Mr. Bulger severely. "Allow me to finish my statement, sir!"

The Professor muttered a confused apology: his pale face coloured slightly. "I merely referred to the rabbit and hat trick," he said meekly.

"Quite so." Mr. Bulger breathed hard and wiped his hot brow pensively. "Signor Mephistopheles soon came a cropper," he went on. "His nerves got so bad that he used to drop the eggs all over the stage when he was jugging with them eight at a time. I have discovered," added Mr. Bulger coldly, "that to juggle eggs properly a man wants a free mind and a light head or his eggs begin to hit the ground."

Bulger's Variety Theatre was a thing of joy to the summer visitors at Iffleton-on-Sea. If the artistes engaged were not always up to date, the people of Iffleton rarely grumbled. Their organs of appreciation had not been spoiled by overdoses of vaudeville and theatrical entertainments. The faded star, whose business had grown wearisome to the London public, was sure of a welcome at Iffleton-on-Sea.

Professor Lamper, the sleight-of-hand entertainer, had been engaged for a season at a salary of seven guineas a week. Mr. Bulger had gone over his theatrical references and Press Notices before retaining him to satisfy himself that Lamper was an artist who might be relied upon to grace an evening's performance or fashionable matinee.

The week-end excursion trains had brought the usual throng of visitors to Iffleton, and Mr. Bulger looked forward to a crowded house when the curtain rose at eight o'clock.

Throughout the day Professor Lamper appeared to be suffering from a slight nervous attack accompanied by sudden feverish desires to visit the railway station and secretly watch the incoming trains from London. Twice during the afternoon a scene shifter employed at the theatre had observed him standing behind the door of the waiting-room scrutinising the lady passengers as they hurried from the station.

The scene-shifter, being inquisitive, mentioned the matter to Mr. Bulger on his return to the theatre.

"Tut, tut." The proprietor waved his hand impatiently. "Professor Lamper is no doubt interested in the numbers of people who pour into Iffleton at the week-ends. They help to swell our returns."

Sleight-of-hand entertainments were appreciated by visitors to Bulger's Variety Theatre, and the management had gone to some expense in placarding the town with posters depicting Professor Lamper's marvellous stage illusions. The Iffleton "Daily Gazette" described his London successes as a series of astonishing feats which raised the art of modern wizardry to the pinnacles of evolutionary science.

Mr. Bulger was not quite sure of the meaning of "evolutionary science," but he felt that it sounded nice and scholarly, and he told himself for the fiftieth time that the services of Professor Lamper were dirt cheap at seven guineas a week.

The night came up with a biting east wind that drove the people from the chilly esplanade, to the warm theatre in the centre of the town. Every seat was occupied long before eight o'clock. A small crowd, unable to obtain admission, loitered near the entrance while Mr. Bulger, in a frock coat and silk hat, strolled round offering to sell tickets for the next evening's performance.

A minstrel troupe occupied the stage for the first part of the evening; they were followed by a family of trick cyclists, and a Frenchman with a number of performing dogs. At 9.30 the curtain rose revealing the Wizard's Cave, a mysterious looking apartment overhung with tropic foliage and ferns. In the background stood a small table with several screens at the sides and rear to assist the Professor in his swift-changing feats of legerdemain.

Soft music and prolonged applause greeted him as he took his stand by the table. Bowing slightly he proceeded to scatter a pack of cards in a shower above his head, catching them deftly as they fell. From a cigarette case he extracted a clutch of chickens and permitted them to ran cheeping about the stage to show their genuineness.

Each new feat was met with outbursts of appreciation, accompanied by loud whistling from the gallery. One or two people in the family circle smiled sceptically at each renewal of applause. One man hinted that whenever certain Professors distributed small amounts of beer money among the gallery cliques there were sure to be desultory outbreaks of whistling at every trick.

In justice to the Professor it must be admitted that he had never attempted to placate the cliques who demanded beer in concession for applause rendered on his behalf. He was always prepared to stand or fall by his art.

The stage was now prepared for the great Tulip Scene, a startling floral Illusion especially conceived by Professor Lamper. The screens were lowered to lend an atmosphere of mystery and weirdness to the performance. The screens appeared to stand away from the table, although in reality they were close enough to conceal a cunningly contrived apparatus at the rear indispensable to the Professor in the production of the great Tulip Illusion.

Turning to the audience be requested them in a steady voice to observe his movements closely. Placing a large gilt-edged flower bowl on the table he withdrew slightly, waving a silver-mounted wand over it gracefully.

A great silence fell upon the theatre; those who had come especially to witness the Tulip illusion craned forward to watch the mysterious and sudden growth of a rare and beautiful flower. Raising the wand in a series of upward curves. Professor Lamper stood slightly as though his ear had caught a strange half-audible murmur coming from beneath the magic flower bowl. The wand remained uplifted, but many in the audience noticed that his face grew pale, and his eyes bulged with sudden fear.

"Now, Professor," bawled a voice in the gallery, "show us 'ow yer grow yer tulips."

"Left his garden seeds at home," commented another. "Lend him a waterin' can somebody." Symptoms of laughter greeted the remark.

Professor Lamper half turned his face to the audience for a moment; his lips quivered fitfully. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "I beg—"

"Oh, give us more tulips," came from the gallery. "Can't yer spare a penn'orth?"

Catcalls followed, while a young man in an obscure corner yelled "Keubages" in a voice of a vegetable hawker.

Mr. Bulger hurried to the wings and glared indignantly at the dumbfounded Professor. "Go on with the performance," he snarled. "Do something, and for heaven's sake don't gape like that!"

The spellbound Professor shook himself violently as though he had seen seized by an octopus. Livid with apprehension he raised the gilt-edged bowl from the table and retreated with a sharp cry of bewilderment. The sudden raising of the bowl revealed a blue-eyed baby lying beneath, its fat fists clutching the air as though it had left his mother's arms only a moment or two before. The audience gaped in surprise; a profound silence filled the theatre, then, as if overcome by the unexpected result of the performance, broke into thunders of applause.

"Lower the curtain!" snapped Bulger. "And remove that infant from the table."

"P'raps the baby belongs to somebody in the audience, sir," suggested a scene shifter hastily. "Hadn't we better ask? The Professor don't seem to know what he's about."

"I'm glad you mentioned it, Simmons. I quite overlooked such a possibility."

Mr. Bulger wiped his brow distractedly. "Good job they took it as they did in front. Wait a bit."

Stepping to the footlights he smiled benevolently upon the cheering audience and wagged his head.

"Has any lady or gentleman lost a baby?" he asked pleasantly "Sweeter than all the tulips; sweeter than flowers or honey," he added gracefully.

"Got a strawberry mark on its right arm," prompted the shifter from the wings.

A grave silence fell upon the assembly: hundreds of feet shuffled uneasily until the irrepressible voice in the gallery begged the audience not to desert its offspring. The voice appealed in a pathetic undertone to a stout elderly gentleman in the stalls, urging him to assume his paternal responsibilities immediately. It also asked the stout gentleman whether he was a man.

Mr. Bulger frowned ominously, "Come, come, ladies and gentlemen," he cried admonishingly, "Babies do not grow on tables. Surely the child's mother is among you."

"You can have it, Bulger," half-whispered the voice in the gallery, "An' be careful of the milk."

The proprietor withdrew behind the curtain suddenly, and confronted the half-dazed conjuror.

"Professor Lamper," he began hotly, "kindly explain the meaning of this unadvertised exhibition. Where did the baby come from?"

"I—I—" gasped the professor. "You don't understand, sir—"

"I know a live baby from a tulip!" roared the proprietor. "Whose child is it?"

"Mine!" choked the Professor. "How it came here I can only guess. But I feel certain that Arabella put it there. No one but Arabella understands the secret workings of my table and screens."

"Arabella! Who is Arabella?" thundered Mr. Bulger. "You stated in your agreement with me that you were unmarried!"

"You must forgive me that misstatement," said the Professor humbly. "Circumstances compelled me to abandon Arabella." He glanced round the stage wildly for a moment as though expecting the sudden appearance of his angry wife from behind the scenes.

"She has followed me from London to Iffleton, I fear, and is hiding somewhere at hand. If you will be good enough to look, Mr. Bulger, I—I think you will find her under the table."

At that moment a stout, over-dressed lady floated from the mysterious background of screens and glared at the trembling Professor. Shaking her finger in his face, she turned to Mr. Bulger.

"This—this man is my husband, sir. He left me three weeks ago without a sign or a word. I arrived by this afternoon's train and hid myself behind the apparition box until the tulip bowl came in. I extracted the India-rubber flower, and," she laughed wickedly, "you know the rest."

"You might have waited until the performance was over instead of concealing our little Augustus under the tulip bowl, Arabella. Only a woman would have been guilty of such unprofessional tactics," he cried bitterly.

"Thank goodness I know all your tricks," fumed his wife. "Next time you run away from home I'll follow and spoil your performance. I'll do a turn myself and show how your wonderful illusions are done." Snatching the baby from the scene-shifter's arms she walked the stage, cheeks aflame, her whole body quivering with excitement.

The house had grown impatient during the short delay, the stamping of feet warned Mr. Bulger that his audience was not to be played with beyond a certain point.

"Give us the baby-act again!" roared a dozen voices from different parts of the theatre. "Encore Professor! More baby!"

Mr. Bulger wheeled suddenly across the stage, his face glowing with excitement. "By Jove, they think it's a rehearsed bit of business!" he said jubilantly. Turning to Mrs. Lamper, he smiled gravely.

"My dear Madame, will you kindly allow your husband to proceed with the great Tulip scene. We may arrange," he glanced swiftly at the cowering Professor, "for a repetition of the baby-act to-morrow evening. It's the biggest thing in its way I can remember," he added.

"I'll allow him to go on with his business, providing he doesn't run away," she responded, sullenly.

"Arabella, you may trust me," pleaded the Professor. "I'm not saying it was your temper drove me away. Put it down to my nerves if you like—a conjuror's nerves."

"If," said Mr. Bulger, turning to the pair with a smile, "If you will both guarantee to include little Augustus in future entertainments we'll call it another two guineas a week."

"I don't see why we shouldn't," answered Mrs. Lamper, thoughtfully. "I trust I shall be included in the programme, though." Hugging little Augustus to her breast, she stared a trifle defiantly at her husband.

The Professor bowed approvingly, and advanced somewhat limply to the centre of the stage.

"Then we may consider the matter settled."

Mr. Bulger touched a bell at his elbow and nodded briskly to the stage assistants.

"Up with the curtain," he said genially. "The Professor will now proceed with the real Tulip act."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.