deleted scene FROM Steam, smoke & mirrors 3:
"THE NOSTRADAMUS CURIOSITY”
Michael and Phoebe shared the drive back to the Edgware Road, with Michael steering the Steamo as far as The South London Palace Theatre on London Road. It was there they could fuel up with water, because Michael knew of old the stage door keeper Albie.
A sour fellow, Albie, thin as a rail, with a walrus moustache. He was wearing bright colours turned dingy. Yellow moleskins baggy at the knee, a blue collarless shirt frayed at the cuffs and a battered green bowler. Albie was less than happy to see Michael again. Not too happy helping bucket pails of water into the tank, either. But he brightened up a lot once he started moaning about how much better the Music Hall business was when he was treading the boards back in the old days.
“Rather a disgruntled fellow,” Phoebe said as she drove away, having her cheery wave goodbye met with a scowl. “What was his act?”
“Albert Lively, the Chubby Funster. His catchphrase was: ‘A laugh, a lark and a big ripe banana’. It was a popular act. Big laughs. Then one night at the end of the show, he gave it all up.”
“If he was that popular and quite so funny, why did he walk away?”
“Hated looking out at people enjoying themselves.”
FROM ‘THE LAZARUS CURIOSITY’
DELETED SCENE FROM CHAPTER 11.
(The setting is Rules Restaurant in Maiden Lane, London,
when Michael and Phoebe meet Lillie Langtry)
“Good evening,” said Michael to Lillie Langtry in the upstairs private dining room at Rules.
“Goodbye,” said Phoebe turning to leave. Phoebe twisted the handle, but the door refused to budge. She furiously rattled the stubborn door. “Superintendent Melville! Kindly unlock the door immediately! Otherwise you know I will!”
Phoebe lifted the side of her black taffeta skirt to reach for the lock-picking Picker-Nicker device she kept in a stocking top.
“The door, of course, will be opened,” said Lillie, easily. “However, before you make your indignant exit, do please be so kind as to introduce me to the talented Mister Magister. I believe I have yet to have the pleasure.”
Michael’s face remained impassive; in no way betraying the astonishment he was sharing with his feisty companion. Phoebe took a deep breath, composed herself, and turned, to affect the most insincere of smiles. “As you wish. Michael Magister, may I present Mrs Langtry – a stage actress.”
“Good evening, ma’am,” said Michael. “I believe I have known your finest work.”
“You are very kind, Mister Magister, but I prefer to believe my finest is yet to come,” smiled Lillie, extending a graceful hand. “You may.”
As instructed, Michael kissed the back of her proffered hand, while Phoebe rolled her eyes to the heavens and shook her head. Despite Lillie Langtry pushing forty-six years of age, even Phoebe would reluctantly concede that her mother looked stunning. Thank goodness she got her mother’s looks and not her father’s. A grey pointed beard would not have suited her. Lillie wore an ivory-laced, long-sleeved dress which revealed just enough cleavage to entice but not offend. Her swanlike neck was wrapped in a pearl-encrusted choker and her wasp waist was the result of either very favourable genetics or an agonising corset. Phoebe crossed her fingers and hoped it was the former.
“Why are we here?” said Phoebe, smiling that humourless smile she could somehow manage. “And please do not tell us it was purely to meet Michael.”
“Oh, I like to think it probably was,” Michael nodded confidently.
“Most certainly, Mister Magister,” lied Lillie. “And, as agreeable as it might be, I must only apologise that we meet under circumstances of a clandestine nature.”
“Of course it’s all cloak and dagger,” sighed Phoebe. “Why else would Superintendent William Melville be involved?”
“I must tell you I have attended several performances at your Metropolitan Theatre of Steam and whatever else it is…” said Lillie.
“Mirrors,” corrected Phoebe. “Imagine forgetting the word ‘mirrors’, objects with which you have enjoyed such a close relationship over so many years.”
To Phoebe’s chide, the chic Mrs Langtry did not react. Instead, she admitted to being dreadfully alarmed at how frequently in their performances Michael and Phoebe exposed themselves so willingly to the prospect of agonising death, purely for the purpose of Music Hall entertainment. And twice nightly!
“Michael and I believe performing illusions on stage to be a far safer profession than acting,” Phoebe told her mother. “Remember, it was down there that William Terriss was murdered. Stabbed while entering the stage door of the Royal Adelphi.”
“Ah. Dear Breezy Bill,” sighed Lillie. “An acting virtuoso. I’m reliably informed his Flutter in ‘The Belle’s Stratagem’ was a wonder to enjoy.”
Naturally, Michael was quick to grab the chance of making easy comedy capital from such a glaring leading line – unfortunately, Phoebe’s warning glare persuaded him otherwise, before saying: “Like you, I attended William Terriss’s funeral at Brompton Cemetery,”
“You? Were there?” said Lillie, genuinely surprised.
“Oh, you wouldn’t have seen me,” said Phoebe. “I was simply one the 30,000 people lining the route, and you were rather occupied by being Mrs Langtry.”
Lillie refused to wince, though the jibe stung. “I had no idea you knew Mr Terriss…”
“But you attended his funeral?” asked Lillie.
“Only for the opportunity of chancing a glimpse of you,” said Phoebe.
Ouch. Now that one did hurt. The following silence was brief but heavy and seemed to last an hour.
“We really have to do these get-togethers more often,” smiled Michael. “So, William Tennis…”
“Terriss,” corrected Phoebe and Lillie as one.
“Terriss, this actor. He was stabbed to death on that spot right there?”
Michael hinged open the leaded-light window, leaned out and looked to across to the right, down Maiden Lane, at the private entrance Stage Door of The Royal Adelphi. “And before a performance. How was that for unfortunate timing. I mean after, yes. I’ve given many a good reason to be murdered after a performance. Frequently by Pheebs.”
Phoebe explained that Williams Terriss was one of the finest dramatic performers of the era, you know, second only to Henry Irving in terms of stagecraft and popularity. It was late in 1897, December-time, I believe, that Terriss was appearing in a well-reviewed production. When he arrived just before ‘the half’ and stepped down from his coach to unlock the VIP stage door at the rear of the theatre, Terriss was ambushed and knifed through the heart by a jealous young actor, a performer whom Terriss had previously helped both professionally and financially. The great thespian died as he lay bleeding on the floor of the Stage Door lobby. The murderer, who deserves not to be named, was quickly caught, tried, avoided the rope and was committed to Broadmoor.
“And are you both aware of the title of the production in which dear Billy was starring when he lost his life with such violence?” asked Lillie, pointedly.
Michael and Phoebe admitted they did not.
“It was entitled ‘Secret Service’. And given your current associations, that is something perhaps you might both want to seriously reflect upon?”
The ensuing tension was now interrupted by heavy footsteps accompanied by gruff complaining from whoever it was climbing the stairs. It seemed the mystery gentleman had finally arrived but clearly had very little understanding of the word ‘clandestine’.
Of course, Mrs Langtry knew exactly who to expect because she stood, smoothed her dress and adjusted her hair. And based on her Mother’s reflex reaction, so did Phoebe. Superintendent William Melville swung open the door and in marched a tall, bald, stout man with the full grey beard tapered to a point at the chin. He wore a dark dinner jacket with black tie and possessed the regal bearing of someone more than used to having his own way.
“Your Majesty,” chimed Phoebe and Lillie as they both afforded The Prince of Wales the courtesy of a curtsey.
(‘The Belle’s Stratagem’ was an 18th century romantic comedy written by Hannah Cowley. Popular in its time. Forgotten now. William Terriss was working with Henry Irving and played the character Flutter at the Lyceum in the 1880s.)
It’s hard to understate the fame and success which William Terriss enjoyed – second only to Sir Henry Irving at that time – and his murder was a national high-profile front-page shocker.
It is said that the ghost of William Terriss haunts the stage of the Adelphi. More than one actor in recent years has been unnerved by a wispy grey form sweeping across the stage in the middle of a show. The Terriss spirit is also said to roam the platforms of Covent Garden Underground Station. Even though the station opened ten years after his death, it might be likely. Considering how long you sometimes have to wait for an Uxbridge line train.
“Something very different. Like your best friend relaying a great story over a pint.”
Gary Nicholls – author/photographer of Steampunk classic ‘The Imaginarium’.