A Tale from The Squid and Teapot
Hopeless was in the grip of Can-Can fever. Les Demoiselles de Moulin Rouge, who had found themselves shipwrecked on the island some weeks earlier, had made such an impression with their wild and uninhibited dance routine, which they had been happy to reprise on a weekly basis, that the whole island seemed to be under some sort of Can-Can spell. Wherever you might choose to go, the strains of Offenbach’s ‘Galop Infernal’ was being hummed, whistled, rattled out on the spoons or – best of all – played on the Bell-Edison Phonograph, that these days occupied pride of place in The Squid and Teapot. It was here that one patron was taken aback, wandering into the flushing privy, to find its resident ghost, The Headless White Lady, with her skirts up over her knees, Can-Canning for all that she was worth.
“That woman has a fine pair of legs on her,” he later commented, “especially when you consider that she’s been dead for hundreds of years.”
So popular had the tune become that, ever since the concert when Les Demoiselles had made their island debut, the wax cylinder of the much-beloved song ‘Molly Malone’ had sat gathering dust.
The spectacle of islanders (of both sexes) practising high-kicks and various feats of Terpsichorean diligence had become commonplace, as had the queue outside the surgery of an unsympathetic Doc Willoughby, each patient complaining of sprains, pulled muscles and, occasionally, the consequences of an over-enthusiastic attempt to perform the splits. Bartholomew Middlestreet was adamant that his strained expression and stiff, halting gait, was on account of his having put his back out while lifting a barrel, but no one took this explanation seriously.
The only voice of dissent was, unsurprisingly, Reverend Davies. Things grew a little tricky, however, when he was caught quietly humming the ‘Galop Infernal’, but he excused himself by maintaining, in haughty but hurt tones, that he was actually reminding himself of the allegro from the second movement of Beethoven’s tenth symphony, which the scoundrel Offenbach had obviously stolen. He had a very good chance of being believed, until Miss Toadsmoor innocently pointed out that Herr Beethoven had laid down his quill after nine symphonies, so the Reverend must be mistaken. If looks could maim, Miss Toadsmoor would have been carried out in a paper bag, but being a Man of God, and conscious that the Pallid Rock Orphanage was in desperate need of her services, he grudgingly let the matter go.
Things came to a head when half-a-dozen stalwarts of ‘The Crow’, generously lubricated and keen to impress, linked arms and Can-Canned themselves spectacularly over the edge of a cliff, never to be seen again. When they heard the news, Les Demoiselles were mortified, feeling responsible, and vowed that there would be no more shows unless the islanders stopped dancing in the streets; at least, that was a blushing Miss Toadsmoor’s somewhat genteel translation of some extremely earthy and robust Gallic sentiments regarding the antics of drunken fools and the desecration of their noble art.
A chastened Hopeless took note, the street-dancing stopped, and with its demise, all injuries and fatalities receded to pre-Can-Can levels. The occasional snatch of the familiar tune could be heard, but, by and large, the only evidence that it was still an ear-worm for most was the not-uncommon sight of islanders standing with a faraway look in their eyes, rocking slightly, as if being forcibly restrained, and tapping their feet to a melody that only they could hear.
With some semblance of order restored, Les Demoiselles agreed to resume their weekly concerts, with the proviso that ‘Molly Malone’ was also to be played at the end of each evening, in the vague hope that the strangulated Irish tenor, with his chorus of ‘Alive, alive, oh’, would once more regain prime position in the hearts of all Hopelessians.
(You can find this week’s Squid and Teapot illustrator over here – http://matt-illustration.squarespace.com/ )