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Authors: Charlotte MacLeod

The Plain Old Man

BOOK: The Plain Old Man
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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

The Plain Old Man
A Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn Mystery
Charlotte MacLeod


Open Road Integrated Media


For Alice, Priscilla, and Sackville


An Original Comic Opera

Words by W. S. Gilbert, Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan

Presented by the Pirates of Pleasaunce

Mrs. Beddoes Kelling, Director

Dramatis Personae

Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre
(an Elderly Baronet)
John Tippleton
Alexis, His Son
(of the Grenadier Guards)
Parker Pence
Dr. Daly
(Vicar of Ploverleigh)
Sebastian Frostedd
Charles Daventer
John Wellington Wells
(of J. W. Wells & Co., Family Sorcerers)
Ridpath Wale
Lady Sangazure
(A Lady of Ancient Lineage)
Emma Kelling
Aline, Her Daughter
(Betrothed to Alexis)
Jenicot Tippleton
Mrs. Partlett
(A Pew Opener)
Martha Tippleton
Constance, Her Daughter
Gillian Bruges

Music by The Beddoes Kelling Memorial Orchestra

Scenery by Sarah Kelling Bittersohn and Guy Mannering

Letter from Miss Mabel Kelling to Mrs. Appolonia Kelling:

Dear Appie,

I presume you expect to be thanked for the gift which I have not yet been able to identify. Never let it be said that I am remiss in my social duties. Speaking of which, you had better not plan on staying with me overnight when you come to attend Emma’s latest venture into amateur theatricals. You know she will be miffed if you don’t allow her to play lady of the manor offstage as well as on, though I’m not sure where she’s going to park you if Sarah’s still there. It looks to me as if she’ll be around a good deal longer than Emma expects. Sarah claims that new husband of hers is off on another of his so-called business trips. Surely even you can read between the lines!!!

Anyway, they are up to their eyeballs over there with the play, or comic opera as I believe those Gilbert & Sullivan things are properly called. The plot, as far as I’ve been able to make out, deals with a boy and girl who are foolish enough to become engaged to each other, and their parents (a widow and widower respectively) who wish to be engaged but for some never-explained reason are not.

There is also a silly young thing who is chasing after the vicar, he being at least twice her age. She has a mother who is listed on the program as a pew opener. This presumably refers to the period when the gentry had themselves shut into high-walled pews at church so the common folk couldn’t see what they were up to during the service. Since you are so totally inept at keeping a story straight, I thought I might as well explain in advance what this one is all about, rather than get hissed at for information all through the performance as generally happens.

After the usual tiresome overture, a chorus of village men and maidens (!!!) sing the usual sort of unintelligible nonsense about how happy everybody is today because Aline (the girl) is getting betrothed to Alexis (the boy). Then the pew opener and her daughter come on looking as grumpy as we shall all, no doubt, be feeling by then. The daughter (Constance) tells her mother (Mrs. Partlett) that she is in love with the vicar, who doesn’t care for her. Needless to say, the vicar then appears, declaiming that the girls aren’t chasing him any more now that he’s old and fat instead of young and handsome. The mother tries her hand at matchmaking and fails, naturally, this being only the beginning of the show.

They go away, no doubt to everyone’s relief. The boy (Alexis) and his father (Sir Marmaduke) come on and are congratulated by the vicar (Dr. Daly) for quite some time. You know how ministers run on. These three go away and on comes Aline with the rest of the girls. She sings a song about marriage having its disadvantages as well as its alleged advantages, as if one had to be told. Then the mother (Lady Sangazure) and prospective father-in-law (Sir Marmaduke) enter and they all sing a lot of gibberish about one thing and another.

At last the lawyer appears with the bridal contract. Instead of reading out the terms in a sane and sensible manner, the young people go ahead and append their signatures to the unread document, while the chorus stands around loudly applauding this totally rash and senseless act.

Eventually they all leave the stage except Alexis and Aline. Alexis expounds some ridiculous theory that everybody ought to marry everybody else without distinction of rank. Aline, like a besotted little ninny, agrees with him. He then tells her he has resolved on obtaining a potion which will make all those villagers who have shown a reluctance toward lawful wedlock (though no doubt sufficient forwardness in other directions!) fall in love with one another.

Aline protests, but of course he doesn’t listen—men never do—and they go off to one J. Wellington Wells, a sorcerer (hence, I assume, the name of the production) to get the potion. He subjects them to a lot of mumbojumbo, no doubt as an excuse to jack up the price, then sells them the potion, which he puts into a large teapot Alexis has brought with him. Alexis, mind you, being the son of a baronet (Sir Marmaduke)—can you picture a baronet’s son carrying a large teapot, unwrapped, through the streets of London? Perhaps this is meant to add a touch of humor.

In any event, they take the pot to a tea party which Sir Marmaduke (the baronet) is giving to celebrate the betrothal. Too cheap or too broke to buy champagne, I suppose—they always are, aren’t they? Alexis, who appears to have no moral principles whatsoever (he being the hero, you will recall) tricks the vicar into making tea in the aforementioned teapot and gets everybody to drink some except himself, Aline, and the sorcerer, who has somehow wangled an invitation to the affair. At this point, mercifully, we have an intermission. I expect the Girl Scouts will be peddling pink lemonade and cookies as usual.

Having developed acidosis in support of whatever good cause Emma happens to be supporting at the moment—after that fire-engine business I quit trying to keep track—we go back to our seats, if we can find them, and watch everybody wake up and fall in love. First the members of the chorus conduct a sort of mass wooing, then Constance (the pew opener’s daughter, as you’ve most likely forgotten by now) enters arm in arm with the lawyer, moaning that she has suddenly lost her feeling for the vicar (which wasn’t getting her anywhere anyway) and fallen madly in love with this plain old man as she describes him and as he will certainly be, since I understand Emma’s old flame Charlie Daventer is to play the role, assuming he can shake off his booze-induced gout in time.

Moving on less rapidly than one might wish, Constance (see above) bewails her plight at quite unreasonable length with Alexis, Aline, and the chorus all getting into the act. Eventually Alexis and Aline are left alone. Alexis starts nagging at Aline to drink the potion also and thus become his willing slave for life (you will notice that
never offers to drink it and become
willing slave!!!). During the ensuing quarrel, Sir Marmaduke comes along engaged to the pew opener (Mrs. Partlett). Lady Sangazure, who will of course be played to the hilt and then some by Emma herself, falls in love with Mr. Wells (the sorcerer), who rejects her, he being the only one so far who’s shown a lick of sense despite his odd profession.

Then Aline drinks the potion, not in front of Alexis, which would have been at least plausible, but just in time to meet Dr. Daly (the vicar) who is wandering along playing a flageolet (a penny whistle, in plainer terms) and complaining that everybody is now engaged to somebody and nobody is left to marry him. At that point he comes face-to-face with Aline and they fall in love.

Well, of course Alexis is furious at being jilted even though he’s brought it upon himself, and goes whining off to Mr. Wells to undo the spell. It turns out that the only way this can be done is for either Alexis or Wells to die. If you can make sense of that, you will show greater acumen than I’ve ever found cause to credit you with.
Wells gets thumbs-down from the assemblage and disappears through the trapdoor, assuming it’s in working order this time. At last all the couples switch around and get suitably mated, another comic touch, one assumes, and sing something about strawberry jam and rollicking buns. All this is supposed to add up to a highly diverting evening. I shall take my knitting with me.

Yrs. aff.,


Chapter 1

dressed, and sixty-seven nearly. He’s everything that I detest, yet if the truth must be confessed, I love him very dearly.”

Sarah Kelling, who was now in fact Sarah Bittersohn but had found one didn’t get out of being a Kelling through a mere nuptial technicality, sang because she was happy. Sloshing bucketfuls of paint on yards and yards of canvas was glorious work. This was going to be a shrubbery in front of which the vicar would pour his pretty stiff jorum of tea. Sarah decided she’d try her hand at a
Prunus glandulosa
as soon as she’d finished the
Lagerstroemia indica.
She was using one of Aunt Emma’s seed catalogs for a reference, and it was having the usual heady effect. The glorious difference here, though, was that a scene painter could make her shrubs bloom as grandly as the ones in the photographs, while a gardener seldom could.

“You very plain old man, I love you dearly.” Had her husband, Max, been around, he could have deduced that the Pirates of Pleasaunce were doing
The Sorcerer
this year. As it happened, Max had just set off for Belgium on the trail of a purloined Picasso when Emma Kelling sent out her distress signal. Emma was Lady Sangazure this time around. Last year she’d been Katisha in
The Mikado.
The year before that, she’d been the Fairy Queen in
And she’d been great. She always was.

Emma Kellings contralto voice was like her person, rich and full-bodied. She’d been a handsome young woman when she’d married the late Beddoes Kelling. She was a handsome woman still, and meant to stay that way.

“I tell myself,” she observed to Sarah, “you’re not getting older, you’re merely getting blonder. Is my bustle on straight?”

Emma rather went in for innovative costuming. She’d played Little Buttercup in a middy blouse and black sateen gym bloomers, she’d played Lady Jane in a batik tutu and the Duchess of Plaza Toro in a court train eight yards long that had created no end of problems among the chorus; but she’d never sung Lady Sangazure in a bustle before, and felt it was high time she did. Sarah couldn’t have agreed more.

“It’s superb. That huge purple bunch over your behind will strike the perfect balance beside Sir Marmaduke’s paunch.”

Emma had never quite lost her schoolgirl giggle. “Jack Tippleton has put on more than a bit over the winter, hasn’t he? For goodness’ sake don’t let on you’ve noticed or he’ll stalk off in a huff and then where shall we be?”

“Right where we are now. Surely you don’t believe for one second that Jack would give up a chance to swank around in a velvet coat onstage and show off his profile?”

As far as Sarah knew, John Armitage Tippleton had spent his entire sixty years and then some standing around looking handsome. If he hadn’t been cursed with money and position, he might have become a movie star. However, on those relatively few occasions when Sarah had seen him, he’d never appeared other than totally satisfied with being John Armitage Tippleton.

Sarah wasn’t so sure about Martha Tippleton. This was the first time she’d been involved with Aunt Emma’s coterie on a level where she could get to know them as individuals instead of just hands holding cocktail glasses or teacups at Emma’s innumerable parties. Jack’s wife was cast this time as Dame Partlett. Sarah wondered how long Martha had been playing that role.

“She will tend him, nurse him, mend him, air his linen, dry his tears.”

And while Martha was doing all those useful tasks, Jack would be off in a corner with the sweet young thing who was playing Dame Partlett’s daughter, Constance, making a horse’s necktie of himself. Max wouldn’t have said necktie. Sarah began painting little pink hearts on her bush in place of blossoms.

BOOK: The Plain Old Man
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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Transcription by Ike Hamill