The Gas-Fitters’ Ball – extract

Feeling a little safer now, the twins told Dick about meeting Daisy in the Music Hall the night before. Dick looked embarrassed.

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘I spose I must’ve got it wrong, all them things you told me to say. I spose Daisy’ll never want to see me again. I spose Mr Horspath’ll have her all to hisself from now on.’

And he sighed like a ‘Thunderer’ Pneumatic Drainage Pump, and sat down wearily on the edge of the nearest horse-trough.

‘I knows how yer feel,’ said Orlando. ‘Mind if I join yer?’

Dick moved up to make room. ‘You had love trouble as well, mate?’ he said.

‘Not half,’ said Orlando.

The twins perched on the horse-trough and listened, enthralled.

Orlando fanned himself with his hat, and went on: ‘Oh, yus. I was in love and all, same as you, only I could never work up the nerve to tell her. I done all kinds of things to please her, like tearing books in half and crushing rocks and bouncing cannon-balls off me head, but I could never come out with saying I loved her.’

‘That’s just the same as me!’ said Dick.

‘And by the time I found out what to do, it was too late. Fate had passed me by.’

‘You mean you did find out what to do?’

‘Oh, yus. I know what to do now all right. Only like I say, it’s too late.’

‘So what is it? What’s the secret?’

‘The secret of love,’ said Orlando, ‘was told to me by a Spanish hacrobat in a circus what I worked in once. And he oughter known, cause he had six wives at least. In different countries, of course. What he said was, you take a deep breath, close your eyes, grab hold of her hand, and cover it with burning kisses. About a dozen, he said. Once you done that, you feel quite different. Telling her you love her’s easy after that.’

‘And have you tried it?’

‘No, I ain’t,’ said Orlando, ’cause of my undying love for the lady what I never done it to in the first place.’

Dick was nodding. There was a strange light in his eyes.

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