The Blood of an Englishman

By: M.C. Beaton

One




“Fee, fie, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman.”

As the giant ogre in the Winter Parva pantomime strutted across the stage, uttering the old familiar words, Agatha Raisin stifled a yawn. She loathed amateur dramatics, but had been persuaded to support the pantomime by her friend, Mrs Bloxby, the vicar’s wife. The two women were in odd contrast: Agatha with her smart clothes and glossy brown hair, Mrs Bloxby in faded tweeds and wispy brown hair streaked with grey surrounding her gentle face.

Agatha began to feel sulky and trapped. Why was she, a private detective of some fame, wasting her sweetness on the desert air of the Winter Parva village hall?

The pantomime was Babes in the Woods, but there were also characters from other pantomimes from Old Mother Hubbard to Puss in Boots.

At last the interval arrived. There was no theatre bar but mulled wine was being served in the entrance hall. Agatha grabbed a glass and said, “Going outside for a cigarette.”

Fog lay heavily on the car park and water dripped mournfully from the trees surrounding it. “Still smoking? Dear me,” said a voice behind Agatha. She swung round and found herself looking down at the gossip of her home village, Carsely, Mrs Arnold.

“Yes,” said Agatha curtly.

“Do you know that only twenty percent of the people in Britain now smoke?” said Mrs Arnold.

“I never believe in statistics,” said Agatha. “Have they asked everyone?” She surveyed Mrs Arnold’s small round figure. “Anyway, what about overeating? What about a ban on fat people?”

A tall man loomed up out of the mist. “What do you think of the show?”

Agatha bit back the word hellish that had risen to her lips and said instead, “I think the chap playing the ogre is very good. Who is he?”

“That’s our local baker, Bert Simple. I haven’t introduced myself. I recognise you. I’m Gareth Craven, producer of the show. That’s the end of the interval. I’d better get backstage.”

“I’m Agatha Raisin,” Agatha called after him.

Quite tasty, thought Agatha, watching his tall figure disappear into the fog. Well, hullo hormones, I thought you had laid down and died.



She shuffled along her seat beside Mrs Bloxby. The hall smelled of damp people, mulled wine, and chocolates. A surprising number had brought boxes of chocolates. Pen lights flickered, voices murmured things like, “I don’t want a hard one. Are those liqueur chocolates, you naughty man!” Children, used to slumping on comfortable sofas in front of the television, screamed and hit each other.

The curtains were drawn back and the comedian came on. “Hullo, hullo, hullo!” he yelled.

“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye,” muttered Agatha.

The comedian was a local man, George Southern, who owned a gift shop in the village.

He was slightly built and rather camp with thin brown hair and a large nose which overshadowed his small mouth.

“I hope you’re in good voice tonight, folks,” he said. A screen came down behind him. It’s the compulsory sing-along, thought Agatha bleakly.

Sure enough. The words of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ appeared on the screen. Why an old First World War song, wondered Agatha, and then came to the conclusion that they were possibly frightened that anything more modern would incur royalties. From previous experience, she knew that amateur dramatic companies seemed to think the eyes of the world were on them. It seemed to go on forever. He got the men to sing, then the women, then the children. “Follow the bouncing ball,” he yelled, strutting about the stage in his moment of glory.

The curtains were drawn again and opened to reveal a cardboard cottage. The Babes were played by two ill-favoured children, who turned out to be the son and daughter of the head of the parish council, which was why they had landed the parts.

“Here comes the ogre again,” said Mrs Bloxby.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a witch?” said Agatha.

“Shhh!” admonished a voice behind them.

“Fee! Fie! Fo! Fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman,” roared Bert. “Be he alive, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

He was a burly man with a big round head and small glittering eyes, wearing built-up boots to make him look like a giant.

Slowly descending on a creaking wire came the Good Fairy. It broke when she was nearly down and she fell on a heap on the stage. “Can’t you bloody bastards do anything properly?” she yelled. The children whistled and cheered.

“Shame!” called a voice from the audience. “Remember the children.”

The Good Fairy rallied, picked up her bent wand and faced the ogre. “I am banishing you to the pit from whence you came,” she said.

There was an impressive puff of green smoke. A trapdoor opened and Bert disappeared. The small orchestra started to play a jolly tune. A chorus lineup of ill-assorted tap dancers thudded their way across the stage. The pantomime dragged on to the close. At the final curtain, there was no sign of Bert.

“It was all right, considering it was an amateur show,” ventured Mrs Bloxby.

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