In all the years that widow Molly Bland had kept theatrical digs, she had never had any serious trouble with her gueststhat is, until Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came to the Royal Court Theatre.
The large Victorian house, just a few hundred yards from the theatre, had an enviable reputation in the show business world. The beds were clean and comfortable, Molly kept an excellent table (her homemade jams were legendary), and she accepted the vagaries of her guests with a great deal of toleration. After all, if one can cope with a knife-throwing act at daggers drawn, a depressive comedian, and a gay strong man under the same roof, life can hold very few surprises.
So Molly Bland was content with her lot. She loved to cook in her spotless basement kitchen and looked forward to autumn, when she could practice her considerable skill at jam making. She had acquired a number of ten-pound earthenware jars, once containing mincemeat, which were ideal for her task, and these were kept on the stone floor of her spacious larder.
When the pantomime came to town in November she was pleased to find places for two of the cast. The fact that they were midgets whose stage names for the moment were Doc and Dopey made no difference, except that they received preferential treatmentextra cushions on chairs, ground-floor bedrooms with bedside lamps, and so forth. In fact, Doc, in the person of Arthur Taft, was an old friend who was quite content with good food, good conversation, and the latest historical novel.
Dopey, however, was altogether different. Much younger than Doc, he was a charming tearaway whose elfin face and wide smile allowed him to get away with the most outrageous behaviour. No, there was no doubt about itDanny Murphy was no Dopey in real life.
It was soon apparent that Dopey had found himself a lady friendThe Wizard of Oz was playing in the next townand on one occasion Molly witnessed his describing his tasty Munchkin to Doc with graphic hand movements. Moreover, having charmed a door key from her, this raffish leprechaun occasionally arrived back at the digs in a very mellow mood, long after everyone else had gone to bed.
Molly soon discovered that there was one item of food that Danny found irresistible, and her "How would you like your eggs this morning Mr. Murphy?" and his "Poached, oi tink, Mrs B.," soon became a daily refrain. Invariably Dannys pre-theatre meal consisted of a tasty omelette or soufflé followed by egg custard followed by crème caramel; and as a dedicated cook, Molly enjoyed catering to his whims. She also rather enjoyed being called Mrs. B. Somehow it made her feel wanted.
It was about this time that Molly began to experience a strange phenomenon. She would sometimes wake in the early hours and catch a faint fragrance of poached eggs wafting in the air. At first she thought it was imagination, as the smell soon dispersed, but having experienced it more than once, she even began to entertain the idea that the smell was coming from another dimension. She had discounted residual cooking smells, as her kitchen was equipped with an efficient, if noisy, extractor fan. As the weeks passed she realised that the egg phenomenon seemed to occur only on Sundays.
And then she noticed another strange thing. She came down one Monday morning to start the breakfasts as usual and realised that some of the earthenware jars of homemade jam were slightly out of positionor was it her imagination again? Strange smells and displaced objects? Perhaps there was a poltergeist in the house. Shed read about poltergeists. And then she shook herself. "Dont be silly, you daft haporth. Youll be going round the bend soon!"
The following Sunday night she went to bed in an uneasy frame of mind and slept fitfully until a slight noise disturbed her. She sniffed. It was there again! Poached eggs! She looked at the clock on the bedside table. It was 1:15. Had she heard a noise? She lay in her bed, scarcely daring to breathe.
And then there was the most unholy row from downstairsclattering pans and breaking crockery. A moment later she heard the extractor fan start up. Someone was in her beloved kitchen!
Pausing only long enough to throw on a dressing gown and snatch up her widows poker from under the bed, she crept toothless and hair-curlered down to the kitchen.
The evident panic in the slurred voice coming from beyond the door gave her the courage to throw it wide open. And there he was: Danny Murphy down on his knees, mopping furiously at a soggy mess of poached eggs and jamand using her best apron for the purpose!
She looked wildly about her kitchen. The extractor fan was going full blast, and there was a strong smell of burning toast. In front of the stove were six of her precious stone jars, two of which were on their sides bleeding blackcurrant jam. A large metal tea tray was placed upon them to provide a working platform from which Danny had evidently tumbled.
"What on earth?" She paused to find words. "How dare you come into my kitchen and make such a mess, you horrid little man. And just look at my jams! What the devil do you think you are doing?"
Danny peered up at her through boozy eyes and smiled ingratiatingly while continuing a vague mopping motion. "Oim sorry, Mrs.B.," he slurred. "Oive just walked tree moiles and Oim feeling a bit peckish."
"Peckish! Peckish! Ill soon peckish you!" Molly took a deep breath of exasperation and let it out with a rush. "Now, just you listen to me young man. First thing after breakfast youll pack your bags and leave this house. Im not putting up with this sort of behaviour. And dont you dare call me Mrs.B.!"
Danny looked at her with soulful eyes. " But Mrs.B.--Bland. Where can Oi go?"
"You can follow the Yellow Brick Road for all I care, as long as you are out of my sight. And Ill tell you this for nothing. Ive put up with a lot in my time. Heaven knows Ive had to. But theres one thing I will not have. And that is someone poaching on my preserves!"
Ron is 80 years old and served with the British Army in India (and Ceylon) during World War II. He retired from the teaching profession in 1985 and, following his wife's death shortly afterwards, took up creative writing as a hobby. Since then he has had short stories and poetry published and broadcast. The North West Network of the B.B.C has broadcast seventeen of his stories.