The Man in the Queue

The Man in the Queue

by Josephine Tey

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It was between seven and eight o'clock on a March evening, and all over
London the bars were being drawn back from pit and gallery doors. Bang,
thud, and clank. Grim sounds to preface an evening's amusement. But no
last trump could have so galvanized the weary attendants on Thespis and
Terpsichore standing in patient column of four before the gates of
promise. Here and there, of course, there was no column. At the Irving,
five people spread themselves over the two steps and sacrificed in warmth
what they gained in comfort; Greek tragedy was not popular. At the
Playbox there was no one; the Playbox was exclusive, and ignored the
existence of pits. At the Arena, which had a three weeks' ballet season,
there were ten persons for the gallery and a long queue for the pit. But
at the Woffington both human strings tailed away apparently into
infinity. Long ago a lordly official had come down the pit queue and,
with a gesture of his outstretched arm that seemed to guillotine hope,
had said, "All after here standing room only." Having thus, with a mere
contraction of his deltoid muscle, separated the sheep from the goats, he
retired in Olympian state to the front of the theatre, where beyond the
glass doors there was warmth and shelter. But no one moved away from the
long line. Those who were doomed to stand for three hours more seemed
indifferent to their martyrdom. They laughed and chattered, and passed
each other sustaining bits of chocolate in torn silver paper. Standing
room only, was it? Well, who would not stand, and be pleased to, in the
last week of _Didn't You Know?_ Nearly two years it had run now, London's
own musical comedy, and this was its swan song. The stalls and the circle
had been booked up weeks ago, and many foolish virgins, not used to
queues, had swelled the waiting throng at the barred doors because
bribery and corruption had proved unsuccessful at the box office. Every
soul in London, it seemed, was trying to crowd into the Woffington to
cheer the show just once again. To see if Golly Gollan had put a new gag
into his triumph of foolery--Gollan who had been rescued from a life on
the road by a daring manager, and had been given his chance and had taken
it. To sun themselves yet once more in the loveliness and sparkle of Ray
Marcable, that comet that two years ago had blazed out of the void into
the zenith and had dimmed the known and constant stars. Ray danced like a
blown leaf, and her link aloof smile had killed the fashion for
dentifrice advertisements in six months. "Her indefinable charm," the
critics called it, but her followers called it many extravagant things,
and defined it to each other with hand-wavings and facial contortions
when words proved inadequate to convey the whole of her faery quality.
Now she was going to America, like all the good things, and after the
last two years London without Ray Marcable would be an unthinkable
desert. Who would not stand forever just to see her once more?

It had been drizzling since five o'clock, and every now and then a light
chill air lifted the drizzle and half playfully swept the queue from end
to end with it in one long brushstroke. That discouraged no one--even the
weather could not take itself seriously tonight; it had merely sufficient
tang to provide a suitable ap�ritif to the fare in front of them. The
queue twiddled its toes, and Cockneywise made the most of whatever
entertainment provided itself in the dark canyon of the lane. First there
had come the newsboys, small things with thin, impassive faces and wary
eyes. They had flickered down the queue like wildfire and disappeared,
leaving behind a trail of chatter and fluttering papers. Then a man with
legs shorter than his body laid a ragged strip of carpet on the damp
pavement and proceeded to tie himself into knots until he looked as a
spider does when it is taken unawares, his mournful toad's eyes gleaming
now and then from totally unexpected places, in the writhing mass, so
that even the most indifferent spectator felt his spine trickle. He was
succeeded by a man who played popular airs on the fiddle, happily
oblivious of the fact that his E string was half a tone flat. Then,
simultaneously, came a singer of sentimental ballads and a syncopated
orchestra of three. After they had scowled at each other for a moment or
two, the soloist tried to rush things on the possession-being-nine-points
principle, by breaking into a wailing _Because You Came to Me_, but the
leader of the orchestra, handing his guitar to a lieutenant, proceeded to
interview the tenor, with his elbows out and his hands lifted.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940013662865
Publisher: WDS Publishing
Publication date: 01/16/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 150,139
File size: 206 KB

About the Author

Elizabeth MacKintosh (1896-1952), best known as Josephine Tey, is one of the most respected and influential authors in the mystery genre and regarded by many one of the best mystery novelists ever. Her novel, The Daughter of Time, was selected by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the greatest mystery novel of all time and The Franchise Affair, starring her most famous character, Inspector Alan Grant, was 11th on the same list of 100 books. She also used the pen name, Gordon Daviot, primarily to publish plays.

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