Fatty Disguises Himself.
Next morning Larry had a note from Fatty.
"Go down to the side-shows by the river this afternoon. I'll meet you somewhere in disguise. Bet you won't know me!
Larry showed the note to Pip and Bets when he went to see them that morning. Bets was thrilled. "What will Fatty be dressed in? I bet I'll know him! Oh, I can't wait for this afternoon to come!"
Larry's mother gave him some money to spend at the side-shows when she heard they were all going there that afternoon. They set off at two o'clock, ready to spot Fatty, no matter how well he was disguised.
As they walked down the village street an old bent man came shuffling up towards them. He stooped badly and dragged his feet, which were in old boots, the toes cracked and the heels worn down. He wore a straggly sandy-grey beard, and had shaggy grey eyebrows, and he looked extremely dirty. His coat sagged away from his bent shoulders, and his corduroy trousers were tied up with string at the knees.
His hat was too large for him and was crammed down over his head. He had a stick in his hand and used it to help himself along. He shuffled to a bench and sat down in the sun, sniffing loudly.
"That's Fatty! I know it is!" said Bets. "It's just the sort of disguise he'd put on. Isn't he clever? "
The old man took a pipe out of his pocket and began to stuff it with tobacco.
"Fancy Fatty even thinking of bringing a pipe!" said Pip. "I bet he's watched his father stuffing tobacco into his pipe. Golly—don't say he's even going to smoke it!"
Apparently he was! Great puffs of rather evil-smelling, strong smoke came wafting out from the old man. The children stared. "I shouldn't have thought Fatty could smoke," said Larry. "He oughtn't to. He's not old enough. But I suppose if he's in disguise..."
The old fellow sniffed loudly and then wiped his hand across his nose. Bets giggled. "Oh dear! Fatty is really simply marvellous. I do think he is. He must have been practising that awful sniffle for ages."
Larry went over to the old man and sat down beside him. "Hallo, Fatty!" he said. "Jolly good, old boy! But we all recognized you at once!"
The old man took absolutely no notice at all. He went on puffing at his pipe and clouds of the smoke floated into Larry's face.
"Fatty! Stop it! You'll make yourself sick if you smoke like that!" said Larry. The others joined him and sat there, giggling. Pip gave the old man a punch in the ribs, "Hey, Fatty! You can stop pretending now. We know it's you!"
The old man felt the punch and looked round indignantly, his eyes almost hidden under his shaggy eyebrows. He moved a little way away from Larry and Pip and went on smoking.
"Fatty! Shut up smoking and talk to us, idiot!" said Pip. The old man took his pipe out of his mouth, put his hand behind his ear, and said "Wassat?"
"He's pretending to be deaf now!” said Bets, and giggled again.
"Ah? " said the old man, looking puzzled. "Wassat? "
"What does 'Wassat' mean?" asked Bets.
"It means 'What's that' of course," said Larry. "Hey, Fatty, stop it now. Give up, and tell us we're right. We all spotted you at once."
"Wassat?" said the old man again and put his hand behind his ear once more. It was a very peculiar ear, large and flat and purple red. Bets gazed at it and then nudged Daisy.
"Daisy I We've made a frightful mistake! It's not Fatty. Look at his ears!”
Every one gazed at the old fellow's ears. No—not even Fatty could make his ears go like that. And they were not false ears either. They were quite real, not very clean, and remarkably hairy. In fact, they were most unpleasant ears.
"Golly! It isn’t Fatty!" said Pip, gazing at the ears. "What must the old man think of us?"
"Wassat?" said the old man again, evidently extremely puzzled at the children's familiar behaviour towards him.
"Well, thank goodness the poor old thing is deaf," said Daisy, feeling ashamed of their mistake. "Come on Larry, come on, Pip, We've made an idiotic mistake! How Fatty would laugh if he knew!"
"He's probably hiding somewhere around and grinning to himself like anything," said Pip. They left the puzzled old man sitting on his bench and went off down the street again. They met the baker, and Bets gave him a long and piercing stare, wondering if he could by any chance be Fatty. But he wasn't. He was much too tall.
Then they met the window-cleaner, and as he was rather plump, and just about Fatty's height, they all went and pretended to examine his barrow of ladders and pails, taking cautious glances at him to find out whether or not he could be Fatty in disguise.
"Here! What's the matter with you kids?" said the window-cleaner. "Haven't you ever seen ladders and pails before? And what are you giving me them looks for? Anything wrong with me today? "
"No," said Larry hurriedly, for the window-cleaner sounded rather annoyed. "It's just that—er—these sliding ladders—er—are rather interesting!"
"Oh, are they?" said the window-cleaner disbelievingly. "Well, let me tell you this..."
But the children didn't listen to what he had to tell them. They hurried off, rather red in the face.
"I say! We shall get into trouble if we go squinting at every one to find out if they really are Fatty," said Larry. "Well have to look at people a bit more carefully—I mean, without them knowing it."
"There he is—I'm sure of it!" said Bets suddenly, as they went over the level-crossing to the river-side, where the side-shows were. "Look—that porter with the moustache. That's Fatty, all right!”
The porter was wheeling a barrow up the platform, and the others stood and admired him. "He wheels it exactly like a real porter," said Bets. "Why do porters always wear waistcoats and no coats at railway stations?
I'm sure that's Fatty. It's just the way he walks. And he's plump like Fatty too."
She raised her voice and hailed the porter. "Hey, Fatty I Fatty!"
The porter turned round. He set his barrow down on the ground and walked towards them, looking angry.
"Who are you calling Fatty?" he demanded, his face red under his porter's cap. "You hold your tongue, you cheeky kids!"
The children stared at him. "It is Fatty," said Bets. "Look, that's just how his hair sticks out when he wears a hat. Fatty I We know it's you!”
"Now you look here!" said the porter, coming nearer, "if you wasn't a little girl I'd come over and shake you good and proper. Calling me names! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you did!"
"It isn't Fatty, you idiot," said Pip angrily to Bets. "Fatty isn't as short in the arms. Now you've got us into trouble!"
But very luckily for them, a train came thundering in at that moment and the porter had to run to open and shut doors and see to luggage. The children hastily left the level-crossing and ran down to the river.
"You stupid, Bets! You'll get us all into trouble if you keep on imagining every one is Fatty," said Pip. "Calling out 'Fatty' like that—especially as the porter was fat. He must have thought you were disgustingly rude."
"Oh dear—yes, I suppose it did sound awfully rude," said Bets, almost in tears. "But I did think it was Fatty. I'll be more careful next time, Pip."
They came to the side-shows, which made a kind of Fair alongside the river road. There was a Roundabout, the Hoopla game, the Bumping Motor-Cars, and the Waxwork Show. The children looked at the people crowding in and out of the Fair, and tried to see anyone that might be Fatty.
Bets was scared now to recognize any one as Fatty. She kept seeing people she thought might be Fatty and followed them around till she knew they weren't. The others did the same. Some people saw that they were being followed and didn't like it. They turned and glared.
"What you doing, keeping on my heels like this?" one man snapped at Larry. "Think I'm going to give you money for the Roundabout?"
Larry went red and slipped away. He imagined Fatty somewhere near, tickled to death to see the Find-Outers trying in vain to spot him. Where could he be?
"I think I've found him!" whispered Bets to Pip, catching hold of his arm. "He's the man selling the Roundabout tickets! He's just like Fatty, only he's got a black beard and thick black hair, and gold ear-rings in his ears, and an almost black face."
"Well, he doesn't sound 'just like Fatty' to me!" said Pip scornfully. "I'm tired of your spotting the wrong people, Bets. Where's this fellow?"
"I told you. Selling Roundabout tickets," said Bets, and though Pip felt quite certain that not even Fatty would be allowed to sell Roundabout tickets, he went to see. The man flashed a grin at him and held up a bunch of tickets.
"A lovely ride!" he chanted. "A lovely ride on the Roundabout. Only sixpence for a lovely ride!”
Pip went and bought a ticket. He looked hard at the man, who gave him another cheeky grin. Pip grinned back.
"So it is you! " he said. "Jolly good, Fatty!"
"What you talking about?" said the Roundabout-man in surprise. "And who are you calling Fatty?"
Pip didn't like to say any more somehow, though he really was quite certain it was Fatty. He got on the Roundabout, chose a lion that went miraculously up and down as well as round and round, and enjoyed his ride.
He winked at the ticket-man as he got off and the man winked back. "Funny kid, aren't you?" said the man. Pip went to the others. "I've found Fatty," he said. "At least, I suppose it was Bets who did, really. It's the man who sells the tickets for the Roundabout."
"Oh no it isn't," said Larry. "Daisy and I have found Fatty too. It's the man who stands and shouts to people to come and have a go at the Hoopla. See—over there!"
"But it can't be!" said Pip. "He'd never be allowed to have a job like that. No, you're wrong. I don't think that can be Fatty."
"Well, and I don't think the Roundabout ticket-man is right, after all," said Bets unexpectedly. "I know I did think so. But I don't any more. His feet are much too small. He's got silly little feet. Fatty's got enormous feet. However much you disguise yourself you can't make big feet into small ones!"
"I bet Fatty could!" said Daisy . "He's a marvel.”
"And I think he's the ticket-man at the Roundabout," said Pip, obstinately. "Well—we'll see. We'll have some fun, get tea over there, and wait for Fatty to show himself in his own good time!"