There's so much angst in the world, I just wanted to do something a little more lighthearted and fun. And for the record, I only did minimal research into Victorian era music halls and teashops, so the likelihood of historical inaccuracies is 100%.

Thanks as always to silverduck for editing.


"You were on the stage? Carson, is this true?"

"It is, m'lord."


Downton Music Hall

Oddly enough, the first thought that shot into Charlie Carson's mind was how soft the silk gown felt against his cheek.

He would never understand how he kept finding himself in these impossible situations. All he wanted was to make his way in the world as respectably as any music hall performer could, but his longtime partner, and sometime nemesis, seemed bent on mischief at every opportunity, and unfortunately for Carson, he usually bore the brunt of the unavoidable fall out.

With a sigh, Carson thought back to the events that transpired – and the people that conspired – to bring him into this awkward state: a plate of cakes between his hands, and his head face down in the Countess of Grantham's lap.


Six Hours Earlier

Another train, another town. They all blurred together in Charlie Carson's mind, like the swiftly passing countryside on which he was now idly gazing. A series of green and brown smears through a small pane of dirty glass, each one just as gloomy and cheerless as the last. His partner, Charlie Grigg, broke the silence along with his reverie.

"Downton village, that's the name of the next place."

"I suppose so," Carson muttered, absently wiping the smudgy window with his handkerchief.

"Well don't sound so excited, Charlie," Grigg returned, sarcasm dripping from his voice. When his taunting went unheeded, Grigg cast a wary glance at his partner's vacant expression, and tried a different tack. "I've heard good things about this place. Just a village, mind, but supposed to be quite large."

Carson ignored his friend's prompting and continued staring out the small window. It didn't matter to him where they went next. Small village or large town, they were all the same to him. An endless parade of saloons and stages, cheers and jeers, and no room in between for a place he could call home.

The two Charlies had been on the road for years, plying their trade in music halls across England, a song and dance routine they dubbed "The Cheerful Charlies." They were reasonably popular wherever they went, and for a while Carson had found his lively vocation exciting. But as time went on and the novelty of living out of a suitcase wore off, Charlie began fostering a silent wish for a place to finally hang his cap and settle down. Something that he could establish and maintain, that he could put his heart and soul into, and be proud of.

He wouldn't find it on the stage, that much he knew. But singing and dancing were the only talents Charlie Carson could boast of, and so, when the whistle blew and the train stopped, the Cheerful Charlies grabbed their battered trunks and headed towards the address of their next booked gig.

"This place not's so bad, eh?" Grigg prodded. "Friendly faces all around, and the streets nice and tidy, just the way you like them."

Carson smiled his agreement. The village was alive with the activity and excitement of a typical Friday morning. Busy ladies strolled briskly down the street, bustles bobbing in time with their steps. A smattering of children ran here and there, their direction as careless and free as their hearts. He took a deep breath as a slight breeze began to blow, a refreshing burst of coolness on the hot August afternoon that seemed to blow his ill humor away.

"Not bad at all. Might have a pleasant stay for once."

"That's the spirit, Charlie!" Grigg agreed, giving his friend a pat on the back, glad to have finally maneuvered away his melancholy. "We'll have ourselves a good matinee, get a bite to eat before the evening show, and then afterwards have a bit of fun, now what do you say to that?"

Carson knew all too well what Grigg's idea of "fun" was and forbore a response. Instead he took in the swaying trees that lined the main street, the fresh and happy faces ambling about, and continued leisurely on his search for the direction scribbled on the scrap of paper in his hand.

Although neither of them had ever set foot in Downton village before, they had no trouble finding their destination. By 1882 the music hall and its variety of performers, from the mysterious magicians to the sonorous songstress, had all of England in its thrall. This place was no exception, and they found themselves in very little time before a middling and colorful building, a large sign over the door that read Downton Music Hall. Eager customers were already streaming in through the open doors, their spirits high with the prospect of an afternoon show.

Upon entering Carson saw a dozen or so long tables with benches adjacent on either side. A decent sized stage set perpendicular to the dining room lay straight ahead. The requisite piano stood off to one corner; the even more necessary bar at the other. It wasn't the grandest place he'd ever performed in, nor was it the worst. Just a regular song and supper saloon, nothing The Cheerful Charlies hadn't graced a thousand times before.

Carson had just finished straightening a cock-eyed picture frame hanging nearby, when a frantic middle-aged man came hastily up to greet them. His cheeks puffed with the exertion that such a burst of speed had placed on his well-rounded physique.

"The Cheerful Charlies, yes?" he breathlessly asked.

"That's us! Charlie Grigg's the name, and this here is Charlie Carson."

"Yes, yes, I know all that," the man wheezed out in exasperation. Pausing to catch his breath, he quickly mopped his glistening forehead with an already damp handkerchief. "You two are late! You're to go on directly after Madame Claire; that'll be in one hour!"

Without telling them so much as his name, the man abruptly went off again to take care of some other urgent business, and the Cheerful Charlies were left to fend for themselves before their call time.

"Well if that don't beat all!" Grigg said angrily. "The least he could have done is shown us where the dressing rooms are."

Carson remained more even-tempered. The hectic life of a showman came with few perks and a lot of grief, incivility being the chief of them. "Come on, Charlie," came his defeated reply, his mood once again soured. "We can find them ourselves."


Plop. Plop. Plop.

The last of Madame Claire's balls had fallen to the floor, and the juggler finally made a dainty bow and quick exit as the sound of booing followed her off the stage. The curtain closed while the two Charlies stood patiently off to the side, waiting to take their place on the stage.

"Careful out there," she warned as she passed them backstage. "It's a tough crowd."

Grigg stared at her retreating figure in disgust. "Can you believe that?" he asked incredulously. "Well, at least she set the bar low. I fancy we won't have to work too hard to get this lot happy after that disaster of an act."

"We'll do the best we can, just as we always do."

"Whatever you say, Charlie," Grigg returned with a smirk, before leaving his companion to position himself at the other end of the long stage.

While the workers cleared the stage, and with the naive thought that he'd at last been afforded a few minutes of respite from both friend and foe, Carson took a deep breath, allowed every muscle to relax, and cleared his mind in a pre-show ritual that he particularly relished.

The moment of tranquility was soon shattered as the unhelpful stage manager, whose name Carson still didn't know, came speedily up to him while cramming a biscuit into his mouth.

"Good, good, you're all set to go," he managed between bites. "That's a high spirited crowd we've got out there, and, not to put any pressure on you, of course, but they weren't too happy after that last act."

"The Cheerful Charlies are well known for only the highest quality of performance," Carson said, offended at the notion that he could be satisfied with an execution of his profession that was anything below excellent.

"Of course, of course," he amended swiftly, "that's why I booked you." His cordial look shifted to something more menacing as he placed a hand on Carson's shoulder. "But we're not the only music hall around these parts, and I'm not keen on losing any customers over two bad acts in a row. I need a solid performance from the both of you now."

He'd omitted the 'or else' to the thinly veiled threat, but Carson could barely hear the words, spoken or unspoken, over the deafening sight of the manager's grubby hand firmly gripping his dark and pristine evening coat. The manager scurried off again, satisfied that he'd made himself clear, and Carson was horrified to find in his wake a decidedly hand shaped sweep of crumbs. He scrambled to remove his ivory gloves and brush off the mess before the duo was announced, and had just enough time to pull his gloves back on and straighten his colorful waistcoat before the Chairman's voice rang out from in front of the curtain.

"For our next act,

A charming duo of chums

With a chantey that will leave you chuckling:

The Cheerful Charlies!"

The creaking pulleys and quiet swishing of the curtain as it opened mingled with the familiar starting chords of the small piano. As often as he had performed this piece, Carson no longer needed to count out his entrance, but in all things Charlie Carson was a perfectionist, and the beats were numbered almost unconsciously in his mind. One, two, three, eight bars total till his cue. He took a deep breath, plastered a fake smile on his face, and began to sing.

I've seen a deal of gaiety through out my noisy life.

With all my grand accomplishments I ne'er could get a wife.

The deep timbre and quiet dynamic of his low bass had ushered in an initial hush amongst the formerly noisy crowd. With exaggeration he procured a gaudy and oversized handkerchief from his coat pocket. Extravagantly dabbing at his eyes to accompany the last line of the verse, he stopped his singing while Grigg sauntered onto the stage and seamlessly completed the refrain.

The thing I most excel in is the P.R.F.G. game.

A noise all night…

In bed all day…

And swimming in Champagne!

A raucous laughter erupted from the audience as Grigg produced a large bottle marked Moet and began flailing it around in a less than sober fashion, his mocking portrayal of the tipsy toff winning the crowd's approval once again. Carson may have earned his living lampooning the regular swell, but secretly he felt that these working class sorts could never seem to get enough of deriding their betters, however hypocritical it made him.

His need for sustenance outweighed his sense of respect, however, so he pushed the thought away and faced his partner as they cried out together:

Foooor!

The spectators' eyes followed a second bottle as it flew threw the air in a wide arc from one Charlie to another. Carson caught the projectile in one deft hand, and with a flourished double spin, they continued the chorus together.

Champagne Charlie is my naaame!

Champagne Charlie is my naaame!

Good for any game at night, my boys, good for any game at night, my boys.

Grigg took the melody while Carson sang the harmony. No one could accuse The Cheerful Charlies of being virtuosos, but they both had strong and full, if not properly trained, voices, and the baritone and bass blended together to create a sound that was not altogether unpleasant.

Champagne Charlie is my naaame!

Champagne Charlie is my naaame!

Good for any game at niiiight, boys, who'll come and join me in a spree?

The two men glided towards each other, grape vining and shuffling their way across the stage till they stood side by side in the center. The bottles were unceremoniously tossed to the side, and two slick thin canes were simultaneously kicked up high, hovering weightlessly for a moment in the air, before falling gracefully into their waiting hands.

The way I gain'd my title's by a hobby which I've got

Of never letting others pay, however long the shot.

The crowd lent their rough and jovial voices to the familiar song as The Cheerful Charlies belted out another verse together, twirling and dancing in time with the tune. A swing of the cane, a tip of the fancy top hats atop their heads, a few synchronized kicks, and the Cheerful Charlies once again had the guests of the music hall eating out of their fluttering hands.

Who ever drinks at my expense are treated all the same,

From Dukes and Lords to Cabmen down….

I make them drink Champagne!

The booze was already flowing, though it was only half past two, and Carson couldn't ignore the pockets of patrons scattered about who were all but ignoring the show in favor of their own pursuits. In one corner a young couple locked in a passionate embrace; in another two young men arguing hotly over the latest development in Irish Home Rule, their loud proclamations threatening to escalate to blows at any moment.

Foooor!

Charlie Carson was an entertainer by trade, but he was disciplined by birth, and despite all this he remained focused, unfazed by any distraction, and sang on.

Champagne Charlie is my naaame!

Champagne Charlie is my naaame!

Good for any game at night, my boys, good for any game at night, my boys.

And now came time for the coup d'état, the grand finale, the big finish that always left the crowd on their feet applauding for more. A properly placed boost and an agile leap sent Grigg easily onto the shoulders of his much taller partner. The towering duo charged forward, the delight of the crowd matched only by the volume of their cheers.

At last the end was in sight, the number nearly over. Carson always felt a certain elation at the close of a perfectly executed performance, and the painful smile that never failed from his face was beginning to relax into something more sincere. It abruptly faltered, however, as Carson took his last step forward and felt under his feet, not the hard sturdy wood of the stage, but something small, round, and frighteningly unsteadying. He realized late, much too late, that one of Madame Claire's balls had apparently never been cleared from the stage.

A collective gasp shuddered through the audience at the misstep. The lovers broke apart; the young debaters left their argument unfinished. Every eye was transfixed on the swaying human tower that wobbled dangerously across the stage. One Charlie sang steadfastly on, vainly attempting to gain his balance; the other flapped his arms uselessly and vocalized his distress in a less dignified fashion.

Champagne Charlie is my naa - CHAAARLIE!

Champagne Charlie is my naa - CHAAARLIE!

Carson staggered from side to side, a sinking feeling of dread settling in his stomach with the apprehension of their inevitable collapse.

Good for any game at niiiight, boys,

Who'll come and join me in a OOF!

The last piano chord echoed loudly in the silent hall as The Cheerful Charlies face planted painfully to the stage floor. Grigg groaned. Carson moaned. The only other sound was the creaking of the curtain as it quickly closed before them.


Sorry for the abrupt end. This was originally going to be a one-shot but it kept getting longer so I split it up. But I promise you will find out how Carson's head ends up in Violet's lap.

Champagne Charlie was written by George Leybourne in 1867. You can listen to the song at the link in my profile, since apparently I can't put it here...