Ratz and Alma, An Intrigue


Photo by James Murray: The Observer


It is December 29, 1923.  The War is over; the Recession is passing.  Women have been enfranchised—although not yet “people.”  Prohibition has been laundered, and the City of Victoria is eagerly awaiting the results of a civic referendum to approve the building of the $200,000 “Crystal Gardens Amusement Centre.”

In a mood of optimism and generosity, the Chamber of Commerce has arranged a celebratory evening in the Palm Count of the beautiful Canadian Pacific Hotel, the Empress, to toast the project’s chief visionary, architect and promoter FRANCIS MAWSON RATTENBURY (RATZ).  The venue is well suited to the occasion, since it is not only a fine example of the architect’s talents, but a significant symbol of the co-operation and success already achieved by the City, the Chamber and the CPR.

Everyone is groomed and ready.  The Staff: WAITERS, a HAT CHECK, and a DOORMAN are meticulously dressed in CPR Manual Service Rule Dress Code; for women, white dress, for men, white jacket, black pants, and bow tie. The DOORMAN is resplendent in frock coat and black topper.  MEMBERS OF THE PRES, cameras raised and pencils moistened, are posted off CR eager to seize the advantage.

The genial hosts for the evening, Chamber President C.P.W. SCHWENGERS          and his wife, stand poised and proud waiting UR of the porte cochére entrance.


DOORMAN:  (enthusiastically):  Mr. Francis Rattenbury, eminent Provincial Architect and Guest of Honour . . . Mrs Florrie Rattenbury and Family: Miss Mary Rattenbury and Mr Frank Rattenbury.

       The RATTENBURYS arrive at 7:00 precisely, bristling with marital hostility.  FLORRIE is protectively book-ended by “BABS” and “SNOOKA.” RATZ, tall, erect, and still handsome, his red hair greying, cuts a stylish figure in his tux and cape.  He smiles expansively at the press, and holds for the photo op, while his family hangs back, resenting the intrusion.

       Hats and wraps are checked, and the elegant, effusive SCHWENGERS press hands, kiss cheeks, and chat happily about the anticipated success of the referendum.  RATZ, exuding confidence, basks in their praise, while FLORRIE stands foursquare, clutching the diamond crescent brooch that RATZ gave her on their wedding day, trying to stave off a migraine.  The franchise has given her no satisfaction; civic politics are of little interest to her.  Even her love of gardening has diminished since the death earlier this year of her beloved champion: “Granny” Howard.

       MARY, an acknowledged Victoria beauty, stammers appropriate comments about her delicate watercolours while RATZ, ever protective of his daughter’s speech impediment, boasts of her talents and finishes her sentences.

       FRANK is bold and contemptuous with none of his father’s style. A great many operations have helped to correct his clubbed feet, but he still uses a handsome gold-tipped cane to punctuate his struts about the room.  At the moment, “Frank is Insurance, and Insurance is Frank.”

       Before the next dignitaries are announced, MR SCHWENGERS points out the cocktail bar to RATZ, but suggests: “There is wisdom in staying sober until the results are in.”

       RATZ sequesters his family in a deep alcove DL, and then, duty done, he moves comfortably about the room, greeting, shaking hands, and imbibing liberally.  RATZ settles CL next to a large rendering of the Crystal Gardens bearing his name, ready to hold forth.. . .

     During the raucous proceedings that follow, ALMA CLARKE slips into the room unnoticed.  She was in the lounge recovering from a musical engagement when the gaity of the song piqued her curiosity.  She is surprized to see an acquaintance, DAISY MACLURE, at the piano.

     RATZ spots the beautiful young woman and waves enthusiastically.  The audience shouts its approval.  Encouraged by the response, ALMA crosses the room to join DAISY.  RATZ is set down by the piano, where he greets ALMA.  This encounter encourages FLORRIE to a full-grown migraine.  MARY is dispatched to inform her father, who listens patiently, then laughs.  The success of the Crystal Garden project, and meeting ALMA has rejuvenated him, and RATZ directs MARY back to her mother.

    Spited by the rebuke, FLORRIE assails “the harlot” with censure, then demands to be taken home.  RATZ turns his back; he smiles at ALMA and invites her to play.  ALMA seats herself at the piano, winks at RATZ, and pounds out “The Funeral March.” All hell breaks loose: FLORRIE falls dramatically to the floor in a faint.  MARY goes into hysterics, and FRANK and DR. HALL rush to the side of the “dishonoured” woman.  Civility gives way to savagery as the guests dredge up RATZ or ALMA gossip.  Everyone seems to have at least one good story.

     Ignoring the bedlam, RATZ makes a suggestion to the quartet, and moves ALMA out onto the dance floor.  They dance to the romantic strains of a contemporary love ballad then, oblivious to the enormity of their social gaffe, they make their exit.  FRANK follows his father to the door, pleading on behalf of his mother.

     The genial hosts eventually restore deorum; guests reluctantly don their wraps and say their good-byes.  The last to leave are the SCHWENGERS.


Photo by James Murray

Director’s Note:  Ratz and Alma were never forgiven for their relationship by the citizens of Victoria.  The Rattenburys divorced in 1925.  Ratz and Alma married in 1926.  Florrie died in 1929.  After the birth of their son, John, that same year, the ostracised couple left Victoria to make their home in Bournemouth, England.
Terry Recksten’s book: Rattenbury. Victoria: Sono Nis Press 1978, is essential reading for anyone directing this improvised section of Ratz and Alma.

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