Widge, a country boy, begins a new life with the theater, his steps always followed by a evil, vengeful man. Widge, an orphan boy, lives with an eccentric doctor who teaches him a secret shorthand writing. One day, a tall, cloaked stranger enters the house, tests his proficiency, and buys his apprenticeship. We know little about the stranger, except that his name is Falconer and he is deadly with his rapier. Falconer takes Widge to Mr. Bass's house in London. Upon talking with Bass, Widge learns that he is to exploit his unique skill by stealing one of Shakespeare's plays, writing it down word for word.
Although he is competent at the shorthand, Widge is lacking in other areas, clumsy and countrified. Once at the theater, he sneaks behind the scenes to get a better view and is caught. Fearing the wrath of the actors, Widge lies, pretending that he wants to become one of them. They accept him into their company and he is whisked into a new life.
Widge bonds with the easygoing, joking members of the company and especially enjoys the company of 2 boys his own age, Sander and Julian. He has fun learning how to act, fence, and recite. And even though he is teased by his friends because of his accent and ignorance about theater and its tricks, he gradually starts liking his profession more and more.
However, Widge constantly feels haunted by Falconer and his impending punishment. One day Falconer corners him and threatens to kill him if he does not get a copy of the play. Although Widge feels bad about betraying his fellow actors, he values his own safety more, and resolves to steal the script as soon as he can. But the renewed faith placed in him by his mentor makes Widge's attempt only half-hearted, and he botches his rare chance to secure the script.
Widge's life with the company is not always sunshine and happiness either. The company starts falling apart. First, Julian turns out to be a girl, Julia, and is banned from the theater, as women were not allowed to act. Then, surly Nick gets into a barfight and is severely wounded. Widge saves his life by applying his knowledge of doctoring, but nevertheless, Nick is out of commission for some time.
On day Widge spots Nick and Falconer together, and realizes that Nick is now in his service. Unable to hide things from his friend any longer, Widge finally tells Sander about his history, assuring Sander that he really is happy to be an actor now, and does not intend to steal the script.
The boys find Nick and chase him away from the script, but as they are pursuing him, Falconer blocks their path. Their mentor from the theater barely rescues the boys, dueling Falconer in a thrilling contest of skill and cunning. Falconer receives a fatal thrust and dies, but not before their mentor exposes him as Bass, the notorious play stealer.
The book ends on a happy note, with Widge no longer living in fear of Falconer. He is true member of the company and even gets to perform at the royal court, a dream come true.
Best part of story, including ending:
Widge goes from a shy, ignorant kid to a confident, skilled actor.
Best scene in story:
Widge sneaks behind the scenes of the play so he can see and hear better. Unfortunately he ruins the whole production, causing a fire to break out in the theater. Although he is great at shorthand, he is not too good at concealment. Or keeping his cool. Or using common sense.
Opinion about the main character:
Widge is willing to betray the people who gave him a new life and trusted him. He only cares about his own skin.