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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Tableaux vivans at North Braes




Thursday, the 20th October, 185—, was an important day in our annals domestic. We rose early in the morning, our pulses fluttering in delicious anticipation of the evening, which, as it approached, found us a flushed, trembling, and excited band. What was it all about? What was the meaning of the mysterious whisperings and lengthened absences from the family sitting room, the sly smiles, muffled shrieks, hammerings, slamming of doors, bursts of laughter, or as often of fierce argumentative declamation, that turned the whole household topsy-turvy for twenty-four hours?

Let me present to you the programme of the evening’s performance, and also inform you that it was our maiden effort—very literally so, for we are a wild independent band of young ladies, full of spirits, fun, mischief, love of mystery, and all the other distinguishing traits of young lady-hood from twelve to eighteen.

Tableaux Vivans, North Braes, Oct. 20th, 185—.
Scene I. —Statue-scene from the “Winter’s Tale.”
Scene II. —Last interview of King Charles I. with his family.
Scene III. —Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond in the Bower.
Scene IV. —Murder of the Princes in the Tower.
Scene V. —Mary Queen of Scots at Supper in Lochleven Castle.

After this, it is sufficient to say that the evening for representing these telling subjects from history and romance had arrived, and the hearts of the five actors were in quite an unusual state of commotion.

And now you must come with me into the queer, old-fashioned drawing-room at North Braes, where you shall be admitted behind the curtain; and to begin at the beginning, you must observe what a capital old room it is for the purpose. Though not very large, it seems at one time to have been divided into two apartments of unequal size, for there is a large beam in the ceiling, which, while it is no ornament to the room in general, comes in most excellently on the present occasion, for we have hung our red curtain from it very successfully. A door in the wall leads into sister Katy’s bedroom. That is our green-room to-night. Only see what a litter it is in! All my mother’s best gowns and laces, and a heterogeneous collection of the family feathers, jewels, and finery, grease and powder boxes, rouge pots, burnt corks, &c., in most admired disorder; in the midst of which, standing on the end of an old candle-box (which will presently be covered with a crimson table-cloth) Hermione is mounted in her white petticoat, being pinned into a sheet, after the most antique fashion of sculpture, most gracefully draped by Katy, who is “our eldest,” and who, as having travelled on the Continent, and having seen no end of statues in foreign galleries of art, reigns among us with an absolute and undisputed authority in all matters of taste and art—darling Katy, the most charming, beautiful, graceful, and much beloved young female in all our experience.

We all agree that Katy is the flower of our flock, and never saw the girl who could hold a candle to her. But Katy is not in good humour just at this moment, for the statue will not assume just that position that she considers “the thing.” (Jenny, by-the-bye, does the statue.) “Oh, Jenny! you tormenting creature! if you move about so much, all my pins will come out. Stay, that’s it! Gracious, how splendid! See, girls, isn’t Jenny perfection? Did you ever see anything so like marble?” And Hermione stands complete upon her candle-box, surrounded by a grotesque crew of admirers, in all stages of habille and deshabille.

But in a little all is ready. Perdita has donned her yellow silk skirt and purple velvet jacket, and kneels at the feet of the maternal marble. Leontes, who is personated by Bessy (she always does the man’s parts, and has donned a ferocious pair of whiskers and a pink silk opera-cloak, thrown in kingly fashion over one shoulder), stretches out his arms towards the object of his affections. Hermione regards him with a tender smile and right arm crossed statue-wise on her breast. Pauline is in the act of withdrawing the soft white curtain that shrouded the statue, and looks at Leontes with gentle reproach and interest. Now we are all ready, and Katy has run round to the front of the scenes, to marshal in the company to their places. We hear them coming, and our hearts begin to beat rather thick. We look at each other, and say softly, “Will it do?” and think we will just de-attitudinise ourselves for a moment, and the statue is in the act of shaking her fist at Leontes, who is grinning in a very unregal manner, when Katy puts in her anxious face between the curtains, and says, “Now!” In an instant the statue folds her arms and fixes her tender gaze, the other figures resume their appropriate attitudes, and the curtain is slowly drawn aside. All is silent: then we hear the applauding voices, clapping of hands, and my dear father’s voice calling out above all, “Beautiful! well done! very pretty, very classical!” Dear, dear father! he is always pleased and proud of his girls—ever the first to cheer us on and cry “Well done!” Don’t we love him for it? But pop goes the curtain, just as we were beginning to fear we must wink our eyelids, and we feel it has been a success, for “Encore, encore,” tells us we shall have to do it over again. And so on through the other scenes, which I need not depict, but will leave to your brilliant imagination, reader, only assuring you that they were all far prettier than you can fancy; that our Katy made a royal Eleanor; and that we had a pair of very telling ruffians to smother the innocents in the Tower; and though the innocents were winking up all the time, to see what was going on, nobody saw;—that the last interview of His Sacred Majesty, Charles I. (in black silk stockings, and pink rosettes on his shoes), with his family, almost drew tears from all eyes: that poor Bessy got her hair dusted over by accident with soft sugar, instead of flour, but looked splendid in spite of it; and that when we sat down to my mother’s charming hot supper, we all voted “Tableaux Vivans” the best and most delightful family entertainment that could be devised, on the long candle-light evenings. It keeps us well rubbed up in history, and cultivates our imagination (though my mother says there is no need of that), improves our taste, gives us always something to talk about, puts the whole family into a good humour, and makes my dear father think he has got the five cleverest girls in the world.