Most extensive were the preparations at Rose Villa, Clapham Rise, in the occupation of Mr. Gattleton (a stock-broker in especially comfortable circumstances), and great was the anxiety of Mr. Gattleton’s interesting family, as the day fixed for the representation of the Private Play which had been ‘many months in preparation,’ approached. The whole family was infected with the mania for Private Theatricals; the house, usually so clean and tidy, was, to use Mr. Gattleton’s expressive description, ‘regularly turned out o’ windows;’ the large dining-room, dismantled of its furniture, and ornaments, presented a strange jumble of flats, flies, wings, lamps, bridges, clouds, thunder and lightning, festoons and flowers, daggers and foil, and various other messes in theatrical slang included under the comprehensive name of ‘properties.’ The bedrooms were crowded with scenery, the kitchen was occupied by carpenters. Rehearsals took place every other night in the drawing-room, and every sofa in the house was more or less damaged by the perseverance and spirit with which Mr. Sempronius Gattleton, and Miss Lucina, rehearsed the smothering scene in ‘Othello’—it having been determined that that tragedy should form the first portion of the evening’s entertainments.
‘When we’re a leetle more perfect, I think it will go admirably,’ said Mr. Sempronius, addressing his corps dramatique, at the conclusion of the hundred and fiftieth rehearsal. In consideration of his sustaining the trifling inconvenience of bearing all the expenses of the play, Mr. Sempronius had been, in the most handsome manner, unanimously elected stage-manager. ‘Evans,’ continued Mr. Gattleton, the younger, addressing a tall, thin, pale young gentleman, with extensive whiskers—‘Evans, you play Roderigo beautifully.’
‘Beautifully,’ echoed the three Miss Gattletons; for Mr. Evans was pronounced by all his lady friends to be ‘quite a dear.’ He looked so interesting, and had such lovely whiskers: to say nothing of his talent for writing verses in albums and playing the flute! Roderigo simpered and bowed.
‘But I think,’ added the manager, ‘you are hardly perfect in the—fall—in the fencing-scene, where you are—you understand?’
‘It’s very difficult,’ said Mr. Evans, thoughtfully; ‘I’ve fallen about, a good deal, in our counting-house lately, for practice, only I find it hurts one so. Being obliged to fall backward you see, it bruises one’s head a good deal.’
‘But you must take care you don’t knock a wing down,’ said Mr. Gattleton, the elder, who had been appointed prompter, and who took as much interest in the play as the youngest of the company. ‘The stage is very narrow, you know.’
‘Oh! don’t be afraid,’ said Mr. Evans, with a very self-satisfied air; ‘I shall fall with my head “off,” and then I can’t do any harm.’
‘But, egad,’ said the manager, rubbing his hands, ‘we shall make a decided hit in “Masaniello.” Harleigh sings that music admirably.’
Everybody echoed the sentiment. Mr. Harleigh smiled, and looked foolish—not an unusual thing with him—hummed’ Behold how brightly breaks the morning,’ and blushed as red as the fisherman’s nightcap he was trying on.
‘Let’s see,’ resumed the manager, telling the number on his fingers, ‘we shall have three dancing female peasants, besides Fenella, and four fishermen. Then, there’s our man Tom; he can have a pair of ducks of mine, and a check shirt of Bob’s, and a red nightcap, and he’ll do for another—that’s five. In the choruses, of course, we can sing at the sides; and in the market-scene we can walk about in cloaks and things. When the revolt takes place, Tom must keep rushing in on one side and out on the other, with a pickaxe, as fast as he can. The effect will be electrical; it will look exactly as if there were an immense number of ’em. And in the eruption-scene we must burn the red fire, and upset the tea-trays, and make all sorts of noises—and it’s sure to do.’
‘Sure! sure!’ cried all the performers unâ voce—and away hurried Mr. Sempronius Gattleton to wash the burnt cork off his face, and superintend the ‘setting up’ of some of the amateur-painted, but never-sufficiently-to-be-admired, scenery.
Mrs. Gattleton was a kind, good-tempered, vulgar soul, exceedingly fond of her husband and children, and entertaining only three dislikes. In the first place, she had a natural antipathy to anybody else’s unmarried daughters; in the second, she was in bodily fear of anything in the shape of ridicule; lastly—almost a necessary consequence of this feeling—she regarded, with feelings of the utmost horror, one Mrs. Joseph Porter over the way. However, the good folks of Clapham and its vicinity stood very much in awe of scandal and sarcasm; and thus Mrs. Joseph Porter was courted, and flattered, and caressed, and invited, for much the same reason that induces a poor author, without a farthing in his pocket, to behave with extraordinary civility to a twopenny postman.