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CHAPTER VI—“THE END OF THE PLAY”
ON the next morning, and, indeed, on all of those left of their stay, the six housekeepers were up at an alarmingly early hour, so that the sun, accustomed to being the earliest of all risers, felt himself quite behindhand and outshone.

In vain he clambered up over the hillside in a desperate hurry; the girls were always before him with lighted candles. As for the clock, it held up its hands with astonishment, and struck five shrill exclamation points of surprise to see six wide-awake young persons tumbling out of their warm nests before the world was lighted or heated.

The day’s hours were hardly enough for the day’s plans, for there were farewell coasting, skating, and sleighing parties, besides active daily preparations for the pantomime. The costumes of the hoys were gorgeous to behold, and were fashioned entirely by the girls’ clever fingers. They consisted of scarlet or blue flannel shirts, short plaid kilts, colored stockings striped with braid, sashes worn over shoulders, and jaunty little caps with bobbing quills.

On the last happy evening of their stay, the eventful evening of “Young Lochinvar,” the guests gathered from all the surrounding country to see the frolic. There were people from North Edgewood, South Edgewood, East Edge-wood, and West Edgewood; from Edgewood Upper Corner, Edgewood Lower Corner, and Edgewood Four Corners, and everybody had brought his uncles and cousins.

In the big dressing-room the young actors were assembled,—and fortunately in a high state of exuberance and excitement, else they would have been decidedly frightened at the ordeal before them. Jo, mirror in hand, was trying to make herself look seventy; and, though she had not succeeded, she had transformed herself into a very presentable Scottish dame, with her short satin gown and apron, lace kerchief and spectacles. Edith was giving a pair of pointed burnt-cork eyebrows to Hugh, that he might wear a sufficiently dashing and defiant countenance for Lochinvar, while Jack stood before the glass practicing his meek expression for the jilted bridegroom.



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Bell had sunk into a chair, and folded her hands to “get up” her courage. As to her dress, nobody knew whether it was the proper one for a Scottish bride or not; but it was the only available thing, and certainly she looked in it a very bewitching and sufficient excuse for Lochinvar’s rash folly. It was of some shining white material, and came below the ankle, just showing a pair of jaunty high-heeled slippers; the skirt was ‘broidered and flounced to the belt, the waist simple and full, with short puffed sleeves; while a bridal veil and dainty crown of flowers made her as winsome and bonny as a white Scottish rose. Emma Jane Perkins stood in one corner paralyzed by her own good looks. Her red hair was waved and hanging in her neck, and her dress was white. She hoped she could be trusted to bring in this overpowering weight of beauty at the right moment, but felt a little doubtful.

Uncle Harry stumbled in at the low door.

“Are you ready, young fry?” asked he. “It is half-past seven, and we ought to begin.”

“Put out the footlights, give the people back their money, and tell them the prima donna is dangerously ill!” gasped Bell, faintly, fanning herself with a box-cover. “I don’t believe I can ever do it. Hugh, are you perfectly sure our horse won’t break down on the stage when we elope?”

“Calm yourself, ‘fair Ellen,’ and trust to my horsemanship. Doesn’t the poem say:


‘Through all the wide Border his steed

was the best?


“And doesn’t this exactly embody Scott’s idea?”—pointing to a wild and cross-eyed wooden effigy mounted on a pair of trucks.





You have all read Sir Walter Scott’s poem of “Young Lochinvar,” and many a time, I hope, for they are brave old verses:


Oh, young Lochinvar is come out of the

West,

Through all the wide Border his steed

was the best,

And, save his good broadsword, he

weapons had none;

He rode all unarmed, and he rode all

alone.

So faithful in love, and so dauntless in

war,

There never was knight like the young

Lochinvar.


And then, you remember, the young knight rode fast and far, stayed not for brakes, stopped not for stones, but all in vain; for ere he alighted at Netherby Gate, the fair Ellen, overcome by parental authority, had consented to be married to another:


For a laggard in love and a dastard in

war

Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave

Lochinvar.


But he, nothing daunted, boldly entered the bridal hall among bridemen and bridemaids and kinsmen, thereby raising so general a commotion that the bride’s father cried at once, the poor craven bridegroom being struck quite dumb:


“Oh, come ye in peace here, or coyne ye

inivar,

Or to dance at our bridal, young Lord

Lochinvar?”


The lover answers with apparent indifference that though he has in past times been exceedingly fond of the young person called Ellen, he has now merely come to tread a measure and drink one cup of wine with her, for although love swells like the tide, it ebbs like it also. So he drinks her health, while she sighs and blushes, weeps and smiles, alternately; then he takes her soft hand, her parents fretting and fuming the while, and leads the dance with her,—he so stately, she so lovely, that they are the subject of much envy, admiration, and sympathy. But while thus treading the measure, he whispers in her ear something to which she apparently consents without much unwillingness, and at the right moment they dance out from the crowd of kinsmen to the door of the great hall, where in the darkness the charger stands ready saddled. Quick as thought the dauntless lover swings his fair Ellen lightly up, springs before her on the saddle, and they dash furiously away:


“She is won! We are gone, over ban,

bush, and scaur;

They’ll have fleet steeds that follow

quoth young Lochinvar.


As soon as their flight is discovered, there is wild excitement and hasty mounting of all the Netherby Clan; there is racing and chasing over the fields, but “the laggard in love and the dastard in war” never recovers his lost Ellen.


So daring in love, and so dauntless in

war,

Have ye e’er heard of gallant like

young Lochinvar?


Uncle Harry read the poem through in such a stirring way that the audience was fairly warmed into interest; then, standing by the side of the stage with the curtain rolled up, he read it again, line by line, or verse by verse, to explain the action.

During the first stanza, Lochinvar made his triumphal entrance, riding a prancing hobby-horse with a sweeping tail of raveled rope, and a mane to match, gorgeous trappings adorned with sleigh-bells and ornamental paper designs, and bunches of cotton tacked on for flecks of foam.

Lochinvar himself wore gray pasteboard armor, a pair of carpet slippers with ferocious spurs, red mittens, and carried a huge carving-knife. His costume alone was food for amusement, but the manner in which he careered wildly about the stage, displaying his valorous horsemanship as he rode to the wedding, was perfectly irresistible.

The next scene opened in Netherby Hall, showing the bridal party all assembled in gala dress. Into this family gathering presently strode the determined lover, with his carving-knife sheathed for politeness’ sake. Then followed a comical pantomime between the angry parents, who demanded his intentions, and the adroit Lochinvar, who declared them to be peaceful. The father (Geoffrey Strong) at last gave him unwilling permission to drink one cup of wine and tread one measure with the bride. She kissed the goblet (a tin quart measure), he quaffed off the spirit, and threw down the cup. Pair Ellen bridled with pleasure, and promenaded about the room on his arm, while the bridegroom looked on wretchedly, the parents quarreled, and the bride-maidens whispered:


“‘Tivere better by far

To have matched our fair cousin with

young Lochinvar.”


At the first opportunity, the guests walked leisurely out, and young Lochinvar seized an imaginary chance to draw Ellen hastily back into the supper room. He whispered the magic word into her ear, she started in horror and drew back; he urged; she demurred; he pleaded; she showed signs of surrender; he begged on his bended knees; she yielded at length to the plan of the elopement, with all its delightful risks. Then Lochinvar darted to the outside door and brought in his charger,—rather an unique proceeding, perhaps, but necessary under the circumstances, inasmuch as the audience could not be transported to the proper scene of the mounting. As the flight was to be made on horseback, much ingenuity and labor were needed to arrange it artistically. The horse’s head was the work of Geoff’s hand, and for meekness of expression, jadedness, utterly-cast-down-and-worn-out-ness, it stood absolutely unrivalled. A pair of trucks were secreted beneath the horse-blankets, and the front legs of the animal pranced gaily out in front, taking that startling and decided curve only seen in pictures of mowing-machines and horseraces. Lochinvar quieted his fiery beast, and swung Ellen into the saddle, leaped up after her, waved his tall hat in triumph, and started off at a snail’s pace, the horse being dragged by a rope from behind the scenes. When half way across the stage, Ellen clasped her lover’s arm and seemed to have forgotten something. Everybody in the room at once guessed it must be some part of her trousseau. She explained earnestly in pantomime; Lochinvar refused to return; she insisted; he remained firm; she pouted and seemingly said that she wouldn’t elope at all unless she could have her own way. He relented, they went back to Netherby Hall, and Ellen ran up a secret stairway and came down laden with maidenly traps. Greatly to the merriment of the observers, she loaded them on the docile horse in the very face of Lochinvar’s displeasure—two small looking-glasses, a bird-cage, and a French bonnet. She then leisurely drew on a pair of huge India rubbers, unfurled a yellow linen umbrella, and just as her lover’s patience was ebbing, suffered herself to be remounted. The second trip across the stage was accomplished in safety, though with anything but the fleetness common to elopements either in life or in poetry.

Then came the pursuit—a most graphic and stirring scene, giving large opportunities to the supernumerary characters. Four bridemen on dashing hobbyhorses, jumping fences, leaping bars and ditches in hot excitement; four bride-maids, with handkerchiefs tied over their heads, running hither and thither in confusion; the old mother and father, limping in and straining their eyes for a sight of their refractory daughter; and last of all, poor Jack, the deserted bridegroom, on foot, with never a horse left to him, puffing and panting in his angry chase.

It was done! How people laughed till they cried, how they continued to laugh for five minutes afterward, I cannot begin to tell you. The performance had been the perfection of fun from first to last, and seemed all the more inspiring because it was original with the bright bevy of young folks who had enacted the poem. Uncle Harry had renewed his youth, and received the plaudits of the crowd wi............
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