“Pray you, sir, how
much carnation ribbon, may a man buy for a
remuneration?”—Comedy of Errors.
The living-room at The Rigs was the stage of many plays. Its uses ranged from the tent of a menagerie or the wigwam of an Indian brave to the Forest of Arden.
This December night it was a “wood near Athens,” and to Mhor, if to no one else, it faithfully represented the original. That true Elizabethan needed no aids to his imagination. “This is a wood,” said Mhor, and a wood it was. “Is all our company here?” and to him the wood was peopled by Quince and Snug, by Bottom the weaver, by Puck and Oberon. Titania and her court he reluctantly admitted were necessary to the play, but he did not try to visualise them, regarding them privately as blots. The love-scenes between Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, were omitted, because Jock said they were “awful silly.”
It was Friday evening, so Jock had put off learning his lessons till the next day, and, as Bully Bottom, was calling over the names of his cast.
“Are we all met?”
“Pat, pat,” said Mhor, who combined in his person all the other parts, “and here’s a marvellous convenient place for our rehearsal; this green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn brake our tiring-house; and we will do it in action as we will do it before the duke.”
Pamela Reston, in her usual place, the corner of the sofa beside the fire, threaded her needle with a bright silk thread, and watched the players amusedly.
“Did you ever think,” she asked Jean, who sat on a footstool beside her—a glowing figure in a Chinese coat given her by Pamela, engaged rather incongruously in darning one of Jock’s stockings—“did you ever think what it must have been like to see a Shakespeare play for the first time? Was the Globe filled, I wonder, with a quite unexpectant first night audience? And did they realise that the words they heard were deathless words? Imagine hearing for the first time:
’When daisies pied and
violets blue And lady-smocks all silver
and then—’The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.’ Did you ever try to write, Jean?”
“Pamela,” said Jean, “if you drop from Shakespeare to me in that sudden way you’ll be dizzy. I have thought of writing and trying to give a truthful picture of Scottish life—a cross between Drumtochty and The House with the Green Shutters—but I’m sure I shall never do it. And if by any chance I did accomplish it, it would probably be reviewed as a ‘feebly written story of life in a Scots provincial town,’ and then I would beat my pen into a hatpin and retire from the literary arena. I wonder how critics can bear to do it. I couldn’t sleep at nights for thinking of my victims—”
“You sentimental little absurdity! It wouldn’t be honest to praise poor work.”