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CHAPTER FOUR

THE ASTOR THEATRE, built in 1902 as the grandiosely titled Liverpool Opera House, was added on to the back of what once was the Town Hall. The theatre had been open all day for ticket-sales and all the doors had been propped open to allow the Atlantic breeze to blow through the theatre, in an effort to cool the non-air-conditioned space. Saturday evening could not come fast enough for Scarlett, yet in another way she was still nervous and wanted to delay its arrival. But there was no stopping time and the first act would open in less than two hours. Stage hands had been in and out all day long, making sure that everything was as it should be.

As an added touch she had even thought to arrange for a vendor to set up an ice cream stand, outside the theatre, to accommodate the long line of theater goers in the extreme summer heat, and young girls wandered back and forth in period costume with umbrellas to shield the line-up. It was absolutely perfect. It made the wait easier as they all speculated about the performance that they would soon see and had heard so much about.

Scarlett had been on pins and needles all day long and heaven help anyone who approached her with an unnecessary question. By the time the actors were heading into the green room, she had heard that every ticket had been sold for both performances. It was every playwright’s dream to have a full house for their play’s premiere. Her dream was being fulfilled.

 

Marc and another of Scarlett’s long-time friends, Jennifer, had volunteered to act as ushers. Shauna agreed to take tickets at the door and to hand out programs. Corina was in her usual spot in the box office turning away late-comers who had not had to foresight to buy tickets in advance, but as a half-hearted consolation she was pre-selling the next year’s performances. Scarlett straightened Marc’s top hat. She teased him saying that he looked more like a magician than an usher, as she ran her hand over his waist coat.

Marc kissed her nose, and said, “You’re amazing. I love you so much. You’ve done it, just like you said you would.”

“It’s not done yet…Act I hasn’t even opened.”

“They’ll love it,” Marc said, reassuringly.

She smiled as she swept backstage and nodded to her stage manager, Darren, who was now, as theatre tradition always had it, in full charge of the show. She walked down the narrow set of stairs and glided through the dressing rooms into the Green Room and amongst the actors, loving the way that adrenaline flowed so high on opening night. Katy and Heather were fussing over the cast as they donned their costumes, wigs and makeup. Without a word she headed back up the stairs and at two minutes before show time she found her seat, in the back left corner, number T1. Bruce was at her right, in the lighting and sound box. He gave her a reassuring nod and two thumbs-up.

 

She looked around and saw that every seat in the theatre had been sold, even the few in the balcony, just like she Corina had earlier said. Paul, the theatre manager, had even placed rows of folding chairs at the very wide space at the front of the house, increasing the ticket sales by an additional eighty seats. Not one single person complained about being so close to the stage, and many said that they preferred that proximity for it made them feel more part of the play.

The theatre lights finally dimmed and a hush fell over the audience. Scarlett held her breath as she waited for full darkness and in full anticipation for the lights to come up on the stage.

The lights rose and the magic of theatre began. Four child actors sat at the front of the stage to the right. They had a roughly cut board-game with a number of chestnuts and seashells on it. Three children sat on the sofa reading books. Perkins was at his desk staring at the pages of his open journal. His desk was positioned across from the fireplace in the sitting room. Next to him the door of his counting room was partially open. A flame flickered in the fireplace. All actors were frozen in time. In the control booth, the stage manager whispered into his microphone and Bruce adjusted the lighting levels to rise a little higher on the stage.

A projection on the back wall of the stage indicated ‘Early Spring 1812’. It faded away as Juba, a black man-servant entered the stage with an arm full of firewood. All of the actors came to life as Juba placed it in the wood box and stoked the fire. The children moved the pieces on the board-game and giggled, the children that were on the sofa traded books and began turning the pages and Perkins looked up from his desk.

“It’s a cold one, Master Perkins,” Juba said, just as there was a knock at the door. Miss Ella, the black maid, invited Mr. Coomber into the foyer and out of the cold.

“My ink well was frozen again this morning. It’ll be at least another month before I can move back into my counting room,” Perkins said, followed by a cough, before he began writing again.

“It should warm up by midday,” Juba said. He exited the stage as Mr. Coomber came in.

Perkins raised his head again from his books, stood, rubbed his hands together as if to warm them and limped across the room to greet Coomber. They shook hands.

“This lameness in my knee and leg has slowed me some,” Perkins said as they both moved towards the wingback chairs and sat near the fire. “Last week I tried camphor and vinegar, added the white of an egg and salt. Didn’t do much bloody good. This week I’ve been applying the essence of mustard, some kind of patent medicine of Whiteheads. Still to no wretched effect.” Perkins shook his head in frustration and continued, “I suppose you’re here to tell me that we need a crew out on the docks. I heard the ship Hannah is a coming in. I’m told she’s heaving aback. Her copper must have given out. No doubt her hull is loaded with barnacles and mussels. Fools should have cleaned it before she headed north.” He furrowed his brows in concentration.

An old lady in the back of the audience whispered, loudly, “What did he say, what did he say?”

“Shhhh,” hissed her companion helpfully.

Coomber said, “I hear they’re comin’ in from Barbados, with rum, sugar and tobacco and no doubt looking for dried fish for the return. That’s a long run in bad weather.”

“Plus they likely took on more than they ought to have. I suppose they’re simply trying to satisfy the demand. What’s the situation with our supply of dried cod?”

“Forty barrels and counting. I guess I best get on and get a crew lined up, that’ll go east as soon as the Avon s ready to sail. I wasn’t sure if you knew the Hannah was coming in,” Coomber said.

“Yes, I heard the boys chattering away as they were paddling out in the longboats,” Perkins said, pointing towards the audience.

Coomber stood and left the stage.

Perkins moved back to his desk, sat, released a big sigh and massaged his leg as if attempting to relieve some of the pain. The actor groaned, pretending discomfort, as he turned, picked up his quill, dipped it into the inkwell and began writing in his journal once again.

“The Hannah is coming in from Barbados.” he said with a sigh, as Elizabeth entered the stage from Perkins’ counting room. He raised his head from his books, looking like a very sick man then wiped his brow.

She nodded, “I hope she’s bringing in a good stock of sugar. We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel these past few weeks, seems we’re always out of sugar. Have you heard that Miss Haymew is ill again? It appears that after all these years of being in a poorly state that she might actually be sick this time,” Elizabeth said. The audience laughed quietly.

“Why are they all laughing?” asked the old lady in the balcony.

“Shhhh,” said her companion.

On the stage, Elizabeth turned to stand with her back to the fire and raised the back of her dress pretending to soak up the heat.

“I suppose we should pay her a call but this damned leg is still lame. Doc Winters was by earlier and says it’s debilitation; needs circulation of the blood and fluids. He advised me to bathe it in strong pickle juice twice a day,” he said, rubbing his leg again.

“I could send Samson to get some pickling fluid if you think it will ease the pain,” Elizabeth said.

“I’d walk out myself but for this weather; maybe Doc Winters should have left me a new leg? I’ve been cooped up too long. Now I fear that this rain is going to spoil the sledding. If it ain’t raining it’s snowing. This weather is causing all kinds of delays. We gotta get the brig filled too. Her hold is hardly half full of pine wood and now the Avon and Hannah needs to be loaded with the dried cod. It’s just one darned thing after another.” The actor pretended frustration with the weather, his ill health and life.

“It has been one long winter. We’re all feeling that it’ll never end. I hear that Miss Freemark is doing no better.” Elizabeth reported more of the latest as she moved to the sofa, straightened the cushions and then returned to the fire to toss another log onto the coals. “I saw her yesterday. I hadn’t seen her for weeks and she’s lost a fair amount of flesh. She looks mighty pale and weak and only half alive. I fear she’s got consumption. Doesn’t look to me that she’ll see the summer.”

The door knocker banged noisily, disrupting their conversation. With hardly a pause Mrs. Diana Lacewood and Sam Baxter rushed onto the stage practically barreling over Ella. Mr. Baxter was carrying a stick that had been broken in two pieces. Mrs. Lacewood had a bloody head. They were both talking at once as Baxter hopped around nervously. Mrs. Lacewood accused Baxter of breaking the log over her head and Baxter, in his drunken state, was giving it his best to defend his position. The children sat wide-eyed looking at Baxter. The audience laughed, loving this almost-slapstick interruption.

“Baxter here hit me over the head with that stick and broke it,” she said, loudly.

“What did she hit him with?” enquired the old lady at the back.

“No! He hit her with a stick,” whispered the friend.

“I did no such a thing,” said Baxter defensively and rather drunkenly, the actor slurring his words. The stage manager wondered if he had he been into the sauce in the green room? Was he acting at all?

Perkins shook his head disgustedly. No one in the crowd knew that Christian, the actor playing Perkins, was also wondering if the other actor was plastered. Perkins got out of his chair.

“Please, Mrs. Lacewood and Mr. Baxter,” Perkins raised his hand and said loudly, clearly frustrated and trying to be heard. “We’ll discuss this when you’re both more rational and sober. Elizabeth, please take Mrs. Lacewood into the kitchen and have Ella tend to her wounds. Call Doc Winters if necessary. And Baxter, get on out of here and sober up.”

Baxter had no sooner left when Mr. Clive Cole knocked on the rose-decorated ring at the front door. His knock and the Lacewood incident had ended any further discussion of people dying, and, for that, Perkins looked grateful. Elizabeth answered the door as Perkins turned towards his desk. He paused, curious as to who might be disturbing him once again.

“Mr. Cole. Come on in out of the cold,” she said.

“Good afternoon ma’am,” Cole said as they entered the main part of the stage.

Perkins moved towards the fire and sat in his favorite chair, sliding it even nearer the fire. “Elizabeth, would you be so kind as to serve us tea?” he asked.

She nodded and left the stage.

“The snow is decaying fast with this rain,” Mr. Cole said and sat in the chair opposite Perkins. He rubbed his hands together, miming the warmth of the fire.

Perkins said, “Yes, it is…even the weather isn’t predictable. Now the battalion has been exercising for the past five weeks. Something’s up…I fear we have a war coming, with the artillery company firing at the targets. The soldiers aren’t happy either with this weather. And on top of that they’re being pushed too hard. This rain also makes it wet and disagreeable enough for us, let alone for the men to parade. It’s no wonder we have deserters.”

“Two schooners arrived from Halifax this morning with troops. It makes one anxious for what’s a coming,” Cole commented. “I fear the worst,” he added with a shake of his head.

Ella entered from the counting room and placed the tray of tea on a table near the fireplace. She made believe pouring the tea and handed each of the men a cup. The children were still at play with the game-board and reading.

“Gives one more peace when the soldiers are out for exercise instead of all that blasting away,” Perkins said as he added pretend sugar to his tea and stirred it.

“We had two schooners moored at the head of the bay. Then in the night three more schooners came in and anchored there. The worrying part is that they’re showing American flags.” Cole informed Perkins.

“Mr. Alexson was in buying flour and he told my son Roger, over at the store, that the first two came up from LaHave. They way he tells it, the three schooners are from Boston. That is, according to Mr. Wylie who told Mr. Bullmack who passed word to Alexson then my son. Sounds as though they’re bound for Halifax with flour and naval stores. Free Trade is supposed to be continued to mid May in spite of the fact that it sounds like there is war in the air. That’s all we need, another bloody war!”

“They must have put in on account of the weather,” Cole surmised.

“Or other motives,” Perkins suggested as the children stopped reading, leaving their books on the sofa. They went through the door to the counting room.

“Well I best get down to the docks and see if they need a hand on the Hannah,” Cole stated, as he exited.

Perkins moved back to his desk. There was a loud crash backstage as Cole knocked over the props table in the dark. Scarlet sighed heavily. Miss Ella, looking flustered, entered the stage to remove the tea tray and tossed another log on the fire. One of the stage hands had the fulltime job of pulling the logs from the back of the fireplace as they were added at the front. Scarlett was pleased to see that he at least was doing his job, and not stumbling in the dark, or worse, drunk. The children were still pretending to play at the game when Mrs. Lacewood returned to the stage to discuss the situation that she had had with Baxter. She wore a wide bandage on her head, twisted her hat in her hand and stood while she talked with Perkins.

“You’re the magistrate. I’d like to have a warrant issued against Baxter. He’s a beast of a man.”

“Yes…but are you sure you want to do that?” asked Perkins. The actor sighed heavily.

“Yes,” she answered simply and pursed her lips together firmly.

“How’s your head?”

“How’s her what,” croaked the old lady at the back.

“It’s not as bad as it looks. There’s more blood than injury,” said the actor trying to ignore the interruption and continued, “I’ll leave you to write up the warrant.” At that she left the stage.

Perkins continued at his books. He mumbled what he was writing, “Miss Haymew, sick again, Mrs. Freemark appears to be dying, Mrs. Lacewood had a head injury due to an altercation with Baxter. Baxter appears to be drinking again.” He ended by making an exaggerated effort of placing the dot at the end of the exclamation mark.

Elizabeth entered the stage and sat at the fire. She said, “Last week it was Daniel Flybottom accused of assaulting and ravishing the widow Mary Falcon. It was later found out that it was actually Marcel Freeze. Now we have Mrs. Lacewood and Baxter. At least they were here together so it’s unlikely that there’s another villain.”

“This whole town is falling apart,” Perkins sighed, getting up and pacing. “Now I fear we’ll soon be facing a war.”

“But it’s not your responsibility. You’re making yourself sick with all your involvement. You can’t change people and you can’t top war.”

Perkins shook his head sadly. Just then the stage manager pressed a button and the sound effect of a group of troops marching by was heard.

“You hear that?” he said, motioning to the front of the stage. “That’s just a reminder of what’s yet to come.” The sounds of marching troops faded away.

There was a knock at the door and Miss Ella showed Captain Black onto the stage. Elizabeth left the stage through Perkins’ counting room.

“Come in Captain Black and sit by the fire,” Perkins said and shivered. “Makes one wonder if this winter is to ever end.”

Black moved to a chair and sat down. He said, “I just got in from Halifax and there’s a lot of rumbling of war.”

“I know what you’re saying. I’ve been here for fifty years and I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be aiming a gun at my own brothers in Connecticut. War never made sense to me but as long as man is on this earth it’ll go on, I suppose,” Perkins said, shaking his head in disgust.

“Speaking of war…it seems that people are always battling over something. Did you hear about the fight that went on at the docks over a keg of whiskey? Doc Winters was called in and patched up Captain Sloan. He’d got caught up in the brawl, though none of it was his doing, and took a cut to his arm. The ironic thing is that he doesn’t take a drop of booze himself,” Black said.

Perkins scratched his head in obvious thought. “All this, plus now I have to write an affidavit for Mrs. Gallant’s insurance company. Captain Gallant’s brig, the Olive, went down, leaving his widow in a sorry mess. She’s thinks he’s still alive somewhere. Grief does strange things to people sometimes. It’s likely she’s out of her mind.” After a pause he added, “Have the Americans put any men ashore?”

“None reported yet,” Black said, taking a deep breath as he got up to leave. “I best get on.” He exited the stage.

At this point a loud bellow of rage came from the green-room, fully audible to the audience. “The real thing is better than acting, I tell you!” It was the voice of the actor playing Baxter. His bottle had been taken from him. Now, even the audience knew that it was not just an act…he was drunk.

Elizabeth entered the stage as Captain Black left. Perkins made an effort to stand but his leg troubled him too much. He flopped back into the chair.

“See what I told you. You’re doing too much. This town will be the death of you. Samson suggests you try rubbing your leg with rum,” she said, waving the bottle of rum.

“It might be worth a try.” Perkins swept his hand over his brow, as if with that motion he could remove all his pain. “Might be better just drinking it. I wonder sometimes if Baxter has it right, going through life in a haze,” he said.

“All we need is another Mr. Baxter. I’m not sure if I could bear that,” Elizabeth said, teasingly, as she slid a stool near the fire and placed his leg upon it. She knelt to apply the rum.

Perkins looked out of the window and said, “Winter’s not over. It’s been one to remember – long and cold. I suppose Juba and Joshua should butcher that black ox while it’s still cold enough to keep the meat. John Smart from out at Milton was wanting half the beast at four dollars. That should still leave us with two hundred pounds of beef for the family. I would that that should fill the stores for awhile,” Perkins said weakly as if those would be his last words.

Elizabeth continued, “See that? You’re too worn out to even think about that stuff. I’ll take care of it, but I fear out salt supply is running low. We’ll need a far bit if we’re thinking of slaughtering. To lighten your mood you might like to know that Mrs. Thompson has delivered a daughter last night. You do know that Captain Thompson has been gone near one year and seven months?” Elizabeth said, raising her eyebrows in an all-knowing way. Before Perkins had a chance to comment she went on, “And Janey Johnson from across the river, she’s a single woman, was also delivered of a son. This is such a great disgrace. Until recently not one bastard has ever been born in Liverpool.” Elizabeth paused waiting for the audience’s snickering to fade away. “All that and now you’re sick.”

“I’m not sick…I just have a bad leg. I hear that Captain John McCoy had a gentleman passenger step ashore a couple of weeks back and he stayed at widow Ballard’s Boarding House. Had you heard?” At Elizabeth’s shake of her head he continued, “He appeared to be a gentleman of a pleasant turn. It seemed his business here must have been of a private nature for he just walked through town, proud as can be, as if he had a vested interest, and appeared to be pleased with everything. I wonder what he’d think if he knew the problems that we have?”

“Knew what? You mean about the bad winter or the children?”

“The children of course,” Perkins said, as if there was no doubt.

“Is it possible that he might be looking to settle here?” Elizabeth asked.

“More gentlemen would be welcomed. I had a notion he was interested in staying and then he left on the Mary without a word about returning. Though who can you trust these days? I wonder if he’s a spy. Damn those Kings Orange Rangers for leaving us here undefended, they should still be here. They would make me feel a whole lot more secure.”

She finished rubbing his leg and knee and rolled his trouser leg down.

“It seems to have had a good effect already. I’m not sure if it’s the manipulation or the alcohol,” Perkins admitted. “Guess I won’t have to drink it after all.” The audience snickered.

With a sweep of his hand he invited her to sit. She threw another log on the fire which was quickly removed back-stage by the stagehand and the flame increased. Perkins leaned back in his chair. His leg was still on the stool, near the fire, as if soaking up the warmth of the flames. She laid a blanket over his legs and sat in the chair opposite him.

Elizabeth said, “Mrs. John Stoner was fined forty one shillings for cussing Mrs. Jack Sloan.”

“They can well enough afford the fine. I wonder what she said?” he asked, smiling weakly.

“Don’t we all,” she said, followed with a chuckle. “I heard that it had something to do with who had the best stove.” Both paused in thought. “I suppose I could have got into that conversation since ours is on its last legs. Those Captain’s wives don’t know how good they have it.” Elizabeth continued without pause, “By the way, old man Thomas Pearson, the caulker, died.”

“What’s this play about?” The old lady near the front row wondered aloud.

Perkins moved back to his desk. Elizabeth turned to leave the stage just as there was a knock at the door. She opened it.

“Come in Captain Johnson, Simeon is expecting you.”

Captain Johnson moved across the stage, to be nearer the fire. He rubbed his hands together vigorously, miming the warmth of the flames. “Worms have taken the birch plank and have eaten it all to a honey comb.” He spoke as he sat, still rubbing his cold hands, as if trying to stimulate some circulation. Perkins stood, moved nearer the fire and winced in pain which had Johnson say, “You should get that leg seen to.”

“Doc’s been and gone. Any news of war? The troops parade past my door every day. There was a time when I found comfort in their trooping. Those days are gone with the Kings Rangers no longer here.”

“We had a report that an American fleet was seen off Halifax. Came and went like ghost ships. Then to make matters worse two of our ships were burnt in Chester Basin and another dismasted.”

“I suppose we all know what’s coming.”

“One can’t get all bogged down in that and come out in good health. Thank goodness there’s a little good news. Lumber is now up to seven pounds ten and rising,” Johnson said.

Perkins waved that last statement away as Johnson got up to leave. “It’ll take a lot more than the price of lumber to make me feel better,” he said.

The old lady at the back now slept soundly, but quietly. Elizabeth entered the stage as Captain Johnson left.

“I’m expecting Mr. Henry and Mr. Freemark for a meeting of the trustees of the Chapel,” Perkins said.

At the knock on the door Elizabeth said, “That must be them now. I’ll bring in the tea.”

The chapel visitors entered the stage.

The actor playing Mr. Freemark opened the ledger and placed it on the table to record the day’s decisions. Ella rushed in with a tray of tea and a plate with pieces of cake when Freemark said, “I had young Kline measure the church grounds. It appears that there’s adequate land to build a home for the preacher. If we place it on the southern part of the Chapel Grounds it shouldn’t encroach on the cemetery. Though one wonders how long it’ll be before that space is filled.”

“If we’re facing war then who knows, maybe the whole town will die off. But in the meanwhile, I suppose the preacher still needs a home. I reckon thirty two feet by twenty five feet should be suitable,” Perkins suggested.

“One story with eight foot walls should suffice?” Mr. Henry said.

“I’d say it’s more than adequate. Look at what I live in. My ink in the ink-well was frozen again last night. I live very simply here. Doesn’t it seem out of balance with all those sea captains living in mansions and in such luxury? Their entire top floors are filled with chamber-maids when it’s folks like us who keeps the town running smoothly. They might rule the seas but without us…,” Perkins let the sentence trail away.

“It’s the way of the Lord,” Henry said, and knowing that complaining never solved anything he went on. “If we stick to those measurements the house for the preacher would run up to three hundred pounds. Money like that is darned hard to come by in these times,” he added as he mimicked stirring milk into his tea. He picked up the cup and took a sip then chose the largest piece of cake and took a bite. He nodded.

“Maybe we ought to knock on the doors of some of those rich Captains’ homes.” Perkins said, bitterly. “I suppose we could get them to subscribe at least some of the cost of the building.”

“I thought of that one myself. Captain Beck has already subscribed thirty pounds, four other trustees have offered up twenty five pounds apiece and the preacher, ten pounds,” Freemark said and noted.

“I’m good for twenty five pounds,” Henry added, the actor making the sound of taking another slurp of tea.

“That gives us one hundred and sixty five pounds in subscription. It’s a good start.”

“I sure don’t have the money to spare but if we’re all in agreement we can rally around for some more subscriptions. We have enough sea captains to approach,” Perkins said.

“Agreed, agreed, agreed,” they said in turn.

“That should take care of that. Meeting’s adjourned,” Perkins stated as the two other actors got up and exited. Elizabeth entered.

“I think I’ll take to my bed,” Perkins said.

The lights went down briefly for a scene change. The audience was so engrossed that it took them a few seconds to respond. Then shouts, whistles and clapping filled the theatre, though none had any idea of where the story was going.

 

Scarlett got a reassuring nod from Bruce, the sound and lighting man. They both knew that the play was going well, aside from the drunken Baxter, but thankfully he had no further parts in the play. The old lady at the back had been woken and taken home. Scarlett could see the changes that she hoped would soon develop, spinning off from the success of her production. She had always wanted to have the theatre expanded into the old town hall, making it the main entrance. It would be so grand. They could serve drinks and snacks in the intermissions. She could almost hear the tinkle of crystal wine glasses and see the lights twinkling from the chandelier at the top of the stairs. What was now a museum and art galleries could be sitting rooms and shops, and the theatre-goers could mingle there or on the wide staircases. Scarlett quietly left the theatre before the scene changed. Just outside the door she snuggled into Marc’s arms. She would wait there during the remainder of Act I and for the first intermission. She felt like singing, she was so happy.

END OF CHAPTER FOUR 

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“Linda has published fifteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish.”