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TABLEAUX VIVANTES DOWN EAST.'
All Gaul, if we may credit Julius Cæsar, was divided into three parts. In the division of Tabbyville, there was one part less; a small stream flowing directly through its centre. It was of sufficient depth, however, to have prevented many a social visit between the dwellers of each moiety, had they not thrown over it a wooden bridge. Upon this bridge, the traveller who might have loitered early one evening in December, Anno Domini, 1838, would at one time have had serious cause for alarm, and have moved with accelerated step in the direction of terra firma. The whole structure, though its piles were imbedded in the ice, was suddenly shaken to its centre; and then it undulated, as if the ground on which it rested were laboring with volcanic fires. This was caused by the passage of two double sleighs, with horses paired not matched, followed by five single ones, each of them crowned with the aristocracy of Tabbyville.
On the same evening, numerous lights were seen in a mansion situated on the border of the village, and on its highest elevation. This mansion, both in the style of its architecture and in color, being a gabled roof, one story, and of a dingy yellow, harmonized with the rest of the village ; and it farther demonstrated that there was but one master spirit in that section, to whom was conceded a large organ of constructiveness. In two particulars, this mansion towered above its fellows. It had certain indicia, which plainly told the traveller that the owner thereof was well to do' in the world. These indicia were the green blinds and the brass knocker.
In this instance, they certainly told the truth, for the mansion was the residence of Squire Peebles, a retired grocer, of the late respectable firm of Peebles and Tarbox. Why he had selected this spot, in which to while away the last years of his pilgrimage, was a matter of wonder; for it was in opposition to the advice of all his friends, with the exception of Dr. Snaggs. True, it commanded a view of the forest north, of the forest east, of the forest west, and of the forest south, for Tabbyville was in the very heart of a forest. But it was in the bleakest spot of that bleak region; and Squire Peebles, being very asthmatic, seldom extended his walk around one of its corners, without an addition to his wheeze. For many years he had been a widower, and being childless, his sister, Miss Peebles, had done the honors of his table. The baptismal name of this lady was Mercy, but having been deeply imbued with the contents of five crculating libraries, she had altered it, when some years younger, and was usually addressed as Mercellina. Her brother, however, like the hair of Bob Acres when in curls, did not take it kindly. Owing either to the treachery of his memory, or to some derangement of the larynx, he invariably called her Marcy. Now this was very vexatious, and she had frequently threatened to leave him to his solitude, if he persisted in that barbarous appellation.
From the records of the town clerk, it appeared that the age of
Miss Peebles exceeded thirty. There was a blot on the very figure that gave the year of her birih, so that it was impossible to decipher it; but in the memory of an old inhabitant, if that could be depended on, Miss Peebles was ' in spelling,' soon after Jefferson became the chief servant of our free and enlightened citizens.' she had passed several winters in Portland, where she imbibed that taste for light reading, and for the frivolities of fashion, which had so much influence on her after life. Subsequently, the hope deferred,' together with the charge of her brother's residence, had confined her entirely to Tabbyville. But her anxiety to keep pace with what she called the first circles,' rather increased than diminished, during her retirement; and in order to gratify it, she had kept up a regular correspondence with an old acquaintance, one Mrs. Daly, whose husband dealt in a small way in alley. Mrs. Daly did not constitute one of that charmed circle, of whose movements her friend was so eager to be informed; but Mrs. Daly was solicitous to oblige, and was very inquisitive. Hence she was enabled to enter so minutely into all the required details, that Miss Peebles was convinced that her friend was of them. It was hy means of these letters, that Miss Peebles established herself as the arbitress elegantiarum in Tabbyville, and the region round about. She it was, who first appeared with the leg-of-mutton sleeve, with the boddice waist, and the bishop. She it was, who introduced at her evening parties the blanc-mange, the trifle, and the floating island, and who banished cheese. Hence, whenever she issued her cards of invitation, they were never declined. Something was anticipated out of the common course ; a new dish, or a new pattern for a collar.
It was to one of these parties, that the merry occupants of the sleighs, mentioned at the opening of our story, were directing their
Never was curiosity more excited. It was whispered, that Miss Peebles had got up for their amusement a new spectacle, never before seen or heard of in Tabbyville. Mr. Popkin, who had been a clerk in Portland, and of course led off in one of the double sleighs, had the candor to acknowledge, that he was quite in the dark about it. It was something,' he said, “like a theatre; for those who took a part, looked all tragedy like. But still that was n't the name ; it sounded more like 'table;' perhaps they all mounted a table; at any rate, it was very intellectual, and all the rage in the city.'
• Mr. Popkin, allow me,' said Miss Patch, 'to set you right. I saw the name in the newspaper, and recollect it perfectly; it is tar-blocks.''
*Well,' replied Mr. Popkin, 'if that is the name, I should n't want my hand in it, without miitens.' This produced a laugh, which was distinctly heard by those in the
As a necessary consequence, they gave their horses a few extra cuts, to be nearer the scene of action, and to glean, if possible, some fragments of the joke. Miss Patch, notwithstanding her 'perfect recollection,' was as much in error, however, as Mr. Popkin. Mrs. Daly, in describing certain representations, in her first letter upon the subject, called them tableaux ;' in her second, tableaux vivantes, or living pictures.' We shall not weary our readers with a history of the rise and progress of these fashionable amusements, but
confine ourselves to those got up under the auspices of Miss Peebles, of which we purpose to give a veritable account.
The lady had resolved that on this evening her guests should be absolutely in raptures; and for this purpose she had labored for two weeks, with an assiduity richly deserving of success.
But there were obstacles to encounter, of no ordinary nature, and which at one time almost induced her to give up in despair. In the first place, it was extremely difficult to select scenes in which those whom she had engaged to assist her, were willing to take a part. Miss Peebles was desirous that each tableaux should reveal some tale of love. But Mr. Snoodles, who was the only young man in any way qualified to represent the lover, refused to appear as Romeo to her Juliet, or as Conrad to her Gulnare. It
may be well to mention, that he was the son of the lamented Samuel Snoodles, Esq., whose work on nuisances is so well known to the gentlemen of the bar. Young Snoodles had embraced his father's profession, and recently commenced practice in Tabbyville. His prospects were highly flattering; for he had defended, with thrilling eloquence, one who had been sued for appearing without a knapsack, at the fall training; and Justice Beers had decided in his favor. He had received also a file of doubtful demands belonging to Peebles and Tarbox, having agreed with the latter to take his costs in store pay. But to return from this digression.
Even when the scenes were agreed upon, and the parts had been assigned, there was another difficulty in moulding the performers. They were as intractable as bears; they could not attitudinize. Beside this, Miss Peebles discovered that her favorite Snoodles was so very excitable, that there was danger of his doing more than was set down for him. There was equal danger that Dr. Snaggs would do less. Again, Mr. Dawkins was
curtailed of his fair proportions,
but on reflection, it occurred to her that he would answer admirably as my Uncle Toby. This would secure one love scene, and she would herself figure as the Widow Wadman. Captain Tarbox was reluctantly enrolled in her corps dramatique. For many years previous to his co-partnership with her brother, he had commanded a vessel in the West India trade, and southern suns had bronzed his cheek, and care had furrowed it. Miss Peebles, having been thwarted in her original design, was resolved on having one tableau that should be purely classic ; and the singular visage of Tarbox had settled the question in favor of the Laocoon. But all the eloquence of Miss Deebles would have failed of success, had it not been supported by that of the captain's lady. The latter was frequently complimented on her husband's manly form, and wonderful expression. Upon this Mrs. Tarbox became anxious to exhibit him, and she ceased not her entreaties, till the good man yielded. But it was no easy task to operate on the captain's limbs ; they were stiffened with rheumatism, and it required frequent drills, before he could assume that fearful attitude, that death-struggle, so graphically described by the Mantuan bard, and so admirably chiselled by the immortal sculptor. Even when
she had succeeded in placing him in the right position, it was difficult to fix him there. Finally, there was the stage to be erected, and as the house was destitute of folding-doors, much time and labor were expended in so arranging it, as to combine elegance with economy. On this stage, Miss Peebles intended to exhibit a singular patch-work quilt, having red hearts on a white ground, emblematic of love and innocence. It had been wrought by her own hands, at a period when she derived pleasure from hope rather than memory, and had been carefully locked up till the present memorable exhibition. It was to be used as the drop-scene, and the fair owner sighed, as she devoted it to a purpose so different from that for which it was originally designed
But the labor of preparation at length was over. The long desired evening had arrived; the last rehearsals had in some measure quieted the fears of Miss Peebles ; her assistants had full confidence in their powers; and every nook and corner of the long parlor was crowded with guests, except that portion allotted for the stage. This was concealed by the quilt wrought in hearts, flanked on the right by a quilt of sober brown, and on the left, by the green table cloth. As soon as the company were seated, and something like order reigned, Miss Peebles announced that, preparatory to the first tableau, Mr. Snoodles would give an appropriate air upon the Aute. Whereupon Mr. Snoodles, after a preliminary flourish, commenced, in good earnest, with the · Road to Boston. But after a few bars, the performer became so much embarrassed, that he was unable to contract his lips to the requisite pucker, in consequence of which the instrnment gave an uncertain sound. He was relieved, however, from his painful situation, by the timely interference of Squire Peebles, who gave three cheers, in approbation of what he called 'the variations, and in which cheers, as in duty bound, his guests united. It was at this moment, that Mr. Snoodles made his exit. A bell, which had hitherto graced the neck of a favorite wether, then gave the signal that all was ready; the buzz ceased, and the curtain rose in the presence of longing eyes.
For a few moments, there was a breathless silence; when on a sudden, such an involuntary burst of applause succeeded, as satisfied Miss Peebles that her victory was achieved. Mr. Snoodles, who acted as sub-manager, then announced, that this tableau was taken from an ancient work, called Tristam Shandy, in which there was an interesting colloquy between a gentleman called my Uncle Toby, and a certain Widow Wadman. The former character, as they would perceive, was personated by Mr. Dawkins, and the latter by Miss Peebles." He then bowed and withdrew. The widow was dressed in half mourning, as widows of right ought to be, her head covered with a neat mob cap, and her neck ornamented with beads. She was sitting on a high-backed chair, and was leaning a little to one side, pointing with the finger to her left eye. My Uncle Toby was dressed in a scarlet coat, plum-colored breeches, and black gaiters. His hair on each side displayed two massive rolls, one just above each ear, and was highly powdered. That in the rear was fastened by an eel-skin, and so tightly drawn, that the eyes appeared to be starting from their sockets. His chair was drawn close to the widow's, and he was anxiously endeavoring to discover a certain moat, which the widow
pretended had lodged in the eye aforesaid, and was troublesome. For farther particulars, we refer the reader to the work itself, assuring him that he will rise from the perusal, convinced that a scene more touching could not have well been selected. There was one difficulty in the case, which it was impossible to obviate, and which in some measure marred the effect. Mr. Dawkins had such an obliquity of vision, that only one orb could be brought to bear upon the widow; the other was,
'In wandering mazes lost.', Hence, as he was unable to give that scrutinizing glance which the scene required, Mr. Snoodles had to step forward and give some notes explanatory, which added greatly to the interest. Mr. Martin, however, ventured to remark, that if he might judge from my Uncle Toby's eyes, his attentions were divided. Squire Peebles maintained the contrary. It is perfectly plain,' says he, that Uncle Toby has a single eye to the widow.” The Squire always laughed heartily at a joke, especially his own; and as the jokes of those at whose expense we are feasted, have somehow a peculiar relish, the curtain fell amidst reverberating peals.
In announcing tableau number two, Mr. Snoodles desired the company to bear in mind that it was all illusion ; that there was nothing real in it. He mentioned this, because such was the exquisite sensibility of some present, that nothing tragic could be seen, without the hazard of an irreparable shock. By this timely warning, the ladies were in some measure prepared for the horrors that were in store ; and what greatly conduced to it, was Miss Patch's vial of hartshorn, which passed and repassed with the rapidity of a shuttle. Still, many a heart was palpitating, and when the curtain rose, there were at least two shrieks that mingled with the involuntary groans. This tableau was the murder of Miss McCrea. The victim of Indian cruelty was personated by Miss Nancy Bean, an intimate friend of Miss Peebles, and about the same age; the latter having cogent reasons for excluding from her corps those of more tender years,
Miss Bean was on her knees, her white dimity spotted with blood, and her hands, upraised as if her only hope were in a higher power
than Over her stood one in the garb of an Indian, having in one hand her auburn locks, and in the other a scalping-knife. This was Mr. Snoodles; and yet the change was so sudden and complete, that it seemed scarcely possible. A horseblanket partially enveloped his person, and beneath it were seen his pants of red flannel. His breast was ornamented with a platter of bright pewter, suspended from the neck by strings of beads, and his face was covered with alternate streaks of lamp-black and red ochre.
When the spectators had recovered from their momentary alarm, they expressed their admiration in no measured terms. Mr. Snoodles was ambitious, and it is not strange that he became fairly intoxicated with this unexpected applause. He forgot himself. He was no longer Snoodles, and lost his identity in that of the savage. Flourishing his knife, he drew back as if to give a more effectual blow, when a heart-rending shriek burst from the lips of Miss Bean,