On the periphery of my Hamlet haze, dramatic happenings swirled, coalescing around The Birth of Christ play. Our performance was a mere two weeks off and Lady Paulina was on edge.
The King's Court members had displaced us from the carriage house, so only once they had departed, were we allowed to resume normal performance operations. First up was moving all sets, costumes and props into the Theatre for final staging and dress rehearsals.
It was a massive task that took its toll. For no smart reason, Jesus' manger made of feeble kindling was placed at the bottom of a wheelbarrow. Other props were then piled high on top of it, including the Wise Men's treasure chests, plus two goats and one pig crafted from heavy papier-mâché. Predictably, the manger did not make the trip to the Theatre in tact.
Hecate, a 'careless, dumb git' according to Viola, dragged Mary's traveling dress and my Sheepherder sack across a patch of mud, soiling both. Margaret, playing the Innkeeper, twisted her ankle climbing the stage stairs and thus, was rendered woefully immobile. Livia broke out in facial hives, due to the sticky affix used to attach her Joseph's beard.
The play was in disastrous shape and a defeated pall fell over us. No one dare say it aloud but a worry was surfacing. Were we doomed to fail in front of everyone?
The show preparation, as it must, went on. A rebuild of the manger commenced. Des's traveling costume dress and my sack were spared the futility of the wash basin. Lady Paulina justified that in the true story, Mary and the lowly Sheepherder likely wore muddied clothes. The dirt gave our characters a hint of authenticity. To avoid further skin irritation, Livia's Joseph beard was to be dotted on with charcoal. Margaret added a wooden cane and limp to her Innkeeper's performance. Everyone was exhausted and busy.
Everyone but Ophelia.
The awkwardness of her late arrival meant that even though she was a Middle, she had no role in the play - either on stage or off. She wasn't a part of anything.
We grunted, sweated, complained and cried while Ophelia sat, alone. She spent the time observing the bustle around her or writing in a small notebook.
"Must be nice just sittin' and relaxin' like that. Sketching birds and writing poetry," Beadie grumbled, bent over the sheep costumes. Many of the tails had loosened or fallen off completely.
Viola and I were situating two heavy hay bales just behind the curtain. The bales were to be moved on stage for the final scene while the audience's attention was focused on the Three Wise Men - who were cleverly to enter through the theatre aisles. Since Viola and I were the only ones strong enough to lift the bales, the job was ours.
"I doubt her life at Court prepared her for such grunt work," I said. Beadie accidentally jabbed her thumb with the sewing needle.
"Got-ram! They learn needlepoint at the Court, yes? While a harpist accompanies and a slave-boy feeds you grapes? Surely, she can sew better than I!"
"Ask her to help then, instead of bellyaching," Viola said, blowing stray hair out of her eyes. It had finally grown long enough to become a nuisance.
"Yikes, no thank you. She'd likely hex me. Perhaps Portia can ask, since they're such good friends..." Beadie said, fluttering her eyes. Viola snorted.
"Oh, that's right. And while Ophelia's busy sewing on sheep tails, Portia can steal her boyfriend."
"Rather wishing I'd never confided in the two of you," I said. Beadie slapped her hands together over her heart,
"Ooh, my Prince, my handsome, blue-eyed boy!"
"Quiet!" I hissed. But Beadie's shenanigans didn't draw Ophelia's attention in the slightest. She sat in a middle row seat, completely absorbed in her writing.
YOU ARE READING
When troubled Ophelia is found dead, four of her classmates are accused. With conviction and punishment a foregone conclusion, the girls - Portia, Beatrice, Viola and Desdemona - plot a daring escape in order to unravel the conspiracy behind the mur...