The buzz of conversation and the rustles of the audience on the other side of the curtain accentuated the silence in which the actors assembled. It sounded like a substantial crowd in attendance, and she [Susan] gulped. Despite that she was prepared and rehearsed, this was very different from performing in an amateur theatrical at a friend's home. She dared not think of her family's reaction could they see her now.
She drew in a calming breath and forced a smile for her fellow actors, all robed in white, as they took their positions. James was in front of her to her right, and across the stage, she could see Redwick in the far wings. He was holding the spill with which he had lit the footlamps. As she watched he pinched out its small flame.
Markwell gave them the signal the curtain was about to open. The musicians struck up, and she assumed her pose with her head turned, as required, toward Redwick's position. He was regarding her and then suddenly, he smiled at her, and nodded encouragingly. Astonished, she forgot her fear. When the curtain swept back, her trembling was gone and her pose mimed mourning and distress with every line of her robed form. On cue, the music faded and she took one step forward from the patriotic tableau, and in a clear, carrying voice, she recited without flaw, the resonant words of Blake's Jerusalem. On the final words "In England's green & pleasant land"the great curtain swung shut and the tableau participants relaxed from their poses.
James gave her a beaming grin as he whisked past her into the wings. The applause was still echoing as Redwick brought her the indigo cloak, and when she made no move to take it, he wrapped her in it. Taking her hand, he led her in the wings, around the end of the curtain, and in front of it. He bowed and left her there. No longer afraid, but conscious of the support of colleagues on the other side of the curtain redressing the stage, she waited as the audience quieted. She could see little beyond the flaring of the footlights' oil lamps; and it was becoming easier to ignore their presence.
Redwick, from his concealed position, swept her another bow, this one an extravagant gesture that made her smile. He cued the musicians, and then it was her turn. Without hesitation she began to sing the patriotic theatre classic "The Roast Beef of England". Pitching her voice as Badgworthy had instructed her, she performed the song without flaw. There was a brief silence as her last notes hung in the warm air, and then she sank into a deep curtsey as the applause broke.
Conscious of satisfaction, pleasure and not a little relief, she withdrew to the wings. Her trembling had begun again, but she recognized it for no more than a release of tension. She had, she thought, performed well. Her bemusement had faded completely, and at last she began to enjoy herself.
From a concealed spot in the wings, she watched the play. When he was not on stage enacting a villainous landlord, Redwick was everywhere encouraging, directing and guiding the production. Confident and reassuring, he obtained the best possible performance from his small cast, and Susan marvelled at this different side of his character. James appeared to be without nerves or anxieties on the stage, and was the ragged soldier son to the life, word perfect in his part. She sensed when Redwick ceased to be concerned about James, and turned his attention to coaxing the other players to excellence.