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 PEOPLE whose mind or manners possess any feature, and are not as devoid1 of all eccentricity2 as half pounds of butter bought of metropolitan3 grocers, are recommended not to leave a roomful of their acquaintances until the last but one. Yes, they should always be penultimate. Perhaps Mrs. Woffington knew this; but epilogues are stubborn things, and call-boys undeniable.  
“Did you ever hear a woman whistle before?”
“Never; but I saw one sit astride on an ass4 in Germany!”
“The saddle was not on her husband, I hope, madam?”
“No, sir; the husband walked by his kinsfolk's side, and made the best of a bad bargain, as Peggy's husband will have to.”
“Wait till some one ventures on the gay Lotharia—illi aes triplex; that means he must have triple brass6, Kitty.”
“I deny that, sir; since his wife will always have enough for both.”
“I have not observed the lady's brass,” said Vane, trembling with passion; “but I observed her talent, and I noticed that whoever attacks her to her face comes badly off.”
“Well said, sir,” answered Quin; “and I wish Kitty here would tell us why she hates Mrs. Woffington, the best-natured woman in the theater?”
“I don't hate her, I don't trouble my head about her.”
“Yes, you hate her; for you never miss a cut at her!”
“Do you hate a haunch of venison, Quin?” said the lady.
“No, you little unnatural7 monster,” replied Quin.
“For all that, you never miss a cut at one, so hold your tongue!”
“Le beau raisonnement!” said Mr. Cibber. “James Quin, don't interfere8 with nature's laws; let our ladies hate one another, it eases their minds; try to make them Christians9, and you will not convert their tempers, but spoil your own. Peggy there hates George Anne Bellamy, because she has gaudy10 silk dresses from Paris, by paying for them, as she could, if not too stingy. Kitty here hates Peggy because Rich has breeched her, whereas Kitty, who now sets up for a prude, wanted to put delicacy11 off and small-clothes on in Peg5's stead, that is where the Kate and Peg shoe pinches, near the femoral artery12, James.
“Shrimps have the souls of shrimps,” resumed this censor15 castigatorque minorum. “Listen to me, and learn that really great actors are great in soul, and do not blubber like a great school-girl because Anne Bellamy has two yellow silk dresses from Paris, as I saw Woffington blubber in this room, and would not be comforted; nor fume16 like Kitty Clive, because Woffington has a pair of breeches and a little boy's rapier to go a playing at acting17 with. When I was young, two giantesses fought for empire upon this very stage, where now dwarfs18 crack and bounce like parched19 peas. They played Roxana and Statira in the 'Rival Queens.' Rival queens of art themselves, they put out all their strength. In the middle of the last act the town gave judgment20 in favor of Statira. What did Roxana? Did she spill grease on Statira's robe, as Peg Woffington would? or stab her, as I believe Kitty here capable of doing? No! Statira was never so tenderly killed as that night; she owned this to me. Roxana bade the theater farewell that night, and wrote to Statira thus: I give you word for word: 'Madam, the best judge we have has decided21 in your favor. I shall never play second on a stage where I have been first so long, but I shall often be a spectator, and methinks none will appreciate your talent more than I, who have felt its weight. My wardrobe, one of the best in Europe, is of no use to me; if you will honor me by selecting a few of my dresses, you will gratify me, and I shall fancy I see myself upon the stage to greater advantage than before.'”
“And what did Statira answer, sir?” said Mr. Vane, eagerly.
“She answered thus: 'Madam, the town has often been wrong, and may have been so last night, in supposing that I vied successfully with your merit; but this much is certain—and here, madam, I am the best judge—that off the stage you have just conquered me. I shall wear with pride any dress you have honored, and shall feel inspired to great exertions22 by your presence among our spectators, unless, indeed, the sense of your magnanimity and the recollection of your talent should damp me by the dread23 of losing any portion of your good opinion.'”
“What a couple of stiff old things,” said Mrs. Clive.
Nay24, madam, say not so,” cried Vane, warmly; “surely, this was the lofty courtesy of two great minds not to be overbalanced by strife25, defeat, or victory.”
“What were their names, sir?”
“Statira was the great Mrs. Oldfield. Roxana you will see here to-night.”
This caused a sensation.
Colley's reminiscences were interrupted by loud applause from the theater; the present seldom gives the past a long hearing.
The old war-horse cocked his ears.
“It is Woffington speaking the epilogue,” said Quin.
“Oh, she has got the length of their foot, somehow,” said a small actress.
“And the breadth of their hands, too,” said Pomander, waking from a nap.
“It is the depth of their hearts she has sounded,” said Vane.
In those days, if a metaphor26 started up, the poor thing was coursed up hill and down dale, and torn limb from jacket; even in Parliament, a trope was sometimes hunted from one session into another.
“You were asking me about Mrs. Oldfield, sir,” resumed Cibber, rather peevishly28. “I will own to you, I lack words to convey a just idea of her double and complete supremacy29. But the comedians31 of this day are weak-strained farceurs compared with her, and her tragic32 tone was thunder set to music.
“I saw a brigadier-general cry like a child at her Indiana; I have seen her crying with pain herself at the wing (for she was always a great sufferer), I have seen her then spring upon the stage as Lady Townley, and in a moment sorrow brightened into joy: the air seemed to fill with singing-birds, that chirped33 the pleasures of fashion, love and youth in notes sparkling like diamonds and stars and prisms. She was above criticism, out of its scope, as is the blue sky; men went not to judge her, they drank her, and gazed at her, and were warmed at her, and refreshed by her. The fops were awed34 into silence, and with their humbler betters thanked Heaven for her, if they thanked it for anything.
“In all the crowded theater, care and pain and poverty were banished35 from the memory, while Oldfield's face spoke36, and her tongue flashed melodies; the lawyer forgot his quillets; the polemic37, the mote38 in his brother's eye; the old maid, her grudge39 against the two sexes; the old man, his gray hairs and his lost hours. And can it be, that all this which should have been immortal40, is quite—quite lost, is as though it had never been?” he sighed. “Can it be that its fame is now sustained by me; who twang with my poor lute41, cracked and old, these feeble praises of a broken lyre:
     'Whose wires were golden and its heavenly air
     More tunable42 than lark43 to shepherd's ear,
     When wheat is green, when hawthorn44 buds appear.'”
He paused, and his eye looked back over many years. Then, with a very different tone, he added:
“And that Jack27 Falstaff there must have seen her, now I think on't.”
“Only once, sir,” said Quin, “and I was but ten years old.”
“He saw her once, and he was ten years old; yet he calls Woffington a great comedian30, and my son The's wife, with her hatchet45 face, the greatest tragedian he ever saw! Jemmy, what an ass you must be!”
“Mrs. Cibber always makes me cry, and t'other always makes me laugh,” said Quin, stoutly46, “that's why.”
Ce beau raisonnement met no answer, but a look of sovereign contempt.
A very trifling47 incident saved the ladies of the British stage from further criticism. There were two candles in this room, one on each side; the call-boy had entered, and, poking48 about for something, knocked down and broke one of these.
“Awkward imp13!” cried a velvet49 page.
“I'll go to the Treasury50 for another, ma'am,” said the boy pertly, and vanished with the fractured wax.
I take advantage of the interruption to open Mr. Vane's mind to the reader. First he had been astonished at the freedom of sarcasm51 these people indulged in without quarreling; next at the non-respect of sex.
“So sex is not recognized in this community,” thought he. Then the glibness52 and merit of some of their answers surprised and amused him. He, like me, had seldom met an imaginative repartee53, except in a play or a book. “Society's” repartees were then, as they are now, the good old tree in various dresses and veils: Tu quoque, tu mentiris, vos damnemini; but he was sick and dispirited on the whole; such very bright illusions had been dimmed in these few minutes.
She was brilliant; but her manners, if not masculine, were very daring; and yet when she spoke to him, a stranger, how sweet and gentle her voice was! Then it was clear nothing but his ignorance could have placed her at the summit of her art.
Still he clung to his enthusiasm for her. He drew Pomander aside. “What a simplicity54 there is in Mrs. Woffington!” said he; “the rest, male and female, are all so affected55; she is so fresh and natural. They are all hot-house plants; she is a cowslip with the May dew on it.”
“What you take for simplicity is her refined art,” replied Sir Charles.
“No!” said Vane, “I never saw a more innocent creature!”
Pomander laughed in his face; this laugh disconcerted him more than words; he spoke no more—he sat pensive56. He was sorry he had come to this place, where everybody knew his goddess; yet nobody admired, nobody loved, and, alas57! nobody respected her.
He was roused from his reverie by a noise; the noise was caused by Cibber falling on Garrick, whom Pomander had maliciously58 quoted against all the tragedians of Colley Cibber's day.
“I tell you,” cried the veteran, “that this Garrick has banished dignity from the stage and given us in exchange what you and he take for fire; but it is smoke and vapor59. His manner is little, like his person, it is all fuss and bustle60. This is his idea of a tragic scene: A little fellow comes bustling61 in, goes bustling about, and runs bustling out.” Here Mr. Cibber left the room, to give greater effect to his description, but presently returned in a mighty62 pother, saying: “'Give me another horse!' Well, where's the horse? don't you see I'm waiting for him? 'Bind63 up my wounds!' Look sharp now with these wounds. 'Have mercy, Heaven!' but be quick about it, for the pit can't wait for Heaven. Bustle! bustle! bustle!”
The old dog was so irresistibly64 funny that the whole company were obliged to laugh; but in the midst of their merriment Mrs. Woffington's voice was heard at the door.
“This way, madam.”
A clear and somewhat shrill65 voice replied: “I know the way better than you, child;” and a stately old lady appeared on the threshold.
“Bracegirdle,” said Mr. Cibber.
It may well be supposed that every eye was turned on this newcomer—that Roxana for whom Mr. Cibber's story had prepared a peculiar66 interest. She was dressed in a rich green velvet gown with gold fringe. Cibber remembered it; she had played the “Eastern Queen” in it. Heaven forgive all concerned! It was fearfully pinched in at the waist and ribs68, so as to give the idea of wood inside, not woman.
Her hair and eyebrows69 were iron-gray, and she had lost a front tooth, or she would still have been eminently70 handsome. She was tall and straight as a dart71, and her noble port betrayed none of the weakness of age, only it was to be seen that her hands were a little weak, and the gold-headed crutch72 struck the ground rather sharply, as if it did a little limbs'-duty.
Such was the lady who marched into the middle of the room, with a “How do, Colley?” and, looking over the company's heads as if she did not see them, regarded the four walls with some interest. Like a cat, she seemed to think more of places than of folk. The page obsequiously73 offered her a chair.
“Not so clean as it used to be,” said Mrs. Bracegirdle.
Unfortunately, in making this remark, the old lady graciously patted the page's head for offering her the chair; and this action gave, with some of the ill-constituted minds that are ever on the titter, a ridiculous direction to a remark intended, I believe, for the paint and wanscots, etc.
“Nothing is as it used to be,” remarked Mr. Cibber.
“All the better for everything,” said Mrs. Clive.
“We were laughing at this mighty little David, first actor of this mighty little age.”
Now if Mr. Cibber thought to find in the newcomer an ally of the past in its indiscriminate attack upon the present, he was much mistaken; for the old actress made onslaught on this nonsense at once.
“Ay, ay,” said she, “and not the first time by many hundreds. 'Tis a disease you have. Cure yourself, Colley. Davy Garrick pleases the public; and in trifles like acting, that take nobody to heaven, to please all the world, is to be great. Some pretend to higher aims, but none have 'em. You may hide this from young fools, mayhap, but not from an old 'oman like me. He! he! he! No, no, no—not from an old 'oman like me.”
She then turned round in her chair, and with that sudden, unaccountable snappishness of tone to which the brisk old are subject, she snarled74: “Gie me a pinch of snuff, some of ye, do!”
Tobacco dust was instantly at her disposal. She took it with the points of her fingers delicately, and divested75 the crime of half its uncleanness and vulgarity—more an angel couldn't.
Monstrous76 sensible woman, though!” whispered Quin to Clive.
“Hey, sir! what do you say, sir? for I'm a little deaf.” (Not very to praise, it seems.)
“That your judgment, madam, is equal to the reputation of your talent.”
The words were hardly spoken before the old lady rose upright as a tower. She then made an oblique77 preliminary sweep, and came down with such a courtesy as the young had never seen.
James Quin, not to disgrace his generation, attempted a corresponding bow, for which his figure and apoplectic78 tendency rendered him unfit; and while he was transacting79 it, the graceful80 Cibber stepped gravely up, and looked down and up the process with his glass, like a naturalist81 inspecting some strange capriccio of an orang-outang. The gymnastics of courtesy ended without back-falls—Cibber lowered his tone.
“You are right, Bracy. It is nonsense denying the young fellow's talent; but his Othello, now, Bracy! be just—his Othello!”
“Oh, dear! oh, dear!” cried she; “I thought it was Desdemona's little black boy come in without the tea-kettle.”
Quin laughed uproariously.
“It made me laugh a deal more than Mr. Quin's Falstaff. Oh, dear! oh, dear!”
“Falstaff, indeed! Snuff!” In the tone of a trumpet83.
Quin secretly revoked84 his good opinion of this woman's sense.
“Madam,” said the page, timidly, “if you would but favor us with a specimen85 of the old style—”
“Well, child, why not? Only what makes you mumble86 like that? but they all do it now, I see. Bless my soul! our words used to come out like brandy-cherries; but now a sentence is like raspberry-jam, on the stage and off.”
Cibber chuckled87.
“And why don't you men carry yourself like Cibber here?”
“Don't press that question,” said Colley dryly.
“A monstrous poor actor, though,” said the merciless old woman, in a mock aside to the others; “only twenty shillings a week for half his life;” and her shoulders went up to her ears—then she fell into a half reverie. “Yes, we were distinct,” said she; “but I must own, children, we were slow. Once, in the midst of a beautiful tirade88, my lover went to sleep, and fell against me. A mighty pretty epigram, twenty lines, was writ89 on't by one of my gallants. Have ye as many of them as we used?”
“In that respect,” said the page, “we are not behind our great-grandmothers.”
“I call that pert,” said Mrs. Bracegirdle, with the air of one drawing scientific distinctions. “Now, is that a boy or a lady that spoke to me last?”
“By its dress, I should say a boy,” said Cibber, with his glass; “by its assurance, a lady!”
“There's one clever woman among ye; Peg something, plays Lothario, Lady Betty Modish90, and what not?”
“What! admire Woffington?” screamed Mrs. Clive; “why, she is the greatest gabbler on the stage.”
“I don't care,” was the reply, “there's nature about the jade91. Don't contradict me,” added she, with sudden fury; “a parcel of children.”
“No, madam,” said Clive humbly92. “Mr. Cibber, will you try and prevail on Mrs. Bracegirdle to favor us with a recitation?”
Cibber handed his cane93 with pomp to a small actor. Bracegirdle did the same; and, striking the attitudes that had passed for heroic in their day, they declaimed out of the “Rival Queens” two or three tirades94, which I graciously spare the reader of this tale. Their elocution was neat and silvery; but not one bit like the way people speak in streets, palaces, fields, roads and rooms. They had not made the grand discovery, which Mr. A. Wigan on the stage, and every man of sense off it, has made in our day and nation; namely, that the stage is a representation, not of stage, but of life; and that an actor ought to speak and act in imitation of human beings, not of speaking machines that have run and creaked in a stage groove95, with their eyes shut upon the world at large, upon nature, upon truth, upon man, upon woman and upon child.
“This is slow,” cried Cibber; “let us show these young people how ladies and gentlemen moved fifty years ago, dansons.”
A fiddler was caught, a beautiful slow minuet played, and a bit of “solemn dancing” done. Certainly it was not gay, but it must be owned it was beautiful; it was the dance of kings, the poetry of the courtly saloon.
The retired96 actress, however, had frisker notions left in her. “This is slow,” cried she, and bade the fiddler play, “The wind that shakes the barley,” an ancient jig97 tune98; this she danced to in a style that utterly99 astounded100 the spectators.
She showed them what fun was; her feet and her stick were all echoes to the mad strain; out went her heel behind, and, returning, drove her four yards forward. She made unaccountable slants101, and cut them all over in turn if they did not jump for it. Roars of inextinguishable laughter arose, it would have made an oyster102 merry. Suddenly she stopped, and put her hands to her sides, and soon after she gave a vehement103 cry of pain.
The laughter ceased.
She gave another cry of such agony that they were all round her in a moment.
“Oh, help me, ladies,” screamed the poor woman, in tones as feminine as they were heart-rending and piteous. “Oh, my back! my loins! I suffer, gentlemen,” said the poor thing, faintly.
What was to be done? Mr. Vane offered his penknife to cut her laces.
“You shall cut my head off sooner,” cried she, with sudden energy. “Don't pity me,” said she, sadly, “I don't deserve it;” then, lifting her eyes, she exclaimed, with a sad air of self-reproach: “O vanity! do you never leave a woman?”
“Nay, madam!” whimpered the page, who was a good-hearted girl; “'twas your great complaisance104 for us, not vanity. Oh! oh! oh!” and she began to blubber, to make matters better.
“No, my children,” said the old lady, “'twas vanity. I wanted to show you what an old 'oman could do; and I have humiliated105 myself, trying to outshine younger folk. I am justly humiliated, as you see;” and she began to cry a little.
“This is very painful,” said Cibber.
Mrs. Bracegirdle now raised her eyes (they had set her in a chair), and looking sweetly, tenderly and earnestly on her old companion, she said to him, slowly, gently, but impressively “Colley, at threescore years and ten this was ill done of us! You and I are here now—for what? to cheer the young up the hill we mounted years ago. And, old friend, if we detract from them we discourage them. A great sin in the old!”
“Every dog his day.”
“We have had ours.” Here she smiled, then, laying her hand tenderly in the old man's, she added, with calm solemnity: “And now we must go quietly toward our rest, and strut106 and fret107 no more the few last minutes of life's fleeting108 hour.”
How tame my cacotype of these words compared with what they were. I am ashamed of them and myself, and the human craft of writing, which, though commoner far, is so miserably109 behind the godlike art of speech: “Si ipsam audivisses!”
These ink scratches, which, in the imperfection of language, we have called words, till the unthinking actually dream they are words, but which are the shadows of the corpses110 of words; these word-shadows then were living powers on her lips, and subdued111, as eloquence112 always does, every heart within reach of the imperial tongue.
The young loved her, and the old man, softened113 and vanquished114, and mindful of his failing life, was silent, and pressed his handkerchief to his eyes a moment; then he said:
“No, Bracy, no. Be composed, I pray you. She is right. Young people, forgive me that I love the dead too well, and the days when I was what you are now. Drat the woman,” continued he, half ashamed of his emotion; “she makes us laugh, and makes us cry, just as she used.”
“What does he say, young woman?” said the old lady, dryly, to Mrs. Clive.
“He says you make us laugh, and make us cry, madam; and so you do me, I'm sure.”
“And that's Peg Woffington's notion of an actress! Better it, Cibber and Bracegirdle, if you can,” said the other, rising up like lightning.
She then threw Colley Cibber a note, and walked coolly and rapidly out of the room, without looking once behind her.
The rest stood transfixed, looking at one another, and at the empty chair. Then Cibber opened and read the note aloud. It was from Mrs. Bracegirdle: “Playing at tric-trac; so can't play the fool in your green-room to-night. B.”
On this, a musical ringing laugh was heard from outside the door, where the pseudo Bracegirdle was washing the gray from her hair, and the wrinkles from her face—ah! I wish I could do it as easily!—and the little bit of sticking-plaster from her front tooth.
“Why, it is the Irish jade!” roared Cibber.
“Divil a less!” rang back a rich brogue; “and it's not the furst time we put the comether upon ye, England, my jewal!”
One more mutual115 glance, and then the mortal cleverness of all this began to dawn on their minds; and they broke forth116 into clapping of hands, and gave this accomplished117 mime118 three rounds of applause; Mr. Vane and Sir Charles Pomander leading with, “Bravo, Woffington!”
Its effect on Mr. Vane may be imagined. Who but she could have done this? This was as if a painter should so paint a man as to deceive his species. This was acting, but not like the acting of the stage. He was in transports, and self-satisfaction at his own judgment mingled119 pleasantly with his admiration120.
In this cheerful exhibition, one joined not—Mr. Cibber. His theories had received a shock (and we all love our theories). He himself had received a rap—and we don't hate ourselves.
Great is the syllogism121! But there is a class of arguments less vulnerable.
If A says to B, “You can't hit me, as I prove by this syllogism” (here followeth the syllogism), “and B, pour toute reponse, knocks A down such a whack122 that he rebounds123 into a sitting posture124; and to him the man, the tree, the lamp-post and the fire-escape become not clearly distinguishable; this barbarous logic125 prevails against the logic in Barbara, and the syllogism is in the predicament of Humpty Dumpty. In this predicament was the Poet Laureate. The miscreant126 Proteus (could not) escape these chains!” So the miscreant Proteus—no bad name for an old actor—took his little cocked hat and marched, a smaller, if not a wiser man. Some disjointed words fell from him: “Mimicry127 is not acting,” etc.; and with one bitter, mowing128 glance at the applauders, circumferens acriter oculos, he vanished in the largest pinch of snuff on record. The rest dispersed129 more slowly.
Mr. Vane waited eagerly, and watched the door for Mrs. Woffington; but she did not come. He then made acquaintance with good-natured Mr. Quin, who took him upon the stage and showed him by what vulgar appliances that majestic130 rise of the curtain he so admired was effected. Returning to the green-room for his friend, he found him in animated131 conversation with Mrs. Woffington. This made Vane uneasy.
Sir Charles, up to the present moment of the evening, had been unwontedly silent, and now he was talking nineteen to the dozen, and Mrs. Woffington was listening with an appearance of interest that sent a pang132 to poor Vane's heart; he begged Mr. Quin to introduce him.
Mr. Quin introduced him.
The lady received his advances with polite composure. Mr. Vane stammered133 his admiration of her Bracegirdle; but all he could find words to say was mere134 general praise, and somewhat coldly received. Sir Charles, on the contrary, spoke more like a critic. “Had you given us the stage cackle, or any of those traditionary symptoms of old age, we should have instantly detected you,” said he; “but this was art copying nature, and it may be years before such a triumph of illusion is again effected under so many adverse135 circumstances.”
“You are very good, Sir Charles,” was the reply. “You flatter me. It was one of those things which look greater than they are. Nobody here knew Bracegirdle but Mr. Cibber; Mr. Cibber cannot see well without his glasses, and I got rid of one of the candles; I sent one of the imps14 of the theater to knock it down. I know Mrs. Bracegirdle by heart. I drink tea with her every Sunday. I had her dress on, and I gave the old boy her words and her way of thinking; it was mere mimicry; it was nothing compared with what I once did; but, a-hem!”
“Pray tell us!”
“I am afraid I shall shock your friend. I see he is not a wicked man like you, and perhaps does not know what good-for-nothing creatures actresses are.”
“He is not so ignorant as he looks,” replied Sir Charles.
“That is not quite the answer I expected, Sir Charles,” replied this lively lady; “but it serves me right for fishing on dry land. Well, then, you must know a young gentleman courted me. I forget whether I liked him or not; but you will fancy I hated him, for I promised to marry him. You must understand, gentlemen, that I was sent into the world, not to act, which I abominate136, but to chronicle small beer and teach an army of little brats137 their letters; so this word 'wife,' and that word 'chimney-corner,' took possession of my mind, and a vision of darning stockings for a large party, all my own, filled my heart, and really I felt quite grateful to the little brute138 that was to give me all this, and he would have had such a wife as men never do have, still less deserve. But one fine day that the theater left me time to examine his manner toward me, I instantly discovered he was deceiving me. So I had him watched, and the little brute was going to marry another woman, and break it to me by degrees afterward139, etc. You know, Sir Charles? Ah! I see you do.
“I found her out; got an introduction to her father; went down to his house three days before the marriage, with a little coalblack mustache, regimentals, and what not; made up, in short, with the art of my sex, gentlemen—and the impudence140 of yours.
“The first day I flirted141 and danced with the bride. The second I made love to her, and at night I let her know that her intended was a villain142. I showed her letters of his; protestations, oaths of eternal fidelity143 to one Peg Woffington, 'who will die,' drawled I,' if he betrays her.'
“And here, gentlemen, mark the justice of Heaven. I received a backhanded slap: 'Peg Woffington! an actress! Oh, the villain!' cried she; 'let him marry the little vagabond. How dare he insult me with his hand that had been offered in such a quarter?'
“So, in a fit of virtuous144 indignation, the little hypocrite dismissed the little brute; in other words, she had fallen in love with me.
“I have not had many happy hours, but I remember it was delicious to look out of my window, and at the same moment smell the honeysuckles and see my perfide dismissed under a heap of scorn and a pile of luggage he had brought down for his wedding tour.
“I scampered145 up to London, laughing all the way; and when I got home, if I remember right, I cried for two hours. How do you account for that?”
“I hope, madam,” said Vane, gravely, “it was remorse146 for having trifled with that poor young lady's heart; she had never injured you.”
“But, sir, the husband I robbed her of was a brute and a villain in his little way, and wicked and good-for-nothing, etc. He would have deceived that poor little hypocrite, as he had this one,” pointing to herself.
“That is not what I mean; you inspired her with an attachment147, never to be forgotten. Poor lady, how many sleepless148 nights has she passed since then, how many times has she strained her eyes to see her angel lover returning to her! She will not forget in two years the love it cost you but two days to inspire. The powerful should be merciful. Ah! I fear you have no heart.”
These words had no sooner burst from Mr. Vane, than he was conscious of the strange liberty he had taken, and, indeed, the bad taste he had been guilty of; and this feeling was not lessened149 when he saw Mrs. Woffington color up to the temples. Her eyes, too, glittered like basilisks; but she said nothing, which was remarkable150 in her, whose tongue was the sword of a maitre d'armes.
Sir Charles eyed his friend in a sly, satirical manner; he then said, laughingly: “In two months she married a third! don't waste your sympathy,” and turned the talk into another channel; and soon after, Mrs. Woffington's maid appearing at the door, she courtesied to both gentlemen and left the theater. Sir Charles Pomander accompanied Mr. Vane a little way.
“What becomes of her innocence151?” was his first word.
“One loses sight of it in her immense talent,” said the lover.
“She certainly is clever in all that bears upon her business,” was the reply; “but I noticed you were a little shocked with her indelicacy in telling us that story, and still more in having it to tell.”
“Indelicacy? No!” said Vane; “the little brute deserved it. Good Heavens! to think that 'a little brute' might have married that angel, and actually broke faith to lose her; it is incredible, the crime is diluted152 by the absurdity153.”
“Have you heard him tell the story? No? Then take my word for it, you have not heard the facts of the case.”
“Ah! you are prejudiced against her?”
“On the contrary, I like her. But I know that with all women the present lover is an angel and the past a demon82, and so on in turn. And I know that if Satan were to enter the women of the stage, with the wild idea of impairing154 their veracity155, he would come out of their minds a greater liar67 than he went in, and the innocent darlings would never know their spiritual father had been at them.”
Doubtful whether this sentiment and period could be improved, Sir Charles parted with his friend, leaving his sting in him like a friend; the other's reflections as he sauntered home were not strictly156 those of a wise, well-balanced mind; they ran in this style:
“When she said, 'Is not that to praise my person at the expense of my wit?' I ought to have said, 'Nay, madam; could your wit disguise your person, it would betray itself, so you would still shine confessed;' and instead of that I said nothing!”
He then ran over in his mind all the opportunities he had had for putting in something smart, and bitterly regretted those lost opportunities; and made the smart things, and beat the air with them. Then his cheeks tingled157 when he remembered that he had almost scolded her; and he concocted158 a very different speech, and straightway repeated it in imagination.
This is lovers' pastime; I own it funny; but it is open to one objection, this single practice of sitting upon eggs no longer chickenable, carried to a habit, is capable of turning a solid intellect into a liquid one, and ruining a mind's career.
We leave Mr. Vane, therefore, with a hope that he will not do it every night; and we follow his friend to the close of our chapter.
Hey for a definition!
What is diplomacy159? Is it folly160 in a coat that looks like sagacity? Had Sir Charles Pomander, instead of watching Mr. Vane and Mrs. Woffington, asked the former whether he admired the latter, and whether the latter responded, straightforward161 Vane would have told him the whole truth in a minute. Diplomacy therefore was, as it often is, a waste of time.
But diplomacy did more in this case, it sapienter descendebat in fossam; it fell on its nose with gymnastic dexterity162, as it generally does, upon my word.
To watch Mrs. Woffington's face vis-a-vis Mr. Vane, Pomander introduced Vane to the green-room of the Theater Royal, Covent Garden. By this Pomander learned nothing, because Mrs. Woffington had, with a wonderful appearance of openness, the closest face in Europe when she chose.
On the other hand, by introducing this country gentleman to this green-room, he gave a mighty impulse and opportunity to Vane's love; an opportunity which he forgot the timid, inexperienced Damon might otherwise never have found.
Here diplomacy was not policy, for, as my sagacious reader has perhaps divined, Sir Charles Pomander was after her himself.

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