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 MR. VANE, besides being a rich, was a magnificent man; when his features were in repose1 their beauty had a wise and stately character. Soaper and Snarl2 had admired and bitterly envied him. At the present moment no one of his guests envied him—they began to realize his position. And he, a huge wheel of shame and remorse3, began to turn and whir before his eyes. He sat between two European beauties, and, pale and red by turns, shunned4 the eyes of both, and looked down at his plate in a cold sweat of humiliation5, mortification6 and shame.  
The iron passed through Mrs. Woffington's soul. So! this was a villain7, too, the greatest villain of all—a hypocrite! She turned very faint, but she was under an enemy's eye, and under a rival's; the thought drove the blood back from her heart, and with a mighty8 effort she was Woffington again. Hitherto her liaison9 with Mr. Vane had called up the better part of her nature, and perhaps our reader has been taking her for a good woman; but now all her dregs were stirred to the surface. The mortified10 actress gulled11 by a novice12, the wronged and insulted woman, had but two thoughts; to defeat her rival—to be revenged on her false lover. More than one sharp spasm13 passed over her features before she could master them, and then she became smiles above, wormwood and red-hot steel below—all in less than half a minute.
As for the others, looks of keen intelligence passed between them, and they watched with burning interest for the denouement14. That interest was stronger than their sense of the comicality of all this (for the humorous view of what passes before our eyes comes upon cool reflection, not often at the time).
Sir Charles, indeed, who had foreseen some of this, wore a demure15 look, belied16 by his glittering eye. He offered Cibber snuff, and the two satirical animals grinned over the snuff-box, like a malicious17 old ape and a mischievous18 young monkey.
The newcomer was charming; she was above the middle height, of a full, though graceful19 figure, her abundant, glossy20, bright brown hair glittered here and there like gold in the light; she had a snowy brow, eyes of the profoundest blue, a cheek like a peach, and a face beaming candor21 and goodness; the character of her countenance22 resembled “the Queen of the May,” in Mr. Leslie's famous picture, more than any face of our day I can call to mind.
“You are not angry with me for this silly trick?” said she, with some misgiving23. “After all I am only two hours before my time; you know, dearest, I said four in my letter—did I not?”
Vane stammered24. What could he say?
“And you have had three days to prepare you, for I wrote, like a good wife, to ask leave before starting; but he never so much as answered my letter, madam.” (This she addressed to Mrs. Woffington, who smiled by main force.)
“Why,” stammered Vane, “could you doubt? I—I—”
“No! Silence was consent, was it not? But I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will forgive me. It is six months since I saw him—so you understand—I warrant me you did not look for me so soon, ladies?”
“Some of us did not look for you at all, madam,” said Mrs. Woffington.
“What, Ernest did not tell you he expected me?”
“No! He told us this banquet was in honor of a lady's first visit to his house, but none of us imagined that lady to be his wife.”
Vane began to writhe25 under that terrible tongue, whose point hitherto had ever been turned away from him.
“He intended to steal a march on us,” said Pomander, dryly; “and, with your help, we steal one on him;” and he smiled maliciously26 on Mrs. Woffington.
“But, madam,” said Mr. Quin, “the moment you did arrive, I kept sacred for you a bit of the fat; for which, I am sure, you must be ready. Pass her plate!”
“Not at present, Mr. Quin,” said Mr. Vane, hastily. “She is about to retire and change her traveling-dress.”
“Yes, dear; but, you forget, I am a stranger to your friends. Will you not introduce me to them first?”
“No, no!” cried Vane, in trepidation27. “It is not usual to introduce in the beau monde.”
“We always introduce ourselves,” rejoined Mrs. Woffington. She rose slowly, with her eye on Vane. He cast a look of abject28 entreaty29 on her; but there was no pity in that curling lip and awful eye. He closed his own eyes and waited for the blow. Sir Charles threw himself back in his chair, and, chuckling30, prepared for the explosion. Mrs. Woffington saw him, and cast on him a look of ineffable31 scorn; and then she held the whole company fluttering a long while. At length: “The Honorable Mrs. Quickly, madam,” said she, indicating Mrs. Clive.
This turn took them all by surprise. Pomander bit his lip.
“Sir John Brute32—”
“Falstaff,” cried Quin; “hang it.”
“Sir John Brute Falstaff,” resumed Mrs. Woffington. “We call him, for brevity, Brute.”
Vane drew a long breath. “Your neighbor is Lord Foppington; a butterfly of some standing33, and a little gouty.”
“Sir Charles Pomander.”
“Oh,” cried Mrs. Vane. “It is the good gentleman who helped us out of the slough34, near Huntingdon. Ernest, if it had not been for this gentleman, I should not have had the pleasure of being here now.” And she beamed on the good Pomander.
Mr. Vane did not rise and embrace Sir Charles.
“All the company thanks the good Sir Charles,” said Cibber, bowing.
“I see it in all their faces,” said the good Sir Charles, dryly.
Mrs. Woffington continued: “Mr. Soaper, Mr. Snarl; gentlemen who would butter and slice up their own fathers!”
“Bless me!” cried Mrs. Vane, faintly.
“Critics!” And she dropped, as it were, the word dryly, with a sweet smile, into Mabel's plate.
Mrs. Vane was relieved; she had apprehended35 cannibals. London they had told her was full of curiosities.
“But yourself, madam?”
“I am the Lady Betty Modish36; at your service.”
A four-inch grin went round the table. The dramatical old rascal37, Cibber, began now to look at it as a bit of genteel comedy; and slipped out his note-book under the table. Pomander cursed her ready wit, which had disappointed him of his catastrophe38. Vane wrote on a slip of paper: “Pity and respect the innocent!” and passed it to Mrs. Woffington. He could not have done a more superfluous39 or injudicious thing.
“And now, Ernest,” cried Mabel, “for the news from Willoughby.”
Vane stopped her in dismay. He felt how many satirical eyes and ears were upon him and his wife. “Pray go and change your dress first, Mabel,” cried he, fully40 determined41 that on her return she should not find the present party there.
Mrs. Vane cast an imploring42 look on Mrs. Woffington. “My things are not come,” said she. “And, Lady Betty, I had so much to tell him, and to be sent away;” and the deep blue eyes began to fill.
Now Mrs. Woffington was determined that this lady, who she saw was simple, should disgust her husband by talking twaddle before a band of satirists. So she said warmly: “It is not fair on us. Pray, madam, your budget of country news. Clouted43 cream so seldom comes to London quite fresh.”
“There, you see, Ernest,” said the unsuspicious soul. “First, you must know that Gray Gillian is turned out for a brood mare44, so old George won't let me ride her; old servants are such tyrants45, my lady. And my Barbary hen has laid two eggs; Heaven knows the trouble we had to bring her to it. And Dame46 Best, that is my husband's old nurse, Mrs. Quickly, has had soup and pudding from the Hall everyday; and once she went so far as to say it wasn't altogether a bad pudding. She is not a very grateful woman, in a general way, poor thing! I made it with these hands.”
Vane writhed47.
“Happy pudding!” observed Mr. Cibber.
“Is this mockery, sir?” cried Vane, with a sudden burst of irritation48.
“No, sir; it is gallantry,” replied Cibber, with perfect coolness.
“Will you hear a little music in the garden?” said Vane to Mrs. Woffington, pooh-poohing his wife's news.
“Not till I hear the end of Dame Bess.”
“Best, my lady.”
“Dame Best interests me, Mr. Vane.”
“Ay, and Ernest is very fond of her, too, when he is at home. She is in her nice new cottage, dear; but she misses the draughts50 that were in her old one—they were like old friends. 'The only ones I have, I'm thinking,' said the dear cross old thing; and there stood I, on her floor, with a flannel51 petticoat in both hands, that I had made for her, and ruined my finger. Look else, my Lord Foppington?” She extended a hand the color of cream.
“Permit me, madam?” taking out his glasses, with which he inspected her finger; and gravely announced to the company: “The laceration is, in fact, discernible. May I be permitted, madam,” added he, “to kiss this fair hand, which I should never have suspected of having ever made itself half so useful?”
“Ay, my lord!” said she, coloring slightly, “you shall, because you are so old; but I don't say for a young gentleman, unless it was the one that belongs to me; and he does not ask me.”
“My dear Mabel; pray remember we are not at Willoughby.”
“I see we are not, Ernest.” And the dove-like eyes filled brimful; and all her innocent prattle52 was put an end to.
“What brutes53 men are,” thought Mrs. Woffington. “They are not worthy54 even of a fool like this.”
Mr. Vane once more pressed her to hear a little music in the garden; and this time she consented. Mr. Vane was far from being unmoved by his wife's arrival, and her true affection. But she worried him; he was anxious, above all things, to escape from his present position, and separate the rival queens; and this was the only way he could see to do it. He whispered Mabel, and bade her somewhat peremptorily55 rest herself for an hour after her journey, and he entered the garden with Mrs. Woffington.
Now the other gentlemen admired Mrs. Vane the most. She was new. She was as lovely, in her way, as Peggy; and it was the young May-morn beauty of the country. They forgave her simplicity56, and even her goodness, on account of her beauty; men are not severe judges of beautiful women. They all solicited57 her to come with them, and be the queen of the garden. But the good wife was obedient. Her lord had told her she was fatigued58; so she said she was tired.
“Mr. Vane's garden will lack its sweetest and fairest flower, madam,” cried Cibber, “if we leave you here.”
“Nay, my lord, there are fairer than I.”
“Poor Quin!” cried Kitty Clive; “to have to leave the alderman's walk for the garden-walk.”
“All I regret,” said the honest glutton59, stoutly60, “is that I go without carving61 for Mrs. Vane.”
“You are very good, Sir John; I will be more troublesome to you at supper-time.”
When they were all gone, she couldn't help sighing. It almost seemed as if everybody was kinder to her than he whose kindness alone she valued. “And he must take Lady Betty's hand instead of mine,” thought she. “But that is good breeding, I suppose. I wish there was no such thing; we are very happy without it in Shropshire.” Then this poor little soul was ashamed of herself, and took herself to task. “Poor Ernest,” said she, pitying the wrongdoer, like a woman, “he was not pleased to be so taken by surprise. No wonder; they are so ceremonious in London. How good of him not to be angry!” Then she sighed; her heart had received a damp. His voice seemed changed, and he did not meet her eyes with the look he wore at Willoughby. She looked timidly into the garden. She saw the gay colors of beaux, as well as of belles—for in these days broadcloth had not displaced silk and velvet—glancing and shining among the trees; and she sighed, but, presently brightening up a little, she said: “I will go and see that the coffee is hot and clear, and the chocolate well mixed for them.” The poor child wanted to do something to please her husband. Before she could carry out this act of domestic virtue62, her attention was drawn63 to a strife64 of tongues in the hall. She opened the folding-doors, and there was a fine gentleman obstructing65 the entrance of a somber66, rusty67 figure, with a portfolio68 and a manuscript under each arm.
The fine gentleman was Colander69. The seedy personage was the eternal Triplet, come to make hay with his five-foot rule while the sun shone. Colander had opened the door to him, and he had shot into the hall. The major-domo obstructed70 the farther entrance of such a coat.
“I tell you my master is not at home,” remonstrated71 the major-domo.
“How can you say so,” cried Mrs. Vane, in surprise, “when you know he is in the garden?”
“Simpleton!” thought Colander.
“Show the gentleman in.”
“Gentleman!” muttered Colander.
Triplet thanked her for her condescension72; he would wait for Mr. Vane in the hall. “I came by appointment, madam; this is the only excuse for the importunity73 you have just witnessed.”
Hearing this, Mrs. Vane dismissed Colander to inform his master. Colander bowed loftily, and walked into the servants' hall without deigning74 to take the last proposition into consideration.
“Come in here, sir,” said Mabel; “Mr. Vane will come as soon as he can leave his company.” Triplet entered in a series of obsequious76 jerks. “Sit down and rest you, sir.” And Mrs. Vane seated herself at the table, and motioned with her white hand to Triplet to sit beside her.
Triplet bowed, and sat on the edge of a chair, and smirked77 and dropped his portfolio, and instantly begged Mrs. Vane's pardon; in taking it up, he let fall his manuscript, and was again confused; but in the middle of some superfluous and absurd excuse his eye fell on the haunch; it straightway dilated78 to an enormous size, and he became suddenly silent and absorbed in contemplation.
“You look sadly tired, sir.”
“Why, yes, madam. It is a long way from Lambeth Walk, and it is passing hot, madam.” He took his handkerchief out, and was about to wipe his brow, but returned it hastily to his pocket. “I beg your pardon, madam,” said Triplet, whose ideas of breeding, though speculative79, were severe, “I forgot myself.”
Mabel looked at him, and colored, and slightly hesitated. At last she said: “I'll be bound you came in such a hurry you forgot—you mustn't be angry with me—to have your dinner first!”
For Triplet looked like an absurd wolf—all benevolence80 and starvation!
“What divine intelligence!” thought Trip. “How strange, madam,” cried he, “you have hit it! This accounts, at once, for a craving81 I feel. Now you remind me, I recollect82 carving for others, I did forget t............
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