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   Chapter 5 No.5

Peg Woffington By Charles Reade Characters: 5478

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


SIR CHARLES POMANDER was detained in the country much longer than he expected.

He was rewarded by a little adventure. As he cantered up to London with two servants and a post-boy, all riding on horses ordered in relays beforehand, he came up with an antediluvian coach, stuck fast by the road-side. Looking into the window, with the humane design of quizzing the elders who should be there, he saw a young lady of surpassing beauty. This altered the case; Sir Charles instantly drew bridle and offered his services.

The lady thanked him, and being an innocent country lady, she opened those sluices, her eyes, and two tears gently trickled down, while she told him how eager she was to reach London, and how mortified at this delay.

The good Sir Charles was touched. He leaped his horse over a hedge, galloped to a farm-house in sight, and returned with ropes and rustics. These and Sir Charles's horses soon drew the coach out of some stiffish clay.

The lady thanked him, and thanked him, and thanked him, with heightening color and beaming eyes, and he rode away like a hero.

Before he had gone five miles he became thoughtful and self-dissatisfied, finally his remorse came to a head; he called to him the keenest of his servants, Hunsdon, and ordered him to ride back past the carriage, then follow and put up at the same inn, to learn who the lady was, and whither going; and, this knowledge gained, to ride into town full speed and tell his master all about it. Sir Charles then resumed his complacency, and cantered into London that same evening.

Arrived there, he set himself in earnest to cut out his friend with Mrs. Woffington. He had already caused his correspondence with that lady to grow warm and more tender, by degrees. Keeping a copy of his last, he always knew where he was. Cupid's barometer rose by rule; and so he arrived by just gradations at an artful climax, and made her in terms of chivalrous affection, an offer of a house, etc., three hundred a year, etc., not forgetting his heart, etc. He knew that the ladies of the stage have an ear for flattery and an eye to the main chance.

The good Sir Charles felt sure that, however she might flirt with Vane or others, she would not forego a position for any disinterested penchant. Still, as he was a close player, he determined to throw a little cold water on that flame. His plan, like everything truly scientific, was simple.

"I'll run her down to him, and ridicule him to her," resolved this faithful friend and lover dear.

He began with Vane. He found him just leaving his own house. After the usual compliments, some such dialogue as this took place between Telemachus and pseudo Mentor:

"I trust you are not really in the power

of this actress?"

"You are the slave of a word," replied Vane. "Would you confound black and white because both are colors? She is like that sisterhood in nothing but a name. Even on the stage they have nothing in common. They are puppets-all attitude and trick; she is all ease, grace and nature."

"Nature!" cried Pomander. "Laissez-moi tranquille. They have artifice-nature's libel. She has art-nature's counterfeit."

"Her voice is truth told by music," cried the poetical lover; "theirs are jingling instruments of falsehood."

"They are all instruments," said the satirist; "she is rather the best tuned and played."

"Her face speaks in every lineament; theirs are rouged and wrinkled masks."

"Her mask is the best made, mounted, and moved; that is all."

"She is a fountain of true feeling."

"No; a pipe that conveys it without spilling or holding a drop."

"She is an angel of talent, sir."

"She's a devil of deception."

"She is a divinity to worship."

"She's a woman to fight shy of. There is not a woman in London better known," continued Sir Charles. "She is a fair actress on the boards, and a great actress off them; but I can tell you how to add a new charm to her."

"Heaven can only do that," said Vane, hastily.

"Yes, you can. Make her blush. Ask her for the list of your predecessors."

Vane winced visibly. He quickened his step, as if to get rid of this gadfly.

"I spoke to Mr. Quin," said he, at last; "and he, who has no prejudice, paid her character the highest compliment."

"You have paid it the highest it admits," was the reply. "You have let it deceive you." Sir Charles continued in a more solemn tone: "Pray be warned. Why is it every man of intellect loves an actress once in his life, and no man of sense ever did it twice?"

This last hit, coming after the carte and tierce we have described, brought an expression of pain to Mr. Vane's face. He said abruptly: "Excuse me, I desire to be alone for half an hour."

Machiavel bowed; and, instead of taking offense, said, in a tone full of feeling: "Ah! I give you pain! But you are right; think it calmly over a while, and you will see I advise you well."

He then made for the theater, and the weakish personage he had been playing upon walked down to the river, almost ran, in fact. He wanted to be out of sight.

He got behind some houses, and then his face seemed literally to break loose from confinement; so anxious, sad, fearful and bitter were the expressions that coursed each other over that handsome countenance.

What is the meaning of these hot and cold fits? It is not Sir Charles who has the power to shake Mr. Vane so without some help from within. There is something wrong about this man!

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