The Double Dealer/Act I

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The Double Dealer by William Congreve
Act I


ACT I.


SCENE I.[edit]

A gallery in the Lord Touchwood’s home, with chambers adjoining.

Enter CARELESS, crossing the stage, with his hat, gloves, and sword in his hands; as just risen from table: MELLEFONT following him.

MEL. Ned, Ned, whither so fast? What, turned flincher! Why, you wo’ not leave us?

CARE. Where are the women? I’m weary of guzzling, and begin to think them the better company.

MEL. Then thy reason staggers, and thou’rt almost drunk.

CARE. No, faith, but your fools grow noisy; and if a man must endure the noise of words without sense, I think the women have more musical voices, and become nonsense better.

MEL. Why, they are at the end of the gallery; retired to their tea and scandal, according to their ancient custom, after dinner. But I made a pretence to follow you, because I had something to say to you in private, and I am not like to have many opportunities this evening.

CARE. And here’s this coxcomb most critically come to interrupt you.


====SCENE II.====

[To them] BRISK.

BRISK. Boys, boys, lads, where are you? What, do you give ground? Mortgage for a bottle, ha? Careless, this is your trick; you’re always spoiling company by leaving it.

CARE. And thou art always spoiling company by coming in o’t.

BRISK. Pooh, ha, ha, ha, I know you envy me. Spite, proud spite, by the gods! and burning envy. I’ll be judged by Mellefont here, who gives and takes raillery better than you or I. Pshaw, man, when I say you spoil company by leaving it, I mean you leave nobody for the company to laugh at. I think there I was with you. Ha, Mellefont?

MEL. O’ my word, Brisk, that was a home thrust; you have silenced him.

BRISK. Oh, my dear Mellefont, let me perish if thou art not the soul of conversation, the very essence of wit and spirit of wine. The deuce take me if there were three good things said, or one understood, since thy amputation from the body of our society. He, I think that’s pretty and metaphorical enough; i’gad I could not have said it out of thy company. Careless, ha?

CARE. Hum, ay, what is’t?

BRISK. O mon cœur! What is’t! Nay, gad, I’ll punish you for want of apprehension. The deuce take me if I tell you.

MEL. No, no, hang him, he has no taste. But, dear Brisk, excuse me, I have a little business.

CARE. Prithee get thee gone; thou seest we are serious.

MEL. We’ll come immediately, if you’ll but go in and keep up good humour and sense in the company. Prithee do, they’ll fall asleep else.

BRISK. I’gad, so they will. Well, I will, I will; gad, you shall command me from the Zenith to the Nadir. But the deuce take me if I say a good thing till you come. But prithee, dear rogue, make haste, prithee make haste, I shall burst else. And yonder your uncle, my Lord Touchwood, swears he’ll disinherit you, and Sir Paul Plyant threatens to disclaim you for a son-in-law, and my Lord Froth won’t dance at your wedding to-morrow; nor, the deuce take me, I won’t write your Epithalamium—and see what a condition you’re like to be brought to.

MEL. Well, I’ll speak but three words, and follow you.

BRISK. Enough, enough. Careless, bring your apprehension along with you.


====SCENE III.====

MELLEFONT, CARELESS.

CARE. Pert coxcomb.

MEL. Faith, ’tis a good-natured coxcomb, and has very entertaining follies. You must be more humane to him; at this juncture it will do me service. I’ll tell you, I would have mirth continued this day at any rate; though patience purchase folly, and attention be paid with noise, there are times when sense may be unseasonable as well as truth. Prithee do thou wear none to-day, but allow Brisk to have wit, that thou may’st seem a fool.

CARE. Why, how now, why this extravagant proposition?

MEL. Oh, I would have no room for serious design, for I am jealous of a plot. I would have noise and impertinence keep my Lady Touchwood’s head from working: for hell is not more busy than her brain, nor contains more devils than that imaginations.

CARE. I thought your fear of her had been over. Is not to-morrow appointed for your marriage with Cynthia, and her father, Sir Paul Plyant, come to settle the writings this day on purpose?

MEL. True; but you shall judge whether I have not reason to be alarmed. None besides you and Maskwell are acquainted with the secret of my Aunt Touchwood’s violent passion for me. Since my first refusal of her addresses she has endeavoured to do me all ill offices with my uncle, yet has managed ’em with that subtilty, that to him they have borne the face of kindness; while her malice, like a dark lanthorn, only shone upon me where it was directed. Still, it gave me less perplexity to prevent the success of her displeasure than to avoid the importunities of her love, and of two evils I thought myself favoured in her aversion. But whether urged by her despair and the short prospect of time she saw to accomplish her designs; whether the hopes of revenge, or of her love, terminated in the view of this my marriage with Cynthia, I know not, but this morning she surprised me in my bed.

CARE. Was there ever such a fury! ’Tis well nature has not put it into her sex’s power to ravish. Well, bless us, proceed. What followed?

MEL. What at first amazed me—for I looked to have seen her in all the transports of a slighted and revengeful woman—but when I expected thunder from her voice, and lightning in her eyes, I saw her melted into tears and hushed into a sigh. It was long before either of us spoke: passion had tied her tongue, and amazement mine. In short, the consequence was thus, she omitted nothing that the most violent love could urge, or tender words express; which when she saw had no effect, but still I pleaded honour and nearness of blood to my uncle, then came the storm I feared at first, for, starting from my bed-side like a fury, she flew to my sword, and with much ado I prevented her doing me or herself a mischief. Having disarmed her, in a gust of passion she left me, and in a resolution, confirmed by a thousand curses, not to close her eyes till they had seen my ruin.

CARE. Exquisite woman! But what the devil, does she think thou hast no more sense than to get an heir upon her body to disinherit thyself? for as I take it this settlement upon you is, with a proviso, that your uncle have no children.

MEL. It is so. Well, the service you are to do me will be a pleasure to yourself: I must get you to engage my Lady Plyant all this evening, that my pious aunt may not work her to her interest. And if you chance to secure her to yourself, you may incline her to mine. She’s handsome, and knows it; is very silly, and thinks she has sense, and has an old fond husband.

CARE. I confess, a very fair foundation for a lover to build upon.

MEL. For my Lord Froth, he and his wife will be sufficiently taken up with admiring one another and Brisk’s gallantry, as they call it. I’ll observe my uncle myself, and Jack Maskwell has promised me to watch my aunt narrowly, and give me notice upon any suspicion. As for Sir Paul, my wise father-in-law that is to be, my dear Cynthia has such a share in his fatherly fondness, he would scarce make her a moment uneasy to have her happy hereafter.

CARE. So you have manned your works; but I wish you may not have the weakest guard where the enemy is strongest.

MEL. Maskwell, you mean; prithee why should you suspect him?

CARE. Faith I cannot help it; you know I never liked him: I am a little superstitious in physiognomy.

MEL. He has obligations of gratitude to bind him to me: his dependence upon my uncle is through my means.

CARE. Upon your aunt, you mean.

MEL. My aunt!

CARE. I’m mistaken if there be not a familiarity between them you do not suspect, notwithstanding her passion for you.

MEL. Pooh, pooh! nothing in the world but his design to do me service; and he endeavours to be well in her esteem, that he may be able to effect it.

CARE. Well, I shall be glad to be mistaken; but your aunt’s aversion in her revenge cannot be any way so effectually shown as in bringing forth a child to disinherit you. She is handsome and cunning and naturally wanton. Maskwell is flesh and blood at best, and opportunities between them are frequent. His affection to you, you have confessed, is grounded upon his interest, that you have transplanted; and should it take root in my lady, I don’t see what you can expect from the fruit.

MEL. I confess the consequence is visible, were your suspicions just. But see, the company is broke up, let’s meet ’em.


====SCENE IV.====

[To them] LORD TOUCHWOOD, LORD FROTH, SIR PAUL PLYANT, and BRISK.

LORD TOUCH. Out upon’t, nephew. Leave your father-in-law and me to maintain our ground against young people!

MEL. I beg your lordship’s pardon. We were just returning.

SIR PAUL. Were you, son? Gadsbud, much better as it is. Good, strange! I swear I’m almost tipsy; t’other bottle would have been too powerful for me,—as sure as can be it would. We wanted your company, but Mr. Brisk—where is he? I swear and vow he’s a most facetious person, and the best company. And, my Lord Froth, your lordship is so merry a man, he, he, he.

LORD FROTH. Oh, foy, Sir Paul, what do you mean? Merry! Oh, barbarous! I’d as lieve you called me fool.

SIR PAUL. Nay, I protest and vow now, ’tis true; when Mr. Brisk jokes, your lordship’s laugh does so become you, he, he, he.

LORD FROTH. Ridiculous! Sir Paul, you’re strangely mistaken, I find champagne is powerful. I assure you, Sir Paul, I laugh at nobody’s jest but my own, or a lady’s, I assure you, Sir Paul.

BRISK. How? how, my lord? what, affront my wit! Let me perish, do I never say anything worthy to be laughed at?

LORD FROTH. Oh, foy, don’t misapprehend me; I don’t say so, for I often smile at your conceptions. But there is nothing more unbecoming a man of quality than to laugh; ’tis such a vulgar expression of the passion; everybody can laugh. Then especially to laugh at the jest of an inferior person, or when anybody else of the same quality does not laugh with one—ridiculous! To be pleased with what pleases the crowd! Now when I laugh, I always laugh alone.

BRISK. I suppose that’s because you laugh at your own jests, i’gad, ha, ha, ha.

LORD FROTH. He, he, I swear though, your raillery provokes me to a smile.

BRISK. Ay, my lord, it’s a sign I hit you in the teeth, if you show ’em.

LORD FROTH. He, he, he, I swear that’s so very pretty, I can’t forbear.

CARE. I find a quibble bears more sway in your lordship’s face than a jest.

LORD TOUCH. Sir Paul, if you please we’ll retire to the ladies, and drink a dish of tea to settle our heads.

SIR PAUL. With all my heart. Mr. Brisk, you’ll come to us, or call me when you joke; I’ll be ready to laugh incontinently.


====SCENE V.====

MELLEFONT, CARELESS, LORD FROTH, BRISK.

MEL. But does your lordship never see comedies?

LORD FROTH. Oh yes, sometimes; but I never laugh.

MEL. No?

LORD FROTH. Oh no; never laugh indeed, sir.

CARE. No! why, what d’ye go there for?

LORD FROTH. To distinguish myself from the commonalty and mortify the poets; the fellows grow so conceited, when any of their foolish wit prevails upon the side-boxes. I swear,—he, he, he, I have often constrained my inclinations to laugh,—he, he, he, to avoid giving them encouragement.

MEL. You are cruel to yourself, my lord, as well as malicious to them.

LORD FROTH. I confess I did myself some violence at first, but now I think I have conquered it.

BRISK. Let me perish, my lord, but there is something very particular in the humour; ’tis true it makes against wit, and I’m sorry for some friends of mine that write; but, i’gad, I love to be malicious. Nay, deuce take me, there’s wit in’t, too. And wit must be foiled by wit; cut a diamond with a diamond, no other way, i’gad.

LORD FROTH. Oh, I thought you would not be long before you found out the wit.

CARE. Wit! In what? Where the devil’s the wit in not laughing when a man has a mind to’t?

BRISK. O Lord, why can’t you find it out? Why, there ’tis, in the not laughing. Don’t you apprehend me? My lord, Careless is a very honest fellow, but harkee, you understand me, somewhat heavy, a little shallow, or so. Why, I’ll tell you now, suppose now you come up to me—nay, prithee, Careless, be instructed. Suppose, as I was saying, you come up to me holding your sides, and laughing as if you would—well—I look grave, and ask the cause of this immoderate mirth. You laugh on still, and are not able to tell me, still I look grave, not so much as smile.

CARE. Smile, no, what the devil should you smile at, when you suppose I can’t tell you!

BRISK. Pshaw, pshaw, prithee don’t interrupt me. But I tell you, you shall tell me at last, but it shall be a great while first.

CARE. Well, but prithee don’t let it be a great while, because I long to have it over.

BRISK. Well then, you tell me some good jest or some very witty thing, laughing all the while as if you were ready to die, and I hear it, and look thus. Would not you be disappointed?

CARE. No; for if it were a witty thing I should not expect you to understand it.

LORD FROTH. Oh, foy, Mr. Careless, all the world allows Mr. Brisk to have wit; my wife says he has a great deal. I hope you think her a judge.

BRISK. Pooh, my lord, his voice goes for nothing; I can’t tell how to make him apprehend. Take it t’other way. Suppose I say a witty thing to you?

CARE. Then I shall be disappointed indeed.

MEL. Let him alone, Brisk, he is obstinately bent not to be instructed.

BRISK. I’m sorry for him, the deuce take me.

MEL. Shall we go to the ladies, my lord?

LORD FROTH. With all my heart; methinks we are a solitude without ’em.

MEL. Or what say you to another bottle of champagne?

LORD FROTH. Oh, for the universe not a drop more, I beseech you. Oh, intemperate! I have a flushing in my face already. [Takes out a pocket-glass and looks in it.]

BRISK. Let me see, let me see, my lord, I broke my glass that was in the lid of my snuff-box. Hum! Deuce take me, I have encouraged a pimple here too. [Takes the glass and looks.]

LORD FROTH. Then you must mortify him with a patch; my wife shall supply you. Come, gentlemen, allons, here is company coming.


====SCENE VI.====

LADY TOUCHWOOD and MASKWELL

LADY TOUCH. I’ll hear no more. You are false and ungrateful; come, I know you false.

MASK. I have been frail, I confess, madam, for your ladyship’s service.

LADY TOUCH. That I should trust a man whom I had known betray his friend!

MASK. What friend have I betrayed? or to whom?

LADY TOUCH. Your fond friend Mellefont, and to me; can you deny it?

MASK. I do not.

LADY TOUCH. Have you not wronged my lord, who has been a father to you in your wants, and given you being? Have you not wronged him in the highest manner, in his bed?

MASK. With your ladyship’s help, and for your service, as I told you before. I can’t deny that neither. Anything more, madam?

LADY TOUCH. More! Audacious villain! Oh, what’s more, is most my shame. Have you not dishonoured me?

MASK. No, that I deny; for I never told in all my life: so that accusation’s answered; on to the next.

LADY TOUCH. Death, do you dally with my passion? Insolent devil! But have a care,—provoke me not; for, by the eternal fire, you shall not ’scape my vengeance. Calm villain! How unconcerned he stands, confessing treachery and ingratitude! Is there a vice more black? Oh, I have excuses thousands for my faults; fire in my temper, passions in my soul, apt to ev’ry provocation, oppressed at once with love, and with despair. But a sedate, a thinking villain, whose black blood runs temperately bad, what excuse can clear?

MASK. Will you be in temper, madam? I would not talk not to be heard. I have been [she walks about disordered] a very great rogue for your sake, and you reproach me with it; I am ready to be a rogue still, to do you service; and you are flinging conscience and honour in my face, to rebate my inclinations. How am I to behave myself? You know I am your creature, my life and fortune in your power; to disoblige you brings me certain ruin. Allow it I would betray you, I would not be a traitor to myself: I don’t pretend to honesty, because you know I am a rascal; but I would convince you from the necessity of my being firm to you.

LADY TOUCH. Necessity, impudence! Can no gratitude incline you, no obligations touch you? Have not my fortune and my person been subjected to your pleasure? Were you not in the nature of a servant, and have not I in effect made you lord of all, of me, and of my lord? Where is that humble love, the languishing, that adoration, which once was paid me, and everlastingly engaged?

MASK. Fixt, rooted in my heart, whence nothing can remove ’em, yet you—

LADY TOUCH. Yet, what yet?

MASK. Nay, misconceive me not, madam, when I say I have had a gen’rous and a faithful passion, which you had never favoured, but through revenge and policy.

LADY TOUCH. Ha!

MASK. Look you, madam, we are alone,—pray contain yourself and hear me. You know you loved your nephew when I first sighed for you; I quickly found it: an argument that I loved, for with that art you veiled your passion ’twas imperceptible to all but jealous eyes. This discovery made me bold; I confess it; for by it I thought you in my power. Your nephew’s scorn of you added to my hopes; I watched the occasion, and took you, just repulsed by him, warm at once with love and indignation; your disposition, my arguments, and happy opportunity accomplished my design; I pressed the yielding minute, and was blest. How I have loved you since, words have not shown, then how should words express?

LADY TOUCH. Well, mollifying devil! And have I not met your love with forward fire?

MASK. Your zeal, I grant, was ardent, but misplaced; there was revenge in view; that woman’s idol had defiled the temple of the god, and love was made a mock-worship. A son and heir would have edged young Mellefont upon the brink of ruin, and left him none but you to catch at for prevention.

LADY TOUCH. Again provoke me! Do you wind me like a larum, only to rouse my own stilled soul for your diversion? Confusion!

MASK. Nay, madam, I’m gone, if you relapse. What needs this? I say nothing but what you yourself, in open hours of love, have told me. Why should you deny it? Nay, how can you? Is not all this present heat owing to the same fire? Do you not love him still? How have I this day offended you, but in not breaking off his match with Cynthia? which, ere to-morrow, shall be done, had you but patience.

LADY TOUCH. How, what said you, Maskwell? Another caprice to unwind my temper?

MASK. By heav’n, no; I am your slave, the slave of all your pleasures; and will not rest till I have given you peace, would you suffer me.

LADY TOUCH. O Maskwell! in vain I do disguise me from thee, thou know’st me, knowest the very inmost windings and recesses of my soul. O Mellefont! I burn; married to morrow! Despair strikes me. Yet my soul knows I hate him too: let him but once be mine, and next immediate ruin seize him.

MASK. Compose yourself, you shall possess and ruin him too,—will that please you?

LADY TOUCH. How, how? Thou dear, thou precious villain, how?

MASK. You have already been tampering with my Lady Plyant.

LADY TOUCH. I have: she is ready for any impression I think fit.

MASK. She must be throughly persuaded that Mellefont loves her.

LADY TOUCH. She is so credulous that way naturally, and likes him so well, that she will believe it faster than I can persuade her. But I don’t see what you can propose from such a trifling design, for her first conversing with Mellefont will convince her of the contrary.

MASK. I know it. I don’t depend upon it. But it will prepare something else, and gain us leisure to lay a stronger plot. If I gain a little time, I shall not want contrivance.

One minute gives invention to destroy,

What to rebuild will a whole age employ.