The Way of the World By William Congreve Act IV


[To them] LADY with a letter.

LADY. Call in the dancers; Sir Rowland, we'll sit, if you please, and see the entertainment. [Dance.] Now, with your permission, Sir Rowland, I will peruse my letter. I would open it in your presence, because I would not make you uneasy. If it should make you uneasy, I would burn it — speak if it does — but you may see, the superscription is like a woman's hand.

FOIB. By heaven! Mrs. Marwood's, I know it, — my heart aches — get it from her! [To him.]

WAIT. A woman's hand? No madam, that's no woman's hand: I see that already. That's somebody whose throat must be cut.

LADY. Nay, Sir Rowland, since you give me a proof of your passion by your jealousy, I promise you I'll make a return by a frank communication. You shall see it — we'll open it together. Look you here. [Reads.] MADAM, THOUGH UNKNOWN TO YOU (look you there, 'tis from nobody that I know.) I HAVE THAT HONOUR FOR YOUR CHARACTER, THAT I THINK MYSELF OBLIGED TO LET YOU KNOW YOU ARE ABUSED. HE WHO PRETENDS TO BE SIR ROWLAND IS A CHEAT AND A RASCAL. O heavens! what's this?

FOIB. Unfortunate; all's ruined.

WAIT. How, how, let me see, let me see. [Reading.] A RASCAL, AND DISGUISED AND SUBORNED FOR THAT IMPOSTURE — O villainy! O villainy! — BY THE CONTRIVANCE OF -

LADY. I shall faint, I shall die. Oh!

FOIB. Say 'tis your nephew's hand. Quickly, his plot, swear, swear it! [To him.]

WAIT. Here's a villain! Madam, don't you perceive it? Don't you see it?

LADY. Too well, too well. I have seen too much.

WAIT. I told you at first I knew the hand. A woman's hand? The rascal writes a sort of a large hand: your Roman hand. — I saw there was a throat to be cut presently. If he were my son, as he is my nephew, I'd pistol him.

FOIB. O treachery! But are you sure, Sir Rowland, it is his writing?

WAIT. Sure? Am I here? Do I live? Do I love this pearl of India? I have twenty letters in my pocket from him in the same character.

LADY. How?

FOIB. Oh, what luck it is, Sir Rowland, that you were present at this juncture! This was the business that brought Mr. Mirabell disguised to Madam Millamant this afternoon. I thought something was contriving, when he stole by me and would have hid his face.

LADY. How, how? I heard the villain was in the house indeed; and now I remember, my niece went away abruptly when Sir Wilfull was to have made his addresses.

FOIB. Then, then, madam, Mr. Mirabell waited for her in her chamber; but I would not tell your ladyship to discompose you when you were to receive Sir Rowland.

WAIT. Enough, his date is short.

FOIB. No, good Sir Rowland, don't incur the law.

WAIT. Law? I care not for law. I can but die, and 'tis in a good cause. My lady shall be satisfied of my truth and innocence, though it cost me my life.

LADY. No, dear Sir Rowland, don't fight: if you should be killed I must never show my face; or hanged, — oh, consider my reputation, Sir Rowland. No, you shan't fight: I'll go in and examine my niece; I'll make her confess. I conjure you, Sir Rowland, by all your love not to fight.

WAIT. I am charmed, madam; I obey. But some proof you must let me give you: I'll go for a black box, which contains the writings of my whole estate, and deliver that into your hands.

LADY. Ay, dear Sir Rowland, that will be some comfort; bring the black box.

WAIT. And may I presume to bring a contract to be signed this night? May I hope so far?

LADY. Bring what you will; but come alive, pray come alive. Oh, this is a happy discovery.

WAIT. Dead or alive I'll come — and married we will be in spite of treachery; ay, and get an heir that shall defeat the last remaining glimpse of hope in my abandoned nephew. Come, my buxom widow:

E'er long you shall substantial proof receive That I'm an arrant knight -

FOIB. Or arrant knave.

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Lady Wishfort, who is __________ years old, is vain and susceptible to false flattery.