Act I - Scene i

SCENE: The Street.

Bellmour and Vainlove meeting.

BELL.  Vainlove, and abroad so early!  Good-morrow; I thought a contemplative lover could no more have parted with his bed in a morning than he could have slept in’t.

VAIN.  Bellmour, good-morrow.  Why, truth on’t is, these early sallies are not usual to me; but business, as you see, sir—[Showing Letters.]  And business must be followed, or be lost.

BELL.  Business!  And so must time, my friend, be close pursued, or lost.  Business is the rub of life, perverts our aim, casts off the bias, and leaves us wide and short of the intended mark.

VAIN.  Pleasure, I guess you mean.

BELL.  Ay; what else has meaning?

VAIN.  Oh, the wise will tell you—

BELL.  More than they believe—or understand.

VAIN.  How, how, Ned!  A wise man say more than he understands?

BELL.  Ay, ay!  Wisdom’s nothing but a pretending to know and believe more than we really do.  You read of but one wise man, and all that he knew was, that he knew nothing.  Come, come, leave business to idlers and wisdom to fools; they have need of ’em.  Wit be my faculty, and pleasure my occupation; and let Father Time shake his glass.  Let low and earthly souls grovel till they have worked themselves six foot deep into a grave.  Business is not my element—I roll in a higher orb, and dwell—

VAIN.  In castles i’ th’ air of thy own building.  That’s thy element, Ned.  Well, as high a flier as you are, I have a lure may make you stoop.  [Flings a Letter.]

BELL.  I, marry, sir, I have a hawk’s eye at a woman’s hand.  There’s more elegancy in the false spelling of this superscription [takes up the Letter] than in all Cicero.  Let me see.—How now!—Dear perfidious Vainlove.  [Reads.]

VAIN.  Hold, hold, ’slife, that’s the wrong.

BELL.  Nay, let’s see the name—Sylvia!—how canst thou be ungrateful to that creature?  She’s extremely pretty, and loves thee entirely—I have heard her breathe such raptures about thee—

VAIN.  Ay, or anybody that she’s about—

BELL.  No, faith, Frank, you wrong her; she has been just to you.

VAIN.  That’s pleasant, by my troth, from thee, who hast had her.

BELL.  Never—her affections.  ’Tis true, by heaven: she owned it to my face; and, blushing like the virgin morn when it disclosed the cheat which that trusty bawd of nature, night, had hid, confessed her soul was true to you; though I by treachery had stolen the bliss.

VAIN.  So was true as turtle—in imagination—Ned, ha?  Preach this doctrine to husbands, and the married women will adore thee.

BELL.  Why, faith, I think it will do well enough, if the husband be out of the way, for the wife to show her fondness and impatience of his absence by choosing a lover as like him as she can; and what is unlike, she may help out with her own fancy.

VAIN.  But is it not an abuse to the lover to be made a blind of?

BELL.  As you say, the abuse is to the lover, not the husband.  For ’tis an argument of her great zeal towards him, that she will enjoy him in effigy.

VAIN.  It must be a very superstitious country where such zeal passes for true devotion.  I doubt it will be damned by all our Protestant husbands for flat idolatry.  But, if you can make Alderman Fondlewife of your persuasion, this letter will be needless.

BELL.  What!  The old banker with the handsome wife?

VAIN.  Ay.

BELL.  Let me see—Lætitia!  Oh, ’tis a delicious morsel.  Dear Frank, thou art the truest friend in the world.

VAIN.  Ay, am I not?  To be continually starting of hares for you to course.  We were certainly cut out for one another; for my temper quits an amour just where thine takes it up.  But read that; it is an appointment for me, this evening—when Fondlewife will be gone out of town, to meet the master of a ship, about the return of a venture which he’s in danger of losing.  Read, read.

BELL.  [reads.]  Hum, Hum—Out of town this evening, and talks of sending for Mr. Spintext to keep me company; but I’ll take care he shall not be at home.  Good!  Spintext!  Oh, the fanatic one-eyed parson!

VAIN.  Ay.

BELL.  [reads.]  Hum, Hum—That your conversation will be much more agreeable, if you can counterfeit his habit to blind the servants.  Very good!  Then I must be disguised?—With all my heart!—It adds a gusto to an amour; gives it the greater resemblance of theft; and, among us lewd mortals, the deeper the sin the sweeter.  Frank, I’m amazed at thy good nature—

VAIN.  Faith, I hate love when ’tis forced upon a man, as I do wine.  And this business is none of my seeking; I only happened to be, once or twice, where Lætitia was the handsomest woman in company; so, consequently, applied myself to her—and it seems she has taken me at my word.  Had you been there, or anybody, ’t had been the same.

BELL.  I wish I may succeed as the same.

VAIN.  Never doubt it; for if the spirit of cuckoldom be once raised up in a woman, the devil can’t lay it, until she has done’t.

BELL.  Prithee, what sort of fellow is Fondlewife?

VAIN.  A kind of mongrel zealot, sometimes very precise and peevish.  But I have seen him pleasant enough in his way; much addicted to jealousy, but more to fondness; so that as he is often jealous without a cause, he’s as often satisfied without reason.

BELL.  A very even temper, and fit for my purpose.  I must get your man Setter to provide my disguise.

VAIN.  Ay; you may take him for good and all, if you will, for you have made him fit for nobody else.  Well—

BELL.  You’re going to visit in return of Sylvia’s letter.  Poor rogue!  Any hour of the day or night will serve her.  But do you know nothing of a new rival there?

VAIN.  Yes; Heartwell—that surly, old, pretended woman-hater—thinks her virtuous; that’s one reason why I fail her.  I would have her fret herself out of conceit with me, that she may entertain some thoughts of him.  I know he visits her every day.

BELL.  Yet rails on still, and thinks his love unknown to us.  A little time will swell him so, he must be forced to give it birth; and the discovery must needs be very pleasant from himself, to see what pains he will take, and how he will strain to be delivered of a secret, when he has miscarried of it already.

VAIN.  Well, good-morrow.  Let’s dine together; I’ll meet at the old place.

BELL.  With all my heart.  It lies convenient for us to pay our afternoon services to our mistresses.  I find I am damnably in love, I’m so uneasy for not having seen Belinda yesterday.

VAIN.  But I saw my Araminta, yet am as impatient.