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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Will He Do With It - Book 1 - Chapter 12
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What Will He Do With It - Book 1 - Chapter 12 Post by :richa Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3253

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What Will He Do With It - Book 1 - Chapter 12

BOOK I CHAPTER XII

In which it is shown that a man does this or declines to do that for
reasons best known to himself,--a reserve which is extremely
conducive to the social interests of a community, since the
conjecture into the origin and nature of those reasons stimulates
the inquiring faculties, and furnishes the staple of modern
conversation. And as it is not to be denied that, if their
neighbours left them nothing to guess at, three-fourths of civilized
humankind, male or female, would have nothing to talk about; so we
cannot too gratefully encourage that needful curiosity termed by the
inconsiderate tittle-tattle or scandal, which saves the vast
majority of our species from being reduced to the degraded condition
of dumb animals.

The next day the sitting was renewed: but Waife did not go out, and
the conversation was a little more restrained; or rather, Waife had the
larger share in it. The Comedian, when he pleased, could certainly be
very entertaining. It was not so much in what he said as his manner of
saying it. He was a strange combination of sudden extremes, at one while
on a tone of easy but not undignified familiarity with his visitors,
as if their equal in position, their superior in years; then abruptly,
humble, deprecating, almost obsequious, almost servile; and then again,
jerked as it were into pride and stiffness, falling back, as if the
effort were impossible, into meek dejection. Still the prevalent
character of the man's mood and talk was social, quaint, cheerful.
Evidently he was by original temperament a droll and joyous humourist,
with high animal spirits; and, withal, an infantine simplicity at times,
like the clever man who never learns the world and is always taken in.

A circumstance, trifling in itself, but suggestive of speculation either
as to the character or antecedent circumstances of Gentleman Waife, did
not escape Vance's observation. Since his rupture with Mr. Rugge, there
was a considerable amelioration in that affection of the trachea, which,
while his engagement with Rugge lasted, had rendered the Comedian's
dramatic talents unavailable on the stage. He now expressed himself
without the pathetic hoarseness or cavernous wheeze which had previously
thrown a wet blanket over his efforts at discourse. But Vance put no
very stern construction on the dissimulation which his change seemed
to denote. Since Waife was still one-eyed and a cripple, he might very
excusably shrink from reappearance on the stage, and affect a third
infirmity to save his pride from the exhibition of the two infirmities
that were genuine.

That which most puzzled Vance was that which had most puzzled the
Cobbler,--What could the man once have been? how fallen so low?--for
fall it was, that was clear. The painter, though not himself of
patrician extraction, had been much in the best society. He had been
a petted favourite in great houses. He had travelled. He had seen the
world. He had the habits and instincts of good society.

Now, in what the French term the _beau monde_, there are little traits
that reveal those who have entered it,--certain tricks of phrase,
certain modes of expression,--even the pronunciation of familiar words,
even the modulation of an accent. A man of the most refined bearing may
not have these peculiarities; a man, otherwise coarse and brusque in his
manner, may. The slang of the _beau monde is quite apart from the code
of high breeding. Now and then, something in Waife's talk seemed to show
that he had lighted on that beau-world; now and then, that something
wholly vanished. So that Vance might have said, "He has been admitted
there, not inhabited it."

Yet Vance could not feel sure, after all; comedians are such takes in.
But was the man, by the profession of his earlier life, a comedian?
Vance asked the question adroitly.

"You must have taken to the stage young?" said he.

"The stage!" said Waife; "if you mean the public stage, no. I have
acted pretty often in youth, even in childhood, to amuse others, never
professionally to support myself, till Mr. Rugge civilly engaged me four
years ago."

"Is it possible,--with your excellent education! But pardon me; I have
hinted my surprise at your late vocation before, and it displeased you."

"Displeased me!" said Waife, with an abject, depressed manner; "I hope I
said nothing that would have misbecome a poor broken vagabond like me.
I am no prince in disguise,--a good-for-nothing varlet who should be too
grateful to have something to keep himself from a dunghill."

LIONEL.--"Don't talk so. And but for your accident you might now be
the great attraction on the metropolitan stage. Who does not respect a
really fine actor?"

WAIFE (gloomily).--"The metropolitan stage! I was talked into it: I am
glad even of the accident that saved me; say no more of that, no more
of that. But I have spoiled your sitting. Sophy, you see, has left her
chair."

"I have done for to-day," said Vance; "to-morrow, and my task is ended."

Lionel came up to Vance and whispered him; the painter, after a pause,
nodded silently, and then said to Waife,

"We are going to enjoy the fine weather on the Thames (after I have put
away these things), and shall return to our inn--not far hence--to sup,
at eight o'clock. Supper is our principal meal; we rarely spoil our days
by the ceremonial of a formal dinner. Will you do us the favour to sup
with us? Our host has a wonderful whiskey, which when raw is Glenlivat,
but refined into toddy is nectar. Bring your pipe, and let us hear John
Kemble again."

Waife's face lighted up. "You are most kind; nothing I should like
so much. But--" and the light fled, the face darkened--"but no; I
cannot--you don't know--that is--I--I have made a vow to myself to
decline all such temptations. I humbly beg you'll excuse me."

VANCE.--"Temptations! of what kind,--the whiskey toddy?"

WAIFE (puffing away a sigh).--"Ah, yes; whiskey toddy, if you please.
Perhaps I once loved a glass too well, and could not resist a glass too
much now; and if I once broke the rule and became a tippler, what would
happen to Juliet Araminta? For her sake don't press me."

"Oh, do go, Grandy; he never drinks,--never anything stronger than tea,
I assure you, sir: it can't be that."

"It is, silly child, and nothing else," said Waife, positively, drawing
himself up,--"excuse me."

Lionel began brushing his hat with his sleeve, and his face worked; at
last he said, "Well, sir, then may I ask another favour? Mr. Vance and
I are going to-morrow, after the sitting, to see Hampton Court; we have
kept that excursion to the last before leaving these parts. Would you
and little Sophy come with us in the boat? We will have no whiskey
toddy, and we will bring you both safe home."

WAIFE.--"What--I! what--I! You are very young, sir,--a gentleman born
and bred, I'll swear; and you to be seen, perhaps by some of your
friends or family, with an old vagrant like me, in the Queen's
palace,--the public gardens! I should be the vilest wretch if I took
such advantage of your goodness. 'Pretty company,' they would say, 'you
had got into.' With me! with me! Don't be alarmed, Mr. Vance not to be
thought of."

The young men were deeply affected.

"I can't accept that reason," said Lionel, tremulously, "though I must
not presume to derange your habits. But she may go with us, mayn't she?
We'll take care of her, and she is dressed so plainly and neatly, and
looks such a little lady" (turning to Vance).

"Yes, let her come with us," said the artist, benevolently; though he
by no means shared in Lionel's enthusiastic desire for her company. He
thought she would be greatly in their way.

"Heaven bless you both!" answered Waife; "and she wants a holiday; she
shall have it."

"I'd rather stay with you, Grandy: you'll be so lone."

"No, I wish to be out all to-morrow,-the investment! I shall not be
alone; making friends with our future companion, Sophy."

"And can do without me already? heigh-ho!"

VANCE.--"So that's settled; good-by to you."

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