ACT II
Scene V.
 

[To them] MRS. MILLAMANT, WITWOUD, MINCING.

MIRABELL
Here she comes, i'faith, full sail, with her fan spread and streamers out, and a shoal of fools for tenders.--Ha, no, I cry her mercy.

MRS. FAINALL
I see but one poor empty sculler, and he tows her woman after him.

MIRABELL
You seem to be unattended, madam. You used to have the BEAU MONDE throng after you, and a flock of gay fine perukes hovering round you.

WITWOUD
Like moths about a candle. I had like to have lost my comparison for want of breath.

MILLAMANT
Oh, I have denied myself airs to-day. I have walked as fast through the crowd -

WITWOUD
As a favourite just disgraced, and with as few followers.

MILLAMANT
Dear Mr. Witwoud, truce with your similitudes, for I am as sick of 'em -

WITWOUD
As a physician of a good air. I cannot help it, madam, though 'tis against myself.

MILLAMANT
Yet again! Mincing, stand between me and his wit.

WITWOUD
Do, Mrs. Mincing, like a screen before a great fire. I confess I do blaze to-day; I am too bright.

MRS. FAINALL
But, dear Millamant, why were you so long?

MILLAMANT
Long! Lord, have I not made violent haste? I have asked every living thing I met for you; I have enquired after you, as after a new fashion.

WITWOUD
Madam, truce with your similitudes.--No, you met her husband, and did not ask him for her.

MIRABELL
By your leave, Witwoud, that were like enquiring after an old fashion to ask a husband for his wife.

WITWOUD
Hum, a hit, a hit, a palpable hit; I confess it.

MRS. FAINALL
You were dressed before I came abroad.

MILLAMANT
Ay, that's true. Oh, but then I had--Mincing, what had I? Why was I so long?

MINCING
O mem, your laship stayed to peruse a packet of letters.

MILLAMANT
Oh, ay, letters--I had letters--I am persecuted with letters--I hate letters. Nobody knows how to write letters; and yet one has 'em, one does not know why. They serve one to pin up one's hair.

WITWOUD
Is that the way? Pray, madam, do you pin up your hair with all your letters? I find I must keep copies.

MILLAMANT
Only with those in verse, Mr. Witwoud. I never pin up my hair with prose. I think I tried once, Mincing.

MINCING
O mem, I shall never forget it.

MILLAMANT
Ay, poor Mincing tift and tift all the morning.

MINCING
Till I had the cramp in my fingers, I'll vow, mem. And all to no purpose. But when your laship pins it up with poetry, it fits so pleasant the next day as anything, and is so pure and so crips.

WITWOUD
Indeed, so crips?

MINCING
You're such a critic, Mr. Witwoud.

MILLAMANT
Mirabell, did you take exceptions last night? Oh, ay, and went away. Now I think on't I'm angry--no, now I think on't I'm pleased:- for I believe I gave you some pain.

MIRABELL
Does that please you?

MILLAMANT
Infinitely; I love to give pain.

MIRABELL
You would affect a cruelty which is not in your nature; your true vanity is in the power of pleasing.

MILLAMANT
Oh, I ask your pardon for that. One's cruelty is one's power, and when one parts with one's cruelty one parts with one's power, and when one has parted with that, I fancy one's old and ugly.

MIRABELL
Ay, ay; suffer your cruelty to ruin the object of your power, to destroy your lover--and then how vain, how lost a thing you'll be! Nay, 'tis true; you are no longer handsome when you've lost your lover: your beauty dies upon the instant. For beauty is the lover's gift: 'tis he bestows your charms:- your glass is all a cheat. The ugly and the old, whom the looking-glass mortifies, yet after commendation can be flattered by it, and discover beauties in it: for that reflects our praises rather than your face.

MILLAMANT
Oh, the vanity of these men! Fainall, d'ye hear him? If they did not commend us, we were not handsome! Now you must know they could not commend one if one was not handsome. Beauty the lover's gift! Lord, what is a lover, that it can give? Why, one makes lovers as fast as one pleases, and they live as long as one pleases, and they die as soon as one pleases; and then, if one pleases, one makes more.

WITWOUD
Very pretty. Why, you make no more of making of lovers, madam, than of making so many card-matches.

MILLAMANT
One no more owes one's beauty to a lover than one's wit to an echo. They can but reflect what we look and say: vain empty things if we are silent or unseen, and want a being.

MIRABELL
Yet, to those two vain empty things, you owe two the greatest pleasures of your life.

MILLAMANT
How so?

MIRABELL
To your lover you owe the pleasure of hearing yourselves praised, and to an echo the pleasure of hearing yourselves talk.

WITWOUD
But I know a lady that loves talking so incessantly, she won't give an echo fair play; she has that everlasting rotation of tongue that an echo must wait till she dies before it can catch her last words.

MILLAMANT
Oh, fiction; Fainall, let us leave these men.

MIRABELL
Draw off Witwoud. [Aside to MRS. FAINALL.]

MRS. FAINALL
Immediately; I have a word or two for Mr. Witwoud.