ACT I
Scene VI.
 

[To them] WITWOUD.

WITWOUD
Afford me your compassion, my dears; pity me, Fainall, Mirabell, pity me.

MIRABELL
I do from my soul.

FAINALL
Why, what's the matter?

WITWOUD
No letters for me, Betty?

BETTY
Did not a messenger bring you one but now, sir?

WITWOUD
Ay; but no other?

BETTY
No, sir.

WITWOUD
That's hard, that's very hard. A messenger, a mule, a beast of burden, he has brought me a letter from the fool my brother, as heavy as a panegyric in a funeral sermon, or a copy of commendatory verses from one poet to another. And what's worse, 'tis as sure a forerunner of the author as an epistle dedicatory.

MIRABELL
A fool, and your brother, Witwoud?

WITWOUD
Ay, ay, my half-brother. My half-brother he is, no nearer, upon honour.

MIRABELL
Then 'tis possible he may be but half a fool.

WITWOUD
Good, good, Mirabell, LE DROLE! Good, good, hang him, don't let's talk of him.--Fainall, how does your lady? Gad, I say anything in the world to get this fellow out of my head. I beg pardon that I should ask a man of pleasure and the town a question at once so foreign and domestic. But I talk like an old maid at a marriage, I don't know what I say: but she's the best woman in the world.

FAINALL
'Tis well you don't know what you say, or else your commendation would go near to make me either vain or jealous.

WITWOUD
No man in town lives well with a wife but Fainall. Your judgment, Mirabell?

MIRABELL
You had better step and ask his wife, if you would be credibly informed.

WITWOUD
Mirabell!

MIRABELL
Ay.

WITWOUD
My dear, I ask ten thousand pardons. Gad, I have forgot what I was going to say to you.

MIRABELL
I thank you heartily, heartily.

WITWOUD
No, but prithee excuse me:- my memory is such a memory.

MIRABELL
Have a care of such apologies, Witwoud; for I never knew a fool but he affected to complain either of the spleen or his memory.

FAINALL
What have you done with Petulant?

WITWOUD
He's reckoning his money; my money it was: I have no luck to- day.

FAINALL
You may allow him to win of you at play, for you are sure to be too hard for him at repartee: since you monopolise the wit that is between you, the fortune must be his of course.

MIRABELL
I don't find that Petulant confesses the superiority of wit to be your talent, Witwoud.

WITWOUD
Come, come, you are malicious now, and would breed debates. Petulant's my friend, and a very honest fellow, and a very pretty fellow, and has a smattering--faith and troth, a pretty deal of an odd sort of a small wit: nay, I'll do him justice. I'm his friend, I won't wrong him. And if he had any judgment in the world, he would not be altogether contemptible. Come, come, don't detract from the merits of my friend.

FAINALL
You don't take your friend to be over-nicely bred?

WITWOUD
No, no, hang him, the rogue has no manners at all, that I must own; no more breeding than a bum-baily, that I grant you:- 'tis pity; the fellow has fire and life.

MIRABELL
What, courage?

WITWOUD
Hum, faith, I don't know as to that, I can't say as to that. Yes, faith, in a controversy he'll contradict anybody.

MIRABELL
Though 'twere a man whom he feared or a woman whom he loved.

WITWOUD
Well, well, he does not always think before he speaks. We have all our failings; you are too hard upon him, you are, faith. Let me excuse him,--I can defend most of his faults, except one or two; one he has, that's the truth on't,--if he were my brother I could not acquit him--that indeed I could wish were otherwise.

MIRABELL
Ay, marry, what's that, Witwoud?

WITWOUD
Oh, pardon me. Expose the infirmities of my friend? No, my dear, excuse me there.

FAINALL
What, I warrant he's unsincere, or 'tis some such trifle.

WITWOUD
No, no; what if he be? 'Tis no matter for that, his wit will excuse that. A wit should no more be sincere than a woman constant: one argues a decay of parts, as t'other of beauty.

MIRABELL
Maybe you think him too positive?

WITWOUD
No, no; his being positive is an incentive to argument, and keeps up conversation.

FAINALL
Too illiterate?

WITWOUD
That? That's his happiness. His want of learning gives him the more opportunities to show his natural parts.

MIRABELL
He wants words?

WITWOUD
Ay; but I like him for that now: for his want of words gives me the pleasure very often to explain his meaning.

FAINALL
He's impudent?

WITWOUD
No that's not it.

MIRABELL
Vain?

WITWOUD
No.

MIRABELL
What, he speaks unseasonable truths sometimes, because he has not wit enough to invent an evasion?

WITWOUD
Truths? Ha, ha, ha! No, no, since you will have it, I mean he never speaks truth at all, that's all. He will lie like a chambermaid, or a woman of quality's porter. Now that is a fault.