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The man rose, and flung his pen upon the floor.
“No!” said the woman without a moment's hesitation ; “not till we die, as we have lived. Heaven is higher than the sky; children," said she, lest perchance her husband's words should have harmed their young souls, “the sky is above the earth, and heaven is higher than the sky; and Heaven is just.”
“I suppose it is so,” said the man, a little cowed by her. " Everybody says so. I think so, at bottom, myself; but I can't see it. I want to see it, but I can't!” cried he fiercely. “Have my children offended Heaven? They will starve – they will die! If I was Heaven, I'd be just, and send an angel to take these children's part. They cried to me for bread, — I had no bread; so I gave them hard words. The moment I had done that, I knew it was all over. God knows it took a long while to break my heart; but it is broken at last ; quite, quite broken! broken! broken!"
And the poor thing laid his head upon the table, and sobbed, beyond all power of restraint. The children cried round him, scarce knowing why; and Mrs. Triplet could only say, poor husband !” and prayed and wept upon the couch where she lay.
It was at this juncture that a lady, who had knocked gently and unheard, opened the door, and with a light step entered the apartment; but no sooner had she caught sight of Triplet's anguish, than saying hastily, “Stay, I forgot something,” she made as hasty an exit.
This gave Triplet a moment to recover himself; and Mrs. Woffington, whose lynx eye had comprehended all at a glance, and who had determined at once what line to take, came flying in again, saying,
“ Was n't somebody inquiring for an angel? Here I am. See, Mr. Triplet ;” and she showed him a note, which said:
Madam, you are an angel. From a perfect stranger,” explained she; “so it must be true.”
“ Mrs. Woffington," said Mr. Triplet to his wife.
Mrs. Woffington planted herself in the middle of the floor, and with a comical glance, setting her arms akimbo, uttered a shrill whistle.
“ Now you will see another angel, there are two sorts of them.”
Pompey came in with a basket; she took it from him.
“ Lucifer, avaunt!” cried she, in a terrible tone, that drove him to the wall; “ and wait outside the door," added she, conversationally.
“I heard you were ill, ma'am, and I have brought you some physic, - black draughts from Burgundy ;” and she smiled. And, recovered from their first surprise, young and old began to thaw beneath that witching, irresistible smile.
Mrs. Triplet, I have come to give your husband a sitting; will you allow me to eat my little luncheon with you? I am so hungry.” Then she clapped her hands, and in ran Pompey. She sent him for a pie she professed to have fallen in love with at the corner of the street.
“Mother,” said Alcibiades, “ will the lady give me a bit of her pie ?”
“ Hush! you rude boy !” cried the mother.
“ She is not much of a lady if she does not,” cried Mrs. Woffington. “Now, children, first let us look at — ahem - a comedy. Nineteen dramatis personæ! What do you say, chil. dren, shall we cut out seven, or nine? that is the question. You can't bring your armies into our drawing-rooms, Mr. Dagger-and-bowl. Are you the Marlborough of comedy ? Can you marshal battalions on a turkey carpet, and make gentlefolks witty in platoons? What is this in the first act? A duel, and both wounded! You butcher!”
They are not to die, ma'am !" cried Triplet, deprecatingly; upon my honor,” said he, solemnly, spreading his hands on his bosom.
“Do you think I'll trust their lives with you? No! Give me a pen ; this is the way we run people through the body." Then she wrote (“ business.” Araminta looks out of the garret window. Combatants drop their swords, put their hands to their hearts, and stagger off 0. P. and P. S.). “Now, children, who helps me to lay the cloth ?”
MRS. TRIPLET (half rising). "Madam, I can't think of allowing you."
Mrs. Woffington replied : “Sit down, madam, or I must use brute force. If you are ill, be ill — till I make you
well. Twelve plates, quick! Twenty-four knives, quicker! Fortyeight forks, quickest!” She met the children with the cloth and laid it; then she met them again and laid knives and forks, all at full gallop, which mightily excited the bairns. Pompey came in with the pie, Mrs. Woffington took it and set it before Triplet.
MRS. WOFFINGTON. “Your coat, Mr. Triplet, if you please.”
and carve.” Then she whipped to the other end of the table and stitched like wild-fire. “ Be pleased to cast your eyes on that, Mrs. Triplet. Pass it to the lady, young gentleman. Fire away, Mr. Triplet, never mind us women. Woffington's housewife, ma'am, fearful to the eye, only it holds everything in the world, and there is a small space for everything else, — to be returned by the bearer. Thank you, sir.” (Stitches away like lightning at the coat.) “Eat away, children ! now is your time; when once I begin, the pie will soon end ; I do everything so quick."
RoxaLANA. “The lady sews quicker than you, mother.”
WOFFINGTON. “Bless the child, don't come so near my swordarm; the needle will go into your eye, and out at the back of
This nonsense made the children giggle.
“ The needle will be lost, — the child no more, - enter undertaker, — house turned topsy-turvy, — father shows Woffington to the door, - off she goes with a face as long and dismal as some people's comedies, no names,
crying fine cha-ney oranges.”
The children, all but Lucy, screeched with laughter.
Mother, the lady is very funny.”
This just hit poor Trip's notion of humor, and he began to choke, with his mouth full of pie.
“ James, take care,” said Mrs. Triplet, sad and solemn. James looked up.
“My wife is a good woman, madam,” said he; “ but deficient in an important particular."
“O James !”
“Yes, my dear. I regret to say you have no sense of humor ; num-more than a cat, Jane."
“ What! because the poor thing can't laugh at your comedy ?” “No, ma'am ; but she laughs at nothing." “Try her with one of your tragedies, my lad.”
“I am sure, James,” said the poor, good, lackadaisical woman, “ if I don't laugh, it is not for want of the will. I used to be a very hearty laugher,” whined she; “ but I have n't laughed this two years."
“O, indeed!” said the Woffington. “ Then the next two years, you shall do nothing else.”
“Ah, madam !” said Triplet. “ That passes the art, even of the great comedian."
“ Does it?" said the actress, coolly.
LUCY. “ She is not a comedy lady. You don't ever cry, pretty lady?”
WoFFINGTON (ironically). “0, of course not.”
Lucy (confidentially). “Comedy is crying. Father cried all the time he was writing his one.”
Triplet turned red as fire.
“ Hold your tongue,” said he: “I was bursting with merriment. Wife, our children talk too much ; they put their noses into everything, and criticise their own father.”
“ Unnatural offspring !” laughed the visitor.
“ And when they take up a notion, Socrates could n't convince them to the contrary. For instance, madam, all this morning they thought fit to assume that they were starving."
“So we were,” said Lysimachus, “until the angel came; and the devil went for the pie.”
“ There - there - there! Now, you mark my words; we shall never get that idea out of their heads
“Until,” said Mrs. Woffington, lumping a huge cut of pie into Roxalana's plate, “ we put a very different idea into their stomachs.” . This and the look she cast on Mrs. Triplet fairly caught that good, though sombre personage. She giggled ; put her hand to her face, and said: “I'm sure I ask your pardon, ma'am.”
It was no use ; the comedian had determined they should all laugh, and they were made to laugh. Then she rose, and showed them how to drink healths à la Francaise ; and keen were her little admirers to touch her glass with theirs. And the pure wine she had brought did Mrs. Triplet much good, too ; though not so much as the music and sunshine of her face and voice. Then, when their stomachs were full of good food, and the soul of the grape tingled in their veins, and their souls glowed under her great magnetic power, she suddenly seized the fiddle, and showed them another of her enchantments. She put it on her knee, and played a tune that would have made gout, colic, and phthisic dance upon their last legs. She played to the eye as well as to the ear, with such a smart gesture of the bow, and such a radiance of face as she looked at them, that whether the music came out of her wooden shell, or her horse-hair wand, or her bright self, seemed doubtful. They pranced on their chairs; they could not keep still. She jumped up ; so did they. She gave a wild Irish horroo. She put the fiddle in Triplet's hand.
“ The wind that shakes the barley, ye divil!” cried she.
Triplet went hors de lui; he played like Paganini, or an intoxicated demon. Woffington covered the buckle in gallant style; she danced, the children danced. Triplet fiddled and danced, and flung his limbs in wild dislocation; the wineglasses danced; and last, Mrs. Triplet was observed to be bobbing about on her sofa, in a monstrous absurd way, droning out the tune, and playing her hands with mild enjoyment, all to herself. Woffington pointed out this pantomimic soliloquy to the two boys, with a glance full of fiery meaning. This was enough : with a fiendish yell, they fell upon her, and tore her, shrieking, off the sofa. And lo! when she was once launched, she danced up to her husband, and set to him with a meek deliberation that was as funny as any part of the scene. So then the mover of all this slipped on one side, and let the stone of merriment roll, - and roll it did ; there was no swimming, sprawling, or irrelevant frisking; their feet struck the ground for every note of the fiddle, pat as its echo, their faces shone, their hearts leaped and their
poor frozen natures came out, and warmed themselves at the glowing melody; a great sunbeam had come into their abode, and these human motes danced in it. The elder ones recovered their gravity first, they sat down breathless, and put their hands to their hearts; they looked at one another, and then at the goddess who had revived them. Their first feeling was wonder; were they the same, who, ten minutes ago, were weeping together? Yes! ten minutes ago they were rayless, joyless, hopeless. Now the sun was in their hearts, and sorrow and sighing were fled, as fogs disperse before the god of day. It was magical; could a mortal play upon the soul of man, woman, and child like this? Happy Woffington ! and suppose this was more than half acting, but such acting as Triplet never dreamed of; and to tell the honest, simple truth, I myself should not have suspected it; but children are sharper than one would