But what care we for the prologue when the first scene is on and Violante and Leonora are confessing their respective love affairs, as women always do—on the stage. Leonora has a dragon of a brother who would compel her to marry that pink of empty propriety, Sir Courtly, but she rebels against the admirer selected for her, as all well-bred young women should in plays, and sets her heart upon another. In consequence there is trouble of the dear old romantic kind.
“I never stir out, but as they say the Devil does, with chains and torments,” Leonora tells Violante. “She that is my Hell at home is so abroad.”
“Vio. A New Woman?
“Leo. No, an old Woman, or rather an old Devil; nay, worse than an old Devil, an old Maid.
“Vio. Oh, there’s no Fiend so Envious.
“Leo. Right; she will no more let young People sin, than the Devil will let ’em be sav’d, out of envy to their happiness.
“Vio. Who is she?
“Leo. One of my own blood, an Aunt.
“Vio. I know her. She of thy blood? She has not a drop of it these twenty years; the Devil of envy sucked it all out, and let verjuice in the roome.”
These lines are decidedly unfeminine and coarse, as viewed from a nineteenth century standard, and there is nothing in them to recommend the two girls to the particular favour of the audience. Yet, in the case of Leonora, they are given with such rare spirit, and the speaker, with her almost sensuous charm and the melody of that marvellous voice, is so fascinating, that the house is suddenly caught in some entrancing spell. Oldfield has burst upon it in all the sudden glory of a newly unfolded flower, and murmurs of admiration and surprise are heard on every side. More than this, Queen Anne, whose thoughts may have been far away with the dead Duke of Gloucester, betrays a sudden interest in the performance, and thus sets the fashion for all those around her, excepting his most sleepy Royal Highness, the Prince of Denmark. He dozes on; twenty angels from heaven would not disturb him.
As the play proceeds, the curiosity centres around the new Leonora, so that even the scene where Sir Courtly is found making the most elaborate of toilets, with the assistance of a bevy of vocalists, does not exert the attraction to be found in the presence of Oldfield. The episode is all very funny, of course, and there is an appreciative titter when the fop defines the characteristics of a gentleman:
“Complaisance, fine hands, a mouth well furnished—
“Servant. With fine language?
“Sir courtly. Fine teeth, you sot; fine language belongs to pedants and poor fellows that live by their wits. Men of quality are above wit. ’Tis true, for our diversion, sometimes we write, but we ne’er regard wit. I write, but I never write any wit.
“Servant. How then, sir?