(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Mr. Harry Vane had come from Shropshire to London on business affairs. After completing his business, he decided to remain in London for pleasure, for he had seen Mrs. Woffington on the stage and had fallen in love with her. From his box seat at the theater, where he sat night after night, he sent her anonymous notes and flowers and waited for some sign that his attentions had awakened her interest. One night, he sent a corsage with a note asking her to wear the flowers in her hair if the gentleman’s notes had interested her. In the final act of the evening’s performance, she appeared with the flowers in her hair. Vane was more determined than ever to meet the actress personally.

From the audience, Sir Charles Pomander, whom Vane knew slightly, had seen Vane in his box for many evenings. Curiosity was one of Sir Charles’s greatest weaknesses; he watched to detect signs in Mrs. Woffington or in Vane to learn whether the gentleman’s suit was being successful. Observing Vane’s conduct, Sir Charles joined him in his box that night and invited Vane to accompany him to a gathering of people in the green room backstage.

One of the group backstage was Mr. Colley Cibber, known in his more youthful days as a great actor and playwright. When Vane questioned the famed actor concerning Mrs. Woffington’s ability as an actress, Cibber scoffed and claimed that acting is the art of copying nature. He added that in his day there was a much finer actress, Mrs. Bracegirdle. Mrs. Woffington overheard his slighting remarks. In order to disprove Cibber’s pompous claims, she disguised herself as the elderly Mrs, Bracegirdle and appeared among the backstage visitors as that famous old lady of the stage. She successfully fooled everyone, and Cibber was forced to admit his own deception by Mrs. Woffington’s playacting.

Sir Charles was still watching Vane for signs of the degree to which his suit of Mrs. Woffington had advanced. The actress, however, wore her feelings behind a mask. Vane himself was too astounded by his first visit backstage to reveal anything to Sir Charles, who was also pursuing Mrs. Woffington. Unfortunately, Sir Charles had to leave London for a few weeks. The next time Vane saw Mrs. Woffington, she openly expressed her admiration for him. Mrs. Woffington soon revealed to Vane that he was her ideal of goodness and perfection. Vane was deeply in love.

Triplet, the playwright, scene painter, and poet, could find no market for his talents, and his wife and children were almost starving. One day when he was at the theater trying to get Mr. Rich, the manager, to read his latest tragedies, Mrs. Woffington recognized him as a man who had been kind to her when she was a poor...

(The entire section is 1113 words.)