In the spring of 1763, Williamsburg, the colonial capital of Virginia, was treated to its first professional dramatic presentation by an English company called The Virginia Comedians. The colony, rich and poor, was highly excited in anticipation of the event. The day the company was to arrive in Williamsburg, young Champ Effingham, son of a wealthy planter, rode to town for a holiday. Young Effingham, educated at Oxford, had taken up the ways of the London fops while in England. His dress was extraordinary; his manners were artificial.
On the way to Williamsburg, he met a beautiful young woman on horseback who asked him the way. When questioned by him, she refused to give her name, stating only that she was unknown to him because she was not a lady. The mystery was solved the next day at the play, when Effingham discovered that the girl was an actress with the traveling company. Despite the fact that he was engaged to marry one of the most beautiful and wealthy of the Virginia girls, Effingham became infatuated with the actress, whose name was Beatrice Hallam. She was the daughter of the manager of the company.
There was scandal in the neighborhood when it became known that Champ Effingham was paying court to the actress. Everyone among the gentry was perturbed, for actresses were considered low in the social scale. When word came to Effingham’s father, the old gentleman ordered his son to desist. The son’s answer was to leave the house and take up residence at the inn in Williamsburg where the players were lodging. Effingham had little success with Beatrice Hallam, however; she despised him because of his artificial manners and his condescending attitude. She was really in love with a commoner, a young man named Charles Waters, who had rescued her from the James River on a stormy day when she had fallen overboard while boating.
Beatrice’s father, on the other hand, wanted his daughter to encourage young Effingham. Mr. Hallam saw in Effingham a chance for his daughter to marry into a wealthy family, thus gaining an honest reputation for herself and a comfortable life for him.
At the opening of the session of the House of Burgesses, the governor gave a ball for the gentry of the colony. When an invitation was sent to Effingham, he resolved to take Beatrice to the ball, but his friends warned him not to do so because of the scandal. Although Beatrice did not want to go with him to the ball, her father finally browbeat her into agreeing. Effingham, daring his friends to prevent his appearance with an actress, vowed to fight duels with all who tried to hinder him or who insulted the girl.
At the ball, everything went smoothly, because the Virginians, too...
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