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Foul Play

By Charles Reade

Arthur Wardlaw resembled his father in figure but his mother in face. He had, and has, hay-coloured hair, a forehead singularly white and delicate, pale blue eyes, largish ears, finely chiselled features, the under lip much shorter than the upper; his chin oval and pretty, but somewhat receding; his complexion beautiful. In short, what nineteen people out of twenty would call a handsome young man and think they had described him.

Both the Wardlaws were in full dress, according to the house’s invariable custom, and sat in a dead silence that seemed natural in the tremendous sober room.

This, however, was not for want of a topic; on the contrary, they had a matter of great importance to discuss, and in fact, this was why they dined tete-a-tete. But their tongues were tied for the present; in the first place, there stood in the middle of the table an epergne, the size of a Putney laurel tree; neither Wardlaw could well see the other without craning out his neck like a rifleman from behind his tree; and then there were three live suppressors of confidential intercourse, two gorgeous footmen and a sombre, sublime, and, in a word, episcopal, the butler; all three went about as softly as cats after a robin, and conjured one plate away, and smoothly insinuated another, and seemed models of grave discretion: but were known to be all ears, and bound by a secret oath to carry down each crumb of dialogue to the servants’ hall, for curious dissection and boisterous ridicule.

At last, however, those three smug hypocrites retired and, by good luck, transferred their suffocating epergne to the sideboard; so then father and son looked at one another with that conscious air which naturally precedes a topic of interest, and Wardlaw senior invited his son to try a specific decanter of the rare old port, by way of preliminary.

While the young man fills his glass, he hurls us into his antecedents.

He attended school until age fifteen and worked as a clerk in his father’s office until age twenty-two. He showed an aptitude so remarkable that John Wardlaw, who was getting tired, determined, sooner or later, to take over the reins of government. But he conceived a desire that the future head of his office should be a university man.

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Charles Reade

Charles Reade (8 June 1814 – 11 April 1884) was a British novelist and dramatist best known for The Cloister and the Hearth.


Charles Reade was born at Ipsden, Oxfordshire, to John Reade and Anne Marie Scott-Waring, and had at least four brothers. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, taking his B.A. in 1835, and became a college fellow. He was subsequently dean of arts and vice-president, taking his degree of D.C.L. in 1847. His name was entered at Lincoln’s Inn in 1836; he was elected Vinerian Fellow in 1842 and was called to the bar in 1843. He kept his fellowship at Magdalen all his life, but after taking his degree, he spent most of his time in London. William Winwood Reade, the influential historian, was his nephew.


Ira Gershwin’s lyric “It’s never too late to Mendelssohn…”, which appears in both Oh, Kay! and Lady in the Dark, is a play on the title of Reade’s book. John Betjeman’s poem “In Willesden Churchyard” includes a reference to “Laura Seymour’s grave-/ ‘So long the loyal counsellor and friend’/Of that Charles Reade whose coffin lies with hers/Was she his mistress?” followed by a long imagined passage about their possible relationship.


  • Gold! (1853, play)
  • Masks and Faces (1852, play)
  • Peg Woffington (1853, novel)
  • Christie Johnstone (1853, novel)
  • The Courier of Lyons (1854, play. Also known as The Lyons Mail)
  • Clouds and Sunshine and Arts (1855)
  • It Is Never Too Late to Mend (1856, novel)
  • The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth (1857)
  • White Lies (1857, novel)
  • The Box Tunnel (1857, short story. Only published in book form in America)
  • Autobiography of a Thief (1858, novelette about a train robbery)
  • Jack of All Trades. 1858. (novelette about the elephant Mademoiselle D’Jeck)
  • Love Me Little, Love Me Long (1859, novel)
  • A Good Fight and Other Tales (1859)
  • The Eighth Commandment (1860)
  • The Cloister and the Hearth (1861)
  • Hard Cash (1863, novel)
  • Griffith Gaunt; or, Jealousy (1866, novel)
  • Foul Play (1869, novel)
  • Put Yourself in His Place (1870, novel)
  • A Terrible Temptation (1871, novel)
  • Shilly-Shally (1872, unauthorized stage adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Ralph the Heir)
  • A Simpleton (1873)
  • The Wandering Heir (1873)
  • Trade Malice (1875)
  • A Woman Hater (1877)
  • Golden Crowns (1877)
  • Drink (1879)
  • The Lyons Mail (1877)
  • Single Heart and Double Face (1884, novel)
  • A Perilous Secret (1884, novel)

Charles Reade

Charles Reade