SCENE— An old-fashioned House.
Enter HARDCASTLE, followed by three or four awkward Servants.
Hardcastle. Well, I hope you are perfect in the table exercise I have been teaching you these three days. You all know your posts and your places, and can show that you have been used to good company, without ever stirring from home.
Omnes. Ay, ay.
Hardcastle. When company comes you are not to pop out and stare, and then run in again, like frightened rabbits in a warren.
Omnes. No, no.
Hardcastle. You, Diggory, whom I have taken from the barn, are to make a show at the side-table; and you, Roger, whom I have advanced from the plough, are to place yourself behind my chair. But you’re not to stand so, with your hands in your pockets. Take your hands from your pockets, Roger; and from your head, you blockhead you. See how Diggory carries his hands. They’re a little too stiff, indeed, but that’s no great matter.
Diggory. Ay, mind how I hold them. I learned to hold my hands this way when I was upon drill for the militia. And so being upon drill —
Hardcastle. You must not be so talkative, Diggory. You must be all attention to the guests. You must hear us talk, and not think of talking; you must see us drink, and not think of drinking; you must see us eat, and not think of eating.
Diggory. By the laws, your worship, that’s parfectly unpossible. Whenever Diggory sees yeating going forward, ecod, he’s always wishing for a mouthful himself.
Hardcastle. Blockhead! Is not a belly-full in the kitchen as good as a belly-full in the parlour? Stay your stomach with that reflection.
Diggory. Ecod, I thank your worship, I’ll make a shift to stay my stomach with a slice of cold beef in the pantry.
Hardcastle. Diggory, you are too talkative. — Then, if I happen to say a good thing, or tell a good story at table, you must not all burst out a-laughing, as if you made part of the company.
Diggory. Then ecod your worship must not tell the story of Ould Grouse in the gun-room: I can’t help laughing at that — he! he! he! — for the soul of me. We have laughed at that these twenty years — ha! ha! ha!
Hardcastle. Ha! ha! ha! The story is a good one. Well, honest Diggory, you may laugh at that — but still remember to be attentive. Suppose one of the company should call for a glass of wine, how will you behave? A glass of wine, sir, if you please [to DIGGORY]. — Eh, why don’t you move?
Diggory. Ecod, your worship, I never have courage till I see the eatables and drinkables brought upo’ the table, and then I’m as bauld as a lion.
Hardcastle. What, will nobody move?
First Servant. I’m not to leave this pleace.
Second Servant. I’m sure it’s no pleace of mine.
Third Servant. Nor mine, for sartain.
Diggory. Wauns, and I’m sure it canna be mine.
Hardcastle. You numskulls! and so while, like your betters, you are quarrelling for places, the guests must be starved. O you dunces! I find I must begin all over again — But don’t I hear a coach drive into the yard? To your posts, you blockheads. I’ll go in the mean time and give my old friend’s son a hearty reception at the gate. [Exit HARDCASTLE.]
Diggory. By the elevens, my pleace is gone quite out of my head.
Roger. I know that my pleace is to be everywhere.
First Servant. Where the devil is mine?
Second Servant. My pleace is to be nowhere at all; and so I’ze go about my business. [Exeunt Servants, running about as if frightened, different ways.]
Enter Servant with candles, showing in MARLOW and HASTINGS.
Servant. Welcome, gentlemen, very welcome! This way.
Hastings. After the disappointments of the day, welcome once more, Charles, to the comforts of a clean room and a good fire. Upon my word, a very well-looking house; antique but creditable.
Marlow. The usual fate of a large mansion. Having first ruined the master by good housekeeping, it at last comes to levy contributions as an inn.
Hastings. As you say, we passengers are to be taxed to pay all these fineries. I have often seen a good sideboard, or a marble chimney-piece, though not actually put in the bill, inflame a reckoning confoundedly.
Marlow. Travellers, George, must pay in all places: the only difference is, that in good inns you pay dearly for luxuries; in bad inns you are fleeced and starved.
Hastings. You have lived very much among them. In truth, I have been often surprised, that you who have seen so much of the world, with your natural good sense, and your many opportunities, could never yet acquire a requisite share of assurance.
Marlow. The Englishman’s malady. But tell me, George, where could I have learned that assurance you talk of? My life has been chiefly spent in a college or an inn, in seclusion from that lovely part of the creation that chiefly teach men confidence. I don’t know that I was ever familiarly acquainted with a single modest woman — except my mother — But among females of another class, you know —
Hastings. Ay, among them you are impudent enough of all conscience.
Marlow. They are of Us, you know.
Hastings. But in the company of women of reputation I never saw such an idiot, such a trembler; you look for all the world as if you wanted an opportunity of stealing out of the room.
Marlow. Why, man, that’s because I do want to steal out of the room. Faith, I have often formed a resolution to break the ice, and rattle away at any rate. But I don’t know how, a single glance from a pair of fine eyes has totally overset my resolution. An impudent fellow may counterfeit modesty; but I’ll be hanged if a modest man can ever counterfeit impudence.
Hastings. If you could but say half the fine things to them that I have heard you lavish upon the bar-maid of an inn, or even a college bed-maker —
Marlow. Why, George, I can’t say fine things to them; they freeze, they petrify me. They may talk of a comet, or a burning mountain, or some such bagatelle; but, to me, a modest woman, drest out in all her finery, is the most tremendous object of the whole creation.
Hastings. Ha! ha! ha! At this rate, man, how can you ever expect to marry?
Marlow. Never; unless, as among kings and princes, my bride were to be courted by proxy. If, indeed, like an Eastern bridegroom, one were to be introduced to a wife he never saw before, it might be endured. But to go through all the terrors of a formal courtship, together with the episode of aunts, grandmothers, and cousins, and at last to blurt out the broad staring question of, Madam, will you marry me? No, no, that’s a strain much above me, I assure you.
Hastings. I pity you. But how do you intend behaving to the lady you are come down to visit at the request of your father?
Marlow. As I behave to all other ladies. Bow very low, answer yes or no to all her demands — But for the rest, I don’t think I shall venture to look in her face till I see my father’s again.
Hastings. I’m surprised that one who is so warm a friend can be so cool a lover.
Marlow. To be explicit, my dear Hastings, my chief inducement down was to be instrumental in forwarding your happiness, not my own. Miss Neville loves you, the family don’t know you; as my friend you are sure of a reception, and let honour do the rest.
Hastings. My dear Marlow! But I’ll suppress the emotion. Were I a wretch, meanly seeking to carry off a fortune, you should be the last man in the world I would apply to for assistance. But Miss Neville’s person is all I ask, and that is mine, both from her deceased father’s consent, and her own inclination.
Marlow. Happy man! You have talents and art to captivate any woman. I’m doom’d to adore the sex, and yet to converse with the only part of it I despise. This stammer in my address, and this awkward prepossessing visage of mine, can never permit me to soar above the reach of a milliner’s ’prentice, or one of the duchesses of Drury-lane. Pshaw! this fellow here to interrupt us.
Hardcastle. Gentlemen, once more you are heartily welcome. Which is Mr. Marlow? Sir, you are heartily welcome. It’s not my way, you see, to receive my friends with my back to the fire. I like give them a hearty reception in the old style at my gate. I like to see their horses and trunks taken care of.
Marlow. [Aside.] He has got our names from the servants already. [To him.] We approve your caution and hospitality, sir. [To HASTINGS.] I have been thinking, George, of changing our travelling dresses in the morning. I am grown confoundedly ashamed of mine.
Hardcastle. I beg, Mr. Marlow, you’ll use no ceremony in this house.
Hastings. I fancy, Charles, you’re right: the first blow is half the battle. I intend opening the campaign with the white and gold.
Hardcastle. Mr. Marlow — Mr. Hastings — gentlemen — pray be under no constraint in this house. This is Liberty-hall, gentlemen. You may do just as you please here.
Marlow. Yet, George, if we open the campaign too fiercely at first, we may want ammunition before it is over. I think to reserve the embroidery to secure a retreat.
Hardcastle. Your talking of a retreat, Mr. Marlow, puts me in mind of the Duke of Marlborough, when we went to besiege Denain. He first summoned the garrison —
Marlow. Don’t you think the ventre d’or waistcoat will do with the plain brown?
Hardcastle. He first summoned the garrison, which might consist of about five thousand men —
Hastings. I think not: brown and yellow mix but very poorly.
Hardcastle. I say, gentlemen, as I was telling you, be summoned the garrison, which might consist of about five thousand men —
Marlow. The girls like finery.
Hardcastle. Which might consist of about five thousand men, well appointed with stores, ammunition, and other implements of war. Now, says the Duke of Marlborough to George Brooks, that stood next to him — you must have heard of George Brooks — I’ll pawn my dukedom, says he, but I take that garrison without spilling a drop of blood. So —
Marlow. What, my good friend, if you gave us a glass of punch in the mean time; it would help us to carry on the siege with vigour.
Hardcastle. Punch, sir! [Aside.] This is the most unaccountable kind of modesty I ever met with.
Marlow. Yes, sir, punch. A glass of warm punch, after our journey, will be comfortable. This is Liberty-hall, you know.
Hardcastle. Here’s a cup, sir.
Marlow. [Aside.] So this fellow, in his Liberty-hall, will only let us have just what he pleases.
Hardcastle. [Taking the cup.] I hope you’ll find it to your mind. I have prepared it with my own hands, and I believe you’ll own the ingredients are tolerable. Will you be so good as to pledge me, sir? Here, Mr. Marlow, here is to our better acquaintance. [Drinks.]
Marlow. [Aside.] A very impudent fellow this! but he’s a character, and I’ll humour him a little. Sir, my service to you. [Drinks.]
Hastings. [Aside.] I see this fellow wants to give us his company, and forgets that he’s an innkeeper, before he has learned to be a gentleman.
Marlow. From the excellence of your cup, my old friend, I suppose you have a good deal of business in this part of the country. Warm work, now and then, at elections, I suppose.
Hardcastle. No, sir, I have long given that work over. Since our betters have hit upon the expedient of electing each other, there is no business “for us that sell ale.”
Hastings. So, then, you have no turn for politics, I find.
Hardcastle. Not in the least. There was a time, indeed, I fretted myself about the mistakes of government, like other people; but finding myself every day grow more angry, and the government growing no better, I left it to mend itself. Since that, I no more trouble my head about Hyder Ally, or Ally Cawn, than about Ally Croker. Sir, my service to you.
Hastings. So that with eating above stairs, and drinking below, with receiving your friends within, and amusing them without, you lead a good pleasant bustling life of it.
Hardcastle. I do stir about a great deal, that’s certain. Half the differences of the parish are adjusted in this very parlour.
Marlow. [After drinking.] And you have an argument in your cup, old gentleman, better than any in Westminster-hall.
Hardcastle. Ay, young gentleman, that, and a little philosophy.
Marlow. [Aside.] Well, this is the first time I ever heard of an innkeeper’s philosophy.
Hastings. So then, like an experienced general, you attack them on every quarter. If you find their reason manageable, you attack it with your philosophy; if you find they have no reason, you attack them with this. Here’s your health, my philosopher. [Drinks.]
Hardcastle. Good, very good, thank you; ha! ha! Your generalship puts me in mind of Prince Eugene, when he fought the Turks at the battle of Belgrade. You shall hear.
Marlow. Instead of the battle of Belgrade, I believe it’s almost time to talk about supper. What has your philosophy got in the house for supper?
Hardcastle. For supper, sir! [Aside.] Was ever such a request to a man in his own house?
Marlow. Yes, sir, supper, sir; I begin to feel an appetite. I shall make devilish work to-night in the larder, I promise you.
Hardcastle. [Aside.] Such a brazen dog sure never my eyes beheld. [To him.] Why, really, sir, as for supper I can’t well tell. My Dorothy and the cook-maid settle these things between them. I leave these kind of things entirely to them.
Marlow. You do, do you?
Hardcastle. Entirely. By the bye, I believe they are in actual consultation upon what’s for supper this moment in the kitchen.
Marlow. Then I beg they’ll admit me as one of their privy council. It’s a way I have got. When I travel, I always chose to regulate my own supper. Let the cook be called. No offence I hope, sir.
Hardcastle. O no, sir, none in the least; yet I don’t know how; our Bridget, the cook-maid, is not very communicative upon these occasions. Should we send for her, she might scold us all out of the house.
Hastings. Let’s see your list of the larder then. I ask it as a favour. I always match my appetite to my bill of fare.
Marlow. [To Hardcastle, who looks at them with surprise.] Sir, he’s very right, and it’s my way too.
Hardcastle. Sir, you have a right to command here. Here, Roger, bring us the bill of fare for to-night’s supper: I believe it’s drawn out — Your manner, Mr. Hastings, puts me in mind of my uncle, Colonel Wallop. It was a saying of his, that no man was sure of his supper till he had eaten it.
Hastings. [Aside.] All upon the high rope! His uncle a colonel! we shall soon hear of his mother being a justice of the peace. But let’s hear the bill of fare.
Marlow. [Perusing.] What’s here? For the first course; for the second course; for the dessert. The devil, sir, do you think we have brought down a whole Joiners’ Company, or the corporation of Bedford, to eat up such a supper? Two or three little things, clean and comfortable, will do.
Hastings. But let’s hear it.
Marlow. [Reading.] For the first course, at the top, a pig and prune sauce.
Hastings. Damn your pig, I say.
Marlow. And damn your prune sauce, say I.
Hardcastle. And yet, gentlemen, to men that are hungry, pig with prune sauce is very good eating.
Marlow. At the bottom, a calf’s tongue and brains.
Hastings. Let your brains be knocked out, my good sir, I don’t like them.
Marlow. Or you may clap them on a plate by themselves. I do.
Hardcastle. [Aside.] Their impudence confounds me. [To them.] Gentlemen, you are my guests, make what alterations you please. Is there anything else you wish to retrench or alter, gentlemen?
Marlow. Item, a pork pie, a boiled rabbit and sausages, a Florentine, a shaking pudding, and a dish of tiff — taff — taffety cream.
Hastings. Confound your made dishes; I shall be as much at a loss in this house as at a green and yellow dinner at the French ambassador’s table. I’m for plain eating.
Hardcastle. I’m sorry, gentlemen, that I have nothing you like, but if there be anything you have a particular fancy to —
Marlow. Why, really, sir, your bill of fare is so exquisite, that any one part of it is full as good as another. Send us what you please. So much for supper. And now to see that our beds are aired, and properly taken care of.
Hardcastle. I entreat you’ll leave that to me. You shall not stir a step.
Marlow. Leave that to you! I protest, sir, you must excuse me, I always look to these things myself.
Hardcastle. I must insist, sir, you’ll make yourself easy on that head.
Marlow. You see I’m resolved on it. [Aside.] A very troublesome fellow this, as I ever met with.
Hardcastle. Well, sir, I’m resolved at least to attend you. [Aside.] This may be modem modesty, but I never saw anything look so like old-fashioned impudence. [Exeunt MARLOW and HARDCASTLE.]
Hastings. [Alone.] So I find this fellow’s civilities begin to grow troublesome. But who can be angry at those assiduities which are meant to please him? Ha! what do I see? Miss Neville, by all that’s happy!
Enter MISS NEVILLE.
Miss Neville. My dear Hastings! To what unexpected good fortune, to what accident, am I to ascribe this happy meeting?
Hastings. Rather let me ask the same question, as I could never have hoped to meet my dearest Constance at an inn.
Miss Neville. An inn! sure you mistake: my aunt, my guardian, lives here. What could induce you to think this house an inn?
Hastings. My friend, Mr. Marlow, with whom I came down, and I, have been sent here as to an inn, I assure you. A young fellow, whom we accidentally met at a house hard by, directed us hither.
Miss Neville. Certainly it must be one of my hopeful cousin’s tricks, of whom you have heard me talk so often; ha! ha! ha!
Hastings. He whom your aunt intends for you? he of whom I have such just apprehensions?
Miss Neville. You have nothing to fear from him, I assure you. You’d adore him, if you knew how heartily he despises me. My aunt knows it too, and has undertaken to court me for him, and actually begins to think she has made a conquest.
Hastings. Thou dear dissembler! You must know, my Constance, I have just seized this happy opportunity of my friend’s visit here to get admittance into the family. The horses that carried us down are now fatigued with their journey, but they’ll soon be refreshed; and then, if my dearest girl will trust in her faithful Hastings, we shall soon be landed in France, where even among slaves the laws of marriage are respected.
Miss Neville. I have often told you, that though ready to obey you, I yet should leave my little fortune behind with reluctance. The greatest part of it was left me by my uncle, the India director, and chiefly consists in jewels. I have been for some time persuading my aunt to let me wear them. I fancy I’m very near succeeding. The instant they are put into my possession, you shall find me ready to make them and myself yours.
Hastings. Perish the baubles! Your person is all I desire. In the mean time, my friend Marlow must not be let into his mistake. I know the strange reserve of his temper is such, that if abruptly informed of it, he would instantly quit the house before our plan was ripe for execution.
Miss Neville. But how shall we keep him in the deception? Miss Hardcastle is just returned from walking; what if we still continue to deceive him? — This, this way — [They confer.]
Marlow. The assiduities of these good people teaze me beyond bearing. My host seems to think it ill manners to leave me alone, and so he claps not only himself, but his old-fashioned wife, on my back. They talk of coming to sup with us too; and then, I suppose, we are to run the gantlet through all the rest of the family. — What have we got here?
Hastings. My dear Charles! Let me congratulate you! — The most fortunate accident! — Who do you think is just alighted?
Marlow. Cannot guess.
Hastings. Our mistresses, boy, Miss Hardcastle and Miss Neville. Give me leave to introduce Miss Constance Neville to your acquaintance. Happening to dine in the neighbourhood, they called on their return to take fresh horses here. Miss Hardcastle has just stept into the next room, and will be back in an instant. Wasn’t it lucky? eh!
Marlow. [Aside.] I have been mortified enough of all conscience, and here comes something to complete my embarrassment.
Hastings. Well, but wasn’t it the most fortunate thing in the world?
Marlow. Oh! yes. Very fortunate — a most joyful encounter — But our dresses, George, you know are in disorder — What if we should postpone the happiness till tomorrow? — To-morrow at her own house — It will be every bit as convenient — and rather more respectful — To-morrow let it be. [Offering to go.]
Miss Neville. By no means, sir. Your ceremony will displease her. The disorder of your dress will show the ardour of your impatience. Besides, she knows you are in the house, and will permit you to see her.
Marlow. O! the devil! how shall I support it? Hem! hem! Hastings, you must not go. You are to assist me, you know. I shall be confoundedly ridiculous. Yet, hang it! I’ll take courage. Hem!
Hastings. Pshaw, man! it’s but the first plunge, and all’s over. She’s but a woman, you know.
Marlow. And, of all women, she that I dread most to encounter.
Enter MISS HARDCASTLE, as returned from walking, a bonnet, etc.
Hastings. [Introducing them.] Miss Hardcastle, Mr. Marlow. I’m proud of bringing two persons of such merit together, that only want to know, to esteem each other.
Miss Hardcastle. [Aside.] Now for meeting my modest gentleman with a demure face, and quite in his own manner. [After a pause, in which he appears very uneasy and disconcerted.] I’m glad of your safe arrival, sir. I’m told you had some accidents by the way.
Marlow. Only a few, madam. Yes, we had some. Yes, madam, a good many accidents, but should be sorry — madam — or rather glad of any accidents — that are so agreeably concluded. Hem!
Hastings. [To him.] You never spoke better in your whole life. Keep it up, and I’ll insure you the victory.
Miss Hardcastle. I’m afraid you flatter, sir. You that have seen so much of the finest company, can find little entertainment in an obscure corner of the country.
Marlow. [Gathering courage.] I have lived, indeed, in the world, madam; but I have kept very little company. I have been but an observer upon life, madam, while others were enjoying it.
Miss Neville. But that, I am told, is the way to enjoy it at last.
Hastings. [To him.] Cicero never spoke better. Once more, and you are confirmed in assurance for ever.
Marlow. [To him.] Hem! Stand by me, then, and when I’m down, throw in a word or two, to set me up again.
Miss Hardcastle. An observer, like you, upon life were, I fear, disagreeably employed, since you must have had much more to censure than to approve.
Marlow. Pardon me, madam. I was always willing to be amused. The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness.
Hastings. [To him.] Bravo, bravo. Never spoke so well in your whole life. Well, Miss Hardcastle, I see that you and Mr. Marlow are going to be very good company. I believe our being here will but embarrass the interview.
Marlow. Not in the least, Mr. Hastings. We like your company of all things. [To him.] Zounds! George, sure you won’t go? how can you leave us?
Hastings. Our presence will but spoil conversation, so we’ll retire to the next room. [To him.] You don’t consider, man, that we are to manage a little tete-a-tete of our own. [Exeunt.]
Miss Hardcastle. [after a pause]. But you have not been wholly an observer, I presume, sir: the ladies, I should hope, have employed some part of your addresses.
Marlow. [Relapsing into timidity.] Pardon me, madam, I— I— I— as yet have studied — only — to — deserve them.
Miss Hardcastle. And that, some say, is the very worst way to obtain them.
Marlow. Perhaps so, madam. But I love to converse only with the more grave and sensible part of the sex. But I’m afraid I grow tiresome.
Miss Hardcastle. Not at all, sir; there is nothing I like so much as grave conversation myself; I could hear it for ever. Indeed, I have often been surprised how a man of sentiment could ever admire those light airy pleasures, where nothing reaches the heart.
Marlow. It’s — a disease — of the mind, madam. In the variety of tastes there must be some who, wanting a relish — for — um — a — um.
Miss Hardcastle. I understand you, sir. There must be some, who, wanting a relish for refined pleasures, pretend to despise what they are incapable of tasting.
Marlow. My meaning, madam, but infinitely better expressed. And I can’t help observing — a —
Miss Hardcastle. [Aside.] Who could ever suppose this fellow impudent upon some occasions? [To him.] You were going to observe, sir —
Marlow. I was observing, madam — I protest, madam, I forget what I was going to observe.
Miss Hardcastle. [Aside.] I vow and so do I. [To him.] You were observing, sir, that in this age of hypocrisy — something about hypocrisy, sir.
Marlow. Yes, madam. In this age of hypocrisy there are few who upon strict inquiry do not — a — a — a —
Miss Hardcastle. I understand you perfectly, sir.
Marlow. [Aside.] Egad! and that’s more than I do myself.
Miss Hardcastle. You mean that in this hypocritical age there are few that do not condemn in public what they practise in private, and think they pay every debt to virtue when they praise it.
Marlow. True, madam; those who have most virtue in their mouths, have least of it in their bosoms. But I’m sure I tire you, madam.
Miss Hardcastle. Not in the least, sir; there’s something so agreeable and spirited in your manner, such life and force — pray, sir, go on.
Marlow. Yes, madam. I was saying — that there are some occasions, when a total want of courage, madam, destroys all the — and puts us — upon a — a — a —
Miss Hardcastle. I agree with you entirely; a want of courage upon some occasions assumes the appearance of ignorance, and betrays us when we most want to excel. I beg you’ll proceed.
Marlow. Yes, madam. Morally speaking, madam — But I see Miss Neville expecting us in the next room. I would not intrude for the world.
Miss Hardcastle. I protest, sir, I never was more agreeably entertained in all my life. Pray go on.
Marlow. Yes, madam, I was — But she beckons us to join her. Madam, shall I do myself the honour to attend you?
Miss Hardcastle. Well, then, I’ll follow.
Marlow. [Aside.] This pretty smooth dialogue has done for me. [Exit.]
Miss Hardcastle. [Alone.] Ha! ha! ha! Was there ever such a sober, sentimental interview? I’m certain he scarce looked in my face the whole time. Yet the fellow, but for his unaccountable bashfulness, is pretty well too. He has good sense, but then so buried in his fears, that it fatigues one more than ignorance. If I could teach him a little confidence, it would be doing somebody that I know of a piece of service. But who is that somebody? — That, faith, is a question I can scarce answer. [Exit.]
Enter TONY and MISS NEVILLE, followed by MRS. HARDCASTLE and HASTINGS.
Tony. What do you follow me for, cousin Con? I wonder you’re not ashamed to be so very engaging.
Miss Neville. I hope, cousin, one may speak to one’s own relations, and not be to blame.
Tony. Ay, but I know what sort of a relation you want to make me, though; but it won’t do. I tell you, cousin Con, it won’t do; so I beg you’ll keep your distance, I want no nearer relationship. [She follows, coquetting him to the back scene.]
Mrs. Hardcastle. Well! I vow, Mr. Hastings, you are very entertaining. There’s nothing in the world I love to talk of so much as London, and the fashions, though I was never there myself.
Hastings. Never there! You amaze me! From your air and manner, I concluded you had been bred all your life either at Ranelagh, St. James’s, or Tower Wharf.
Mrs. Hardcastle. O! sir, you’re only pleased to say so. We country persons can have no manner at all. I’m in love with the town, and that serves to raise me above some of our neighbouring rustics; but who can have a manner, that has never seen the Pantheon, the Grotto Gardens, the Borough, and such places where the nobility chiefly resort? All I can do is to enjoy London at second-hand. I take care to know every tete-a-tete from the Scandalous Magazine, and have all the fashions, as they come out, in a letter from the two Miss Rickets of Crooked Lane. Pray how do you like this head, Mr. Hastings?
Hastings. Extremely elegant and degagee, upon my word, madam. Your friseur is a Frenchman, I suppose?
Mrs. Hardcastle. I protest, I dressed it myself from a print in the Ladies’ Memorandum-book for the last year.
Hastings. Indeed! Such a head in a side-box at the play-house would draw as many gazers as my Lady Mayoress at a City Ball.
Mrs. Hardcastle. I vow, since inoculation began, there is no such thing to be seen as a plain woman; so one must dress a little particular, or one may escape in the crowd.
Hastings. But that can never be your case, madam, in any dress. [Bowing.]
Mrs. Hardcastle. Yet, what signifies my dressing when I have such a piece of antiquity by my side as Mr. Hardcastle: all I can say will never argue down a single button from his clothes. I have often wanted him to throw off his great flaxen wig, and where he was bald, to plaster it over, like my Lord Pately, with powder.
Hastings. You are right, madam; for, as among the ladies there are none ugly, so among the men there are none old.
Mrs. Hardcastle. But what do you think his answer was? Why, with his usual Gothic vivacity, he said I only wanted him to throw off his wig, to convert it into a tete for my own wearing.
Hastings. Intolerable! At your age you may wear what you please, and it must become you.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Pray, Mr. Hastings, what do you take to be the most fashionable age about town?
Hastings. Some time ago, forty was all the mode; but I’m told the ladies intend to bring up fifty for the ensuing winter.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Seriously. Then I shall be too young for the fashion.
Hastings. No lady begins now to put on jewels till she’s past forty. For instance, Miss there, in a polite circle, would be considered as a child, as a mere maker of samplers.
Mrs. Hardcastle. And yet Mrs. Niece thinks herself as much a woman, and is as fond of jewels, as the oldest of us all.
Hastings. Your niece, is she? And that young gentleman, a brother of yours, I should presume?
Mrs. Hardcastle. My son, sir. They are contracted to each other. Observe their little sports. They fall in and out ten times a day, as if they were man and wife already. [To them.] Well, Tony, child, what soft things are you saying to your cousin Constance this evening?
Tony. I have been saying no soft things; but that it’s very hard to be followed about so. Ecod! I’ve not a place in the house now that’s left to myself, but the stable.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Never mind him, Con, my dear. He’s in another story behind your back.
Miss Neville. There’s something generous in my cousin’s manner. He falls out before faces to be forgiven in private.
Tony. That’s a damned confounded — crack.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Ah! he’s a sly one. Don’t you think they are like each other about the mouth, Mr. Hastings? The Blenkinsop mouth to a T. They’re of a size too. Back to back, my pretties, that Mr. Hastings may see you. Come, Tony.
Tony. You had as good not make me, I tell you. [Measuring.]
Miss Neville. O lud! he has almost cracked my head.
Mrs. Hardcastle. O, the monster! For shame, Tony. You a man, and behave so!
Tony. If I’m a man, let me have my fortin. Ecod! I’ll not be made a fool of no longer.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Is this, ungrateful boy, all that I’m to get for the pains I have taken in your education? I that have rocked you in your cradle, and fed that pretty mouth with a spoon! Did not I work that waistcoat to make you genteel? Did not I prescribe for you every day, and weep while the receipt was operating?
Tony. Ecod! you had reason to weep, for you have been dosing me ever since I was born. I have gone through every receipt in the Complete Huswife ten times over; and you have thoughts of coursing me through Quincy next spring. But, ecod! I tell you, I’ll not be made a fool of no longer.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Wasn’t it all for your good, viper? Wasn’t it all for your good?
Tony. I wish you’d let me and my good alone, then. Snubbing this way when I’m in spirits. If I’m to have any good, let it come of itself; not to keep dinging it, dinging it into one so.
Mrs. Hardcastle. That’s false; I never see you when you’re in spirits. No, Tony, you then go to the alehouse or kennel. I’m never to be delighted with your agreeable wild notes, unfeeling monster!
Tony. Ecod! mamma, your own notes are the wildest of the two.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Was ever the like? But I see he wants to break my heart, I see he does.
Hastings. Dear madam, permit me to lecture the young gentleman a little. I’m certain I can persuade him to his duty.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Well, I must retire. Come, Constance, my love. You see, Mr. Hastings, the wretchedness of my situation: was ever poor woman so plagued with a dear sweet, pretty, provoking, undutiful boy? [Exeunt MRS. HARDCASTLE and MISS NEVILLE.]
Tony. [Singing.] “There was a young man riding by, and fain would have his will. Rang do didlo dee.”— Don’t mind her. Let her cry. It’s the comfort of her heart. I have seen her and sister cry over a book for an hour together; and they said they liked the book the better the more it made them cry.
Hastings. Then you’re no friend to the ladies, I find, my pretty young gentleman?
Tony. That’s as I find ’um.
Hastings. Not to her of your mother’s choosing, I dare answer? And yet she appears to me a pretty well-tempered girl.
Tony. That’s because you don’t know her as well as I. Ecod! I know every inch about her; and there’s not a more bitter cantankerous toad in all Christendom.
Hastings. [Aside.] Pretty encouragement this for a lover!
Tony. I have seen her since the height of that. She has as many tricks as a hare in a thicket, or a colt the first day’s breaking.
Hastings. To me she appears sensible and silent.
Tony. Ay, before company. But when she’s with her playmate, she’s as loud as a hog in a gate.
Hastings. But there is a meek modesty about her that charms me.
Tony. Yes, but curb her never so little, she kicks up, and you’re flung in a ditch.
Hastings. Well, but you must allow her a little beauty. — Yes, you must allow her some beauty.
Tony. Bandbox! She’s all a made-up thing, mun. Ah! could you but see Bet Bouncer of these parts, you might then talk of beauty. Ecod, she has two eyes as black as sloes, and cheeks as broad and red as a pulpit cushion. She’d make two of she.
Hastings. Well, what say you to a friend that would take this bitter bargain off your hands?
Hastings. Would you thank him that would take Miss Neville, and leave you to happiness and your dear Betsy?
Tony. Ay; but where is there such a friend, for who would take her?
Hastings. I am he. If you but assist me, I’ll engage to whip her off to France, and you shall never hear more of her.
Tony. Assist you! Ecod I will, to the last drop of my blood. I’ll clap a pair of horses to your chaise that shall trundle you off in a twinkling, and may be get you a part of her fortin beside, in jewels, that you little dream of.
Hastings. My dear ’squire, this looks like a lad of spirit.
Tony. Come along, then, and you shall see more of my spirit before you have done with me.
[Singing.] “We are the boys That fears no noise Where the thundering cannons roar.” [Exeunt.]
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50