Enter HASTINGS and Servant.
Hastings. You saw the old lady and Miss Neville drive off, you say?
Servant. Yes, your honour. They went off in a post-coach, and the young ’squire went on horseback. They’re thirty miles off by this time.
Hastings. Then all my hopes are over.
Servant. Yes, sir. Old Sir Charles has arrived. He and the old gentleman of the house have been laughing at Mr. Marlow’s mistake this half hour. They are coming this way.
Hastings. Then I must not be seen. So now to my fruitless appointment at the bottom of the garden. This is about the time. [Exit.]
Enter SIR CHARLES and HARDCASTLE.
Hardcastle. Ha! ha! ha! The peremptory tone in which he sent forth his sublime commands!
Sir Charles. And the reserve with which I suppose he treated all your advances.
Hardcastle. And yet he might have seen something in me above a common innkeeper, too.
Sir Charles. Yes, Dick, but be mistook you for an uncommon innkeeper, ha! ha! ha!
Hardcastle. Well, I’m in too good spirits to think of anything but joy. Yes, my dear friend, this union of our families will make our personal friendships hereditary; and though my daughter’s fortune is but small —
Sir Charles. Why, Dick, will you talk of fortune to Me? My son is possessed of more than a competence already, and can want nothing but a good and virtuous girl to share his happiness and increase it. If they like each other, as you say they do —
Hardcastle. If, man! I tell you they Do like each other. My daughter as good as told me so.
Sir Charles. But girls are apt to flatter themselves, you know.
Hardcastle. I saw him grasp her hand in the warmest manner myself; and here he comes to put you out of your IFS, I warrant him.
Marlow. I come, sir, once more, to ask pardon for my strange conduct. I can scarce reflect on my insolence without confusion.
Hardcastle. Tut, boy, a trifle! You take it too gravely. An hour or two’s laughing with my daughter will set all to rights again. She’ll never like you the worse for it.
Marlow. Sir, I shall be always proud of her approbation.
Hardcastle. Approbation is but a cold word, Mr. Marlow; if I am not deceived, you have something more than approbation thereabouts. You take me?
Marlow. Really, sir, I have not that happiness.
Hardcastle. Come, boy, I’m an old fellow, and know what’s what as well as you that are younger. I know what has passed between you; but mum.
Marlow. Sure, sir, nothing has passed between us but the most profound respect on my side, and the most distant reserve on hers. You don’t think, sir, that my impudence has been passed upon all the rest of the family.
Hardcastle. Impudence! No, I don’t say that — not quite impudence — though girls like to be played with, and rumpled a little too, sometimes. But she has told no tales, I assure you.
Marlow. I never gave her the slightest cause.
Hardcastle. Well, well, I like modesty in its place well enough. But this is over-acting, young gentleman. You may be open. Your father and I will like you all the better for it.
Marlow. May I die, sir, if I ever —
Hardcastle. I tell you, she don’t dislike you; and as I’m sure you like her —
Marlow. Dear sir — I protest, sir —
Hardcastle. I see no reason why you should not be joined as fast as the parson can tie you.
Marlow. But hear me, sir —
Hardcastle. Your father approves the match, I admire it; every moment’s delay will be doing mischief. So —
Marlow. But why won’t you hear me? By all that’s just and true, I never gave Miss Hardcastle the slightest mark of my attachment, or even the most distant hint to suspect me of affection. We had but one interview, and that was formal, modest, and uninteresting.
Hardcastle. [Aside.] This fellow’s formal modest impudence is beyond bearing.
Sir Charles. And you never grasped her hand, or made any protestations?
Marlow. As Heaven is my witness, I came down in obedience to your commands. I saw the lady without emotion, and parted without reluctance. I hope you’ll exact no farther proofs of my duty, nor prevent me from leaving a house in which I suffer so many mortifications. [Exit.]
Sir Charles. I’m astonished at the air of sincerity with which he parted.
Hardcastle. And I’m astonished at the deliberate intrepidity of his assurance.
Sir Charles. I dare pledge my life and honour upon his truth.
Hardcastle. Here comes my daughter, and I would stake my happiness upon her veracity.
Enter MISS HARDCASTLE.
Hardcastle. Kate, come hither, child. Answer us sincerely and without reserve: has Mr. Marlow made you any professions of love and affection?
Miss Hardcastle. The question is very abrupt, sir. But since you require unreserved sincerity, I think he has.
Hardcastle. [To Sir Charles.] You see.
Sir Charles. And pray, madam, have you and my son had more than one interview?
Miss Hardcastle. Yes, sir, several.
Hardcastle. [To Sir Charles.] You see.
Sir Charles. But did be profess any attachment?
Miss Hardcastle. A lasting one.
Sir Charles. Did he talk of love?
Miss Hardcastle. Much, sir.
Sir Charles. Amazing! And all this formally?
Miss Hardcastle. Formally.
Hardcastle. Now, my friend, I hope you are satisfied.
Sir Charles. And how did he behave, madam?
Miss Hardcastle. As most profest admirers do: said some civil things of my face, talked much of his want of merit, and the greatness of mine; mentioned his heart, gave a short tragedy speech, and ended with pretended rapture.
Sir Charles. Now I’m perfectly convinced, indeed. I know his conversation among women to be modest and submissive: this forward canting ranting manner by no means describes him; and, I am confident, he never sat for the picture.
Miss Hardcastle. Then, what, sir, if I should convince you to your face of my sincerity? If you and my papa, in about half an hour, will place yourselves behind that screen, you shall hear him declare his passion to me in person.
Sir Charles. Agreed. And if I find him what you describe, all my happiness in him must have an end. [Exit.]
Miss Hardcastle. And if you don’t find him what I describe — I fear my happiness must never have a beginning. [Exeunt.]
SCENE changes to the back of the Garden.
Hastings. What an idiot am I, to wait here for a fellow who probably takes a delight in mortifying me. He never intended to be punctual, and I’ll wait no longer. What do I see? It is he! and perhaps with news of my Constance.
Enter Tony, booted and spattered.
Hastings. My honest ’squire! I now find you a man of your word. This looks like friendship.
Tony. Ay, I’m your friend, and the best friend you have in the world, if you knew but all. This riding by night, by the bye, is cursedly tiresome. It has shook me worse than the basket of a stage-coach.
Hastings. But how? where did you leave your fellow-travellers? Are they in safety? Are they housed?
Tony. Five and twenty miles in two hours and a half is no such bad driving. The poor beasts have smoked for it: rabbit me, but I’d rather ride forty miles after a fox than ten with such varment.
Hastings. Well, but where have you left the ladies? I die with impatience.
Tony. Left them! Why where should I leave them but where I found them?
Hastings. This is a riddle.
Tony. Riddle me this then. What’s that goes round the house, and round the house, and never touches the house?
Hastings. I’m still astray.
Tony. Why, that’s it, mon. I have led them astray. By jingo, there’s not a pond or a slough within five miles of the place but they can tell the taste of.
Hastings. Ha! ha! ha! I understand: you took them in a round, while they supposed themselves going forward, and so you have at last brought them home again.
Tony. You shall hear. I first took them down Feather-bed Lane, where we stuck fast in the mud. I then rattled them crack over the stones of Up-and-down Hill. I then introduced them to the gibbet on Heavy-tree Heath; and from that, with a circumbendibus, I fairly lodged them in the horse-pond at the bottom of the garden.
Hastings. But no accident, I hope?
Tony. No, no. Only mother is confoundedly frightened. She thinks herself forty miles off. She’s sick of the journey; and the cattle can scarce crawl. So if your own horses be ready, you may whip off with cousin, and I’ll be bound that no soul here can budge a foot to follow you.
Hastings. My dear friend, how can I be grateful?
Tony. Ay, now it’s dear friend, noble ’squire. Just now, it was all idiot, cub, and run me through the guts. Damn YOUR way of fighting, I say. After we take a knock in this part of the country, we kiss and be friends. But if you had run me through the guts, then I should be dead, and you might go kiss the hangman.
Hastings. The rebuke is just. But I must hasten to relieve Miss Neville: if you keep the old lady employed, I promise to take care of the young one. [Exit HASTINGS.]
Tony. Never fear me. Here she comes. Vanish. She’s got from the pond, and draggled up to the waist like a mermaid.
Enter MRS. HARDCASTLE.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Oh, Tony, I’m killed! Shook! Battered to death. I shall never survive it. That last jolt, that laid us against the quickset hedge, has done my business.
Tony. Alack, mamma, it was all your own fault. You would be for running away by night, without knowing one inch of the way.
Mrs. Hardcastle. I wish we were at home again. I never met so many accidents in so short a journey. Drenched in the mud, overturned in a ditch, stuck fast in a slough, jolted to a jelly, and at last to lose our way. Whereabouts do you think we are, Tony?
Tony. By my guess we should come upon Crackskull Common, about forty miles from home.
Mrs. Hardcastle. O lud! O lud! The most notorious spot in all the country. We only want a robbery to make a complete night on’t.
Tony. Don’t be afraid, mamma, don’t be afraid. Two of the five that kept here are hanged, and the other three may not find us. Don’t be afraid. — Is that a man that’s galloping behind us? No; it’s only a tree. — Don’t be afraid.
Mrs. Hardcastle. The fright will certainly kill me.
Tony. Do you see anything like a black hat moving behind the thicket?
Mrs. Hardcastle. Oh, death!
Tony. No; it’s only a cow. Don’t be afraid, mamma; don’t he afraid.
Mrs. Hardcastle. As I’m alive, Tony, I see a man coming towards us. Ah! I’m sure on’t. If he perceives us, we are undone.
Tony. [Aside.] Father-inlaw, by all that’s unlucky, come to take one of his night walks. [To her.] Ah, it’s a highwayman with pistols as long as my arm. A damned ill-looking fellow.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Good Heaven defend us! He approaches.
Tony. Do you hide yourself in that thicket, and leave me to manage him. If there be any danger, I’ll cough, and cry hem. When I cough, be sure to keep close. [MRS. HARDCASTLE hides behind a tree in the back scene.]
Hardcastle. I’m mistaken, or I heard voices of people in want of help. Oh, Tony! is that you? I did not expect you so soon back. Are your mother and her charge in safety?
Tony. Very safe, sir, at my aunt Pedigree’s. Hem.
Mrs. Hardcastle. [From behind.] Ah, death! I find there’s danger.
Hardcastle. Forty miles in three hours; sure that’s too much, my youngster.
Tony. Stout horses and willing minds make short journeys, as they say. Hem.
Mrs. Hardcastle. [From behind.] Sure he’ll do the dear boy no harm.
Hardcastle. But I heard a voice here; I should be glad to know from whence it came.
Tony. It was I, sir, talking to myself, sir. I was saying that forty miles in four hours was very good going. Hem. As to be sure it was. Hem. I have got a sort of cold by being out in the air. We’ll go in, if you please. Hem.
Hardcastle. But if you talked to yourself you did not answer yourself. I’m certain I heard two voices, and am resolved [raising his voice] to find the other out.
Mrs. Hardcastle. [From behind.] Oh! he’s coming to find me out. Oh!
Tony. What need you go, sir, if I tell you? Hem. I’ll lay down my life for the truth — hem — I’ll tell you all, sir. [Detaining him.]
Hardcastle. I tell you I will not be detained. I insist on seeing. It’s in vain to expect I’ll believe you.
Mrs. Hardcastle. [Running forward from behind.] O lud! he’ll murder my poor boy, my darling! Here, good gentleman, whet your rage upon me. Take my money, my life, but spare that young gentleman; spare my child, if you have any mercy.
Hardcastle. My wife, as I’m a Christian. From whence can she come? or what does she mean?
Mrs. Hardcastle. [Kneeling.] Take compassion on us, good Mr. Highwayman. Take our money, our watches, all we have, but spare our lives. We will never bring you to justice; indeed we won’t, good Mr. Highwayman.
Hardcastle. I believe the woman’s out of her senses. What, Dorothy, don’t you know ME?
Mrs. Hardcastle. Mr. Hardcastle, as I’m alive! My fears blinded me. But who, my dear, could have expected to meet you here, in this frightful place, so far from home? What has brought you to follow us?
Hardcastle. Sure, Dorothy, you have not lost your wits? So far from home, when you are within forty yards of your own door! [To him.] This is one of your old tricks, you graceless rogue, you. [To her.] Don’t you know the gate, and the mulberry-tree; and don’t you remember the horse-pond, my dear?
Mrs. Hardcastle. Yes, I shall remember the horse-pond as long as I live; I have caught my death in it. [To TONY.] And it is to you, you graceless varlet, I owe all this? I’ll teach you to abuse your mother, I will.
Tony. Ecod, mother, all the parish says you have spoiled me, and so you may take the fruits on’t.
Mrs. Hardcastle. I’ll spoil you, I will. [Follows him off the stage. Exit.]
Hardcastle. There’s morality, however, in his reply. [Exit.]
Enter HASTINGS and MISS NEVILLE.
Hastings. My dear Constance, why will you deliberate thus? If we delay a moment, all is lost for ever. Pluck up a little resolution, and we shall soon be out of the reach of her malignity.
Miss Neville. I find it impossible. My spirits are so sunk with the agitations I have suffered, that I am unable to face any new danger. Two or three years’ patience will at last crown us with happiness.
Hastings. Such a tedious delay is worse than inconstancy. Let us fly, my charmer. Let us date our happiness from this very moment. Perish fortune! Love and content will increase what we possess beyond a monarch’s revenue. Let me prevail!
Miss Neville. No, Mr. Hastings, no. Prudence once more comes to my relief, and I will obey its dictates. In the moment of passion fortune may be despised, but it ever produces a lasting repentance. I’m resolved to apply to Mr. Hardcastle’s compassion and justice for redress.
Hastings. But though he had the will, he has not the power to relieve you.
Miss Neville. But he has influence, and upon that I am resolved to rely.
Hastings. I have no hopes. But since you persist, I must reluctantly obey you. [Exeunt.]
Enter SIR CHARLES and MISS HARDCASTLE.
Sir Charles. What a situation am I in! If what you say appears, I shall then find a guilty son. If what he says be true, I shall then lose one that, of all others, I most wished for a daughter.
Miss Hardcastle. I am proud of your approbation, and to show I merit it, if you place yourselves as I directed, you shall hear his explicit declaration. But he comes.
Sir Charles. I’ll to your father, and keep him to the appointment. [Exit SIR CHARLES.]
Marlow. Though prepared for setting out, I come once more to take leave; nor did I, till this moment, know the pain I feel in the separation.
Miss Hardcastle. [In her own natural manner.] I believe sufferings cannot be very great, sir, which you can so easily remove. A day or two longer, perhaps, might lessen your uneasiness, by showing the little value of what you now think proper to regret.
Marlow. [Aside.] This girl every moment improves upon me. [To her.] It must not be, madam. I have already trifled too long with my heart. My very pride begins to submit to my passion. The disparity of education and fortune, the anger of a parent, and the contempt of my equals, begin to lose their weight; and nothing can restore me to myself but this painful effort of resolution.
Miss Hardcastle. Then go, sir: I’ll urge nothing more to detain you. Though my family be as good as hers you came down to visit, and my education, I hope, not inferior, what are these advantages without equal affluence? I must remain contented with the slight approbation of imputed merit; I must have only the mockery of your addresses, while all your serious aims are fixed on fortune.
Enter HARDCASTLE and SIR CHARLES from behind.
Sir Charles. Here, behind this screen.
Hardcastle. Ay, ay; make no noise. I’ll engage my Kate covers him with confusion at last.
Marlow. By heavens, madam! fortune was ever my smallest consideration. Your beauty at first caught my eye; for who could see that without emotion? But every moment that I converse with you steals in some new grace, heightens the picture, and gives it stronger expression. What at first seemed rustic plainness, now appears refined simplicity. What seemed forward assurance, now strikes me as the result of courageous innocence and conscious virtue.
Sir Charles. What can it mean? He amazes me!
Hardcastle. I told you how it would be. Hush!
Marlow. I am now determined to stay, madam; and I have too good an opinion of my father’s discernment, when he sees you, to doubt his approbation.
Miss Hardcastle. No, Mr. Marlow, I will not, cannot detain you. Do you think I could suffer a connexion in which there is the smallest room for repentance? Do you think I would take the mean advantage of a transient passion, to load you with confusion? Do you think I could ever relish that happiness which was acquired by lessening yours?
Marlow. By all that’s good, I can have no happiness but what’s in your power to grant me! Nor shall I ever feel repentance but in not having seen your merits before. I will stay even contrary to your wishes; and though you should persist to shun me, I will make my respectful assiduities atone for the levity of my past conduct.
Miss Hardcastle. Sir, I must entreat you’ll desist. As our acquaintance began, so let it end, in indifference. I might have given an hour or two to levity; but seriously, Mr. Marlow, do you think I could ever submit to a connexion where I must appear mercenary, and you imprudent? Do you think I could ever catch at the confident addresses of a secure admirer?
Marlow. [Kneeling.] Does this look like security? Does this look like confidence? No, madam, every moment that shows me your merit, only serves to increase my diffidence and confusion. Here let me continue —
Sir Charles. I can hold it no longer. Charles, Charles, how hast thou deceived me! Is this your indifference, your uninteresting conversation?
Hardcastle. Your cold contempt; your formal interview! What have you to say now?
Marlow. That I’m all amazement! What can it mean?
Hardcastle. It means that you can say and unsay things at pleasure: that you can address a lady in private, and deny it in public: that you have one story for us, and another for my daughter.
Marlow. Daughter! — This lady your daughter?
Hardcastle. Yes, sir, my only daughter; my Kate; whose else should she be?
Marlow. Oh, the devil!
Miss Hardcastle. Yes, sir, that very identical tall squinting lady you were pleased to take me for [courtseying]; she that you addressed as the mild, modest, sentimental man of gravity, and the bold, forward, agreeable Rattle of the Ladies’ Club. Ha! ha! ha!
Marlow. Zounds! there’s no bearing this; it’s worse than death!
Miss Hardcastle. In which of your characters, sir, will you give us leave to address you? As the faltering gentleman, with looks on the ground, that speaks just to be heard, and hates hypocrisy; or the loud confident creature, that keeps it up with Mrs. Mantrap, and old Miss Biddy Buckskin, till three in the morning? Ha! ha! ha!
Marlow. O, curse on my noisy head. I never attempted to be impudent yet, that I was not taken down. I must be gone.
Hardcastle. By the hand of my body, but you shall not. I see it was all a mistake, and I am rejoiced to find it. You shall not, sir, I tell you. I know she’ll forgive you. Won’t you forgive him, Kate? We’ll all forgive you. Take courage, man. [They retire, she tormenting him, to the back scene.]
Enter MRS. HARDCASTLE and Tony.
Mrs. Hardcastle. So, so, they’re gone off. Let them go, I care not.
Hardcastle. Who gone?
Mrs. Hardcastle. My dutiful niece and her gentleman, Mr. Hastings, from town. He who came down with our modest visitor here.
Sir Charles. Who, my honest George Hastings? As worthy a fellow as lives, and the girl could not have made a more prudent choice.
Hardcastle. Then, by the hand of my body, I’m proud of the connexion.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Well, if he has taken away the lady, he has not taken her fortune; that remains in this family to console us for her loss.
Hardcastle. Sure, Dorothy, you would not be so mercenary?
Mrs. Hardcastle. Ay, that’s my affair, not yours.
Hardcastle. But you know if your son, when of age, refuses to marry his cousin, her whole fortune is then at her own disposal.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Ay, but he’s not of age, and she has not thought proper to wait for his refusal.
Enter HASTINGS and MISS NEVILLE.
Mrs. Hardcastle. [Aside.] What, returned so soon! I begin not to like it.
Hastings. [To Hardcastle.] For my late attempt to fly off with your niece let my present confusion be my punishment. We are now come back, to appeal from your justice to your humanity. By her father’s consent, I first paid her my addresses, and our passions were first founded in duty.
Miss Neville. Since his death, I have been obliged to stoop to dissimulation to avoid oppression. In an hour of levity, I was ready to give up my fortune to secure my choice. But I am now recovered from the delusion, and hope from your tenderness what is denied me from a nearer connexion.
Mrs. Hardcastle. Pshaw, pshaw! this is all but the whining end of a modern novel.
Hardcastle. Be it what it will, I’m glad they’re come back to reclaim their due. Come hither, Tony, boy. Do you refuse this lady’s hand whom I now offer you?
Tony. What signifies my refusing? You know I can’t refuse her till I’m of age, father.
Hardcastle. While I thought concealing your age, boy, was likely to conduce to your improvement, I concurred with your mother’s desire to keep it secret. But since I find she turns it to a wrong use, I must now declare you have been of age these three months.
Tony. Of age! Am I of age, father?
Hardcastle. Above three months.
Tony. Then you’ll see the first use I’ll make of my liberty. [Taking MISS NEVILLE’s hand.] Witness all men by these presents, that I, Anthony Lumpkin, Esquire, of BLANK place, refuse you, Constantia Neville, spinster, of no place at all, for my true and lawful wife. So Constance Neville may marry whom she pleases, and Tony Lumpkin is his own man again.
Sir Charles. O brave ’squire!
Hastings. My worthy friend!
Mrs. Hardcastle. My undutiful offspring!
Marlow. Joy, my dear George! I give you joy sincerely. And could I prevail upon my little tyrant here to be less arbitrary, I should be the happiest man alive, if you would return me the favour.
Hastings. [To Miss Hardcastle.] Come, madam, you are now driven to the very last scene of all your contrivances. I know you like him, I’m sure he loves you, and you must and shall have him.
Hardcastle. [Joining their hands.] And I say so too. And, Mr. Marlow, if she makes as good a wife as she has a daughter, I don’t believe you’ll ever repent your bargain. So now to supper. To-morrow we shall gather all the poor of the parish about us, and the mistakes of the night shall be crowned with a merry morning. So, boy, take her; and as you have been mistaken in the mistress, my wish is, that you may never be mistaken in the wife. [Exeunt Omnes.]
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