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-in-law, 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. )