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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Eavesdropping

By George Colman the Elder (1732–1794)

From ‘The Jealous Wife’

Scene, Mr. Oakly’s House: Enter Harriot following a Servant.

HARRIOT—Not at home! are you sure that Mrs. Oakly is not at home, sir?

Servant—She is just gone out, madam.

Harriot—I have something of consequence: if you will give me leave, sir, I will wait till she returns.

Servant—You would not see her if you did, madam. She has given positive orders not to be interrupted with any company to-day.

Harriot—Sure, sir, if you were to let her know that I had particular business—

Servant—I should not dare to trouble her, indeed, madam.

Harriot—How unfortunate this is! What can I do? Pray, sir, can I see Mr. Oakly then?

Servant—Yes, madam: I’ll acquaint my master, if you please.

Harriot—Pray do, sir.

Servant—Will you favor me with your name, madam?

Harriot—Be pleased, sir, to let him know that a lady desires to speak with him.

Servant—I shall, madam.[Exit Servant.]

Harriot[alone]—I wish I could have seen Mrs. Oakly! What an unhappy situation am I reduced to! What will the world say of me? And yet what could I do? To remain at Lady Freelove’s was impossible. Charles, I must own, has this very day revived much of my tenderness for him; and yet I dread the wildness of his disposition. I must now however solicit Mr. Oakly’s protection; a circumstance (all things considered) rather disagreeable to a delicate mind, and which nothing but the absolute necessity of it could excuse. Good Heavens, what a multitude of difficulties and distresses am I thrown into, by my father’s obstinate perseverance to force me into a marriage which my soul abhors!

Enter Oakly
Oakly—Where is this lady?[Seeing her.]Bless me, Miss Russet, is it you?[Aside]—Was ever anything so unlucky?—Is it possible, madam, that I see you here?

Harriot—It is true, sir! and the occasion on which I am now to trouble you is so much in need of an apology, but—the favor, sir, which I would now request of you is that you will suffer me to remain for a few days in your house.

Oakly[aside]—If my wife should return before I get her out of the house again!—I know of your leaving your father, by a letter we had from him. Upon my soul, madam, I would do anything to serve you; but your being in my house creates a difficulty that—

Harriot—I hope, sir, you do not doubt the truth of what I have told you?

Oakly—I religiously believe every tittle of it, madam; but I have particular family considerations that—

Harriot—Sure, sir, you cannot suspect me to be base enough to form any connections in your family contrary to your inclinations, while I am living in your house.

Oakly—Such connections, madam, would do me and all my family great honor. I never dreamed of any scruples on that account. What can I do? Let me see—let me see—suppose—[Pausing.]

Enter Mrs. Oakly behind, in a capuchin, tippet, etc.
Mrs. Oakly—I am sure I heard the voice of a woman conversing with my husband. Ha![Seeing Harriot.]It is so, indeed! Let me contain myself! I’ll listen.

Harriot—I see, sir, you are not inclined to serve me. Good Heaven, what am I reserved to? Why, why did I leave my father’s house, to expose myself to greater distresses?[Ready to weep.]

Oakly—I would do anything for your sake, indeed I would. So pray be comforted; and I’ll think of some proper place to bestow you in.

Mrs. Oakly—So, so!

Harriot—What place can be so proper as your own house?

Oakly—My dear madam, I—I—

Mrs. Oakly—My dear madam! mighty well!

Oakly—Hush! hark! what noise? No, nothing. But I’ll be plain with you, madam; we may be interrupted. The family consideration I hinted at is nothing else than my wife. She is a little unhappy in her temper, madam; and if you were to be admitted into the house, I don’t know what might be the consequence.

Mrs. Oakly—Very fine!

Harriot—My behavior, sir—

Oakly—My dear life, it would be impossible for you to behave in such a manner as not to give her suspicion.

Harriot—But if your nephew, sir, took everything upon himself—

Oakly—Still that would not do, madam. Why, this very morning, when the letter came from your father, though I positively denied any knowledge of it, and Charles owned it, yet it was almost impossible to pacify her.

Mrs. Oakly—The letter! How have I been bubbled!

Harriot—What shall I do? what will become of me?

Oakly—Why, look ye, my dear madam, since my wife is so strong an objection, it is absolutely impossible for me to take you into the house. Nay, if I had not known she was gone out just before you came, I should be uneasy at your being here even now. So we must manage as well as we can: I’ll take a private lodging for you a little way off, unknown to Charles or my wife or anybody; and if Mrs. Oakly should discover it at last, why the whole matter will light upon Charles, you know.

Mrs. Oakly—Upon Charles!

Harriot—How unhappy is my situation![Weeping.]I am ruined forever.

Oakly—Ruined! not at all. Such a thing as this has happened to many a young lady before you, and all has been well again. Keep up your spirits! I’ll contrive, if I possibly can, to visit you every day.

Mrs. Oakly[advancing]—Will you so? O Mr. Oakly! I have discovered you at last? I’ll visit you, indeed. And you, my dear madam, I’ll—

Harriot—Madam, I don’t understand—

Mrs. Oakly—I understand the whole affair, and have understood it for some time past. You shall have a private lodging, miss! It is the fittest place for you, I believe. How dare you look me in the face?

Oakly—For Heaven’s sake, my love, don’t be so violent! You are quite wrong in this affair; you don’t know who you are talking to. That lady is a person of fashion.

Mrs. Oakly—Fine fashion, indeed! to beguile other women’s husbands!

Harriot—Dear madam, how can you imagine—

Oakly—I tell you, my dear, this is the young lady that Charles—

Mrs. Oakly—Mighty well! But that won’t do, sir! Did not I hear you lay the whole intrigue together? did not I hear your fine plot of throwing all the blame upon Charles?

Oakly—Nay, be cool a moment! You must know, my dear, that the letter which came this morning related to this lady.

Mrs. Oakly—I know it.

Oakly—And since that, it seems, Charles has been so fortunate as to—

Mrs. Oakly—O, you deceitful man! that trick is too stale to pass again with me. It is plain now what you meant by your proposing to take her into the house this morning. But the gentlewoman could introduce herself, I see.

Oakly—Fie, fie, my dear! she came on purpose to inquire for you.

Mrs. Oakly—For me! Better and better! Did not she watch her opportunity, and come to you just as I went out? But I am obliged to you for your visit, madam. It is sufficiently paid. Pray don’t let me detain you.

Oakly—For shame, for shame, Mrs. Oakly! How can you be so absurd? Is this proper behavior to a lady of her character?

Mrs. Oakly—I have heard her character. Go, my fine run-away madam! Now you’ve eloped from your father, and run away from your aunt, go! You shan’t stay here, I promise you.

Oakly—Prithee, be quiet. You don’t know what you are doing. She shall stay.

Mrs. Oakly—She shan’t stay a minute.

Oakly—She shall stay a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year! ’Sdeath, madam, she shall stay forever, if I choose it.

Mrs. Oakly—How!

Harriot—For Heaven’s sake, sir, let me go. I am frighted to death.

Oakly—Don’t be afraid, madam! She shall stay, I insist upon it.

Russet[within]—I tell you, sir, I will go up. I am sure that the lady is here, and nothing shall hinder me.

Harriot—Oh, my father, my father![Faints away.]

Oakly—See! she faints.[Catching her.]Ring the bell! who’s there?

Mrs. Oakly—What, take her in your arms too! I have no patience.

Enter Russet and servants
Russet—Where is this—Ha! fainting![Running to her.]Oh, my dear Harriot! my child! my child!

Oakly—Your coming so abruptly shocked her spirits. But she revives. How do you, madam?

Harriot[to Russet]—Oh, sir!

Russet—Oh, my dear girl! how could you run away from your father, that loves you with such fondness! But I was sure I should find you here.

Mrs. Oakly—There, there! Sure he should find her here! Did not I tell you so? Are not you a wicked man, to carry on such base underhand doings with a gentleman’s daughter?

Russet—Let me tell you, sir, whatever you may think of the matter, I shall not easily put up with this behavior. How durst you encourage my daughter to an elopement, and receive her in your house?

Mrs. Oakly—There, mind that! the thing is as plain as the light.

Oakly—I tell you, you misunderstand—

Russet—Look you, Mr. Oakly, I shall expect satisfaction from your family for so gross an affront. Zounds, sir, I am not to be used ill by any man in England!

Harriot—My dear sir, I can assure you—

Russet—Hold your tongue, girl! you’ll put me in a passion.

Oakly—Sir, this is all a mistake.

Russet—A mistake! Did not I find her in your house?

Oakly—Upon my soul, she has not been in the house above—

Mrs. Oakly—Did not I hear you say you would take her to a lodging? a private lodging?

Oakly—Yes; but that—

Russet—Has not this affair been carried on a long time, in spite of my teeth?

Oakly—Sir, I never troubled myself—

Mrs. Oakly—Never troubled yourself! Did not you insist on her staying in the house, whether I would or no?


Russet—Did not you send to meet her when she came to town?


Mrs. Oakly—Did not you deceive me about the letter this morning?

Oakly—No, no, no. I tell you, no!

Mrs. Oakly—Yes, yes, yes. I tell you, yes!

Russet—Shan’t I believe my own eyes?

Mrs. Oakly—Shan’t I believe my own ears?

Oakly—I tell you, you are both deceived.

Russet—Zounds, sir, I’ll have satisfaction.

Mrs. Oakly—I’ll stop these fine doings, I warrant you.

Oakly—’Sdeath, you will not let me speak! And you are both alike, I think. I wish you were married to one another, with all my heart.

Mrs. Oakly—Mighty well! mighty well!

Russet—I shall soon find a time to talk with you.

Oakly—Find a time to talk! you have talked enough now for all your lives.

Mrs. Oakly—Very fine! Come along, sir! leave that lady with her father. Now she is in the properest hands.

Oakly—I wish I could leave you in his hands.[Going, returns.]I shall follow you, madam! One word with you, sir! The height of your passion, and Mrs. Oakly’s strange misapprehension of this whole affair, makes it impossible to explain matters to you at present. I will do it when you please, and how you please.[Exit.]

Russet—Yes, yes; I’ll have satisfaction.—So, madam! I have found you at last. You have made a fine confusion here.

Harriot—I have indeed been the innocent cause of a great deal of confusion.

Russet—Innocent! what business had you to be running hither after—

Harriot—My dear sir, you misunderstand the whole affair. I have not been in this house half an hour.

Russet—Zounds, girl, don’t put me in a passion! You know I love you; but a lie puts me in a passion! But come along; we’ll leave this house directly.[Charles singing without.]Hey-day! what now?

After a noise without, enter Charles, drunk and singing:
  • But my wine neither nurses nor babies can bring,
  • And a big-bellied bottle’s a mighty good thing.
  • What’s here—a woman? a woman? Harriot!—Impossible!—My dearest, sweetest Harriot! I have been looking all over the town for you, and at last, when I was tired and weary and disappointed,—why then the honest Major and I sat down together to drink your health in pint bumpers.[Running up to her.]

    Russet—Stand off! How dare you take any liberties with my daughter before me? Zounds, sir, I’ll be the death of you!

    Charles—Ha, ’Squire Russet, too! You jolly old cock, how do you? But Harriot! my dear girl![Taking hold of her.]My life, my soul, my—

    Russet—Let her go, sir! Come away, Harriot! Leave him this instant, or I’ll tear you asunder.[Pulling her.]

    Harriot—There needs no violence to tear me from a man who could disguise himself in such a gross manner, at a time when he knew I was in the utmost distress.[Disengages herself, and exit with Russet.

    Charles[alone]—Only hear me, sir! Madam! My dear Harriot! Mr. Russet! Gone! She’s gone; and egad, in a very ill humor and in very bad company! I’ll go after her. But hold! I shall only make it worse, as I did, now I recollect, once before. How the devil came they here? Who would have thought of finding her in my own house? My head turns round with conjectures. I believe I am drunk, very drunk; so egad, I’ll e’en go and sleep myself sober, and then inquire the meaning of all this—

  • “For I love Sue, and Sue loves me,” etc.
  • [Exit singing.