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Enter Joseph SURFACE.
Joseph S. My dear Lady Sneerwell, how do you do to-day? Mr. Snake, your most obedient.
Lady S. Snake has just been rallying me on our mutual attachment; but I have informed him of our real views. You know how useful he has been to us, and, believe me, the confidence is not ill-placed.
Joseph S. Madam, it is impossible for me to suspect á man of Mr. Snake's sensibility and discernment.
Lady S. Well, well, no compliments now; but tell me when you saw your mistress, Maria—or, what is more material to me, your brother. Joseph S. I have not seen either since I left
you; but I can inform you that they never meet. Some of your stories have taken a good effect on Maria.
Lady S. Ah! my dear Snahe! the merit of this belongs to you: but do your brother's distresses increase?
Joseph S. Every hour. I am told he has had another execution in the house yesterday. In short, his dissipalion and extravagance exceed any thing I ever heard of.
Lady S. Poor Charles!
Joseph S. True, madam; notwithstanding his vices, one cannot help feeling for him. Poor Charles! I'm sure I wish it were in my power to be of any essential service to him; for the man who does not feel for the distress s of a friend, even though merited by his own misconduct, deserves
Lady S. O lud! you are going to be moral, and forget that you are among friends.
Joseph Š. Egad, that's true!—I'll keep that sentiment till I see Sir Peter;-however, it is certainly a charity to rescue Maria from such a libertine, who, if he is to be reclaimed, can be so only by one of your ladyship's superior accomplishments and understanding.
Snake. I believe, Lady Sneerwell, here's company coming: I'll
go and copy the letter I mentioned to you.Mr. Surface, your most obedient.
Joseph S. Sir, your very devoted. (Exit Snake.] Lady Sneerwell, I am very sorry you have put any farther confidence in that fellow.
Lady S. Why so?
Joseph S. I have lately detected him in frequent conference with old Rowley, who was formerly my father's steward, and has never, you know, been a friend of mine.
Lady S. And do you think he would betray us?
Joseph S. Nothing more likely:-take my word for’t, Lady Sneerwell, that fellow hasn't virtue enough to be faithful even to his own villany.Ah ! Maria!
Enter Maria. Lady S. Maria, my dear, how do you do?What's the matler?
Maria. Oh! there is that disagreeable lover of mine , Sir Benjamin Backbite, has just called at my guardian's, with his odious uncle, Crabtree; so I slipp'd out, and ran hither to avoid them.
Ludy S. Is that all?
Joseph S. If my brother Charles had been of the parly, madam, perhaps you would not have been so much alarmed.
Lady S. Nay, now you are severe; for I dare swear the truth of the malter is, Maria heard you were here. — But my dear, what has Sir Benjamin done, that you should avoid him so?
Maria. Oh, he has done nothing but 'tis for what he has said: his conversation is a perpetual libel on all his acquaintance.
Joseph S. Ay, and the worst of it is, there is no advantage in not knowing him--for he'll abuse a stranger just as soon as his best friend; and his uncle Crabtrce's as bad.
Lady S. Nay, but we should make allowance;— Sir Benjamin is a wit and a poet.
Maria. For my part, I own, inadam, wit loses ils respect with me, when I see it in company with malice.-What do you think, Mr. Sursace?
Joseph S. Certainly, madam ; to smilc at the jest which planls a thorn in another's brcast is to become a principal in the mischief.
Lady S. Pshaw!-there's no possibility of being willy without a little ill-nature: the malice of a good thing is the barb that makes it stick.–What's your opinion, Mr. Surface?
Joseph S. To be sure, madam ; that conversation, where the spirit of raillery is suppressed, will ever appear tedious and insipid.
Maria. Well, I'll not debate how far scandal may be allowable; but in a man, I am sure, it is always contemptible. We have pride, envy, rivalship, and a thousand little motives to depreciate each other; but the male slanderer must have the cowardice of a woman before he can traduce one.
Enter SERVANT. Serv. Madam, Mrs. Candour is below, and if your ladyship's at leisure, will leave her carriage.
Lady S. Beg her to walk in.-[Exit Servant.] Now, Maria, however, here is a character to your taste; for though Mrs. Candour is a little talkative, every body allows her to be the best natured and best sort of woman.
Maria. Yes,—with a very gross affectation of good nature and benevolence, she does more mischief than the direct malice of old Crabtree.
Joseph S. I 'faith that's true, Lady Sneerwell: whenever I hear the current running against the characters of my friends, I never think them in such danger as when Candour undertakes their defence. Lady S. Hush !-here she is!
Enter Mrs. CANDOUR. Mrs. Can. My dear Lady Sneerwell, how have you been this century?- Mr. Surface, what news do you hear?- though indeed it is no matter, for I think one hears nothing else but scandal.
Joseph S. Just so, indeed, ma'am.
MIrs. C. Oh, Maria! child, -what! is the whole assair off between you 'and Charles?— His extravagance, I presume—the town talks of nothing else.
Maria. I am very sorry, ma'am, the town has so lillle to do.
Mrs. C. True, true, child: but there's no stopping people's tongues. I own I was hurt to hear it, as I indeed was to learn, from the same quarter, that your guardian, Sir Peter, and Lady Teazle, have not agreed lately as well as could be wished.
Maria. 'Tis strangely impertinent for people to busy themselves so.
Mrs. C. Very true,child:--but what's to be done? -People will talk-there's no preventing it. Why, it was but yesterday I was told that Miss Gadabout had eloped with Sir Filigree Flirt.-But, Lord ! there's no minding what one hears; though, to be sure , I had this from very good authority.
Maria. Such reports are highly scandalous.
Mrs. C. So they are, child - shameful, shameful! But the world is censorious, no character escapes.
- Lord, now, who would have suspected your friend, Miss Prim, of an indiscretion ? Yet such is the ill-nature of people, that they say her uncle stopped her last week, just as she was stepping into the York Mail with her dancing-master.
Maria. I'll answer for't, there are no grounds for that report.
Mrs. C. Ah, no foundation in the world, I dare swear; no more probably, than for the story circulated last month, of Mrs. Festino's affair with Colonel Cassino;—though, to be sure, that matter was never rightly cleared up:
Joseph S. The licence of invention some people lake is monstrous indeed.
Maria. 'Tis so, but, in my opinion, those who report such things are equally culpable.
Mrs. Č. To be sure they are ; tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers — 'lis an old observation, and a very true one : but what's to be done , as I said before ? how will you prevent people from talking ? To day, Mrs. Clackitt assured me, Mr. and Mrs. Honeymoon were at last become mere man and wife, like the rest of their acquaintance. She likewise hinted that a certain widow, in the next street, had got rid of her dropsy and recovered her shape in a most surprising manner. And at the same time, Miss Tattle, who was hy, affirmed, that Lord Buffalo had discovered his lady at a house of no extraordinary fame; and that Sir Harry Bouquet and Tom Saunter were to measure swords on a similar provocation. — But, Lord, do you think I would report these things? — No, no ! tale-bearers, as I said before, are just as bad as the tale-makers.
Joseph S. Ah! Mrs. Candour, if every body had your forbearance and good-nature !
Mrs. C. I confess, Mr. Surface, I cannot bear to hear people attacked behind their backs; and when ugly circumstances come out against our acquaintance, I own I always love to think the best. By the by, I hope 'tis not true that your brother is absolutely ruined.
Joseph S. I am afraid his circumstances are very bad indeed, ma'am.
Mrs. C. Ah! I heard so-but you must tell him to keep up his spirits ; every body almost is in the same way-Lord Spindle, Sir Thomas Splint, and Mr. Nickit-all up, I hear, within this week; so if Charles is undone, he'ell find half his acquaintance ruined too, and that, you know, is a consolation. Joseph S. Doubtless, ma'am-a very great one.
[Exit Servant: Lady S. So, Maria, you see your lover pursues you ; positively you sha’n’t escape.
Enter CRABTREE and SIR BENJAMIN BACK BITE. Crab. Lady Sneerwell, I kiss your hand-Mrs. Can dour, I don't believe you are acquainted with my nephew, Sir Benjamin Bäckbite ? Egad, ma'am he has