Char. I’ll go, sister—But
don’t be alarmed so.
Stu. What extraordinary accident have you to fear, madam?
Mrs. Bev. I beg your pardon; but ’tis ever thus with me in Mr. Beverley’s absence. No one knocks at the door, but I fancy ’tis a messenger of ill news.
Stu. You are too fearful, madam; ’twas but one night of absence; and if ill thoughts intrude (as love is always doubtful) think of your worth and beauty, and drive them from your breast.
Mrs. Bev. What thoughts? I have no thoughts that wrong my husband.
Stu. Such thoughts indeed would wrong him. The world is full of slander; and every wretch that knows himself unjust, charges his neighbour with like passions; and by the general frailty, hides his own. If you are wise, and would be happy, turn a deaf ear to such reports: ’tis ruin to believe them.
Mrs. Bev. Ay, worse than ruin. ’Twould be to sin against conviction. Why was it mentioned?
Stu. To guard you against rumour. The sport of half mankind is mischief; and for a single error they make men devils. If their tales reach you, disbelieve them.
Mrs. Bev. What tales? By whom? Why told? I have heard nothing; or if I had, with all his errors, my Beverley’s firm faith admits no doubt. It is my safety; my seat of rest and joy, while the storm threatens round me. I’ll not forsake it. (Stukely sighs, and looks down) Why turn you from me? And why that sigh?
Stu. I was attentive, madam; and sighs will come we know not why. Perhaps I have been too busy. If it should seem so, impute my zeal to friendship, that meant to guard you against evil tongues. Your Beverley is wronged; slandered most vilely. My life upon his truth.
Mrs. Bev. And mine too. Who is’t that doubts it? But no matter—I am prepared, Sir.—Yet why this caution?—You are my husband’s friend; I think you mine too; the common friend of both. (Pauses) I had been unconcerned else.
Stu. For heaven’s sake, madam, be so still! I meant to guard you against suspicion, not to alarm it.
Mrs. Bev. Nor have you, Sir. Who told you of suspicion? I have a heart it cannot reach.
Stu. Then I am happy—I would say more, but am prevented.
Mrs. Bev. Who was it, Charlotte?
Char. What a heart has that Jarvis!—A creditor, sister. But the good old man has taken him away. Don’t distress his wife! Don’t distress his sister! I could hear him say. ’Tis cruel to distress the afflicted. And when he saw me at the door, he begged pardon that his friend had knocked so loud.
Stu. I wish I had known of this. Was it a large demand, madam?