A Flowery Mead. Enter TILDA, with a Basket.
TILDA: Alack, how many long miles have I trod!
My father bade me gather hazelnuts,
Forgetting it is May. I did his bidding:
He is an old man, and I love him much.
Mayhap I’ll find some nuts in the town market,
‘Tis only seven miles. But I am weary:
I’ll lay me down upon this mossy bank
And rest awhile, ere I go on my way.
(Enter SIR PERCY OF MALPRACTICE, unseen by TILDA.)
PERCY (aside): Aha, a sleeping maid! Let me draw closer:
O, what a triumph nature hath achieved!
Her raven hair tumbling in little ringlets,
Framing a face as lovely as the day,
The proud jut of her breast! What though her face
Be sunburnt from hard labour in the fields,
She is as fine as any of the wenches
The king takes to his bed. I think I’ll have her.
(To TILDA) Ho there, sweet maid, I see that thou art tired:
Hast thou walked many leagues?
I do seek hazelnuts, though it be May:
It was my father’s bidding.
PERCY (aside): ‘Twill be easy,
She is a little simple. (To TILDA) Then, fair lass,
Come thou with me: my steed is tied nearby.
There is an inn a little way from here
Where they sell nuts in little packages,
And I shall buy thee some, and a quart o’ malmsey
As a refreshment for thee, that thou may
Be strengthened on the way to thy father’s house:
TILDA: Sir, ’tis very kind of you,
But my old father made me promise him
That I should not take presents from strange men,
Nor go to inns with them: I fear I cannot.
PERCY: Thy father is a prudent man, my dear,
But thou art far from home, and very weary.
I am a gentleman, I shall not hurt thee:
What harm in a little drink?
TILDA: O sir, I must not.
PERCY: Nonsense, my pretty thing. (He seizes her.)
Though I be young, yet I do know full well
The kind of thing thou hast in mind for me:
My father showed me in a little book.
Thy coy resistance makes the game the sweeter.
TILDA: O let me go, I pray thee! Leave me be!
(Enter PRINCE FELIX, in the Guise of a Forester, bearing an Axe.)
FELIX: Ho, varlet, let that maiden loose!
I see i’ thy countenance thou meanst her harm;
Thy straining codpiece tells what form ’twill take.
Lay off, vile recreant, or I’ll strike thee down!
PERCY: Since when have peasants told me what to do?
The lass is my affair: begone, thou churl
Before I perforate thee with my brand.
(He draws his Sword. With one Blow of his Axe, FELIX cuts through the
PERCY: Insolent rustic! Thou shalt pay for that:
‘Twas a Toledo blade worth fifty guineas.
FELIX: A small price for a lesson in good manners:
‘Twill last thee all thy life.
PERCY: Thou speak’st of manners,
Thou common labourer, thou filthy brute?
What knowest thou how gentlefolk behave?
FELIX: Not always well, I see by thine example.
Now run thou off, and trouble us no longer.
I’ll count to ten, and then, if I do see thee,
My axe shall teach thee more than words can do.
(He brandishes his Axe. Exit PERCY in Haste.)
TILDA: O thank ye, sir, for ye have saved my honour,
FELIX: ‘Twas nothing, child.
I know that man too well: he is the squire
Of Sebum village, and full many a maiden
Hath he enticed into his manor house,
But never hath a maid come out of it.
But now, my lass, I see thy dress is torn.
TILDA: O fie, I am undone. I blush for shame.
FELIX: I’ll turn my back while thou dost rearrange it
And when thou’rt decent, I shall go with thee
To guard thee on the road to thine own house.
I know that ’tis against thy father’s rule,
But th’ way is dangerous. Say, wilt thou trust me?
TILDA (adjusting her Dress): Indeed, kind sir, for I have seen your actions
And know that I have naught to fear from you.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
FELIX (aside): Say, what a charming lass, so sweetly modest
And fair besides. ‘Twill be indeed a pleasure
To walk beside her for a league or two.
TILDA: I am done up again, good woodcutter
Lest thou should trip and fall upon the path.
TILDA (aside): O what a handsome youth! If he’d been first
To offer me some sack, I might have gone
To th’ inn with him, and very willingly.