Tilda — A Comedy in Six Acts — 1.2

The Manor House in the Village of Sebum. Enter SIR PERCY
MALPRACTICE and his Servant MUDGE.
PERCY: Mudge, throw another peasant on the fire:
‘Tis bitter chill in here. While we await
The villagers t’ assemble in the yard
To pay their taxes, tell me if thou can:
I met a pretty maid i’ th’ woods near here
Some twenty summers old, with raven ringlets
And eyes of deepest brown, and teeth of pearl,
And ample bosom, among other charms.
Dost thou know who she is, or where she lives?
MUDGE: Ah, that I do, sir. No one in the village do be like to her: Tilda,
the daughter of Hob and Jess, who lives in a cottage on the edge of the
moor. They be outside in the yard already, I trow.
PERCY: And why have I not seen this lass before?
MUDGE: She do not come into the village, sir, having been warned by her
old father of the, ahem, begging your pardon, sir.
PERCY: Spit it out, man, this is no time for silence.
MUDGE: The dangers attendant on a young female person coming into the
village, by your leave, sir.
PERCY: I’ll show her danger. Send her parents in. (Exit MUDGE.)
I have a way to net this tasty lass:
I’ll seize her parents’ farm, so she be homeless
And then I’ll kindly offer her a post
As maidservant in mine own manor house:
She’ll fall into my lap like a ripe peach.
(Re-enter MUDGE, with HOB and JESS.)
MUDGE: Here they be, sir: the couple from the cottage on the moor.
PERCY (to MUDGE): What are the dues they pay to me at present?
MUDGE: Twenty bushels of barley, sir, and six sides of bacon, and forty
gallons of strong cider, and eighteenpence for use of the road to their
cottage. They have paid it already, sir, aside from sixpence, and that they
have promised this evening after they have taken their goods to market.
HOB: We do be sorry for the sixpence, sir. It ha’ been a hard year, that it
have, we has hardly enough for ourselves. We’ll make it up to ‘ee next
week, by my troth.
PERCY (to MUDGE): What are my rules about the peasants’ dues?
MUDGE: One, that all dues be paid on time, on pain of eviction. Two, that
extra dues may be required, at the discretion …
PERCY: That’s enough, Mudge. Ye two, ye are evicted.
JESS: O sir, these are my last six silver pennies, the which I had with me to
buy a nanny goat at the market, so that we could make cheese to sell.
(She holds out the Coins. SIR PERCY seizes them.)
MUDGE: Then that be the full amount, thank ‘ee. Ye would have saved
yourselves a nasty fright by giving it to me earlier.
PERCY: Ye would indeed. The rules are plain enough:
There’s no exceptions can be made to them.
Ye have paid late, therefore ye lose your farm.
I give you four and twenty hours to leave.
Now go away, and trouble me no more.
HOB: But sir, we ha’ paid ye the full amount when ye did ask. What wrong
ha’ we done, in the good Lord’s name?
PERCY: Hold thy tongue, serf, lest a worse fate befall thee.
JESS: But where shall we go, sir, if we have no home?
PERCY: Go to the workhouse in Alluvium,
Where ye’ll pick oakum. Go, make yourselves useful,
Ye worthless parasites, a burden on our village.
JESS (weeping): Lord have mercy on us, for we ha’ lost all.
HOB: Bear up, me old cheese, we ha’ lost our farm, but we ha’ not yet lost
our lives. It do be a long lane that have no turning, that I do always say.
(Exeunt HOB and JESS. SIR PERCY writes in his Rent Book.)
MUDGE (aside): I has served the old curmudgeon for nigh on twenty year,
and I has seen him do some cruel things, aye, by my troth, and debauch
many lasses. But that were the act of a very devil out of the pit, sure
enough. I will visit the poor folk this night and see what I can do to ease
their lot.
SIR PERCY: Mudge, go at once to those two wretches’ cottage
And find that wench, and bring her here forthwith. (Exit MUDGE.)
I’ll have that lass at any price, though I
Should have to hang th’ entire village to get her.
Ha! When my lust is roused, I’m a hard man:
I’ll stop at nothing to fulfil my plan.