FANNY AND THE SERVANT PROBLEM
by Jerome K. Jerome
Her Husband, Vernon Wetherell, Lord Bantock Her Butler, Martin Bennet
Her Housekeeper, Susannah Bennet
Her Maid, Jane Bennet
Her Second Footman, Ernest Bennet
Her Still-room Maid, Honoria Bennet Her Aunts by marriage, the Misses Wetherell Her Local Medical Man, Dr. Freemantle
Her quondam Companions, “Our Empire”: England
Her former Business Manager, George P. Newte
The Lady Bantock’s boudoir, Bantock Hall, Rutlandshire, a spacious room handsomely furnished (chiefly in the style of Louis the Fourteenth) and lighted by three high windows, facing the south-west. A door between the fireplace and the windows leads to his lordship’s apartments. A door the other side of the fireplace is the general entrance. The door opposite the windows leads through her ladyship’s dressing-room into her ladyship’s bedroom. Over the great fireplace hangs a full-length portrait of Constance, first Lady Bantock, by Hoppner.
The time is sunset of a day in early spring. The youthful Lord Bantock is expected home with his newly wedded wife this evening; and the two Misses Wetherell, his aunts, have been busy decorating the room with flowers, and are nearing the end of their labours. The two Misses Wetherell have grown so much alike it would be difficult for a stranger to tell one from the other; and to add to his confusion they have fallen into the habit of dressing much alike in a fashion of their own that went out long ago, while the hair of both is white, and even in their voices they have caught each other’s tones.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [she has paused from her work and is looking out of the windows]. Such a lovely sunset, dear.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [she leaves her work and joins her sister. The two stand holding each other’s hands, looking out]. Beautiful! [A silence. The sun is streaming full into the room.] You–you don’t think, dear, that this room–[she looks round it]–may possibly be a little TOO sunny to quite suit her?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [not at first understanding]. How, dear, TOO sun–[She grasps the meaning.] You mean–you think that perhaps she does that sort of thing?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Well, dear, one is always given to understand that they do, women–ladies of her profession.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It seems to me so wicked: painting God’s work.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We mustn’t judge hardly, dear. Besides, dear, we don’t know yet that she does.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Perhaps she’s young, and hasn’t commenced it. I fancy it’s only the older ones that do it.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He didn’t mention her age, I remember.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. No, dear, but I feel she’s young.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I do hope she is. We may be able to mould her.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We must be very sympathetic. One can accomplish so much with sympathy.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We must get to understand her. [A sudden thought.] Perhaps, dear, we may get to like her.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [doubtful]. We might TRY, dear.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. For Vernon’s sake. The poor boy seems so much in love with her. We must –
Bennet has entered. He is the butler.
BENNET. Doctor Freemantle. I have shown him into the library.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Thank you, Bennet. Will you please tell him that we shall be down in a few minutes? I must just finish these flowers. [She returns to the table.]
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Why not ask him to come up here? We could consult him–about the room. He always knows everything.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. A good idea. Please ask him, Bennet, if he would mind coming up to us here. [Bennet, who has been piling up fresh logs upon the fire, turns to go.] Oh, Bennet! You will remind Charles to put a footwarmer in the carriage!
BENNET. I will see to it myself. [He goes out.]
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Thank you, Bennet. [To her sister] One’s feet are always so cold after a railway journey.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I’ve been told that, nowadays, they heat the carriages.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Ah, it is an age of luxury! I wish I knew which were her favourite flowers. It is so nice to be greeted by one’s favourite flowers.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I feel sure she loves lilies.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And they are so appropriate to a bride. So –
Announced by Bennet, Dr. Freemantle bustles in. He is a dapper little man, clean-shaven, with quick brisk ways.
DR. FREEMANTLE [he shakes hands]. Well, and how are we this afternoon? [He feels the pulse of the Younger Miss Wetherell] Steadier. Much steadier! [of the Elder Miss Wetherell.] Nervous tension greatly relieved.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She has been sleeping much better.
DR. FREEMANTLE [he pats the hand of the Elder Miss Wetherell]. Excellent! Excellent!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She ate a good breakfast this morning.
DR. FREEMANTLE [he pats the hand of the Younger Miss Wetherell]. Couldn’t have a better sign. [He smiles from one to the other.] Brain disturbance, caused by futile opposition to the inevitable, evidently abating. One page Marcus Aurelius every morning before breakfast. “Adapt thyself,” says Marcus Aurelius, “to the things with which thy lot has been cast. Whatever happens–“
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, doctor, it was all so sudden.
DR. FREEMANTLE. The unexpected! It has a way of taking us by surprise–bowling us over–completely. Till we pull ourselves together. Make the best of what can’t be helped–like brave, sweet gentlewomen. [He presses their hands. They are both wiping away a tear.] When do you expect them?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. To-night, by the half-past eight train. We had a telegram this morning from Dover.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Um! and this is to be her room? [He takes it in.] The noble and renowned Constance, friend and confidant of the elder Pitt, maker of history, first Lady Bantock–by Hoppner–always there to keep an eye on her, remind her of the family traditions. Brilliant idea, brilliant! [They are both smiling with pleasure.]
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And you don’t think–it is what we wanted to ask you–that there is any fear of her finding it a little trying- -the light? You see, this is an exceptionally sunny room.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And these actresses–if all one hears is true –
The dying sun is throwing his last beams across the room.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Which, thank God, it isn’t. [He seats himself in a large easy-chair. The two ladies sit side by side on a settee.] I’ll tell you just exactly what you’ve got to expect. A lady–a few years older than the boy himself, but still young. Exquisite figure; dressed–perhaps a trifle too regardless of expense. Hair–maybe just a shade TOO golden. All that can be altered. Features– piquant, with expressive eyes, the use of which she probably understands, and an almost permanent smile, displaying an admirably preserved and remarkably even set of teeth. But, above all, clever. That’s our sheet-anchor. The woman’s clever. She will know how to adapt herself to her new position.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [turning to her sister]. Yes, she must be clever to have obtained the position that she has. [To the Doctor] Vernon says that she was quite the chief attraction all this winter, in Paris.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And the French public is so critical.
DR. FREEMANTLE [drily]. Um! I was thinking rather of her cleverness in “landing” poor Vernon. The lad’s not a fool.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We must do her justice. I think she was really in love with him.
DR. FREEMANTLE [still more drily]. Very possibly. Most cafe- chantant singers, I take it, would be–with an English lord. [He laughs.]
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You see, she didn’t know he was a lord.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Didn’t know–?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No. She married him, thinking him to be a plain Mr. Wetherell, an artist.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Where d’ye get all that from?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. From Vernon himself. You’ve got his last letter, dear. [She has opened her chatelaine bag.] Oh, no, I’ve got it myself.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He’s not going to break it to her till they reach here this evening.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [she reads]. Yes. “I shall not break it to her before we reach home. We were married quietly at the Hotel de Ville, and she has no idea I am anything else than plain Vernon James Wetherell, a fellow-countryman of her own, and a fellow-artist. The dear creature has never even inquired whether I am rich or poor.” I like her for that.
DR. FREEMANTLE. You mean to tell me–[He jumps up. With his hands in his jacket pockets, he walks to and fro.] I suppose it’s possible.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You see, she isn’t the ordinary class of music-hall singer.
DR. FREEMANTLE. I should say not.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She comes of quite a good family.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Her uncle was a bishop.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Bishop? Of where?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [with the letter]. He says he can’t spell it. It’s somewhere in New Zealand.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Do they have bishops over there?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Well, evidently.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Then her cousin is a judge.
DR. FREEMANTLE. In New Zealand?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [again referring to the letter]. No–in Ohio.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Seems to have been a somewhat scattered family.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. People go about so much nowadays.
Mrs. Bennet has entered. She is the housekeeper.
MRS. BENNET [she is about to speak to the Misses Wetherell; sees the Doctor]. Good afternoon, doctor.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Afternoon, Mrs. Bennet.
MRS. BENNET [she turns to the Misses Wetherell, her watch in her hand]. I was thinking of having the fire lighted in her ladyship’s bedroom. It is half past six.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You are always so thoughtful. She may be tired.
MRS. BENNET. If so, everything will be quite ready. [She goes out, closing door.]
DR. FREEMANTLE. What do they think about it all–the Bennets? You have told them?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We thought it better. You see, one hardly regards them as servants. They have been in the family so long. Three generations of them.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Really, since our poor dear brother’s death, Bennet has been more like the head of the house than the butler.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Of course, he doesn’t say much.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It is her having been on the stage that they feel so.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, they have always been a religious family.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Do you know, I really think they feel it more than we do. I found Peggy crying about it yesterday, in the scullery.
DR. FREEMANTLE [he has been listening with a touch of amusement.] Peggy Bennet?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Yes. CHARLES Bennet’s daughter.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Happen to have a servant about the place who isn’t a Bennet?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No, no, I don’t really think we have. Oh, yes–that new girl Mrs. Bennet engaged last week for the dairy. What is her name?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Arnold.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Ah, yes, Arnold.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I think she’s a cousin, dear.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Only a second cousin.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Um! Well I should tell the whole family to buck up. Seems to me, from what you tell me, that their master is bringing them home a treasure. [He shakes hands briskly with the ladies.] May look in again to-morrow. Don’t forget–one page Marcus Aurelius before breakfast–in case of need. [He goes out.]
The sun has sunk. The light is twilight.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He always cheers one up.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He’s so alive.
[Mrs. Bennet comes in from the dressing-room. She leaves the door ajar. The sound of a hammer is heard. It ceases almost immediately.] Oh, Mrs. Bennet, we were going to ask you–who is to be her ladyship’s maid? Have you decided yet?
MRS. BENNET. I have come to the conclusion–looking at the thing from every point of view–that Jane would be the best selection.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Jane!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. But does she understand the duties?
MRS. BENNET. A lady’s maid, being so much alone with her mistress, is bound to have a certain amount of influence. And Jane has exceptionally high principles.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. That is true, dear.
MRS. BENNET. As regards the duties, she is very quick at learning anything new. Of course, at first –
The sound of hammering again comes from the bedroom.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Who is that hammering in her ladyship’s bedroom?
MRS. BENNET. It is Bennet, Miss Edith. We thought it might be helpful: a few texts, hung where they would always catch her ladyship’s eye. [She notices the look of doubt.] Nothing offensive. Mere general exhortations such as could be read by any lady. [The Misses Wetherell look at one another, but do not speak.] I take it, dinner will be at half past seven, as usual?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Yes, Mrs. Bennet, thank you. They will not be here till about nine. They will probably prefer a little supper to themselves.
Mrs. Bennet goes out–on her way to the kitchen. The Misses Wetherell look at one another again. The hammering recommences.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [she hesitates a moment, then goes to the open door and calls]. Bennet–Bennet! [She returns and waits. Bennet comes in.]
Oh, Bennet, your wife tells us you are putting up a few texts in her ladyship’s bedroom.
BENNET. It seemed to me that a silent voice, speaking to her, as it were, from the wall –
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It is so good of you–only, you–you will be careful there is nothing she could regard as a PERSONAL allusion.
BENNET. Many of the most popular I was compelled to reject, purely for that reason.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We felt sure we could trust to your discretion.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, coming, as she does, from a good family –
BENNET. It is that–I speak merely for myself–that gives me hope of reclaiming her.
A silence. The two ladies, feeling a little helpless, again look at one another.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We must be very sympathetic.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And patient, Bennet.
BENNET. It is what I am preparing myself to be. Of course, if you think them inadvisable, I can take them down again.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No, Bennet, oh no! I should leave them up. Very thoughtful of you, indeed.
BENNET. It seemed to me one ought to leave no stone unturned. [He returns to his labours in the bedroom.]
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [after a pause]. I do hope she’ll LIKE the Bennets.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I think she will–after a time, when she is used to them.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I am so anxious it should turn out well.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I feel sure she’s a good woman. Vernon would never have fallen in love with her if she hadn’t been good. [They take each other’s hand, and sit side by side, as before, upon the settee. The twilight has faded: only the faint firelight remains, surrounded by shadows.] Do you remember, when he was a little mite, how he loved to play with your hair? [The younger Miss Wetherell laughs.] I always envied you your hair.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He was so fond of us both. Do you remember when he was recovering from the measles, his crying for us to bath him instead of Mrs. Bennet? I have always reproached myself that we refused.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He was such a big boy for his age.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I think we might have stretched a point in a case of illness.
The room has grown very dark. The door has been softly opened; Vernon and Fanny have entered noiselessly. Fanny remains near the door hidden by a screen, Vernon has crept forward. At this point the two ladies become aware that somebody is in the room. They are alarmed.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Who’s there?
VERNON. It’s all right, aunt. It’s only I.
The two ladies have risen. They run forward, both take him in their arms.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. My dear boy!
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But we didn’t expect you –
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And your wife, dear?
VERNON. She’s here!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Here?
Fanny, from behind the screen, laughs.
VERNON. We’ll have some light. [He whispers to them.] Not a word– haven’t told her yet. [Feeling his way to the wall, he turns on the electric light.]
Fanny is revealed, having slipped out from behind the screen. There is a pause. Vernon, standing near the fire, watches admiringly.
FANNY. Hope you are going to like me.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. My dear, I am sure we shall.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It is so easy to love the young and pretty. [They have drawn close to her. They seem to hesitate.]
FANNY [laughs]. It doesn’t come off, does it, Vernon, dear? [Vernon laughs. The two ladies, laughing, kiss her.] I’m so glad you think I’m pretty. As a matter of fact, I’m not. There’s a certain charm about me, I admit. It deceives people.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We were afraid–you know, dear, boys– [she looks at Vernon and smiles] sometimes fall in love with women much older than themselves–especially women–[She grows confused. She takes the girl’s hand.] We are so relieved that you–that you are yourself, dear,
FANNY. You were quite right, dear. They are sweet. Which is which?
VERNON [laughs]. Upon my word, I never can tell.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon! And you know I was always your favourite!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Dear!
VERNON. Then this is Aunt Alice.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No dear, Edith.
[Vernon throws up his hands in despair. They all laugh.]
FANNY. I think I shall dress you differently; put you in blue and you in pink. [She laughs.] Is this the drawing-room?
VERNON. Your room, dear.
FANNY. I like a room where one can stretch one’s legs. [She walks across it.] A little too much desk [referring to a massive brass- bound desk, facing the three windows].
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It belonged to the elder Pitt.
FANNY. Um! Suppose we must find a corner for it somewhere. That’s a good picture.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It is by Hoppner.
FANNY. One of your artist friends?
VERNON. Well–you see, dear, that’s a portrait of my great- grandmother, painted from life.
FANNY [she whistles]. I am awfully ignorant on some topics. One good thing, I always was a quick study. Not a bad-looking woman.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We are very proud of her. She was the first –
VERNON [hastily]. We will have her history some other time.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [who understands, signs to her sister]. Of course. She’s tired. We are forgetting everything. You will have some tea, won’t you, dear?
FANNY. No, thanks. We had tea in the train. [With the more or less helpful assistance of Vernon she divests herself of her outdoor garments.]
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [she holds up her hands in astonishment]. Tea in the train!
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We were not expecting you so soon. You said in your telegram –
VERNON. Oh, it was raining in London. We thought we would come straight on–leave our shopping for another day.
FANNY. I believe you were glad it was raining. Saved you such a lot of money. Old Stingy!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Then did you walk from the station, dear?
FANNY. Didn’t it seem a long way? [She laughs up into his face.] He was so bored. [Vernon laughs.]
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I had better tell–[She is going towards the bell.]
VERNON [he stops her]. Oh, let them alone. Plenty of time for all that fuss. [He puts them both gently side by side on the settee.] Sit down and talk. Haven’t I been clever? [He puts his arm round Fanny, laughing.] You thought I had made an ass of myself, didn’t you? Did you get all my letters?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I think so, dear.
FANNY [she is sitting in an easy-chair. Vernon seats himself on the arm]. Do you know I’ve never had a love-letter from you?
VERNON. You gave me no time. She met me a month ago, and married me last week.
FANNY. It was quick work. He came–he saw–I conquered! [Laughs.]
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. They say that love at first sight is often the most lasting.
VERNON [he puts his arm around her]. You are sure you will never regret having given up the stage? The excitement, the –
FANNY. The excitement! Do you know what an actress’s life always seemed to me like? Dancing on a tight-rope with everybody throwing stones at you. One soon gets tired of that sort of excitement. Oh, I was never in love with the stage. Had to do something for a living.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It must be a hard life for a woman.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Especially for anyone not brought up to it.
FANNY. You see, I had a good voice and what I suppose you might call a natural talent for acting. It seemed the easiest thing.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I suppose your family were very much opposed to it? [Vernon rises. He stands with his back to the fire.]
FANNY. My family? Hadn’t any!
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. No family?
Bennet enters. Vernon and Fanny left the door open. He halts, framed by the doorway.
FANNY. No. You see, I was an only child. My father and mother both died before I was fourteen.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But your uncle?
FANNY. Oh, him! It was to get away from him and all that crew that I went on the stage.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It is so sad when relations don’t get on together.
FANNY. Sadder still when they think they’ve got a right to trample on you, just because you happen to be an orphan and–I don’t want to talk about my relations. I want to forget them. I stood them for nearly six months. I don’t want to be reminded of them. I want to forget that they ever existed. I want to forget –
Bennet has come down very quietly. Fanny, from where he stands, is the only one who sees him. He stands looking at her, his features, as ever, immovable. At sight of him her eyes and mouth open wider and wider. The words die away from her tongue. Vernon has turned away to put a log on the fire, and so has not seen her expression– only hears her sudden silence. He looks up and sees Bennet.
VERNON. Ah, Bennet! [He advances, holding out his hand.] You quite well?
BENNET [shaking hands with him]. Quite well.
VERNON. Good! And all the family?
BENNET. Nothing to complain of. Charles has had a touch of influenza.
VERNON. Ah, sorry to hear that.
BENNET. And your lordship?
VERNON. Fit as a fiddle–your new mistress.
Fanny has risen. Bennet turns to her. For a moment his back is towards the other three. Fanny alone sees his face.
BENNET. We shall endeavour to do our duty to her ladyship. [He turns to Vernon.] I had arranged for a more fitting reception –
VERNON. To tell the honest truth, Bennet, the very thing we were afraid of–why we walked from the station, and slipped in by the side door. [Laughing.] Has the luggage come?
BENNET. It has just arrived. It was about that I came to ask. I could not understand –
The Misses Wetherell have also risen. Fanny’s speechless amazement is attributed by them and Vernon to natural astonishment at discovery of his rank.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You will be wanting a quiet talk together. We shall see you at dinner.
VERNON. What time is dinner?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Half past seven.
[To Fanny] But don’t you hurry, dear. I will tell cook to delay it a little. [She kisses her.]
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You will want some time to arrange that pretty hair of yours. [She also kisses the passive, speechless Fanny. They go out hand in hand.]
BENNET. I will see, while I am here, that your lordship’s room is in order.
VERNON. Why, where’s Robert, then?
BENNET. He has gone into town to do some shopping. We did not expect your lordship much before nine. There may be one or two things to see to. [He goes into his lordship’s apartments, closing the door behind him.]
FANNY. Vernon, where am I?
VERNON. At home, dear.
FANNY. Yes, but where?
VERNON. At Bantock Hall, Rutlandshire. [Fanny sits down on the settee–drops down rather.] You’re not angry with me? You know how the world always talks in these cases. I wanted to be able to prove to them all that you married me for myself. Not because I was Lord Bantock. Can you forgive me?
FANNY [she still seems in a dream]. Yes–of course. You didn’t–you wouldn’t–[She suddenly springs up.] Vernon, you do love me? [She flings her arms round his neck.]
FANNY. You will never be ashamed of me?
FANNY. I was only a music-hall singer. There’s no getting over it, you know.
VERNON. I should have loved you had you been a beggar-maid.
FANNY [she still clings to him]. With an uncle a costermonger, and an aunt who sold matches. It wouldn’t have made any difference to you, would it? You didn’t marry me for my family, did you? You didn’t, did you?
VERNON. Darling! I married you because you are the most fascinating, the most lovable, the most wonderful little woman in the world. [Fanny gives a sob.] As for your family–I’ve got a confession to make to you, dear. I made inquiries about your family before I proposed to you. Not for my own sake–because I knew I’d have to answer a lot of stupid questions. It seemed to me quite a good family.
FANNY. It is! Oh, it is! There never was such a respectable family. That’s why I never could get on with them.
VERNON [laughing]. Well, you haven’t got to–any more. We needn’t even let them know –
BENNET. Robert I find has returned. It is ten minutes to seven.
VERNON. Thanks. Well, I shall be glad of a bath. [He turns to Fanny.] Bennet will send your maid to you. [He whispers to her.] You’ll soon get used to it all. As for the confounded family–we will forget all about them. [Fanny answers with another little stifled sob. Bennet is drawing the curtains, his back to the room. Vernon, seeing that Bennet is occupied, kisses the unresponsive Fanny and goes out.]
At the sound of the closing of the door, Fanny looks up. She goes to the door through which Vernon has just passed, listens a moment, then returns. Bennet calmly finishes the drawing of the curtains. Then he, too, crosses slowly till he and Fanny are facing one another across the centre of the room.
FANNY. Well, what are you going to do?
BENNET. My duty!
FANNY. What’s that? Something unpleasant, I know. I can bet my bottom dollar.
BENNET. That, my girl, will depend upon you.
FANNY. How upon me?
BENNET. Whether you prove an easy or a difficult subject. To fit you for your position, a certain amount of training will, I fancy, be necessary.
FANNY. Training! I’m to be–[She draws herself up.] Are you aware who I am?
BENNET. Oh yes. AND who you were. His lordship, I take it, would hardly relish the discovery that he had married his butler’s niece. He might consider the situation awkward.
FANNY. And who’s going to train me?
BENNET. I am. With the assistance of your aunt and such other members of your family as I consider can be trusted.
FANNY [for a moment she is speechless, then she bursts out]. That ends it! I shall tell him! I shall tell him this very moment. [She sweeps towards the door.]
BENNET. At this moment you will most likely find his lordship in his bath.
FANNY. I don’t care! Do you think–do you think for a moment that I’m going to allow myself–I, Lady Bantock, to be–[Her hand upon the door.] I shall tell him, and you’ll only have yourself to blame. He loves me. He loves me for myself. I shall tell him the whole truth, and ask him to give you all the sack.
BENNET. You’re not forgetting that you’ve already told him ONCE who you were?
[It stops her. What she really did was to leave the marriage arrangements in the hands of her business manager, George P. Newte. As agent for a music-hall star, he is ideal, but it is possible that in answering Lord Bantock’s inquiries concerning Fanny’s antecedents he may not have kept strictly to the truth.]
FANNY. I never did. I’ve never told him anything about my family.
BENNET. Curious. I was given to understand it was rather a classy affair.
FANNY. I can’t help what other people may have done. Because some silly idiot of a man may possibly–[She will try a new tack. She leaves the door and comes to him.] Uncle, dear, wouldn’t it be simpler for you all to go away? He’s awfully fond of me. He’ll do anything I ask him. I could merely say that I didn’t like you and get him to pension you off. You and aunt could have a little roadside inn somewhere–with ivy.
BENNET. Seeing that together with the stables and the garden there are twenty-three of us –
FANNY. No, of course, he couldn’t pension you all. You couldn’t expect –
BENNET. I think his lordship might prefer to leave things as they are. Good servants nowadays are not so easily replaced. And neither your aunt nor I are at an age when change appeals to one.
FANNY. You see, it’s almost bound to creep out sooner or later, and then –
BENNET. We will make it as late as possible [He crosses and rings the bell], giving you time to prove to his lordship that you are not incapable of learning.
FANNY [she drops back on the settee. She is half-crying.] Some people would be pleased that their niece had married well.
BENNET. I am old-fashioned enough to think also of my duty to those I serve. If his lordship has done me the honour to marry my niece, the least I can is to see to it that she brings no discredit to his name. [Mrs. Bennet, followed by Jane Bennet, a severe-looking woman of middle age, has entered upon the words “the least I can do.” Bennet stays them a moment with his hand while he finishes. Then he turns to his wife.] You will be interested to find, Susannah, that the new Lady Bantock is not a stranger.
MRS. BENNET. Not a stranger! [She has reached a position from where she sees the girl.] Fanny! You wicked girl! Where have you been all these years?
BENNET [interposing]. There will be other opportunities for the discussion of family differences. Just now, her ladyship is waiting to dress for dinner.
MRS. BENNET [sneering]. Her ladyship!
JANE [also sneering]. I think she might have forewarned us of the honour in store for us.
MRS. BENNET. Yes, why didn’t she write?
FANNY. Because I didn’t know. Do you think–[she rises]–that if I had I would ever have married him–to be brought back here and put in this ridiculous position? Do you think that I am so fond of you all that I couldn’t keep away from you, at any price?
MRS. BENNET. But you must have known that Lord Bantock –
FANNY. I didn’t know he was Lord Bantock. I only knew him as Mr. Wetherell, an artist. He wanted to feel sure that I was marrying him for himself alone. He never told me–[Ernest Bennet, a very young footman, has entered in answer to Bennet’s ring of a minute ago. He has come forward step by step, staring all the while open-mouthed at Fanny. Turning, she sees him beside her.] Hulloa, Ernie. How are the rabbits? [She kisses him.]
BENNET. Don’t stand there gaping. I rang for some wood. Tell your brother dinner will be at a quarter to eight.
Ernest, never speaking, still staring at Fanny, gets clumsily out again.
FANNY. Well, I suppose I’d better see about dressing? Do I dine with his lordship or in the servants’ hall?
MRS. BENNET [turns to her husband]. You see! Still the old impertinence.
FANNY. Only wanted to know. My only desire is to give satisfaction.
BENNET [he moves towards the door]. You will do it by treating the matter more seriously. At dinner, by keeping your eye upon me, you will be able to tell whether you are behaving yourself or not.
MRS. BENNET. And mind you are punctual. I have appointed Jane to be your maid.
MRS. BENNET [in arms]. Have you any objections?
FANNY. No, oh no, so long as you’re all satisfied.
MRS. BENNET. Remember, you are no longer on the music-hall stage. In dressing for Bantock Hall you will do well to follow her advice.
Bennet, who has been waiting with the door in his hand, goes out; Mrs. Bennet follows.
JANE [in the tones of a patient executioner]. Are you ready?
FANNY. Quite ready, dear. Of course–I don’t know what you will think of them–but I’ve only brought modern costumes with me.
JANE [not a lady who understands satire]. We must do the best we can. [She marches out–into the dressing-room.]
Fanny, after following a few steps, stops and thinks. Ernest has entered with the wood. He is piling it in the basket by the fire. His entrance decides her. She glances through the open door of the dressing-room, then flies across to the desk, seats herself, and begins feverishly to write a telegram.
FANNY. Ernie! [He comes across to her.] Have you still got your bicycle?
FANNY. Could you get this telegram off for me before eight o’clock? I don’t want it sent from the village; I want you to take it YOURSELF–into the town. There’s a sovereign for you if you do it all right.
ERNEST. I’ll do it. Can only get into a row.
FANNY. Pretty used to them, ain’t you? [She has risen. She gives him the telegram. She has stamped it.] Can you read it?
ERNEST. “George P. Newte.”
They both glance at the open door.
ERNEST [he continues in a lower voice]. “72A, Waterloo Bridge Road, London. Must see you at once. Am at the new shop.” [He looks up.]
FANNY. That’s all right.
ERNEST. “Come down. Q.T. Fanny.”
FANNY [nods]. Get off quietly. I’ll see you again –
THE VOICE OF JANE [from the dressing-room]. Are you going to keep me waiting all night?
[They start. Ernest hastily thrusts the telegram into his breast- pocket.]
FANNY. Coming, dear, coming. [To Ernest] Not a word to anyone! [She hurries him out and closes door behind him.] Merely been putting the room a bit tidy. [She is flying round collecting her outdoor garments.] Thought it would please you. So sorry if I’ve kept you waiting. [Jane has appeared at door.] After you, dear.
Jane goes out again. Fanny, with her pile of luggage, follows.
Time.–The next morning.
The door opens. Dr. Freemantle enters, shown in by Bennet, who follows him.
DR. FREEMANTLE [talking as he enters]. Wonderful! Wonderful! I don’t really think I ever remember so fine a spring.
BENNET [he is making up the fire]. I’m afraid we shall have to pay for it later on.
DR. FREEMANTLE. I expect so. Law of the universe, you know, Bennet- -law of the universe. Everything in this world has got to be paid for.
BENNET. Except trouble. [The doctor laughs.] The Times? [He hands it to him.]
DR. FREEMANTLE. Thanks. Thanks. [Seats himself.] Won’t be long– his lordship, will he?
BENNET. I don’t think so. I told him you would be here about eleven.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Um–what do you think of her?
BENNET. Of–of her ladyship?
DR. FREEMANTLE. What’s she like?
BENNET. [They have sunk their voices.] Well, it might have been worse.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah! There’s always that consolation, isn’t there?
BENNET. I think her ladyship–with MANAGEMENT–may turn out very satisfactory.
DR. FREEMANTLE. You like her?
BENNET. At present, I must say for her, she appears willing to be taught.
DR. FREEMANTLE. And you think it will last?
BENNET. I think her ladyship appreciates the peculiarity of her position. I will tell the Miss Wetherells you are here.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah, thanks!
BENNET. I fancy her ladyship will not herself be visible much before lunch time. I understand she woke this morning with a headache. [He goes out.]
The Doctor reads a moment. Then the door of the dressing-room opens, and Fanny enters. Her dress is a wonderful contrast to her costume of last evening. It might be that of a poor and demure nursery governess. Her hair is dressed in keeping. She hardly seems the same woman.
FANNY [seeing the Doctor, she pauses]. Oh!
DR. FREEMANTLE [rises]. I beg pardon, have I the pleasure of seeing Lady Bantock?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Delighted. May I introduce myself–Dr. Freemantle? I helped your husband into the world.
FANNY. Yes. I’ve heard of you. You don’t mind my closing this door, do you? [Her very voice and manner are changed.]
DR. FREEMANTLE [a little puzzled]. Not at all.
FANNY [she closes the door and returns]. Won’t–won’t you be seated?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Thanks. [They both sit.] How’s the headache?
FANNY. Oh, it’s better.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah! [A silence.] Forgive me–I’m an old friend of the family. You’re not a bit what I expected.
FANNY. But you like it? I mean you think this–[with a gesture]–is all right?
DR. FREEMANTLE. My dear young lady, it’s charming. You couldn’t be anything else.
FANNY. Thank you.
DR. FREEMANTLE. I merely meant that–well, I was not expecting anything so delightfully demure.
FANNY. That’s the idea–“seemly.” The Lady Bantocks have always been “seemly”? [She puts it as a question.]
DR. FREEMANTLE [more and more puzzled]. Yes–oh, yes. They have always been–[His eye catches that of Constance, first Lady Bantock, looking down at him from above the chimney-piece. His tone changes.] Well, yes, in their way, you know.
FANNY. You see, I’m in the difficult position of following her LATE ladyship. SHE appears to have been exceptionally “seemly.” This is her frock. I mean it WAS her frock.
DR. FREEMANTLE. God bless my soul! You are not dressing yourself up in her late ladyship’s clothes? The dear good woman has been dead and buried these twenty years.
FANNY [she looks at her dress]. Yes, it struck me as being about that period.
DR. FREEMANTLE [he goes across to her]. What’s the trouble? Too much Bennet?
FANNY [she looks up. There is a suspicion of a smile]. One might say–sufficient?
DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. Excellent servants. If they’d only remember it. [He glances round–sinks his voice.] Take my advice. Put your foot down–before it’s too late.
FANNY. Sit down, please. [She makes room for him on the settee.] Because I’m going to be confidential. You don’t mind, do you?
DR. FREEMANTLE [seating himself]. My dear, I take it as the greatest compliment I have had paid to me for years.
FANNY. You put everything so nicely. I’m two persons. I’m an angel–perhaps that is too strong a word?
DR. FREEMANTLE [doubtfully]. Well –
FANNY. We’ll say saint. Or else I’m–the other thing.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Do you know, I think you could be.
FANNY. It’s not a question about which there is any doubt.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Of course, in this case, a LITTLE bit of the devil –
FANNY [she shakes her head]. There’s such a lot of mine. It has always hampered me, never being able to hit the happy medium.
DR. FREEMANTLE. It IS awkward.
FANNY. I thought I would go on being an angel –
DR. FREEMANTLE. Saint.
FANNY. Saint–till–well, till it became physically impossible to be a saint any longer.
DR. FREEMANTLE. And then?
FANNY [she rises, turns to him with a gesture of half-comic, half- tragic despair]. Well, then I can’t help it, can I?
DR. FREEMANTLE. I think you’re making a mistake. An explosion will undoubtedly have to take place. That being so, the sooner it takes place the better. [He rises.] What are you afraid of?
FANNY [she changes her tone–the talk becomes serious]. You’ve known Vernon all his life?
DR. FREEMANTLE. No one better.
FANNY. Tell me. I’ve known him only as a lover. What sort of a man is he?
A pause. They are looking straight into each other’s eyes.
DR. FREEMANTLE. A man it pays to be perfectly frank with.
FANNY. It’s a very old family, isn’t it?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Old! Good Lord no! First Lord Bantock was only Vernon’s great-grandfather. That is the woman that did it all. [He is looking at the Hoppner.]
FANNY. How do you mean?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Got them their title. Made the name of Bantock of importance in the history of the Georges. Clever woman.
FANNY [leaning over a chair, she is staring into the eyes of the first Lady Bantock]. I wonder what she would have done if she had ever got herself into a really first-class muddle?
DR. FREEMANTLE. One thing’s certain. [Fanny turns to him.] She’d have got out of it.
FANNY [addresses the portrait]. I do wish you could talk.
Vernon bursts into the room. He has been riding. He throws aside his hat and stick.
VERNON. Hulloa! This is good of you. [He shakes hands with the Doctor.] How are you? [Without waiting for any reply, he goes to Fanny, kisses her.] Good morning, dear. How have you been getting on together, you two? Has she been talking to you?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Oh, yes.
VERNON. Doesn’t she talk well? I say, what have you been doing to yourself?
FANNY. Jane thought this style–[with a gesture]–more appropriate to Lady Bantock.
VERNON. Um! Wonder if she’s right? [To the Doctor] What do you think?
DR. FREEMANTLE. I think it a question solely for Lady Bantock.
VERNON. Of course it is. [To Fanny] You know, you mustn’t let them dictate to you. Dear, good, faithful souls, all of them. But they must understand that you are mistress.
FANNY [she seizes eagerly at the chance]. You might mention it to them, dear. It would come so much better from you.
VERNON. No, you. They will take more notice of you.
FANNY. I’d so much rather you did it. [To Dr. Freemantle] Don’t you think it would come better from him?
DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. I’m afraid you’ll have to do it yourself.
VERNON. You see, dear, it might hurt them, coming from me. It would seem like ingratitude. Mrs. Bennet–Why, it wasn’t till I began to ask questions that I grasped the fact that she WASN’T my real mother. As for old Bennet, ever since my father died–well, I hardly know how I could have got on without him. It was Charles Bennet that taught me to ride; I learned my letters sitting on Jane’s lap.
FANNY. Yes. Perhaps I had better do it myself.
VERNON. I’m sure it will be more effective. Of course I shall support you.
FANNY. Thank you. Oh, by the by, dear, I shan’t be able to go with you to-day.
VERNON. Why not?
FANNY. I’ve rather a headache.
VERNON. Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh, all right, we’ll stop at home. I’m not so very keen about it.
FANNY. No, I want you to go, dear. Your aunts are looking forward to it. I shall get over it all the sooner with everybody out of the way.
VERNON. Well, if you really wish it.
The Misses Wetherell steal in. They are dressed for driving. They exchange greetings with the Doctor.
FANNY. You know you promised to obey. [Tickles his nose with a flower.]
VERNON [laughing–to the Doctor]. You see what it is to be married?
DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. Very trying.
VERNON [turning to his aunts]. Fanny isn’t coming with us.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [to Fanny]. Oh, my dear!
FANNY. It’s only a headache. [She takes her aside.] I’m rather glad of it. I want an excuse for a little time to myself.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I understand, dear. It’s all been so sudden. [She kisses her–then to the room] She’ll be all the better alone. We three will go on. [She nods and signs to her sister.]
FANNY [kissing the Elder Miss Wetherell]. Don’t you get betting.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Oh no, dear, we never do. It’s just to see the dear horses. [She joins her sister. They whisper.]
VERNON [to the Doctor to whom he has been talking]. Can we give you a lift?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Well, you might as far as the Vicarage. Good-bye, Lady Bantock.
FANNY [shaking hands]. Good-bye, Doctor.
VERNON. Sure you won’t be lonely?
FANNY [laughs]. Think I can’t exist an hour without you? Mr. Conceited!
VERNON [laughs and kisses her]. Come along. [He takes the Doctor and his younger Aunt towards the door.]
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [who is following last]. I like you in that frock.
FANNY [laughs]. So glad. It’s Ernest who attends to the fires, isn’t it?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Yes, dear.
FANNY. I wish you’d send him up. [At door–calls after them] Hope you’ll all enjoy yourselves!
VERNON [from the distance]. I shall put you on a fiver.
FANNY. Mind it wins. [She listens a moment–closes door, comes back to desk, and takes a Bradshaw.] Five-six-three–five-six-three. [Finds page.] St. Pancras, eight o’clock. Oh, Lord! Stamford, 10.45. Leave Stamford–[Ernest has entered.] Is that you, Ernest?
FANNY. Shut the door. Sure it went off last night, that telegram?
FANNY. If he doesn’t catch that eight o’clock, he can’t get here till nearly four. That will be awkward. [To Ernest] What time is it now?
ERNEST [looks at clock]. Twenty past eleven.
FANNY. If he does, he’ll be here about twelve–I believe I’ll go and meet him. Could I get out without being seen?
ERNEST. You’ll have to pass the lodge.
FANNY. Who’s at the lodge now?
Bennet has entered unnoticed and drawn near. At this point from behind, he boxes Ernest’s ears.
ERNEST. Here, steady!
BENNET. On the occasions when your cousin forgets her position, you will remember it and remind her of it. Get out! [Ernest, clumsily as ever, “gets out.”] A sort of person has called who, according to his own account, “happened to be passing this way,” and would like to see you.
FANNY [who has been trying to hide the Bradshaw–with affected surprise.] To see me!
BENNET [drily]. Yes. I thought you would be surprised. He claims to be an old friend of yours–Mr. George Newte.
FANNY [still keeping it up]. George Newte! Of course–ah, yes. Do you mind showing him up?
BENNET. I thought I would let you know he had arrived, in case you might be getting anxious about him. I propose giving him a glass of beer and sending him away again.
FANNY [flares up]. Look here, uncle, you and I have got to understand one another. I may put up with being bullied myself–if I can’t see any help for it–but I’m not going to stand my friends being insulted. You show Mr. Newte up here.
BENNET. I shall deem it my duty to inform his lordship of Mr. Newte’s visit.
FANNY. There will be no need to. Mr. Newte, if his arrangements permit, will be staying to dinner.
BENNET. That, we shall see about. [He goes out.]
FANNY [following him to door]. And tell them I shall want the best bedroom got ready in case Mr. Newte is able to stay the night. I’ve done it. [She goes to piano, dashes into the “Merry Widow Waltz,” or some other equally inappropriate but well-known melody, and then there enters Newte, shown in by Bennet. Newte is a cheerful person, attractively dressed in clothes suggestive of a successful bookmaker. He carries a white pot hat and tasselled cane. His gloves are large and bright. He is smoking an enormous cigar.]
BENNET. Mr. Newte.
FANNY [she springs up and greets him. They are evidently good friends] . Hulloa, George!
NEWTE. Hulloa, Fan–I beg your pardon, Lady Bantock. [Laughs.] Was just passing this way –
FANNY [cutting him short]. Yes. So nice of you to call.
NEWTE. I said to myself–[His eye catches Bennet; he stops.] Ah, thanks. [He gives Bennet his hat and stick, but Bennet does not seem satisfied. He has taken from the table a small china tray. This he is holding out to Newte, evidently for Newte to put something in it. But what? Newte is puzzled, he glances at Fanny. The idea strikes him that perhaps it is a tip Bennet is waiting for. It seems odd, but if it be the custom–he puts his hand to his trousers pocket.]
BENNET. The smoking-room is on the ground-floor.
NEWTE. Ah, my cigar. I beg your pardon. I couldn’t understand. [He puts it on the tray–breaks into a laugh.]
BENNET. Thank you. Her ladyship is suffering from a headache. If I might suggest–a little less boisterousness. [He goes out.]
NEWTE [he watches him out]. I say, your Lord Chamberlain’s a bit of a freezer!
FANNY. Yes. Wants hanging out in the sun. How did you manage to get here so early? [She sits.]
NEWTE. Well, your telegram rather upset me. I thought–correct etiquette for me to sit down here, do you think?
FANNY. Don’t ask me. Got enough new tricks of my own to learn. [Laughs.] Should chance it, if I were you.
NEWTE. Such a long time since I was at Court. [He sits.] Yes, I was up at five o’clock this morning.
FANNY [laughs]. Oh, you poor fellow!
NEWTE. Caught the first train to Melton, and came on by cart. What’s the trouble?
FANNY. A good deal. Why didn’t you tell me what I was marrying?
NEWTE. I did. I told you that he was a gentleman; that he –
FANNY. Why didn’t you tell me that he was Lord Bantock? You knew, didn’t you?
NEWTE [begins to see worries ahead]. Can’t object to my putting a cigar in my mouth if I don’t light it–can he?
FANNY. Oh, light it–anything you like that will help you to get along.
NEWTE [bites the end off the cigar and puts it between his teeth. This helps him]. No, I didn’t know–not officially.
FANNY. What do you mean–“not officially”?
NEWTE. He never told me.
FANNY. He never told you ANYTHING–for the matter of that. I understood you had found out everything for yourself.
NEWTE. Yes; and one of the things I found out was that he didn’t WANT you to know. I could see his little game. Wanted to play the Lord Burleigh fake. Well, what was the harm? Didn’t make any difference to you!
FANNY. Didn’t make any difference to me! [Jumps up.] Do you know what I’ve done? Married into a family that keeps twenty-three servants, every blessed one of whom is a near relation of my own. [He sits paralysed. She goes on.] That bald-headed old owl–[with a wave towards the door]–that wanted to send you off with a glass of beer and a flea in your ear–that’s my uncle. The woman that opened the lodge gate for you is my Aunt Amelia. The carroty-headed young man that answered the door to you is my cousin Simeon. He always used to insist on kissing me. I’m expecting him to begin again. My “lady’s” maid is my cousin Jane. That’s why I’m dressed like this! My own clothes have been packed off to the local dressmaker to be made “decent.” Meanwhile, they’ve dug up the family vault to find something for me to go on with. [He has been fumbling in all his pockets for matches. She snatches a box from somewhere and flings it to him.] For Heaven’s sake light it! Then, perhaps, you’ll be able to do something else than stare. I have claret and water–mixed– with my dinner. Uncle pours it out for me. They’ve locked up my cigarettes. Aunt Susannah is coming in to-morrow morning to hear me say my prayers. Doesn’t trust me by myself. Thinks I’ll skip them. She’s the housekeeper here. I’ve got to know them by heart before I go to bed to-night, and now I’ve mislaid them. [She goes to the desk–hunts for them.]
NEWTE [having lighted his eternal cigar, he can begin to think]. But why should THEY –
FANNY [still at desk]. Because they’re that sort. They honestly think they are doing the right and proper thing–that Providence has put it into their hands to turn me out a passable substitute for all a Lady Bantock should be; which, so far as I can understand, is something between the late lamented Queen Victoria and Goody-Two- Shoes. They are the people that I ran away from, the people I’ve told you about, the people I’ve always said I’d rather starve than ever go back to. And here I am, plumped down in the midst of them again–for life! [Honoria Bennet, the “still-room” maid, has entered. She is a pert young minx of about Fanny’s own age.] What is is? What is it?
HONORIA. Merely passing through. Sorry to have excited your ladyship. [Goes into dressing-room.]
FANNY. My cousin Honoria. They’ve sent her up to keep an eye upon me. Little cat! [She takes her handkerchief, drapes it over the keyhole of the dressing-room door.]
NEWTE [at sight of Honoria he has jumped up and hastily hidden his cigar behind him]. What are you going to do?
FANNY [she seats herself and suggests to him the writing-chair]. Hear from you–first of all–exactly what you told Vernon.
NEWTE [sitting]. About you?
FANNY [nods]. About me–and my family.
NEWTE. Well–couldn’t tell him much, of course. Wasn’t much to tell.
FANNY. I want what you did tell.
NEWTE. I told him that your late father was a musician.
NEWTE. Had been unfortunate. Didn’t go into particulars. Didn’t seem to be any need for it. That your mother had died when you were still only a girl and that you had gone to live with relatives. [He looks for approval.]
NEWTE. That you hadn’t got on well with them–artistic temperament, all that sort of thing–that, in consequence, you had appealed to your father’s old theatrical friends; and that they–that they, having regard to your talent–and beauty –
FANNY. Thank you.
NEWTE. Had decided that the best thing you could do was to go upon the stage. [He finishes, tolerably well pleased with himself.]
FANNY. That’s all right. Very good indeed. What else?
NEWTE [after an uncomfortable pause]. Well, that’s about all I knew.
FANNY. Yes, but what did you TELL him?
NEWTE. Well, of course, I had to tell him something. A man doesn’t marry without knowing just a little about his wife’s connections. Wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him. You’d never told me anything– never would; except that you’d liked to have boiled the lot. What was I to do? [He is playing with a quill pen he has picked up.]
FANNY [she takes it from him]. What DID you do?
NEWTE [with fine frankness]. I did the best I could for you, old girl, and he was very nice about it. Said it was better than he’d expected, and that I’d made him very happy–very happy indeed.
FANNY [she leans across, puts her hand on his]. You’re a dear, good fellow, George–always have been. I wouldn’t plague you only it is absolutely necessary I should know–exactly what you did tell him.
NEWTE [a little sulkily]. I told him that your uncle was a bishop.
FANNY [sits back–staring at him]. A what?
NEWTE. A bishop. Bishop of Waiapu, New Zealand.
FANNY. Why New Zealand?
NEWTE. Why not? Had to be somewhere. Didn’t want him Archbishop of Canterbury, did you?
FANNY. Did he believe it?
NEWTE. Shouldn’t have told him had there been any fear that he wouldn’t.
FANNY. I see. Any other swell relations of mine knocking about?
NEWTE. One–a judge of the Supreme Court in Ohio. Same name, anyhow, O’Gorman. Thought I’d make him a cousin of yours. I’ve always remembered him. Met him when I was over there in ninety- eight–damn him!
FANNY [she rises]. Well, nothing else for it! Got to tell him it was all a pack of lies. Not blaming you, old boy–my fault. Didn’t know he was going to ask any questions, or I’d have told him myself. Bit of bad luck, that’s all.
NEWTE. Why must you tell him? Only upset him.
FANNY. It’s either my telling him or leaving it for them to do. You know me, George. How long do you see me being bossed and bullied by my own servants? Besides, it’s bound to come out in any case.
NEWTE [he rises. Kindly but firmly he puts her back into her chair. Then pacing to and fro with his hands mostly in his trousers pockets, he talks]. Now, you listen to me, old girl. I’ve been your business manager ever since you started in. I’ve never made a mistake before- -[he turns and faces her]–and I haven’t made one this time.
FANNY. I don’t really see the smartness, George, stuffing him up with a lot of lies he can find out for himself.
NEWTE. IF HE WANTS TO. A couple of telegrams, one to His Grace the Bishop of Waiapu, the other to Judge Denis O’Gorman, Columbus, Ohio, would have brought him back the information that neither gentlemen had ever heard of you. IF HE HADN’T BEEN CAREFUL NOT TO SEND THEM. He wasn’t marrying you with the idea of strengthening his family connections. He was marrying you because he was just gone on you. Couldn’t help himself.
FANNY. In that case, you might just as well have told him the truth.
NEWTE. WHICH HE WOULD THEN HAVE HAD TO PASS ON TO EVERYONE ENTITLED TO ASK QUESTIONS. Can’t you understand? Somebody, in the interest of everybody, had to tell a lie. Well, what’s a business manager for?
FANNY. But I can’t do it, George. You don’t know them. The longer I give in to them the worse they’ll get.
NEWTE. Can’t you square them?
FANNY. No, that’s the trouble. They ARE honest. They’re the “faithful retainers” out of a melodrama. They are working eighteen hours a day on me not for any advantage to themselves, but because they think it their “duty” to the family. They don’t seem to have any use for themselves at all.
NEWTE. Well, what about the boy? Can’t HE talk to them?
FANNY. Vernon! They’ve brought him up from a baby–spanked him all round, I expect. Might as well ask a boy to talk to his old schoolmaster. Besides, if he did talk, then it would all come out. As I tell you, it’s bound to come out–and the sooner the better.
NEWTE. It must NOT come out! It’s too late. If we had told him at the beginning that he was proposing to marry into his own butler’s family–well, it’s an awkward situation–he might have decided to risk it. Or he might have cried off.
FANNY. And a good job if he had.
NEWTE. Now talk sense. You wanted him–you took a fancy to him from the beginning. He’s a nice boy, and there’s something owing to him. [It is his trump card, and he knows it.] Don’t forget that. He’s been busy, explaining to all his friends and relations why they should receive you with open arms: really nice girl, born gentlewoman, good old Church of England family–no objection possible. For you to spring the truth upon him NOW–well, it doesn’t seem to me quite fair to HIM.
FANNY. Then am I to live all my life dressed as a charity girl?
NEWTE. You keep your head and things will gradually right themselves. This family of yours–they’ve got SOME sense, I suppose?
FANNY. Never noticed any sign of it myself.
NEWTE. Maybe you’re not a judge. [Laughs.] They’ll listen to reason. You let ME have a talk to them, one of these days; see if I can’t show them–first one and then the other–the advantage of leaving to “better” themselves–WITH THE HELP OF A LITTLE READY MONEY. Later on–choosing your proper time–you can break it to him that you have discovered they’re distant connections of yours, a younger branch of the family that you’d forgotten. Give the show time to settle down into a run. Then you can begin to make changes.
FANNY. You’ve a wonderful way with you, George. It always sounds right as you put it–even when one jolly well knows that it isn’t.
NEWTE. Well, it’s always been right for you, old girl, ain’t it?
FANNY. Yes. You’ve been a rattling good friend. [She takes his hands.] Almost wish I’d married you instead. We’d have been more suited to one another.
NEWTE [shakes his head]. Nothing like having your fancy. You’d never have been happy without him. [He releases her.] ‘Twas a good engagement, or I’d never have sanctioned it.
FANNY. I suppose it will be the last one you will ever get me. [She has dropped for a moment into a brown study.]
NEWTE [he turns]. I hope so.
FANNY [she throws off her momentary mood with a laugh]. Poor fellow! You never even got your commission.
NEWTE. I’ll take ten per cent. of all your happiness, old girl. So make it as much as you can for my benefit. Good-bye. [He holds out hand.]
FANNY. You’re not going? You’ll stop to lunch?
NEWTE. Not to-day.
FANNY. Do. If you don’t, they’ll think it’s because I was frightened to ask you.
NEWTE. All the better. The more the other party thinks he’s having his way, the easier always to get your own. Your trouble is, you know, that you never had any tact.
FANNY. I hate tact. [Newte laughs.] We could have had such a jolly little lunch together. I’m all alone till the evening. There were ever so many things I wanted to talk to you about.
FANNY. Ah, how can one talk to a man with his watch in his hand? [He puts it away and stands waiting, but she is cross.] I think you’re very disagreeable.
NEWTE. I must really get back to town. I oughtn’t to be away now, only your telegram –
FANNY. I know. I’m an ungrateful little beast! [She crosses and rings bell.] You’ll have a glass of champagne before you go?
NEWTE. Well, I won’t say no to that.
FANNY. How are all the girls?
NEWTE. Oh, chirpy. I’m bringing them over to London. We open at the Palace next week.
FANNY. What did they think of my marriage? Gerty was a bit jealous, wasn’t she?
NEWTE. Well, would have been, if she’d known who he was. [Laughs.]
FANNY. Tell her. Tell her [she draws herself up] I’m Lady Bantock, of Bantock Hall, Rutlandshire. It will make her so mad. [Laughs.]
NEWTE [laughs]. I will.
FANNY. Give them all my love. [Ernest appears in answer to her bell.] Oh, Ernest, tell Bennet–[the eyes and mouth of Ernest open]- -to see that Mr. Newte has some refreshment before he leaves. A glass of champagne and–and some caviare. Don’t forget. [Ernest goes out.] Good-bye. You’ll come again?
NEWTE. Whenever you want me–and remember–the watchword is “Tact”!
FANNY. Yes, I’ve got the WORD all right. [Laughs.] Don’t forget to give my love to the girls.
NEWTE. I won’t. So long! [He goes out.]
Fanny closes the door. Honoria has re-entered from the dressing- room. She looks from the handkerchief still hanging over the keyhole to Fanny.
HONORIA. Your ladyship’s handkerchief?
FANNY. Yes. Such a draught through that keyhole.
HONORIA [takes the handkerchief, hands it to Fanny]. I will tell the housekeeper.
FANNY. Thanks. Maybe you will also mention it to the butler. Possibly also to the–[She suddenly changes.] Honoria. Suppose it had been you–you know, you’re awfully pretty–who had married Lord Bantock, and he had brought you back here, among them all–uncle, aunt, all the lot of them–what would you have done?
HONORIA [she draws herself up]. I should have made it quite plain from the first, that I was mistress, and that they were my servants.
FANNY. You would, you think –
HONORIA [checking her outburst]. But then, dear–you will excuse my speaking plainly–there is a slight difference between the two cases. [She seats herself on the settee. Fanny is standing near the desk.] You see, what we all feel about you, dear, is–that you are–well, hardly a fit wife for his lordship. [Fanny’s hands are itching to box the girl’s ears. To save herself, she grinds out through her teeth the word “Tack!”] Of course, dear, it isn’t altogether your fault.
HONORIA. Your mother’s marriage was most unfortunate.
FANNY [her efforts to suppress her feelings are just–but only just– successful.] Need we discuss that?
HONORIA. Well, he was an Irishman, dear, there’s no denying it. [Fanny takes a cushion from a chair–with her back to Honoria, she strangles it. Jane has entered and is listening.] Still, perhaps it is a painful subject. And we hope–all of us–that, with time and patience, we may succeed in eradicating the natural results of your bringing-up.
JANE. Some families, finding themselves in our position, would seek to turn it to their own advantage. WE think only of your good.
FANNY. Yes, that’s what I feel–that you are worrying yourselves too much about me. You’re too conscientious, all of you. You, in particular, Jane, because you know you’re not strong. YOU’LL end up with a nervous breakdown. [Mrs. Bennet has entered. Honoria slips out. Fanny turns to her aunt.] I was just saying how anxious I’m getting about Jane. I don’t like the look of her at all. What she wants is a holiday. Don’t you agree with me?
MRS. BENNET. There will be no holiday, I fear, for any of us, for many a long day.
FANNY. But you must. You must think more of yourselves, you know. YOU’RE not looking well, aunt, at all. What you both want is a month–at the seaside.
MRS. BENNET. Your object is too painfully apparent for the subject to need discussion. True solicitude for us would express itself better in greater watchfulness upon your own behaviour.
FANNY. Why, what have I done?
Bennet enters, followed, unwillingly, by Ernest.
MRS. BENNET. Your uncle will explain.
BENNET. Shut that door. [Ernest does so. They group round Bennet– Ernest a little behind. Fanny remains near the desk.] Sit down. [Fanny, bewildered, speechless, sits.] Carry your mind back, please, to the moment when, with the Bradshaw in front of you, you were considering, with the help of your cousin Ernest, the possibility of your slipping out unobserved, to meet and commune with a person you had surreptitiously summoned to visit you during your husband’s absence.
FANNY. While I think of it, did he have anything to eat before he went? I told Ernest to–ask you to see that he had a glass of champagne and a –
BENNET [waves her back into silence]. Mr. Newte was given refreshment suitable to his station. [She goes to interrupt. Again he waves her back.] We are speaking of more important matters. Your cousin reminded you that you would have to pass the lodge, occupied by your Aunt Amelia. I state the case correctly?
BENNET. I said nothing at the time, doubting the evidence of my own ears. The boy, however–where is the boy?–[Ernest is pushed forward]–has admitted–reluctantly–that he also heard it. [A pause. The solemnity deepens.] You made use of an expression –
FANNY. Oh, cut it short. I said “damn.” [A shudder passes.] I’m sorry to have frightened you, but if you knew a little more of really good society, you would know that ladies–quite slap-up ladies–when they’re excited, do–.
MRS. BENNET [interrupting with almost a scream]. She defends it!
BENNET. You will allow ME to be the judge of what a LADY says, even when she is excited. As for this man, Newte –
FANNY. The best friend you ever had. [She is “up” again.] You thank your stars, all of you, and tell the others, too, the whole blessed twenty-three of you–you thank your stars that I did “surreptitiously” beg and pray him to run down by the first train and have a talk with me; and that Providence was kind enough to YOU to enable him to come. It’s a very different tune you’d have been singing at this moment–all of you–if he hadn’t. I can tell you that.
MRS. BENNET. And pray, what tune SHOULD we have been singing if Providence hadn’t been so thoughtful of us?
FANNY [she is about to answer, then checks herself, and sits again]. You take care you don’t find out. There’s time yet.
MRS. BENNET. We had better leave her.
BENNET. Threats, my good girl, will not help you.
MRS. BENNET [with a laugh]. She’s in too tight a corner for that.
BENNET. A contrite heart is what your aunt and I desire to see. [He takes from his pocket a small book, places it open on the desk.] I have marked one or two passages, on pages 93-7. We will discuss them together–later in the day.
They troop out in silence, the key turns in the lock.
FANNY [takes up the book–turns to the cover, reads]. “The Sinner’s Manual.” [She turns to page 93.]
Time.–A few days later.
A table is laid for tea. Ernest enters with the tea-urn. He leaves the door open; through it comes the sound of an harmonium, accompanying the singing of a hymn. Fanny comes from her dressing- room. She is dressed more cheerfully than when we last saw her, but still “seemly.” She has a book in her hand. She pauses, hearing the music, goes nearer to the open door, and listens; then crosses and takes her place at the table. The music ceases.
FANNY. Another prayer meeting? [Ernest nods.] I do keep ’em busy.
ERNEST. D’ye know what they call you downstairs?
ERNEST. The family cross.
FANNY. I’m afraid it’s about right.
ERNEST. What have you been doing THIS time? Swearing again?
FANNY. Worse. I’ve been lying. [Ernest gives vent to a low whistle.] Said I didn’t know what had become of that yellow poplin with the black lace flounces, that they’ve had altered for me. Found out that I’d given it to old Mother Potts for the rummage sale at the Vicarage. Jane was down there. Bought it in for half a crown.
ERNEST. You are risky. Why, you might have known –
Vernon comes in. He is in golfing get-up. He throws his cap on to the settee.
VERNON. Hello, got a cup of tea there?
Ernest goes out.
FANNY. Yes. Thought you were playing golf?
VERNON. Just had a telegram handed to me in the village–from your friend Newte. Wants me to meet him at Melton Station at five o’clock. [Looks at his watch.] Know what he wants?
FANNY. Haven’t the faintest idea. [She hands him his cup.] Is he coming HERE? Or merely on his way somewhere?
VERNON. I don’t know; he doesn’t say.
FANNY. Don’t let him mix you up in any of his “ventures.” Dear old George, he’s as honest as the day, but if he gets hold of an “idea” there’s always thousands in it for everybody.
VERNON. I’ll be careful. [Ernest has left the door open. The harmonium breaks forth again, together with vocal accompaniment as before.] What’s on downstairs, then–a party?
FANNY. Bennet is holding a prayer meeting.
VERNON. A prayer meeting?
FANNY. One of the younger members of the family has been detected “telling a deliberate lie.” [Vernon is near the door listening, with his back towards her, or he would see that she is smiling.] Black sheep, I suppose, to be found in every flock. [Music ceases, Ernest having arrived with the news of his lordship’s return.]
VERNON [returning to the table, having closed the door]. Good old man, you know, Bennet. All of them! So high-principled! Don’t often get servants like that, nowadays.
FANNY. Seems almost selfish, keeping the whole collection to ourselves.
VERNON [laughs]. ‘Pon my word it does. But what can we do? They’ll never leave us–not one of them.
FANNY. No, I don’t believe they ever will.
VERNON. Do you know, I sometimes think that you don’t like them. [Fanny makes a movement.] Of course, they are a bit bossy, I admit. But all that comes from their devotion, their –
FANNY. The wonder to me is that, brought up among them, admiring them as you do, you never thought of marrying one of them.
VERNON [staggered.] Marrying them?
FANNY. I didn’t say “them.” I said “ONE of them.” There’s Honoria. She’s pretty enough, anyhow. So’s Alice, Charles Bennet’s daughter, and Bertha and Grace–all of them beautiful. And what’s even better still–good. [She says it viciously.] Didn’t you ever think of them?