Fanny and the Servant Problem
Jerome K. Jerome
Part 2 out of 2
VERNON. Well [laughs]--well, one hardly marries into one's own
FANNY. Isn't that rather snobbish? You say they're more like
friends than servants. They've lived with your people, side by side,
for three generations, doing their duty, honourably. There's never
been a slur upon their name. They're "high-principled." You know
it. They've better manners than nine-tenths of your smart society,
and they're healthy. What's wrong with them--even from a lord's
point of view?
VERNON [recovering himself]. Well, don't pitch into me about it.
It's your fault if I didn't marry them--I mean one of them. [He
laughs, puts his empty cup back on the table.] Maybe I'd have
thought about it--if I hadn't met you.
FANNY [takes his hand in hers]. I wish you hadn't asked Newte any
questions about me. It would have been so nice to feel that you had
married me--just because you couldn't help it--just because I was I
and nothing else mattered.
VERNON. Let's forget I ever did. [He kneels beside her.] I didn't
do it for my own sake, as you know. A MAN in my position has to
think of other people. His wife has to take her place in society.
People insist upon knowing something about her. It's not enough for
the stupid "County" that she's the cleverest, most bewilderingly
beautiful, bewitching lady in the land.
FANNY. And how long will you think all that?
VERNON. For ever, and ever, and ever.
FANNY. Oh, you dear boy. [She kisses him.] You don't know how a
woman loves the man she loves to love her. [Laughs.] Isn't that
VERNON. Not at all. We're just the same. We love to love the woman
FANNY. Provided the "County" will let us. And the County has said:
A man may not marry his butler's niece.
VERNON [laughing]. You've got butlers on the brain. If ever I do
run away with my own cook or under-housemaid, it will be your doing.
FANNY. You haven't the pluck! The "County" would laugh at you. You
men are so frightened of being laughed at.
VERNON [he rises]. Well, if it saves us from making asses of
FANNY. Wasn't there a niece of old Bennet's, a girl who had been
brought up abroad, and who WASN'T a domestic servant--never had been-
-who stayed with them here, at the gardener's cottage, for a short
time, some few years ago?
VERNON. You mean poor Rose Bennet's daughter--the one who ran away
and married an organ-grinder.
FANNY. An organ-grinder?
VERNON. Something of that sort--yes. They had her over; did all
they could. A crazy sort of girl; used to sing French ballads on the
village green to all the farm labourers she could collect. Shortened
poor Bennet's life by about ten years. [Laughs.] But why? Not
going to bully me for not having fallen in love with her, are you?
Because that really WASN'T my fault. I never even saw her. 'Twas
the winter we spent in Rome. She bolted before we got back. Never
gave me a chance.
FANNY. I accept the excuse. [Laughs.] No, I was merely wondering
what the "County" would have done if by any chance you had married
HER. Couldn't have said you were marrying into your own kitchen in
her case, because she was never IN your kitchen--absolutely refused
to enter it, I'm told.
VERNON [laughs]. It would have been a "nice point," as they say in
legal circles. If people had liked her, they'd have tried to forget
that her cousins had ever been scullery-maids. If not, they'd have
taken good care that nobody did.
Bennet enters. He brings some cut flowers, with the "placing" of
which he occupies himself.
BENNET. I did not know your lordship had returned.
VERNON. Found a telegram waiting for me in the village. What's
become of that niece of yours, Bennet--your sister Rose's daughter,
who was here for a short time and ran away again? Ever hear anything
BENNET [very quietly he turns, lets his eyes for a moment meet
Fanny's. Then answers as he crosses to the windows]. The last I
heard about her was that she was married.
BENNET. Looking at it from her point of view--most satisfactorily.
VERNON [laughs]. But looking at it from his--more doubtful?
BENNET. She was not without her attractions. Her chief faults, I am
inclined to think, were those arising from want of discipline in
youth. I have hopes that it is not even yet too late to root out
from her nature the weeds of indiscretion.
VERNON. And you think he is the man to do it?
BENNET. Perhaps not. But fortunately there are those about her
fully alive to the duty devolving upon them.
VERNON. Um. Sounds a little bit like penal servitude for the poor
girl, the way you put it, Bennet.
BENNET. Even penal servitude may be a blessing, if it serves to
correct a stubborn spirit.
VERNON. We'll have to make you a J.P., Bennet. Must be jolly
careful I don't ever get tried before you. [Laughs.] Is that the
BENNET [he looks out through the window]. Yes, your lordship.
VERNON [he takes up his cap]. I may be bringing someone back with
me. [To Fanny, who throughout has remained seated.] Why not put on
your hat--come with me?
FANNY [she jumps up, delighted]. Shall I?
BENNET. Your ladyship is not forgetting that to-day is Wednesday?
FANNY. What's the odds. There's nobody to call. Everybody is still
BENNET. It has always been the custom of the Lady Bantocks, when in
residence, to be at home on Wednesdays.
VERNON. Perhaps better not. It may cause talk; if, by chance,
anybody does come. I was forgetting it was Wednesday. [Fanny sits
again.] I shan't do anything without consulting you. Good-bye.
Vernon goes out.
BENNET. You think it wise, discussing with his lordship the secret
history of the Bennet family?
FANNY. What do you mean by telling him my father was an organ-
grinder? If the British public knew the difference between music and
a hurdy-gurdy, he would have kept a butler of his own.
BENNET. I am not aware of having mentioned to his lordship that you
ever to my knowledge even had a father. It is not my plan--for the
present at all events--to inform his lordship anything about your
family. Take care I am not forced to.
FANNY. Because my father, a composer who had his work performed at
the Lamoureux Concerts--as I can prove, because I've got the
programme--had the misfortune to marry into a family of lackeys--I'm
not talking about my mother: she was never really one of you. SHE
had the soul of an artist.
BENNET [white with suppressed fury; he is in front of her; his very
look is enough to silence her]. Now you listen to me, my girl, once
and for all. I told you the night of your arrival that whether this
business was going to prove a pleasant or an unpleasant one depended
upon you. You make it an easy one--for your own sake. With one word
I can bring your house of cards about your ears. I've only to tell
him the truth for him to know you as a cheat and liar. [She goes to
speak; again he silences her.] You listen to me. You've seen fit to
use strong language; now I'm using strong language. This BOY, who
has married you in a moment of impulse, what does HE know about the
sort of wife a man in his position needs? What do YOU? made to sing
for your living on the Paris boulevards--whose only acquaintance with
the upper classes has been at shady restaurants.
FANNY. He didn't WANT a woman of his own class. He told me so. It
was because I wasn't a colourless, conventional puppet with a book of
etiquette in place of a soul that he was first drawn towards me.
BENNET. Yes. At twenty-two, boys like unconventionality. Men
don't: they've learnt its true name, vulgarity. Do you think I've
stood behind English society for forty years without learning
anything about it! What you call a colourless puppet is what WE call
an English lady. And that you've got to learn to be. You talk of
"lackeys." If your mother, my poor sister Rose, came from a family
of "lackeys" there would be no hope for you. With her blood in your
veins the thing can be done. We Bennets--[he draws himself up]--we
serve. We are not lackeys.
FANNY. All right. Don't you call my father an organ-grinder, and I
won't call you lackeys. Unfortunately that doesn't end the trouble.
BENNET. The trouble can easily be ended.
FANNY. Yes. By my submitting to be ruled in all things for the
remainder of my life by my own servants.
BENNET. Say "relations," and it need not sound so unpleasant.
FANNY. Yes, it would. It would sound worse. One can get rid of
one's servants. [She has crossed towards the desk. Her cheque-book
lies there half hidden under other papers. It catches her eye. Her
hand steals unconsciously towards it. She taps it idly with her
fingers. It is all the work of a moment. Nothing comes of it. Just
the idea passes through her brain--not for the first time. She does
nothing noticeable--merely stands listless while one might count half
a dozen--then turns to him again.] Don't you think you're going it a
bit too strong, all of you? I'm not a fool. I've got a lot to
learn, I know. I'd be grateful for help. What you're trying to do
is to turn me into a new woman entirely.
BENNET. Because that is the only WAY to help you. Men do not put
new wine into old bottles.
FANNY. Oh, don't begin quoting Scripture. I want to discuss the
thing sensibly. Don't you see it can't be done? I can't be anybody
else than myself. I don't want to.
BENNET. My girl, you've GOT to be. Root and branch, inside and
outside, before you're fit to be Lady Bantock, mother of the Lord
Bantocks that are to be, you've got to be a changed woman.
FANNY. And it's going to be your job, from beginning to end--yours
and the rest of you. What I wear and how I look is Jane's affair.
My prayers will be for what Aunt Susannah thinks I stand in need of.
What I eat and drink and say and do YOU will arrange for me. And
when you die, Cousin Simeon, I suppose, will take your place. And
when Aunt Susannah dies, it will merely be a change to Aunt Amelia.
And if Jane ever dies, Honoria will have the dressing and the
lecturing of me. And so on and so on, world without end, for ever
and ever, Amen.
BENNET. Before that time, you will, I shall hope, have learnt
sufficient sense to be grateful to us. [He goes out.]
FANNY [she turns--walks slowly back towards the tea-table. Halfway
she pauses, and leaning over the back of a chair regards in silence
for a while the portrait of the first Lady Bantock]. I do wish I
could tell what you were saying.
The door opens. The Misses Wetherell come in. They wear the same
frocks that they wore in the first act. They pause. Fanny is still
gazing at the portrait.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Don't you notice it, dear?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Yes. There really is.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It struck me the first day. [To Fanny,
who has turned] Your likeness, dear, to Lady Constance. It's really
FANNY. You think so?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It's your expression--when you are
FANNY [laughs]. I must try to be more serious.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It will come, dear.
They take their places side by side on the settee.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [to her sister, with a pat of the hand].
In good time. It's so nice to have her young. I wonder if
anybody'll come this afternoon.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [to Fanny]. You see, dear, most of the
county people are still in town.
FANNY [who is pouring out tea]. I'm not grumbling.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Oh, you'll like them, dear. The
Cracklethorpes especially. [To her sister for confirmation] Bella
Cracklethorpe is so clever.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And the Engells. She'll like the
Engells. All the Engell girls are so pretty. [Fanny brings over two
cups of tea.] Thank you, dear.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [as she takes her cup--patting Fanny's
hand]. And they'll like you, dear, ALL of them.
FANNY [returning to table]. I hope so.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It's wonderful, dear--you won't mind my
saying it?--how you've improved.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Of course it was such a change for you.
And at first [turns to her sister] we were a little anxious about
her, weren't we?
Fanny has returned to them with the cake-basket.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [as she takes a piece]. Bennet [she lingers
on the name as that of an authority] was saying only yesterday that
he had great hopes of you.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [Fanny is handing the basket to her].
Thank you, dear.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I told Vernon. He was SO pleased.
FANNY. VERNON was?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He attaches so much importance to Bennet's
FANNY. Um. I'm glad I appear to be giving satisfaction. [She has
returned to her seat at the table.] I suppose when you go to town,
you take the Bennets with you?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [surprised at the question]. Of course,
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon didn't wish to go this year. He
thought you would prefer -
FANNY. I was merely thinking of when he did. Do you ever go abroad
for the winter? So many people do, nowadays.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We tried it once. But there was nothing
for dear Vernon to do. You see, he's so fond of hunting.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [to her sister]. And then there will be
his Parliamentary duties that he will have to take up now.
Fanny rises, abruptly.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You're not ill, dear?
FANNY. No. Merely felt I wanted some air. You don't mind, do you?
[She flings a casement open.]
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Not at all, dear. [To her sister] It
IS a bit close.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. One could really do without fires.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. If it wasn't for the evenings.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And then, of course, the cold weather
might come again. One can never feel safe until -
The door opens. Dr. Freemantle enters, announced by Bennet. The old
ladies go to rise. He stops them.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Don't get up. [He shakes hands with them.] How are
we this afternoon? [He shakes his head and clicks his tongue.]
Really, I think I shall have to bring an action for damages against
Lady Bantock. Ever since she -
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Hush! [She points to the window.] Fanny.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Here's Doctor Freemantle.
Fanny comes from the window.
DR. FREEMANTLE [he meets her and takes her hand]. Was just saying, I
really think I shall have to claim damages against you, Lady Bantock.
You've practically deprived me of two of my best paying patients.
Used to be sending for me every other day before you came. Now look
at them! [The two ladies laugh.] She's not as bad as we expected.
[He pats her hand.] Do you remember my description of what I thought
she was going to be like?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She's a dear girl.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Bennet -
FANNY [she has crossed to table--is pouring out the Doctor's tea].
Oh, mightn't we have a holiday from Bennet?
DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. Seems to be having a holiday himself to-
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. A holiday?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Didn't you know? Oh, there's an awfully swagger
party on downstairs. They were all trooping in as I came.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I'd no idea he was giving a party. [To
Fanny] Did you, dear?
FANNY [she hands the Doctor his tea]. Yes. It's a prayer meeting.
The whole family, I expect, has been summoned.
DR. FREEMANTLE. A prayer meeting! Didn't look like it.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. But why should he be holding a prayer
FANNY. Oh, one of the family -
DR. FREEMANTLE. And why twelve girls in a van?
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. In a van?
DR. FREEMANTLE. One of Hutton's from the Station Hotel--with a big
poster pinned on the door: "Our Empire."
Fanny has risen. She crosses and rings the bell.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. What's the matter, dear?
FANNY. I'm not quite sure yet. [Her whole manner is changed. A
look has come into her eyes that has not been there before. She
speaks in quiet, determined tones. She rings again. Then returning
to table, hands the cake-basket to the Doctor.] Won't you take one,
Doctor? They're not as indigestible as they look. [Laughs.]
DR. FREEMANTLE [he also is bewildered at the changed atmosphere].
Thank you. I hope I -
FANNY [she turns to Ernest, who has entered. Her tone, for the first
time, is that of a mistress speaking to her servants]. Have any
visitors called for me this afternoon?
FANNY. Some ladies.
ERNEST [he is in a slough of doubt and terror]. L--ladies?
FANNY. Yes. Please try to understand the English language. Has a
party of ladies called here this afternoon?
ERNEST. There have been some ladies. They--we -
FANNY. Where are they?
ERNEST. They--I -
FANNY. Send Bennet up to me. Instantly, please.
Ernest, only too glad to be off, stumbles out.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. My dear -
FANNY. You'll take some more tea, won't you? Do you mind, Doctor,
passing Miss Wetherell's cup? And the other one. Thank you. And
will you pass them the biscuits? You see, I am doing all I can on
your behalf. [She is talking and laughing--a little hysterically--
for the purpose of filling time.] Tea and hot cake--could anything
be worse for them?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Well, tea, you know -
FANNY. I know. [Laughs.] You doctors are all alike. You all
denounce it, but you all drink it. [She hands him the two cups.]
That one is for Aunt Wetherell of the beautiful hair; and the other
is for Aunt Wetherell of the beautiful eyes. [Laughs.] It's the
only way I can distinguish them.
BENNET. You sent for me?
FANNY. Yes. I understand some ladies have called.
BENNET. I think your ladyship must have been misinformed. I most
certainly have seen none.
FANNY. I have to assume, Bennet, that either Dr. Freemantle or you
are telling lies.
BENNET. A party of over-dressed young women, claiming to be
acquainted with your ladyship, have arrived in a van. I am giving
them tea in the servants' hall, and will see to it that they are sent
back to the station in ample time to catch their train back to town.
FANNY. Please show them up. They will have their tea here.
BENNET [her very quietness is beginning to alarm him. It shakes him
from his customary perfection of manners]. The Lady Bantocks do not
as a rule receive circus girls in their boudoir.
FANNY [still with her alarming quietness]. Neither do they argue
with their servants. Please show these ladies in.
BENNET. I warn you -
FANNY. You heard my orders. [Her tone has the right ring. The
force of habit is too strong upon him. He yields--savagely--and goes
out. She turns to the Doctor.] So sorry I had to drag you into it.
I didn't see how else I was going to floor him.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Splendid! [He grips her hand.]
FANNY [she goes to the old ladies who sit bewildered terrified.]
They won't be here for more than a few minutes--they can't be. I
want you to be nice to them--both of you. They are friends of mine.
[She turns to the Doctor.] They're the girls I used to act with. We
went all over Europe--twelve of us--representing the British Empire.
They are playing in London now.
DR. FREEMANTLE. To-night? [He looks at his watch.]
FANNY [she is busy at the tea-table]. Yes. They are on the stage at
half past nine. You might look out their train for them. [She
points to the Bradshaw on the desk.] I don't suppose they've ever
thought about how they're going to get back. It's Judy's
inspiration, this, the whole thing; I'd bet upon it. [With a laugh.]
She always was as mad as a March hare.
DR. FREEMANTLE [busy with the Bradshaw]. They were nice-looking
FANNY. Yes. I think we did the old man credit. [With a laugh.]
John Bull's daughters, they called us in Paris.
Bennet appears in doorway.
BENNET [announces]. "Our Empire."
Headed by "England," the twelve girls, laughing, crowding, jostling
one another, talking all together, swoop in.
ENGLAND [a lady with a decided Cockney accent]. Oh, my dear, talk
about an afternoon! We 'ave 'ad a treat getting 'ere.
Fanny kisses her.
SCOTLAND [they also kiss]. Your boss told us you'd gone out.
FANNY. It was a slight--misunderstanding. Bennet, take away these
things, please. And let me have half a dozen bottles of champagne.
STRAITS SETTLEMENTS [a small girl at the back of the crowd--with a
shrill voice]. Hooray!
BENNET [he is controlling himself with the supremest difficulty.
Within he is a furnace]. I'm afraid I have mislaid the key of the
FANNY [she looks at him]. You will please find it--quickly.
[Bennet, again from habit, yields. But his control almost fails him.
He takes up the tray of unneeded tea-things from the table.] I shall
want some more of all these [cakes, fruit, sandwiches, etc.]. And
some people to wait. Tell Jane she must come and help.
Bennet goes out. During this passage of arms between mistress and
man a momentary lull has taken place in the hubbub. As he goes out,
it begins to grow again.
ENGLAND. 'E does tease yer, don't 'e? Wanted us to 'ave tea in the
FANNY. Yes. These old family servants -
AFRICA [she prides herself on being "quite the lady"]. Don't talk
about 'em, dear. We had just such another. [She turns to a girl
near her.] Oh, they'll run the whole show for you if you let 'em.
ENGLAND. It was Judy's idea, our giving you this little treat.
Don't you blime me for it.
WALES [a small, sprightly girl with a childish, laughing voice].
Well, we were all together with nothing better to do. They'd called
a rehearsal and then found they didn't want us--silly fools. I told
'em you'd just be tickled to death.
FANNY [laughing--kisses her]. So I am. It was a brilliant idea.
[By this time she has kissed or shaken hands with the whole dozen.]
I can't introduce you all singly; it would take too long. [She makes
a wholesale affair of it.] My aunts, the Misses Wetherell--Dr.
The Misses Wetherell, suggesting two mice being introduced to a party
of friendly kittens, standing, clinging to one another, murmur
DR. FREEMANTLE [who is with them to comfort them--he has got rid of
the time-table, discreetly--smiles]. Delighted.
ENGLAND. Charmed. [The others join in, turning it into a chorus.
To Fanny] Glad we didn't strike one of your busy days. I say,
you're not as dressy as you used to be. 'Ow are they doing you?--all
FANNY. Yes. Oh, yes.
CANADA ["Gerty," a big, handsome girl, with a loud, commanding
voice]. George gave me your message.
FANNY [puzzled at first]. My message? [Remembering--laughs.] Oh.
That I was Lady Bantock of Bantock Hall. Yes. I thought you'd be
CANADA. Was delighted, dear.
FANNY. So glad.
CANADA. I'd always had the idea that you were going to make a mess
of your marriage.
FANNY. What a funny idea! [But the laugh that accompanies it is not
a merry one.]
CANADA. Wasn't it? So glad I was wrong.
WALES. We're all of us looking out for lords in disguise, now.
Can't you give us a tip, dear, how to tell 'em?
SCOTLAND. Sukey has broken it off with her boy. Found he was mixed
up in trade.
STRAITS SETTLEMENTS [as before, unseen at back of crowd]. No. I
didn't. 'Twas his moral character.
Then enter Honoria with glasses on a tray; Ernest with champagne;
Jane with eatables; Bennet with a napkin. It is a grim procession.
The girls are scattered, laughing, talking: Africa to the Misses
Wetherell; a couple to Dr. Freemantle. England, Scotland, Wales, and
Canada are with Fanny. The hubbub, with the advent of the
refreshments, increases. There is a general movement towards the
FANNY. Thanks, Bennet. You can clear away a corner of the desk.
ENGLAND [aside to her]. Go easy with it, dear. [Fanny, smiling,
nods. She directs operations in a low tone to the Bennets, who take
her orders in grim silence and with lips tight shut.] Don't forget,
girls, that we've got to get back to-night. [Aside to the Doctor,
who has come forward to help.] Some of 'em, you know, ain't used to
DR. FREEMANTLE [nods]. Glasses not TOO full. [He whispers to
IRELAND [a decided young woman]. How much time have we got?
ENGLAND. Don't ask me. It's Judy's show.
WALES [mimicking Newte]. The return train, ladies, leaves Oakham
station. [Stops--she is facing the clock. She begins to laugh.]
ENGLAND. What's the matter?
WALES [still laughing]. We've got just quarter of an hour to catch
There is a wild rush for the refreshments. Jane is swept off her
feet. Bennet's tray is upset.
ENGLAND. Quarter--! Oh, my Gawd! Here, tuck up your skirts, girls.
We'll have to -
DR. FREEMANTLE. It's all right. You've got plenty of time, ladies.
There's a train from Norton on the branch line at 5.33. Gets you
into London at a quarter to nine.
ENGLAND. You're SURE?
DR. FREEMANTLE [he has his watch in his hand]. Quite sure. The
station is only half a mile away.
ENGLAND. Don't let's miss it. Keep your watch in your 'and, there's
FANNY [her business is--and has been--to move quietly through the
throng, making the girls welcome, talking, laughing with them,
directing the servants--all in a lady's way. On the whole she does
it remarkably well. She is offering a plate of fruit to Judy].
You're a nice acting manager, you are. [Judy laughs. Fanny finds
herself in front of Ireland. She turns to England.] Won't you
ENGLAND. I beg your pardon, dear. Of course, you don't know each
other. Miss Tetsworth, our new Ireland, Lady Bantock. It is
"Bantock," isn't it, dear?
FANNY. Quite right. It's a good little part, isn't it?
IRELAND. Well, depends upon what you've been used to.
ENGLAND. She's got talent, as I tell 'er. But she ain't you, dear.
It's no good saying she is.
FANNY [hastening to smooth it over]. People always speak so well of
us after we're gone. [Laughs.] You'll take another glass of
IRELAND. Thank you--you made a great success, they tell me, in the
FANNY. Oh, there's a deal of fluke about these things. You see, I
had the advantage -
DR. FREEMANTLE [with watch still in his hand]. I THINK, ladies -
ENGLAND. Come on, girls.
A general movement.
FANNY. You must all come again--spend a whole day--some Sunday.
CANADA. Remember me to Vernon.
FANNY. He'll be so sorry to have -
ENGLAND [cutting in]. 'Ope we 'aven't upset you, dear. [She is
bustling them all up.]
FANNY. Not at all. [She is kissing the girls.] It's been so good
to see you all again.
ENGLAND. 'Urry up, girls, there's dears. [To Fanny] Good-bye,
dear. [Kissing her.] We DO miss yer.
FANNY. I'm glad you do.
ENGLAND. Oh, it ain't the same show. [The others are crowding out
of the door. She and Fanny are quite apart.] No chance of your
coming back to it, I suppose? [A moment.] Well, there, you never
know, do yer? Good-bye, dear. [Kisses her again.]
FANNY. Good-bye! [She stands watching them out. Bennet goes down
with them. Ernest is busy collecting debris. Jane and Honoria stand
one each side of the table, rigid, with set faces. After a moment
Fanny goes to the open window. The voices of the girls below,
crowding into the van, come up into the room. She calls down to
them.] Good-bye. You've plenty of time. What? Yes, of course.
[Laughs.] All right. Good-bye. [She turns, comes slowly back. She
looks at Jane and Honoria, where they stand rigid. Honoria makes a
movement with her shoulders--takes a step towards the door.]
Honoria! [Honoria stops--slowly turns.] You can take away these
glasses. Jane will help you.
Bennet has reappeared.
HONORIA. It's not my place -
FANNY. Your place is to obey my orders.
BENNET [his coolness seems to have deserted him. His voice is
trembling]. Obey her ladyship's orders, both of you. Leave the rest
to me. [Honoria and Jane busy themselves, with Ernest setting the
room to rights.] May I speak with your ladyship?
BENNET. Alone, I mean.
FANNY. I see no need.
BENNET [her firmness takes him aback. He expected to find her
defiance disappear with the cause of it. But pig-headed, as all
Bennets, her opposition only drives him on]. Your ladyship is not
forgetting the alternative?
The Misses Wetherell have been watching the argument much as the
babes in the wood might have watched the discussion between the two
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [in terror]. Bennet! you're not going to
BENNET. What my duty may be, I shall be able to decide after I have
spoken with her ladyship--alone.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Dear! You will see him?
FANNY. I am sorry. I have not the time.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No. Of course. [Appealing to Bennet
for mercy] Her ladyship is tired. To-morrow -
FANNY [interrupting]. Neither to-morrow--nor any other day. [Vernon
enters, followed by Newte. She advances to meet them.] You've just
missed some old friends of yours. [She shakes hands with Newte.]
VERNON. So it seems. We were hoping to have been in time. [To
Newte] The mare came along pretty slick, didn't she?
BENNET [he has remained with his look fixed all the time on Fanny].
May I speak with your lordship a moment--in private?
BENNET. It is a matter that needs to be settled now. [It is the
tone of respectful authority he has always used towards the lad.]
VERNON. Well, if it's as pressing as all that I suppose you must.
[He makes a movement towards the door. To Newte] Shan't be long.
FANNY. One moment. [Vernon stops.] I may be able to render the
interview needless. Who is mistress of this house?
VERNON. Who is mistress?
FANNY. Who is mistress of your house?
VERNON. Why, you are, of course.
FANNY. Thank you. [She turns to Bennet] Please tell Mrs. Bennet I
BENNET. I think if your lordship -
FANNY. At once. [She is looking at him. He struggles--looks at
Vernon. But Vernon is evidently inclined to support Fanny. Bennet
goes out. She crosses and seats herself at the desk. She takes from
a drawer some neatly folded papers. She busies herself with
VERNON [he crosses to his Aunts]. Whatever's the matter?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She is excited. She has had a very trying
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Bennet didn't like the idea of her
NEWTE. It was that minx Judy's doing. They'll have the rough side
of my tongue when I get back--all of them.
VERNON. What does she want with Mrs. Bennet?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I can't think.
The atmosphere is somewhat that of a sheepfold before a thunderstorm.
The Misses Wetherell are still clinging to one another. Vernon and
Dr. Freemantle are both watching Fanny. Jane, Honoria, and Ernest
are still busy about the room.
Suddenly, to Newte--who is standing apart--the whole thing comes with
a rush. But it is too late for him to interfere.
Mrs. Bennet, followed by Bennet, are entering the room. He shrugs
his shoulders and turns away.
MRS. BENNET. Your ladyship sent for me?
FANNY. Yes. [She half turns--holds out a paper.] This wages sheet
is quite correct, I take it? It is your own.
MRS. BENNET [she takes it]. Quite correct.
FANNY [she tears out a cheque she has written--hands it to Mrs.
Bennet]. You will find there two months' wages for the entire
family. I have made it out in a lump sum payable to your husband.
The other month is in lieu of notice. [A silence. The thing strikes
them all dumb. She puts the cheque-book back and closes the drawer.
She rises.] I'm sorry. There's been a misunderstanding. It's time
that it ended. It has been my own fault. [To Vernon] I deceived
you about my family -
NEWTE. If there's been any deceit -
FANNY. My scene, please, George. [Newte, knowing her, returns to
silence.] I have no relations outside this country that I know of.
My uncle is Martin Bennet, your butler. Mrs. Bennet is my aunt. I'm
not ashamed of them. If they'd had as much respect for me as I have
for them, this trouble would not have arisen. We don't get on
together, that's all. And this seems to me the only way out. As I
said before, I'm sorry.
VERNON [recovering speech]. But why did you--?
FANNY [her control gives way. She breaks out]. Oh, because I've
been a fool. It's the explanation of most people's muddles, I
expect, if they only knew it. Don't talk to me, anybody. I've got
nothing more to say. [To Bennet] I'm sorry. You wouldn't give me a
chance. I'd have met you half way. [To Mrs. Bennet] I'm sorry.
Don't be too hard on me. It won't mean much trouble to you. Good
servants don't go begging. You can depend upon me for a character.
[To Jane] You'll do much better for yourselves elsewhere. [To
Honoria] Don't let that pretty face of yours ever get you into
trouble. [To Ernest] Good-bye, Ernest. We were always pals,
weren't we? Good-bye. [She kisses him. It has all been the work of
a moment. She comes down again.] Don't think me rude, but I'd like
to be alone. We can talk calmly about it all to-morrow morning. [To
the Misses Wetherell] I'm so awfully sorry. I wish I could have
seen any other way out. [The tears are streaming from her eyes. To
Vernon] Take them all away, won't you, dear? We'll talk about it
all to-morrow. I'll feel gooder. [She kisses him. To Dr.
Freemantle] Take them all away. Tell him it wasn't all my fault.
[To Newte] You'll have to stop the night. There are no more trains.
I'll see you in the morning. Good night.
Bennet has collected his troop. Leads them away. Dr. Freemantle,
kindly and helpful, takes off Vernon and the two ladies.
NEWTE [he grips her hand, and speaks in his short, growling way].
Good night, old girl. [He follows the others out.]
FANNY [crosses towards the windows. Her chief business is dabbing
her eyes. The door closes with a click. She turns. She puts her
handkerchief away. She looks at the portrait of Constance, first
Lady Bantock]. I believe it's what you've been telling me to do, all
The same. The blinds are down. Ashes fill the grate.
Time.--Early the next morning.
The door opens softly. Newte steals in. He fumbles his way across
to the windows, draws the blinds. The morning sun streams in. He
listens--no one seems to be stirring. He goes out, returns
immediately with a butler's tray, containing all things necessary for
a breakfast and the lighting of a fire. He places the tray on table,
throws his coat over a chair, and is on his knees busy lighting the
fire, when enter the Misses Wetherell, clad in dressing-gowns and
caps: yet still they continue to look sweet. They also creep in,
hand in hand. The crouching Newte is hidden by a hanging fire-
screen. They creep forward till the coat hanging over the chair
catches their eye. They are staring at it as Robinson Crusoe might
at the footprint, when Newte rises suddenly and turns. The Misses
Wetherell give a suppressed scream, and are preparing for flight.
NEWTE [he stays them]. No call to run away, ladies. When a man's
travelled--as I have--across America, in a sleeping-car, with a
comic-opera troop, there's not much left for him to know. You want
your breakfast! [He wheedles them to the table.] We'll be able to
talk cosily--before anybody else comes.
They yield themselves. He has a way with him.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We haven't slept all night.
Newte answers with a sympathetic gesture. He is busy getting ready
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. There's something we want to tell dear
Vernon--before he says anything to Fanny.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It's something very important.
NEWTE. We'll have a cup of tea first--to steady our nerves.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It's so important that we should tell
him before he sees Fanny.
NEWTE. We'll see to it. [He makes the tea.] I fancy they're both
asleep at present.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Poor boy!
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. If she only hadn't -
Dr. Freemantle has entered.
DR. FREEMANTLE. I thought I heard somebody stirring -
NEWTE. Hush! [He indicates doors, the one leading to her ladyship's
apartments, the other to his lordship's.]
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [turning and greeting him]. It was so
kind of you not to leave us last night.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We were so upset.
Dr. Freemantle pats their hands.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We hope you slept all right.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Excellently. Shall be glad of a shave, that's all.
[Laughs. Both he and Newte suggest the want of one.]
NEWTE [who has been officiating]. Help yourself to milk and sugar.
DR. FREEMANTLE [who has seated himself]. Have the Bennets gone?
NEWTE. Well, they had their notice all right.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [they have begun to cry]. It has been so
wrong and foolish of us. We have never learnt to do anything for
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We don't even know where our things are.
DR. FREEMANTLE. They can't all have gone--the whole twenty-three of
them, at a couple of hours' notice. [To Newte] Haven't seen any of
them, have you?
NEWTE. No sign of any of them downstairs.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Oh, they must be still here. Not up, I suppose. It
isn't seven o'clock yet.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But they have all been discharged. We
can't ask them to do anything.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [to her sister]. And the Grimstones are
coming to lunch with the new curate. Vernon asked them on Sunday.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Perhaps there's something cold.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon so dislikes a cold lunch.
DR. FREEMANTLE [to Newte]. Were you able to get hold of Vernon last
NEWTE. Waited up till he came in about two o'clock. Merely answered
that he wasn't in a talkative mood--brushed past me and locked
DR. FREEMANTLE. He wouldn't say anything to me either. Rather a bad
sign when he won't talk.
NEWTE. What's he likely to do?
DR. FREEMANTLE. Don't know. Of course it will be all over the
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And dear Vernon is so sensitive.
DR. FREEMANTLE. It had to come--the misfortune IS -
NEWTE. The misfortune IS that people won't keep to their own line of
business. Why did he want to come fooling around her? She was doing
well for herself. She could have married a man who would have
thought more of her than all the damn fools in the county put
together. Why couldn't he have left her alone?
DR. FREEMANTLE [he is sitting at the head of the table, between Newte
on his right and the Misses Wetherell on his left. He lays his hand
on Newte's sleeve--with a smile]. I'm sure you can forgive a man--
with eyes and ears in his head--for having fallen in love with her.
NEWTE. Then why doesn't he stand by her? What if her uncle is a
butler? If he wasn't a fool, he'd be thanking his stars that 'twas
anything half as respectable.
DR. FREEMANTLE. I'm not defending him--we're not sure yet that he
needs any defence. He has married a clever, charming girl of--as you
say--a better family than he'd any right to expect. The misfortune
is, that--by a curious bit of ill-luck--it happens to be his own
NEWTE. If she takes my advice, she'll return to the stage. No sense
stopping where you're not wanted.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But how can she?
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You see, they're married!
DR. FREEMANTLE [to change the subject]. You'll take an egg?
Newte has been boiling some. He has just served them.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [rejecting it]. Thank you.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We're not feeling hungry.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He was so fond of her.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She was so pretty.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And so thoughtful.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. One would never have known she was an
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. If only she hadn't -
Bennet has entered. Newte is at fireplace. The old ladies have
their backs to the door. Dr. Freemantle, who is pouring out tea, is
the first to see him. He puts down the teapot, staring. The old
ladies look round. A silence. Newte turns. Bennet is again the
perfect butler. Yesterday would seem to have been wiped out of his
BENNET. Good morning, Miss Wetherell. Good morning, Miss Edith.
[To the two men] Good morning. I was not aware that breakfast was
required to be any earlier than usual, or I should have had it ready.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We are sure you would, Bennet. But you
see, under the circumstances, we--we hardly liked to trouble you.
BENNET [he goes about the room, putting things to rights. He has
rung the bell. Some dead flowers he packs on to Newte's tray, the
water he pours into Newte's slop-basin]. My duty, Miss Edith, I have
never felt to be a trouble to me.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We know, Bennet. You have always been so
conscientious. But, of course, after what's happened--[They are on
the verge of tears again.]
BENNET [he is piling up the breakfast things]. Keziah requested me
to apologise to you for not having heard your bell this morning. She
will be ready to wait upon you in a very few minutes. [To the
Doctor] You will find shaving materials, doctor, on your dressing-
DR. FREEMANTLE. Oh, thank you.
Ernest has entered, with some wood; he is going towards the fire.
BENNET [to Ernest]. Leave the fire for the present. Take away this
tray. [Ernest takes up the tray, and goes out. Bennet speaks over
the heads of the Misses Wetherell to Newte] Breakfast will be ready
in the morning-room, in a quarter of an hour.
NEWTE [at first puzzled, then indignant, now breaks out]. What's the
little game on here--eh? Yesterday afternoon you were given the
sack--by your mistress, Lady Bantock, with a month's wages in lieu of
notice--not an hour before you deserved it. What do you mean, going
on like this, as if nothing had happened? Is Lady Bantock to be
ignored in this house as if she didn't exist--or is she not? [He
brings his fist down on the table. He has been shouting rather than
speaking.] I want this thing settled!
BENNET. Your bath, Mr. Newte, is quite ready.
NEWTE [as soon as he can recover speech]. Never you mind my bath, I
Vernon has entered. He is pale, heavy-eyed, short in his manner,
VERNON. Good morning--everybody. Can I have some breakfast, Bennet?
BENNET. In about ten minutes; I will bring it up here. [He collects
the kettle from the fire as he passes, and goes out.]
VERNON. Thank you. [He responds mechanically to the kisses of his
two aunts, who have risen and come to him.]
NEWTE. Can I have a word with you?
VERNON. A little later on, if you don't mind, Mr. Newte. [He passes
NEWTE [he is about to speak, changes his mind]. All right, go your
own way. [Goes out.]
DR. FREEMANTLE. "Remember", says Marcus Aurelius -
VERNON. Yes--good old sort, Marcus Aurelius. [He drops listlessly
into a chair.]
Dr. Freemantle smiles resignedly, looks at the Misses Wetherell,
shrugs his shoulders, and goes out, closing the door after him.
The Misses Wetherell whisper together--look round cautiously, steal
up behind him, encouraging one another.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She's so young.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And so adaptable.
VERNON [he is sitting, bowed down, with his face in his hands]. Ah,
it was the deception.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [she puts her old thin hand on his
shoulder]. What would you have done, dear, if she had told you--at
VERNON [he takes her hand in his--answers a little brokenly]. I
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. There's something we wanted to tell you.
[He looks at her. They look across at each other.] The first Lady
Bantock, your great-grandmamma -
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She danced with George III.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She was a butcher's daughter.
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He was quite a little butcher.
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Of course, as a rule, dear, we never
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We felt you ought to know. [They take
each other's hands; on tip-toe they steal out. They close the door
softly behind them.]
Vernon rises. He looks at the portrait--draws nearer to it. With
his hands in his pockets, stops dead in front of it, and contemplates
it in silence. The door of the dressing-room opens. Fanny enters.
She is dressed for going out. She stands for a moment, the door in
her hand. Vernon turns. She closes the door and comes forward.
VERNON. Good morning.
FANNY. Good morning. George stayed the night, didn't he?
VERNON. Yes. He's downstairs now.
FANNY. He won't be going for a little while?
VERNON. Can't till the ten o'clock train. Have you had breakfast?
FANNY. I--I've had something to eat. I'm sorry for what I did last
night--although they did deserve it. [Laughs.] I suppose it's a
matter than can easily be put right again.
VERNON. You have no objection to their staying?
FANNY. Why should I?
VERNON. What do you mean?
FANNY. There's only one hope of righting a mistake. And that is
going back to the point from where one went wrong--and that was our
VERNON. We haven't given it a very long trial.
FANNY [with an odd smile]. It went to pieces at the first. I was in
trouble all last night; you must have known it. You left me alone.
VERNON. Jane told me you had locked yourself in.
FANNY. You never tried the door for yourself, dear. [She pretends
to rearrange something on the mantelpiece--any excuse to turn away
her face for a moment. She turns to him again, smiling.] It was a
mistake, the whole thing. You were partly to blame. You were such a
nice boy. I "fancied" you--to use George's words. [She laughs.]
And when a woman wants a thing, she is apt to be a bit unscrupulous
about how she gets it. [She moves about the room, touching the
flowers, rearranging a cushion, a vase.] I didn't invent the bishop;
that was George's embroidery. [Another laugh.] But, of course, I
ought to have told you everything myself. I ought not to have wanted
a man to whom it would have made one atom of difference whether my
cousins were scullery-maids or not. Somehow, I felt that to you it
might. [Vernon winces.] It's natural enough. You have a big
position to maintain. I didn't know you were a lord--that was your
doing. George did find it out, but he never told me; least of all,
that you were Lord Bantock--or you may be pretty sure I should have
come out with the truth, if only for my own sake. It hasn't been any
joke for me, coming back here.
VERNON. Yes. I can see they've been making things pretty hard for
FANNY. Oh, they thought they were doing their duty. [He is seated.
She comes up behind him, puts her hands on his shoulders.] I want
you to take them all back again. I want to feel I have made as
little commotion in your life as possible. It was just a little
mistake. And everybody will say how fortunate it was that she took
herself off so soon with that--[She was about to say "that theatrical
Johnny," thinking of Newte. She checks herself.] And you will marry
somebody belonging to your own class. And those are the only
sensible marriages there are.
VERNON. Have you done talking?
FANNY. Yes! Yes, I think that's all.
VERNON. Then perhaps you'll let me get in a word. You think me a
snob? [Fanny makes a movement.] As a matter of fact, I am.
FANNY. No, that's not fair. You wouldn't have married a girl off
the music-hall stage.
VERNON. Niece of a bishop, cousin to a judge. Whether I believed it
or not, doesn't matter. The sham that isn't likely to be found out
is as good as the truth, to a snob. If he had told me your uncle was
a butler, I should have hesitated. That's where the mistake began.
We'll go back to that. Won't you sit down? [Fanny sits.] I want
you to stop. There'll be no mistake this time. I'm asking my
butler's niece to do me the honour to be my wife.
FANNY. That's kind of you.
VERNON. Oh, I'm not thinking of you. I'm thinking of myself. I
want you. I fell in love with you because you were pretty and
charming. There's something else a man wants in his wife besides
that. I've found it. [He jumps up, goes over to her, brushing aside
things in his way.] I'm not claiming it as a right; you can go if
you like. You can earn your own living, I know. But you shan't have
anybody else. You'll be Lady Bantock and nobody else--as long as I
live. [He has grown quite savage.]
FANNY [she bites her lip to keep back the smile that wants to come].
That cuts both ways, you know.
VERNON. I don't want anybody else.
FANNY [she stretches out her hand and lays it on his]. Won't it be
too hard for you? You'll have to tell them all--your friends--
VERNON. They've got to be told in any case. If you are here, for
them to see, they'll be able to understand--those that have got any
Bennet comes in with breakfast, for two, on a tray. He places it on
FANNY [she has risen, she goes over to him]. Good morning, uncle.
[She puts up her face. He stares, but she persists. Bennet kisses
her.] Lord Bantock--[she looks at Vernon]--has a request to make to
you. He wishes me to remain here as his wife. I am willing to do
so, provided you give your consent.
VERNON. Quite right, Bennet. I ought to have asked for it before.
I apologise. Will you give your consent to my marriage with your
FANNY. One minute. You understand what it means? From the moment
you give it--if you do give it--I shall be Lady Bantock, your
BENNET. My dear Fanny! My dear Vernon! I speak, for the first and
last time, as your uncle. I am an old-fashioned person, and my
ideas, I have been told, are those of my class. But observation has
impressed it upon me that success in any scheme depends upon each
person being fit for their place. Yesterday, in the interests of you
both, I should have refused my consent. To-day, I give it with
pleasure, feeling sure I am handing over to Lord Bantock a wife in
every way fit for her position. [Kissing her, he gives her to
Vernon, who grips his hand. He returns to the table.] Breakfast,
your ladyship, is quite ready.
They take their places at the table. Fanny takes off her hat, Bennet
takes off the covers.
Back to Full Books