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Fanny and the Servant Problem

Fanny and the Servant Problem
Jerome Klapka Jerome

Jerome K. Jerome

Fanny and the Servant Problem



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.
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