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 mention it.
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. f.a.n.n.y 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.
f.a.n.n.y. Good morning. George stayed the night, didn't he?
VERNON. Yes. He's downstairs now.
f.a.n.n.y. He won't be going for a little while?
VERNON. Can't till the ten o'clock train. Have you had breakfast?
f.a.n.n.y. 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?
f.a.n.n.y. Why should I?
VERNON. What do you mean?
f.a.n.n.y. 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 marriage.
VERNON. We haven't given it a very long trial.
f.a.n.n.y [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.
f.a.n.n.y. 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 you.
f.a.n.n.y. 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 cla.s.s. And those are the only sensible marriages there are.
VERNON. Have you done talking?
f.a.n.n.y. Yes! Yes, I think that's all.
VERNON. Then perhaps you'll let me get in a word. You think me a sn.o.b? [f.a.n.n.y makes a movement.] As a matter of fact, I am.
f.a.n.n.y. 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 sn.o.b. 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? [f.a.n.n.y 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.
f.a.n.n.y. 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 n.o.body else--as long as I live. [He has grown quite savage.]
f.a.n.n.y [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.
f.a.n.n.y [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-- everybody.
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 sense.
Bennet comes in with breakfast, for two, on a tray. He places it on a table.
f.a.n.n.y [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 niece?
f.a.n.n.y. One minute. You understand what it means? From the moment you give it--if you do give it--I shall be Lady Bantock, your mistress.
BENNET. My dear f.a.n.n.y! 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 cla.s.s. 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. f.a.n.n.y takes off her hat, Bennet takes off the covers.
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