Transcribed from the 1909 Hodder & Stoughton edition by David Price,
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_the Servant Problem_
_A Quite Possible Play in Four Acts_
_Jerome K. Jerome_
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_COPYRIGHT_ 1909 _BY_
_JEROME KLAPKA JEROME_
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_Hodder and Stoughton_
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Amateurs wishing to perform this play should apply to:
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_Made and Printed in Great Britain_.
_Hazell_, _Watson & Viney_, _Ld._, _London and Aylesbury_.
_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_”:
_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
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
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
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
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She has been sleeping much better.
DR. FREEMANTLE [_he pats the hand of the Elder Miss Wetherell_].
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
_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
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 café-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
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 _Hôtel 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
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
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
MRS. BENNET. If so, everything will be quite ready. [_She goes out_,
DR. FREEMANTLE. What do they think about it all—the Bennets? You have
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
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, they have always been a religious
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_.]
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Yes. _Charles_ Bennet’s daughter.
DR. FREEMANTLE. Happen to have a servant about the place who isn’t a
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
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
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
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
_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
THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We felt sure we could trust to your
THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, coming, as she does, from a good
BENNET. It is that—I speak merely for myself—that gives me hope of
_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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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