[JOAN slowly raises her veil, showing her face.
JESSIE. Shall I give you a kiss, Aunt?
EMILY. I'd be careful if I was you, Jess. Fine ladies be brittle as fine china.
JESSIE. O I'll kiss her very lightly, Mother.
[She goes up to JOAN and kisses her. ROBIN then reaches up his face and JOAN kisses him.
ROBIN. [Rubbing his mouth.] The flour do come from Aunt same as it does from a new loaf.
MILES. [To JOAN.] You must pardon these ignorant little country brats, Miss Clara.
JOAN. O there's nothing amiss, thank you.
EMILY. Amiss, who said as there was? When folks what can afford to lodge at the inn do come down and fasten theirselves on the top of poor people, they must take things as they do find them and not start grumbling at the first set off.
LUKE. There, there, Missis Spring. There wasn't naught said about grumbling. But Miss Clara have come a smartish long distance, and it behoves us all as she should find summat of a welcome at the end of her journey, like.
MILES. [Aside to JOAN.] How strange this country tongue must fall on your ears, Miss Clara!
JOAN. I don't understand about half of what they say.
EMILY. [Overhearing her.] O, you don't, don't you. Well, Clara, I was always one for plain words, and I say 'tis a pity when folks do get above the position to which they was bred, and for all the fine satins and plumes upon you, the body what's covered by them belongs to Clara Spring, what's sister to Thomas. And all the world knows what Thomas is—A poor, mean spirited, humble born man with but two coats to the back of him, and with not a thought to the mind of him which is not foolishness. And I judge from by what they be in birth, and not by the bags of gold what have been left them by any old madams in their dotage. So now you see how I takes it all and you and me can start fair, like.
JOAN. [To LUKE.] O Mister—Mister Jenner, I feel so faint.
MILES. [Taking her fan.] Allow me. [He begins to fan her.] I assure you she means nothing by it. It's her way. You see, she knows no better.
LUKE. I'd fetch out summat for her to eat if I was you, missis. 'Tis famished as the poor young maid must be.
EMILY. She should have come when 'twas meal time then. I don't hold with bites nor drinks in between whiles.
JOAN. O I'm dying for a glass of milk—or water would do as well.
MILES. My dear young lady—anything to oblige. [Turning to Jessie.] Come, my little maid, see if you can't make yourself useful in bringing a tray of refreshment for your auntie. And you [turning to Robin] trot off and help sister.
EMILY. Not if I know it. Stop where you are, Jess. Robin, you dare to move. If Clara wants to eat and drink I'm afeared she must wait till supper time.
ROBIN. There be chicken and sparrow grass for supper, Aunt.
JESSIE. And a great pie of gooseberries.
JOAN. [Faintly.] O I couldn't touch a mouthful of food, don't speak to me about it.
ROBIN. I likes talking of dinner. After I've done eating of it, I likes next best to talk about it.
LUKE. See here, missis. Let's have a glass of summat cool for Miss Clara.
EMILY. [Calling angrily.] Maggie, Maggie, where are you, you great lazy-boned donkey?
MAGGIE. [Comes in from the back kitchen, her apron held to her eyes.] Did you call me, mistress?
EMILY. Get up a bucket of water from the well. Master's sister wants a drink.
MAGGIE. [Between sobs.] Shall I bring it in the bucket, or would the young lady like it in a jug?
EMILY. [With exasperation.] There's no end to the worriting that other folks do make.
JESSIE. Let me go and help poor Maggie, mother.
ROBIN. [To JOAN.] Do you know what Maggie's crying for, Aunt Clara?
JOAN. I'm sure I don't, little boy.
ROBIN. 'Tis because she's got to go. Mother's sent her off. 'Twas what she said of mother's tongue.
EMILY. [Roughly taking hold of ROBIN and JESSIE.] Come you along with me, you ill-behaved little varmints. 'Tis the back kitchen and the serving maid as is the properest place for such as you. I'll not have you bide 'mongst the company no longer. [She goes out with the children and followed by MAGGIE.]
[Directly they have left the room JOAN, whose manner has been nervously shrinking, seems to recover herself and she assumes a languid, artificial air, badly imitating the ways of a lady of fashion.
JOAN. [Fanning herself with her handkerchief and her fan.] Well, I never did meet with such goings on before.
MILES. You and I know how people conduct themselves in London, Miss Clara. We must not expect to find the same polite ways down here.
LUKE. Come now, 'tisn't so bad as all that with we. There baint many what has the tongue of mistress yonder.
JOAN. I'm quite unused to such people.
LUKE. And yet, Miss Clara, 'tisn't as though they were exactly strangers to you like.
JOAN. They feel as good as strangers to me, any way.
MILES. Ah, how well I understand that, Miss. 'Tisn't very often as we lay a length of fine silken by the side of unbleached woollen at my counters.
JOAN. I could go through with it better perhaps, if I didn't feel so terrible faint and sinking.
LUKE. [Going to the back kitchen door.] Here, Maggie, stir yourself up a bit. The lady is near fainting, I do count.
JESSIE. [Runs in with a tray on which is a jug of water and a glass.] I'm bringing the drink for Aunt, Mr. Jenner. Maggie's crying ever so badly, and Mother's sent her upstairs to wash her face and put her hair tidy.
[JESSIE puts the tray on the table near to where JOAN is sitting. MILES HOOFER busies himself in pouring out a glass of water and in handing it with a great deal of exaggerated deference to JOAN.
JOAN. [Drinking.] Such a coarse glass!
MILES. Ah, you must let me send you up one from my place during your stay here. Who could expect a lady to drink from such a thing as that?
JOAN. [Laying aside the glass.] There's a taste of mould in the water too.
JESSIE. It's fresh. Mother drawed it up from the well, she did.
JOAN. [Looking disdainfully round on the room.] Such a strange room. So very common.
LUKE. Nay, you mustn't judge of the house by this. Don't you recollect the parlour yonder, with the stuffed birds and the chiney cupboard?
JOAN. [Looking round again.] Such an old-fashioned place as this I never did see. 'Tis a low sort of room too, no carpet on the boards nor cloth to the table, nor nothing elegant.
MILES. Ah, we find the mansions in town very different to a country farm house, don't we Miss?
JOAN. I should think we did, Mister Hooper. Why, look at that great old wooden chair by the hearth? Don't it look un-stylish, upon my word, with no cushions to it nor nothing.
JESSIE. [Coming quite close to JOAN and looking straight into her face.] That's great gran'ma's chair, what Dad said you'd be best pleased for to see.
[JOAN looks very confused and begins to fan herself hastily.
JESSIE. And th' old clock's another thing what Dad did say as you'd look upon.
JOAN. O the old clock's well enough, to be sure.
JESSIE. I did want to gather a nosegay of flowers to set in your bedroom, Aunt, but Mother, she said, no.
JOAN. [Languidly.] I must say I don't see any flowers blooming here that I should particular care about having in my apartment.
JESSIE. And Father said as how you'd like to smell the blossoms in the garden. And Georgie told as how you did use to gather the clover blooms when you was a little girl and set them by you where you did sleep.
JOAN. [Crossly.] O run away, child, I'm tired to death with all this chatter. How would you like to be so pestered after such a travel over the rough country roads as I have had?
LUKE. Now, my little maid, off you go. Take back the tray to Mother, and be careful as you don't break the glasses on it.
JESSIE. [Taking up the tray.] I'm off to play in the hayfield along of Robin, then.
[LUKE opens the back kitchen door for her and she goes out. Meanwhile MILES has taken up the fan and is fanning JOAN, who leans back in her chair with closed eyes and exhausted look.
LUKE. [Coming to her side and sitting down.] 'Twill seem more homelike when Thomas do come up from the field.
JOAN. [Raising herself and looking at him.] You mustn't trouble about me, Mister Jenner. I shall be quite comfortable presently.
[The back door opens and MAGGIE comes hurriedly in.
MAGGIE. Please, mistress, there be a young person a-coming through the rick yard.
JOAN. [Nervously.] A young person?
MAGGIE. Mistress be at the gooseberries a-gathering of them, and the children be gone off to th' hay field.
MILES. 'Tis very likely your serving maid, dear Miss. Shall I fetch the young woman in to you?
JOAN. My maid, did you say? My maid?
LUKE. Ah, depend on it, 'tis she.
MAGGIE. The young person do have all the looks of a serving wench, mistress. She be tramping over the yard with naught but a white handkerchief over the head of she and a poking into most of the styes and a-calling of the geese and poultry.
LUKE. That's her, right enough. Bring her in, Mag.
JOAN. [Agitatedly.] No, no—I mean—I want to see her particular— and alone. I'll go to meet her. You—gentlemen—[MAGGIE goes slowly into the back kitchen.
MILES. [Placing a chair for JOAN.] Delicate ladies should not venture out into the heat at this time of day.
JOAN. [With sudden resolution ignoring the chair and going to the window.] Then, do you two kind gentlemen take a stroll in the garden. I have need of the services of my—my young woman. But when she has put me in order after the dusty journey, I shall ask you to be good enough to come back and while away an hour for me in this sad place.
MILES. [Fervently.] Anything to oblige a lady, miss.
LUKE. That's right. Us'll wait while you do lay aside your bonnet.
[MILES and LUKE go out through the garden door. MILES, turning to bow low before he disappears. JOAN stands as though distraught in the middle of the room. Through the open door of the back kitchen the voices of CLARA and MAGGIE are distinctly heard.
CLARA. Is no one at home then?
MAGGIE. Ah, go you straight on into the kitchen, you'll find whom you be searching for in there. I'd take and shew you in myself only I'm wanted down to th' hayfield now.
CLARA. Don't put yourself to any trouble about me. I know my way.
[CLARA comes into the kitchen. She has tied a white handkerchief over her head, and carries a bunch of wildflowers in her hands.
CLARA. Still in your cloak and bonnet! Why, I thought by now you would have unpacked our things and made yourself at home.
JOAN. [Joining her hands supplicatingly and coming towards CLARA, speaking almost in a whisper.] O mistress, you'll never guess what I've been and done. But 'twasn't all my fault at the commencement.
CLARA. [Looking her over searchingly.] You do look very disturbed, Joan, what has happened?
JOAN. 'Twas the fine bonnet and cloak, mam. 'Twas they as did it.
CLARA. Did what?
JOAN. Put the thought into my head, like.
CLARA. What thought?
JOAN. As how 'twould feel to be a real grand lady, like you, mistress.
CLARA. What then, Joan?
JOAN. So I began to pretend all to myself as how that I was one, mistress.
CLARA. Come, tell me all.
JOAN. And whilst I was sat down upon that fallen tree, and sort of pretending to myself, the two gentlemen came along.
CLARA. What gentlemen?
JOAN. Gentlemen as was after courting you, mistress.
CLARA. Courting me?
JOAN. Yes, and they commenced speaking so nice and respectful like.
CLARA. Go on, Joan, don't be afraid.
JOAN. It did seem to fall in with the game I was a-playing with myself. And then, before I did know how, 'twas they was both of them a-taking me for you, mam.
CLARA. And did you not un-deceive them, Joan?
JOAN. [Very ashamedly.] No, mam.
CLARA. You should have told them the truth about yourself at once.
JOAN. O I know I should have, mistress. But there was something as held me back when I would have spoke the words.
CLARA. I wonder what that could have been?
JOAN. 'Twas them being such very nice and kind gentlemen. And, O mistress, you'll not understand it, because you've told me many times as the heart within you have never been touched by love.
CLARA. [Suddenly sitting down.] And has yours been touched to-day, Joan, by love?
JOAN. That it have, mistress. Love have struck at it heavily.
CLARA. Through which of the gentlemen did it strike, Joan?
JOAN. Through both. Leastways, 'tis Mister Jenner that my feelings do go out most quickly to, mistress. But 'tis Mister Hooper who do court the hardest and who has the greatest riches like.
CLARA. Well, and what do you want me to do or to say now, Joan?
JOAN. See here, mistress, I want you to give me a chance. They'll never stoop to wed me if they knows as I'm but a poor serving maid.
CLARA. Your dressing up as a fine lady won't make you other than what you are, Joan.
JOAN. Once let me get the fish in my net, mistress.
CLARA. Are you proposing to catch the two, Joan?
JOAN. I shall take the one as do offer first, mistress.
CLARA. That'll be Mister Hooper, I should think.
JOAN. I should go riding in my own chaise, mistress, if 'twas him.
CLARA. But, Joan, either of these men would have to know the truth before there could be any marriage.
JOAN. I knows that full well, mistress. But let one of them just offer hisself. By that time my heart and his would be so closely twined together like, 'twould take more nor such a little thing as my station being low to part us.
[CLARA sits very still for a few moments, looking straight before her, lost in thought. JOAN sinks on to a chair by the table as though suddenly tired out, and she begins to cry gently.
CLARA. Listen, Joan. I'm one for the straight paths. I like to walk in open fields and over the bare heath. Only times come when one is driven to take to the ways which are set with bushes and with briars.
JOAN. [Lifting her head and drying her eyes.] O mistress, I feel to be asking summat as is too heavy for you to give.
CLARA. But for a certain thing, I could never have lent myself to this acting game of yours, Joan.
JOAN. No, mistress?
CLARA. Only that, to-day, my heart too has gone from my own keeping.
JOAN. O mistress, you don't mean to say as his lordship have followed us down already.
CLARA. [Scornfully.] His lordship! As if I should be stirred by him!
JOAN. [Humbly.] Who might it be, mistress, if I may ask?
CLARA. 'Tis one who would never look upon me with thoughts of love if I went to him as I am now, Joan.
JOAN. I can't rightly understand you, mam.
CLARA. My case is just the same as yours, Joan. You say that your fine gentlemen would not look upon a serving maid.
JOAN. I'm certain of it, mistress.
CLARA. And the man I—I love will never let his heart go out to mine with the heaviness of all these riches lying between us.
JOAN. I count that gold do pave the way for most of us, mistress.
CLARA. So for this once, I will leave the clear high road, Joan. And you and I will take a path that is set with thorns. Pray God they do not wound us past healing at the end of our travel.
JOAN. O mistress, 'twill be a lightsome journey for me.
CLARA. But the moment that you reach happiness, Joan, remember to confess.
JOAN. There won't be nothing to fear then, mistress.
CLARA. Make him love you for yourself, Joan. O we must each tie the heart of our true love so tightly to our own that naught shall ever be able to cut the bonds.
JOAN. Yes, mistress, and I'm sure I'm very much obliged to you.
CLARA. Ah, I am lending myself to all this, because I, too, have something to win or lose.
JOAN. Where did you meet him, mistress?
CLARA. I did not meet him. I stood on the high ground, and he passed below. His face was raised to the light, and I saw its look. I think my love for him has always lain asleep in my heart, Joan. But when he passed beneath me in the meadow, it awoke.
JOAN. O mistress, what sort of an appearance has the gentleman?
CLARA. I don't know how to answer you, Joan.
JOAN. I count as it would take a rare, grand looking man for to put his lordship into the shadow, like.
CLARA. You are right there, Joan. But now we must talk of your affairs. Your fine courtiers will be coming in presently and you must know how to receive them in a good way.
JOAN. That's what do hamper me dreadful, my speech and other things. How would it be if you was to help me a little bit, like?
CLARA. With all my heart.
JOAN. How should I act so not to be found out, mistress?
CLARA. You must speak little, and low. Do not show haste in your goings and comings. Put great care into your way of eating and drinking.
JOAN. O that will be a fearsome hard task. What else?
CLARA. You must be sisterly with Thomas.
JOAN. I'd clean forgot him. I don't doubt but what he'll ferret out the truth in no time.
CLARA. I don't think so. I was but a little child when I left him. He will not remember how I looked. And our colouring is alike, Joan.
JOAN. 'Tis the eating and drinking as do play most heavily upon my mind, mistress.
CLARA. Then think of these words as you sit at table. Eat as though you were not hungry and drink as though there were no such thing as thirst. Let your hands move about your plate as if they were too tired to lift the knife and fork.
[JOAN, darts to the dresser—seizes up a plate with a knife and fork, places them on the table and sits down before them, pretending to cut up meat. CLARA watches her smilingly.
JOAN. [Absently, raising the knife to her mouth.] How's that, mistress?
CLARA. Not so, not so, Joan. That might betray you.
JOAN. What, mistress?
CLARA. 'Tis the fork which journeys to the mouth, and the knife stops at home on the plate.
JOAN. [Dispiritedly.] 'Tis almost more than I did reckon for when I started.
CLARA. Well, we mustn't think of that now. We must hold up our spirits, you and I.
JOAN. [Getting up and putting away the crockery.] I'd best take off the bonnet and the cloak, mistress, hadn't I?
CLARA. Yes, that you had. We will go upstairs together and I will help you change into another gown. Come quickly so that we may have plenty of time.
[They go towards the staircase door, CLARA leading the way. With her hand on the latch of the door she gives one look round the kitchen. Then with a sudden movement she goes up to the wooden armchair at the hearth and bends her head till her lips touch it, she then runs upstairs, followed by JOAN.
ACT II.—Scene 2.
After a few moments MILES HOOPER and LUKE JENNER come into the kitchen. They both look round the room enquiringly.
LUKE. Ah, she be still up above with that there serving wench what's come.
MILES. My good man, you didn't expect our fair miss to have finished her toilet under an hour, did you?
LUKE. I don't see what there was to begin on myself, let alone finish.
MILES. 'Tis clear you know little of the ways of our town beauties, Luke.
LUKE. Still, I mean to have my try with her, Miles Hooper.
MILES. [Sarcastically.] I'm quite agreeable, Mister Jenner.
[THOMAS and GEORGE come in. GEORGE carries a bucket of water.
THOMAS. Where's the little maid got to? George and me be come up from the field on purpose for to bid her welcome home.
MILES. Miss is still at her toilet, farmer.
[JOAN, in a flowered silk gown, comes slowly and carefully into the room, followed by CLARA, who carries a lace shawl over one arm. She has put on a large white apron, but wears nothing on her head but the narrow blue ribbon. During the following scene she stands quietly, half hidden by the door.
[JOAN looks nervously round the room, then she draws herself up very haughtily. MILES comes forward and bows low.
THOMAS. [Looking JOAN up and down.] Well, bless my soul, who'd have guessed at the change it do make in a wench?
JOAN. [Holding out her hand, very coldly.] A good afternoon to you, sir.
THOMAS. [Taking her hand slowly.] Upon my word, but you might knock me over.
MILES. Miss has grown into a very superb young lady, Thomas.
THOMAS. [Still looking at her.] That may be so, yet 'twasn't as such I had figured she in the eye of my mind, like. [There is a moment's silence.
THOMAS. George, my boy, you and sister Clara used to be up to rare games one with t'other once on a time. [Turning to JOAN.] There, my wench, I count you've not forgotten Georgie?
JOAN. I'm afeared I've not much of a memory.
THOMAS. Shake hands, my maid, and very like as the memory will come back to roost same as the fowls do.
JOAN. [Bowing coldly.] Good afternoon, George.
MILES. [Aside to Luke.] Now that's what I call a bit of stylish breeding.
[GEORGE has made no answer to JOAN's bow. He quietly ignores it, and takes up his pail of water. As he does so he catches sight of CLARA, who has been watching the whole scene from the corner where she is partly concealed. He looks at her for one moment, and then sets the bucket down again.
THOMAS. Why, George—I guess as it's took you as it took me, us didn't think how 'twould appear when Miss Clara was growed up.
GEORGE. [Quietly.] No, us did not, master.
[He carries his pail into the back kitchen as EMILY and the children come in.
EMILY. What's all this to-do in my kitchen, I should like to know?
THOMAS. Us did but come up for to—to give a handshake to sister Clara, like.
EMILY. Well, now you can go off back to work again. And you— [turning to JOAN]—now that you've finished curling of your hair and dressing of yourself up, you can go and sit down in the best parlour along with your fancy gentlemen.
MILES. [Offering his arm to JOAN.] It will be my sweet pleasure to conduct Missy to the parlour.
[LUKE offers his arm on the other side, and JOAN moves off with both the young men.
JOAN. [As she goes.] Indeed, I shall be glad to rest on a comfortable couch. I'm dead tired of the country air already.
ROBIN. [Calling after her.] You'll not go off to sleep afore the chicken and sparrow grass is ate, will you, Aunt?
[MILES, LUKE and JOAN having gone out, EMILY begins to bang the chairs back in their places and to arrange the room, watched by the two children. CLARA, who has remained half hidden by the door, now goes quietly upstairs.
EMILY. [Calling.] Here, George, Mag.
[GEORGE comes in.
EMILY. Well, George, 'tisn't much worse nor I expected.
JESSIE. I don't like Aunt Clara.
ROBIN. I hates her very much.
GEORGE. [Slowly.] And I don't seem to fancy her neither.
ACT III.—Scene 1.
Two days have passed by.
It is morning. CLARA, wearing an apron and a muslin cap on her head, sits by the kitchen table mending a lace handkerchief. MAGGIE, who is dusting the plates on the dressers, pauses to watch her.
MAGGIE. I'd sooner sweep the cow sheds out and that I would, nor have to set at such a niggly piece of sewing work as you.
CLARA. I cannot do it quickly, it is so fine.
MAGGIE. I count 'tis very nigh as bad as the treadmills, serving a young miss such as yourn be.
CLARA. What makes you say that, Maggie?
MAGGIE. Missis be very high in her ways and powerful sharp in the tongue, but I declare as your young lady will be worser nor missis when she do come to that age.
CLARA. Why do you think this, Mag?
MAGGIE. O she do look at any one as though they was lower nor the very worms in the ground. And her speaks as though each word did cost she more nor a shilling to bring it out. And see how destructive she be with her fine clothing. A laced petticoat tore to ribbons last night, and to-day yon handkerchief.
CLARA. These things are soon mended.
[MAGGIE continues to dust for a few moments.
MAGGIE. The day you comed here, 'twas a bit of ribbon as you did have around of your hair.
CLARA. [After a moment's hesitation.] I put it on to keep my hair neat on the journeying.
MAGGIE. [Coming nearer.] I count as you've not missed it, have you?
CLARA. Indeed I have, and I think I must have lost it in the hayfield.
MAGGIE. 'Tain't lost.
CLARA. Where is it then?
MAGGIE. Look here, I could tell you, but I shan't.
CLARA. If you have found it, Maggie, you may keep it.
MAGGIE. 'Twould be a fine thing to be a grand serving maid as you be, and to give away ribbons, so 'twould.
[CLARA takes no notice of her and goes on sewing.
MAGGIE. [More insistently.] 'Twasn't me as found the ribbon.
CLARA. Who was it then?
MAGGIE. I daresay you'd like for to know, but I'm not going to say nothing more about it.
[MAGGIE leans against the table watching CLARA as she sews.
[EMILY with both the children now come in. EMILY carries a basket of potatoes, and JESSIE a large bowl.
EMILY. [Setting down the basket.] Maggie, you idle, bad girl, whatever are you doing here when master expects you down in the meadow to help with the raking?
MAGGIE. I be just a-going off yonder, mistress.
EMILY. I'd thank other folk not to bring dressed up fine young serving minxes down here—you was bad enough afore, Maggie, but you'll be a hundred times worser now.
MAGGIE. I'll be off and help master. I've been and put the meat on to boil as you said, missis.
[MAGGIE goes off.
[CLARA continues to sew, quietly. JESSIE has put her bowl down on the table, and now comes to her side. ROBIN also comes close to her. EMILY flings herself into a chair for a moment and contemptuously watches them.
JESSIE. We don't care much about our new aunt, Joan.
ROBIN. Dad said as how Aunt would be sure to bring us sommat good from London town in them great boxes.
JESSIE. And Aunt has been here two days and more, and she hasn't brought us nothing.
EMILY. Your fine aunt have been too much took up with her fancy gentlemen to think of what would be suitable behaviour towards you children.
JESSIE. Will Aunt Clara get married soon?
EMILY. 'Tis to be hoped as she will be. Such a set out in the house I have never seen afore in all my days. Young women as is hale and hearty having their victuals took up to their rooms and a-lying in bed till 'tis noon or later.
JESSIE. 'Tis only one of them as lies in bed.
ROBIN. [To CLARA.] Do you think Aunt has got sommat for us upstairs, Joan?
CLARA. [Rising and putting down her work.] I know she has, Robin.
EMILY. Don't let me catch you speaking to Master Spring as though you and he was of the same station, young person.
CLARA. Master Robin, and Miss Jessie, I will go upstairs and fetch the gifts that your aunt has brought for you.
[She goes leisurely towards the staircase door, smiling at the children.
EMILY. Ah, and you may tell your young madam that 'tis high time as she was out of bed and abroad. Hear that? [CLARA goes out.
JESSIE. I like her. She speaks so gentle. Not like Aunt.
EMILY. She's a stuck up sort of fine lady herself like. Look at the hands of her, 'tis not a day's hard work as they have done in her life, I'll warrant.
ROBIN. What will she bring us from out of the great boxes, do you think?
EMILY. Sommat what you don't need, I warrant. 'Tis always so. When folks take it into their heads to give you aught, 'tis very nigh always sommat which you could do better without.
[EMILY gets up and begins settling the pots on the fire, and fetching a jug of cold water from the back kitchen and a knife which she lays on the table.
[CLARA enters carrying some parcels. She brings them to the table. Both the children run to her.
CLARA. [Holding out a long parcel to EMILY and speaking to the children.] The first is for your mother, children.
EMILY. [With an angry exclamation.] Now, you mark my words, 'twill be sommat as I shall want to fling over the hedge for all the use 'twill be.
[She comes near, opens the parcel and perceives it to be a length of rich black silk.
CLARA. My mistress thought it might be suitable.
EMILY. Suitable? I'll suitable her. When shall my two hands find time to sew me a gown out of it, I'd like to know? And if 'twas sewn, when would my limbs find time to sit down within of it? [Flinging it down on the table.] Suitable? You can tell your mistress from me as she can keep her gifts to herself if she can't do better nor this.
JESSIE. [Stroking the silk.] O Mother, the feel of it be softer nor a dove's feather.
ROBIN. [Feeling it too.] 'Tis better nor the new kittens' fur.
EMILY. Let us see if your aunt have done more handsomely towards you children.
CLARA. I am afraid not. These coral beads are for Miss Jessie, with her aunt's dear love. And this book of pictures is for Master Robin.
JESSIE. [Seizing the beads with delight.] I love a string of beads. [Putting them on.] How do they look on me?
EMILY. Off with them this moment. I'll learn her to give strings of rubbish to my child.
JESSIE. [Beginning to cry.] O do let me wear it just a little while, just till dinner, Mother.
EMILY. Have done with that noise. Off with it at once, do you hear.
JESSIE. [Taking the necklace off.] I love the feel of it—might I keep it in my hand then?
EMILY. [Seizing it.] 'Twill be put by with the silk dress. So there. 'Tis not a suitable thing for a little girl like you.
ROBIN. [Looking up from the pages of his book.] No one shan't take my book from me. There be pictures of great horses and sheep and cows in it—and no one shan't hide it from me.
EMILY. [Putting the silk dress and necklace on another table.] Next time your aunt wants to throw her money into the gutter I hope as she'll ask me to come and see her a-doing of it.
JESSIE. [Coming up to CLARA very tearfully.] And was there naught for Dad in the great box?
CLARA. Perhaps there may be.
ROBIN. And did Aunt Clara bring naught for Georgie?
CLARA. I don't know.
JESSIE. Poor Georgie. He never has nothing gived him.
ROBIN. And Mother puts the worst of the bits on his plate at dinner.
EMILY. [Sharply.] Look you here, young woman. Suppose you was to take and do something useful with that idle pair of hands as you've got.
CLARA. Yes, mistress, I should like to help you in something.
EMILY. Us knows what fine promises lead to.
CLARA. But I mean it. Do let me help a little.
EMILY. See them taters?
EMILY. Take and peel and wash them and get them ready against when I wants to cook them.
CLARA. [A little doubtfully.] Yes—I'll—I'll try -
EMILY. Ah, 'tis just as I thought. You're one of them who would stir the fire with a silver spoon rather nor black their hands with the poker.
CLARA. [Eagerly.] No, no—it isn't that. I'll gladly do them. Come, Miss Jessie, you will shew me if I do them wrongly, won't you?
JESSIE. O yes, I'll help you because I like you, Joan.
ROBIN. I'll help too, when I have finished looking at my book.
[EMILY goes out. CLARA sits down by the table and takes up a potato and the knife and slowly and awkwardly sets to work. JESSIE stands by her watching.
JESSIE. You mustn't take no account of Mother when she speaks so sharp. 'Tis only her way.
ROBIN. Could you come and be our serving maid when Maggie's sent off?
CLARA. O I should be too slow and awkward at the work, I think.
JESSIE. Yes, you don't do them taters very nice.
ROBIN. That don't matter, I like you, and you can tell me fine things about other parts.
JESSIE. Georgie can tell of fine things too. See, there he comes with the vegetables from the garden.
[GEORGE comes in with a large basket of vegetables, which he sets down in the back kitchen. Then he stands at the door, silently watching the group near the table.
JESSIE. Come here, Georgie, and let Joan hear some of the tales out of what you do sing.
GEORGE. What would mistress say if she was to catch me at my songs this time of day?
JESSIE. Mother's gone upstairs, she won't know nothing.
ROBIN. Come you here, George, and look at my fine book what Aunt have brought me.
GEORGE. [Slowly approaching the table.] That be a brave, fine book of pictures, Master Robin.
ROBIN. [Holding up the open book.] I don't fancy Aunt Clara much, but I likes her better nor I did because of this book.
[GEORGE'S eyes wander from the book to CLARA as she bends over her work.
JESSIE. Joan doesn't know how to do them very nicely, does she George!
GEORGE. 'Tis the first time you've been set down to such work, may be, mistress.
JESSIE. You mustn't say "mistress" to Joan, you know. Why, Mother would be ever so angry if she was to hear you. Joan's only a servant.
CLARA. [Looking up.] Like you, George.
GEORGE. [Steadily.] What I was saying is—'Tis the first time as you have been set afore a bowl of taters like this.
CLARA. You are right, George. It is the first time since—since I was quite a little child. And I think I'm very clumsy at my work.
GEORGE. No one could work with them laces a-falling down all over their fingers.
JESSIE. You should turn back your sleeves for kitchen work, Joan, same as Maggie does.
GEORGE. Yes, you should turn back your sleeves, Miss Joan.
[JOAN puts aside the knife and basket, turns back her sleeves, and then resumes her work. GEORGE'S eyes are rivetted on her hands and arms for a moment. Then he turns as though to go away.
JESSIE. Don't go away, Georgie. Come and tell us how you like Aunt Clara now that she's growed into such a grand lady.
GEORGE. [Coming back to the table.] I don't like nothing about her, Miss Jessie.
JESSIE. Is Aunt very much changed from when she did use to ride the big horses to the trough, Georgie?
ROBIN. And from the time when th' old gander did take a big piece right out of her arm, Georgie?
GEORGE. [His eyes on CLARA'S bent head.] I count her be wonderful changed, like.
JESSIE. So that you would scarce know her?
GEORGE. So that I should scarce know she.
JESSIE. She have brought Mother a silken gown and me a string of coral beads. But naught for you, Georgie.
GEORGE. I reckon as Miss Clara have not kept me in her remembrance like.
CLARA. [With sudden earnestness.] O that she has, George.
JESSIE. She didn't seem to know him by her looks.
CLARA. Looks often speak but poorly for the heart.
ROBIN. [Who has been watching CLARA.] See there, Joan. You've been and cut that big tater right in half. Mother will be cross.
CLARA. O dear, I am thoughtless. One cannot work and talk at the same time.
GEORGE. [Taking basket and knife from her and seating himself on the edge of the table.] Here,—give them all to me. I understand such work, and 'tis clear that you do not. I'll finish them off in a few minutes, and mistress will never be the wiser.
CLARA. O thank you, George, but am I to go idle?
GEORGE. You can take up with that there white sewing if you have a mind. 'Tis more suited to your hands nor this rough job.
[CLARA puts down her sleeves and takes up her needlework.
JESSIE. Sing us a song, George, whilst you do the taters.
GEORGE. No, Miss Jessie. My mood is not a singing mood this day.
JESSIE. You ask him, Joan.
CLARA. Will not you sing one little verse, George?
GEORGE. Nay—strangers from London town would have no liking for the songs we sing down here among the fields.
CLARA. There was a song I once heard in the country that pleased me very well.
JESSIE. What was it called?
CLARA. I cannot remember the name—but there was something of bushes and of briars in it.
JESSIE. I know which that is. 'Tis a pretty song. Sing it, Georgie.
GEORGE. Nay—sing it yourself, Miss Jessie.
JESSIE. 'Tis like this at the beginning.—[she sings or repeats] -
"Through bushes and through briars I lately took my way, All for to hear the small birds sing And the lambs to skip and play."
CLARA. That is the song I was thinking of, Jessie.
GEORGE. Can you go on with it, Miss Jessie.
JESSIE. I can't say any more.
CLARA. [Gently singing or speaking.]
I overheard my own true love, Her voice it was so clear. "Long time I have been waiting for The coming of my dear."
GEORGE. [Heaving a sigh.] That's it.
JESSIE. Go on, Joan, I do like the sound of it.
CLARA. Shall I go on with the song, George?
GEORGE. As you please.
"Sometimes I am uneasy And troubled in my mind, Sometimes I think I'll go to my love And tell to him my mind."
"And if I would go to my love My love he will say nay If I show to him my boldness He'll ne'er love me again."
JESSIE. When her love was hid a-hind of the bushes and did hear her a-singing so pitiful, what did he do then?
CLARA. I don't know, Jessie.
JESSIE. I reckon as he did come out to show her as he knowed all what she did keep in her mind.
CLARA. Very likely the briars were so thick between them, Jess, that he never got to the other side for her to tell him.
GEORGE. Yes, that's how 'twas, I count.
JESSIE. [Running up to ROBIN.] I'm going to look at your book along of you, Robin.
ROBIN. But I'm the one to turn the leaves, remember. [The children sit side by side looking at the picture book. CLARA sews. GEORGE goes on with the potatoes. As the last one is finished and tossed into the water, he looks at CLARA for the first time. A long silence.
GEORGE. Miss Clara and me was good friends once on a time.
CLARA. Tell me how it was then, George.
GEORGE. I did used to put her on the horse's back, and we would go down to the water trough in the evening time and -
CLARA. What else did you and Miss Clara do together, George?
GEORGE. Us would walk in the woods aside of one another—And I would lift she to a high branch in a tree—and pretend for to leave her there.
CLARA. And then?
GEORGE. Her would call upon me pitiful—and I would come back from where I was hid.
CLARA. And did her crying cease?
GEORGE. She would take and spring as though her was one of they little wild squirrels as do dance about in the trees.
CLARA. Where would she spring to, George?
GEORGE. I would hold out my two arms wide to her, and catch she.
CLARA. And did she never fall, whilst springing from the tree, George?
GEORGE. I never let she fall, nor get hurted by naught so long as her was in the care of me.
CLARA. [Slowly, after a short pause.] I do not think she can have forgotten those days, George.
GEORGE. [Getting up and speaking harshly.] They're best forgot. Put them away. There be briars and brambles and thorns and sommat of all which do hurt the flesh of man atween that time and this'n.
[CLARA turns her head away and furtively presses her handkerchief to her eyes. GEORGE looks gloomily on the floor. EMILY enters.
EMILY. George, what are you at sitting at the kitchen table I'd like to know?
[GEORGE gets hastily off. Both children look up from their book.
EMILY. [Looking freezingly at CLARA.] 'Tis plain as a turnpike what you've been after, young person. If you was my serving wench, 'tis neck and crop as you should be thrown from the door.
CLARA. What for, mistress?
EMILY. What for? You have the impudence to ask what for? I'll soon tell you. For making a fool of George and setting your cap at him and scandalising of my innocent children in their own kitchen.
GEORGE. This be going a bit too far, missis. I'll not have things said like that.
EMILY. Then you may turn out on to the roads where you were took from—a grizzling little roadsters varmint. You do cost more'n what you eats nor what we get of work from out of your body, you great hulk.
CLARA. [Springing up angrily.] O I'll not hear such things said. I'll not.
EMILY. Who asked you to speak? Get you upstairs and pull your mistress out of bed—and curl the ringlets of her hair and dust the flour on to her face. 'Tis about all you be fit for.
CLARA. [Angrily going to the stair door.] Very well. 'Tis best that I should go. I might say something you would not like.
GEORGE. [Advancing towards EMILY.] Look you here, mistress. I've put up with it going on for fifteen years. But sometimes 'tis almost more nor I can bear. If 'twasn't for Master Thomas I'd have cleared out this long time ago.
EMILY. Don't flatter yourself as Thomas needs you, my man.
GEORGE. We has always been good friends, farmer and me. 'Tis not for what I gets from he nor for what he do get out of I as we do hold together. But 'tis this—as he and I do understand one another.
EMILY. We'll see what master has to say when I tell him how you was found sitting on the kitchen table and love-making with that saucy piece of London trash.
GEORGE. I'm off. I've no patience to listen any longer. You called me roadster varmint. Well, let it be so. On the road I was born and on the road I was picked from my dead mother's side, and I count as 'tis on the road as I shall breathe my last. But for all that, I'll not have road dirt flung on me by no one. For, roadsters varmint though I be, there be things which I do hold brighter nor silver and cleaner nor new opened leaves, and I'll not have defilement throwed upon them.
EMILY. [Seizing the arms of JESSIE and ROBIN.] The lad's raving. 'Tis plain as he's been getting at the cider. Come you off with me to the haymaking, Robin and Jess.
ROBIN. May I take my book along of me?
EMILY. [Flinging the book down violently.] I'll book you! What next?
JESSIE. Poor Georgie. He was not courting Joan, mother. He was only doing the taters for her.
EMILY. [As they go out.] The lazy good-for-nothing cat. I'll get her packed off from here afore another sun has set, see if I don't.
[GEORGE is left alone in the kitchen. When all sounds of EMILY and the children have died away, he sighs. Then, looking furtively round the room, he draws a blue ribbon slowly from his pocket. He spreads it out on one hand and stands looking down on it, sadly and longingly. Then he slowly raises it to his lips and kisses it. Just as he is doing this THOMAS comes into the room.
THOMAS. Why, George, my lad.
GEORGE. [Confusedly putting the ribbon back into his pocket.] Yes, Master Thomas.
THOMAS. [Looking meaningly at GEORGE.] 'Tis a pretty enough young maid, George.
GEORGE. What did you say, Master?
THOMAS. That one with the bit of blue round the head of her.
THOMAS. Ah, George. I was a young man myself once on a time.
GEORGE. Yes, master.
THOMAS. 'Twasn't a piece of blue ribbon as I did find one day, but 'twas a blossom dropped from her gown.
GEORGE. Whose gown, master? I'll warrant 'twasn't missus's.
THOMAS. Bless my soul, no. No, no, George. 'Twasn't the mistress then.
GEORGE. Ah, I count as it could not have been she.
THOMAS. First love, 'tis best, George.
GEORGE. Ah, upon my word, that 'tis.
THOMAS. But my maid went and got her married to another.
GEORGE. More's the pity, Master Thomas.
THOMAS. [Sighing.] Ah, I often thinks of how it might have been— with her and me, like.
GEORGE. Had that one a soft tongue to her mouth, master?
THOMAS. Soft and sweet as the field lark, George.
GEORGE. Then that had been the one for you to have wed, Master Thomas.
THOMAS. Ah, George, don't you never run into the trap, no matter whether 'tis baited with the choicest thing you ever did dream on. Once in, never out. There 'tis.
GEORGE. No one would trouble to set a snare for me, master. I baint worth trapping.
THOMAS. You be a brave, fine country lad, George, what a pretty baggage from London town might give a year of her life to catch, so be it her had the fortune.
GEORGE. No, no, Master Thomas. Nothing of that. There baint nothing.
THOMAS. There be a piece of blue ribbon, George.
GEORGE. They be coming down and into the room now, master. [Steps are heard in the staircase.
THOMAS. We'll off to the meadow then, George.
[GEORGE and THOMAS go out.
[JOAN, dressed as a lady of fashion, and followed by CLARA, comes into the kitchen.
CLARA. Now, Joan, if I were you, I should go out into the garden, and let the gentlemen find you in the arbour. Your ways are more easy and natural when you are in the air.
JOAN. O I'm very nigh dead with fright when I'm within doors. 'Tis so hard to move about without knocking myself against sommat. But at table 'tis worst of all.
CLARA. You've stopped up in your room two breakfasts with the headache, and yesterday we took our dinner to the wood.
JOAN. But to-night 'twill be something cruel, for Farmer Thomas have asked them both to supper again.
CLARA. Luke Jenner and the other man?
JOAN. I beg you to practise me in my ways, a little, afore the time, mistress.
CLARA. That I will. We will find out what is to be upon the table, and then I will shew you how it is to be eaten.
JOAN. And other things as well as eating. When I be sitting in the parlour, Miss Clara, and Hooper, he comes up and asks my pleasure, what have I got to say to him?
CLARA. O, I shouldn't trouble about that. I'd open my fan and take no notice if I were you.
JOAN. I do feel so awkward like in speech with Farmer Thomas, mistress. And with the children, too.
CLARA. Come, you must take heart and throw yourself into the acting. Try to be as a sister would with Thomas. Be lively, and kind in your way with the children.
JOAN. I tries to be like old Madam Lovel was, when I talks with them.
CLARA. That cross, rough mode of hers sits badly on any one young, Joan. Be more of yourself, but make little changes in your manner here and there.
JOAN. [With a heavy sigh.] 'Tis the here and the there as I finds it so hard to manage.
JESSIE. [Running in breathlessly.] A letter, a letter for Aunt Clara. [CLARA involuntarily puts out her hand.] No, Joan. I was to give it to Aunt Clara herself. I've run all the way.
[JOAN slowly takes the letter, looking confused.
JESSIE. Will you read it now, Aunt?
JOAN. Run away, little girl, I don't want no children worriting round me now. [Suddenly recollecting herself and forcing herself to speak brightly.] I mean—no, my dear little girl, I'd rather wait to read it till I'm by myself; but thank you very kindly all the same, my pet.
JESSIE. O, but I should like to hear the letter read, so much.
JOAN. Never mind. Run along back to mother, there's a sweet little maid.
JESSIE. I'd sooner stop with you now, you look so much kinder, like.
CLARA. [Taking JESSIE'S hand and leading her to the door.] Now, Miss Jessie, your aunt must read her letter in quiet, but if you will come back presently I will have a game with you outside.
JESSIE. [As she runs off.] Mother won't let me talk with you any more, alone. She says as you've made a fool of Georgie and you'll do the same by us all.
JOAN. [When JESSIE has run off.] There now, how did I do that, mistress?
CLARA. Better, much better.
JOAN. 'Tis the feeling of one thing and the speaking of another, with you ladies and gentlemen. So it appears to me.
CLARA. [After a moment's thought.] No. It is not quite like that. But 'tis, perhaps, the dressing up of an ugly feeling in better garments.
JOAN. [Handing the letter to CLARA.] There, mistress, 'tis yours, not mine.
CLARA. [Glancing at it.] Lord Lovel's writing. [CLARA opens the letter and reads it through.] He will not wait longer for my answer. And he is coming here as fast as horses can bring him.
JOAN. O, mistress, whatever shall we do?
CLARA. We had better own to everything at once. It will save trouble in the end.
JOAN. Own to everything now, and lose all just as my hand was closing upon it, like!
CLARA. Poor Joan, it will not make any difference in the end, if the man loves you truly.
JOAN. Be kind and patient just to the evening, mistress. Hooper is coming up to see me now. I'd bring him to offer his self, if I was but left quiet along of him for a ten minutes or so.
CLARA. And then, Joan?
JOAN. And then, when was all fixed up comfortable between us, mistress, maybe as you could break it gently to him so as he wouldn't think no worse of me.
[CLARA gets up and goes to the window, where she looks out for a few minutes in silence. JOAN cries softly meanwhile.
CLARA. [Turning towards JOAN.] As you will, Joan. Very likely 'twill be to-morrow morning before my lord reaches this place.
JOAN. O bless you for your goodness, mistress. And I do pray as all may go as well with you as 'tis with me.
CLARA. [Sadly.] That is not likely, Joan.
JOAN. What is it stands in the way, mistress?
CLARA. Briars, Joan. Thorns of pride, and many another sharp and hurting thing.
JOAN. Then take you my counsel, mistress, and have his lordship when he do offer next.
CLARA. I'll think of what you say, Joan. There comes a moment when the heart is tired of being spurned, and it would fain get into shelter. [A slight pause.
JOAN. [Looking through the window.] Look up quickly, mistress. There's Hooper.
CLARA. [Getting up.] Then I'll run away. May all be well with you, dear Joan. [CLARA goes out.
[JOAN seats herself in a high-backed chair and opens her fan. MILES enters, carrying a small box.
MILES. Already astir, Miss Clara. 'Tis early hours to be sure for one of our London beauties.
[He advances towards her, and she stretches out her hand without rising. He takes it ceremoniously.
JOAN. You may sit down, if you like, Mister Hooper.
[MILES places a chair in front of JOAN, and sits down on it.
MILES. [Untying the parcel.] I've been so bold as to bring you a little keepsake from my place in town, Missy.
JOAN. How kind you are, Mister Miles.
MILES. You'll be able to fancy yourself in Bond Street when you see it, Miss Clara.
JOAN. Now, you do excite me, Mister Hooper.
MILES. [Opening the box and taking out a handsome spray of bright artificial flowers.] There, what do you say to that, Miss? And we can do you the same in all the leading tints.
JOAN. O, 'tis wonderful modish. I declare I never did see anything to beat it up in town.
MILES. Now I thought as much. I flatter myself that we can hold our own with the best of them in Painswick High Street.
JOAN. I seem to smell the very scent of the blossoms, Mister Hooper.
[She puts out her hand shyly and takes the spray from MILES, pretending to smell it.
MILES. Well—and what's the next pleasure, Madam?
[JOAN drops the spray and begins to fan herself violently.
MILES. [Very gently.] What's Missy's next pleasure?
JOAN. I'm sure I don't know, Mr. Miles.
MILES. Miles Hooper would like Missy to ask for all that is his.
JOAN. O, Mister Hooper, how kind you are.
MILES. Ladies never like the sound of business, so we'll set that aside for a moment and discuss the music of the heart in place of it.
JOAN. Ah, that's a thing I do well understand, Mister Hooper.
MILES. I loved you from the first, Miss. There's the true, high born lady for you, says I to myself. There's beauty and style, elegance and refinement.
JOAN. Now, did you really think all that, Mister Hooper?
MILES. Do not keep me in suspense, Miss Clara.
JOAN. What about, sir?
MILES. The answer to my question, Missy.
JOAN. And what was that, I wonder?
MILES. I want my pretty Miss to take the name of Hooper. Will she oblige her Miles?
JOAN. O that I will. With all my heart.
MILES. [Standing up.] I would not spoil this moment, but by and bye my sweet Missy shall tell me all the particulars of her income, and such trifles.
JOAN. [Agitatedly.] O let us not destroy to-day by thoughts of anything but our dear affection one for t'other.
MILES. Why, my pretty town Miss is already becoming countrified in her speech.
JOAN. 'Tis from hearing all the family. But, dear Miles, promise there shan't be nothing but—but love talk between you and me this day. I could not bear it if we was to speak of, of other things, like.
MILES. [Getting up and walking about the room.] As you will—as you will. Anything to oblige a lady.
[He stops before the table, on which is laid EMILY'S silk dress, and begins to finger it.
JOAN. What's that you're looking at?
MILES. Ten or fifteen shillings the yard, and not a penny under, I'll be bound.
JOAN. O do come and talk to me again and leave off messing with the old silk.
MILES. No, no, Missy, I'm a man of business habits, and 'tis my duty to go straight off to the meadow and seek out brother Thomas. He and I have got to talk things over a bit, you know.
JOAN. Off so soon! O you have saddened me.
MILES. Nay, what is it to lose a few minutes of sweet company, when life is in front of us, Miss Clara?
[He raises her hand, kisses it, and leaves her. As he goes out by the door CLARA enters.
JOAN. O, Mistress—stop him going down to Farmer Thomas at the meadow!
CLARA. Why, Joan, what has happened?
JOAN. All has happened. But stop him going to the farmer to talk about the—the wedding and the money.
CLARA. The money?
JOAN. The income which he thinks I have.
CLARA. I'll run, but all this time I've been keeping Master Luke Jenner quiet in the parlour.
JOAN. O what does he want now?
CLARA. Much the same as the other one wanted.
JOAN. Must I see him?
CLARA. Yes, indeed he will wait no longer for his answer. He's at boiling point already.
JOAN. Then send him in. But do you run quickly, Miss Clara, and keep Miles Hooper from the farmer.
CLARA. I'll run my best, never fear. [She goes out.
[LUKE JENNER comes in, a bunch of homely flowers in his hand.
JOAN. [Seating herself.] You are early this morning, Mister Jenner.
LUKE. [Sitting opposite to her.] I have that to say which would not bide till sunset, Miss Clara.
JOAN. Indeed, Mister Jenner. I wonder what that can be.
LUKE. 'Tis just like this, Miss Clara. The day I first heard as you was coming down here—"I could do with a rich wife if so be as I could win her," I did tell myself.
JOAN. O, Mister Jenner, now did you really?
LUKE. But when I met you in the wood—saw you sitting there, so still and yet so bright, so fine and yet so homely. "That's the maid for me," I says to myself.
JOAN. [Tearfully.] O, Mister Jenner!
LUKE. And if it had been beggar's rags upon her in the place of satin, I'd have said the same.
JOAN. [Very much stirred.] O, Mister Jenner, and did you really think like that?
LUKE. If all the gold that do lie atween me and you was sunk in the deep ocean, 'twould be the best as could happen. There!
JOAN. [Faintly.] O, Mister Jenner, why?
LUKE. Because, very like 'twould shew to you as 'tis yourself I'm after and not the fortune what you've got.
JOAN. Mister Jenner, I'm mighty sorry.
LUKE. Don't say I'm come too late, Miss Clara.
JOAN. You are. Mister Hooper was before you. And now, 'tis he and I who are like to be wed.
LUKE. I might have known I had no chance.
JOAN. [Rising and trying to hide her emotion.] I wouldn't have had it happen so for the world, Mr. Jenner.
LUKE. [Laying his bunch of flowers on the table, his head bent, and his eyes on the ground.] 'Twas none of your doing, Miss Clara. You've naught to blame yourself for. 'Tis not your fault as you're made so—so beautiful, and yet so homely.
[JOAN looks at him irresolutely for a moment and then precipitately leaves the room.
[LUKE folds his arms on the table and rests his head on them in an attitude of deepest despondency. After a few moments CLARA enters.
CLARA. O, Mister Jenner, what has happened to you?
LUKE. [Raising his head and pointing to the window.] There she goes, through the garden with her lover.
CLARA. I wish that you were in his place.
LUKE. [Bitterly.] I've no house with golden rails to offer her. Nor any horse and chaise.
CLARA. But you carry a heart within you that is full of true love.
LUKE. What use is the love which be fastened up in a man's heart and can spend itself on naught, I'd like to know. [He rises as though to go and take up the bunch of flowers which has been lying on the table. Brokenly.] I brought them for her. But I count as he'll have given her something better nor these.
[CLARA takes the flowers gently from his hand, and as she does so, EMILY enters.
EMILY. What now if you please! First with George and then with Luke. 'Twould be Thomas next if he wasn't an old sheep of a man as wouldn't know if an eye was cast on him or no. But I'll soon put a stop to all this. Shame on you, Luke Jenner. And you, you fine piece of London vanity, I wants my kitchen to myself, do you hear, so off with you upstairs.
[She begins to move violently about the kitchen as the curtain falls.
ACT IV.—Scene 1.
The kitchen is decorated with bunches of flowers. A long table is spread with silver, china and food. CLARA is setting mugs to each place. MAGGIE comes in from the back kitchen with a large dish of salad.
MAGGIE. When folks do come down to the countryside they likes to enjoy themselves among the vegetables.
CLARA. [Placing the last mug.] There—Now all is ready for them.
MAGGIE. [Bending over a place at the end of the table.] Come you and look at this great old bumble-dore, Joan, what have flyed in through the window.
CLARA. [Goes to MAGGIE'S side and bends down over the table.] O what a beautiful thing. Look at the gold on him, and his legs are like feathers.
MAGGIE. [Taking the bee carefully up in a duster and letting it fly through the window.] The sign of a stranger, so they do say.
CLARA. A stranger, Maggie?
MAGGIE. You mind my words, 'tis a stranger as'll sit where yon was stuck, afore the eating be finished.
CLARA. I don't believe in such signs, myself.
MAGGIE. I never knowed it not come true.
[THOMAS comes in. He is wearing his best clothes and looks pleased, yet nervous.
THOMAS. Well, maids. Upon my word 'tis a spread. Never saw so many different vituals brought together all at a time afore in this house.
MAGGIE. 'Tis in honour of Miss Clara's going to be married like, master.
THOMAS. So 'tis, so 'tis. Well—A single rose upon the bush. Bound to be plucked, you know. Couldn't be left to fade in the sun, eh, girls?
CLARA. Where shall Maggie and me stop whilst the supper is going on, master? Mistress has not told us yet.
THOMAS. [Nervously.] Mistress haven't told you—haven't she? Well- -well—at such a time we must all—all rejoice one with t'other, like. No difference made t'wixt master and man. Nor t'wixt maid and missus. Down at the far end of the table you can sit yourselves, my wenches. Up against George—How's that?
CLARA. That will do very well for us, Master.
MAGGIE. I don't expect as missus will let we bide there long.
THOMAS. Look here, my wench, I be master in my own house, and at the asking in marriage of my only sister like, 'tis me as shall say what shall sit down with who. And there's an end of it. That's all.
MAGGIE. I hear them a coming in, master.
[EMILY, holding the hands of JESSIE and ROBIN, comes into the room. Her eyes fall on THOMAS who is standing between CLARA and MAGGIE, looking suddenly sheepish and nervous.
EMILY. [In a voice of suppressed anger.] Thomas! O, if I catch any more of these goings on in my kitchen.
[JOAN, very elegantly dressed and hanging on the arm of MILES HOOPER, follows EMILY into the room.
EMILY. I'll not have the food kept back any longer for Luke Jenner. If folk can't come to the time when they're asked, they baint worth waiting for, so sit you down, all of you.
[She sits down at the head of the table, a child on either side of her. JOAN languidly sinks into a chair and MILES puts himself at her right. A place at her left remains empty. THOMAS sits opposite. Three places at the end of the table are left vacant. As they sit down, GEORGE, wearing a new smock and neck handkerchief, comes in.
EMILY. [Beginning to help a dish.] You need not think you're to be helped first, Clara, for all that the party is given for you, like. The poor little children have been kept waiting a sad time for their supper, first because you was such a while a having your head curled and puffed out, and then 'twas Luke Jenner as didn't come.
[CLARA sits down at a place at the end of the table. GEORGE and MAGGIE still remain standing.
EMILY. [Perceiving CLARA'S movement.] Well, I never did see anything so forward. Who told you to sit yourself down along of your betters, if you please, madam serving maid?
[GEORGE comes involuntarily forward and stands behind CLARA'S chair. CLARA does not move.
EMILY. Get you out of that there place this instant, do you hear? [Turning to MILES.] To see the way the young person acts one might think as she fancied herself as something uncommon rare and high. But you'll not take any fool in, not you, for all that you like to play the fine lady. Us can see through your game very clear, can't us, Mr. Hooper?
MILES. O certainly, to be sure, Missis Spring. No one who has the privilege of being acquainted with a real lady of quality could be mistook by any of the games played by this young person.
[CLARA looks him gravely in the face without moving.
EMILY. Get up, do you hear, and help Maggie pass the dishes!
THOMAS. [Nervously.] Nay, nay, 'twas my doing, Emily. I did tell the wenches as they might sit their-selves along of we, just for th' occasion like.
EMILY. And who are you, if you please, giving orders and muddling about like a lord in my kitchen?
THOMAS. [Faintly.] Come, Emily, I'm the master.
EMILY. And I, the mistress. Hear that, you piece of London impudence?
GEORGE. [Comes forward.] Master Luke be coming up the garden, mistress.
[LUKE JENNER enters. He goes straight up to JOAN and holds out his hand to her, and then to MILES.
LUKE. I do wish you happiness with all my heart, Miss Clara. Miles, my lad, 'tis rare—rare pleased as I be to shake your hand this day.
EMILY. Come, come, Luke Jenner, you've been and kept us waiting more nor half an hour. Can't you sit yourself down and give other folk a chance of eating their victuals quiet? There's naught to make all this giddle-gaddle about as I can see.
LUKE. [Sitting down in the empty place by JOAN'S side.] Beg pardon, mistress, I know I'm a bit late. But the victuals as are waited for do have a better flavour to them nor those which be ate straight from the pot like.
THOMAS. That's true 'tis. And 'tis hunger as do make the best sauce.
[GEORGE and MAGGIE quietly seat themselves on either side of CLARA. EMILY is too busy dispensing the food to take any notice. GEORGE hands plates and dishes to CLARA, and silently cares for her comfort throughout the meal.
THOMAS. Well, Emily; well, Luke. I didn't think to lose my little sister afore she'd stopped a three days in the place. That I did not. But I don't grudge her to a fine prospering young man like friend Hooper, no, I don't.
EMILY. No one called upon you for a speech, Thomas. See if you can't make yourself of some use in passing the green stuff. [Turning to LUKE.] We have two serving maids and a man, Mister Jenner, but they're to be allowed to act the quality to-day, so we've got to wait upon ourselves.
LUKE. A man is never so well served as by his own two hands, mistress. That's my saying at home.
THOMAS. And a good one too, Luke, my boy, for most folk, but with me 'tis otherwise. I've got another pair of hands in the place as do for me as well, nor better than my own.
EMILY. Yes, Thomas, I often wonders where you'd be without mine.
THOMAS. I wasn't thinking of yourn, Emily. 'Tis George's hands as I was speaking of.
EMILY. [Contemptuously.] George! You'll all find out your mistake one day, Thomas.
MILES. [To JOAN, who has been nervously handling her knife and fork and watching CLARA'S movements furtively.] My sweet Miss is not shewing any appetite.
JOAN. I'm—I'm not used to country fare.
EMILY. O, I hear you, Clara. Thomas, this is very fine. Clara can't feed 'cause she's not used to country fare! What next, I'd like to know!
ROBIN. [Who has been watching JOAN.] Why does Aunt sometimes put her knife in her mouth, Mother?
MILES. My good boy, 'tis plain you've never mixed among the quality or you would know that each London season has its own new fashion of acting. This summer 'tis the stylish thing to put on a countryfied mode at table.
JESSIE. Joan don't eat like that, Mister Hooper.
MILES. Joan's only a maid servant, Miss Jessie. You should learn to distinguish between such people and fine ladles like your aunt.
JOAN. [Forcing herself to be more animated.] Give me some fruit, Miles—I have no appetite to-day for heavy food. 'Tis far too warm.
MILES. As for me, the only food I require is the sweet honey of my Missy's voice.
THOMAS. Ah, 'tis a grand thing to be a young man, Miles Hooper. There was a day when such things did come handy to my tongue, like.
EMILY. [Sharply.] I don't seem to remember that day, Thomas.
THOMAS. [Sheepishly, his look falling.] Ah—'twas afore—afore our courting time, Emily.
LUKE. [Energetically.] Prime weather for the hay, farmer. I count as this dry will last until the whole of it be carried. [A knock is heard at the door.
THOMAS. Now who'll that be? Did you see anyone a-coming up the path, Mother?
EMILY. Do you expect me to be carving of the fowls and a-looking out of the window the same time, Thomas?
THOMAS. George, my lad, do you open the door and see who 'tis.
[JOAN looks anxiously across the table at CLARA. Then she drops her spoon and fork and takes up her fan, using it violently whilst GEORGE slowly gets up and opens the door. LORD LOVEL is seen standing on the threshold.
LORD LOVEL. [To GEORGE.] Kindly tell me, my man, is this the farm they call Ox Lease?
GEORGE. Ah, that's right enough.
LORD LOVEL. I'm sorry to break in upon a party like this, but I want to see Miss Clara Spring if she is here.
THOMAS. [Standing up.] You've come at the very moment, master. This be a giving in marriage supper. And 'tis Miss Clara, what's only sister to me, as is to be wed.
LORD LOVEL. Impossible, my good sir!
THOMAS. Ah, that's it. Miles Hooper, he's the happy man. If you be come by Painswick High Street you'll have seen his name up over the shop door.
LORD LOVEL. Miss Clara—Miles Hooper—No, I can't believe it.
THOMAS. [Pointing towards JOAN and MILES.] There they be—the both of them. Turtle doves on the same branch. You're right welcome, master, to sit down along of we as one of the family on this occasion.
LORD LOVEL. [Looking at JOAN who has suddenly dropped her fan and is leaning back with a look of supplication towards CLARA.] I must have come to the wrong place—that's not the Miss Clara Spring I know.
MILES. [Bending over JOAN.] My sweet Missy has no acquaintance with this gentleman, I am sure.
[LORD LOVEL suddenly turns round and perceives CLARA seated by MAGGIE at the table. He quickly goes towards her, holding out his hand.
LORD LOVEL. Miss Clara. Tell me what is going on. [Looking at her cap and apron.] Why have you dressed yourself like this?
THOMAS. Come, come. There seems to be some sort of a hitch here. The young gentleman has very likely stopped a bit too long at the Spotted Cow on his way up.
JOAN. [Very faintly, looking at CLARA.] O do you stand by me now.
CLARA. [Lays her hand on LORD LOVEL's arm.] Come with me, my lord. I think I can explain everything if you will only step outside with me. Come—[She leads him swiftly through the door which GEORGE shuts behind them.]
[JOAN leans back in her chair as though she were going to faint.
THOMAS. Well, now—but that's a smartish wench, getting him out so quiet, like. George, you'd best step after them to see as the young man don't annoy her in any way.
EMILY. That young person can take good care of herself. Sit you down, Thomas and George, and get on with your eating, if you can.
JESSIE. Why did he think Joan was our aunt, mother?
EMILY. 'Cause he was in that state when a man don't know his right leg from his left arm.
GEORGE. [Who has remained standing.] Look you here, Master Thomas— see here mistress. 'Tis time as there was an end of this cursed play acting, or whatever 'tis called.
EMILY. Play acting there never has been in my house, George, I'd like for you to know.
GEORGE. O yes there have been, mistress. And 'tis time it was finished. [Pointing to JOAN.] You just take and ask that young person what she do mean by tricking herself out in Miss Clara's gowns and what not, and by having herself called by Miss Clara's own name.
MILES. [Taking JOAN'S hand in his.] My sweet Miss must pay no attention to the common fellow. I dare him to speak like that of my little lady bride.
GEORGE. A jay bird in peacock's feathers, that's what 'tis. And she's took you all in, the every one of you.
JESSIE. O George, isn't she really our aunt from London?
GEORGE. No, that she baint, Miss Jessie.
THOMAS. Come, come, my lad. I never knew you act so afore.
EMILY. 'Tis clear where he have spent his time this afternoon.
LUKE. Nay, nay, I never did see George inside of the Spotted Cow in all the years I've known of him. George baint made to that shape.
ROBIN. Then who is Aunt Clara, George?
GEORGE. She who be just gone from out of the room, Master Robin, and none other.
THOMAS. Come, George, this talk do sound so foolish.
GEORGE. I can't help that, master. Foolish deeds do call for foolish words, may be.
MILES. My pretty Miss is almost fainting, I declare. [He pours out water for JOAN and bends affectionately over her.] Put the drunken fellow outside and let's have an end of this.
GEORGE. [Advancing.] Yes, us'll have an end to it very shortly. But I be going to put a straight question to the maid first, and 'tis a straight answer as her'll have to give me in reply.
MILES. Not a word, not a word. Miss is sadly upset by your rude manners.
GEORGE. Do you ask of the young lady but one thing, Master Hooper, and then I'll go when you will.
MILES. Well, my man, what's that?
GEORGE. Do you get her to speak the name as was given she at baptism, Mister Hooper.
MILES. This is madness. My pretty Miss shall not be teased by such a question. Thomas, you'll have to get this stupid fellow locked up, or something.
GEORGE. [Angrily.] Her shall say it, if I stands here all night.
[JOAN suddenly bends forward and hides her face in her hands, her form shaken by violent weeping. The door opens and CLARA enters followed by LORD LOVEL. She has taken off her cap and apron.
JOAN. [Raising her head and stretching out her hands to CLARA.] O speak for me, mistress. Speak for me and help.
CLARA. I am Clara, she is Joan. Thomas, Emily, I pray you to forgive us both for taking you in like this.
THOMAS. Well, I never did hear tell of such a thing.
EMILY. I'm not going to believe a word the young person says.
LORD LOVEL. She has told you but the truth, my good friends.
EMILY. And who are you, to put your tongue into the basin, I'd like to know?
CLARA. This is the nephew of my dear godmother. Lord Lovel is his name.
EMILY. If you think I'm going to be took in with such nonsense, the more fool you, I says.
LORD LOVEL. But all that Miss Clara tells you is true, Missis Spring. She and her serving maid, for certain reasons of their own, agreed to change parts for a few days.
THOMAS. [Turning to JOAN.] Is this really so, my maid?
[JOAN bows her head, her handkerchief still covering her face.
THOMAS. [To CLARA.] Who ever would have thought on such a thing?
CLARA. 'Twas a foolish enough thing, but no harm is done. Look up, Joan, and do not cry so pitifully.
JOAN. [Looking up at MILES.] You'll never go and change towards me now that we're most as good as wed, will you, Mister Hooper?
MILES. [Rising and speaking with cold deliberation.] Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honour to wish you all a very pleasant evening.
THOMAS. Come, come Miles, we be all a bit turned in the head, it seems. But things'll settle back to their right places if you gives them a chance. Sit you down and take a drink of sommat.
EMILY. Don't be so foolish, Thomas. As if a man what's been stung by a wasp would care to sit himself down on a hornet's nest.
MILES. You are perfectly right, madam. This is no place for me. I have been sported with. My good name has been treated as a jest.
JOAN. O Mister Hooper, 'twas my doing, all of it, but I did it for the best, I did.
MILES. [Going to the door.] Thank you, my good woman. Next time you want to play a little prank like this, I beg that you will select your partner with more care. The name of Hooper is not a suitable one to toy with, let me tell you.
ROBIN. Aren't you going to marry her then, Mister Hooper?
MILES. I am not, Master Robin.
JESSIE. You said as you could tell a real lady by her ways, but you couldn't very well, could he, Mother?
[MILES, covering his mortification with sarcastic bows made to the right and left, goes out. JOAN leans back almost fainting in her chair.
LUKE. [Taking her hand.] This is the finest hearing in all the world for me, Miss—Miss Joan.
JOAN. O Mr. Jenner, how deep you must despise me.
LUKE. And that I'd never do, though I'm blest if I know why you did it.
CLARA. It was as much my fault as hers, Mister Jenner. There were things that each of us wanted, and that we thought we might get, by changing places, one with the other.
THOMAS. [To CLARA.] Well, my maid, I'm blessed if I do know what you was a hunting about for, dressed up as a serving wench.
CLARA. [Turning a little towards GEORGE.] I thought to find something which was mine when I was a little child, but which I lost.
JESSIE. O Georgie do know how to find things which is lost. 'Twas he as brought back the yellow pullet when her had strayed off.
ROBIN. Yes. And 'twas George as did find your blue hair ribbon Aunt Clara, when it was dropped in the hayfield.
JESSIE. I believe as Georgie knowed which of them was our aunt all the time.
ROBIN. I believe it too.
THOMAS. Why, George, you sly dog, what put you on the scent, like?
GEORGE. 'Twas not one, but many things. And if you wants a clear proof [Turning to CLARA]—put back the laces of your sleeve, Miss Clara.
CLARA. What for, George?
GEORGE. Whilst you was a-doing of the taters, this morning, you did pull up your sleeves. 'Twas then I held the proof. Not that 'twas needed for me, like.
[CLARA pushes up both her sleeves, and holds out her arms towards GEORGE.
GEORGE. [Pointing to the scar.] There 'tis—there's where th' old gander have left his mark.
THE CHILDREN. [Getting up.] Where, where! O do let us see!
[They run round to where CLARA stands and look eagerly at the mark on her arm which she shews to them.
THOMAS. George, my lad, you baint th' only one as can play fox.
EMILY. Don't you be so set up as to think as you can, Thomas. For a more foolish figure of a goose never was cut. A man might tell when 'twas his own sister, if so be as he had his full senses upon him.
THOMAS. Never you mind, Emily. What I says to George is, he baint th' only fox. How now, my lad?
GEORGE. I don't see what you be driving at, master.
THOMAS. [Slyly.] What about that bit of blue ribbon, George?
CLARA. Yes, Thomas. Ask Georgie if he will give it back to me.
GEORGE. [Stepping forward till he is by CLARA'S side.] No, and that I will not do. 'Tis little enough as I holds, but what little, I'll keep it.
CLARA. [To GEORGE.] Those words are like a frail bridge on which I can stand for a moment. Georgie, do you remember the days when you used to lead me by the hand into the deep parts of the wood, lifting me over the briars and the brambles so that I should not be hurt by their thorns?
GEORGE. Hark you here, Clara. This once I'll speak. I never had but one true love, and that was a little maid what would run through the woods and over all the meadows, her hand in mine. I learnt she the note of every bird. And when th' evening was come, us would watch together till th' old mother badger did get from out of her hole, and start hunting in the long grasses.
CLARA. [Taking GEORGE'S hand.] Then, Georgie, there was no need for the disguise that I put upon myself.
GEORGE. Do you think as the moon can hide her light when there baint no cloud upon the sky, Clara?
CLARA. Georgie, I went in fear of what this gold and silver might raise up between you and me.
THOMAS. That's all finished and done with now, my maid. If I'd a hundred sisters, George should have the pick of them, he should.
EMILY. Thank you. Thomas. One of your sisters is about enough.
LUKE. [Who has been sitting with JOAN'S hand in his.] Hark you here, mistress. There's many a cloudy morning turns out a sunshiny day. Baint that a true saying, Joan?
JOAN. [Looking up radiantly.] O that it is, dear Luke.
LORD LOVEL. Miss Clara, it seems that there is nothing more to be said.
EMILY. And that's the most sensible thing as has been spoke this long while. Thomas, your sister favours you in being a poor, grizzling sort of a muddler. She might have took up with this young man, who has a very respectable appearance.
LORD LOVEL. [Coming forward to GEORGE and shaking his hand.] I'm proud to make your acquaintance, sir.
EMILY. [Rising angrily.] Come Thomas, come Luke, come Clara. Us might be a barn full of broody hens the way we be set around of this here table. 'Twill be midnight afore the things is cleared away and washed up.
THOMAS. What if it be, Emily. 'Tisn't very often as I gets the chance of minding how 'twas in times gone past. Ah, I was a young man in those days, too, I was.
EMILY. And 'tis a rare old addle head as you be got now, Thomas.
JESSIE. [Slipping her hand into THOMAS'S.] O do let us sit up till midnight, Dad.
ROBIN. I shall eat a smartish lot more if we does.
MY MAN JOHN
MRS. GARDNER. WILLIAM, her son. JOHN, his farm hand. SUSAN, their maid. JULIA, the owner of Luther's Farm. LAURA, CHRIS, NAT, TANSIE, gipsies.
ACT I.—Scene 1.
The garden of the Road Farm. To the right an arbour covered with roses. MRS. GARDNER is seated in it, knitting. WILLIAM is tying up flowers and watering them.
MRS. GARDNER. And you have come to a ripe age when 'tis the plain duty of a man to turn himself towards matrimony, William.
WILLIAM. 'Tis a bit of quiet that I'm after, Mother.
MRS. GARDNER. Quiet! 'tis a good shaking up as you want, William. Why, you have got as set in your ways as last season's jelly.
WILLIAM. Then let me bide so. 'Tis all I ask.
MRS. GARDNER. No, William. I'm got to be an old woman now, and 'tis time that I had someone at my side to help in the house-keeping and to share the work.
WILLIAM. What's Susan for, if 'tisn't to do that?
MRS. GARDNER. Susan? As idle a piece of goods as ever was seen on a summer's day! No. 'Tisn't a serving maid that I was thinking of, but someone who should be of more account in the house. 'Tis a daughter that I'm wanting, William, and I've picked out the one who is to my taste.
WILLIAM. Then you've done more than I have, Mother.
MRS. GARDNER. 'Tis the young person whom Luther Smith has left his farm and all his money to. I've got my eye on her for you, William.
WILLIAM. Then you'll please to put your eye somewhere else, Mother, for I've seen them, and they don't suit me.
MRS. GARDNER. Come, this is news, William. Pray where did you meet?
WILLIAM. 'Twas when I was in church last Sunday. In they came, the two young maids from Luthers, like a couple of gallinie fowls, the way they did step up over the stones and shake the plumes of them this way and that. I don't hold with fancy tricks. I never could abide them. No foreign wenches for me. And that's about all.
MRS. GARDNER. 'Tis true they are from town, but none the worse for that, William. You have got sadly rude and cumbersome in your ways, or you wouldn't feel as you do towards a suitable young person. 'Tis from getting about with John so much, I think.
WILLIAM. Now look you here, Mother, I've got used to my own ways, and when a man's got set in his own ways, 'tis best to leave him there. I'm past the age for marrying, and you ought to know this better than anyone.
MRS. GARDNER. I know that 'tis a rare lot of foolishness that you do talk, William, seeing as you're not a year past thirty yet. But if you can't be got to wed for love of a maid, perhaps you'll do so for love of a purse, when 'tis fairly filled.
WILLIAM. There's always been enough for you and me so far, Mother.
MRS. GARDNER. Ah, but that won't last for ever. I'm got an old woman, and I can't do with the dairy nor the poultry as I was used to do. And things have not the same prices to them as 'twas a few years gone by. And last year's season was the worst that I remember.
WILLIAM. So 'twas. But so long as there's a roof over our heads and a loaf of bread and a bit of garden for me to work on, where's the harm, Mother?
MRS. GARDNER. O you put me out of all patience, William. Where's the rent to come from if we go on like this? And the clothing, and the food? And John's wages, and your flower seeds, if it comes to that, for you have got terrible wasteful over the flowers.
WILLIAM. I wish you'd take it quieter, Mother. Look at you bed of musk, 'tis a grand smell that comes up from it all around.
MRS. GARDNER. No, William. I've no eye for musk, nor nose to smell at it either till you've spoken the word that I require.
WILLIAM. Best let things bide as they are, Mother.
MRS. GARDNER. I'll leave you no rest till you do as I wish, William. I'm got an old woman, and 'tis hard I should be denied in aught that I've set my heart upon.
WILLIAM. Please to set it upon something different, Mother, for I'm not a marrying man, and John he'll tell you the same thing.
MRS. GARDNER. John! I'm sick of the very name of him. I can't think how 'tis that you can lower yourself by being so close with a common farm hand, William.
WILLIAM. Ah, 'twould be a rare hard matter to find the equal to John, Mother. 'Tis of gold all through, and every bit of him, that he is made. You don't see many like John these days, that's the truth.
MRS. GARDNER. Well, then, John, won't be here much longer, for we shan't have anything to give him if things go on like this.
WILLIAM. I'd wed forty wives sooner than lose John—and that I would.
MRS. GARDNER. I'm not asking you to wed forty. 'Tis only one.
WILLIAM. And that one?
MRS. GARDNER. The young person who's got Luther's farm. Her name is Julia.
WILLIAM. [Leaving his flower border and walking up and down thoughtfully.] Would she be the one with the cherry colour ribbons to her gown?
MRS. GARDNER. I'm sure I don't know. I was not at church last Sunday.
WILLIAM. Or t'other one in green?
MRS. GARDNER. You appear to have used your eyes pretty well, William.
WILLIAM. O, I can see a smartish bit about me when I choose.
MRS. GARDNER. T'other wench is but the housekeeper.
WILLIAM. Where did you get that from?
MRS. GARDNER. 'Twas Susan who told me. She got it off someone down in the village.
WILLIAM. Well, which of the maids would have had the cherry-coloured ribbons to her, Mother?
MRS. GARDNER. I'm sure I don't know, but if you go up there courting this afternoon, may happen that you'll find out.
WILLIAM. This afternoon? O, that's much too sudden like.
MRS. GARDNER. Not a bit of it. Recollect, your fancy has been set on her since Sunday.
WILLIAM. Come, Mother, you can't expect a man to jump into the river all of a sudden like this.
MRS. GARDNER. I expect you to go up there this very day and to commence telling her of your feelings.
WILLIAM. But I've got no feelings that I can tell her of, Mother.
MRS. GARDNER. Then you'll please to find some, William.
WILLIAM. 'Tis a thing that in all my life I've never done as to go visiting of a strange wench of an afternoon.
MRS. GARDNER. Then 'tis time you did begin.
WILLIAM. And what's more, I'll not do it, neither.
MRS. GARDNER. Then I must tell John that we have no further need of his services, for where the money to pay him is to come from, I don't know.
[She rolls up her knitting and rises.
WILLIAM. Stop a moment, Mother—stop a moment. Maybe 'twon't be so bad when I've got more used to the idea. You've pitched it upon me so sudden like.
MRS. GARDNER. Rent day has pitched upon me more sudden, William.
WILLIAM. Look you, Mother, I'll get and turn it about in my mind a bit. And, maybe, I'll talk it over with John. I can't do more, can I now?
MRS. GARDNER. Talk it over with whom you please, William. But remember 'tis this very afternoon that you have to start courting. I've laid your best clothes out all ready on your bed.
WILLIAM. [Sighing heavily.] O then I count there's no way out of it. But how am I to bring it off? 'Tis that I'd like to know.
MRS. GARDNER. Maybe your man will be able to give you some suitable advice. Such things are beyond me, I'm afraid.
[She gathers up her work things, and with a contemptuous look at her son, she goes slowly out of the garden.
[WILLIAM remains on the path lost in perturbed thought. Suddenly he goes to the gate and calls loudly.
WILLIAM. John, John!
JOHN. [From afar.] Yes, master.
WILLIAM. [Calling.] Come you here, John, as quick as you can run.
JOHN. That I will, master.
[JOHN hurries into the garden.
WILLIAM. John, I'm powerful upset.
JOHN. Mistress's fowls bain't got among the flowers again, be they, Master William?
WILLIAM. No, no, John. 'Tisn't so bad as that. But I'm in a smartish fix, I can tell you.
JOHN. How's that, master?
WILLIAM. John, did you ever go a'courting?
JOHN. Well, master, that's a thing to ask a man!
WILLIAM. 'Tis a terrible serious matter, John. Did you ever go?
JOHN. Why, I count as I have went a score of times, master.
WILLIAM. A score of times, John! But that was before you were got to the age you are now?
JOHN. Before that, and now, master.
WILLIAM. And now, John?
JOHN. To be sure, master.
WILLIAM. Then you know how 'tis done?
JOHN. Ah, that I does, master.
WILLIAM. Well, John, you're the man for me.
JOHN. Lord bless us, master, but what have you to do with courting?
WILLIAM. You may well ask me, John. Why, look you here—until this very morning, you would say I was a quiet and a peaceable man, with the right place for everything and everything in its place.
JOHN. Ah, and that you was, Master William. And a time for all things too, and a decenter, proper gentleman no man ever served— that's truth.
WILLIAM. Ah, John—the mistress has set her will to change all this.
JOHN. Now, you'd knock me down with a feather.
WILLIAM. That she has, John. I've got to set out courting—a thing I've never thought to do in all my living days.
JOHN. That I'll be bound you have not, Master William, though a finer gentleman than yourself is not to be found in all the country side.
WILLIAM. [With shy eagerness.] Is that how I appear to you, John?
JOHN. Ah, and that you does, master. And 'tis the wonder with all for miles around as how you've been and kept yourself to yourself like this, so many years.
WILLIAM. Well, John, it appears that I'm to pass out of my own keeping. My Sunday clothes are all laid out upon the bed.
JOHN. Bless my soul, Master William, and 'tis but Thursday too.
WILLIAM. Isn't that a proper day for this sort of business, John?
JOHN. I've always been used to Saturday myself, but with a gentleman 'tis different like.
WILLIAM. Well, John, there's nothing in this day or that as far as I can see. A bad job is a bad job, no matter what, and the day of it does make but very little difference.
JOHN. You're right there, master. But if I may be so bold, where is it as you be going off courting this afternoon?
WILLIAM. Ah—now you and me will have a straight talk one with another—for 'tis to you I look, John, for to pull me out of this fix where the mistress has gone and put me.
JOHN. And that I'll do, master—with all the will in the world.
WILLIAM. Well then, John, 'tis to be one of those maids from strange parts who are come to live at old Luther's, up yonder.
JOHN. Ah, I seed the pair of them in church last Sunday. Fine maids, the both of them, and properly suitable if you was to ask me.
WILLIAM. 'Tis only the one I've got to court, John.
JOHN. And I reckon that's one too many, Master William.
WILLIAM. You're right there, John. 'Tis Mistress Julia I've to go at.
JOHN. And which of the pair would that be, Master William?
WILLIAM. That one with the cherry colour ribbons to her gown, I believe.
JOHN. Ah, t'other was plainer in her dressing, and did keep the head of her bent smartish low on her book, so that a man couldn't get a fair look upon she.
WILLIAM. That would be the housekeeper or summat. 'Tis Julia, who has the old man's money, I'm to court.
JOHN. Well, master, I'll come along with you a bit of the road, to keep your heart up like.
WILLIAM. You must do more than that for me, John. You've got to learn me how the courting is done before I set off.
JOHN. Why, master, courting baint a thing what wants much learning, that's the truth.
WILLIAM. 'Tis all new to me, John. I'm blessed if I know how to commence. Why, the thought of it at once sends me hot all over; and then as cold again.
JOHN. You start and get your clothes on, master. 'Tis half the battle—clothes. What a man cannot bring out of his mouth of a Saturday will fall out easy as anything on the Sunday with his best coat to his back.
WILLIAM. No, John. The clothes won't help me in this fix. You must tell me how to start once I get to the farm and am by the door.
JOHN. You might take a nosegay with you, master.
WILLIAM. I might. And yet, 'tis a pity to cut the blooms for naught.
JOHN. I always takes a nosegay with me, of a Saturday night.
WILLIAM. Why, John, who is it that you are courting then?
JOHN. 'Tis that wench Susan, since you ask me, master. But not a word of it to th' old mistress.
WILLIAM. I'll not mention it, John.
JOHN. Thank you kindly, master.
WILLIAM. And now, John, when the nosegay's all gathered and the flowers bunched, what else should I do?
JOHN. Well, then you gives it her when you gets to the door. And very like she'll ask you into the parlour, seeing as you be a particular fine looking gentleman.
WILLIAM. I could not stand that, John. I've no tongue to me within a strange house.
JOHN. Well then, maybe as you and she will sit aside of one another in an arbour in the garden, or sommat of the sort.
WILLIAM. Yes, John. And what next?
JOHN. I'm blessed if I do know, master. You go along and commence.
WILLIAM. No, John, and that I won't. Not till I know more about it like.
JOHN. Well, master, I'm fairly puzzled hard to tell you.
WILLIAM. I have the very thought, John. Do you bring Susan out here. I'll place myself behind the shrubs, and do you get and court her as well as you know how; and maybe that will learn me something.
JOHN. Susan's a terrible hard wench to court, Master William.
WILLIAM. 'Twill make the better lesson, John.
JOHN. 'Tis a stone in place of a heart what Susan's got.
WILLIAM. 'Twill very likely be the same with Julia. Go and bring her quickly, John.
[WILLIAM places himself behind the arbour.
JOHN. As you will, master—but Susan have been wonderful nasty in her ways with me of late. 'Tis my belief as she have took up with one of they low gipsy lads what have been tenting up yonder, against the wood.
WILLIAM. Well, 'twill be your business to win her back to you, John. See—am I properly hid, behind the arbour?
JOHN. Grandly hid, master—I'll go and fetch the wench. [JOHN leaves the garden.
[WILLIAM remains hidden behind the arbour. After a few minutes JOHN returns pulling SUSAN by the hand.
SUSAN. And what are you about, bringing me into master's flower garden at this time of the morning? I should like for mistress to look out of one of the windows—you'd get into fine trouble, and me too, John.
JOHN. Susan, my dear, you be a passing fine wench to look upon, and that's the truth.
SUSAN. And is it to tell me such foolishness that you've brought me all the way out of the kitchen?
JOHN. [Stooping and picking a dandelion.] And to give you this flower, dear Susan.
SUSAN. [Throwing it down.] A common thing like that! I'll have none of it.
JOHN. 'Tis prime you looks when you be angered, Susan. The blue fire do fairly leap from your eyes.
SUSAN. O you're enough to anger a saint, John. What have you brought me here for?
JOHN. I thought I'd like to tell you as you was such a fine wench, Susan. And that I did never see a finer.
SUSAN. You do look at me as though I was yonder prize heifer what Master William's so powerful set on.
JOHN. Ah—and 'tis true as you have sommat of the look of she when you stands a pawing of the ground as you be now.
SUSAN. Is it to insult me that you've got me away from the kitchen, John?
JOHN. Nay—'tis to tell you that you be a rare smartish wench—and I'll go along to the church with you any day as you will name, my dear.
SUSAN. That you won't, John. I don't mind taking a nosegay of flowers from you now and then, and hearing you speak nice to me over the garden gate of an evening, but I'm not a-going any further along the road with you. That's all. [She moves towards the house.
JOHN. Now, do you bide a moment longer, Susan—and let me say sommat of all they feelings which be stirring like a nest of young birds in my heart for you.
SUSAN. They may stir within you like an old waspes' nest for all I care, John.
JOHN. Come, Susan, put better words to your tongue nor they. You can speak honey sweet when it do please you to.
SUSAN. 'Tis mustard as is the right food for you this morning, John.
JOHN. I gets enough of that from mistress—I mean—well—I mean—[in a loud, clear voice] —O mistress is a wonderful fine woman and no mistake.
SUSAN. You won't say as much when she comes round the corner and catches you a wasting of your time like this, John.
JOHN. Is it a waste of time to stand a-drinking in the sweetness of the finest rose what blooms, Susan?
SUSAN. Is that me, John?
JOHN. Who else should it be, Susan?
SUSAN. Well, John—sometimes I think there's not much amiss with you.
JOHN. O Susan, them be grand words.
SUSAN. But then again—I do think as you be getting too much like Master William.
JOHN. And a grander gentleman than he never went upon the earth.
SUSAN. Cut and clipped and trimmed and dry as that box tree yonder. And you be getting sommat of the same fashion about you, John.
JOHN. Then make me differenter, Susan, you know the way.
SUSAN. I'm not so sure as I do, John.
JOHN. Wed me come Michaelmas, Susan.
SUSAN. And that I'll not. And what's more, I'm not a-going to stop here talking foolish with you any longer. I've work to do within. [SUSAN goes off.
[JOHN, mopping his face and speaking regretfully as WILLIAM steps from behind the arbour.
JOHN. There, master. That's courting for you. That's the sort of thing. And a caddling thing it is too.
WILLIAM. But 'tis a thing that you do rare finely and well, John. And 'tis you and none other who shall do the job for me this afternoon, there—that's what I've come to in my thoughts.
JOHN. Master, master, whatever have you got in your head now?
WILLIAM. See here, John—we'll cut a nosegay for you to carry—some of the best blooms I'll spare. And you, who know what courting is, and who have such fine words to your tongue, shall step up at once and do the business for me.
JOHN. Master, if 'twas an acre of stone as you'd asked me to plough, I'd sooner do it nor a job like this.
WILLIAM. John, you've been a good friend to me all the years that you have lived on the farm, you'll not go and fail me now.
JOHN. Why not court the lady with your own tongue, Master William? 'Twould have better language to it nor what I can give the likes of she.
WILLIAM. Your words are all right, John. 'Tisn't as though sensible speech was needed. You do know what's wanted with the maids, whilst I have never been used to them in any way whatever. So let's say no more about it, but commence gathering the flowers.
JOHN. [Heavily, but resigned.] Since you say so, master. [They begin to gather flowers.
WILLIAM. What blooms do young maids like the best, John?
JOHN. Put in a sprig of thyme, master.
WILLIAM. Yes—I can well spare that.
JOHN. And a rose that's half opened, master.
WILLIAM. It goes to my heart to have a rose wasted on this business, John.
JOHN. 'Tain't likely as you can get through courtship without parting with sommat, master. Lucky if it baint gold as you're called upon to spill.