by James Payn
Mr. Nathaniel Nokes, a Retired Wine-Merchant.
Mr. Charles Nokes, his Nephew.
Mr. Robinson, Mr. Sponge, Mr. Rasper, Friends of Mr. Nokes the Elder.
Susan, Housemaid at the Hotel of the Four Seasons.
Mrs. Charles Nokes.
SCENE I.—A handsome first-floor apartment in the Hotel of the Four
Seasons, Paris. Outside the window, the court-yard, with fountain, and
little trees in large pots.
Enter Mr. Nathaniel Nokes, with a small book in his hand, very
smartly dressed, but in great haste, and with his shirt-collar much
dishevelled. [Rings the bell violently.]
What's the good of these confounded French phrase-books? Who wants to
know how to ask for artichoke soup, or how far it is to Dijon? I want a
button sewn on my shirt-collar, and there's not one word about that.
Nokes. Hi! what's-your-name! Voulez-vous—avoir—la—bonté—de—[I'm
always civil and very distinct, but, somehow, I can never make myself
understood.] I am going to be married, my good man; to be married—tout
de suite—immediately, and there is no time to change my—my chemise
d'homme. [Come, he'll understand that.] I want this button—button,
button, button sewn on. Here, here—here. [Points to his throat.]
Don't you see, you fool? [He thinks I want him to cut my throat. I shall
never be in time at the Legation!] Idiot! Dolt! Send Susan, Susan, à
moi, to me—or I'll kick you into the court-yard. [Exit Waiter, with
Nokes [alone]. And this is what they call a highly-civilized country!
Talk of "a strong government" at home: what's the use of its being
strong, if it can't make foreigners speak our language? What's the good
of missionary enterprise, when here's a Christian man, within twelve
hours of London, who can't get a shirt-button sewn on for want of the
Parisian accent? I said "button, button, button," plain enough, I'm
sure; and a button's a button all the world over. If it had not been for
that excellent Susan, the English chambermaid, I should have perished in
this place, of what the coroner's inquests call "want of the necessaries
of life." All depends, as every one knows, on a man's shirt-button: if
that goes wrong, everything goes, and one's attire is a wreck. But I
suppose after to-day my wife will see to that,—though she is a
Montmorenci. Constance de Montmorenci, that's her name: she's descended
(she says) from a Constable of France. It's a more English-seeming name
than gendarme, and I like her for that; but I am afraid we shan't have
much in common—except my property. She don't speak English very
fluently: she called me "my dove" the other day, instead of "my duck,"
which is ridiculous. She is not twenty, and I am over sixty,—which is
perhaps also ridiculous.
Well, it's all Charles's fault, not mine. If he chooses to go and marry
a beggar-girl without my consent, he must take the consequences,—if
there are a dozen of them,—and support them how he can. "If you persist
in this wicked and perverse resolve," said I, "I'll marry also, before
the year's out." And now I'm going to do it,—if I can only get this
shirt-button sewn on. He shall not have a penny of what I have to leave
behind me. The little Nokes-Montmorencis shall have it all. She's a most
accomplished creature is Constance. Sings, they tell me,—for it's not
in English, so I don't understand it,—divinely; plays ditto; draws
Speaks every language (except English) with equal facility
and—Thank goodness, here's Susan.
Enter Susan, with housemaid's broom.
Susan. What do you please to want, sir?
Nokes. You, Susan; you, first of all, and then a shirt-button. I
have not five minutes to spare. My bride is probably already at the
Embassy, expressing her impatience in various continental tongues.
Vite,—look sharp, Susan. [Aside.] Admirable woman!—she carries
buttons about with her. I wonder whether the Montmorenci will do
that.—Take care!—don't run the needle into me!
Susan. You must not talk, sir, or else I can't help it. Please to hold
your head up a little higher.
Nokes. I shall do that when I've married the Montmorenci. [She pricks
him.] Oh! oh!
Susan. I'm sure I hope as you'll be happy with her, sir; but you seem
so fond of old England that I doubt whether you ought not to have chosen
your wife from your native land. It seems a pity to be marrying in such
haste, just because your poor nephew—pray don't speak, sir, or I
shall certainly run the needle into you—just because Mr. Charles has
gone and wedded the girl of his choice.
Nokes [passionately]. Hold your tongue, Susan! [She pricks him
again.] Oh! oh!
Susan. There, sir, I told you what would happen. All I say is, I hope
you may not marry in haste to repent at leisure. A fortnight is such a
very short time to have known a lady before making her your bride.
There, sir; I think the button will keep on now.
Nokes. Then I'm off, Susan. But, before I go, I must express my thanks
to you for looking after me so attentively in this place. Here's a
five-pound note for you. [Aside] I could almost find it in my heart to
give her a kiss; but perhaps the Montmorenci wouldn't like it.
Susan [gratefully]. Oh, thank you, sir. May all happiness attend you,
sir! and when you're married yourself, sir, don't be too hard upon that
poor nephew of yours—
Nokes [angrily]. Be quiet. [Exit hastily.]
Susan [alone]. Now, there's as kind-hearted an old gentleman as ever
lived,—and as good a one, too, if it was not for pigheadedness and
tantrums. The idea of a five-pound note merely for helping him to get
his victuals! He's been just like a baby in this 'ere 'otel, and I've
been a mother to him. He couldn't 'a' got a drop o' milk if it hadn't
been for me. Poor dear old soul! What a pity it is he should have such a
temper! He is taking a wife to-day solely to keep a hasty word uttered
agen his nephew and heir. Mademoiselle Constance de Montmorenci! ah,
I've heard of her before to-day. Nanette, the head-chambermaid here, was
once her lady's-maid. She's known her for more than a fortnight.
Constance is a fine name, but it ain't quite the same as Constancy. Poor
Mr. Nokes! What a mistake it was in him to drive all thoughts of
matrimony off to the last, and then to come to Paris—of all places—to
do it! What a curious thing is sympathy! He met her in the tidal train,
and they were taken ill together on board the steamboat; that's how it
came about. Poor old soul! He deserves a better fate. [Takes her broom
and leans on it reflectively.] Heigh-ho! His honest English face was
pleasant to look upon in this here outlandish spot; and none has been so
kind to me since my poor missis died and left me under this roof,
without money enough to pay my passage back to England. I was glad
enough to take service here; for why should I go back to a country where
there is not a soul to welcome me? And yet I should like to see dear old
England again, too. [Tumult without. Mr. Nokes is seen rushing madly up
the court-yard. Tumult in the passage; French and English voices at high
pitch. Nokes without: Idiots! Frog-eaters! What is it I want? Nothing!
nothing but to see France sunk in the sea!]
Enter Nokes (dishevelled and purple with passion, with an open
letter in his hand; bangs the door behind him).
Susan. What is the matter, sir?
Nokes. Everything is the matter. You see this lily-white waistcoat;
you see these matrimonial does [points to his trousers], these
polished-leather boots, which are at this moment pinching me most
confoundedly, though I don't feel it, because I'm in such a passion:
well, they have been put on for nothing. I've been made a fool of by the
Montmorenci. But if there's justice in heaven,—that is, in Paris,—if
there's law in France, and blighted hopes are compensated in this
country as they are at home, the hussy shall smart for it. Directly I'm
married myself, I'll bring an action against her for breach of promise.
Susan. Married yourself, sir?
Nokes. Of course I'm going to be married,—at once,
immediately,—within the week. There's only a week left to the end of
the year. Do you suppose—does my nephew Charles suppose—no, for he
knows me better—that I am not going to keep my word? that because the
Montmorenci has played me false at the eleventh hour I am going to
remain a bachelor for seven days longer? Never, Susan, never! [Walks
hastily up and down the room.]
Susan. Lor, sir, do pray be a little quiet, I am sure if any young
woman was to see you in this state she must be uncommonly courageous to
take charge of such a husband. Do, pray, tell me what has happened.
Nokes. Nothing has happened. That's what I complain of. Just as I
drove up to the Legation this letter was handed to me. It is from the
brother of the Montmorenci, and is supposed to be written in the English
tongue. He regrets that matters between Mademoiselle his sister and
myself have been advanced with such precipitation.
Susan. Well, sir, you were rather in a hurry about it, I must say.
Nokes. Hurry! I was in nothing of the sort. We were in the same boat
together for hours. We suffered agonies in company. And, besides, I had
only three weeks at farthest to waste in making love to anybody. And now
I've only one week,—all because this woman did not know her own mind.
Susan. How so, sir?
Nokes. Why, it seems she loves somebody else better. Her brother tells
me—confound his impudence!—that this is only natural. At the same
time, he allows I have some cause to complain, and therefore offers me
the opportunity of a personal combat with what he is pleased to call the
peculiar weapon of my countrymen, the pistol. Now, I should have said
the peculiar weapon of my country was the umbrella. That is certainly
the instrument I should choose if I were compelled to engage in mortal
strife. But the idea of being shot in the liver in reparation for one's
matrimonial injuries! To be laid up in that way when there is only a
week left in which to woo and win another Mrs. Nokes! But what am I to
do now? How am I to find a respectable young woman to take me at so
short a notice?
Susan. There isn't many of that sort in Paris, sir, even if you gave
Nokes. Just so. Come, you're a sensible, good girl, and have helped me
out of several difficulties; now, do you think you can help me out of
Susan [demurely]. Have you got an almanac about you, sir?
Nokes. An almanac? Of course I have. I have given up the wine-trade,
but I have not given up the habit so essential to business-men of
carrying an almanac in my breast-pocket. Here it is.
Susan [takes almanac and looks through it attentively]. No, sir
[sighs], it won't do.
Nokes. What won't do? What did you expect to find that would do—in
an almanac—in such a crisis as this?
Susan. Well, sir [casting down her eyes], I was looking to see if it
was leap-year; but it isn't.
Nokes. What! You were going to offer to fill the place of the
Montmorenci. You impudent little hussy!
[Aside] Gad, she's uncommonly
pretty, though. Prettier than the other. I noticed that when she was
sewing on my shirt-button; only I didn't think it right, under the
circumstances, to dwell upon the idea. But there can't be any harm in it
Susan [sobbing]. I am afraid I have made you angry with me, Mr. Nokes.
I was only in fun, but I see now that it was taking a liberty.
Nokes [very tenderly and chucking her under the chin]. We should never
take liberties, Susan. [Kisses her.] Never. But don't cry, or you'll
make your eyes red; and I rather like your eyes. [Aside] I didn't like
to dwell upon the idea before, but she has got remarkably pretty eyes.
It's a dreadful come-down from the Montmorenci, to be sure: still, one
must marry somebody—within seven days. But then, again, I've written
such flaming accounts of the other one to all my friends. I've asked
Sponge and Rasper and Robinson to come down, and see us after the
honeymoon at "the Tamarisks," my little place near Dover. And they are
all eager to hear her sing and play, and to see her beautiful sketches
in oil—Can you sing, and play, and sketch in oil, Susan?
Susan [gravely]. I don't know, sir; I never tried.
Nokes [aside]. Then there's her hands. The Montmorenci's, as I wrote
to Rasper, were like the driven snow; and Susan's—though I didn't like
to dwell upon the idea—are more like snow on the second day, in London.
To be sure she will have nothing to do as Mrs. Nokes except to wash 'em.
Then she can speak French like a native, or at least what will seem to
Robinson and the others like a native. Upon my life, I think I might do
worse. But then, again, she'll have relatives,—awful relatives, whom I
shall have to buy off, or, worse, who will not be bought off. It's
certainly a dreadful come-down. Susan [hesitatingly], Susan dear, what
is your name?
Susan. Montem, sir; Susan Montem.
Nokes [aside]. By Jove! why, that's half-way to Montmorenci. It's not
at all a bad name. But then what's the good of that if she's going to
change it for Nokes? Oh, Montem, is it, Susan? And is your papa—your
Susan [sorrowfully]. No, sir.
Nokes. That's capital!—I mean I'm so sorry. Poor girl! Your
father's dead, is he? You're sure he's dead?
Susan [with her pocket-handkerchief to her eyes]. Quite sure, sir.
Nokes. And your mamma,—your excellent mamma,—she's alive, at all
Susan. No, sir; I am an orphan.
Nokes [aside]. How delightful! I love orphans. I'm an orphan myself.
Ah, but then she's sure to have brothers and sisters,—pipe-smoking,
gin-drinking brothers, and sisters who will have married idle mechanics,
with executions in their houses every quarter-day. Susan, my dear, how
many brothers and sisters have you?
Susan [sorrowfully]. I have none, sir. When my dear missis died I was
left quite alone in the world.
Nokes. I'm charmed to hear it [embracing her], adorable young woman!
[Bell rings without.] What are they pulling that bell about for?
Confound them, it makes me nervous.
Susan [meekly]. I think they're wanting me, sir: you see, sir, I'm
neglecting my work.
Nokes [kissing her]. No, you're not, Susan [kisses her again]: quite
the contrary. So your name's Montem,—at present,—is it? How came that
Susan. Well, sir, I was left a foundling in the parish workhouse, at
Salthill, near Eton. Nobody knew anything about me, and as I made my
appearance there one Montem day, the board of guardians named me Montem.
Nokes. And how came you to be chambermaid at this hotel?
Susan [seriously]. It was through good Mr. Woodward, the curate at
Salthill, that it happened, sir: he was my benefactor through life.
Always kind to me at the workhouse, where he was chaplain, he got me a
situation, as soon as I was old enough, with a lady. I lived with her
first as housemaid, and then
as her personal attendant, till she died
under this roof.
Nokes [aside]. I don't wonder at that.
Susan. The people of the hotel here wanted an English chambermaid, and
offered me the place, which, since my benefactor the clergyman was dead,
I accepted thankfully.
Nokes. Poor girl! poor girl! [Pats Susan's head.] There, there! your
feelings do you the greatest credit; but don't cry, because it makes
your eyes red. Now, look here, Susan; there's only one thing more. You
are very soft-hearted, I perceive, and it must be distinctly understood
between us that you need never intercede with me in favor of that
scoundrel Charles. I won't have it. You wouldn't succeed, of course, but
if I ever happen to get fond of you—I mean foolishly fond of you, of
course—your importunity might be annoying. When you are once my wife,
however, and keeping your own carriage, I confidently expect that you
will behave as other people do in that station of life, and show no
weakness in favor of your poor relations.
Susan. I will endeavor, sir, in case you are so good as to marry a
humble girl like me, to do my dooty and please you in every way.
Nokes. That's well said, Susan. [Kisses her.] You have pleased me
in a good many ways already. [Aside] I must say, though I didn't like
to dwell upon the idea before—[Tremendous ringing of bells, and sudden
appearance of the mistress of the hotel. Tableau.]
Mistress of the hotel [to Nokes]. O vieux polisson! [To Susan]
Nokes [to Susan]. What is this lunatic raving about?
Susan. She remarks that I haven't finished my work on the second
Nokes [impatiently]. Tell her to go to—the ground floor. Tell her you
are going to be married to me within the week, and order a
Susan [aside]. I can never tell her that, for she is a Frenchwoman,
and wouldn't believe it. I'll tell her something more melodramatic.
I'll say that Mr. Nokes is my father, who has suddenly recognized and
discovered his long-lost child.—Madame, c'est mon père longtemps
absent, qui vous en prie d'accepter ses remerciments pour votre bonté à
Mistress of the hotel [all smiles, and with both hands outstretched].
Milor, I do congratulate you. Fortunate Susan! You will nevare forget to
recommend de hotel?
Nokes. Thank you, thank you; you're a sensible old woman. [Aside]
She evidently sees no absurd disproportion in our years.—Breakfast,
breakfast!—déjeûner à la what-do-you-call-it! champagne!
[Exit landlady, smiling and bowing.]
Nokes. In the mean time, Susan, put on your bonnet and let's go out
to—whatever they call Doctors' Commons here—and order a special
license. [Susan goes.] Stop a bit, Susan; you forget something.
[Kisses her.] [Aside] I did not like to dwell upon the idea before,
but she's got a most uncommon pretty mouth.
SCENE II.—Drawing-room at the Tamarisks. Garden and Sea in the
distance. Grand piano, harp, sketch-book; and huge portfolio.
Nokes [less gayly attired: solus]. Gad, I feel rather nervous. There's
Sponge, and Rasper, and Robinson, all coming down by the mid-day train
to lunch with me and my new wife,—the Montmorenci, as they imagine.
It's impossible that Susan can keep up such a delusion, and especially
as she insists on talking English. She says her French is so vulgar.
But there! I don't care how she talks or what she talks, bless her.
Everything sounds well from those charming lips. She's a kind-hearted,
good girl, and worth eight hundred dozen (as I should say if I hadn't
left the wine-trade) of the other one. There was something wrong about
that Montmorenci vintage, for all her sparkle; corked or something. Now,
my Susan's all good,—good the second day, good
the third day, good
every day. She's like port—all the better for keeping; and she's not
like port—because there's no crustiness about her. She's a deuced
clever woman. To hear her talk broken English when the squire's wife
called here the other day was as good as a play. Everybody hereabouts
believes she's a Frenchwoman; but then they're all country-people, and
they'll believe anything. Sponge and Rasper and Robinson are all London
born,—especially Rasper,—and London people believe nothing. They
only give credit.
Enter Susan, in an in-door morning dress, but gloved.
Nokes. Well, my darling, have you screwed your courage up to meet
these three gentlemen? Upon my life, I think it would be better if I
told them at once that I had been jilted, and instead of the Montmorenci
had found The Substitute infinitely preferable to the original; for I'm
sure I have, Susan [fondly].
Susan [holding up her finger]. Constance, if you please, my dear. I'm
continually correcting that little mistake of yours. How can I possibly
keep up my dignity as a Montmorenci while you are always calling me
Nokes. Then why keep it up at all, my dear? Why not stand at once upon
your merits, which I am sure are quite sufficient? Of course it would be
a little come-down for me just at first; but that's no matter.
Susan. My good, kind husband! [Kisses his forehead.] No, dear; let
me first show your friends that you have no cause to be ashamed of me.
It will be much easier to do that if they think I am a born lady.
Appearances do such a deal in the world.
Nokes. Yes, my dear, I've noticed that in the wine-trade. If you were
to sell cider at eighty shillings a dozen, it would be considered
uncommon good tipple by the customer who bought it. Tell them Madeira
has been twice to China—twice to China [chuckles to himself]—and how
they smack their lips! That reminds me, by the bye [seriously], of
another set of appearances, Susan, which we have to guard against,—the
pretence and show of poverty. You must learn to steel your heart against
that, my dear. There's that nephew of mine been writing one of his
persistent and appealing letters again. He adjures me to have pity, if
not upon him, at all events upon his innocent Clara. But she ought not
to have been his innocent Clara, and so I've told him. She ought not to
have been his Clara at all. Now, do you remember your solemn promise to
me about that young man?
Susan [sighing]. Yes, sir, I remember.
Nokes [angrily]. Why do you call me "sir," Susan?
Susan. Because when you look so stern and talk so severely you don't
seem to be the same good, kind-hearted husband that I know you are. I'll
keep my promise, sir, not to hold out my hand to your unfortunate
nephew, but please don't let us talk about it. It makes me feel less
reverence, less respect, and even less gratitude, sir,—it does,
indeed,—since your very generosity toward me has made me the instrument
of punishment, and—as I feel—of wrong. I have been poor myself, and
what must that young couple think of my never answering their touching
letter, put in my hands as I first crossed this threshold?
Nokes [testily]. Touching letter, indeed! Any begging-letter impostor
would have written as good a one. It's all humbug, Susan. Mrs. Charles
would like to see you whipped, if I know women. And as for my
nephew—[Noises of wheels heard, and bell rings.] But there's the
front-door bell. Here are our visitors from town. Had you not better
leave the room for a minute or two, to wash those tears away? It would
never do, you know, to exhibit a Montmorenci with red eyes. [Exit
Nokes [solus]. That's the only matter about which my dear Susan and I
are ever likely to fall out,—the extending what she calls the hand of
forgiveness to Charles and his wife, just because
they've got a baby.
I'll never do it if they have twelve. I said to myself I wouldn't when
he wrote to me about this marriage, and I always keep my word.
Enter Sponge, Rasper, and Robinson.
Nokes [shaking hands with all]. Welcome, my friends, welcome to the
Robinson. Thank ye, Nokes, thank ye. But how changed we are at the
Tamarisks! [Pointing to the piano and portfolio.] I mean how changed
we are for the better! ain't we, Sponge? ain't we, Rasper?
Sponge [fawningly]. It was always a charming retreat, but we now see
everywhere, in addition to its former beauties, the magical influence of
a female hand.
Rasper [vulgarly]. Yes; no doubt of that. Directly I saw the new
coach-house, I said, "By Jove, that's Mrs. N——'s doing! She'll spend
his money for him, will Mrs. N——."
Nokes [annoyed]. You were very good, I'm sure.
Sponge. But it is here, within-doors, my dear Nokes, that the great
transformation-scene has been effected. Pianos, harpsichords,
sketch-books,—these all bespeak the presence of lovely and accomplished
Robinson. May we venture to peep into this portfolio, my good
fellow?—that is, if the contents have the interest for us that we
believe them to have. It holds Mrs. Nokes's sketches, I presume.
Nokes. Yes, yes; they are her sketches and nobody else's. [Aside]
Certainly they are, for I bought them for her in Piccadilly.—But here
she comes to answer for herself. [Enter Susan.] Sus—I mean Constance,
my dear, let me introduce to you three friends of my bachelor days, Mr.
Sponge, Mr. Rasper, Mr. Robinson.
Susan [speaking broken English]. Gentlemens, I am mos glad to see you.
My husband—hees friends are mai friends.
Rasper [aside]. She's devilish civil. If she had been English I
should almost think she was afraid of us.
Sponge [bowing]. You are most kind, madam. The noble are always kind.
[Aside to Nokes.] She's all blood, my dear fellow.
Nokes [looking toward her in alarm]. What? Where?
Sponge. No, no; don't misunderstand me. I mean she's all high birth.
If I had met your wife anywhere—in an omnibus, for instance—and only
heard her speak, I should have exclaimed, "There's a Montmorenci!"
Nokes [pleased]. Should you really, now, my dear Sponge? Well, that
shows you are a man of discernment.
Robinson [to Susan]. It is such a real pleasure to us, Mrs. Nokes,
that you speak English. We were afraid we should find it difficult to
converse with you. Sponge is the only one of us who understands—
Sponge. Yes, madam, we did fear that since no other tongue is spoken
in courts and camps—or, at all events, in courts—we should have some
difficulty in following your ideas. But you speak English like a native.
Susan [emphatically]. I believe you. [Recollecting and correcting
herself] Dat is, I do trai mai best. It please my mari—my what ees
it?—my husband. He don't talk French heemself—not mooch.
Nokes. Well, I don't think you should quite say that, my dear. I could
always make myself understood abroad, you know, though my accent is
perhaps a little anglicized.
Susan [laughing]. Rayther so.
[Guests exchange looks of astonishment.]
Nokes [with precipation]. My dear, what an expression! The fact is, my
friends, that madame has a young brother—Count Maximilian de
Montmorenci—at school in England, and what she knows of our language
she has mainly acquired from him. The consequence is, she occasionally
talks—in point of fact—slang.
Susan [in broken English]. Cherk the tinklare, coot your luckies, whos
your hattar? [To Rasper] Have your moder sold her mangle?
[Nokes, Sponge, and Robinson roar with laughter.]
Rasper [aside]. Confound that Nokes! He must have told her about my
family. [With indignation] Madam, I—[Points by accident to the
Susan. What? you weesh to see mai sketch? Oh, yas! [Opens the
portfolio; the three guests crowd round it. Nokes comes down to the
Nokes [aside]. I wish they'd take their lunch and go away. They put me
in a profuse perspiration. I know they'll find her out.
Robinson [with a sketch-book in his hand]. Beautiful!
Sponge [looking over his shoulder on tiptoe]. Exquisite! most lovely!
it's what I call perfection.
Rasper. First-rate—only I've seen something like it before. [Aside]
If I haven't seen that in some print-shop. I'll be hanged. [Blows.]
Susan. Ha! ha! you halve seen eet beefore, Mr.—Gasper? Think of
that, my husband,—Mr. Gasper has seen it beefore!
Nokes [laughing uncomfortably]. Ha! ha! What a funny idea!
Rasper [obstinately]. But I have, though; and in a shop-window, too.
Susan [delightedly]. That is superbe, magnifique! I am so happy, so
proud! My husband, they have copied this leetle work of mine in London!
[Robinson and Sponge clap their hands applaudingly.]
Rasper [shakes his head; aside]. Dashed if I don't believe it's a
chromolithograph! [To Nokes] I say, Nokes, you wrote to us in such
raptures about your wife's hands. Why does she keep her gloves on?
Nokes [confused]. Keep her gloves on? You mean why does she wear them
in-doors? Well, the fact is, the Montmorencis always do it. It's been a
family peculiarity for centuries,—like the Banshee. And, besides, she
does it to keep her hands delicate: they're just like roses—I mean
white roses,—if you could only see 'em. But then she always wears
Rasper [grunts disapproval]. Then I suppose it's no use asking her to
give us a tune on the piano?
Nokes [hastily]. Not a bit, not a bit; of course not; and, besides, we
shall have lunch directly.
Susan [approaching them]. What is dat, Mr. Gasper? Did you not ask for
a leetle music? What you like for me to play?
Nokes [aside to Susan]. How can you be such a fool? Why, this is
suicide! [To Rasper] My dear fellow, my wife would be delighted, but
the fact is the piano is out of order. The tuner is coming to-morrow.
Susan [seats herself at the piano]. My dear husband, it weel do very
well. He only said we must note "thomp, thomp" until he had seen it; dat
is all. Now, gentlemens, what would you like?
Sponge [with an armful of music-books]. Nay, madam, what will you do
us the favor to choose? [Aside] There is nothing I love so much in
this world as turning over the leaves of a music-book for a lady of
Susan. Ah, I am so sorry, because I do only play by de ear, here
[points to her ear]. But what would you like, gentlemens? Handel,
Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, it is all exactly de same to me.
Robinson. Oh, then, pray let us have Mendelssohn,—one of those
exquisite Songs without Words of his.
Susan. Yas? with plaisir. I like dose songs best myself,—de songs
Nokes [aside, despairingly]. It's impossible she can get out of this.
Now we shall have an éclaircissement, an exposure, an explosion.
Susan [strikes piano violently with both hands, and a string breaks
with a loud report]. Ah, quel dommage! How stupide, too, when he told
me not to "thomp, thomp"! I am so sorry, gentlemens! I did hope to give
you a song, but I cannot sing without an accompaniment.
Rasper [maliciously]. There's the
harp, ma'am,—unless its strings
are in the same unsatisfactory state as those of the piano.
Susan [with affected delight]. What, you play de harp, Mr. Gasper? I
am so glad, because I do not play it yet myself: I am only learning.
Come, I shall sing, and you shall play upon de harp.
Rasper [angrily]. I play the harp, madam! what rubbish! of course I
Sponge [eagerly]. But I can, just a little,—just enough to
accompany one of Mrs. Nokes's charming songs. [Brings the harp down to
the front, and sits down to it, trying the strings.]
Nokes [aside]. The nasty little accomplished beast! He'll ruin
everything. Susan is at her wits' end. [Aside to Susan] What on earth
are we to do now?
[In stentorian tones] Luncheon is on the table! [Then, approaching
Susan, he adds, in lower but distinct tones] A lady wishes to see you,
madam, upon very particular business.
Susan [surprised]. A lady! what lady?
Nokes [to Susan, aside and impatiently]. Never mind what lady; see
her at once, whoever she is: it will be an excuse for getting away from
these people.—My wife is engaged for the present, my good friends, so
we'll sit down to lunch without her.
[All bow and leave the room, receiving in return from Susan a stately
courtesy. Nokes, the last to leave, kisses his hand to her.] Adorable
Susan, you have conquered, you remain in possession of the field; but
you must not risk another engagement. I will see to that. Champagne
shall do its work on Rasper—Gasper.
Enter Mrs. Charles Nokes, neatly but cheaply attired. Susan rises,
bows, and looks toward her interrogatively.
Mrs. Charles Nokes. I did not send in my name, madam, because I feared
it would but prejudice you against your visitor. I am Charles's—that
is, your husband's niece by marriage; not a near relation to yourself,
you might say, if you wished to be unkind,—which [with earnestness] I
do not think you do.
Susan [distressed, but endeavoring to remain firm]. Oh, but I do,
ma'am. I wish to be as hard as a stone. [Aside] Only I can't. What a
pretty, modest young creature she is!
Mrs. C.N. The poor give you no such severe character, madam; and,
taking courage by their report, and being poor myself, and, alas! having
been the innocent cause of making others poor, I have ventured hither.
Susan [aside]. Oh, I wish she wouldn't! I can't stand this. There's
something in her face, too, that reminds me—but there! have I not
promised my husband to be brutal and unfeeling? [Aloud] Madame, I am
sorry, but I have noting for you. Mr. Noke, mai husband, he tell me dat
hees nephew is very foolish, weeked jeune homme—
Mrs. C.N. [interrupting]. Foolish, madam, he may have been, nay, he
was, to fall in love with a poor orphan like myself, who had nothing to
give him but my love,—but not wicked. He has a noble heart. His
sorrow is not upon his own account, but for his wife and child. He has
bent his proud spirit twice to entreat his uncle's forgiveness, but in
vain. And now I have come to appeal to you,—though you are not of
my own country,—a woman to a woman.
Susan [aside]. Dear heart alive! I'm melting like a tallow candle.
Mrs. C.N. I was a poor Berkshire curate's daughter—
Susan [interrupting hastily]. A what? [Recollecting herself.] A
poor curé's daughter—yas, yas—in Berkishire, qu'est-ce que c'est
Mrs. C.N. It is in the south of England, madam. We were poor, I say,
and I had been used to straits, even before my poor father died. But my
husband has been always accustomed to luxury and comfort, and now that
poverty has come suddenly upon us—
Susan [interrupting with emotion, but still speaking broken English.]
Were you considaired like your fader?
Mrs. C.N. Yes, madam, very like.
Susan [anxiously and tremblingly]. What was his name?
Mrs. C.N. Woodward, madam. He was curate of Salthill, near Eton.
Susan [throwing herself at her feet and kissing her hands]. Why,
you're Miss Clara! and I'm Susan,—Susan Montem, to whom he was so kind
and noble [sobbing]. I'm no more a Montmorenci than you are,—nor half
as much. I'm a workhouse orphan, and—and—your aunt by marriage.
[Aside, and clasping her hands]. Oh, what can I do to help them?
what can I do?
Mrs. C.N. [fervently]. I thank heaven. There is genuine gratitude in
your kind face. I remember you now, though I am sure I should never have
recognized you, Susan.
Susan. I dare say not, Miss Clara [rising and wiping her eyes]. Fine
feathers make fine birds. Lor, how I should like to have a talk with you
about old times! But there, we've got something else to do first.
Where's your good husband?
Mrs. C.N. In the garden, hiding in the laurel-bed, with Chickabiddy.
That's our baby, you know.
[Carriage heard departing; they listen. Enter Mr. Nokes, slightly
elevated with champagne, and not perceiving Mrs. C.N.]
Nokes. Hurrah, my dear! they're off, all three of them,—all five of
them, for each of them sees two of the others; they have no notion that
your name is Susan—[sees Mrs. C.N.] I mean Constance. [Aside] Oh,
Lor! just as I thought we'd weathered the storm, too, and got into still
Susan [gravely]. She knows all about it, husband. That lady is the
daughter of my benefactor, Mr. Woodward, to whom I owed everything on
earth till I met you.
Nokes [with enthusiasm, and holding out both hands]. The deuce she is!
I am most uncommonly glad to see you, ma'am, under this roof. [Aside to
Susan] She don't look very prosperous, Susan: if there's anything that
money can get for her, I'll see she has it; mind that.
Susan [aloud]. She is poor, sir, and much in need of home and friends.
Nokes [to Mrs. C.N.]. Then you have found them here, ma'am. You're a
fixture at "the Tamarisks" for life, if it so pleases you.
Mrs. C.N. You are most kind, sir, but I have a husband and one
Nokes. Never mind that: he'll grow. There's room here for you and your
husband and the little child, even if he does grow. Where are they? Show
Mrs. C.N. runs to window and calls, "Charles, Charles."
Nokes [aside]. I think I've had quite as much champagne as is good for
me; just enough; the golden mean.
Enter Charles with baby, which he holds at full stretch of his
Nokes [indignantly]. You young scoundrel! How dare you show your face
in this house?
Mrs. C.N. [interfering]. You sent for him, sir.
Nokes. I sent for nothing of the sort. I sent for your husband.
Mrs. C.N. That is my husband, sir, and our little child. You promised
us an asylum for life under your roof; and I am certain you will keep
Nokes [to Susan, endeavoring to be severe]. Now, this is all your
fault; and yet you promised me never to interfere on behalf of these
Susan. Nor did I, my dear husband. You have done it all yourself.
Nokes [aside]. It was all that last glass of champagne.
Charles [giving up the baby to his wife, and coming up with
outstretched hand to his uncle]. Come, sir, pray forgive me. I could
not enjoy your favors without your forgiveness, believe me.
Nokes [holding out his hand unwillingly]. There. [Aside] How could
I be such a fool, knowing so well what champagne is made of?—Well, sir,
you have regained your place here, remember it has all happened
through your aunt's goodness. Let nobody ever show any of their airs to
Charles and his wife [together]. We shall never forget her kindness,
Nokes. Mind you don't, then. For, you see, it's to her own
disadvantage, since when I die—and supposing I have forgiven you—the
child that has to grow will inherit everything, and Susan only have a
life-interest in it.
Charles [hopefully]. I don't see that, sir. Why shouldn't you have
children of your own?
Nokes [complacently]. True, true. Why shouldn't we? I didn't like to
dwell upon the idea before, but why shouldn't we? At all events, Susan
[comes forward with Susan], I am sure I shall never repent having shot
at the pigeon—I mean, having wooed the Montmorenci, but won THE