SCENE.--A garret-room. MATTIE. SUSAN.
Mat. At the worst we've got to die some day, Sue, and I don't know but hunger may be as easy a way as another.
Sus. I'd rather have a choice, though. And it's not hunger I would choose.
Mat. There are worse ways.
Sus. Never mind: we don't seem likely to be bothered wi' choosin'.
Mat. There's that button-hole done. (Lays down her work with a sigh, and leans bade in her chair.)
Sus. I'll take it to old Nathan. It'll be a chop a-piece. It's wonderful what a chop can do to hearten you up.
Mat. I don't think we ought to buy chops, dear. We must be content with bread, I think.
Sus. Bread, indeed!
Mat. Well, it's something to eat.
Sus. Do you call it eatin' when you see a dog polishin' a bone?
Mat. Bread's very good with a cup of tea.
Sus. Tea, indeed! Fawn-colour, trimmed with sky-blue!--If you'd mentioned lobster-salad and sherry, now!
Mat. I never tasted lobster-salad.
Sus. I have, though; and I do call lobster-salad good. You don't care about your wittles: I do. When I'm hungry, I'm not at all comfortable.
Mat. Poor dear Sue! There is a crust in the cupboard.
Sus. I can't eat crusts. I want summat nice. I ain't dyin' of 'unger. It's only I'm peckish. Very peckish, though. I could eat--let me see what I could eat:--I could eat a lobster-salad, and two dozen oysters, and a lump of cake, and a wing and a leg of a chicken--if it was a spring chicken, with watercreases round it--and a Bath-bun, and a sandwich; and in fact I don't know what I couldn't eat, except just that crust in the cupboard. And I do believe I could drink a whole bottle of champagne.
Mat. I don't know what one of those things tastes like--scarce one; and I don't believe you do either.
Sus. Don't I?--I never did taste champagne, but I've seen them eating lobster-salad many a time;--girls not half so good-lookin' as you or me, Mattie, and fine gentlemen a waitin' upon 'em. Oh dear! I am so hungry! Think of having your supper with a real gentleman as talks to you as if you was fit to talk to--not like them Jew-tailors, as tosses your work about as if it dirtied their fingers--and them none so clean for all their fine rings!
Mat. I saw Nathan's Joseph in a pastrycook's last Saturday, and a very pretty girl with him, poor thing!
Sus. Oh the hussy to let that beast pay for her!
Mat. I suppose she was hungry.
Sus. I'd die before I let a snob like that treat me. No, Mattie! I spoke of a real gentleman.
Mat. Are you sure you wouldn't take Nathan's Joseph for a gentleman if he was civil to you?
Sus. Thank you, miss! I know a sham from a real gentleman the moment I set eyes on him.
Mat. What do you mean by a real gentleman, Susan?
Sus. A gentleman as makes a lady of his girl.
Mat. But what sort of lady, Sue? The poor girl may fancy herself a lady, but only till she's left in the dirt. That sort of gentleman makes fine speeches to your face, and calls you horrid names behind your back. Sue, dear, don't have a word to say to one of them--if he speaks ever so soft.
Sus. Lawks, Mattie! they ain't all one sort.
Mat. You won't have more than one sort to choose from. They may be rough or civil, good-natured or bad, but they're all the same in this, that not one of them cares a pin more for you than if you was a horse--no--nor half a quarter so much. Don't for God's sake have a word to say to one of them. If I die, Susan--
Sus. If you do, Matilda--if you go and do that thing, I'll take to gin--that's what I'll do. Don't say I didn't act fair, and tell you beforehand.
Mat. How can I help dying, Susan?
Sus. I say, Don't do it, Mattie. We'll fall out, if you do. Don't do it, Matilda--La! there's that lumping Bill again--_al_ways a comin' up the stair when you don't want him!
Mat. Well, Bill, how have you been getting on?
Bill. Pretty tollol, Mattie. But I can't go on so. (Holds out his stool.) It ain't respectable.
Mat. What ain't respectable? Everything's respectable that's honest.
Bill. Why, who ever saw a respectable shiner goin' about with a three-legged stool for a blackin' box? It ain't the thing. The rig'lars chaffs me fit to throw it at their 'eads, they does--only there's too many on 'em, an' I've got to dror it mild. A box I must have, or a feller's ockypation's gone. Look ye here! One bob, one tanner, and a joey! There! that's what comes of never condescending to an 'a'penny.
Sus. Bless us! what mighty fine words we've got a waitin' on us!
Bill. If I 'ave a weakness, Miss Susan, it's for the right word in the right place--as the coster said to the devil-dodger as blowed him up for purfane swearin'.--When a gen'leman hoffers me an 'a'penny, I axes him in the purlitest manner I can assume, to oblige me by givin' of it to the first beggar he may 'ave the good fort'n to meet. Some on 'em throws down the 'a'penny. Most on 'em makes it a penny.--But I say, Mattie, you don't want nobody arter you--do you now?
Mat. I don't know what you mean by that, Bill.
Bill. You don't want a father--do you now? Do she, Susan?
Sus. We want no father a hectorin' here, Bill. You 'ain't seen one about, have you?
Bill. I seen a rig'lar swell arter Mattie, anyhow.
Mat. What do you mean, Bill? Bill. A rig'lar swell--I repeats it--a astin' arter a young woman by the name o' Mattie.
Sus. (pulling him aside). Hold your tongue, Bill! You'll kill her! You young viper! Hold your tongue, or I'll twist your neck. Don't you see how white she is?
Mat. What was he like? Do tell me, Bill.
Bill. A long-legged rig'lar swell, with a gold chain, and a cane with a hivory 'andle.
Sus. He's a bad man, Bill, and Mattie can't abide him. If you tell him where she is, she'll never speak to you again.
Mat. Oh, Susan! what shall I do? Don't bring him here, Bill. I shall have to run away again; and I can't, for we owe a week's rent.
Sus. There, Bill!
Bill. Don't you be afeard, Mattie. He shan't touch you. Nor the old one neither.
Mat. There wasn't an old man with him?--not an old man with a long stick?
Bill. Not with him. Daddy was on his own hook?
Mat. It must have been my father, Susan. (Sinks back on her chair.)
Sus. 'Tain't the least likely.--There, Bill! I always said you was no good! You've killed her.
Bill. Mattie! Mattie! I didn't tell him where you was.
Mat. (reviving). Run and fetch him, Bill--there's a dear! Oh! how proud I've been! If mother did say a hard word, she didn't mean it--not for long. Run, Bill, run and fetch him.
Bill. Mattie, I was a fetchin' of him, but he wouldn't trust me. And didn't he cut up crusty, and collar me tight! He's a game old cock--he is, Mattie.
Mat. (getting up and pacing about the room). Oh, Susan! my heart'll break. To think he's somewhere near and I can't get to him! Oh my side! Don't you know where he is, Bill?
Bill. He's someveres about, and blow me if I don't, find him!--a respectable old party in a white pinny, an' 'peared as if he'd go on a walkin' till he walked hisself up staudin'. A scrumptious old party!
Mat. Had he a stick, Bill?
Bill. Yes--a knobby stick--leastways a stick wi' knobs all over it.
Mat. That's him, Susan!
Bill. I could swear to the stick. I was too near gittin' at the taste on it not to know it again.
Mat. When was it you saw him, Bill?
Bill. Yesterday, Mattie--jest arter you give me the tart. I sawr him again this mornin', but he wouldn't place no confidence in me.
Mat. Oh dear! Why didn't you come straight to me, Bill?
Bill. If I'd only ha' known as you wanted him! But that was sech a _un_likely thing! It's werry perwokin'! I uses my judgment, an' puts my hoof in it! I am sorry, Mattie. But I didn't know no better (crying).
Mat. Don't cry, Bill. You'll find him for me yet--won't you?
Bill. I'm off this indentical minute. But you see--
Sus. There! there!--now you mizzle. I don't want no fathers here--goodness knows; but the poor girl's took a fancy to hers, and she'll die if she don't get him. Run now--there's a good boy! (Exit BILL.) You 'ain't forgotten who's a comin', Mattie?
Mat. No, indeed.
Sus. Well, I hope she'll be civil, or I'll just give her a bit of my mind.
Mat. Not enough to change hers, I'm afraid. That sort of thing never does any good.
Sus. And am I to go a twiddlin' of my thumbs, and sayin' yes, ma'am, an' no, ma'am? Not if I knows it, Matilda!
Mat. You will only make her the more positive in her ill opinion of us.
Sus. An' what's that to me?
Mat. Well, I don't like to be thought a thief. Besides, Mrs. Clifford has been kind to us.
Sus. She's paid us for work done; so has old Nathan.
Mat. Did old Nathan ever give you a glass of wine when you took home his slops?
Sus. Oh! that don't cost much; and besides, she takes it out in kingdom-come.
Mat. You're unfair, Susan.
Sus. Well, it's little fairness I get.
Mat. And to set that right you're unfair yourself! What you call speaking your mind, is as cheap, and as nasty, as the worst shoddy old Nathan ever got gobble-stitched into coats and trousers.
Sus. Very well, Miss Matilda! (rising and snatching her bonnet). The sooner we part the better! You stick by your fine friends! I don't care that for them! (snapping her fingers)--and you may tell 'em so! I can make a livin' without them or you either. Goodness gracious knows it ain't much of a livin' I've made sin' I come across you, Miss! Exit.
Mat (_trying to rise). Susan! Susan! (Lays her head on the table).
A tap at the door, and enter MRS. CLIFFORD, with JAMES behind. MATTIE rises.
Mrs. C. Wait on the landing, James.
James. Yes, ma'am.
Exit JAMES, leaving the door a little ajar.
Mrs. C. Well, Miss Pearson! (Mattie offers a chair.) No, thank you. That person is still with you, I see!
Mat. Indeed, ma'am, she's an honest girl.
Mrs. C. She is a low creature, and capable of anything. I advise you to get rid of her.
Mat. Was she rude on the stair, ma'am?
Mrs. C. Rude! Vulgar--quite vulgar! Insulting!
Mat. I am very sorry. But, believe me, ma'am, she is an honest girl, and never pawned that work. It was done--every stitch of it; and the loss of the money is hard upon us too. Indeed, ma'am, she did lose the parcel.
Mrs. C. You have only her word for it. If you don't give her up, I give you up.
Mat. I can't, ma'am. She might go into bad ways if I did.
Mrs. C. She can't well get into worse. Her language! You would do ever so much better without her.
Mat. I daren't, ma'am. I should never get it off my conscience.
Mrs. C. Your conscience indeed! (rising). I wish you a good morning, Miss Pearson.--(Sound of a blow, followed by scuffling.)--What is that? I fear I have got into an improper place.
SUSAN bursts in.
Sus. Yes, ma'am, and that you have! It's a wery improper place for the likes o' you, ma'am--as believes all sorts o' wicked things of people as is poor. Who are you to bring your low flunkies a-listenin' at honest girls' doors! (Turning to James in the doorway.) Get out, will you? Let me catch you here again, and I'll mark you that the devil wouldn't know his own! You dirty Paul Pry--you! (Falls on her knees to Mattie.) Mattie, you angel!
Mat. (trying to make her get up) Never mind. It's all right between you and me, Susan.
Mrs. C. I see! I thought as much!
Sus. (starting up) As much as what, then, my lady? Oh, I know you and your sort--well enough! We're the dirt under your feet--lucky if we stick to your shoes! But this room's mine.
Mrs. C. That linen was mine, young woman, I believe.
Sus. An' it's for that miserable parcel you come a-talkin', an' abusin' as no lady ought to! How dare you look that angel in the face there an' say she stole it--which you're not fit to lace her boots for her! There!
Mat. Susan! Susan! do be quiet.
Sus. It's all very well for the likes o' me (courtesying spitefully)--which I'm no better'n I should be, and a great deal worse, if I'm on my oath to your ladyship--that's neither here nor there!--but she's better'n a van-load o' sich ladies as you, pryin' into other people's houses, with yer bibles, an' yer religion, an' yer flunkies! I know ye! I do!
Mat. Don't, Susan.
Sus. Why don't ye go an' pay twopence a week to somebody to learn ye good manners? I been better brought up myself.
Mrs. C. I see I was wrong: I ought at once to have handed the matter over to the police.
Sus. The perlice, indeed!--You get out of this, ma'am, or I'll make you!--you and your cowardly man-pup there, as is afraid to look me in the face through the crack o' the door! Get out, I say, with your--insolence--that's your word!
Exit MRS. CLIFFORD.
Mat. Susan! Susan! what is to become of us?
Sus. She daren't do it--the old scrooge! But just let her try it on! See if I don't show her up afore the magistrate! Mattie! I'll work ray fingers to the bone for you. I would do worse, only you won't let me. I'll go to the court, and tell the magistrate you're a-dyin' of hunger, which it's as true as gospel.
Mat. They'd send me to the workhouse, Sukey.
Sus. There must be some good people somewheres, Mattie.
Mat. Yes; if we could get at them. But we can live till we die, Sukey.
Sus. I'll go and list for a soldier, I will. Women ha' done it afore. It's quite respectable, so long as they don't find you out--and they shouldn't me. There's ne'er a one o' the redcoats 'ill cut up rougher 'n I shall--barrin' the beard, and that don't go for much now-a-days.
Mat. And what should I do without you, Susan?
Sus. Do you care to have me, then?
Mat. That I do, indeed. But you shouldn't have talked like that to Mrs. Clifford. Ladies ain't used to such words. They sound worse than they are--quite dreadful, to them. She don't know your kind heart as I do. Besides, the look of things is against us. Ain't it now? Say yourself.
Sus. (starting up) I'll go and beg her pardon. I'll go direckly--I will. I swear I will. I can't abear her, but I'll do it. I believe hunger has nigh drove me mad.
Mat. It takes all the madness out of me.--No, Susan; we must bear it now. Come along. We can be miserable just as well working. There's your sleeve. I'll thread your needle for you. Don't cry--there's a dear!
Sus. I will cry. It's all I ever could do to my own mind, and it's all as is left me. But if I could get my claws on that lovyer o' yours, I wouldn't cry then. He's at the bottom of it! I don't see myself what's the use of fallin' in love. One man's as much of a fool as another to me. But you must go to bed. You ain't fit. You'll be easier when you've got your frock off. There! Why, child, you're all of a tremble!--And no wonder, wi' nothing on her blessed body but her frock and her shimmy!
Mat. Don't take off my frock, Sue. I must get on with my work.
Sus. Lie down a bit, anyhow. I'll lie at your back, and you'll soon be as warm's a toast. (MAT. lies down.) O Lord! she's dead! Her heart's stopped beatin'. (Runs out of the room.)
A moment of silence. A tap at the door.
CONSTANCE peeps in, then enters, with a basket.
Con. Miss Pearson!--She's asleep. (Goes near.) Good heavens! (Lays her hand on her.) No. (Takes a bottle from her basket, finds a cup, and pours into it.) Take this, Miss Pearson; it will do you good. There now! You'll find something else in the basket.
Mat. I don't want anything. I had so nearly got away! Why did you bring me back?
Con. Life is good!
Mat. It is not good. How dare you do it? Why keep a miserable creature alive? Life ain't to us what it is to you. The grave is the only place we have any right to.
Con. If I could make your life worth something to you--
Mat. You make my life worth to me! You don't know what you're saying, miss. (Sitting up.)
Con. I think I do.
Mat. I will not owe my life to you. I could love you, though--your hands are so white, and your look so brave. That's what comes of being born a lady. We never have a chance.
Con. Miss Pearson--Mattie, I would call you, if you wouldn't be offended--
Mat. Me offended, miss!--I've not got life enough for it. I only want my father and my mother, and a long sleep.--If I had been born rich--
Con. You might have been miserable all the same. Listen, Mattie. I will tell you my story--I was once as badly off as you--worse in some ways--ran about the streets without shoes to my feet, and hardly a frock to cover me.
Mat. La, miss! you don't say so! It's not possible! Look at you!
Con. Indeed, I tell you the truth. I know what hunger is too--well enough. My father was a silkweaver in Spitalfields. When he died, I didn't know where to go. But a gentleman--
Mat. Oh! a gentleman!--(Fiercely.) Why couldn't you be content with one, then?
Con. I don't understand you.
Mat. I dare say not! There! take your basket. I'll die afore a morsel passes my lips. There! Go away, miss.
Con. (aside). Poor girl! she is delirious. I must ask William to fetch a doctor. Exit.
Mat. I wish my hands were as white as hers.
Enter SUSAN, followed by COL. G. CONSTANCE behind.
Sus. Mattie! dear Mattie! this gentleman--don't be vexed--I couldn't help him bein' a gentleman; I was cryin' that bad, and I didn't see no one come up to me, and when he spoke to me, it made me jump, and I couldn't help answerin' of him--he spoke so civil and soft like, and me nigh mad! I thought you was dead, Mattie. He says he'll see us righted, Mattie.
Col. G. I'll do what I can, if you will tell me what's amiss.
Sus. Oh, everything's amiss--everything!--Who was that went out, Mattie--this minute--as we come in?
Mat. Miss Lacordere.
Sus. Her imperence! Well! I should die of shame if I was her.
Mat. She's an angel, Susan. There's her basket. I told her to take it away, but she would leave it.
Sus. (peeping into the basket). Oh, my! Ain't this nice? You must have a bit, Mattie.
Mat. Not one mouthful. You wouldn't have me, Susan!
Sus. I ain't so peticlar (eating a great mouthful). You really must, Mattie. (Goes on eating.)
Col. G. Don't tease her. We'll get something for her presently. And don't you eat too much--all at once.
Sus. I think she'd like a chop, sir.--There's that boy, Bill, again!--Always when he ain't wanted!
Bill (aside to Susan). What's the row? What's that 'ere gent up to? I've been an' had enough o' gents. They're a bad lot. I been too much for one on 'em, though. I ha' run him down.--And, Mattie, I've found the old gen'leman.
Mat. My father, Bill?
Bill. That's it percisely! Right as a trivet--he is!
Mat. Susan! take hold of me. My heart's going again.
Bill. Lord! what's up wi' Mattie? She do look dreadful.
Sus. You been an' upset her, you clumsy boy! Here--run and fetch a sausage or two, and a--
Col. G. No, no! That will never do.
Sus. Them's for Bill and me, sir. I was a goin' on, sir.--And, Bill, a chop--a nice chop. But Lord! how are we to cook it, with never a fryin'-pan, or a bit o' fire to set it on!
Col. G. You'd never think of doing a chop for an invalid in the frying-pan?
Sus. Certainly not, sir--we 'ain't got one. Everything's up the spout an' over the top. Run, Bill. A bit of cold chicken, and two pints o' bottled stout. There's the money the gen'leman give me.--'T 'ain't no Miss Lackodare's, Mattie.
Bill. I'll trouble no gen'leman to perwide for my family--obleeged all the same, sir. Mattie never wos a dub at dewourin', but I'll get her some'at toothsome. I favours grub myself.
Col. G. I'll go with you, Bill. I want to talk to you.
Bill. Well, I 'ain't no objection--so be you wants to talk friendly, sir.
Col. G. Good night. I'll come and see you to-morrow.
Sus. God bless you, sir. You've saved both on our lives. I was a goin' to drown myself, Mattie--I really was this time. Wasn't I, sir?
Col. G. Well, you looked like it--that is all I can say. You shall do it next time--so far as I'm concerned.
Sus. I won't never no more again, sir--not if Mattie don't drive me to it.
Con. (to COL. G.). Come back for me in a little while.
Col. G. Yes, miss. Come, Bill. Exit.
Bill. All right, sir. I'm a follerin', as the cat said to the pigeon. Exit.
Sus. I'll just go and get you a cup o' tea. Mrs. Jones's kettle's sure to be a bilin'. That's what you would like.
Exit. Constance steps aside, and Susan passes without seeing her_.
Mat. Oh! to be a baby again in my mother's arms! But it'll soon be over now.
CONSTANCE comes forward.
Con. I hope you're a little better now?
Mat. You're very kind, miss; and I beg your pardon for speaking to you as I did.
Con. Don't say a word about it. You didn't quite know what you were saying. I'm in trouble myself. I don't know how soon I may be worse off than you.
Mat. Why, miss, I thought you were going to be married!
Con. No, I am not.
Mat. Why, miss, what's happened. He's never going to play you false--is he?
Con. I don't mean ever to speak to him again?
Mat. What has he done to offend you, miss?
Con. Nothing. Only I know now I don't like him. To tell you the truth, Mattie, he's not a gentleman.
Mat. Not a gentleman, miss! How dare you say so?
Con. Do you know anything about him? Did you ever see him?
Mat. Once at your house.
Con. Oh! I remember--that time! I begin to--It couldn't be at the sight of him you fainted, Mattie?--You knew him? Tell me! tell me! Make me sure of it.
Mat. To give you your revenge! No. It's a mean spite to say he ain't a gentleman.
Con. Perhaps you and I have different ideas of what goes to make a gentleman.
Mat. Very likely.
Con. Oh! don't be vexed, Mattie. I didn't mean to hurt you.
Mat. Oh! I dare say!
Con. If you talk to me like that, I must go.
Mat. I never asked you to come.
Con. Well, I did want to be friendly with you. I wouldn't hurt you for the world.
Mat. (bursting into tears) I beg your pardon, miss. I'm behaving like a brute. But you must forgive me; my heart is breaking.
Con. Poor dear! (kissing her) So is mine almost. Let us be friends. Where's Susan gone?
Mat. To fetch me a cup of tea. She'll be back directly.
Con. Don't let her say bad words: I can't bear them. I think it's because I was so used to them once--in the streets, I mean--not at home--never at home.
Mat. She don't often, miss. She's a good-hearted creature. It's only when hunger makes her cross. She don't like to be hungry.
Con. I should think not, poor girl!
Mat. Don't mind what she says, please. If you say nothing, she'll come all right. When she's spoken her mind, she feels better. Here she comes!
Re-enter SUSAN. It begins to grow dark.
Sus. Well, and who have we got here?
Mat. Miss Lacordere, Sukey.
Sus. There's no lack o' dare about her, to come here!
Mat. It's very kind of her to come, Susan.
Sus. I tell you what, miss: that parcel was stole. It was stole, miss!--stole from me--an' that angel there a dyin' in the street!
Con. I'm quite sure of it, Susan. I never thought anything else.
Sus. Not but I allow it was a pity, miss!--I'm very sorry. But, bless you! (lighting a candle)--with all your fine clothes--! My! you look like a theayter-queen--you do, miss! If you was to send them up the spout now!--My! what a lot they'd let you have on that silk!
Con. The shawl is worth a good deal, I believe. It's an Indian one--all needlework.
Sus. And the bee-utiful silk! Laws, miss! just shouldn't I like to wear a frock like that! I should be hard up before I pledged that! But the shawl! If I was you, miss, I would send 'most everything up before that!--things inside, you know, miss--where it don't matter so much.
Con. (laughing) The shawl would be the first thing I should part with. I would rather be nice inside than out.
Sus. Lawk, miss! I shouldn't wonder if that was one of the differs now! Well, I never! It ain't seen! It must be one o' the differs!
Con. What differs? I don't understand you.
Sus. The differs 'tween girls an' ladies--girls like me an' real ladies like you.
Con. Oh, I see! But how dark it has got! What can be keeping William? I must go at once, or what will my aunt say! Would you mind going with me a little bit, Susan?
Sus. I'll go with pleasure, miss.
Con. Just a little way, I mean, till we get to the wide streets. You couldn't lend me an old cloak, could you?
Sus. I 'ain't got one stitch, miss, but what I stand up in--'cep' it be a hodd glove an' 'alf a pocket-'an'kercher. Nobody 'ill know you.
Con. But I oughtn't to be out dressed like this.
Sus. You've only got to turn up your skirt over your head, miss.
Con. (drawing up her skirt) I never thought of that!
Sus. Well, I never!
Con. What's the matter?
Sus. Only the whiteness o' the linin' as took my breath away, miss. It ain't no use turnin' of it up: you'll look like a lady whatever you do to hide it. But never mind: that ain't no disgrace so long as you don't look down on the rest of us. There, miss! There you are--fit for a play! Come along; I'll take care of you. Lawks! I'm as good as a man--I am!
Con. Good-bye then, Mattie.
Mat. Good-bye, miss. God bless you.