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A short story by A. A. Milne

"The Lost Heiress"

Title:     "The Lost Heiress"
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

The scene is laid outside a village inn in that county of curious dialects, Loamshire. The inn is easily indicated by a round table bearing two mugs of liquid, while a fallen log emphasizes the rural nature of the scene. Gaffer Jarge and Gaffer Willyum are seated at the table, surrounded by a fringe of whisker, Jarge being slightly more of a gaffer than Willyum.

Jarge (who missed his dinner through nervousness and has been ordered to sustain himself with soup--as he puts down the steaming mug). Eh, bor, but this be rare beer. So it be.

Willyum (who had too much dinner and is now draining his sanatogen). You be right, Gaffer Jarge. Her be main rare beer. (He feels up his sleeve, but thinking better of it wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.) Main rare beer, zo her be. (Gagging.) Zure-lie.

Jarge. Did I ever tell 'ee, bor, about t' new squoire o' these parts--him wot cum hum yesterday from furren lands? Gaffer Henry wor a-telling me.

Willyum (privately bored). Thee didst tell 'un, lad, sartain sure thee didst. And Gaffer Henry, he didst tell 'un too. But tell 'un again. It du me good to hear 'un, zo it du. Zure-lie.

Jarge. A rackun it be a main queer tale, queerer nor any them writing chaps tell about. It wor like this. (Dropping into English, in his hurry to get his long speech over before he forgets it.) The old Squire had a daughter who disappeared when she was three weeks old, eighteen years ago. It was always thought she was stolen by somebody, and the Squire would have it that she was still alive. When he died a year ago he left the estate and all his money to a distant cousin in Australia, with the condition that if he did not discover the missing baby within twelve months everything was to go to the hospitals. (Remembering his smock and whiskers with a start.) And here du be the last day, zo it be, and t' Squoire's daughter, her ain't found.

Willyum (puffing at a new and empty clay pipe). Zure-lie. (Jarge, a trifle jealous of Willyum's gag, pulls out a similar pipe, but smokes it with the bowl upside down to show his independence.) T' Squire's darter (Jarge frowns), her bain't (Jarge wishes he had thought of "bain't")--her bain't found. (There is a dramatic pause, only broken by the prompter.) Her ud be little Rachel's age now, bor?

Jarge (reflectively). Ay, ay. A main queer lass little Rachel du be. Her bain't like one of us.

Willyum. Her do be that fond of zoap and water. (Laughter.)

Jarge (leaving nothing to chance). Happen she might be a real grand lady by birth, bor.

Enter Rachel, beautifully dressed in the sort of costume in which one would go to a fancy-dress ball as a village maiden.

Rachel (in the most expensive accent). Now Uncle George (shaking a finger at him), didn't you promise me you'd go straight home? It would serve you right if I never tied your tie for you again. (She smiles brightly at him.)

Jarge (slapping his thigh in ecstasy). Eh, lass, yer du keep us old 'uns in order. (He bursts into a falsetto chuckle, loses the note, blushes and buries his head in his mug.)

Willyum (rising). Us best be gettin' down along, Jarge, a rackun.

Jarge. Ay, bor, time us chaps was moving. Don't 'e be long, lass. [Exeunt, limping heavily.

Rachel (sitting down on the log). Dear old men! How I love them all in this village! I have known it all my life. How strange it is that I have never had a father or mother. Sometimes I seem to remember a life different to this--a life in fine houses and spacious parks, among beautifully dressed people (which is surprising, seeing that she was only three weeks old at the time; but the audience must be given a hint of the plot), and then it all fades away again. (She looks fixedly into space.)

Enter Hugh Fitzhugh, Squire.

Fitzhugh (standing behind Rachel, but missing her somehow). Did ever man come into stranger inheritance? A wanderer in Central Australia, I hear unexpectedly of my cousin's death through an advertisement in an old copy of a Sunday newspaper. I hasten home--too late to soothe his dying hours; too late indeed to enjoy my good fortune for more than one short day. To-morrow I must give up all to the hospitals, unless by some stroke of Fate this missing girl turns up. (Impatiently.) Pshaw! She is dead. (Suddenly he notices Rachel.) By heaven, a pretty girl in this out-of-the-way village! (He walks round her.) Gad, she is lovely! Hugh, my boy, you are in luck. (He takes off his hat.) Good-evening, my dear!

Rachel (with a start). Good-evening.

Fitzhugh (aside). She is adorable. She can be no common village wench. (Aloud.) Do you live here, my girl?

Rachel. Yes, I have always lived here. (Aside.) How handsome he is. Down, fluttering heart.

Fitzhugh (sitting on the log beside her). And who is the lucky village lad who is privileged to woo such beauty?

Rachel. I have no lover, sir.

Fitzhugh (taking her hand). Can Hodge be so blind?

Rachel (innocently). Are you making love to me?

Fitzhugh. Upon my word I--(He gets up from the log, which is not really comfortable.) What is your name?

Rachel. Rachel. (She rises.)

Fitzhugh. It is the most beautiful name in the world. Rachel, will you be my wife?

Rachel. But we have known each other such a short time!

Fitzhugh (lying bravely). We have known each other for ever.

Rachel. And you are a rich gentleman, while I--

Fitzhugh. A gentleman, I hope, but rich--no. To-morrow I shall be a beggar. No, not a beggar, if I have your love, Rachel.

Rachel (making a lucky shot at his name). Hugh! (They embrace.)

Fitzhugh. Let us plight our troth here. See, I give you my ring!

Rachel. And I give you mine.

[She takes one from the end of a chain which is round her neck, and puts it on his finger. Fitzhugh looks at it and staggers back.

Fitzhugh. Heavens! They are the same ring! (In great excitement.) Child, child, who are you? How came you by the crest of the Fitzhughs?

Rachel. Ah, who am I? I never had any parents. When they found me they found that ring on me, and I have kept it ever since!

Fitzhugh. Let me look at you! It must be! The Squire's missing daughter!

[Gaffers Jarge and Willyum, having entered unobserved at the back some time ago, have been putting in a lot of heavy byplay until wanted.

Jarge (at last). Lor' bless 'ee, Willyum, if it bain't Squire a-kissin' our Rachel!

Willyum. Zo it du be. Here du be goings-on! What will t' passon say?

Jarge (struck with an idea). Zay, bor, don't 'ee zee a zort o' loikeness atween t' maid and t' Squire?

Willyum. Jarge, if you bain't right, lad. Happen she do have t' same nose!

[Hearing something, Fitzhugh and Rachel turn round.

Fitzhugh. Ah, my men! I'm your new Squire. Do you know who this is?

Willyum. Why, her du be our Rachel.

Fitzhugh. On the contrary, allow me to introduce you to Miss Fitzhugh, daughter of the late Squire!

Jarge. Well, this du be a day! To think of our Rachel now!

Fitzhugh. MY Rachel now.

Rachel (who, it is to be hoped, has been amusing herself somehow since her last speech). Your Rachel always!


[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: "the Lost Heiress"