Punch, September 7, 1904


Mr. Punch,—Sir, I was amazed and pained on reading some time ago in the Draper’s Record this plaintive statement:—“There are few novels of trade life, and fewer still that deal with the drapery trade.” But I was not content with mere pity. To seize a jewelled pen, and dash off the following, was with me the work of a couple of months or so.

Yours hurriedly,      
Henry William-Jones.

[N.B.—I am aware of a play by Mrs. Lyttelton bearing on the question of millinery establishments, but this in no sense cuts the ground from under my feet.]

II.—My Draper’s Opera.

The scene of Act One is laid in a large drapery emporium. Time—morning. Opening chorus of assistants, descriptive of the joys of the profession. Enter Shopwalker. “My merry men, good-morning to you all. Pursue your tasks with vigour, I implore: for thus you’ll rise (perhaps) in time to come (with patience) to the post that I enjoy.” Song, “How I rose to be a Shopwalker.” Then Aria, Shopwalker:

But where is our champion assistant,
 The pride of our drapery shop?
I trust he is not very distant,
 Our Algernon Hildebrand Plopp.

Chorus. Nay, calm, Sir, your fear, for behold! he is here,
 Our Algernon Hildebrand Plopp.

Enter hero (l.). He pauses on the threshold. Then, advancing to centre of stage, sings, as follows:

A hard-worked draper I,
 And dainty gloves and stockings
 (Some with, some void of, clockings)
I bid the ladies buy;
If customers are male,
 I’d have them spend their dollars
 On ties and shirts and collars,
And pay for them on the nail.

At the conclusion of this song, there is a pause, then slow music, and my heroine, Lady Matilda de la Crème, daughter of the Earl of Bayswater, enters, ushered in by Shopwalker. “Plopp, forward,” says Shopwalker. Then there is a sweetly pretty trio:

Shopwalker. A lady here you see of both wealth and high degree
 (For waiting in the street, I notice, her chaise is),
And I bid you, Mr. Plopp, do the honours of the shop,
 For the lady has a wish to make some purchases.
Plopp (gallantly). I am not the man to shirk any quantity of work,
 When a lady has a wish to make some purchases.

Heroine. If you seek to learn my name, ’tis Matilda de la Crème—
Plopp (to Shopwalker, aside). Correctly in the Upper Ten you rank her, chief—
Heroine. And I live with my papa, Number Six, Belgravia,
 And I’m here because I want to buy a handkerchief.
Plopp (indulgently). Ladies often, I have read, lest a cold invade their head,
 Find it useful to possess a pocket-handkerchief.


Business of buying handkerchief. Then great scene. Heroine is seen by Shopwalker to purloin a yard of calico. As she is leaving after affectionate adieux to hero, Shopwalker stops her. Scena. Finale.


Hero. Unhand the lady, minion!
Shopw.  This language, Plopp, to me!
Hero. How dare you seize and pinion
   A lady of degree?
Heroine. Exactly, Sir! You’ll find you err
   In acting thus to me.

Shopw. Nay, think me not unfeeling—
Hero.  Insidious reptile, go!
Shopw. I caught the lady stealing
   A yard of calico!
Heroine. Believe me, I would rather die
   Than be so wicked. Oh!

Shopw. Go, fetch the nearest bobbies!
Hero.  Must my entreaties fail?
Shopw. The fate of those who rob is
   To languish in a gaol.
Heroine. I cannot dwell in dungeon cell!
   Oh, let me out on bail!

Enter Policemen. Hero takes centre of stage.

Song: Hero

Constables, release your captive,
 Do not mock her protestations;
True is every word she utters,
 True are her asseverations.
   She’s as innocent as you,
   Honest, upright men in blue.

I can prove my statement fully;
 Give me leave to speak my piece, men.
For one fleeting moment lend me
 Your auriculars, policemen.
   Tempted by a hope of pelf,
   I purloined the stuff myself!

Then my foully-gotten booty,
 Little recking what a shock it
Might occasion to her nerves, I
 Placed in her receptive pocket.
   There you have the sorry tale:
   Up, and lead me off to gaol!

Immense sensation. Heroine, with a cry of “My preserver!” faints. Shopwalker staggers back, shocked and astounded. Assistants assume attitude of horror. Various customers, who have come in, grow tired of waiting to be served, and go out to patronise other establishments. And Act I. closes with hero being led off (r.) by policemen.




Unsigned article and verse as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 127 of Punch.